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  • gilwilson 7:54 PM on February 10, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , education, gary marcus, guitar, guitar hero, guitar zero, learning, , non-fiction, , ,   

    “Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning” by Gary Marcus 

    “Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning”by Gary Marcus
    read by (and with music performed by) the author
    published by Penguin Audio
    5 hours and 33 minutes

    I wasn’t really sure what I was in for when I decided to give this book a listen but I’m very glad I did take the time. All my life, I’ve wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument, I’ve tried the guitar, I’ve tried the keyboards (yeah I would say piano, but when I wanted to be in a new wave band, we called them keyboards), I even tried the harmonica. But like the author Gary Marcus, I had a bad sense of rhythm. Even when I tried breakdancing, I was good until the rhythm became an issue. So what’s a fella to do? After all they say that If you want to become a musician you have to start out when you’re younger, because your brain is wired in such a way at younger ages you can learn and absorb. Gary Marcus, is a research psychologist whose work focuses on language, biology, and the mind at New York University, sets out to find out whether that myth is true. Marcus wants to learn guitar and thinking he has no sense of rhythm, he can’t even play the video game “Guitar Hero” without getting booed off the virtual stage.

    What turns out to be one man’s search for whether or not he is too old to learn guitar turns out to be a very unique book that discusses the science of learning and then develops into the science behind music, creativity, thinking and training. As I listened to the book each chapter would engross me more and more when topics would be explored. Marcus used many musical examples and interviews in the revealing process. Some of the items mentioned are how Jimi Hendrix would modify his guitar to make it do what he wanted, how Hendrix spent every living moment with his guitar. How Pat Metheny says he never stops learning and practicing. How Bob Dylan decided to go away from the traditional folk music scene and start writing unique lyrics.

    Lots and lots of great modern music history references as well as examples in studies as to how the mind works and what all is involved in becoming musical. Basically it all comes down to all you folks that play Guitar Hero or even Rock Band and think, “Hey, I can do this for real,” and then go to pick up a real guitar only to get frustrated, Gary Marcus explains why you can press colored buttons in perfect rhythm but may not be able to master a real guitar anytime real soon. First of all the body and the mind have to learn many things. The body needs to learn to press down strings on a fret board in positions the human fingers weren’t meant to be in. There’s also the varying amount of pressure it takes to hold down the strings to get the right sound, the memorization of different notes and chord placements. Then there’s the ear training, what each note sounds like and what notes work with other notes (same with chords). Very different from colored buttons on a plastic guitar mold controller.

    Not only does the author cover the science behind playing instruments but he also discusses the science behind creativity. There is a section when talking about the difference between being musical and being creative where Steve Vai says that while he can play every single not Jimi Hendrix played and make it sound exactly like what Hendrix did, what gets him is how he was able to come up with the ideas in the first place. Which brings up another aspect of being a musician, whether one is born with the ability or if it is learned and if so why are some people more apt to be musical.

    This book is perfect for the professional musician or the novice and better yet for anyone with just the slightest interest in music. Another person that would benefit from this book would be anyone in the education field. So I guess just about anyone would find something in this book that would pique their interest, especially if personal re-invention is in the works and someone is seeking to reach their full potential.

    What I got out of the book is not only the old adage of “practice makes perfect” but how to make that practice more perfect for me.

    • Jeff 8:34 PM on February 10, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      I was interested in reading your review of this when I saw you were listening to it. I’ve played guitar since college. In fact, the first good guitar I bought was a cherry sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard similar to the one on the cover. I’ve never tried Guitar Hero as it seemed silly and nothing remotely the same as actual playing. I hope you revisit learning to play guitar, if that’s what interests you. –JEFF


    • gilwilson 8:49 PM on February 10, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      Jeff, I may try again, especially since I have watched my step-son excel. I had the guitar (an old yamaha classical w/ nylon strings, yeah I wanted the fat fretboard) sitting around gathering dust and my , then 11 year old, step-son asked if he could check it out. Sure, no problem, I was too frustrated w/ my fat fingers and lack of coordination. Jump to now, he turned 19 today, and the “kid” is a musical genius. I watch him play and think wow, could I have done that? Of course he spent every waking moment playing guitar from the time he picked that guitar up to today. Not only did he have the talent but he’s developed it into something phenomenal and out of jealousy I may have to try to learn again. That means I’ll ask him to give me lessons.


