Restart – by Gordon Korman (2017)

restart

Have you ever longed for a “restart” button on your life? Maybe you wish you could erase every memory and begin life over. Painful memories plague you every day. If only you could start over…

Chase, a middle-schooler, has no memories of his life before he wakes up in the hospital with a brain injury from falling off a roof. He recovers at home, then goes back to school. Chase is told that he was the star of the football team, and the coach is eager to get him back on the field. But the doctor has ordered Chase’s parents to keep him out of sports for a while, so Chase joins the after-school video club instead.

He keeps getting this weird vibe that many students are afraid of him. As time goes by, the truth comes out: Chase was the ring-leader of a trio of boys that tormented, teased, bullied, and beat up kids at school. In fact, he and his side-kicks had been arrested, and had been doing community service at a local nursing home. His mother gently broke the news to him that he had committed a crime, even though he couldn’t remember doing it, and the court expected him to finish the community service hours, now that he was physically recovered from his fall.

Chase ends up really enjoying his time at the nursing home, and becomes friends with one of the residents, a Korean War hero. He also likes working on the video club team. Some of the kids at school think he is just faking his amnesia, others are convinced that he has totally changed. The two co-bullies don’t know what to believe, and keep trying to get Chase to join them in terrorizing other students.

I was totally engrossed in this story. Although it was fictional, it was a great book about the power of choice, and how we are all given this gift. What we choose will determine the direction of our lives. If we don’t like where life seems to be going, we can change. While we may not be able to forget the mistakes and negative things we’ve done, we can restart and move our life in a positive direction.

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Your Life On Your Phone

It all started in 2007 with the first iPhone model. It could make phone calls, send basic texts (no photos), and access the world-wide web, albeit painfully slow at 2G speed with AT&T. There was no app store, and only black wallpaper in the background. It did have a camera, but no video capabilities. Still, people loved it.

2007 first iphone(photo credit: AP)

Every new model of iPhone after that added more features. Better cameras, video-recording capabilities, more internal storage space, faster internet, an app store, the ability to play music, Siri, video streaming, and a map navigation system.

Twelve years after the first iPhone with its simple operating system launched, we are now up to the iOS13 system. What can it do?

Unlock your phone with a retinal scan (as opposed to a PIN or fingerprint scan).

Identify all the members of your household by listening to their voices.

Read your messages aloud to you if you’re too busy.

Give you a simplified view of the road ahead through CarPlay Dashboard.

Add virtual objects around images of people for an augmented reality experience (ARKit3).

Let you play over 100 arcade video games on your phone.

Help you record your menstrual cycles, and predict when the next one will hit.

Sync with your home’s “smart” devices to control household appliances.

Store your medical ID and health records.

Track your tooth-brushing time.

Track audiograms from hearing tests.

Oversee your activity levels.

Monitor the time you spend on your phone.

Let you know how the stock market is doing. (And probably make an educated guess on what stocks you own by what you are viewing.)

Here’s the link to Apple’s description of their new system:
https://www.apple.com/ios/ios-13/features/

I’ve always thought of “Big Brother” as being the government (and it is). But our phones have surpassed even the federal institution on collecting data about every part of our lives. Sadly, much of the information on phones is information given willingly by the owner of the device.

We should be asking ourselves several questions:
1 – Do we really need a device to do all these things for us?
2 – Should we really be storing that much personal information on a phone that could be easily lost, stolen, or hacked?  You wouldn’t hand over your fingerprints, eye scan, medical test results, blood type, names of your doctors, and control of your home wifi and appliances to a stranger, would you? When you store all these items on something small enough to be tucked in a pocket, you set yourself up for identity theft.

I’m not trying to pick on Apple. They clearly make a great product. In all fairness, Android phones are also a privacy risk with the personal info they carry. Just be aware of how much of your life you are storing on your device, and consider limiting how much you share with that phone.

