Review – Sid Meier’s Memoir

I will open by quoting a line from the last paragraph in the book…

There is joy out there waiting to be discovered, but it might not be where you expected.

And that pretty much sums up this memoir. It is a joy to read anyone, no matter their profession or calling in life, write enthusiastically about their passions and what drove them to commit to an endeavour that would span a significant percentage of their time on this earth. Even more so when those passions align with ones own so closely.

This book is not just for fans of the games Sid wrote. Far from it. There are anecdotes in here that are a real pleasure to read and they span the truly nerdy such as debunking the “Ghandi overflow bug” that turned his character into a nuclear warmongering despot, to business tales of bootstrapping startups in the early days of computer gaming drawings heavily on a world of table top adventures via side notes involving Tom Clancy and Robin Williams.

This book is not just for fans of computer games, although they will likely get the most of it, but for anyone interested in the march of technology and tales of those that interacted with it for creative endeavours.

I read it fast, as I often do with books I enjoy on first sitting, and will likely read it again in a more leisurely manner. My only criticism is that on occasion he held back from diving into truly technical details on issues that he faced and overcame. I would have liked to see this and let the reader decide if she wanted to skip or dive in.

4.0 out of 5.0

Educated by Tara Westover

I could not put this book down. Enough has been said about it in reviews that I have little to add here.

Curiosity had me trawling the web for more. And there is a lot out there. Interviews on youtube, commentary by the family and friends in amazon reviews and even the mother’s crowdfunding for her own book called “Educating”. I have copied and pasted bits and pieces below for others to read below.

Memories are maleable, they are fallible and they change with time. Viewpoints on events are just that, viewpoints. I have never read an autobiography with such effort to verify events. This in itself seems a defence mechanism. Her own form of laying down intellectual stores for the end of times to follow publication.

One thing that shines through, and seems to be verified by public feedback from other actors in the story, is the honesty with which it has been written. A tough, uplifting and joyous read.

Further watching/reading…

Aspen Institute interview with Tara Westover

Commentary on Amazon.com…

Drew from the book…

5.0 out of 5 stars

Overcoming the gaslighting

Reviewed in the United States on April 8, 2018

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m the Drew from this book, and although Tara and I are no longer together I’ve met all of the key figures in this book on many occasions. Although I don’t have as intimate a knowledge of growing up in the Westover family as a sibling would, I observed first hand everything Tara describes in the third part of the book and heard many stories about earlier events, not just from Tara, but from siblings, cousins, and her parents themselves. I find the claims of factual inaccuracy that have come up among these reviews to be strange for two reasons. First, in a post-James Frey (“A Million Little Pieces”) world, publishers are incredibly careful with memoirs and “Educated” was extensively fact checked before publication. Second, no one claiming factual inaccuracy can do so with any precision. While every Westover sibling, as well as their neighbors and friends, will have different perspectives and different memories, it is very difficult to dispute the core facts of this book. “Educated” is about abuse, and the way in which both abusers and their enablers distort reality for the victims. It’s about the importance of gaining your own understanding of the world so you’re not dependent on the narratives imposed on you by others. I’ve heard Tara’s parents attack schools and universities, doctors and modern medicine, but more importantly, I’ve seen her parents work tirelessly to create a world where Shawn’s abuse was minimized or denied outright. I’ve seen them try to create a world where Tara was insane or possessed in order to protect a violent and unstable brother. I was with her in Cambridge when Shawn was calling with death threats, then saw her mother completely trivialize the experience. For Tara’s parents, allegiance to the family is paramount, and allegiance to the family requires you to accept her father’s view of the world, where violence is acceptable and asking for change is a crime.

Tyler Westover...

Good message, although some supporting information isn’t fully accurate -Tyler W.
ByAmazon Customeron February 26, 2018
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase
First, let me identify myself. I am Tyler Westover, brother number three in this book. Reading through other comments, it is clear that the book has become very controversial. A natural tendency when we encounter someone that we disagree strongly with is to attempt to dehumanize those individuals into foul monsters. We see this behavior regularly in politics as well as in arguments over land and other natural resources. My purpose in writing this review is not to try to prove either side wrong; rather, it is to “humanize” the people on both sides, while also providing a partial perspective that people on both sides of the argument may be able to agree with. Several concerns prevent this from being a full perspective.

