Sunday, September 17, 2017

Book Review: “Active Measures: Part One” by Matt Fulton

I have recently finished reading part one of the Matt Fulton trilogy “Active Measures”. While I will not go into much detail on the plot or characters, I want to try to describe what the experience was like reading the novel. I also want to examine what kind of audience would enjoy this novel and possibly who might not, and also what you might like or dislike about reading it.

Part one of what will eventually become a trilogy under the title “Active Measures” is a fairly large novel of over 600 pages. The content and subject matter is dense and very detailed, intricate and developed. It is a global geopolitical thriller that spans all over the world with many characters. There are many threads of plot that are developed and begin to intersect each other by the time part one of the novel ends. 

When you read this novel, be prepared to be transported from one part of the planet to another, whether it be the United States in a meeting between the President, his advisors and intelligence agencies, Russia, the Middle East, or elsewhere. There are many characters, and reading the book requires a lot of concentration and some interest in geopolitics. I personally am not very well educated on the subject matter, so the reading of this novel was somewhat difficult for me. Sometimes I had a hard time remembering who was who amongst the characters, and how they were related to each other and what significance they had to the plot.

There are some interesting dialogues, and the level of dialogue is philosophical as some scenes depict the motivations and ways of thinking of various characters, whether they be intelligence officers in the CIA, members of the Russian government, United States special forces personnel, undercover spies, and even terrorists plotting an attack. Even though some characters were very similar and I wasn't sure who was who, I could in general get the sense of what role or part each played in the story. There is no one single protagonist hero, but a handful of characters whose actions will eventually intertwine, and will most likely intersect more concretely in the second and third installments of the eventual trilogy, which are yet to be published. The novel is very detailed and I would say very well written.

The main question I would like to put forth is what audience of reader would be interested in and enjoy this novel. The author in his acknowledgments cites authors like Tom Clancy and John le Carre as an influence and inspiration to his writing. I personally have only read 2 of Clancy's novels (“Hunt for Red October” and “Rainbow Six”) and am familiar with his other novels and some of le Carre's work, although I have not read any of the latter's novels. So if you like Clancy and le Carre, or other spy or geopolitical novels, you might like this. I personally struggled to get through this novel, with the density of the plot and the plethora of different characters and their yet to be interconnected paths in the story. But by the end I was grateful to have pushed through it, and was surprised to find myself interested in reading the second and third installments whenever they will be finished and actually published. The author has a website, where you can contact him and find info about his writing. If you get to reading this book, visit his site and send him a message letting him know what you think.

I hope this review, although scant in detail, gives you an idea of whether this might be something you would want to give a chance and acquire a copy to read. The author does not dumb down or water down the material and it requires some dedication and concentration to get through and mentally keep track of who is who and what is going on, but if you like these kind of stories, you might enjoy this.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review - "The Imaginarium Machine" by John Adrian Tomlin

The Imaginarium Machine” by John Adrian Tomlin is set in the future where the technology behind gaming systems has reached its peak. A new gaming technology by Sony is being launched, which taps into your brain functions. The sensations within the game environment are input directly into your mind and your senses, so that it feels as if you are really in the game environment. 

The events of this short novel are described in present tense. Some of the action could've used a little more elaboration. But then again, you might like it that way. Narration of events is quick, to the point, and abrupt. There is not much embellishment. The author simply states what is said, what the characters do and what happens.

What I did like about this story is that in part because of the abrupt, very quick and direct description of the activity in the plot, there are some ridiculously hilarious chapters. One of the games included on the Imaginarium Machine's roster is just laugh out loud hysterical. The brevity with which it is described makes it even more so. I laughed for quite a while reading one of the chapters. Also, some of the more intimate encounters in the novel are described so quickly that I let out a chuckle.