 

The Last Christian – by David Gregory (2010)

The Last Christian

Modern science, medicine and technology have made some amazing improvements to the lives of people around the globe. Some have been able to regain hearing or sight. Face transplants for severe burn victims have been possible. Replacement limbs are giving many a nearly normal way to function. AI, or Artificial Intelligence, has given us self-driving cars, better military defenses, robotic surgery, spam filtering for our email, and a host of other benefits.

“The Last Christian” is a futuristic thriller set in 2088. Neuroscience and medicine have progressed so far that people can now swap out their original brain for a new silicon brain that contains all their own memories and knowledge. It’s an improved brain that speeds up learning, and best of all, will never die. It can be transplanted into another body if the original body dies. So a person’s consciousness could go on indefinitely. But what happens to a person’s soul and religious beliefs when they get this artificial brain?

Abby Caldwell, an American by citizenship, has lived her entire life with her missionary parents in a primitive New Guinea village. Her parents died many years ago, but she continued to live there, even adopting an orphaned girl. When a strange illness attacks the village, she goes up the river to look for help. Unfortunately, when she returns, every person in the village is dead. She decides to go to the United States. When she gets there, she is shocked to discover that she cannot find anyone who is still a Christian. She appears to be the last Christian in the country. No religion exists anymore.

Although the story seems somewhat far-fetched, it really does stretch the reader’s thinking. How far can we go with AI? Could it really cause people to lose their faith? A scenario such as this book describes is not that far in the future.

Deeper Water – by Robert Whitlow (2008)

Deeper Water

Author Robert Whitlow generally writes about lawyers, court cases, and the South. In this novel, the story centers on a young law student – Tami Taylor – who is looking for a summer job. She is offered a position as a law clerk at the Braddock, Appleby, & Carpenter firm. Her main assignment is to investigate and build a defense for an elderly black man named Moses, who is charged with several dozen counts of trespassing. Moses lives on his fishing boat, and would tie his boat to private docks along the river for the night, which irked the neighbors who owned the docks. It seems like a petty charge that should just have ended with a warning to “please ask folks if they mind before you use their dock”. But as Tami works on a defense for Moses, she discovers that there is more of a story than meets the eye. Is he a harmless old man, or a heartless killer?

This story did not seem very realistic. The main character, Tami, is just too naive to seem plausible. She has been homeschooled, is deeply religious, and consults her parents for every decision. If she is still that tied to the apron strings of home, how did she make it through several years of law school? And when she applies for jobs, she has no cell phone, internet service, or e-mail for them to contact her with, only her parents’ landline telephone. She also has no car, and depends on her parents or friends for rides. She can’t accept the job, which involves moving to another town, until her parents give their blessing (which they do)

After she starts working at the firm, she often loses track of time, forgets to do things, keeps the company’s loaner car longer than she should, and goes off for a leisurely lunch with one male lawyer or another when she has work to do. When I compare that to any of the John Grisham novels about lawyers and court cases, Grisham’s guys are always running like crazy, eating lunch at their desk, and working like maniacs to get their work done on time. After work, Tami seems to have plenty of time to spend with her elderly landlady, sometimes heating up supper for her. Tami never seems to have to bring cases home to work on, and has enough energy to get up early in the morning to run four miles before walking to work.

The other female summer clerk also does not seem real. She is always trying to get the lawyers to go out with her, calmly doing research in the company library, or going to parties at night. She never seems tired, and frequently pokes fun of Tami’s religious beliefs, which causes friction between the women.

Then there are the two guy lawyers, Zach and Vince, who coincidentally are both Christians like Tami, and who are both interested in dating her. What are the chances of that? Although this was a clean read, which I appreciated, the story never seemed even close to real. If you are looking for a legal thriller that is at least somewhat authentic, this book is not it.

