Thursday, March 21, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny


Kingdom of the Blind  is another sublime entry in the long-running Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series set in the mythical town of Three Pines, a suburb of Montreal. This is the fourteenth book and unlike some other police procedural murder-mysteries the sequential order is VERY important as the passage of time and events from earlier books very much influences the story. 

These books must be read in order for the greatest effect and thus that makes it difficult to write a review of this book without spoiling the earlier ones. As I have said before, I believe that one of the key factors in how strong a series is (or will be) is the complexity of the supporting characters. Louise Penny has done an amazing job of populating the Gamache series with a number of supporting characters who have large, distinct and memorable personalities. These have become familiar (and perhaps a little rote) over the course of the series. That being said, in some books these “supporting characters” have become main characters and generally the books where this occurs have not suffered from their promotion. Another thing that Penny has done well is create new characters and added them to the mix, and these characters have grown and been incorporated into the stories in increasingly interesting ways.

In Kingdom of the Blind there are really three main protagonists, Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Amelia Choquet. Beauvoir and Gamache have been a team from very early in the series but Choquet has only been a presence in the last few books. Of course, all our favorites from past books, Ruth, Rosa, Clara, Myrna, Reine-Marie, Gabri and Olivier make appearances, mostly as cameos (unfortunately). 

This time the primary mystery is about the will of a crazy old lady who despite being apparently penniless leaves inheritances of millions of dollars to her three kids. Myrna, Gamache and a handsome young stranger are named executors of her estate despite apparently having no connection to the deceased and we and they first need to solve the puzzle of why this woman decided on them as her will's executors. Soon after the will is read publicly there’s a murdered corpse to add to the story and off we go. 

Overall, I would say that is a better than average entry in the Gamache series. The primary murder mystery is interesting (but actually not too difficult to solve). As with most of her best books, the most salient aspects of the story involve events which happen to our protagonists (especially Gamache and Beauvoir) that will have long-term impacts on these characters lives, insuring we continue to connect to, and emphasize with, them.

RATING 4.5 STARS.

Title: Kingdom of the Blind.
Author: 
Louise Penny.
Paperback: 416 pages.
Publisher:
 Orbit.
Date Published: November 27, 2018.
Date Read: March 8, 2019.


GOODREADS RATING: 
★★★★½☆  (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Karen Uhlenbeck Becomes First Woman To Win Abel Prize in Mathematics


Karen Uhlenbeck (formerly of University of Texas at Austin and now at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study) has become the first woman to win the Abel Prize. The Abel Prize has been awarded since 2003 by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters and comes with a check for 6 million Norwegian kroner (about US$700,000).

Uhlenbeck, 76, is cited for her "pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics."

The American Mathematics Society states:
Uhlenbeck is a former MacArthur Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a recipient of the National Medal of Science (2000) and the Steele Prize for Seminal Contribution to Research (2007), and a member of the inaugural class of AMS Fellows. She is the first woman mathematician to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1986) and the second woman to give a plenary lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians (1990—Emmy Noether was the first). In "The Abel Prize Laureate 2019," Uhlenbeck observes that she is a role model but "it’s hard, because what you really need to do is show students how imperfect people can be and still succeed. ... I may be a wonderful mathematician and famous because of it, but I’m also very human.” Uhlenbeck was the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents' Chair in Mathematics before retiring from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, and is now a visiting senior research scholar at Princeton University and a visiting associate at the Institute for Advance Study. See more about her work in the March Notices article, "Karen Uhlenbeck and the Calculus of Variations," by Simon Donaldson,  and on the Abel Prize website, which has the full prize citation, her biography, descriptions of her work, and a video of the announcement of the prize.

Congratulations to Professor Uhlenbeck!

Monday, March 18, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Andreescu and Thiem Win Their Biggest Titles In Thrilling Upset Over Major Champs


Defying the predictions of many observers (including yours truly) Bianca Andreescu and Dominc Thiem won the women's and men's championships at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Sunday. Andreescu received a wildcard into the event, becoming the first wildcard to win the title and the youngest player since Serena Williams won it at age 17 in 1999. Andreescu beat 3-time major champion Angie Kerber 4-6 6-3 6-4 in a very compelling contest which was decided by the 18-year-old Canadian's power and determination to win against her opponents guile, stamina and defense.

