Monday, June 30, 2014

"...every living thing, every leaf, every bird, is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That's the only difference between us and a lump of clay." Max, in the film, The Book Thief

Death (The Narrator) "In my job, I'm always finding humans at their best and their worst.  I see their ugliness and their beauty and I wonder how the same thing can be both. I have seen a great many things.  I've attended all the world's worst disasters and worked for the greatest of villains, and I've seen the greatest wonders.  But it's still like I said it was, no one lives forever.

When I finally came for Liesel, I took selfish pleasure in the knowledge she had lived her ninety years so wisely.  By then, her stories had touched many souls, some of whom I came to know in passing.  Max, whose friendship lasted almost as long as Liesel...almost.  In her final thoughts, she saw the long list of lives that merged with hers; her three children, her grandchildren, her husband.  Among them, lit like lanterns, were Hans and Rosa, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained 'the color of lemons,' forever.

I wanted to tell the book thief, she was one of the few souls that made me wonder what it was to live, but in the end, there were no words, only peace.

The only truth I truly know is that I am haunted by humans."

Liesel reading to a near-dying Max hiding in her family's basement.

The Book Thief is a 2013 American-German drama directed by Brian Percival and starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie NĂ©lisse. Based on the novel of the same name by Markus Zusak and adapted by Michael Petroni, the film is about a young girl living with her adoptive German parents during the Nazi era. Taught to read by her kind-hearted foster father, Hans, Liesel begins "borrowing" books, spreading inspiration, always.

The humanity of this film is profound.  Death, the film's narrator, and Liesel, the book thief, are the film's central characters; Death dictating who is to live and die throughout, Liesel, living throughout. 

A gem of a film with a beautiful story and a wonderful cast.

The Book Thief Movie Trailer

The Book Thief Soundtrack Suite, John Williams

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy Summer


A Summer Place, Percy Faith

Bossa Nova Classics

French Songs

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My father came home this afternoon, Friday, well and rested, thanks to the Hospital staff's excellent care. And thank you dear friends for your well wishes and prayers.  


Janie's wedding, 1988

Luckily, my father enjoyed Father's Day with his family before going into the hospital yesterday. 
Our love and prayers are with you, Totti. 

My father's favorite classical piece, Symphony No. 9, from Dvorjak's
New World Symphony.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Kemal Amin "Casey" Kasem (April 27, 1932 – June 15, 2014)

Casey Kasem (4/27/32-6/15/14)
Kasem was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 27, 1932 to Lebanese Druze immigrant parents. They settled in Michigan, where they worked as grocers.
In the 1940s, “Make Believe Ballroom” reportedly inspired Kasem to follow a career in radio and later host a national radio hits countdown show.

He was an American disc jockey, radio personality and actor, best known for being the host of the music radio programs American Top 40,  American Top 20, and American Top 10 from 1970 until his retirement in 2009.

Kasem founded the American Top 40 franchise in 1970 along with Don Bustany, Tom Rounds and Ron Jacobs, and hosted it from 1970 to 1988 and from 1998 to 2004. Between January 1989 and early 1998, he was the host of Casey's Top 40, Casey's Hot 20, and Casey's Countdown. Also beginning in 1998, Kasem hosted two adult contemporary spin-offs of American Top 40; American Top 20 and American Top 10. Kasem retired from AT20 and AT10 on July 4, 2009 and both shows ended on that day.

In October 2013, Kerri Kasem said her father was suffering from Parkinson's disease, which a doctor had diagnosed in 2007, but a few months later, she said he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which is often difficult to differentiate from Parkinson's.  Due to his condition, he was no longer able to speak.

On June 15, 2014, Kasem died at St. Anthony's Hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington at the age of 82. He was survived by his wife, four children, and four grandchildren.