Once the Imaginarium Machine is actually released and after the reader has been given a treatment of how it works and what it can do, and the main characters have already begun to use it, the actual dramatic parts of the story begin. The main characters are brothers whose father is in a coma. He was working with the FBI and protecting a person when he was in a car accident and went into a coma. The brothers try to use the machine to re-awaken their comatose father. But something sinister is being planned with the new device. It turns out their father will have to get to the bottom of it in order to save most of the United States from being taken hostage by a sick genius. He wants to exploit the mind bending capabilities of the Imaginarium Machine for his own purposes.

Will you enjoy reading “The Imaginarium Machine”? It depends. It deals with a topic of technology that is unique. While the writing doesn't go too much into the deeper implications of the subject matter, it might inspire you to think about where technology can go and what might happen when it is in the wrong hands. If you just want a story, and not a lot of extraneous description, you might like this book. 

The ending of this novel has me wondering what happens in the aftermath. The good news is that the author has written a sequel called “The Imaginarium World”. I am considering getting my hands on a copy of that to find out where the author brings this story.

Friday, June 2, 2017

From Academics to Real World Work Skills Education

I believe there needs to be a shift in what kind of things we seek to learn in our educations.  Too much focus is made on academics, that bear little use in the world of making a living.  I recently have signed up for a job skills training program for a store chain which teaches about the various parts of the day to day functioning of working in a store.  Now, while academic education is great and all, for most people who are graduating with degrees from colleges, this type of education is almost worthless in terms of actually preparing one to work in an actual job.  We tell young people to go to college and get an academic degree far too much.  While this may be a good path for some, it probably is not the best path for the majority of people looking to learn real life job applicable skills and knowledge.

We need to take a hard look as a society and investigate what kind of businesses, institutions, companies, services, and ventures will be needed in the near future and create educational opportunities based on what those required tasks will need in terms of what sort of skills, knowledge, processes and concepts workers, managers, entrepreneurs, etc. will have to be equipped with.  We should gear our educational policies and institutions to providing education necessary for instilling work seeking people with these skill sets, etc.  There is too much focus on telling everyone to go to a 4 year college, possibly go to graduate school etc, in hopes it will lead to better job prospects.  There are so many jobs that not only do not require an academic traditional college degree, but are in fact utterly useless for performing the tasks of that job.  And why keep telling young people to go into massive debt for a degree that gives them no experience, skills, or knowledge that actually applies to getting a job, when they could get an education in a trade, or in a certain business field, etc?

We need more education in trades, more education in sales and business, in many other kinds of jobs that actually exist.  If a young person wants to work in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, then going to a 4 year college or graduate school makes sense.  But for many other degrees, the academics are not really useful for any real jobs.  We need to create and organize more trade or practical job training programs, to teach the ins and outs of real job creating organizations, so that people actually have some experience and training that applies to actual aspects of real jobs.  Enough of the massive student debt bubble which is going to burst eventually when more and more students with four year degrees can't find actual jobs in order to pay of their debt.

I saw a video someone posted on Facebook regarding this subject, where Mike Rowe (I believe that was his name) was talking about the fact that most of the required jobs that will need to be created will be in the trades, and that instead of herding everyone into massive debt in order to go to academic colleges where they are not given any skills that will help them get and maintain a remunerative job, we should encourage more education in trades.  We need more trade schools, we need more educational programs and institutions which teach real job skills and give opportunities to practice those skills.

Another thing is we need more education in entrepreneurship.  This idea I get from reading the financial education books of the "Rich Dad" series by Robert Kiyosaki.  We need more people to create businesses which create lots of jobs.  There is little education about how money works, and how to create businesses which create jobs.  I recommend his books also.

But we need to educate people in skills and experience that actually will help them make livings at jobs that actually will exist.  Jobs in the trades need to be more emphasized, because a lot of the jobs that will be created are in these fields.  Not everyone needs or should pursue expensive 4 years or more college degrees which serve no useful purpose most of the time in actually preparing someone to work at a real job or in creating a business that creates work.  Except for STEM education, and certain other fields, going to traditional academic college makes no sense for a lot of people.