I will start by quoting an email that I sent to Tara on Feb. 21, 2016. I still mostly feel the same way. Here are excerpts from the note that I sent:

“Overall, I like the book and wish that we could all understand it. It not only contains important messages, but the writing style and descriptions are captivating. … I could add a number of details on Part 1: Idaho. For your earlier memories, I was old enough to have access to more information, and I could clarify. I am not sure that I would recommend changing your text much, though, because my additions would also add complications. Usually in reports of scientific and engineering projects we follow what is known as the “80/20 rule,” which is that reports focus on key messages and points and deliberately leave out seemingly contradictory or excessively complicated information for general audiences. The fact is that practically no-one can understand all of the details in a complicated situation, and focusing on the underlying themes is generally best unless the audience has specific need to try to grasp the details. I think that you did well following the 80/20 rule. If you like I could send clarifying notes that you could include in an appendix or as publication notes. As you mention, we have different memories and different perceptions of the same events, and I recognize that if you try to include my version, it will likely interfere with your clean narrative.”

Some elements in the book have been misinterpreted from the way that Tara likely intended, and I think that some things Tara misunderstood herself. Because education is a primary theme of the book, I will offer a different perspective on that topic here. In writing this alternate perspective, I do not intend to convey that Tara’s interpretation of events is wholly in error. Our parents are extremists, and they and other members of our family have done terrible things that have hurt Tara. There is no doubt there was abuse, neglect, and other awful choices. Those events are described in Tara’s book, and I will not add new comments about those events here. I was removed quite far from the family when most of those events took place, and for the most part they are not entirely clear in my mind. As indicated above, I intend to restrict my narrative here to my personal experiences or actual events for which I have clear accounts that I expect will generate little disagreement from other individuals who were involved.

As Tara describes, our father is very suspicious of the government. At one point, he told us, his children, that he was concerned someone from the government could come to our home and gun shots could be fired. Nothing he ever said, however, led me to believe that this concern was connected with our homeschool. Instead, he referenced Charlton Hesston’s sentiment that the only way the government would get his guns would be from his “cold dead hands.” To expand a little further, our father also said that he did not think that the government would send local law enforcement or even federal agents to take guns away from law-abiding U.S. citizens. He considered it more likely that such a task would have to be fulfilled by troops from the United Nations. It should also be noted that the guns in question did not include high capacity, semi-automatic rifles, such as have been used in mass shootings or are designed for intense combat. I have never seen our father with such a weapon, and as far as I know, he has never owned one.

Regarding higher education, many readers of the book have concluded that Tara attended formal higher education against apparently insurmountable odds. Perhaps it is not that surprising after all. Of the seven children in our family, six of them attended formal higher education classes (Luke is the only one who has not, and as described in Tara’s book, classroom education is not really his thing). In addition, both our mother “Faye” and our father “Gene” attended at least one year of university classes each. Our mother frequently encouraged me from a young age to prepare to attend university classes by the time I was sixteen. On the other hand, our father has expressed great dissatisfaction with the hubris associated with university education as well as its bias toward liberal thinking.

Observing people around me, it seemed that university degrees actually helped very few people in our community. Most individuals that I knew of returned to work on their family’s farm after getting a degree. Those that did not return, I really didn’t know about. Without being able to perceive a direct benefit from a university degree, I did not initially consider higher education very seriously. Our father was actually the person who first gave me a specific purpose to get a university degree. He told me that if I got an engineering degree, then I could provide engineering stamps for building and bridge designs for the family construction business. Our dad mostly created his own designs for sheds and other custom structures that his business built, but sometimes he had to have his designs stamped by a professional engineer. If I became a professional engineer, not only could I stamp our designs, but I could probably also be more flexible in the design to save additional costs in fabrication materials. The idea captured my interest, but I was concerned about being able to finish an engineering degree. At the time, I was about sixteen, and four years of classes in a university seemed like a very long time. Neither of my parents had actually graduated. I considered that the only way to make sure that I could graduate would be to win a four-year full-tuition scholarship; at length, that is what I determined to do. Tara was correct that my father often fought me to go to work rather than study.