In the men's championship, Roger Federer won the first set and looked to be extending his streak of winning finals after having won the first set from 20 to 21 when Thiem raised his intensity and the power of his strokes to simply overpower the 100-time ATP singles champion. The 25-year-old Austrian was the tour leader in 2018 with the average speed of his groundstrokes on both wings (depsite a one-handed backhand) and in the final with Federer he exceeded his 2018 average in the match. The final score was 3-6 6-3 7-5. At 4-5 30-30 Federer came within 2 points of his 101st title when he approached the net on a good, deep cross-court approach shot only to find Thiem blasting a backhand directly at him which was too much to handle. A quick service winner later and Federer was unable to hold his serve at 5-all, getting his service broken and allowing Thim to serve out the championship with little hesitation.

Both youngsters came from behind in the match to win their biggest titles of their career. Of the two, Andreescu's was the more surprising result. Thiem has been known as a clay-court specialist, having reached (and lost) two Masters 1000 finals in Madrid and the 2018 Roland Garros final but with  a signature win over Federer (playing in his 9th Indian Wells final) on a hard court, Thiem showed he is  developing into an all-court player. Andreescu was playing in only her second WTA tour-level final and career earnings of $300,000; she earned $1.3 million on Sunday. There were echoes of last year when now World #1 Naomi Osaka was unseeded and won her first career title and then went on to win two consecutive hardcourt majors.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Federer-Thiem and Kerber-Andreescu Finals


The finals of Indian Wells are now set. Sadly, Fedal39 ended up being a bust because Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament (and, eventually, the Miami Open) a few hours before his semifinal clash with Roger Federer. Bizarrely, after getting a walkover from Gael Monfils in the quarterfinal, Dominc Thiem defeated Milos Raonic 6-4 in the 3rd set to reach his first final in the Desert. So Federer and Thiem will compete for the first Masters series title of the year. The two have a 2-2 head-to-head record, but both of Federer's wins have occurred on hard courts. Federer is playing in his 9th final in Indian Wells, but last year he lost the final here (after having match point!) against Juan Martin del Potro. I suspect that won't happen this year. MadProfessah's prediction: Federer.

The women's side of the draw has been the more interesting tournament. After Belinda Bencic continued her incredible win streak by taking out World #1 Noami Osaka and Karolina Pliskova before falling to Angelique Kerber in the semifinals. Venus Williams had a resurgence in form, reaching the quarterfinals, winning one of the best matches of the tournament against Petra Kvitova. However, the biggest story of the tournament was the performance of 18-year-old Canadian wildcard Bianca Andreescu. She is in the final of her first WTA premier mandatory tournament on the strength of beating Garbine Muguruza 6-0 6-1 in the quarterfinals and outlasting Elina Svitolina in the semifinals (6-4 in the 3rd set). However, she will face Kerber, who has shut down the two other red-hot players in the tournament already (Venus and Bencic) and can probably do it a 3rd time. MadProfessah's pick: Kerber.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Federal LGBT Civil Rights Bill #EqualityAct Introduced In U.S. House



There are 28 states where it is perfectly legal to fire someone for being a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community today. Most American believe that LGBT citizens should have (and already have) equal civil rights in the United States.

On March 13, the Equality Act, a comprehensive federal LGBT civil rights bill was introduced into the Congress with one House almost certain to pass it due to the fact Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives.

The Williams Institute at UCLA Law School did an analysis of the state of cvil rights for LGBT Americans and published a report summarizing its findings. Key among these, are:


  • An estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers age 16 and older live in the United States. About half of these workers4.1 million peoplelive in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment.
  • There are over 3.million LGBT students age 15 and older in the U.S. About 2.1 million live in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in education.
  • There are an estimated 13 million LGBT people age 13 and older in the U.S. Approximately 6.9 million live in states that do not statutorily prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in public accommodations. 
  • There are an estimated 11 million LGBT adults in the U.S. Over 5.6 million live in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing and 8 million lack such protections in credit.
Hat/tip to Williams Institute

BOOK REVIEW: Embers of War by Gareth Powell

Embers of War is a curious example of a space opera. The main character is a sentient ship, called the Trouble Dog, which was a warship that was involved in a horrific genocide that ended a war and is now part of an organization which resembles an interstellar version of the International Red Cross known as The House of Reclamation. Other characters in  Embers of War  include Ona Sundak, the former warship captain who actually ordered that genocide and who has been hiding incognito for years; two spies for opposing governments, Laura Petrushka and Aston Childe, who could be and may be more than just friends and Sal Konstantz, the current captain of the Trouble Dog.