I would love to hear other people's thoughts on this subject.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Stories in Focus: "Ghostbusters" 2016

I have been watching quite a few movies through Netflix, and haven't written a "Stories in Focus" article in quite a bit.  I have just watched a movie which I must give a review of now.  Yes, I have just watched the new Ghostbusters movie in the theater, in 3D at that as well.

I won't spoil anything.  I will be honest.  Judging from the trailers that this movie was going to be horrible.  I expected the worst.  Well, I will spoil one thing.  I enjoyed it.  I thought it was a fairly decent movie, and had parts that were funny, parts that were exciting and action packed, and parts that were just fun.  While I do not think that this movie is as good as the first two movies, I am pleased to say that this was not bad in my opinion.  There are some aspects that are cheesy or kind of lame, but this movie has some redeeming features.  There are some fairly hilarious moments, especially involving the daft secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.  The cameos by the cast members of the original movies are humorous.  The proton packs and other ghost-busting "weapons" the characters use are cool.  In some parts, the movie is almost like an action movie, with some pretty cool fights between the female Ghostbusters and the hordes of demonic ghosts destroying New York City.

There are some lame and cheesy moments, but I think this movie has enough good aspects that I am grateful it was made.  It probably could've been done better, but I hear there are going to be more installments in the works.  And I am glad for the female cast.  My first ever niece was born a week or so ago and I will be happy to be able to get her Ghostbusters action figures instead of Barbie dolls.  The female cast plays super smart scientists, and I hope that this might inspire a lot of young girls to become scientists or engineers or whatnot.  Better than talking Barbie dolls who say "I hate math!"

Overall, I recommend watching it.  You don't have to see it in theaters.  You can watch it when it comes out on disc or Netflix or whatnot, but be sure to watch it sometime.  I hope you get some enjoyment out of it, as I did.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was not horrific as I was expecting it to be.  I will soon be checking for others reviews. I forced myself not to listen to any reviews or comments about the film until I saw it.  I wanted to watch it myself without knowing what other people think.  This was a highly controversial installment because a lot of people thought it was going to be horrible before they even saw it.  The trailers do not do this movie justice.  The movie has its flaws and shortcomings, but it was a fun watch in my opinion.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mental Illness and Shame

Having a mental illness or diagnosis of some mental condition can be a source of shame for anyone.  What mental illness actually is can be a vague subject at times.  Is it caused by biological and genetic factors, environmental and cultural circumstances, a combination of many external and internal factors?  I do think that the model and understanding of what mental illness is needs to be updated and reviewed, but that is not the point of this entry.  My main intention here is to not be ashamed if you have a mental illness, and to seek out help when you need it.  Going to a therapist, psychiatrist, mental health professional etc. does not mean you are crazy, insane, dangerous, etc.  In fact, when you are dealing with mental, emotional, or cognitive illnesses, seeking out help is a sign of sanity.

Just like our bodies can be injured or endure illness, our minds, our brains, our neurological "equipment", can falter and become damaged or ill as well.  How this happens is a matter to be researched and looked into, but when you need help, seek it.  Don't feel bad if you need to be hospitalized, or prescribed medications.  You have to take care of your health and be safe to yourself and others, before you can be any use to yourself or anyone else.

I also would encourage, in addition to taking care of your physical and mental health, to pray for help in finding the right doctors, the right course of treatment, the right medications, diet etc.  Pray for those who are treating you, and ask God to guide them.

And also remember, that no one is perfect, and no one can read your mind, so be honest about what is troubling you or going on in your life.  But never feel ashamed for seeking out mental health.  Not everything in our lives, including our own minds and emotions, can be controlled completely.  Seek help when things which are out of your control begin to overwhelm your life and your ability to function.  A lot of people who need mental health help don't look for it, and the ones who do look for help are usually the most healthy because they are cognizant that they need help and recognize their own limitations.  Again, it is a sign of sanity to seek professional help when you are having mental struggles.  Don't let anyone put you down for seeking help.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Game Daze #6: "Uncharted" Entry 1

I work at Amazon, and currently they are advertising the new game Uncharted 4 on many of their packages.  I mentioned to someone that I have the first 3 Uncharted games for Playstation 3 yet have not played any of them, upon which she replied I should play them.