If the beat gets to the audience, and the message touches them, you've got a hit. Casey Kasem
For the most part, that message hasn't changed a lot over the years - love is still love, and heartbreak is still heartbreak. Casey Kasem

American Top 40, Casey Kasem The 70's

American Top 40, Casey Kasem July 24, 1982

American Top 40, Casey Kasem February 15, 1986

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Happy Father's Day, Totti!
Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia
January 15, 1928

He seemed to favor his left arm from a very young age... ;))
Out of uniform while in British Army,
Stationed in Hamburg, Germany, 1949
21 years old
A Typical Father's Day
(In the quiet of Dementia)

"Did you get a good night's sleep, Tot?"
As he wipes the drowsiness from his shaven head to his chin, he sits up.
"Relax a few minutes."
I turn on his television.
(In the quiet)

"Let's go to the bathroom.
Did you do poopies?"
I change his diaper, then clean him --
Fresh clothes nearby.
(In the quiet)

"Ready for breakfast?"
He says nothing, but wolves the meal down.
Sated, he sits and watches me as I wash the dishes.
(In the quiet)

"We'll take a walk down the hall, okay?"
I guide the walker to him,
He grips it as we stroll down the hallway and back several times.
"One more time?"

"Very good. Why don't we relax for a while."
I help him into bed where he rests to watch New Jersey's news,
then falls asleep.
(In the quiet)

At noon, I take his sugar level.
"Hmmm, still a little high.  Let's go into the living room.  What do you want to watch?"
"Zapata" -- his favorite name for every film he watches.
I slip The Apartment into the DVD player.
He smiles at Jack Lemmon.  I smile at him.
(In the quiet)

"The movie's over,Tot.  How about some music?"
He nods, but says nothing as I put on music by Greek composer, Mano Xatzidakhs.
He hits the tambourine and sways.
When over, "Some Pavarotti?"
He nods, and like the chance appearance of an endangered bird,
he might sing along to Bixio's Mama
but always beams to Pavarotti's ear-to-ear smile.

After hours of movies, music, and lunch, dinner, and snacktime, I guide him to bed.
He lies down to New Jersey's news.
(In the quiet)

At bedtime, his final change and "It's time for your medicine."
Then, "Now take out your teeth."
I guide him to bed, tuck him in,
"I love you, Tot.  Sweet dreams."
"Sweet dreams," he replies quietly.
I shut off the lights, and close the door, slightly ajar.


Every day you remind me how precious each moment is,
and try to live in the quiet.
Happy Father's Day, Totti!


Linda's recording of Totti playing harmonica

Linda's recording of Totti singing a few bars of Bixio's Mama

Song for My Father, Horace Silver

Oh, My PaPa, Eddie Fisher -- one of my father's all-time favorites

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

JERSEY BOYS coming to theatres on June 20, 2014

The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons. 

Rag Doll, The Four Seasons

Dawn, The Four Seasons

Ronnie, The Four Seasons

Sherry, The Four Seasons

Walk Like A Man, The Four Seasons

Camp counselor at the New Boulevard Pool Day Camp, 1968
Bayonne Pool,
where my family, friends, and I danced around the jukebox to the The Four Seasons while merely children!

Oh, what a time! :))


Monday, June 2, 2014

"Online brain-training: does it really work?" by Elizabeth Day, The Observer

 , The Observer,

Memory Match exercises your working ability and ability to process information quickly. The task is
In Memory Match, the task is to remember symbols and compare them to previous ones.  Photograph: Lumosity
My week has been pretty hectic so far. On Monday, I manned a busy beach bar and had to remember a range of ice-cream and pizza orders for a constant stream of customers. On Tuesday, I had to shoot down a selection of rapidly moving birds in a forest dense with autumnal leaves. On Wednesday, I had to think of as many words as I could beginning with "TO". And that was before I'd even started on memorising a repetitive polygon shape as it flashed up at ever-increasing speed.

This is the wonderful world of "brain training". For the past month, I have been completing a series of computer games designed to test my memory, verbal reasoning, concentration and spatial awareness. The beach bar was made out of pixels. The birds were shot down with the click of a mouse. It turns out there are loads of words beginning with TO, many of which I hadn't guessed in the requisite 60-second time.

