Tuesday, July 31, 2012

John Le Carre's Latest - A Review of "Our Kind of Traitor"

It is fitting that in the most recent novel that John Le Carre wrote he reveals much about the seamy side of the espionage world that he has inhabited in his professional life, as well as in his literary life.  In this meandering tale, a naive couple on vacation in the Caribbean are drawn into a net of intrigue that involves Dima, a cartoonish Russian money launderer who is nearing the end of his options of staying alive.

The couple end ups in a tennis match - both literal and figurative - in which the stakes are very high.  The action ricochets from Antigua to London and Paris and then on the the fabled Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. Along the way, the couple - Perry and Gail- grow to care about Dima's quirky extended family.  With the help and quick coaching from British Intelligence, Perry and Gail set out to help Dima execute his escape from his partners in crime and help to engineer his defection to England.  The complications are many, and the denouement is surprising, and it serves as a very fitting exclamation point for Le Carre's brilliant career as an espionage novelist par excellence.



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Boston area music students - Interested in bass lessons?

Interested in bass lessons - beginner to intermediate? A gifted Berklee musician has freed up some time to teach a few new students.

For details, contact Jeff Kinsey: jmkinsey@berklee.edu.

Forbes Reports on the Global Innovation Summit - Examing the Economic Rainforest in SiliconValley

I week ago I was just returning to earth - and returning to Boston - after an exhilarating time in San Jose, CA attending the first ever Global Innovation Summit.  I had been privileged not only to  attend the event, but to have served behind the scenes on the organizing committee.  As a result, I met and brainstormed with some of the world's leading innovators.

The book that served as the focal point of the discussion was penned by Victor W.  Hwang and Greg Horowitt, both of T2 Venture Capital in Menlo Park, CA.  The book is "The Rainforest - The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley."  Victor has written a concise summary of the conference that appears in the current edition of Forbes Magazine.

"Last week, a remarkable thing happened.  400 people from 49 countries gathered in Silicon Valley for an ambitious vision.
They convened to do something that had never been attempted before: to reinvent the whole notion of economic growth, by shifting the focus from subsidizing individual projects to growing entire ecosystems of vibrant entrepreneurship and innovation.  We call such systems Rainforests.  And rather than just talk in the abstract, attendees actually worked on building real Rainforest solutions, in-person and in real-time.  We literally watched hundreds of “Rainforest Makers” in action.  It was like a Davos for Doers.
The Global Innovation Summit yielded tons of new insights, and it’s impossible to list them all.  Here are 10 key lessons on growing innovation for the modern era.
  1. Business, not charity.  To create sustainable economies, Alex Dehgan, the science and technology chief of USAID, recommended to everyone: “Treat the developing world as customers, not poor people.”  This is a huge shift from past thinking in economic development, where business was often treated like the enemy, not the cure.
  2. Capital as pragmatic toolWhen talking about the role of social impact capital, Randall Kempner, CEO of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs, stated: “I’m not in it to create a new asset class.  I’m committed to create a new middle class in the developing world.”  We are moving beyond thinking of capital in simplistic silos.  Freely-flowing capital is a pragmatic tool to grow businesses which can give consumers what they need.
  3. The world wants new solutions.  Gerardo Corrachano of the World Bank remarked: “People tell us, we have done everything you’ve told us to do, and we don’t see the results.”  The old economic solutions of the past are providing less utility than before.  New frameworks and tools are needed.
  4. We can “design” economic systems.  It is possible to apply design thinking to entire economic systems, not just innovative products.  At the Summit, we divided attendees into “Houses” (a la Hogwarts).  Houses did real work to “design” innovation ecosystems during live, interactive sessions to create useable results.
  5. People are hungry to pitch in.  We asked for volunteers to pitch their ideas for building Rainforests, which we uploaded to YouTube.  We were overwhelmed when 57 people posted their video pitches.  The top 5 vote-getters were chosen to pitch on-stage with a live feedback panel.  The lesson: individuals are fired up and ready to act.
  6. Be a “psychic welder.” This is the phrase that Nola Masterson, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, used to describe her method of connecting people together to create value.  Innovation ecosystems thrive on human connectivity, not just raw inputs.
  7. Emotion is the mediumAde Mabogunje of Stanford’s Institute for Venture Design observed the role of human nature in designing Rainforests: “In design, you have to know what materials you are working with. With human design, the material is emotion.”  Systemic economic growth is tied to human emotions and our ability to regulate those emotions.  Ecosystems can thrive when people overcome fear and leverage passions.
  8. Innovators learn by example.  Phil Wickham, CEO of the Society of Kauffman Fellows, observed that: “Inspiration is the greatest IP, and that’s what’s lacking in developing regions.”  The lack of good role models can be a severe bottleneck on economic growth.
  9. The human recipe matters.  We started with basic raw ingredients—a conference room, 400 human beings, some props, some ideas—and we created our own miniature Rainforest.  Over the course of the Summit, even we were blown away by the power of the buzz, the diverse interactions, the collaboration, the spontaneous experimentation happening everywhere.  This proves that, with the right recipe, Rainforests can be contagious.
  10. No longer top versus bottomAlex Dehgan of USAID said: “This can’t be just top-down, and it can’t be just bottom-up. It’s got to be both.”  The interface between bottom-up innovation and top-down policy is both the challenge and the opportunity.  The big question: can we bridge that divide to create new solutions to elevate human welfare everywhere?
The journey is just beginning.  As we seek to grow entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems in new places, it is clear that we still have far more questions than answers.  But it is thrilling to watch the birth of a community of “doers,” and it will be exciting to see how it grows and impacts the world."