  • gilwilson 9:34 PM on January 13, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , joshua swanson, non-fiction, , , sam sommers, , sociology   

    “Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World” by Sam Sommers 

    “Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World”
    by Sam Sommers
    Read by Joshua Swanson
    Published by Penguin Audio (2012)
    8 hours and 24 minutes

    I have always had an interest in psychology and sociology, specifically I’ve always wondered what makes people tick and how can you make them tick differently.  In fact while in college In my general ed. psychology class, my professor and his T.A. kept trying to get me to convert my major to psychology, I seemed to always have the best questions in class, I guess, and the grasp I always had for the concepts behind what makes the mind work impressed them.  But I was determined to change the world by becoming the best audio production person the radio world has ever seen.  Maybe I should have listened.

    Anyway, I saw this audiobook in the new releases from Penguin audio and wondered if this could help me with my copywriting.  Yes, just like any other copywriter I use psychology to try and make the audience realize that they need the product I’m writing about.  Sneaky? yeah, but it works.  So I saw this book, and after reading about the book I thought, well this sounds like it is probably a self-help book, and really I don’t subscribe to all this Dr. Phil self help junk.  In actuality I probably would have been a thorn in the side of the Psychology department because I feel that Freud ruined Western Civilization. In my humble opinion, I believe therapy is just a way to not have to take the blame for any of our own actions.  Knowing all this, you can probably see why I almost didn’t give this book a chance, but, I’m glad I did.  It seems that the author, Sam Sommers is also not a fan of the self-help genre, he even goes as far as saying so in the introduction.  This book explores not how you can improve yourself but rather how the invisible forces influence your life, in turn this shows how understanding them can improve everything you do.

    Sam Sommers is an award-winning teacher and researcher of social psychology at Tufts University outside Boston. His research specialties include how people think, communicate, and behave in diverse settings, as well as psychological perspectives on the U.S. legal system.

    The book is presented in a factual yet easy-going and at times humorous manner that shows through personal examples from the author and through various studies world wide about how the world around you shapes your instincts and sometimes most private thoughts.  Through this easy-going manner the book expresses the ups and downs that are the human experience.  Our lives are full of situations that are humorous and serious and this is perfectly reflected in the tone of this book.

    The presentation from the reader, Joshua Swanson, makes this an audiobook experience that emphasizes the humor and easy-going presentation written by Sommers.   Swanson reads the material in a manner that keeps the listener listening and makes the presentation of some of the statistical studies not merely a presentation but as though you and the author were sitting down and discussing the concepts presented.   This actually makes it so that the learning is fun or rather as Bill Cosby used to say in the Fat Albert show, “And if you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done.”  I know I finished the book with a clearer perspective of my fellow 3rd rockers.

    Some of the examples of context affecting our attitude are pretty dark and include such cases as a man dying on a subway and no one notices he is dead for several hours, the 38 witnesses to an abduction of a child and no one steps in to question the situation, and several studies where the test subject relies on those around to decide how to act.  In the listening of the different cases and studies, I found myself saying, “Not me, I would have checked the man to see if he was okay, or I would have not paid attention to those around me and would pull the fire alarm if smoke was coming in under the door to a roomful of people.  But according to all the cases and studies the facts point otherwise.  And looking at some situations, I tend to agree when in a crowd, and there is an emergency, I do find myself thinking someone closer to the emergency will do something.

    As the author says, “Just as a museum visitor neglects to notice the frames around paintings, so do people miss the influence of ordinary situations on the way they think and act. But frames – situations – do matter. Your experience viewing the paintings wouldn’t be the same without them. The same is true for human nature.”  By understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using this knowledge to rethink how we see the world, we can be more effective at work, at home, and in daily interactions with others. He describes the pitfalls to avoid and offers insights into making better decisions and smarter observations about the world around us.

    Sommers covers several issues throughout the book from gender differences in society, how we react to emergencies in different situations and even racism.  I will say the section on racism was the most eye opening for me.  I won’t go into this chapter, because I want you to be able to experience the eye opener presented for yourself.  I will say that the overall message behind the book I took out of it, is that we are not who we think we are, because our selves change through time and in context.  Just knowing this can alert you to maybe in the next situation you can do something to help or just make your life easier.

