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Book Reviews

Submission + - Fitness for Geeks

jsuda writes: "You would think that geeks would be as interested in fitness as dogs are of TV. After all, geeks already put in hours of finger dancing on keyboards, assembling hefty code fragments, and juggling PHP programming functions.

        Although intended, in part, as a guide to real physical fitness the book, "Fitness for Geeks," entices geeks with what they are really interested in–the science of fitness, nutrition, and exercise. In 11 chapters over 311 pages (including notes and an index) author, Bruce W Perry, describes in great detail the science of fitness and all of its components–food selections, timings, and fastings; exercising of all types; sleep, rest, and meditation; the benefits of hormesis (shocking the body with stresses); and the benefits of natural sunlight.

        One of the major themes is respect for ancestral behaviors relating to fitness, as he sees the human body as having built-in “software” (biological and physiological “pathways”) regulating its needs for certain foods and nutrients, its affinities for sprinting and intermittent fasting, and a preference for sunlight. These behaviors were evolutionary-based adaptations to their environment which in some ways was much more physically stressful than ours is now.

        He argues that modern humans have gotten way too far away from their ancestral roots at the expense of their health and fitness. They would be better served by committing to behaviors which are modeled after those of our distant predecessors. That means large doses of natural sunlight, exercise programs emphasizing high demand tasks like sprinting, food selections high in quality fats and proteins and low in processed foods and sugars, and intermittent fastings.

        In other words, channel your inner caveman.

        He supports his thesis with reference to hundreds of scientific studies. However, he doesn't sufficiently explain why modern human lifespans are so much longer than that of the ancients despite diets high in Twinkies, exercise defined as walking down the hall to the Coke machine, and light exposure limited to LCD illumination.

        While the major interest of the book for geeks is in the science, Mr. Perry is also advocating real improvement in personal health and fitness. The author is a software engineer and computer-topic writer and also a serious runner, biker, and outdoor enthusiast. He seems to be a very intense proponent of maximum personal fitness both as an instructor and personally where he tracks and measures nearly every physical thing he does during the day. He monitors and measures macro nutritional ratios (carbohydrates, fats, proteins); micro nutritional consumption levels (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals); exercise metrics like energy use (Metabolic Equivalents of Tasks--MET's); the times, rhythms, and patterns of exercise program elements; and more.

        Like a serious geek, he uses all the latest and greatest hardware and software tools to monitor and measure including GPS devices, motion detectors, smart phone apps of all kinds, and web-based trackers and analyzers. He describes many of the features of apps like FitBit, Endomondo, Fitocracy, and Garmin Connect, including screenshots of configurations, data charts, result pages, and comparison charts. He highlights use of web-based databases especially the nutritional information available at the USDA National Nutrient Database.

        Mr. Perry also throws in a bit of food and food marketing politics as he emphasizes buying from local food suppliers, or even better, growing your own food and hunting your evening's meal. He shuns supermarket products, for the most part, even providing strategies on how best to navigate the typical mega markets to avoid being psychologically and emotionally manipulated by marketing techniques which attempt to get the consumer to buy more than they need, pricier items, and the latest junk foods they happen to be promoting that week.

        Mr. Perry is one serious guy!

        I don't think that he is a typical health-concerned person or even a typical geek, although he is an independent spirit with great curiosity about things he's interested in. He seems to be serious about fitness to an idiosyncratic degree. In addition to all of the monitoring and measuring, he experiments with up to four different fasting strategies, goes for cold water swims, and does a variety of push-ups while waiting for boarding at the airport.

        His book, I think, would appeal primarily to serious health freaks or competitive athletes who have the time and need to micromanage their eating, sleeping, and physical activities, and later analyzing all of the accumulated data.

        The author writes knowledgeably and comprehensively about his topics and provides a lot of detail, especially on the tracking and measuring apps. He includes a handful of sidebar interviews with nutritional and fitness experts, some photos and graphics, and tosses in a few code references like anti-patterns and the random function, among others. What isn't in the book is referenced to websites containing more specific information, data, and videos.

        Although he sprinkles some personal anecdotes and humor into the writing, overall, the book, while well organized, is a slow, often mind jumbling read. There is almost too much information, too many options to try out for some activities, and not enough focus. It will not win any literary awards. To some readers, it may be sort of like reading lab reports.

        A lot of geeks like reading lab reports and there is a sufficient number of competitive athletes and health fanatics who'll find this book quite valuable and interesting."

Submission + - Book Review: Occupy World Street (occupyworldstreet.org)

jsuda writes: "        For those billions of people for whom the current political-economic system doesn't work–the Occupy Wall Street people, the Tea Partiers, the 99%-ers and have-nots, the middle and lower classes, and the rest of the unwashed masses, “Occupy World Street” is a starburst of enlightenment and a practical vision of hope for a new and advanced society.

        The book is subtitled appropriately "A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Order." It functions in a substantial way as the missing “content" for the Occupy Wall Street movement people who know that global capitalism and its political elite are screwing the middle and lower classes and the world environment but don't know exactly how they are doing it and how to change things. The book provides an unusually lucid analysis of the American political-economic system which should make clear to the Tea Partiers what their real targets of rage should be (it's not merely the Democrats nor the federal government.) Nearly everyone else who wants a “big picture” comprehensive analysis of the global economic system will be educated by this book.

