Thursday, 19 January 2017

REVIEW: "How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation" by Marc Bousquet

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation
by Marc Bousquet
NYU Press
Copyright January 2008
Paperback, 281 Pages

Dexterously written and strikingly thought provoking, this book examines deep-seated problems plaguing America’s academic labor system. Sprinkled with skepticism and cynicism, the author bluntly lay bare the paradoxes and ironies, abuses and superexploitations existing within the higher education economy and workplace. 

The academic writing, analyses and discussions make the book a worthy resource for education scholars and researchers, and a satisfactory read for graduate and undergraduate students. Though a potentially challenging read for the general reader, the book remains enlightening and even transformative for those who soldier on. Those unaligned with the author’s highly partisan stances could still potentially benefit from perusing the book; the unconventional and refreshing perspectives offered could expand one’s horizons.

Certain rather ironic and thought provoking assessments harboring specks of truth are most memorable. The successful attainment of the Ph.D. for many graduate employees for example, was said to mark “the end, and not the beginning, of a long teaching career.” With the onslaught of the practice of casualization, degree holding was also said to “increasingly represent a disqualification from practice.”

The author constructs an overwhelmingly somber depiction of the extent of student exploitation in the academic job market. Apart from coupling the identity of “youth” and “student” with contingent labor and availability for “superexploitation,” the author notably positioned students as maximally vulnerable at the hands of profit-minded institutions. The case study of the UPS earn and learn program is one such example—from the use of connotative phrases with negative innuendo such as “bait and switch” to refer to the actions of the firm, and blunt indication of the desirability of student workforces owing to their “cheapness,” “dependency,” “compliance,” and “ease of managerial control,” to highlighting the massive economical benefits enjoyed by UPS and its blatant disregard of, and even active conservation of, the abysmal working conditions for the students. 

The author’s critical tone did not abate when it came to highlighting the various injustices the university teaching staff is subjected to, both “economic and social violence,” and the imprudent actions and motivations of the corporatized higher education provider. The author accused the university, otherwise referred to as the “accumulation machine,” for favoring the “cheapest” teachers, employing “misleading” accounting to masquerade the true causes of rising tuition, for pursuing misguided priorities and distorted goals, engaging in superfluous competition in the provision of peripheral services, and spending “lavishly” on union-quashing legal services.

The author’s negative emotionality occasionally seeps through to the pages, further augmenting the unpleasant and gloomy overtone of the text. Though poignant, the rather visual metaphor comparing Ph.D. degree holders to “waste product” and “toxic blockage” might be tolerable. The author seemed to overreach however when he brusquely labelled as “excrement theory” the “Marie Antoinette or ‘let them eat cake’ theory of graduate education” supposedly promoted by graduate school administrators. 

Considering similarly the prevailingly unsavory and depressing contents of the book, even moderate citations of angst-ridden, indignantly angry and expletive-sprinkled comments by student-employees who worked at UPS suffice to turn the reader off. Additionally, the inclusion of further pieces of quotations irrelevant to the intellectual discussion, and occasionally logically unsound, makes the reading experience that more tiresome and distracts the reader from the pertinent issues. One such quotation went, “America needs no more cheese, ham, huge-ass boxes of summer sausage, holiday popcorn tins, or kringles….I think I’ve moved enough of these that every man, woman and child should already have one by default. No wonder obesity is an epidemic.”

Some repetition found within the book adds to the tedium of the reading experience. The repetition of earlier concepts and ideas, and even phrases and citations especially in chapter 6 could bore certain readers. On another note, it appears that the title of the book could have been better crafted to more accurately reflect the rather narrow scope of the text, the academically-oriented writing, and even the book’s rather bleak outlook. Be warned as well that for the reader in the midst of contemplating a career in academia, this book might rather effectively and essentially dissuade one from academe. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Sapphire Ng | Berklee Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz (Week 13) SPRING 2016 [Class Materials & Concepts]

Guitar Styles Skills - Jazz

Berklee College of Music
SPRING 2016 Semester

Class Teacher: John Baboian

[Week 13]

Class started with us playing "Witch Hunt" by Wayne Shorter, we played through the melody twice, and then we went on our solos. John reminded us that it would be great for us to play the melody at different octaves if we played the form more than once. I was the second to improvise today, and I was so surprised after my solo that John stopped the class to say that the 4ths that I'm adding into my improvisation transforms my solo, and that he thought I played well haha. Then the class continued with the rest of the students improvising, and as some were soloing, John would prompt them for example, "to play more 4ths". 

