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.

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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.




Top 10 Summer Songs

Megan and I had a conversation the other day about our top summer songs. These are all songs that I have some sort of particular memory or connection to summer. Perhaps it was a cool summer night, hanging around a campfire, going to a rave in a warehouse or something else. 

So in no particular order, here are mine. Let me see your favorite songs in the comments below. 


Katy 180 - Sixteen Candles

This first one hopefully no one will know except my high school friends. This was a local high school band and they put out a fun album. Several good songs on there, but this one is a personal favorite that I am uploading directly to my blog here. 


Blink 182 - Dammit


Southern Sun - Paul Oakenfold


Superdrag - Sucked Out


Spacehog - In the Meantime


Soundgarden - Burden in My Hand


Daft Punk - Around the World/ Harder Better Faster Strong


Basement Jaxx - Where's Your Head At?


The Mighty Might Bosstones - The Impression that I Get


The Chemical Brothers - Block Rockin' Beats


Bonus Song

John Digweed - Heaven Scent

I'm gonna throw a bonus song in here, in particular this scene and track from the movie Groove. This whole vibe is very emblematic of some of the warehouse and Goa Trance parties Megan and i used to go to. This movie in particular just puts a huge smile on my face so go give it a rental. 

Book Review: Ode to Kirihito

Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting...

That is how I would describe this work. This is a strange story about a doctor who is researching a disease. The story then unfolds with betrayal and corruption in the medical world of Japan. At the same time our main character is taken on an emotional and physically brutal trip through several countries enduring the bigotry of the disease he has caught.

The cultural sentimentalities come across strange at times, dated even. There was a passage early on in the book where a female lead character is raped and no one seems to care. The perpetrator, whom she knew, just walked away and she gave into it as if she was supposed to. It was odd to me and actually unbelievable.

The artwork was extremely well done though and at 800 pages has to be one of the longest graphic novels I have ever read. I won't put myself in the camp of "masterpiece" as others state, but it was a good book.

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Book Review: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I don't know quite how to rate this book. There were a lot of things I liked but there were also a number of things that pulled me out of the story.

Audiobook
Let's start off with the audiobook itself. The audiobook was really well produced. It was read by Philip Pullman and fully cast with actors, resulting in a pretty immersive listening experience. Some of the characters in the book came across better than others, but most were quite good.

Philip Pullman also did an excellent job as the narrator and he has quite a good reading voice.

The Story
The story left me a bit mixed. I felt that there were too many instances of the narrative had to be resolved by a "deus ex machina", where Lyra just happened to have the right tool, or set of words to get her out of a situation. The alethiometer was a really cool device in the story, but often times was just too powerful of a plot device for Lyra.

Lyra's character also really left me mixed at times. I liked that she was portrayed as a strong female protagonist, but she sometimes swung from a helpless child less than her age, to someone who had the intelligence to outwit most of the adults around her. I was able to believe the latter, but the former felt out of place for the character that Pullman developed.

Most of the supporting cast I truly enjoyed. They were well developed and people you could love our hate truly based upon their character. Lyra's parents we come to find out are absolutely crazy. I enjoyed their insanity, but I did have a bit of trouble trying to understand how they fell in love to begin with. Their personalities seemed so far apart and they were insane for different reasons.

This was a pretty solid book, but I wasn't quite "wowed" by the hype that has proceeded it. I am not sure if I am going to go onto the second book in the series.

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