NASA has a free photo-rich ebook : “Dressing for Altitude”

It has been a busy few days for me, but I’m finally back. Hoo-ah!

While I was out, NASA announced they were giving away a free digital book that “details the development and use of the protective clothing worn by test pilots, astronauts and others as they soar high above Earth.”

It’s pretty hefty book at 526 pages, but it’s very well put together, and is filled with great photos like this one…


Dressing for Altitude 01

Dressing for Altitude 01


Is it me, or does that look a little like Big Daddy from the Bioshock games?

“Dressing for Altitude” has plenty of photos of pressure suits in various stages of development, and also gets into the science and technology of the suit designs themselves.

The book is available for free on NASA’s site in PDF, EPUB or MOBI format, but you can also order a “real” copy of the book from NASA’s information center if you like.

Here’s the official press release about “Dressing for Altitude”…
RELEASE: 12-308


WASHINGTON — NASA has published a colorful, picture-filled book that details the development and use of the protective clothing worn by test pilots, astronauts and others as they soar high above Earth.

“Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits — Wiley Post to Space Shuttle” provides a 526-page survey of the partial- and full-pressure suits designed to keep humans alive at the edge of space since their first use during the years before World War II. Pressure suits are not the spacesuits worn by spacewalking astronauts.

The book explores the challenges the clothiers-turned-engineers faced in designing a garment that could be relatively lightweight, flexible, inflatable, and still keep an ejecting pilot safe at high altitude and in the water.

“This work is designed to provide the history of the technology and explore the lessons learned through the years of research in creating, testing, and utilizing today’s high-altitude suits,” said Tony Springer of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

Dennis R. Jenkins, a writer, engineer and manager with 30 years of experience working on NASA programs, including the space shuttle, wrote the book and assembled its photographs and illustrations.

Jenkins said he became interested in the topic especially after studying the work and dedication of Goodrich and David Clark Company, the two major companies responsible for most of the pressure suit’s development through the years.

“I knew little about pressure suits going into the book, so the entire process was a learning exercise to me,” Jenkins said.

To order printed copies of the coffee-table-style book from NASA’s Information Center, visit:

To download an e-book version of the book in PDF format at no charge, visit:

For more information about aeronautics research at NASA, visit:

The meaning of life by Stanley Kubrick

Over the weekend, I re-found this great quote from an interview with Stanley Kubrick about the purpose of life. It’s something to think about while speeding through the week. (I typed it out so it’s actually copy-and-pasteable, but the original scan is below the line.)


Question: “If life is so purposeless, do you feel that it’s worth living?”

Answer: “Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

The meaning of life according to Stanley Kubrick

“Plato Smash?” It must be ACTION PHILOSOPHERS!

I’ve been meaning to plug the guys from Evil Twin Comics for awhile since their Action Philosophers series is a perfect combination of awesome and educational.

Action Philosophers is a comic book series about the life, attitudes and the major philosophical ideas of… well, the major philosophers!

Issue #1 starts off with “The Pre Socratics!”, and seriously, how can you not love an intro to philosophy like this…

Another sample of Action Philosophers awesome awesomeness

BTW, starting with the pyromaniac dude in the lower left and going clockwise, that’s Heraclitus, Anaximenes, Miletus, Anaximander, Empedocles and Parmenides.

No, seriously.

Their contributions and beliefs are presented in a very entertaining manner, and quickly advance to Descartes.

A sample of Action Philosophers awesome awesomeness

Philosophy 101? Definitely. Educational? Yes, but in a sneaky “hey I learned something I didn’t mean to” way! Entertaining? Oh hell yes.

You can read the Pre-Socratics, Rene Descartes, John Stuart Mill and Carl Jung stories online for free by clicking any of the above links, or you can get a PDF preview of all four stories here. (NOTE: PDF link) You can also get the whole compendium from from here or the identical link on the Evil Twin Comics’ website or the smaller “volume” series by looking at the author’s page at

Quantitative Easing process explained by Forbes’ “Let Us Tell You The Ugly Truth About The Economy”

There’s been a lot of talk about the Fed’s “Quantitative Easing” in the media, but there really hasn’t been a clear explanation of what it is and why it may (or may not) be bad for the economy. I haven’t found anything I could “copy and paste” to explain what the big deal is.

While catching up with my monthly reading, I saw an article in the November 2010 issue of Fortune titled “Let Us Tell You The Ugly Truth About The Economy” (p98). About midway through the article, on page 106, the following paragraphs really hammer home what “Quantitative Easing” is…

“Let’s say the Fed buys $1 trillion of Treasury securities in the secondary market. Out of thin air, it creates $1 trillion in credit balances in the sellers’ accounts. The sellers have $1 trillion more cash than they did, increasing the money supply.

