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Owen Gard

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Fast Food Nation: What The All-American Meal is Doing to the World
Fast Food Nation: What The All-American Meal is Doing to the World
by Eric Schlosser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast food is good food, 12 July 2003
Ninety nine people out of a hundred who buy this book wouldn't dream of eating in McDonalds, and will expect this book to confirm their prejudices about the horrors of the industry. Clearly, this is Eric Schlosser's assumption too, but he's too good a researcher to have produced the book you expect: Although the author tries hard to spin the data for his audience, in plain terms it shows the pure boon that junk food has been to America. The facts he uncovers are:

1. US beef is unsanitary, but if you are going to eat it anyway, it's healthier to have in a fast food burger than an independent restaurant, or home cooked. By exercising (monosopy) purchasing power quality standards in the meat suppliers have been raised by the fast food chains.

2. Eating fast food every day makes you fat. By making delicious, cheap food readily available the industry increases the statistical incidence of obesity.

3. The fast food revolution allowed ordinary families to afford meals outside of the home for the first time.

4. US cattle land is now so valuable that the tragic ranchers are forced to retire as Millionaires, rather than work for a living.

5. The McLibel trial was won by the prosecution, even though the courts appeased public sympathy to such an extent that Justice Bell was willing to interpret "child exploitation" as advertising, and "unfair worker treatment" as offering market wages.

6. When offered a dangerous job for more money some people will take it over safer, less well paid employment. Also, working in a meatpacking plant is a dirty, blue collar job.

Until I read this book I was ready to believe that fast food really is bad food, but after finishing it I went straight out for a Double Whopper. I can honestly say, that as I took the first juicy bite I thrilled with the futuristic knowledge that the meaty taste had been added from a vial of IFF chemicals. The wizards of IFF had outdone themselves with the authenticity of that burger. Other people who've read the book have been surprised by my reaction, saying "didn't it disgust you to think of the shit in the food?". I don't know why it didn't, but if you're bothered by the hygiene in meat packing your own solution is vegetarianism. These problems are not confined to "fast food meat", as this is just another destination from the plant.

Much as I commend "Fast Food Nation" for inadvertently revealing the positive impact fast food has made, there are some parts of it where research gives way to wishful thinking. The author wants to believe that the spread of fast food isn't the result of market choice. Somehow it's caused by government subsidised roads (that don't lead anywhere but Pizza Hut) or mass advertising (creating a 'false consciousness' desire for the wrong things). The fact that fast food has been immediately popular everywhere (even France) is treated as a conspiracy or coincidence, and not the result of its mass appeal. Sadly, Mr Schlosser has been led by his taste buds to Stalin's view that the public don't know what's good for them; his kids certainly don't and the final section of the acknowledgements apologizes to them for banning happy meals. As a child of parents who did the same I can assure him that he won't be forgiven.

The history of the McDonalds corporation is relatively scandal free, so Mr Schlosser brings Walt Disney into the story (despite the fact that Disney turned down the original franchise). Although this is fairly gratuitous it is a readable history, with enough suspect deals to appeal to the conspiracy theorist. However, the recent history of the company is not covered in depth, beyond the obvious points that it has expanded world wide, and become the focus of anti-American feeling. Imagine my surprise on reading a New York Times article, detailing the agricultural changes flowing from McD's presence in emerging markets not to have already read about these in this book. Naturally, he couldn't cover everything and wanted to concentrate on the most negative or controversial sides of the story, but he has still found many interesting angles. His description of the franchisers' Las Vegas conference is poignant and funny, including the book's best line from an ecstatic executive: "As if things weren't good enough, consumers also dropped all pretence of wanting healthy food." With 52 pages of endnotes the serious effort to study this subject is unusual in a bestseller. If you are capable of reading critically I strongly advise buying this, but if you just want a book to back up your anti-globalization credentials "No Logo" has a more recognizable spine, and accepts fewer complications.