The heart of the story is is about a conflict between a multitude of competing factions who are trying to control a precious resource. A major theme is also about the nature of forgiveness and the after-effects of war. A planet-spanning sentient forest was exterminated by Sundak in an attempt to end a war in order to save lives that would be lost if the war continued. How does one weigh the consequences of such an act? Are genocidal acts ever"reasonable"? As I said, this is an unusual topic for a military SF space opera tale, but it is a compelling one. 

However, overall, I was not as enthralled with Embers of War as I expected to be, considering the genre it is in and the fact that it was nominated for Best Novel in the British Science Fiction Awards (BSFA). One of the problems for me was that I didn’t really connect with any one of the human characters. The most compelling character in the book is the ship, but “she” portrays herself as such (it probably shouldn’t have a gender but it thinks of itself as female based on the source of the cells that comprise the biological substrate of the ship’s mind). Speaking of gender, the majority of the characters are female and the male characters are either viewed as incompetent or as needlessly and recklessly violent. This may have been another reason I didn’t emotionally connect with the story. I would note that there’s a lot of action in Embers of War, which is a nice feature of the book and there is also a significant presence of aliens and ships can travel faster-than-light by moving through the equivalent of "hyperspace." Overall, I'll probably still read the other books in the trilogy (Book 2 Fleet of Knives was recently released), but I'll probably wait until the entire series is complete.

Title: Embers of War.
Author: 
Gareth L. Powell.
Paperback: 411 pages.
Publisher:
 Titan Books.
Date Published: February 20, 2018.
Date Read: February 25, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★½☆  (3.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).

PLOT: A-.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Djokovic(1),Osaka(1),Halep(2),Bertens(7),Cilic(10) All Lose!


Major upsets in the Desert today! Both World #1's lost. Novak Djokovic lost 6-4 6-4 to Philip Kohlschreiber while Naomi Osaka lost 6-3 6-1 to Belinda Bencic. Other seeds who lost included World #2 Simona Halep, World #10 Marin Cilic, World #7 Kiki Bertens among others.

Winners included Venus Williams  and Garbine Muguruza (reaching the quarterfinals).

Monday, March 11, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Serena Withdraws After Losing 7 Consecutive Games Against Muguruza


Bad news from Indian Wells! After playing brilliantly to win in straight sets against Victoria Azarenka on Friday night, Serena Wiliams had her 3rd round match against Garbine Muguruza on Sunday and while she started off well, winning the first 3 games (1 break). she ended up retiring. Something went horribly wrong around the 5th game and she started having difficulty keeping a ball in the court and was side-arming her serve into the court. She ended up losing 7 consecutive games and abandoned the match and the court down 3-6 0-1 when it became clear it was unlikely she was going to win another game.

This is sad because I will be spending all day Wednesday at the tournament and had hoped to see her in action. Oh well, it is still a great tournament, and I look forward to visiting again.

EYE CANDY: Diego Barros





Diego Barros is a "thirst trap" on Instagram (with well over 600,000 followers @diego_rodrigob) who also happens to be the owner of Coconut Supply, an underwear supplier. I can't seem to find his age, height or weight but one can find a lot of pictures of him on the internet, usually featuring his impressively bulging crotch, including some pictures where he is nude and, umm, aroused. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 09, 2019

2019 INDIAN WELLS: Venus Upsets Kvitova, Serena Beats Vika, FAA Stuns Tsitsipas


Venus Williams surprised very many naysayers by completing one of the biggest upsets in the early rounds of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells today by coming back from a 6-4, 3-0 (double break) deficit against World #3 Petra Kvitova to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-4. Venus and Kvitova have played 7 times and all of their matches have gone to three sets, with the American now having a 4-3 edge.