Part of the application for the scholarship that I wanted (a Trustee’s scholarship at BYU) required writing an essay response to a quote by Blaise Pascal. Again it was our father who provided the best advice on how to approach the essay. He suggested that I spend a full day in the library at Utah State University to read all I could about Blaise Pascal to find the context of the quote and perhaps additional complementary quotes. I followed my father’s advice and won the scholarship. Years later as I was finishing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at BYU, Purdue University offered me a fellowship for graduate school. I was excited to go but also very hesitant. It was important to me that I marry someone who shared my religious beliefs, and that seemed much less probable in Indiana than in Utah. After much deliberation and hearing some negative stories about graduate school in far-away places, I had almost decided to turn down Purdue’s offer and stay in Utah. Before I made my final decision, though, I consulted my parents for their advice. They both recommended that I go to Purdue. I particularly remember my father’s advice. He told me not to let fear of the future cause me to miss such a great opportunity. With that reassurance, I decided to go, and after five years, I earned a Ph.D. from Purdue.

Undoubtedly, Tara’s experience talking about higher education with our parents was much different than mine. After reading a memoir, I would hope that readers have new questions about their understanding of the events and people being scrutinized rather than feeling confident that their understanding is now sufficient to render accurate judgment. Every person involved has their own paradigm and experiences.

Postscript Note: I have received some negative comments on the review above from people who think that I am trying to impose my experiences on Tara. That really is not my intention. In her book, in numerous places, Tara interprets for me and other members of my family things that we did, said, thought, and even felt. I cannot speak for the other members of my family, but in my case I think in many instances she greatly incorrectly conveyed my experiences. In the interest of a balanced viewpoint, it seems that I should at least attempt to share a part of my perspective, while still supporting her as much as I can. I do recognize this is her memoir, and she describes her experiences from her paradigm. However, it seems reasonable for me to explain my perspective and outline events that demonstrate the validity of my perspective, in my review.”

Richard Westover from https://www.hjnews.com/preston/news/educated-should-be-read-with-grain-of-salt-says-family/article_0583f217-6fd2-51de-a891-9ca32adb589c.htm

Richard Westover
The relationship between my sister and my parents, like that of many poeple, is more complicated than either this article or the book can portray. Tara is doing the best she can with what she knows and I give her kudos as well for that. I think people reading either the book or the article should suspend judgement. Having read both, and lived through it as well, I would not consider myself in possesion of the facts tsufficient to pass judgement to the extent many of the commenters seem to be willing to do. To you it is a book and it is cheap to rant about it. To me, it is my life and I’m still living it. Tara comes to my house to visit occasionally and I still call my parents every week.”

And LaRee Westover’s own crowdfunding page for “Educating”…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/educating?fbclid=IwAR3WVWFKn9WPupMnzzSuGEYthOeSLtbBJx9uM2jAK7mHqOHFy9EJYIdLAIc#/

World of Dust… Harry Turtledove meets Steampunk WWII.. www.dustgame.com

(Images from http://www.dustgame.com)

Having recently got back into modelling and painting (#covidhobby) I have been scanning around for cool models to build. A few of the warhammer ones look good but the stuff from this team is fab.

Look great and styling mixes the best of sci fi with old favourites from my childhood (fingers stuck to old airfix tanks and spitfires)!

No idea how good the game is a and a lot of models seems to be sold out but some unpainted kits still available and very reasonably priced.

No affiliation but will definitely be picking some up to have a mess around with.

Would love to know how they produce their kits. 3D printed?

My recent best reads…

Started keeping a list and notes on books I have recently read so when asked for recommends I am not left trawling my memory for any that stand out.

Am I the only one that a book can resonate with you at the time of reading but a month or two later it is lost in the noise of the next one consumed?