After everyone got a solo through the form of the tune, we returned to the melody and rounded up the tune by repeating the last 4 bars of the song. The first time we ended the song was probably not too coordinated, so John reminded us that most of the time when ending tunes we would play the last 4 bars of the tune as written in the lead sheet, and then repeat 2 more times. And then we were asked to attempt ending the tune smoothly again together, and yes we did. 

Concepts/content covered in class:

~ John handed us "Upper Structure Triads for Improvisation", as a technique for us to add tension into our solos. He emphasized the importance of resolution, and of the need to balance the "out" sound and the "in" sound. It may not be that a good idea to play the "out" sounds for a full 40 bars in a progression for example.  

[It sounded amazing when John demonstrated all the upper structure triads as notated in the handout. He had us pedal on the "C" note and play a certain rhythm with the pedal tone, while he went about playing and letting us hear the different sounds created from the different combinations. He played the C triad, then the Db triad, D triad and then Eb triad and so on, all the while highlighting interesting things to note. For example, when he played the Gb triad when we pedaled the bass "C" note, it gives an altered tone, and the tensions correspond to a C7(b5,b9) chord sound. And when he played the F triad or the G triad, yes he pointed out that that's the pop sound. 

[One interesting point John made was that as we play through these upper structure triads, it will be great for us to take mental notes and identify to ourselves which triad gives a more "out" sound compared to others, or which gives a subtler "out" sound and label them accordingly. For example, John mentioned that C/C is definitely the standard of the "in" sound, so we can refer to it as tension level 1, whilst Gb/C could be the most "out" sounding amongst all the upper structure triads, thus we can label it as tension level 5. Our task then would be to evaluate and decide for ourselves which ones could sound like maybe they are tension level 4, 3, 2 or even 5 or 1, and then choose accordingly when we are soloing. 

[For the 4-bar II-V-I example in the bottom half of the handout, John demonstrated the lines to us as well by having us play only the root note of each of the chords. And there we go, we have a different sound we can utilize to play over the G7 chord. 

[John went through everything else on that handout, and pointed out that "chord symbols with many tensions can often by written more simply as 'slash' chords." As further elaboration of the first sentence in the handout, John said that we do not necessarily have to use upper structure triads strictly, but we can play around it. Also, he mentioned that pedal tones work excellent in these circumstances.]

~ Next we were given "Upper Structure Triads - II V I", and John as usual demonstrated all the lines in the handout, and pointed out that the diatonic first example in the page is provided as a "reference" point of some sort to let us hear the "out" sounds of the rest of the lines more clearly. 

~ And then we proceed to the handout "Triadic Sequences", with John mentioning that these are "Symmetrical" triadic sequences where there's consistent intervals. We were then "quizzed", or rather asked, on the possible number of "permutations" we can have for Chromatics, Whole Tones, Minor Thirds, Major Thirds, and Tri-Tones. The answers are available on the handout itself haha, and as it turns out, there are 12 permutations for Chromatics, 6 for Whole Tones, 4 for Minor Thirds, 3 for Major Thirds, and 2 for Tri-Tones. And "permutations" in this case does not mean how many, for example, Whole Tone scales exist because a student mentioned 2 for Whole Tones, haha but it's not applicable in this case. 
[John mentioned that often we would hear these in jazz trios, 
without a piano player, and as played by the guitarist. For example, John Scofield, Mike Stern and Pat Metheny in jazz trio situations would be able to incorporate these into improvisations. And John hilariously emphasized the importance of not having pianists in these situations, as the guitarist would then have greater freedom to explore, and in addition to that if the bassist plays a pedal tone, the guitarist would really have all the space he wants to express and explore.] 

