Monthly Archives: February 2024

Bizarre by Marc Dingman

Bizarre: The Most Peculiar Cases of Human Behavior and What They Tell Us about How the Brain WorksBizarre: The Most Peculiar Cases of Human Behavior and What They Tell Us about How the Brain Works by Marc Dingman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dr. Strangelove Syndrome (where one hand fights the other or even tries to strangle its owner) is but one of the fascinating anomalies discussed in this book. Our brains are complex and not fully understood. Trauma and other factors can alter or interfere with our brain functions and this book describes many real-life cases of some of the most bizarre. The author does not sensationalize or ridicule and still he manages not to sound too clinical. I think the tone is just right. I learned a lot, and the plethora of names for all the syndromes or symptoms amazed me. I’m sure I won’t remember many of them, but it was interesting just to realize they were common enough to have acquired a name and some were known even back in ancient Greek or Roman times. It’s difficult to give five stars to a book without a storyline or plot, but I was intrigued all the way to the end.

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Arthritic guitarist imagined – by Gemini

I recently underwent surgery on my right thumb in the hopes that I will be pain-free there, and maybe even play guitar again. On a lark I asked Gemini (formerly Bard) to write a short story about a guitarist whose arthritis was cured by surgery. Here is what it wrote:

The worn case lay open on his lap, a mirror to the weathered hands that hovered above it. John traced the faded Gibson logo, his fingers catching on callouses earned in a lifetime of music. He hadn’t played in months, the fire dimmed by the firestorm in his joints. Arthritis, the doctor had said, a thief stealing his passion note by stolen note.

John spent his days lost in the echo of melodies, haunting his mind like ghosts. He’d watch old videos of himself, fingers dancing across the fretboard with an ease that felt like a different lifetime. He even considered selling the guitar, a thought that left a bitter taste on his tongue.

One evening, his son, Thomas, brought him a news article. “They’re trialing a new surgery, Dad,” he said, his voice hopeful. “It’s supposed to help with advanced arthritis.”

John felt a flicker of skepticism, but the hunger in his eyes couldn’t be ignored. He underwent the surgery, a cocktail of nervousness and hope coursing through him.

The recovery was slow, but every day held a new sensation. The first time he flexed his fingers without a wince, tears welled in his eyes. The first time he picked up the guitar, it felt foreign, yet familiar like a long-lost friend.

He started with simple scales, the notes hesitant, rusty. But with each practice session, the music started to flow. The joy of creating, of expressing himself through music, rekindled within him. He wrote a new song, the melody capturing the essence of his journey, from the depths of despair to the sweet melody of hope.

One evening, John hosted a small gathering at his home. Old friends, their faces etched with the lines of shared memories, filled the living room. John, with his guitar slung over his shoulder, a familiar smile playing on his lips, took his place. His fingers danced on the strings, weaving a tapestry of sound. The music flowed, filling the room with the joy of a resurrected dream.

As the final notes faded, a standing ovation echoed through the room. John, eyes glistening, looked at his son, a silent thank you exchanged in their shared gaze. The surgery had not just cured his arthritis, it had brought his music, and with it, his spirit back to life. He was John the guitarist again, and the music, once silenced, was singing louder than ever before.

The Longest Minute by Matthew J. Davenport

The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906The Longest Minute: The Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906 by Matthew J. Davenport
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thorough history of the famous quake and fire and the immediate aftermath is well-researched and mostly fascinating reading. The chapters are well-organized, each focused on an unique aspect, sometimes a stretch of time, sometimes on geography (e.g. the waterfront), or the efforts to organize and create viable lines of authority, but they generally flow in chronological order. It was nostalgic reading for me since I grew up in the Bay Area, although I only visited San Francisco a few times as a child. I worked in the city for years as an adult and the similarities and differences, both topological and political, between then and now are striking. I can recommend the book with a warning. It can get repetitive. There are only so many times a story of chimney bricks crashing through the roof or someone watching his business burn down retain interest. It is also dispiriting to read of all the suffering and the racism and corruption of the city leaders, but that’s part of history.