According to the website for Lumosity, which devised these games and is one of the best-known internet providers of brain training, setting aside a few minutes each day to complete the above tasks can make you feel "smarter, sharper, and brighter". By factoring in a mental workout in the same way that we might go to the gym to exercise, we get cleverer and our IQ rockets.

That, at least, is the idea. And there are lots of people who buy it. In recent years, brain training has become a multimillion-pound business with companies such as Jungle Memory, Nintendo and CogniFit developing a wide range of user-friendly neuroscientific puzzles for the average punter.

Lumosity itself has grown by 150% year-on-year since its launch in 2005 and now reaches more than 35 million people worldwide. In January alone, the company's mobile app was downloaded nearly 50,000 times a day and its revenue hit $24m (£16m). Co-founded by Michael Scanlon after he abandoned his neuroscience PhD at Stanford University, California, the business also has an extensive research programme that studies the effects of computerised cognitive training as well as conducting experiments over the web.

"Lumosity is based on the science of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain can change and reorganise itself given the right kinds of challenges," says Erica Perng, Lumosity's head of communications. "People have a variety of reasons for wanting to boost their brain power, whether it's to focus at work, do better at school and standardised tests, or just to stay sharp."

In the US, brain-training programmes are used in schools, at a cost of up to $300 per child. Some ambitious parents on this side of the Atlantic have started using the games in place of hiring a private tutor to improve their children's academic scores. And there is anecdotal evidence that keeping a brain lively is helpful in staving off early-onset dementia.

But do such initiatives have any kind of scientific basis? The evidence appears to be contradictory. A 2008 study by the psychologist Susanne Jaeggi found that memory training increased intelligence and implied that a person could boost their IQ by a full point per hour of training. However, when a group of psychologists working at Georgia Tech set out to replicate her findings with tougher controls, there was no evidence for a rise in intelligence.

Familiar Faces 
Familiar Faces: This game is designed to exercise face-name recall. The user plays the role of waiter and has to remember customers' names and orders to earn increased tips and job promotions. Photograph: Lumosity   
Meanwhile, a 2010 study by the neuroscientist Dr Adrian Owen, which tracked 11,000 adults over a six-week computer-based training regime designed to improve reasoning, memory, planning, visuospatial skills and attention, reported benefits in executing the tasks themselves but little general advantage in other areas.

Owen concluded that regular players of brain games got better at the games themselves through familiarity rather than showing any marked improvement in fluid intelligence (the ability to solve novel problems and adapt to new situations as opposed to accumulating knowledge).

In an attempt to sort out the hype from the reality, I embarked on my own experiment – albeit an experiment with an unimpressive cohort of one and without the controls that would be necessary to get the results peer-reviewed in any respectable scientific publication.
The idea was that I'd measure my intelligence at the start of the month using a variety of tests developed by the Medical Research Council at Cambridge University, designed to give a more sophisticated take on the brain's 100bn neurons than a single IQ test. I would then embark on a rigorous routine of brain training with Lumosity, doing regular exercises designed to make me journalism's answer to Professor Stephen Hawking. At the end of the month, I'd take the intelligence tests again and see if there was any improvement.

"I think it is a fascinating idea," said Dr Adam Hampshire, who developed the MRC tests. "It really gets to the nub of the issue, which is that showing improvements on the exact tasks that are trained is not really sufficient to claim a 'brain-training' effect. This is because such improvements may be specific to the exact tasks that are trained and consequently should not be classified as learning unless a generalised effect is shown. "I am unaware of any convincing evidence to support the view that the commercially available brain-training devices have general benefits in normal healthy adults."

Sitting down to take the initial intelligence test, I am fairly confident. I have a degree and good A-levels. Occasionally, I even get a few questions right on University Challenge. But it turns out to be much harder than expected: a battery of complex, time-pressure tests involving flashing shapes (trying to work out which overlapping triangles are exactly the same size) and long number sequences. One of them, called "Double Trouble" requires me to identify the colour a particular word is written in. Which sounds easy, until you realise that the words in question are "red", written in blue, or "blue", written in red. Even trying to explain the games to someone else taxes my intelligence.