  • gilwilson 9:01 PM on November 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , deborah blum, , , , , mediums, non-fiction, , seances, sound library, william james   

    “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death” by Deborah Blum 

    “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death”
    by Deborah Blum
    read by George K. Wilson
    Produced by Sound Library (2006)
    approx 13 hours

    It seems to be a recent trend to go out and try to find proof of the existence of ghosts, spirits and all things paranormal.  We have “reality” TV shows showing ghost hunters and search amazon.com for ghost hunting and you can find all sorts of equipment that theoretically aids the hunt for ghosts.  But this trend has been with humankind ever since we began burying our dead and trying to find out what happens next.  Pulitzer prize winning writer, Deborah Blum takes a look at some 19th Century ghost hunting int the book, “Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death.”  During this time period Harvard professor William James, remembered more for his contributions to psychology and philosophy than psychical research, was one of the early leaders in scientific research aimed ultimately at determining whether consciousness survives bodily death.

    From the mediums speaking to the spirit of a dead girl to find her body to tricksters using various contraptions to fool the audience, several members of society’s Intelligencia (both British and American) were looking to prove or disprove psychical arts.  William James sought out to apply objective scientific methods to the study of paranormal phenomena.  Many times a fraud was found but sometimes during this book you just have to wonder.

    Deborah Blum tells this story of intellectuals, philosophers, pyschologists, Nobelists from the 19th Century into the early part of the 20th Century trying to bridge the gap between science and religion when religion was being questioned by the theory of evolution and the the new sciences.  I found it quite interesting as to how many folks were out to fool the public in the name of talking to the dead.  I had listened to the Mary Roach book “Spook” and she also talked of the the same fakes trying to earn a buck by holding seances.  In fact, this book would make a great companion to that book or vice versa.

    The narrator George K. Wilson (no relation) does a superb job of narrating the book and even throws in some voice changes and accents when representing quotes from various people in this documentary.  I have also heard some other books read by Wilson and I have decided that any documentary or non-fiction audio book I look at I will immediately get the book if he is the reader.  He has a way that presents the story or information with no opinion yet keeps the information very interesting to hear.

    So, if the study of the paranormal or you’re thinking about becoming a ghost hunter like on TV, check out the history of debunking and proof in this book.

  • gilwilson 2:10 AM on August 19, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 7th planet, , , ghost hunter, , , , , , non-fiction, ,   

    “The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide” by Margie Kay 

    “The Ghost Hunter’s Field Guide”
    by Margie Kay
    Published 2010 by 7th Planet
    204 pages

    With the emerging world of digital technology, especially audio and video, it seems that ghost hunting is the thing to do.  You see it all over cable television and for years many communities have some sort of paranormal society or ghost hunters.  If you think you may want to take up the night vision goggles and camera and find your own phantasm, this may be the book for you.

    Margie Kay has put together a handbook for the professional or amateur ghost hunter with a personal touch.  Through her years of ghost hunting (33 or so to give you an idea) Margie has had her share of experiences in the paranormal.  She is a trained psychic and paranormal investigator and has been instrumental in solving over 30 missing persons cases, numerous homicides and thefts using her unique clairvoyant, clairaudient, clairsentient, and remote viewing abilities, which she has honed over the years with amazing results.  She has amazed investigators and law enforcement with her abilities and accuracy, in some cases getting names, addresses, streets, and license plates as well as descriptions of victims and perpetrators.  And she still finds time to hunt ghosts.

    In this book she not only gives a great checklist of the items to take on your next paranormal adventure, but she even provides hints on how to acquire some items, even when budgets are tight. Such as some children’s toys that could be helpful, or even checking out eBay for some good deals.

    Margie uses her experiences to tell the reader how to handle different situations and what to expect in many situations.  Through the book are stories of how many of her haunted experiences have gone, from her team being called in to investigate dark shadowy figures haunting a house to what could be recorded impressions from past events while setting up shop in historical downtown Independence, Missouri.

    Not only did this book provide nice how to information but also what to do to invite the spirits to “show” themselves.  Many of the television shows about ghost hunters approach with a view to try to debunk the hauntings first, kind of like a scientific approach.  Margie uses that but also throws in the mix a spiritual/psychic level to the experience so that maybe all that cannot be explained can be observed in a reasonable light.  While the information was very nice, I have to admit reading the various experiences she talks about was some fun reading that sometimes, I had to make sure the room from where I was reading was well lit.

    Margie closes out the book with an extensive list of haunted sites you can visit and do your own phantasmagorical research.  In this list she provides contact info as well as whether or not the sites are open to public or if you have to call in advance to arrange private sessions.

    There are also listings of Radio/TV ghost hunting broadcasts that you can tune in and get hints.

    So, whether you are a professional Ghost Hunter, hobbyist, or simply curious this book would be the perfect handbook, to keep in your bag of tricks.