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What3Words – Trump New York fraud trial edition

As my readers know, (W3W) is a website that aids navigation by dividing the word’s surface area into 3-meter squares and assigns a three-word combination to each. These are occasionally amusing, ironic, or just fun to play with. See my previous blog posts on these here and here.

Today I examined the W3W assignments to the courtroom of Judge Engeron in New York City (80 Center St., Manhattan). He’s the judge who just found Donald Trump civilly liable for fraud for $450 million. It’s a large building and I don’t know exactly where his courtroom or chambers are located, but I’ve constructed a story containing several combos from that building.

Donald Trump entered the courtroom and sat next to Alina Habba, his gorgeous attorney, the one who failed to request a jury trial, dooming the case. She is also quoted as saying she would rather be pretty than smart because she can fake being smart. Trump whispered to her, “You should show more of that sexy thigh. Lovely! Attend to the proceedings now.” Habba’s last motion had resulted in a delay thus called by Judge Engoron, but today was the day the judge would announce the civil fine and penalty amounts. Habba told him she was optimistic, and told him not to make a scene. He replied, “I’ll behave,” nodded, bucked up by her statement. But the judge announced the penalties as $355 million plus fees and interest, expecting to total debt of at least $450 million.  “Don’t worry,” she told Trump, “We’ll appeal the debit, unless you can’t raise the money for a bond. The court will require one.” So much for faking being smart.

Longitude by Dava Sobel

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His TimeLongitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author relates the story of John Harrison, the clockmaker who invented the first accurate chronometer, the first reliable and practicable method of determining longitude at sea. This device saved many lives by allowing captains to avoid shipwrecks caused by inaccurate methods of navigation.The book is short, the writing clear and understandable. I listened to the audiobook read by an excellent female reader with a posh British accent. I enjoyed it despite the dispiriting subplot of Harrison being undermined at every turn by astronomers who preferred their method. Harrison got his due in the end.

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Cliff Knowles Mysteries are now audiobooks!

Great news for Cliff Knowles Mysteries fans: the series books are now available as audiobooks. Amazon has introduced a new feature for us self-published authors: virtual voice. The reader is not a human but a text-to-voice AI actor. There are a few mispronounced words or occasional odd emphases, but all in all I was impressed with the quality, so I opted in. I wouldn’t have been able to afford live voice actors for all of these. The books are available on and The Amazon pages have not updated to show the audio option for all the books the last I checked, but they could all be found on just by searching the name.

All the books are available as follows and all have a virtual voice readers except as noted:

  • Held for Ransom
    Cached Out (human voice actor)
    Fatal Dose
    Death Row
    Gut Shot
    Behead Me (not available as audiobook for technical reasons)
    A Will to Die
    Double Eagle
    Cold Case
    Brace for Impact
    The Cryptic Crossword Caper (not a Cliff Knowles Mystery, but it is available as an audiobook)

For any fans wondering when the next new one will come out, I regret I have not been working on one. Arthritis in my hands has prevented me from doing extensive typing and I have not found dictating to work well. The good news is that I just had surgery on my right (dominant) hand and hope to solve the problem for that hand at least.

Please spread the word to your mystery fan friends, especially any geocachers.

Nuts and Bolts by Roma Agrawal

Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World in a Big WayNuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World in a Big Way by Roma Agrawal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author explains the history and workings of seven significant inventions in a casual and understandable manner. She is an engineer who knows her stuff, and has a flair for writing as well. The material is mostly on a basic level and familiar to those who took physics or engineering in school. As such, it is a bit dry. But the author makes it more interesting by personalizing it with stories that resonate, such as describing how lenses were critical in her own in vitro fertilization journey and pumps essential in her efforts to breast feed. I found it hard to read this for a sustained stretch, but whenever I picked it up, there was an interesting tidbit learned.

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