Tournament Poker for Advanced Players (Advance Player)
Tournament Poker for Advanced Players (Advance Player)
by David Sklansky
Edition: Paperback

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ultra-reliable information, 7 July 2003
David Sklanksy is actually a very funny man (if you don't believe this look for his wry cardplayer articles about his experiences as a young player). Of course, this book is not very funny at all; it's written in the reassuringly dry style of all his other 2+2 efforts, but everything in the text is gold.
It is obvious from this book why Sklansky is the leading theorist in poker: his ideas are insightful, and his writing is authoritative and so thoroughly researched that the reader has complete confidence in each point. For the UK player this is Sklanksy's most important collection since the seminal "Theory of Poker". (If you play mid-limit stud or hold'em then "...for the advanced player" is as important.)
Do you think you know everything in here already? If you are a typical UK tournament poker you've got a lot to learn from this book. You probably know the "Gap Concept" between hands that can call a raise and those that can raise, but you aren't aware of situations where you should refrain from eliminating players (page 80). I'm certain that this particular play is unknown to the small-buyin tourney player as I get a strategy lecture for using it.
This is the book that contains Sklansky's controversial article "The System" (page 122). In it, he implicitly attacks the no-limit structure in hold'em tournaments and gives case studies of amateur players neutralizing most of the professional's edge without post-flop betting. Subsequent articles (e.g. from D. Neagranu) have endorsed the message that Pot Limit is the more skillfull game, so perhaps "The System" presages the end of NLH's supremacy. (The Cadillac of Poker was driven to the top of the gambling heap by the Texas Road-Gambler's dominance of '70s poker, and might be considered a historical accident. If the championship events had been decided by the Californian players we'd all be studying NL lowball; which might be the game-of-the-future because its more TV friendly. In fact, some of the examples here are taken from lowball.)
I have to quibble with the Sklansky/Malmuth house style. The fifth chapter is a deliberate rehash of the preceding material in the guise of "Questions & Answers", and to bulk-up the page count they re-use their old trick of inserting large images of the cards instead of describing them. However, if there exists any chance that you don't know everything already, an investment in this book will prove very profitable.

Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind
by Hans P. Moravec
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A plausible utopia, but more interesting on the history., 5 July 2003
This is a book of two halves. The first half is historical, and the second speculative. Most people will be buying this book for the second half (which predicts the rise of the robots) but I found the first hundred pages more worth-while. In the first four chapters Hans Moravec discusses how far machine intelligence has come since the 50s. I never knew that to overcome human telepathic powers the Turing tests had to be conducted in "Telepathy Proof Rooms". Is that still part of the official specification?

Integrating CORBA and COM Applications
Integrating CORBA and COM Applications
by Michael Rosen
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A simple guide to legacy technologies, 4 July 2003
If you want a simple way to call a CORBA server from an excel spreadsheet or a VB program you'll find good examples here. What you will not find is any vendor-specific information (it is only 318 pages) or any discussion of Java. Since it is likely that the need for COM/CORBA integration is in legacy systems the exclusive use of C++ and Visual Basic examples is understandable.
Of course, this subject is mind-numbingly dull, but if you absolutely have to do it you'll be finished faster using the patterns described here.

Taking Chances: Winning with Probability
Taking Chances: Winning with Probability
by John Haigh
Edition: Paperback

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best introduction to gambling statistics, 4 July 2003
An excellent book looking at the application of probability to sporting propositions. It covers the pools, efficiently cheating at sports, fixed-odds casino games, and anything else you can bet on.
The nice thing about this book is that it proposes ways to turn a profit from each discovery (it doesn't work, but it's the right attitude). Along with probability theory the book has interesting factoids on most of the popular gambles in the UK.
There are some suprising ommissions: The financial markets are not mentioned. He has a long discussion of the number patterns chosen in large lotteries like the British Lotto, but he never calculates whether these leave the less popular combination under-invested enough to show a profit (they don't).
Like the author I was suprised by the results of his investigation into sequences. This chapter, detailing patterns in coin-flip series, is the best thing here and might teach you something even if you're an expert.
I can't give five stars here because some of the later chapters are overburdened with technical calculations that are just refinements of earlier material. I would have liked less of this detail and even more breadth.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2008 12:18 AM BST

Life's Lottery
Life's Lottery
by Kim Newman
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most electrifying book of 1999, 4 July 2003
This review is from: Life's Lottery (Hardcover)
A fantastically exciting book/concept, as soon as you think you know what it is Life's Lottery shows another side.
How many novels start with a contemplation of choice & chance on the first page, and potentially kill you twice on the second? Not enough, because it's gripping stuff. It may start strongly, but, amazingly, it improves as the story(s) develop and the genres shift widely.
The density of plot lines means that absorbing the full picture will take several weeks (unless it keeps you up all night every night as it did me).