Becoming Steve Jobs – by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (2015)

Becoming Steve Jobs

Although this biography has two authors listed, the “I” in the story is Brent Schlender, a journalist who visited and interviewed Steve Jobs many times over a period of twenty-five years. The book traces the journey of an egotistical, overbearing young man who gradually becomes a more thoughtful, mature person in his later years. The thing that never changed was his passion to bring top-quality personal computers to everyone, not just companies and office work-places. He went on to release laptops, iPods, iPhones, and iPads in addition to desktop computers.

This is the story of a guy who never, ever stopped trying. He experienced many failures and disappointments, but that didn’t stop him from jumping into yet another endeavor. Some projects took years to bear good results, but paid off in the long run. Other projects were total failures. The book shares the recollections of a myriad of people, including his family, executives from Apple and Pixar, and friends. When you put all their memories together, you get a picture of a very complex man who changed the world.

 

The Kindly Isle – by Frederik Pohl (1984)

Platinum Pohl    Year's Best

“The Kindly Isle” is a Cold-War-era short story written by the prolific author Frederik Pohl. The main character, Jerry Wenright, works for a hotel chain, which sends him to resorts that are up for sale. Jerry inspects the properties, assesses their worth, and makes recommendations to the company about whether it is worth buying or not. In the story, he is sent to an island in the Caribbean area to check out a vacation resort that was started but never finished. On the island, he spots a scientist that he suspects of biological terrorism, which makes him very uneasy. But he also meets a lovely woman who has arrived on one of the cruise ships.

The tale ended with a twist that I totally did not suspect. I quite enjoyed this little gem of a story! Where can you find this story? It is included in the book “Platinum Pohl”. Check with your local public library. If they no longer have a copy, you can buy it as a Kindle e-book.
https://www.amazon.com/Platinum-Pohl-Collected-Best-Stories-ebook/dp/B008YHUTNY/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=platinum+pohl&qid=1568822212&s=books&sr=1-1

The story can also be found in “Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection”, compiled by Gardner Dozois. You can get it from Barnes & Noble’s website:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-years-best-science-fiction-dozois-gardner/1111742882?ean=9781466807310

You can also get it as a Kindle e-book:
https://www.amazon.com/Years-Best-Science-Fiction-Collection-ebook/dp/B006ZMR68Q/ref=sr_1_10?keywords=the+year%27s+best+science+fiction+second+annual+collection&qid=1568821904&s=books&sr=1-10

Anyway you can find it, this is a sweet story.

Third-Grade Reading

We have a reading crisis in this country. By third grade, kids should have the basics of reading mastered. They should have moved from the “learning to read” stage to “reading to learn”.  Teachers work on reading, spelling, and comprehension with their students every day, and constantly remind parents to read with their children at home. Tutors spend extra time working with kids who are struggling. There are computer games and phone apps to boost reading skills. Public libraries across the country lend books out to people at no cost. With all these ways to help kids learn to read, it would seem like every third-grader would be a fantastic reader.

Even with all this help, less than half of the third-grade students in my state are reading proficiently. Less than half! The kids that have not caught up by the end of this school year will have to repeat third grade, according to a new law. This will be a nightmare for schools. Imagine the fourth-grade classes being very small, while the third-grade classes are oversized. Up till now, most students that were not proficient in their reading skills were simply passed and received tutoring. Will the new law help push the kids and their parents to work harder on reading? Maybe, maybe not.

But why are reading scores so low? I think the answer is simple: there are so many other things kids would rather be doing, that reading gets pushed to the back burner. We have after-school sports and other clubs, social media to keep up with, video games to play, Netflix to binge-watch, and a host of other distractions. The average person simply doesn’t have time to read anymore. Adults have the same affliction. Between working, shuttling their kids from activity to activity, and doing housework and yard maintenance, they are too exhausted to do anything at the end of the day besides flop on the couch, watch tv, and check Facebook and their other social media accounts. Interesting as social media may be, it really doesn’t count as reading.

It’s a very discouraging situation, but with American culture the way it is, I don’t see most people changing their habits anytime soon. They are just too in love with their electronic toys to go back to a lifestyle that includes more reading. It’s the sad truth.