There is now $1 trillion less of publicly traded Treasuries, which props up their price. By contrast, if Goldman Sachs wanted to buy $1 trillion of Treasury securities, it would have to find $1 trillion of cash to pay for them. Sellers would have $1 trillion more cash than before, Goldman would have $1 trillion less. There would be no increase in the money supply or decrease in the Treasury supply.

If the Fed could buy endless amounts of Treasury securities without any side effects, it would almost be like free money…. The Fed can’t do that indefinitely without touching off inflation, debasing the dollar, or both.”

TL;DR : It would kind of like trying to buy a coke with a dollar bill you drew on the spot if you had the authority to do that (and the fancy paper and special ink).

Not good.

FREE Kaplan books on iTunes for iPad (or iPhone) Reader!

Kaplan Publishing is giving away a lot of their high-end eBooks for free on the iBookstore August 24 -30th!

The official giveaway site says all you need to do is “visit on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.” From there, it launches the iBooks application on your iPad (or iPhone or iPod Touch) and takes you to the giveaway page on the bookstore site.

Looking at the link from my iPad, they’ve got

  • 15 books in the COLLEGE section (SAT, ACT and PSAT books)
  • 10 books in the GRADUATE section (GMAT and GRE books)
  • 22 books in the LAW section (a ton of PMBR books as well as general information books)
  • 19 books in the MEDICINE section (MCAT and a lot of general information books)
  • 14 books in the NURSING section (both CCRN and NCLEXRN and some general information books)
  • 12 books in the EDUCATION section (Practice question books and a lot of general information books)

Don’t forget to hit the tiny little SEE ALL button by each category to get to all the free books because the main sale page only lists 6 books for each category.

My only complaint is that you have to click each book to download. There’s no batch-download.

But aside from that? Totally geeked out.

Thanks Kaplan!

Stephen King’s new novel “Under the Dome” looks familiar

Did you ever have something nagging you in the back of your mind? Something that says you’re just on the tip of catching something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it?

I was on my weekly Barnes and Noble indulgence about a month ago and noticed Stephen King had a new book out called “Under the Dome.”

Stephen Kings Under The Dome book

Stephen King's Under The Dome book

According to a review on, it’s about “a small New England town… suddenly, inexplicably cut off from the rest of the world, trapping a large cast of characters inside (or outside) a huge, clear dome. As the emergency escalates, various heroes (and villains) emerge to play a part in the drama. What is the dome? Why is it there? Will the town survive?”

For some reason, that bugged me. But I couldn’t place why.

Flash forward to last night. Apparently the brain cell responsible for pulling data from the archives finally got around to finding the right files.

To me, Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” looks a lot like the “Girls” comic book series by Jonathan and Joshua Luna, published way back in 2005.

Check out these three pages from Girls issue #6 leading up to something that looks a bit like Stephen King’s book cover…

Girls issue #6 part 1

Girls issue #6 part 1

Girls Issue #6 part 2

Girls Issue #6 part 2

Girls Issue #6 Part 3

Girls Issue #6 Part 3

Plus, on the Girls comic book wikipedia page, the plot of the comic Girls is described as “…the story of the people of Pennystown, a community of 63 who are cut off from the rest of the world… The situation is complicated by… the discovery of an enormous reflective dome separating Pennystown from outside aid.”

I remember reading that comic series now! A small town named Pennystown suddenly and inexplicably was cut off from the rest of the world, trapping a large cast of characters inside a huge, opaque dome. As the emergency escalates (and monsters start appearing), various heroes, rednecks, innocents, and villains emerge in the drama. The story revolved on why the dome appeared, who brought it there, and who in the town would survive the attacks from the monsters.

Plus, at the introductory pages of the Girls comic book, there’s a map of the town of who lives where.

Girls comic map

Girls comic map

And Stephen King’s book?

Stephen Kings Under The Dome Map

Stephen King's Under The Dome Map


If I turned in something like this in college, I think I would have been called in to the dean and asked to explain some things.

Just sayin’.

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers : mini book review

The Power of Myth

The Power of Myth

10 words or less: Inspiring examination of the permeation of mythology in everyday life.

Long version: I loved this book. Really loved it. So much so, that as soon as I completed it, I flipped back to the first page and re-read it again. I’ve never done that with any book before. It was overall a great read, and gave me numerous pre-existing foundations to ponder and even more questions to actively pursue the answer(s) to.

The discussion between Campbell and Moyers is fluid and deep. The topic is constrained to the myriad effects of mythology in culture and on the self, but the enormous field leaves a fantastically wide amount of space to cover. Topics such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Philosophers, Physics and even Star Wars are touched on. Reading this book, you can not only see the consistency of plot devices throughout movies and books, but a striking parallel with daily “live” events as well.

As an example, the following discussion covers the effects of mythology on the the apparently simple act of eating, and how the stories and beliefs of eating and hunting manifest in our conscious life.