~ We were given the lead sheet of "Freedom Jazz Dance" of Eddie Harris. And as this song only has one chord, the Bb7 chord, it is a great song to explore improvising with "out" sounds. 

~ We were given the solo transcriptions of Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny to the tune "All The Things You Are", where both transcriptions are available as options for the final exam. John played the audio of both transcriptions for us, and discussed their differences. John mentioned that it is particularly amazing that the two versions are so different especially when they were actually recorded only a couple of months apart. Whilst it is said that Pat Metheny's solo emphasizes chops, Bill Frisell's solo is not about chops. Bill Frisell utilized the volume pedal and digital delay, and his improvisation has much greater emphasis on melodic and harmonic content in contrast to Pat Metheny's. John commented that though Pat Metheny's solo sounds difficult, it is actually easier than it first sounds, the only thing is that it is fast.

Class Homework:

~ "Freedom Jazz Dance" by Eddie Harris - Melody, comping and improvisation 

Class Materials/Handouts:

"Upper Structure Triads For Improvisation"

"Upper Structure Triads - II V I"

"Triadic Sequences"

"Freedom Jazz Dance" by Eddie Harris

Bill Frisell "All The Things You Are" - Solo Transcription

Pat Metheny "All The Things You Are" - Solo Transcription

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

BLOG TOUR: "Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again" by Traci Mann

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again
by Traci Mann
Harper Wave
Copyright January 2017
Paperback, 272 Pages

An effortless and quick read. Informative and packed with interesting empirical studies and research. Refreshing insights and findings are presented along with simple and yet practicable strategies. A pleasant read for both dieters and non-dieters alike, with an emphasis on informing and empowering those grappling with weight issues. 

Mann coherently tackles the various myths and misconceptions that plague the weight loss industry. She persuasively argues that dieting is counterproductive—dieting strengthens the brain response to “images of food and to actual food” and causes the deterioration of one’s impulse control—, convincingly debunks the myth of comfort foods, and analytically highlights the disproportionately inflated health risks of obesity. She continues by cogently elucidating biological and evolutionary rationales underlying weight regain, and cites studies challenging the exaggerated role of willpower in “resisting highly tempting foods.”

Explorations of food labeling, with fascinating and occasionally ironic findings, represent one of the more interesting areas of studies incorporated in the book. It is apparently an unwise strategy to include labeling that explicitly declare certain foods as “healthy.” On the other hand, an example of a rather surprising but intriguing studies-based assessment found in the book is as follows, “Your life expectancy is about six years shorter if you have initials F.A.T. than if you are fat (class I obese).”

This book delightfully covers a further assortment of absorbing content and concepts. Learning about perceived flaws of prevailing diet studies and the concept of weight cycling is beyond enlightening. Mann’s candid spotlighting of the poignancy of weight stigma and discrimination additionally prompts reflection. The shaming and negativity to which obese people are subjected plunges them further into the vicious cycle of weight gain. Glimpsed as an attempt to speak up for the obese populace, Mann even produced shocking findings that bluntly display the prejudice against overweight people by obesity researchers and doctors, members of society obligated to care for, and supposedly more empathetic and sympathetic toward, obese patients.

Of the sampling of functional strategies provided in the book to guide the reader to attain his or her “leanest livable weight,” a particularly intriguing one included adopting an abstract and general versus a specific and detailed pattern of thinking about temptation foods. Mann further acquaints the reader with what she calls the “i-intentions” statement, and other strategies cleverly based upon proven social psychological theories, for example the pressure to conform in eating patterns. 

In line with Mann’s powerfully healthy and positive message to dieters and non-dieters alike, it is fitting that she wrote, “Eating is not a moral act,” and that “there is no cause for guilt or shame about things you eat.” I will venture to surmise that Mann would probably consider her book a greater success should the reader/dieter come away liberated—spiritually, psychologically and physically. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

REVIEW: "Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy" by Cathy O’Neil

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
by Cathy O’Neil
Copyright September 2016
Hardcover, 272 Pages 

An engaging read on the intersection between data science and politics, education, law enforcement, healthcare and more. The practical orientation of the book makes it a compelling read for data nerds and less mathematically inclined readers alike. This book is especially hospitable to those without prior knowledge in data science, with its conspicuous reader-friendly signposts amply situated throughout the text in addition to illustrative use of refreshing analogies. Newcomers to the world of big data will be astonished by the trove of fresh ideas and will enjoy a mentally stimulating read consisting of systematic and logical arguments coupled with an eclectic range of fascinating examples. 