Speedmatch: Lumosity says this game trains you to think faster. The idea is to accurately say whether a symbol matches the one viewed immediately before it. Photograph: Lumosity 
The process isn't helped by the fact that I'm at work and keep getting interrupted by colleagues who, not unreasonably, assume that I'm simply time-wasting. The excuse "Actually, I'm training my brain" doesn't cut much ice in a busy newsroom. My scores, when they are calculated, are pretty pathetic. I'm in the top half of the population for planning. My concentration needs some work (top 26%). My reasoning is well above average (top 15%) and my memory is… so bad I can't even remember what I scored.

I take a couple of days to recover and then I sign up to Lumosity. The Lumosity games are far less intimidating. An effort has been made to make them entertaining rather than hardcore versions of the 11-plus. They are short and sweet and include plenty of encouragement – gold stars leap across the screen when I do something right. Having said that, it's difficult to fit a 20-minute session into my daily life. I don't find the games sufficiently interesting to get out of bed and do them each morning, so my training is rather sporadic – more like once a week than once every 24 hours.

But regular monitoring of my performance by Lumosity shows that I gradually improve in all the games the more I play them. Unsurprising, says David Z Hambrick, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University. In an interview last year, Hambrick said brain-training games are "designed to tap into this ability to control attention. Their idea is that if we can improve the ability to control attention then we can, by extension, improve people's intelligence... [but] if you find that people get better in one test of reasoning, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're smart; it means they're better on one test of reasoning."

Most research that suggests brain-training works is fraught with difficulties: little has been peer-reviewed or conducted alongside control groups. Several companies use scans of brains "lighting up" to support claims that their programmes are effective, but these simply show a measure of the energy that the brain is using rather than providing any evidence that the brain is being altered in any long-term way. Moreover, it is unclear whether training benefits are only evident for certain sectors of the population – for example children, patients or older people.

"Overall, I would suggest that more research is needed," says Hampshire. "Some people have been motivated by greed to try and cash in early by selling poorly thought-out and insufficiently validated brain-training devices. They have flashy marketing but little data to back up their claims. There is tantalising evidence to suggest that, when properly validated cognitive training regimes are developed, they may have some general benefits."

Last year, Hampshire published research showing that out of 44,600 individuals who took an earlier version of the MRC tests, those who had regularly brain-trained showed no advantage in any form of intelligence relative to those who did not. By contrast, those who regularly played video games did better in short-term memory capacity and reasoning.

"This is an interesting finding because it is really counter to the general zeitgeist that video computer games are bad for us whereas we should all be investing in brain-training devices," he says. "We might just be better off spending our money on a new video games console!"

So how do I fare when I return to measure my intelligence at the end of a month of weekly training with Lumosity? Fairly well, it turns out. I have improved in every single test apart from one ("Monkey Ladder", where I need to remember an ever-increasing sequence of coloured tiles in order), in which I score exactly the same. In "Double Trouble" – the pesky red/blue words – I have soared from 33 points to 51, putting me in the top 6% of the population for reasoning. Overall, I'm now in the top 29% of the population for short-term memory and the top 13% for concentration. My planning skills have stayed more or less static.

Although I'm happy that I'm now supposedly more intelligent than when I started, part of me remains sceptical. I was taking the end tests in a different context: at home, with a mug of strong coffee and no other distractions. And, arguably, it was the second time I was taking the tests, so I was therefore more familiar with them. There's also the fact that I wanted to get better, so perhaps I tried harder, in much the same way that paying for a monthly gym membership is likely to make you feel more motivated to exercise. Still, there's a sense of achievement, nonetheless.

I might not be a genius yet, but I'm really good at identifying when the word red is written in blue ink. That's probably enough to be getting on with for now.

Elizabeth Day, The Observer

Seven Metals, Singing Bowls of Tibet, Benjamin Iobst