Serena Williams played her first competitive match since she departed the Australian Open five weeks ago. This match  was against Victoria Azarenka and it was a reprise of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open final with a different result this time. Serena won in 2 very tight, high-quality sets 6-4 6-3.

Felix Auger-Aliassime pulled off his very first Top 10 win by defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas  6-4 6-2 in the youngster's first appearance in the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open. FAA saved all 7 of the breakpoints he faced while converting all 3 that he had, and that was basically the match.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: A Merciful Death (Mercy Kilpatrick, #1) by Kendra Elliott

A Merciful Death is the first book in Kendra Elliott's Mercy Kilpatrick police procedural series set in Oregon.

I didn't know much about the series when I started the book except that there's a fair number of entries in it so far (at least eight( and that they are pretty cheap on Amazon Kindle.

As it turns out, judging from the first entry A Merciful Death, these books are a cross between murder-mystery, police-procedural and suspense thriller with a touch of romance and family drama thrown in for good measure. As with most genre works, especially detective novels, in my opinion the key factor in assessing the quality of the books is the complexity of the main character. Here that person is Mercy Kilpatrick, a FBI agent who left her small-town of Eagle's Nest, Oregon at the age of 18, estranged from her patriarchal family, who are anti-government, self-sufficient, doomsday "preppers" (people whose lives revolve around preparing for the end of civilization).

After a 15-year break, there are more murders in her hometown and Mercy is sent to investigate the deaths of three old male preppers who each had large stockpiles of guns and ammunition that have disappeared and the FBI is interested and concerned about determining what happened to these weapons. Back in Eagle's Nest for the first time since she she fed as a teenager, Mercy meets the new, hunky police chief Truman Daly whose uncle is one of the recent murder victims. The previous set of murders had been of young women close to Mercy's age and these events were related to why she had been forced to leave town. She hasn't had any contact with her family since then so there is a lot of family drama when she returns home, especially as an employee of the hated federal government.

Overall, I thought the first book in the series was quite effective as a thriller and as a story. Both Mercy and Truman are compelling characters and I enjoyed spending time with them. The secondary characters (her niece Kaylie and blind sister Rose) were also interesting. The plot was resolved a little too neatly but I suspect I'll be reading more of these books in the future.

Title: A Merciful Death.
Author: Kendra Elliott.
Paperback: 352 pages.
Publisher:
 Montlake Romance.
Date Published: January 17, 2017.
Date Read: February 5, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: 
★★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+/A- (3.5/4.0).

PLOT: B+.
IMAGERY: B+.
IMPACT: A-.
WRITING: A-.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: #RF100; Osaka Picks New Coach; Kyrgios Bulldozes Acapulco


FEDERER WINS 100TH TITLE IN DUBAI OVER TSITSIPAS
Roger Federer got revenge against Stefanos Tsitsipas in t.he finals of the Dubai Duty Free Open by winning 6-4 6-4. By doing so, he was able to win the 100th title of his career, becoming the second man in history to reach this milestone. The 21-year-old Tsitsipas made history to become the first player from his country (Greece) to be ranked in the Top 10. He will almost certainly continue to make history, as many observers expect to him reach the Top 5 and potentially win a major title.

OSAKA PICKS JERMAINE JENKINS AS NEW COACH
World #1 Naomi Osaka has followed up her dismissal of  Sascha Baijin as her coach by replacing him with Jermaine Jenkins, another person who knows the game of her idol, Serena Williams, very well. Baijin was Serena's hitting partner for years, and Jenkins had been part of Venus Williams camp for years, including serving as hitting partner. His twin brother served as Serena's hitting partner at the 2018 French Open, and has recently been named Director of Women's Tennis for the United States Tennis Association.

KYRGIOS BEATS NADAL, WAWRINKA, ISNER AND ZVEREV TO WIN ACAPULCO
Two weeks after Belinda Bencic had an amazing week to win her first title in memorable fashion, Nick Kyrgios did the same thing by beating Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner and Sascha Zverev to win the title in Acapulco. The mercurial Australian Player demonstrated  that when he focuses on his game, he can basically beat anyone.