Be cautioned that the author’s bold expression of distaste and “outrage” toward what she deems Weapons of Math Destruction (WMDs) and their associated injustices percolates through to her tone of writing and choice of citations, the reader is thus advised to harbor an open mind as he or she peruses the book and its arguments. Bluntly highlighting the ugly reality as the author perceives it and fearlessly questioning prevailing assumptions, the book rather effectively informs the reader of potential misuses and abuses of big data. 

The book as a cohesive whole reinforces the primary range of negative traits O’Neil attributes to WMDs. With reiteration, O’Neil communicates the opacity, non-transparency and unfairness of the mathematical models, their lack of humanity and indifference toward their predominantly poor and minority victims, their short-sighted predisposition for profitability and efficiency, and their untenable systems decaying from the paucity of error feedback. With the self-perpetuating nature of WMD-generated vicious cycles, compounded with ultimately inevitable errors bound to plague every statistical system, these penalizing models seemed ripe to cause catastrophic harm. 

The book covers a great assortment of WMDs. Amongst the more fascinating include those in the educational sphere, particularly one apparently linked to, and even incentivizes, the phenomenon of skyrocketing tuition—ranking models targeting institutions of higher education. Of a strikingly unwholesome goal a school could become entangled in is to take pride in rejecting increasing numbers of applicants; by doing so the institution lowers its acceptance rate and thus betters its ranking. School-to-school marketing is yet another curious trend the author ascribes to a school disproportionately committing itself to cosmetic goals of improving its overall reputation at the expense of genuine progress in educational excellence and quality. 

The criminalization of poverty by flawed predictive crime models such as PredPol, the exploitation of the ignorant through predatory advertising as exemplified by the Corinthian College scandal, and the contribution of the risk model attached to mortgage-backed securities to the disastrous 2008 financial crisis are some rather poignant examples of WMD-damage. Other interesting forms of WMDs discussed include workforce scheduling software, recruitment personality tests, credit card and insurance e-scores, recidivism models and more. 

The book also contains a delightful sampling of interesting non-WMD examples gleaned from the captivating world of data science. The marketing strategies employed by the Obama re-election campaign is one such example, with intriguing explorations of scored profiles of American voters which “not only gauged their value as a potential voter, volunteer, and donor but also reflected their stances on different issues.” Reflecting technological advances and trends in our contemporary society, the Facebook algorithm is an unavoidable topic, whilst the discussion of software systems enterprising to quantify characteristically non-quantifiable matters, such as employee generation of ideas, makes the reading experience even more engrossing. 

War metaphors used in the chapter titles are particularly fitting. With titles such as “civilian casualties,” “collateral damage” and “arms race,” they rather effectively reinforce the author’s strong stance and intent to paint WMDs as monumentally destructive. 

Depending on the individual, the reader may or may not be ruffled by the author’s occasional mocking statement—“People who favor policies like stop and frisk should experience it themselves,” a comment preceded by its supposed justification, “a crucial part of justice is equality. And that means, among many other things, experiencing criminal justice equally.”

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 

Friday, 30 December 2016

REVIEW: "Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types" by Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types
by Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson
Mariner Books
Copyright January 2000
Paperback, 416 Pages

Fundamentally empowering, this book excellently surveys the masterpiece of the Enneagram. The rudiments of the Enneagram is presented in a methodical, systematic and highly accessible manner, promising to deliver a fulfilling and pleasurable reading experience. Insightful explorations of the complex and comprehensive system of the Enneagram situate the reader on a cherished journey of self-understanding and self-discovery, along with an increased appreciation and comprehension of the behaviors and personalities of others in one’s life. Beyond the psychological realm, the book also encompasses meaningful spiritual lessons in itself. A must read for all members of the human race; the knowledge acquired from perusing this book will prove invaluable in the very precious act of living.

