Book Review: Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World

Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America's Role in the World by Robert D. Kaplan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book sure comes away with a lot of quotable one liners.

I liked the concept that Kaplan was going for here, the idea of chronicling America's geography and influence upon its place in the world. The final execution though seems to be all over the place.

The first third of the book comes across as an almost "Ken Burns style" historical discussion on the history of the country. I found this early section the most interesting, with its invocation of the "Great American Frontier". Bernard DeVoto was mentioned several times (which makes me want to go read his books) and there is an almost romanticized portray of America's growth.

The tone shifts, almost suddenly, to a modern day narrative of Kaplan then driving across America from east to west to describe the importance of the rivers, natural resources and the trade impacts of the interstate highway system. The sudden shift was a bit jarring as was the change from a historical narrative to a more modern one.

The final leg of the book then shifts once again to discuss geopolitical conflicts and the U.S. military and U.S. Imperialism. At times Kaplan infers to the impacts of geography on other nations and I think he was trying to illustrate how their geography has influenced their growth compared to the United States'. He doesn't go into enough detail on other nations' geography to bring the message home though. China, India and Russia are only briefly mentioned, their rivers specifically, but there is no deeper discussion about their natural resources, political divides or varying climates to counter against what he states for the U.S.

The final section also comes across with a pro-imperialist message, describing that the world economy, culture, etc, are the way they are because of America's military might and geopolitics. I don't believe his insights are incorrect, but he doesn't take much time to explore any of the counter points on the imperialist agenda. The message again comes across as a bit altruistic.

Each of these three sections were fairly interesting on their own, and should probably be expanded to their own books. I just felt that they didn't quite come together with cohesion as a single unit very effectively.

View all my reviews

Film Review: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Megan and I just got back from seeing Ghost in the Shell and "whew", I have to say I am really pleased with how the live action adaptation turned out. 

The original Ghost in the Shell anime from 1995 is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is a quintessential cyberpunk story that perfectly hits upon all of the nuances that make sci-fi-fi and cyberpunk as fascinating as they are.The original film deftly touches upon the philosophical and moral questions around "what is human?" The animated film also has some of the most iconic and beautiful music and artwork ever created in animation. Check out the excellent video from NerdWriter regarding the original film.

So the adpation had a lot stacked against it from fans. Taking an iconic film in this genre and adapting it is a tough thing to do. The adaptation doesn't go as deep with the philosophical questions that the original, and its subsequent series tackle, but it does bring enough of those questions to the table to those who are looking for them. Viewers who don't want to be bothered don't have to get bogged down with the depth that some of those questions can bring. 

The new film does a good job of hitting upon many of the famous scenes from the original and draws upon influences from the original film for the story, while still changing it up enough that the story can stand on its own. The new film also brings to the table several memorable and impressive scenes of its own such as the opening dining with the geisha's, and the drug house fight.

One of the large early criticisms of the film was the use of Scarlet Johansson to play Major Motoko. Early internet critiques argued of "white-washing" since the original film is Japanese and takes place in Japan. While I can understand some of this sentiments, I think Japanese animation does have a history of drawing female characters to have a more "western" look to them. I personally don't think the original Motoko design screams "Japanese" to be beyond the inherent style of the animation.

Scarlett Johansson did a pretty good job playing the Major, but I would have liked to seen her haircut look a bit less like a bad mullet. I hope we get to see some more films out of this, because we really need to see some more cyberpunk stories make it to the big screen. 

For anyone out there looking to go a bit deeper into the Ghost in the Shell universe, or looking to get into those deeper philosophical questions, I highly recommend you check out the original film and the excellent "Stand Alone Complex" series that followed it. 

Ghost in the Shell (1997)

Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex


Journey into Modular Synthesis - Part 3: Sequencers

Modules - Sequencers

Ok, so here is things will get a little crazy. As I mentioned before Modulargrid.net has a nice portion of the website where you can build your synth. Better still, you can see what other people are building.

So here is what I have laid out so far. 

Crazy right? There is almost $3,000 worth of modules laid out in that rack matching what the Mantis can hold. So what exactly do I have going on here? Let's break it down and I'll explain what I know so far about how this can work. Keep in mind that these may be acquired over months if not years. 

The first two items that I really should probably get is a sequencer. One or both of them may end up changing as I continue research on sequencing techniques and what I may want to get out of a sequencer. I am currently trying to find out more information about CV/Gate sequencers, which are small little sequencers that can be manipulated with other cv/gate data. 

Stillson Hammer Mark II

So the first module is the Stillson Hammer Mark II. Two things are immediately attractive with this sequencer. 

It features up to four tracks of sequencing with CV/Gate. That right there allows me to get the multiple tracks I need to get a groove sort of setup. The analog sliders also make for quick sequencing capabilities. 

Ilntellijel Metropolis

The second sequencer is the IIntellijel Metropolis. At first glance you might think that these things basically look the same and they are in fact very similar. 

The Metropolis only has one track which it can sequence, but it utilizes a unique feature with the 8-stage switches on it. It is hard to describe and best if just shown in the video below where you can see how unique it is. 


Sequencer Alternatives

So both of those sequencers are very cool, but they are also very expensive, around $600 each. As you can see from the rack posted at the top, they also take up a ton of space. There are all sorts of cool alternatives out there. Unfortunately I am at a loss on exactly how to use them. Here is a quick list of the ones that have caught my eye so far though. 

TipTop Audio Z8000 

This is another super popular sequencer. It is a bit cheaper, but works on a grid matrix.

Malekko Heavy Industry Voltage Block

Very cool because this one can be easily "stacked" with the Varigate 8+. 

The list goes on with problematic sequencers, euclidean sequencers and cartesian sequencers. I'm sure there are even more.