It feels like “consumption” but as I ingest, some of it does stick.

So during 2018, the best I have read, not sorted for genre or in order of preference, is as follows:

Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler

Easy, low brow reading. But great fun. Aliens, space ships exchanging broadsides Hornblower would be proud of, espionage, sex bots and orgies. Whats not to like!

Masters of Doom by David Kushner

For anyone who grew up with the Doom games and subsequent releases they have a special place in your heart. Whether you are aware of the protagonists in its creation or not the story of their journey is riveting reading. Top workplace tip, if you ever find yourself locked in your office, make sure you have a battle-axe handy…

Munck debates – Political Correctness

This book contains a transcript of the aforementioned debate between Michael Eric Dyson/Michelle Goldberg and Stephen Fry/Jordan Peterson. The Fry/Petersen pairing is interesting in itself bu any chance to hear the wonderful Mr Fry illuminate a subject is worth grabbing. These debates are recorded and can be found on the web, but having it transcribed allows a savouring of the argument that watching on the screen cannot do justice. Biggest revelation for me…certainty in your views or opinions is the death of reasonable discourse and progress. Just wonderful…

A Brief Candle in the Dark by Richard Dawkins

Many are aware of Richard Dawkins for his books on skeptical thought and scientific reasoning. Even more are aware of him by reputation and loath the God Delusion without actually reading what is perhaps one of the few books that should be compulsory reading (along with any religious text you wish to pick) for all teenagers. I was aware he was a biologist and supposed he must have been not too shabby a one. My ignorance in all that he has achieved, and how much I still have to do, was humbling. Ripped through it and will return at some point.

I will pop up any other good finds I have and would welcome any others I may have missed.

Will end with one of my favourite quotes (not sure who said it…same memory issue as alluded to at the start)

Think before you speak and read before you think…

HAL… nothing to do with IBM

Reading “The Soul of a new Machine” by Tracey Kidder, pulitzer prize winning and a stonking good read (especially right off the back of “The Supermen” by Charles J Murray all about the development of the cray supercomputer).

It mentions that the name plays against the initials of IBM in the same way that two projects at Data General (EGO and FHP) played against each other by being one letter removed on the alphabet.

Intrigued, I checked this out but alas, not true. In his book, “The Lost Worlds of 2001”, Arthur C Clarke notes:

…about once a week some character spots the fact that HAL is one letter ahead of IBM, and promptly assumes that Stanley and I were taking a crack at the estimable institution … As it happened, IBM had given us a good deal of help, so we were quite embarrassed by this, and would have changed the name had we spotted the coincidence

Its a good story though and doesn’t everyone love an Easter Egg or insider joke?

BFR anyone? “Big Falcon Rocket”…. yeah right. What about Tesla models S, 3 and X. Heard a rumour that Ford wouldn’t let him use Model E so went with 3 instead. Think personalised number plates…”B3N”.

This nod and wink makes things more fun for consumers, even if done cynically. It gives a human face to corporations. Makes them approachable. Differentiates, at least until everyone is doing it. Then can you imagine how tiring that would get!

Hope and Pray…

Hope and pray.

What does it mean…

Does it in fact mean anything?

Hope… bland statement of the obvious. Hope for positive outcome. Hope for better results. Hope for all to be well and good.

Tacking on a “pray”. This is where things get a little “tricky”.

So emotive…different things…different strokes

You hope for an outcome and pray for the execution of this hope.

Plea for the helpless and hopeful. Been there and not to be scoffed at but shouting your capitulation to the wind in return for divine favours is, at best a primordial grunt outside a cave, and at worst, delusion.

Hope and pray invokes faith which, no matter how you look at it, is the brain’s placebo.

This is not necessarily bad. When it helps calm the mind and attain clarity, anything is positive.

However when it stifles action in favour of divine intervention it is damaging, pointless, and in some cases criminal.

By all means hope and pray, but also source as much information as you can and act where necessary.

Do not be blown about by the winds of chance, accept your lot where necessary and fight tooth and nail where there is a chink in fate’s armour.