The book terrifically covers the basic principles of the Enneagram—the personality triads consisting of the Thinking Center, the Feeling Center and the Instinctive Center; the significance of the Directions of Integration and Disintegration; the functionality of the nine Levels of Development incorporating the stages of Healthy, Average to Unhealthy, and more. 

The dynamic nature of the Enneagram and the interconnectivity between all 9 personality types is deeply profound. Analogous to this is the formula the authors consider germane to “a full analysis of any individual”—the need for examining a total of 4 personality types, namely the basic type, the auxiliary type or the wing, and the types in the respective Directions of Integration and Disintegration. 

Of the more fascinating material covered in the book includes the relating of the Enneagram to various personality disorders. For example, the association of types 2 and 7 with histrionic personality disorder, type 4 with avoidant personality disorder, and type 8 with antisocial personality disorder. Also notably outstanding involves the concise positioning of bite-sized and memorable pieces of information in Enneagram form that allows easy comparison between the 9 types, for example the Enneagrams of Basic Fears, Basic Desires, and Characteristic Temptations, or in another chapter, the Enneagrams of Psychological Capacity, Social Value, and Overcompensation. These clear visual references could certainly help in information retention. 

As one would expect, the book contains a type-identification questionnaire. More unusual perhaps, but surely helpful is a following chapter that prudently addresses “misidentifications.” The venturing into greater subtleties and further clarifications make the overall Enneagram learning experience all the more compelling, for instance by ascertaining the different styles of perfectionism or differing degrees of linearity in thinking, the contrasting expressions of similar ideals or dissimilar feeling-tones, and even the divergence in the nature of the sense of justice—embodied as “an extremely important value” versus being otherwise “more of a visceral response.”

In direct and explicit service to readers, the book also includes a handful of type-specific content focused on self-improvement. The succinct presentation of certain pieces of information, on the other hand, also eases the process of self-help, for example the unambiguous identifications of the Cognitive Errors and Characteristic Temptations of the respective types. 

Appropriate elaboration could have been included to illuminate and to promote greater understanding of the relevance of a particular concept in the book, namely the notion of internal symmetries residing in each personality type. For type 2 for example, it was said that “Generosity (at Level 3) parallels self-sacrifice (at Level 6) and the feeling of victimization (at Level 9)” without further explication. To cite yet another example, for type 3 it was said that “Internal symmetries include those between inner-directedness (at Level 1), performance (at Level 4), and deceptiveness (at Level 7).” Sans any meaningful elucidation, the reader is mostly left in the dark on the actual significance, implications and applications of such a concept. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

REVIEW: "One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits" by Adam Skolnick

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

One Breath: Freediving, Death, and the Quest to Shatter Human Limits
by Adam Skolnick
Crown Archetype
Copyright January 2016
Hardcover, 336 Pages

A riveting narrative on the esoteric and extreme sport of freediving, and the poignant and fateful death of America’s best freediver, Nicholas Mevoli. This is a compellingly fascinating book which demystifies competitive freediving, uncovers the science of the sport, and reveals the psyche of its risk-embracing practitioners. 

This book magnanimously offers a very meaningful and critical lesson for both aspiring and professional athletes. A sustainable athletic career goes beyond merely possessing rare and extraordinary talent. A misleading sense of invincibility and disproportionately overpowering competitive drive could be an athlete’s nemesis. Coupled with impatience, obstinacy, emotionality, blunt detachment from one’s physical body, and flippant attitude toward the intrinsic risks of the sport, the athlete could be well on his path to self-destruction. 

Serving as both a cautionary tale and a reality check, this book ought to trigger an earnest self-reflection should an aspiring or professional athlete with specific unhealthy traits mirrored in Mevoli chance upon this book. Those contemplating a career in professional freediving might appreciate this book, with its stark and no-nonsense portrayal of the immense physical and mental challenges, along with the potential dangers, associated with this sport. 

Non-freedivers on the other hand, could find the range of content covered in the book remarkably fascinating, for example the medical conditions and injuries commonly associated with freediving. Conveyed through riveting anecdotes, the reader will learn about the dangers of decompression sickness, the pain of perforated eardrums, the peril of deep-water blackouts, the symptoms of hypoxia, and the unfortunate prevalence and occurrences of lung squeezes.