“Campbell : There’s a wonderful saying in one of the Upanishads: ‘Oh wonderful, oh wonderful, oh wonderful, I am food, I am food, I am food! I am an eater of food, I am an eater of food, I am an eater of food.’ We don’t think that way today about ourselves, but holding on to yourself and not letting yourself become food is the primary life-denying negative act. You’re stopping the flow! And yielding to the flow is the great mystery experience that goes with thanking an animal that is about to be eaten for having given of itself. You, too, will be given in time.”

That’s an interesting story, but in all the animals I have hunted, none have voluntarily given themselves to being food. They have all run, all tried to hide, and tried everything in their ability for me not to kill them. They had no interest whatsoever in becoming my food, and so, by their own instinctual actions, they were actively “stopping the flow”. So by default, isn’t the process of willfully denying the flow (of becoming food) a critical part of being alive? And in the future, when it is possible to consume synthetic meat and food that has never been “alive” in any sense of the word, are we becoming part of a new life-flow, are we attempting to realize ourselves in our own self-made mythology, or is this just another byzantine denial of the perceived inevitability of death?

See? Stuff like that is why I shouldn’t read books like this!

The book is full of quotable material, but taking it out of context risks mitigating the effectiveness of the surrounding conversation and the philosophical path it took to get there. Trust me, though, it’s all good.

My only issue with this book is the complete dependence on God and/or a “higher purpose” to base their structure on. There really isn’t a deep examination of the possibility of a God not existing – on whether the experience of humanity without a God or a living deity is possible and what that would entail. There are moments where this is almost brought out, such as…

“Moyers : And your life comes from where?
Campbell: From the ultimate energy that is the life of the universe. And then do you say ‘Well there must be somebody generating that energy?’ Why do you have to say that? Why can’t the ultimate mystery be impersonal?”

…but that lack of an overt discussion isn’t any reason to skip this book at all.

I really enjoyed this book and think it should be mandatory reading. I rank it as material from a Philosophy 201 class… far more material to digest than a simple 101 class, but not as deep as a 301 or higher class. It’s a big read at 665 pages on my Sony PRS-505, but it’s worth it.

Highly, highly recommended. Five stars.

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein : Mini Book Review

Plato and a Platypus

Plato and a Platypus

10 words or less: Fun. Like throwing a skipping stone over deep philosophical waters.

Long version : This book was a impulse buy at the local bookstore this weekend. Normally I only hit the bargain bins, but this book looked interesting and was reviewed well based on everything all over the jacket cover, so I grabbed at at face value.

It was a fun and breezy read. Just tapping on the cusps of philosophical ideas and ideologies, the authors take a few moments on each topic being serious, and turn right around and make a joke in contrasting boldface that illustrates the type of philosophy and/or topic being discussed.

For example, when talking about existentialism…
“The extentialists’ emphasis on facing the anxiety of death has given life to a new mini-industry, the hospice movement, founded on Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s twentieth-century bioethical philosophy that encourages the honest acceptance of death.
Customer in a restaurant: How do you prepare your chickens?
Cook: Oh, nothing special really. We just tell them they’re gonna die.

At the end of the 215 page book, the authors gently point to “suggested reading” list for those who found the shallow end fun and want to try something a little deeper next time. Kant, Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Foucault, Hume, Locke and more are on the list, so there’s a fair chance someone starting on this book may just find something wonderful waiting for them should they choose to follow some of the abbreviated suggestions in the list.

This was a fun book that was pretty much philosophy 099. OK, maybe philosophy 101. A quick glance into the basics of philosophy, an overview of some major ideas, and a few nuggets to chew on. All easily digestible.

I’m probably going to head back and pick up their sequel “Heidegger and a Hippo walk through the pearly gates: Using Philosophy (and jokes!) to explain life, death, the afterlife, and everything else in between.” If nothing else, for the title alone!

Four out of five stars.

Speed reading and self-inflicted ADD

One of the better things I learned how to do was speed read. Combine that with a mild case of insomnia, too many magazine subscriptions, and a book-a-week habit and I’m pretty sure I’ve given myself ADD. Or ADHD-PI (ADHD predominantly inattentive) ifya’ want to be technical about it.

The good thing is that I retain most of what I read.  Ask me where I left my car keys, though, and I can’t help you.

Over time I’ve gradually increased my reading speed to where it is now. According to a basic speed reading test at Speed Reading Soft’s site I clock in at 1050 WPM. Retention was somewhere around 90%. Another site, How Fast Do you Read, has me at their max of 850-900 WPM with a similar retention score.

If you want to see what it’s like when I read, go to and click on the SETTINGS button. Change the words per minute to 950 and press the play button. That looks about right.