Monday, March 04, 2019

2019 DUBAI: Federer Wins 100th ATP Career Title! #RF100


Roger Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai on Saturday, becoming the second male player to reach this landmark, after Jimmy Connors who ended his career with 109 titles. Can Federer equal or break this record? Possibly, but it will be tough unless either he plays beyond the 2020 Olympics, which many of us doubt he will do, or he goes on a winning spree in the next 15 months or so.

Another question is will Federer's title haul exceed his other rivals for G.O.A.T. status, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, both of whom have more Masters Series shields than the Swiss player. Djokovic has 73 titles while Nadal has 80, but they are both 6 and 5 years younger than Federer, respectively.

Federer's 100th title came at the Duai Duty Free Open, where he has now been champion 8 times in his career. He beat Stefanos Tsitsipas the 21-year-old Greek phenom who ended Federer's title defence of the Australian Open this January. Tsitsipas has a game style reminiscent of Federer's (great movement, shot-making, one-handed backhand) but he's 6-foot-4. Federer had an awful conversion rate on breakpoints in their first meeting in Melbourne but in Dubai he broke in the very first game of the match, defended the 2 breakpoints he had serving out the first set, and then broke Tsitsipas again in the 19th game of the match and easily held serve to win the second set and championship 6-4 6-4.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Her Final Breath (Tracy Crosswhite, #2) by Robert Dugoni


Her Final Breath is the second book in Robert Dugoni's police procedural/murder-mystery series featuring Detective Tracy Crosswhite. I enjoyed the first book, My Sister's Grave, quite a lot. Crosswhite a Seattle-based police detective who investigates murders. In My Sister's Grave, Tracy investigated the disappearance (and presumed murder) of her sister from 20-plus years before in their small hometown. There she re-connected with a former high school classmate named Dan who is now a lawyer who helps her re-open the case of the man who was wrongly convicted of killing her sister.

In Her Final Breath Tracy returns to Seattle and gets assigned to be the lead detective tracking a serial killer nicknamed the Cowboy who has claimed the lives of several female strippers by tying them up in positions in cheap motels which lead to deaths by strangulation. Tracy is the only female detective in her squad and her boss is also her enemy. It's pretty clear he only gave her the high-stakes job of leading the serial killer task force because he thinks that there's a good chance Tracy will fail and suffer significant career consequences.

Tracy is a great character and Dugoni does an excellent job portraying both her and Dan (who becomes her boyfriend). Dugoni uses the common device of letting the reader see what the suspect is up to while his protagonist is tracking them down. This heightens the suspense, because it makes it clearer how close (or not) the police are to solving the case.  In Her Final Breath the information about the suspect is provided in such a way that we also do not their identity.

Overall I enjoyed Her Final Breath but I don't see the Tracy Crosswhite series as becoming one of my favorites in the genre. It doesn't jave the biting humor of Stuart MacBride's Logan McRae or the brilliant word-smithing of Tana French or the heart-pounding thrills of Karin Slaughter.

Title: Her Final Breath.
Author: 
Robert Dugoni.
Paperback: 426 pages.
Publisher:
 Thomas & Mercer.
Date Published: September 15, 2015.
Date Read: January 5, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING: ★☆  (4.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.3/4.0).

PLOT: B+.
IMAGERY: B.
IMPACT: B+.
WRITING: A-.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

GODLESS WEDNESDAY: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments Today in Church-State Separation Case


Today the United States Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in an important case involving the separation of church and state. The case is The American Legion v. American Humanist Association and involves a 93-year-old World War 1 memorial called the Bladensburg Peace Cross erected on public lands and maintained using public funds in Bladensburg, Maryland.

The questions before the Court are:
(1) Whether a 93-year-old memorial to the fallen of World War I is unconstitutional merely because it is shaped like a cross; (2) whether the constitutionality of a passive display incorporating religious symbolism should be assessed under the tests articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman, Van Orden v. Perry, Town of Greece v. Galloway or some other test; and (3) whether, if the test from Lemon v. Kurtzman applies, the expenditure of funds for the routine upkeep and maintenance of a cross-shaped war memorial, without more, amounts to an excessive entanglement with religion in violation of the First Amendment.
NPR's Nina Totenberg claims that the Court is expected to reverse the 4th Circuit's holding that the monument has the "primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion." The real question is how far will the Court's conservative majority go in dismantling the wall between church and state in this case?