The book engagingly elucidates scientific concepts as pertaining to freediving, namely the function and effect of the mammalian dive reflex, the notion of barometric pressure at depth and its impact on the human body, the antithetical concepts of negative versus positive buoyancy and implications on a diver’s technique, and the fascinating notion of thermocline or the affliction of nitrogen narcosis. 

The book excellently weaved in delectable and concise biographies of notable freediving personalities who have accomplished superhuman feats, most memorably the elite Russian Natalia Molchanova—“the Martina Navratilova of freediving,” “an ageless wonder” affectionately referred to as “the Queen,” and an astoundingly uplifting inspiration for older athletes—and the world record holders William Trubridge and Alexey Molchanov, Natalia’s son. 

It is entertaining to be let in on the excitement and action, dynamics and mechanics of the various international freediving competitions—depth and pool, team and individual—as chronicled in the book. The book demystifies for example, the 3 disciplines of freediving depth competitions, namely Constant Weight, Free Immersion, and Constant No Fins. And of potentially great interest even for general readers would include techniques and training of the sport, the former including the likes of equalization and development of lactic acid and carbon dioxide tolerance. 

The book is overwhelmingly non-chronological; the narrative flitted so frequently between the time after Mevoli’s death and when he was still alive that it is confusing at times for the reader. Worse still, the persistent time traveling between the countless chapters conveys a sense of disruption, discontinuity and choppiness in narrative, and is even mildly irritating. 

The book gives the impression of being somewhat of a tribute to Mevoli, and furnishes an extensive narrative of his life from childhood to adulthood. The excessive details about his acting engagements and dreams, multiple romantic interests and escapades, and social life and activities hugely divorced from the freediving world, community, or sport however might be more suited for inclusion in an actual biographical work dedicated solely to Mevoli. 

Considering the title of this book and its eclectic coverage predominantly focused upon unlocking the mysteries of the sport of freediving, the reader, and particularly non-Mevoli superfans, drawn to the book for the freediving narrative could be highly tempted to skip superfluous details about Mevoli that distinctly go beyond what one would consider compact and compelling. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

REVIEW: "The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science" by R. Douglas Fields

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science
by R. Douglas Fields
Simon & Schuster
Copyright December 2009
Hardcover, 384 Pages 

An unbelievably engrossing book on brain science, The Other Brain presents a scientific discourse predominantly focused on the glia, and aptly examined alongside the neuronal brain. The book is comprised of a delectable survey of scientifically intriguing information as related to the human brain and is perfectly accessible to the general reader. Effectively incorporating anecdotes and metaphors, the positioning of the material in the book is beyond engaging. 

Granted the intimate and indispensable role our brains play in our lives, this book is a must read for any perspicacious member of the human race. Be warned though that one might require more than just scant interest in brain science or minimal desire for self-discovery to make it through the book. 

Personally, am most astounded and fascinated by the examinations into the eclectic range of diseases related to the brain. It is surely jaw-dropping for example, to learn of mechanisms in a person’s central nervous system that could implicate life paralysis in the event of a spinal cord injury, of which it is also and surely no less captivating to learn of the existence of the phenomenon of cellular suicide as triggered by the injury.

The book includes riveting explorations of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS—where “only motor neurons are assassinated”—; demyelinating disorders such as multiple sclerosis that induce the loss of myelin; glia-implicating psychiatric illnesses encompassing schizophrenia and depression; and even a rather poignant case of Alexander disease as afflicting a young child who suffered from symptoms such as hydrocephalus, which is aptly elucidated in the book as “enlargement of the head due to fluid pressure buildup in the brain.”

The peculiar case of kuru is yet another disease presented in an incredibly gripping manner, with its enigmatic link with cannibalism and afflictions of “spongiform encephalopathy” where victims’ brains turned to “sponge.” Whilst again somewhat poignant to read about cases involving the condition of CIPA—congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis—which is marked by the death of pain neurons, or ominous brain cancers such as glioblastomas, the content remains perfectly positioned to educate the reader on the scientific specificities of the different diseases. 