Titan…Sam, what were you thinking?

From its homey bbq scene to the closing cut budget (“you only have one cgi money shot guys…”) this is one to avoid.

I have no idea why great actors take on these roles. Is it small budget favours, fillers or…

But the film offers nothing in terms of suspense or plot. He changes, his colleagues fall by the wayside, he survives to do “something” on Titan.

Horrible low brow moment when NATO (???) forces change focus of their ire from new Sam to bold Prof.

Miss…

“Celebrity” suicides should be buried in the middle of newspapers.

There is evidence that publishing the details of high profile suicides increases the number of copycat suicides. With this in mind, are editors then guilty of manslaughter when they publish such stories?

No? Well what if I told you that this evidence is highly localised and that the sphere of geographic influence is very specific to the area of increased deaths. The area over which a given newspaper sells correlates very closely to the geographic area in which the spike in the statistics occur?

Still not convinced, then what if I also told you that there is evidence that an increase in car accidents, train accidents and air flight accidents also correlate with these stories? Surely not related… However it has been postulated that these are nothing more than “hidden” suicides. That is suicides where the perpetrator has tried to hide the fact that it is a suicide, either for reasons of shame or simply to allow their loved ones left behind to still be the beneficiary of any life policy that may be in place.

The statistical evidence is difficult to refute, the interpretation however is another matter. While no one has been able to come up with a better explanation, at least not one that has been widely published, the case is compelling.

Nor is this a new discovery. In the kate 1700s a novel (The Sorrows of Young Man Werther) where the protagonist commits suicide as a result of spurned love, was banned in many European countries as it was thought responsible for copycat suicides in such places as Italy, Leipzig, and Copenhagen (http://jech.bmj.com/content/57/4/238)

There is the argument that all this does is hasten the decision of those already considering suicide, but again there is strong evidence to the contrary. After the spike in additional deaths, the average returns to the mean, that is it does not dip lower than the average (what a horrible and dehumanising word to use here that hides the scale of personal disaster each of these represents for each family, but please, it is used in a purely statistical sense here) so there is no adjusting after to counter the balance. These are apparently, and tragically, suicides that may never have happened.

Therefore, all this considered, can the reporting (and yes the autocorrect attempt by my iPad here to “reposting” is appropriate as well for once) be justified if there is even a little evidence that it may have an adverse affect on those of us vulnerable to such thoughts?

How better can this be handled? Is there a better way to serve the greater good of public information and free speech without putting those who are vulnerable at risk?

What if….

If the reporting has nothing to contribute to the situation it is simply not permitted?

If the reporting of such matters is simply banned outright?

If the positioning of these reports is reviewed such that it is buried in the newspaper in a control group area of distribution to see what the effect this has?

But this only deals with physical newsprint, in which one can decide to print and distribute, or otherwise. This report was published back when newspapers wee the primary means of news distribution. What effect does the modern means of “publish and be damned” of the Internet is taken into account? Here there can be no narrowing of geographic boundaries. No resection of this effect to just the area of distribution of the newsprint the following morning?

It is trite to say the Internet knows no geographic boundaries as much as it is a statement of the obvious that there can be no boundaries either on the opinion it gives voice to. Yes some can shout louder than others, but if the message chimes the right note, then there is no stopping this same message from reaching almost all ears.

If we accept the fact that the news cannot be controlled, irrespective of any altruistic wish to do so, then what is the solution?

Calls for greater awareness ring as hollow as the politicians statement after a terrorist atrocity that this can never be allowed to happen again… Blah blah.

It is here that the small powerful nudges may come into play. What can the “freak” economists teach us? What small but carefully researched, planned and executed evidence based tweaks to our society offer us?

There are many possible ways of adjusting our thoughts on suicide for the better or worse, but surely it must start by facing the vulnerability we all face? Either intimately or through personal association with those that have been affected.

The evidence presented in “Influence” and the research it references, is as compelling as it is uncomfortable. This is because it points to a fringe, or perhaps an element of the mainstream, in our society that operate “normally” day to day but never more than a small poorly timed nudge that takes them along a course that otherwise may not have ever occurred.