Hat/tip to SCOTUSblog

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Bencic, Tstisipas Win Titles; Federer Seeks #100; FAA Reaches 1st ATP 500 Final; Monfils Beats Stan To Win Title


FELIX AUGER-ALIASSIME REACHES FIRST ATP 500 FINAL IN RIO
18-year-old Canadian phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime (or FAA) became the youngest player to ever reach an ATP 500 final by playing in the Rio Open final against Laslo Djere. 23-year-old Djere won 6-3 7-5, but both players are now at career highs: FAA is at #60 and Djere shot up 53(!) slots to #37.

BELINDA BENCIC DESTROYS FIELD EN ROUTE TO WINNING IN DUBAI
Reminiscent of her historic 2015 breakout win in Montreal, Belinda Bencic, now 21, won the title in Dubai by defeating four Top 10 players along the way: Aryna Sabalenka, (defending champion) Elina Svitolina, World #2 Simona Halep and World #3 Petra Kvitova. Bencic beat 2019 Australian Open finalist Kvitova in the final, 6-3 1-6 6-2.

ROGER FEDERER IS CHASING ATP CAREER TITLE #100 THIS WEEK IN DUBAI
The men's tournament in Dubai starts this week and Roger Federer will be seeking his 100th career title in a field with Marin Cilic (who lost to Gael Monfils), kei Nishikori and Karen Khachanov (who also lost). Federer bear Phillipp Kohlschreiber and will face Fernando Verdasco for a quarterfinal slot.

STEFANO TSISTIPAS AND GAEL MONFILS WIN TITLES
NextGen phenom (and 2019 Australian Open semifinalist) Stefanos Tsiptsipas won his second career title this week by defeating Mikhail Kukushkin in Merseilles in straight sets. Gael Monfils won his 8th career title last week by outlasting Stan Wawrinka in Rotterdam 6-3 1-6 6-2. La Monf has an atrocious record in finals (8W-21L) so this was a good result for the 32-year-old Frenchman.

Monday, February 25, 2019

2019 OSCARS: The Winners


The 2019 Oscars were last night. According to my predictions for the Top 8 categories, I only predicted 4 of 8 correctly, and went 12 out of 24 overall.
  • Documentary (Feature) — Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Free Solo
  • Actress in a Supporting Role — Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Makeup and Hairstyling — Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney, Vice
  • Costume Design — Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
  • Production Design — Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
  • Cinematography — Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
  • Sound Editing — John Warhurst, Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Sound Mixing — Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali, Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Foreign Language Film — Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
  • Film Editing — John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Actor in a Supporting Role — Mahershala Ali, Green Book
  • Animated Feature Film — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
  • Animated Short Film — Domee Shi, Bao
  • Documentary Short Subject — Rayka Zehtabchi and Melissa Berton, Period. End of Sentence.
  • Visual Effects — Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and J.D. Schwalm, First Man
  • Live Action Short Film — Guy Nattiv and Jamie Ray Newman, Skin
  • Best Original Screenplay — Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, Green Book
  • Best Adapted Screenplay — Spike Lee, Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, BlacKkKlansman
  • Original Score — Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
  • Original Song — Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, and Andrew Wyatt, “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role — Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role — Olivia Colman, The Favourite
  • Best Director — Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
  • Best Picture  Green Book

EYE CANDY: Nana-Kofi Adams (black/white)





Nana-Kofi Adams has appeared as Eye Candy only once before (October 8, 2018). He is a British bodybuilder of African descent who has more than 12,000 followers on Instagram (@nanakofi_adams). He takes great pictures in color and in black-and-white (as seen here).

Thursday, February 21, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Salvation (Salvation, #1) by Peter F. Hamilton


Wow! Peter F. Hamilton, who should be considered the Master of Technological Space Opera, does it again. The author of multiple acclaimed works of hard military sci-fi (The Night’s Dawn trilogy, The Void trilogy, The Abyss Beyond Dreams/A Night Without Stars, Great North Road and Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained) has returned with a new trilogy that begins with Salvation.