The reader can expect detailed examinations of glia alongside its “cellular sibling,” neurons, and should seize the opportunity to learn their fundamentals. For example, the four basic types of glial cells are astrocytes, Schwann cells, oligodendrocytes, and microglia; the 3 different forms of Schwann cells distinguished as nonmyelinating, terminal, or myelinating; the function of microglia as the brain’s “military,” and “exclusive guard;” or the differentiation between pre- and postsynaptic neurons, and the functioning and significance of neurons. 

The book ventures further into discussions of for example, the blood-brain barrier, the extracellular brain space, the interrelationship between memory, learning and the brain, surgical procedures such as the prefrontal lobotomy—as a treatment for schizophrenia—, and impressively profound scientific tools including gene chips aiding in the process of monitoring “the activity of thousands of genes at once,” the diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) brain scan—a brain imaging technique that correlated IQ with white matter development—, calcium imaging, and miniaturization.

Beautifully interpolated into the text are inspiring and incredible scientific adventures and expert contributions of great scientists, electrophysiologists, neurobiologists, biophysicists, pain researchers and more. It is surely a pleasure to peruse the variety of ingenious scientific experiments as designed and conducted by these pundits doggedly dedicated to the continuous pursuit and attainment of scientific knowledge.

As for the effective use of metaphors in aiding the elucidation of concepts, an example include the illustrative comparison of “a pathological loss of myelinating glial cells” in forebrain tracts and the potentially resulting “psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and other mental impairments,” to the breakage of “insulation on critical communication cables” but with the heightened dire impact of a severed cable on the disruption of “communication” within the brain. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom" by Garrett McNamara, Karen Karbo

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom. 
by Garrett McNamara, Karen Karbo
Harper Wave
ISBN: 978-0062343598
Copyright November 2016
Hardcover, 304 Pages 

An invigorating autobiography penned by surfing legend Garrett McNamara. In line with the author’s daredevil disposition, the reader can expect a fast-paced narrative choked full of exciting adventures to the most bizarre and ridiculously hilarious escapades. 

This book is heartwarmingly inspirational; its human connection and meaningful depth elevates the book to near perfection. Whilst McNamara fans can expect to be smitten, serious surfers, earnest athletes and big dreamers on the other hand are well advised not to miss this gem of a book. 

McNamara’s magnificent achievement of making the Guinness Book of World Records for riding a 78 feet history-making wave at Nazare, Portugal is characterized, as a tremendous inspiration to all, as a “universal” manifestation of “how anything in life is possible.”

Even with personal recounts of winning the Jaws Tow-In World Cup—a big-wave contest—, receiving the coveted invitation to compete in the Eddie tournament, or successfully making the covers of countless prominent surfing magazines, a predominant focus remains spotlighted on universal themes relatable and galvanizing to people from all walks of life—McNamara’s resolute ambition and desire to succeed, his display of mental strength and fortitude, his awe-inspiring perseverance and tenacity, and his unbelievable positivity and fertile attitude toward life. 

It was beyond fascinating to devour firsthand recounts of McNamara’s electrifying surfing adventures—one such heart-stopping and perilous adventure of tow-in surfing amidst calving glaciers at Childs Glacier, Alaska, that left the author “glacierized;” his reflexive and candid assessment of Mavericks as a break “that had intent, and that intent was to kill you;” or his designation of Banzai Pipeline as “the most deadly break in the world” with reefs consisting of “a disorganized series of jagged flats.” 

McNamara of course, also dedicates considerable attention to his home breaks—Velzyland, one of his Six Feet and Under spot; Hale-’iwa, which he had religiously “memorized where the submerged rocks were;” and Wai-mea, the birthplace of big-wave surfing. 

The athletic reader, particularly one with professional athletic aspirations, who is or had been afflicted with varying severity of injuries, would potentially find tremendous comfort in this book. Especially in learning about McNamara’s personal history of injuries, and particularly one rather debilitating and immobilizing injury—involving a pair of severely herniated discs—that did not preclude him from eventually successfully ascending to the very zenith of his sport and attaining iconic status. 