It opens us up to vulnerabilities that we simply do not wish to think about and therefore easier to simply ignore. Ignore the evidence, ignore the fact that we are so easily influenced by what goes on around us, as a whole.

But… We all have our breaking point. For some it is loss of a partner, others it is the loss of a child and yet others it may be their ability to look after their family, or themselves. Personal disability and loss of dignity fears leave many with pre-paid tickets to Switzerland…

Take the example of a German Adolf Merckle, a german pharmaceutical group owner whose fortune went from 9 billion to 6 billion after his companies suffered losses in the 2008/9 financial crisis (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/recession/4210246/Adolf-Merckle-what-made-this-German-billionaire-commit-suicide.html). He was by no means broke nor, it seems, was he overly ostentatious in his lifestyle or use of money. What sort of personal demons would force a man to take such a move. What sort of pressure was he facing that meant that even having wealth beyond the wildest dreams of most of us, he still felt the need to take his own life.

Personal fulfilment is a goal that if attained can surmount this. We perhaps all need a different means of keeping score… Warren buffet, one of the richest men in the world and has pledged to give away his vast fortune, used the earning of money to “keep score and see how well he was doing” but the difference here, his keeping score was with no one but himself. A way of marking his progress almost as an intellectual excercise, not a way of comparing with others. Perhaps the only person we should compete with is ourselves….

Tea clippers in the space age

Going back a few hundred years to the time of the tea clippers and international trade by sailing vessels, we had journey times for the movement of exotic goods measured in months or even years from one side of the globe to the other.

As technology developed and in particular the advent of containerised shipping, fast reefer ships and air freight, we find ourselves now with transit times for goods from the other side of the world dropping to days or weeks (or months if you are prepared to sacrifice speed for convenience and cost).

The common conception is that times will only ever decrease with ramjets and hyperloops moving us and our goods around in ever shorter timescales.

However this assumes geography remains constant. In the far future timescales will again stretch into months, years and even decades for goods to move between point of origin and point of consumption.

This of course refers to interplanetary exchange of goods. While the realm of science fiction at present (take the awfully monikered “unobtainium” from the James Cameron film, “Avatar” for example) but there is already entrepreneurial martyrs with startups looking at mining asteroids and creating the early, sub first generation tech to do this. While they will almost certainly fall on their sword, they will nonetheless germinate technologies and aspirations for those that follow after.

One can only wonder what this tech will look like. Self replicating? Almost certainly. Self aware, perhaps not, but certainly imbued with a level of awareness that allows it to operate autonomously for years. This was something that appeared decades away only a few years ago, but look at the rapid advances in self driving cars, big data and voice controlled home devices. “Imagineer” this all melded in the altered form of an incredibly robust mobile mining and transport unit. JCB will ultimately enter the space race…but that’s another post 😉

When the transit times amount to decades, you are in a situation where cargo orders placed are processed on arrival by subsequent generations of workers. Brokers and shippers spend careers watching cargoes make their way along a single journey. Instructions between the shipping companies HQ and their vessel taking days or weeks to travel huge interplanetary distances. It is a completing of the circle with communications akin to mail packets travelling by wind powered vessels around the globe 300 years ago, only the carrier is electromagnetic waves traversing solar winds.

A young broker may spend their early years attempting to fix the cargo of a lifetime and then, on retirement see that same cargo being delivered.

Today bulk cargoes can change hands many times when en route via the selling of bills of lading. It may be endorsed several times with values of the grain or coal fluctuating as world markets change during the length of the voyage.

Fast forward to the far future, you may find cargo values over extreme periods of time, fluctuate in the extreme. At points being worthless and at others being worth hundreds, thousands or millions of their value at the inception of a journey.

Financial markets will need to be able to accommodate the huge spikes of volumes as these cargoes arrive in huge deliveries. Perhaps they will see orbital holding positions where cargo is released onto the market in a futuristic version of OPEC, tightly controlling the value of the cargo by dribbling into the market over tightly controls periods of time.

Time will tell but its fun to think about it!