All of Hamilton’s signature story elements appear here: a futuristic advanced society, disruptive technology, culturally opaque aliens, incredibly wealthy/powerful tycoons, secret/hidden agents, detailed action sequences, ubiquitous artificial intelligence and apocalyptic threats. In his more recent novels, Hamilton has been combining these familiar elements with brand-new ingredients. For example, in Great North Road these space opera tropes are deployed in the context of a murder-mystery police procedural. In the Void Trilogy he cleverly embeds a classic epic fantasy tale within a space opera plot. 

In Salvation, Hamilton has all his usual space opera components present in a story built around two main plot threads. The main one is set in 2204 and tells the story of throwing a cadre of travelers together and recounts the background stories of each member of the group. In the second thread, Hamilton has a several hundred-year time jump from the main story line where a subset of the travelers in the first time line have become “The Five Saints” of humanity, which in the future is preparing for an epic existential battle with evil unnamed aliens who have apparently been exterminating all forms of civilization when they come across them. AND from a prologue we know there’s another alien species which has discovered and is secretly watching humanity.

Here the primary Hamiltonian disruptive technology involves quantum entanglement portals that allow instantaneous travel across interstellar (or intercontinental) distances. This of course has a dramatic effect on all forms of locomotion after its discovery in the 21st century and allows for many of the effects of climate change to be ameliorated. Other technological advances include telomere treatments for increased longevity and the use of alien biotechnology for beneficial and malignant purposes. The presence of highly developed artificial intelligence used as personal assistants and for many other purposes is another highlight of Salvation.

One of the central tensions in structuring the book in the way the author has are the questions it raises in the reader: Which of the travelers gain immortal status as the five saints of humanity? Which of the two alien species we know about so far that are portrayed as benign in the earlier time are actually trying to exterminate us? Or is there a third alien species we don't know about that takes this role in the time period that elapses between our two story threads?

For most of the book I was pleasantly entertained, enjoying Hamilton’s imagination and reveling in the familiarity of his plot structures and characterizations. I was generally thinking that this would be a very good but not extraordinary (a 4 out of 5 stars) read. However, the last two chapters of the book provided revelations that set up the next two books in the trilogy and completely blew me away, catapulting the book easily into five star territory.

Title: Salvation (Salvation Sequence, #1).
Author: 
Peter F. Hamilton.
Paperback: 426 pages.
Publisher:
 Macmillan.
Date Published: September 6, 2018.
Date Read: February 17, 2019.

GOODREADS RATING:   (5.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A (4.0/4.0).

PLOT: A+.
IMAGERY: A-.
IMPACT: A+.
WRITING: A-.

Monday, February 18, 2019

2019 OSCARS: My Predictions for the Top 8 Categories

Here is my annual prediction post for the 2019 Oscars. I really just consider the Top 8 categories on the blog but I play the Oscar game like everyone else (on other websites). Last year I predicted 7 out of 8 and 17 of 24 correctly.

Best Picture:
  • “Black Panther”
  • “BlacKkKlansman”
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “The Favourite”
  • “Green Book”
  • “Roma”
  • A Star Is Born”
  • “Vice”
SHOULD WIN: A Star Is Born.
WILL WIN: Roma.


Director:
  • Spike Lee, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Pawel Pawlikowski, “Cold War”
  • Yorgos Lanthimos, “The Favourite”
  • Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma”
  • Adam McKay, “Vice”
SHOULD WIN: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman.
WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma.

Lead Actor:
  • Christian Bale, “Vice”
  • Bradley Cooper, “A Star Is Born”
  • Willem Dafoe, “At Eternity’s Gate”
  • Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • Viggo Mortensen, “Green Book”
SHOULD WIN: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born.
WILL WIN: Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Lead Actress:
  • Yalitza Aparicio, “Roma”
  • Glenn Close, “The Wife”
  • Olivia Colman, “The Favourite”
  • Lady Gaga, “A Star Is Born”
  • Melissa McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
SHOULD WIN: Glenn Close, The Wife.
WILL WIN: Glenn Close, The Wife.