Why Is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters)
Why Is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters)
by Jared Diamond
Edition: Paperback

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Many good ideas., 4 July 2003
All of the questions he discusses are fascinating, and his arguments persuasive (once he gets to them). Although he would have had even more meat with less rhetoric the book only contains 150 pages of text. You don't need to follow any complex biology or sociology to understand anything here, and you may well find you've finished it at the first reading. I recommend the book for its insight and interest, but these's something that really annoys me about it...
Why does Professor Diamond repeatedly characterise the reader as a unimaginative dolt? Each question in the book is introduced like this:
1. The author makes an observation about human sexuality
2. He imagines the book's reader giving an simple-minded reply.
3. The Professor explains why the question is more complex than you, the reader, had thought.
4. Now, the answer.
After a while this device started to wear on me. Why does he assume that people who read his books are unable to think for themselves? Does he really believe that all (most?) of his readers will have the same knee-jerk reaction to the questions he poses? The worst example is the question of concealed ovulation; the text asks why this would evolve when it leads to inefficiently permanent receptivity. In answer to this question the author has the reader exclaim "Obviously because it's fun!" after which he takes a whole page to explain why "having fun" isn't a valid evolutionary explaination. Excuse me, Professor Diamond, I'm reading a book entitled "Why is sex fun?" and seventy pages in you don't credit me the intelligence of wanting an answer.
I'm certain that ignorant objections really were made while the Professor was preparing his manuscript, but it would have been nice if he could have found a way to address them without talking down to the readership. (Maybe a dialogue with a comedy simpleton in a dunce's cap?)
This book tries to trace the evolutionary causes of modern biology and behaviour. Some scientists believe that this is more like a "Just So" story than a scientific reconstruction (because there's no direct evidence for the process - just an outcome). Personally, I think that the most plausible "Just So" story has a valid place in the science masters series, but you might not.

by Jesse May
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the truth, 3 July 2003
This review is from: SHUT UP AND DEAL (Paperback)
Can the world-weary author of "Shut Up and Deal" be the same Jesse May who commentates on 'Late Night Poker' with such wide-eyed enthusiasm? Clearly, he's a hard man to read, but the book is anything but: Fast paced, and honest (though a work of fiction) it deals with the grit of the poker profession, and the mania of cardplay.
The protagonist's stream-of-conciousness dominates the text, and rather than being an irritating device is the perfect expression of the grinder's/gambler's state of mind.
Whenever an online poker player types complaints of bad beats and bad luck to a virtual table full of strangers I feel the urge to point them to this page. Its a good thing that I don't, because the poker wisdom of Mr May could be more profit destroying (to the rest of the poker community) than a library of technical handbooks.

How to Build a Time Machine
How to Build a Time Machine
by Paul Davies
Edition: Paperback

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who is the target audience for this book?, 3 July 2003
Professor Davies begins by telling the reader that time moves at differing speeds in different places. If this amazes you, your next question will be: "Is moving back in time possible, and what are tommorrow's lottery numbers?". Strangely, you'll have to reach page 105 before there is any treatment of actual time travel. The intervening pages answer the "is it possible?" question with an "In theory" that you'll need a Physics PhD to (partially) understand.
If you're suprised by the variable flow of time you can't have a Physics doctorate, so the author has setup his own logical paradox: If this is a book for the knowlegable enthusiast it's too lightweight, but if its aimed at the novice it addresses the interesting questions too late (you'll have given up before you get to the "Back to the future" discussion - assuming linear casuality).
Aside from the uneven tone, this is a fun book in a handy size with friendly line-drawings on every other page. Clearly, it's not meant to be taken too seriously. Still, it is a shame that the middle (pseudo hard-science) portion isn't at the end, where it can be safely ignored. An alternative to consider is Kip Thorne's "Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy" which is suprisingly readable, and only four times the length.

Poker Tournament Strategies
Poker Tournament Strategies
by Sylvester Suzuki
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.48

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One for the complete-ist, 3 July 2003
Because of the amounts won & lost playing poker its hard to find a guide which isn't worth the cover price. By looking at this page you've come close, but there are still a few things here that make it worth the money. This book has three things to impart:
[1] Rebuy & money management advice for various types of obscure tournament structure. This is probably entirely useless to an intelligent UK player.
[2] How play of the same starting hand should vary as the tournament progresses. Sklansky's "Tournament Poker for Advanced Players" has taken this advice, generalized and improved it. You must get that book, so these sections are now redundant.
[3] This book discusses when NOT to check-down the all-in player (as will commonly happen in the payoff stages of a tournament when two players with chips are also contending the pot). Thinking about this aspect of tournament play could help you avoid a critical mistake, so this small section might make the book worth buying.
The book also has a 30 page Questions & Answers chapter. Although the Q&A section covers ideas that are irrelevant or covered better elsewhere if you go through them you may avoid a simple strategic mistake late in a tournament.

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