Anyhow, this is a list of all the magazines I subscribe to as of 2008 2009 2010 (update: November 2011). Some of these magazines have gone out of business since I started getting them but most still trickle in every week.

The ones that consistently get my attention are New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal (daily paper), New Scientist (although they seem to have dumbed it down recently), Chain Drug Review, Sport Diver, Rolling Stone, Food Business News, Wired, Gun Tests, Motor Cyclist, Fortune, and Muscle and Fitness.

Most magazines are donated to the business where I work when I’m done with them. The rest are recycled as part of this city’s weekly services.


American Cop
American Handgunner
AOPA Flight Training
Auto Week (AW)
Bass Player
BTN (Business Travel News)
Car & Driver
Casino Journal
Chain Drug Review
Computer Shopper
Cruise Travel
CSQ (C-Suite Quarterly)
Dime (not Spanish – It’s Dime like nickel and…)
Diving and Resorts (PADI)
EGM (Electronic Gaming Monthly)
Entertainment Weekly
Field & Stream
Florida Travel and Life
Food Business News
Games for Windows
Guitar Player
Gun Tests
Guns and Ammo
HHMi Bulletin (Howard Hughes Medical Institute)
Hispanic Business
Hollywood Reporter
Home Entertainment
Information week
Internet Retailer
Log Home Living
Men’s Health
Men’s Journal
MMR (Mass Market Retailers)
Modern Painter
Motor Cyclist
Motor Trend
Muscle and Fitness
New Scientist
New Yorker
Opera News
PC Magazine (now out of business)
Popular Science
Psychology Today
Ready Made
Real Estate Forum
Real Estate New York
Rifle Shooter
Rolling Stone
SD Times
Shot Business
Sound + Vision
Southern Boating
Sport Diver
Sports Illustrated
Systems Management News
Tire Business
The Trail Rider
US News and World Report
The Wall Street Journal (daily paper)
Website Magazine

EDIT 06 / 01 / 2010 : Added some that were missing : American Cop, Watch!, Poder, Sports Illustrated and HHMi Bulletin (Howard Hughes Medical Institute)

EDIT 11 / 12 / 2010 : Added some more that were missing : Fortune, INC, Modern Painter, The Wall Street Journal (daily paper), and Money.

EDIT 12 / 03 / 2010 : Added CSQ (C-Suite Quarterly)

EDIT 12 / 13 / 2010 : Added Entertainment Weekly and Internet Retailer

EDIT 11 / 02 / 2011 : Added Casino Journal

EDIT 11 / 14 / 2011 : Added Bass Player, Guitar Player

The Taking by Dean Koontz : Mini Book Review

The Taking by Dean Koontz

The Taking by Dean Koontz

10 words or less : Great start, poor ending. Had potential to be really great.

Long version : “The Taking” was my first book by Dean Koontz. Like most of the books I buy, it was in the bargain bin at a local book store, so I grabbed it for a quick weekend read.

Before I go on with the review, I have to say that horror movies and horror books seldom work on me. The solution to 85% of horror movies? Shotgun. Jason Voorhees? Shotgun. Michael Myers? Shotgun. Blair Witch? Shotgun. I know what you did last blah blah blah? Shotgun. Just shoot the friggin’ bad guy and be done with it.

As for the paranormal kind of horror, most of the time I think those kind of things are just really funny. If I ever run across a ghost, I’ll probably pull a Ray Stantz on them… take some technical readings, and then make fun of them.

Movies that worked for me? Aliens. The Thing. The Shining. Session 9. The Silence of the Lambs. Movies with intelligent people who were in situations appropriate for their characters, who were also properly equipped for their environment, and who were still having really bad things happen to them.

Now, having said all that, I think “The Taking” was almost great. Almost. And that’s what’s really frustrating about it.

The book starts off with a rush. Bad things start to happen immediately and you get to know the characters as the book unfolds and as things happen to them. It reminded me a little of the very first episode of LOST.

The story and characters are well written, and they react like people with decent intelligence and some self-defense capabilities would in their given situation. And they had a shotgun! Bonus! I was really getting into this book.

But a little more than midway in, the terror part of the book runs out of gas. Things push way too far into the unbelievable, and the bad guys’ motivations and abilities become far too excessive. I was wondering if this story was heading for a sequel when a textbook “deus ex machina” tied up the ending. And not to ruin the book, but if that was who the bad guys were, then what exactly were the good guys? That’s a far more disturbing thought for me.

Amazon reviewers say not to judge this book as one of Koontz’s better ones. So having seen those comments, and being very impressed with the first part of the book, I will try one of his earlier books for next time. Because if Koontz can write a whole book like the first few chapters of “The Taking”, I’ll be really impressed.

Checking in at around 450 pages, “The Taking” was a decent summer / weekend read.

Three and 3/8 out of five stars.