A possible critique to this book would be the author’s utilization of a range of surfing terminology without accompanying explanations. The general interest reader might not have readily understood terms used such as barreling, but of course one could easily and quickly resolve the issue by conducting an internet search. And considering the book’s target audience to be possibly and primarily McNamara fans and surfing or sports enthusiasts, in addition to its autobiographical genre, one ought not to expect too exhaustive an approach and coverage by the book. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

BLOG TOUR: "Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis" by Joe Dolce

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis
by Joe Dolce
Harper Wave
ISBN: 978-0062499912
Copyright October 2016
Hardcover, 288 Pages 

An absolutely entertaining and captivating book that keeps one glued to the pages from beginning to end. This book is a purposeful and solid blend of amazing storytelling, intriguing science, illuminating history, and dynamic personal recount, rendered in an articulately impassioned authorial voice and expressive writing. 

This book is perfect for the reader generally unacquainted with the world of cannabis; he or she will have much to discover and to be astounded by, as he or she follows the author along on his experiential, exciting, and progressive learning journey. 

Dolce’s enthusiasm for cannabis is unmistakable, and his advocacy for both the legalization and “normalization” of cannabis is contagious. Drug legalization proponents along with those harboring neutral stances would likely enjoy the book, but the same might not apply for those possessing strong sentiments against cannabis legalization, and it might be a somewhat uncomfortable reading experience for them. 

This however certainly does not preclude the possibility of cannabis opponents with an open mind devouring the book and thereafter coming away with a greater empathy for the antithetical viewpoint, or to feel somewhat persuaded by, or concede to, certain points or arguments made by the author. This category of readers at the very least could grow and mature intellectually from assimilating the alternative perspective. 

The author covers certain cannabis basics, with details mind-bogglingly profound. The reader will be introduced to the constituents of cannabis, for example THC, CBD, and terpenes—smell molecules such as myrcene, pinene and caryophyllene—, and their respective roles and mutual interplay; the notion of dabs— “a dab is a mind-stinging 70 to 90 precent THC”—and significance of dose control and microdosing; and even the baffling numerical estimate of compounds contained in the cannabis plant. 

Scientific material covered in the book are particularly enjoyable and distinctly intellectually-satisfying for me. Discussion of the endocannabinoid system—the “supercomputer,” or “largest signaling system” in the human body—is one such example of fascinating coverage. Scientific evidence furnished that elucidate the ways cannabinoids protect the brain from injury in the instances of for example, sports and war, is another utterly engrossing angle offered in the book, and of course, no less riveting are further medical discussions of cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and anandamide in relation to cannabis. Even rather brief considerations of the failure of the drug rimonabant is astoundingly eye-opening. 

The compelling coverage of relevant historical details are another key strength of the book. Information provided on the American War on Drugs, the tireless generation of anticannabis propaganda and fearmongering in the country, the enactment of the Marijuana Tax Act and the passage of anti-marijuana prohibitions in specific US states, and the presidential disavowal of “the most comprehensive government study of cannabis in American history” are but a sampling of particulars meaningful and compelling to the curious and educated citizen. 

The book also notably includes discussion of the very country ascribed as “the nucleus of cannabis research”—Israel—along with the Israeli scientist credited for discovering THC; the history of, and implications thereafter of—for example in terms of access to the plant, and ease, or lack thereof, for research—, cannabis’s classification, alongside substances such as heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy, as a schedule I narcotic; certain intriguing details about indoor cannabis grows, such as lighting strength and brightness; and astonishing stories presented by the author as testament to the “miraculous” cannabis—its extraordinary healing effects, and its seemingly expansive scope of cure. 

It is no accident that the book incorporates humor at certain junctures; it appears to be an innate trait of the author. A particular stand-out was when Dolce followed a paragraph indicating the harsh reality of cannabis businesses being potentially responsible for paying a federal income tax upwards of 70 percent with the one-liner, “It’s a good thing they sell a product that quells anxiety.” 

As for the author’s admirably evocative writing, his exquisite use of metaphor in the following sentence speaks for itself, “the other common effect of cannabis is time slowdown, that pleasantly languorous experience of the hands of the clock pushing through honey.”

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.