        The author, Ross Jackson, identifies who and what is responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown and many other problems in society. Most prominent are a seriously-flawed “neo-liberal economic philosophy” and the political-elite class which sponsors that philosophy for self-interested reasons at the expense of the rest of us. Jackson makes clear that economic philosophical theory is not value free and is class politics in disguise. But way more importantly than the mere class versus class struggle, the neo-liberal economic philosophy has created severe energy and environmental problems which are almost certain to lead soon to major economic and political disruptions affecting the entire globe.

        The author's main perspective is as an environmentalist; he utilizes a systems approach of an overarching environmental model where the global environment is a closed, finite system and the economic, political, and other topics are subsystems of the whole. The book explains (in six parts and 17 chapters) how and why our existing economic model is failing and will create environmental, economic, and political chaos unless it is replaced soon with an economic model emphasizing “sustainability” and “development” versus simple “unlimited growth.” Jackson explains in the second half of the book what we can do about it, hopefully before it's too late for future generations to have a chance for civilized life.

        I have never heard before of Mr.Jackson, but he is bound to be (or at least should be) hailed as a top-notch public intellectual. He is a brilliant analyst of global economics, politics, and environmental matters; and a clever synthesist of the relevant economics, politics, philosophy, environmental science, psychology, sociology, history, physics, and biology, which apply to his examination.

        He has an unusually broad and diverse background as a global currency trader, executive of a nonprofit environmental organization, software designer and businessman, and degrees in engineering physics, industrial management, and operations research. This may explain, in part, his ability to see major categories of human life with such a wide lens while also being able to analyze the subcategories and the factual data.

        Part One explains the scientific and economic reasons why the neo-liberal approach of unending growth is unsustainable and a lie. It is a lie because it implies, at least, that everyone has a chance ultimately to achieve the high level of consumption of the successful capitalists and that the high consumption gravy train will go on forever. He uses biological, environmental, and mathematical data to show that the neo-liberal assumption of infinite natural capital has already resulted in net deficits of global energy resources, and that the world (and the neo-liberal economic system) will end frightfully unless we reduce population, give up the idea of “more of everything is better,” redesign and downsize our economies, use less fossil energies, and emphasize sustainability.

        The next two parts explain the politics and human factors which drive the irrational economic policies. He goes into good detail about historical economic theory from the mercantile period, to the classical free trade period, to our existing neo-liberal period. He clearly explains how and why the 2008 financial crisis occurred and why it is likely to repeat itself, and how the current debt crisis in Europe (and elsewhere) happened and why the European Union is not equipped even now to successfully deal with it. Any effort to address it (using the existing neo-liberal strategies) will be temporary and the crises will deepen.

        His discussions on the neo-liberal insistence on a deregulated economic environment, free flow of global capital, and the use of exotic financial instruments and transactions, especially naked short sales, are the clearest I've read about how these elements de-stabilized the global economy. They will continue to do so as long as those who (very lucratively) benefit from them (the political elite) insist upon them regardless of the consequences to hapless small nations and their economies, small businesses, and people like you and me. He thoroughly and lucidly explains how this political-economic philosophy destroys real democracy, including in America. What we have, he says, is a corporatocracy which dominates much of political and social life through the forces of wealth and ideology.

        Mr. Jackson is also a political-economic visionary of the highest order as shown in the second half of the book by his “break away” strategy where he sets out his alternative environmentalist paradigm. It is a new worldview emphasizing the finite reality of our natural resources, especially energy ones, and how we should alter much of what we do to comply with that reality. He argues for a new set of social values harmonious with a holistic sense of people and nature being part of one “system.” The values of that system include smallness, localization, quality versus quantity, interrelationships, and long-term perspectives.

          These values are organized into a moderately sophisticated set of new global political and economic institutions modeled much like the European Union but emphasizing environmental issues and designed to satisfy long-term environmental needs. This process will also lead to enhancing of true human values in the political sphere, especially in more effective democracies.

        The “breaking away" strategy starts with small nation states building a new economic paradigm based upon the environmental perspective, rejecting the flawed and elitist global institutions we have now (the WTO, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), and even developing new currency systems. The nation states will be supported by a grassroots activist movement which will create local eco-communities and more self-reliant economies while lobbying existing political powers to get on board with the new paradigm. The measurements of success will not be GNP or GDP but the broader-based measures of social happiness and human rights.

        (Take the case of the nation of Bhutan which measures its activity by a standard called “Gross National Happiness Index.”)

        The parts of the book explaining the roles of the neo-liberal economic philosophy and the political elite are solidly presented and not really new. The program of change he proposes, however, is new and intellectually sound. Being intellectually sound, however, is not sufficient to affect change. There is a gap, it seems, between the ideas and what is necessary to activate people at the grassroots level. Relatively few people in reality will even read this book. The ideas need to be connected to “street-level” understandings, perhaps tied to basic human values of respect and dignity. The roadmap proposed here, Mr. Jackson acknowledges, needs much more development.

(FTC disclosure (16 CFR Part 255)): The reviewer has accepted a reviewer's copy of this book which is his to keep. He intends to provide an honest, independent, and fair evaluation of the book in all circumstances.)"

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