  • gilwilson 2:40 AM on September 1, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , bill clinton, , , non-fiction,   

    “My Life” abridged audio version By Bill Clinton 

    mylife“My Life” abridged audio version
    By Bill Clinton
    read by author
    Produced by Random House Audio
    Approx 6 hours

    Ever since I heard that President Bill Clinton wrote a book that was just over a thousand pages in length I was curious to find out what all he wrote.  Clinton did serve two terms as President pretty much covering the 90s as president.he fought to balance the federal budget, presided over a government shutdown, beat back a conservative cultural backlash, skirmished with an ornery  Saddam Hussein, ended a genocidal crisis in Bosnia, accelerated the Mideast peace process until its eventual collapse, and began to deal with the budding threat posed by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. But what Clinton is most remembered for are the scandals that plagued his efforts. Beginning with Gennifer Flowers in the 1992 campaign, to Whitewater, Travelgate, the FBI file scandal, Paula Jones and ultimately the Monica Lewinsky affair that led to his historic impeachment, Clinton endured what then First Lady Hillary Clinton termed a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to push him from office.  So I’m guessing he may have had a lot to say and maybe a thousand pages could be filled.

    I then took the easy way out and listened to the the abridged audio version of the book.  Usually I steer away from abridged versions of a book but this time I wanted to know but at the same time the size of the book scared me off a bit.  I do wish I had read the full version now and will probably be picking up that book sometime soon.  But for now I think I got a good insight.

    The book does do a great job of covering the decade of the 90s in politics.  Many things that went through the White House affected America culturally.  This book would be a nice primer when studying history and wanting to tackle the politics of the 90s.  Keep in mind this is from one point of view and many of the issues were hard to look at in a black and white view.  It was nice however to get his take on many of the scandals and controversies that surrounded his political career.

    The book being read by President Clinton himself, seems like that could be the only way.  It is nice to hear the emotion in his voice during the reading.  Whenever he would talk about Ken Starr you could tell there was a touch of animosity toward Starr.  As a piece of history this is a privilege to have a president speak of his presidency and life.

    Speaking of Ken Starr, one of the many insights learned in this book I learned was that there was more to Ken Starr than just investigating the Monica Lewinski matter.  Ken Starr was doing constantly trying to find bugs in the Clinton White House, and the Lewinski was the only thing he could find that would smear the President.

    So, if you are interested in the book but afraid to tackle the full thousand or so pages give the audio book a try, I’m glad I did.

  • gilwilson 3:21 AM on August 22, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , illegal immigrants, marijuana, non-fiction, , reefer madness   

    Reefer Madness Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market by Eric Schlosser 

    Reefer Madness

    Reefer Madness

    Reefer Madness Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market
    by Eric Schlosser
    Read by the author
    Produced by Simon & Schuster Audio 2003

    Okay one more non-fiction book and then I’ll get back to some more fiction.  I picked up this audio book because I read the author’s book on the meat and fast food industry, “Fast Food Nation.”  For a while after reading that book I would not touch fast food mainly because of the gross out factor caused by Eric Schlosser’s expose’ of the unsafe practices in those industries.  Schlosser also exposed the greed and the lack of concern for the consumer’s of those same products and the employees of the companies involved.  The one thing that Schlosser excelled in was in following the money.

    This book is no exception, in fact that’s pretty much the gist of the book, following the money.  “Reefer Madness” is a look at the three pillars of the underground economy of the U.S., estimated to be ten percent of American GDP: marijuana, migrant labor, and pornography.

    In Reefer Madness, the first section of the book Schlosser argues, based on usage, historical context, and consequences, for the decriminalization of marijuana.  This section revolves around  Mark Young of Indiana, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his relatively minor role in a marijuana deal.  This is one of the examples of marijuana laws being unreal, where in many states marijuana possession can get harsher penalties than committing murder.

    In the Strawberry Fields, he explores the exploitation of illegal immigrants as cheap labor, arguing that there should be better living arrangements and humane treatment of the illegal immigrants America is exploiting in the fields of California. This segment seems like either an epilogue or prologue to this previous book “Fast Food Nation.”  In fast food nation the migrant workers/illegal immigrants are used in meat packing in extremely unsafe conditions and with very little pay.  In this segment of the book those workers are trying to squeak by on very little money doing jobs no one wants to do.  In one conversation the farm owner says every once in a while some college kids come looking for work but the work is so difficult they don’t last half a day.

    One thing I always found curious was; Why don’t the farmers that employ illegals use machinery to do the harvesting and get rid of the problem of illegals sneaking across borders to do back breaking work?  Schlosser explains this, and I’m summing up the explanation here, by saying for farms to do the work with the machinery an initial purchase of said machinery would cost into the millions and right now they only spend thousands paying the migrant workers, also that we Americans like for our fruit and vegetables to not be blemished and the workers can pick with care unlike the machines.