I started playing the first game tonight.  I began the game on Normal Difficulty setting, hoping I can handle the game at that level.  The game starts out with the main character Nathan Drake uncovering an empty tomb of sailor Francis Drake, which contains a diary with his notes and maps and diagrams that lead to a supposed gold treasure of El Dorado.  The first playable portion of the game starts off with pirates attacking your ship at sea and you are required to fend them off.  There is combat using your handgun and you can also fight hand to hand.  I died once in this segment but was able to finish this section pretty quickly.  What I have learned about gaming is that I am not very good at combat that requires good aim.  The combat in the game is intense and can be frustrating if you get killed frequently.  One of the things I want to do in this column on gaming is to point out the features and options in games that I like, and those that I don't like, and also speculate on what kind of game I would like to make in the future, based on these observations, when I am able to program a game myself, or coordinate one with other people interested in creating a video game with me.

But the combat is frustrating when I keep getting killed.  The first two chapters and beginning of the third involve a lot of platform jumping, climbing, monkey swinging on vines, and other acrobatic feats and simple puzzle solving and environmental puzzles and tasks to advance in the game.  There is one portion where you have to outrun a bunch of collapsing platforms and wooden bridges and jump for dear life to the last ledge of an underground area.  I died a couple of times in this part but eventually made it through alive.

The game uses a checkpoint save system where the game automatically saves at specified points in the game, usually occurring after a difficult puzzle or action sequence.  Personally, I like this kind of save system better than a save anywhere orientation.  I stopped playing during the third chapter in which there is a lot of combat and shooting, and I kept dying, so I am taking a rest from the game, and hope to get further on tomorrow.

So far the game seems promising.  As long as the combat isn't too difficult, and the puzzles are interesting, this seems like a promising game and promising series.  As my co-worker said at work, it must be a good series if they are on the 4th game.  So far I have enjoyed the puzzles and platform jumping action, and as long as the combat does not overwhelm me, I will play the game until I finish it.  It is fun so far.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Game Daze #5: "Baldur's Gate" Final Entry

I have occasionally been playing Baldur's Gate but this time cheating using a Save Game editor called "Gatekeeper".  It allows editing of stats and other attributes of characters in your party in the game.  At first, I just edited my characters hitpoints, or life, so that I could actually get into fights without getting killed everytime.  Eventually though I came across some enemies who had the ability to kill with one hit, and I realized I needed to edit my Saving throw stats so that I would not die from these attacks.  I also gave my characters the best weapons they could carry.  I have now reached a point where even with all this cheating, there is still an enemy I cannot defeat, and I have apparently edited my characters such that the game crashes when I engage in a certain battle.  I have officially decided that I am quitting this game for good, and will now give some final remarks on what I think of the game in general.

This game is far too difficult to anyone who is not very skilled at strategy and computer roleplaying games.  Even with cheating I still could not defeat a fairly early boss enemy in the game.  If you are a roleplaying game fanatic, you don't need me to tell you about this game.  You probably have already beaten it.  The story is immersive, but if you can't get into fights without dying, you can't progress in the story.  I ultimately cannot recommend this game to any one who is not  a hardcore computer RPG fanatic.  It is far too difficult and frustrating, and even when I tried cheating so that I could continue in the game and progress through the plot, it still was too difficult, and then the game started crashing.  So if you can find a way to cheat and get through the game, go ahead and try it.  In the end, I cannot recommend you spend your money or your time on this game, unless you are prepared to die a lot, and get frustrated, and are hardcore in this type of game.  The only way I would play a game like this again would be if there were a simple cheat which did not allow any of your characters to die, essentially a "God mode" or invulnerability cheat.