Supporting Actor:
  • Mahershala Ali, “Green Book”
  • Adam Driver, “BlacKkKlansman”
  • Sam Elliott, “A Star Is Born”
  • Richard E. Grant, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
  • Sam Rockwell, “Vice”
SHOULD WIN: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
WILL WIN: Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman.

Supporting Actress:
  • Amy Adams, “Vice”
  • Marina de Tavira, “Roma”
  • Regina King, “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  • Emma Stone, “The Favourite”
  • Rachel Weisz, “The Favourite”
SHOULD WIN: Amy Adams, Vice
WILL WIN: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Adapted Screenplay:
  • “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Joel Coen , Ethan Coen
  • “BlacKkKlansman,” Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
  • “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
  • “If Beale Street Could Talk,” Barry Jenkins
  • “A Star Is Born,” Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters
SHOULD WIN: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
WILL WIN: BlacKkKlansman.

Original Screenplay:
  • “The Favourite,” Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
  • “First Reformed,” Paul Schrader
  • “Green Book,” Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly
  • “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón
  • “Vice,” Adam McKay
SHOULD WIN: Roma.
WILL WIN: The Favourite.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Osaka Splits From Sascha, Fed Cup Semis Set, Serena Back to WTA Top10


NAOMI OSAKA ANNOUNCES SPLIT FROM COACH SASCHA BAJIN
Wow! World #1 Naomi Osaka has announced she has ended her coaching relationship with Sascha Bajin, who was with her as she raced up the rankings from #72 a year ago to winning the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open and become the #1 ranked player in the world.  Bajin was a longtime member of Serena Williams's support staff and was named WTA Coach of the Year in 2018. This is the fourth example of a Grand Slam winner dropping a coach within a short time afterwards: Angelique Kerber split with Wim Fisette after winning 2018 Wimbledon, Simona Halep split with Darren Cahill after winning the 2018 French Open and Sloane Stephens split with Kamau Murray after winning the 2017 US Open.

FED CUP SEMIFINALS SET UP: ROMANIA V. FRANCE, AUSTRALIA V.  BELARUS
In a surprising result, Romania beat defending champs Czech Republic and Australia beat the  United States (playing without any major champions), Belarus beat Germany (without Kerber) and France beat Belgium. The Fed Cup semifinals will be played in April. Ash Barty won all 3 ties for Australia. Halep had a key win over Pliskova in the #CZEROU matchup.

SERENA WILLIAMS WILL RETURN TO TOP 10 NEXT WEEK
Amazingly, even though she has only played in 7(!) tournaments in the last year, reaching 2 major finals (2018 Wimbledon and 2018 US Open), Serena Williams will be rejoining the WTA Top 10.

TSONGA ENDS TITLE DROUGHT AT OPEN SUD DE FRANCE
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won his 17th career title (his first title in more than a year). He defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the final of the Open Sud de France 6-4 6-2.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

TENNIS TUESDAY: Murray Has 2nd Hip Operation, Simona Picks A Coach, Kiki Wins Again, Canada Has Davis Cup Success


ANDY MURRAY HAS SECOND HIP SURGERY TO END CHRONIC PAIN
3-time major champion Andy Murray had a "hip resurfacing" operation last week in a last-ditch attempt to extend his tennis career and to end chronic pain in this joint. This happened a few days after he returned home after losing a 5-set thriller in the first round of the Australian Open against Roberto Bautista Agut.

SIMONA HALEP PICKS NEW FULL-TIME COACH
Former World #1 Simona Halep has finally found a replacement coach for Darren Cahill. She has selected the former coach of David Goffin, Thierry van Cleemput. The two started working together informally last month in Melbourne before she played her epic match against Serena Williams in the 3rd round.

KIKI BERTENS WINS THRILLER AGAINST DONNA VEKIC IN RUSSIA
Kiki Bertens defeated Donna Vekic in the final of the WTA Premiere level tournament in St. Petersburg 7-6(2) 6-4. the current World #8 has won 3 tournaments in the last year, including two on hard courts.

SHAPOVALOV AND AUGER_ALIASSIME POWER CANADA IN DAVIS CUP
Youngsters Denis Shpovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime together were able to power Canada over Slovakia to take their nation into the final of the revised Davis Cup.

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