    An Empire of the Obscene details the history of pornography in American culture, starting with the eventual business magnate Reuben Sturman, an enigmatic Ohio man who started out selling discarded comic books from the back of his car goes on to buil and control a formidable pornography empire.  After beating a string of obscenity charges the government finally catches Sturman in the only way possible, tax evasion.  Finally the government can put Sturman behind bars.  But after all the court cases against Sturman bringing down religion based obscenity laws the business of pornography becomes a major busines now backed by many Fortune 500 companies.

    Schlosser unravels an American society that has “become alienated and at odds with itself.” Like “Fast Food Nation”, this is an eye-opening book with Schlosser doing some serious investigative leg  work. Schlosser doesn’t really come out in support of the Porn Industry or the legalization of drugs but does point out the hypocrisy that gives a marijuana user life and a murderer 10 years as sentencing and jailing obscenity while major corporations fund it, while that same America promotes indentured servitude (slavery) for the illegal immigrants.   “..the price of freedom is often what freedom brings.”

    Schlosser closes by arguing that such a widespread black market can only undermine the law and is indicative of the discrepancy between accepted mainstream American culture and its true nature.

  • gilwilson 1:57 AM on August 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , non-fiction, Stranger than fiction   

    “Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories” by Chuck Palahniuk 

    Book cover

    Book cover

    “Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories”
    by Chuck Palahniuk
    Published by Anchor Books 2004

    After a long run with reading some serious hardcore science fiction and fantasy novels I had to take a break and read some non-fiction.  This tells you what genre my next book review will fall under.  Anyway, I decided to ease into the Non-fiction by reading this book by one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk.  Chuck is the author of some pretty strange pieces of fiction, many of you know of “Fight Club” and maybe “Choke”  both of which were made into pretty decent film adaptations.  The reason I consider this book easing into the non-fiction genre is that,well, to put it bluntly, reality in Chuck Palahniuk’s world can be surreal.

    This book is a collection of essays, stories, and interviews written for various magazines and newspapers. Some of the pieces had also been previously published on the internet.  The stories  cover 3 main categories:  “People Together”, articles about people who find unique ways of achieving togetherness; “Portraits”, interviews and short essays mostly about famous individuals; and “Personal”, autobiographical pieces.  The introduction to the book is Mr. Palahniuk talking about the world of writing and what it takes to be a fiction writer, very interesting, indeed.  The book then breaks into the first story, “Testy Festy,” which covers the immoral and deviant behavior that happens at the Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival in rural Montana.  From the opening line of that story I thought, uh oh, what have I gotten myself into?  Well he is merely reporting the goings on of this raucous festival and it is definitely “Stranger than Fiction.”

    There are several stories in this collection that range from the bohemian activities of the Testicle Festival to celebrity interviews with Juliette Lewis and Marilyn Manson to some autobiographical essays in which the reader learns more details behind the murder of his father by the father’s girlfriend’s psychopathic ex-boyfriend.

    Some of the stories are very funny and some are quite poignant.  One of the funnier ones is his coverage of the Lind Combine Demolition Derby in Lind, Washington.  Rednecks crashing combines seems like it would be fun.  One of the stories is “The People Can” where chuck is reporting on the life of the crew on board the submarine USS Louisiana.  Being an ex-Navy man myself I found the civilian insight on this story very interesting.   One of the saddest stories is when he tells of his life as an assembly-line drivetrain installer by day, hospice volunteer driver by night.

    So if you are a Chuck Palahniuk fan you will find this collection of true stories very interesting told from his point of view.  If you have yet latched on to the writings of Palahniuk check this one out, it will prepare you for the world that is in Chuck Palahnuik’s novels.

    • rilaly 3:00 AM on August 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      As a new Palahniuk fan, I found Stranger than Fiction a little blah. I loved the Fight Club book, as I put the movie adaptation in my top five movies of all time. I am also enjoying Rant as I write this. I loved the portraits section, as it clued me into a form of writing that I had yet to consider. Since I read the portraits section, I have written about 12 short profiles of people I know. The crash ’em up derby section was dumb, and I hated the mascot story. I thought it was leading somewhere, but it didn’t. Overall though, I still love Palahniuk, and I’m looking forward to my next venture with him.


    • gilwilson 4:20 AM on August 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I LOVED Rant…great book.


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