For the original article, click below


Stay tuned for an upcoming Blog review of "The Rainforest."


Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Stunning Triumph of an Espionage Novel: "Cloaks and Veils" by J.C. Carleson

I have very high standards when it comes to espionage novels.  I compare many writers to John LeCarre, Robert Ludlum and Alan Furst.  So it takes an extraordinary book to grab my attention and to gain my respect.  J.C. Carleson has done just that with her very readable "Cloaks and Veils."

J. C. Carleson is a former undercover CIA officer. Her near-decade of covert service took her around the globe, from bomb shelters in war zones to swanky cocktail parties in European capitals.  She clearly draws from her deep experience within the CIA - both her operational experience and her knowledge of the internecine struggles that exists sub rose in the Agency.

The plot involves a complex web of assignments, betrayals, compartmentalized missions, revenge and assassination.  Several of the plot twists both surprised and delighted me.In the shadowy world of espionage and counter-espionage, it is almost impossible to know whom to trust.  In the world of spy novels, I trust J.C. Carleson to continue to use her considerable array of gifts to entertain and to inform me.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Special Job Opportunities at Fort Meade - Fantastic Chance to Support Cutting Edge and Ground Breaking CYBER Situational Awareness initiatives within DoD.

Special Job Opportunities at Fort Meade - Fantastic Opportunities to Support Cutting Edge and Ground Breaking CYBER Situational Awareness Initiatives within DoD.

A client company of White Rhino Partners is aggressively hiring IT experts in the realm of "Big Data"

We are looking for the following types of technical experts:

Developers - Software Engineer lead - Hadoop experience, Cloudera a +

Executive NetCentric Enterprise Architects

Senior Subject Matter Experts - Cyber Situational Awareness

Military background preferred, US Citizen

TS-SCI full scope poly clearance - or eligible for fast-track approval

Relocation to Maryland available

Generous and competitive compensation packages.

Contact Dr. Al Chase for specific job descriptions and requirements - achase47@gmail.com

Please forward this information to interested and qualified colleagues.

Thank you.


Thursday, July 05, 2012

A Promising First Novel - Review of "Deadly Straits" by R.E. McDermott

R.E. McDermott has dug deeply into his more than thirty years experience in the maritime industry to craft a very satisfying first novel. The plot is as complex and as meandering as the Gulf Stream. It involves multi-layered terrorist plots to disrupt the world's shipping by choking off the Panama Canal, the Strait of Malacca and the Bosporus. Intrigue rules as manifold nations negotiate and plot and double cross - the U.S., the UK, Panama, Venezuela, Iran, Turkey, China, Russia and Liberia each contribute to the advancement of this thrilling adventure on the high seas.

The author has created a fascinating cast of characters - from CIA operatives, career mariners, politicians, mercenaries and magnates. My only reason for not giving a full 5 stars in my review is that I would have wished for a bit more nuance in the villains that McDermott describes. Gardner is the most egregious example of such a "black hat." He is an overly-ambitious and unscrupulous political appointee at the CIA who seeks to thwart the work of the real operatives, Ward and Dugan. His every move and speech is predictable. He is always about to run off to appear at a press conference with Senator So and So or to attend a Prayer Breakfast with Congressman Such and Such. He is a one-dimensional cartoonish character who is simply not believable. But I quibble.

With that one exception, I enjoyed the book immensely. There are clever plot twists, complex double-backs, and deep knowledge of ship building, ship operations and the shipping lanes. The political intrigues are byzantine and plausible.

I look forward to the author's next offering.


A Poignant Memoir of Life in Mexico, Maine - Review of "When We Were the Kennedys" by Monica Wood

Monica Wood has penned a deeply moving portrait of her family and its hometown of Mexico, Maine.  Looming over the neighboring town of Rumsford was the region's major employer - The Oxford Paper Company mill.  The plant's presence, its ever-present stench, its long history of labor disputes permeates the fabric of each family in Rumsford and Mexico.

Monica's father worked - and practically lived - at the mill for much of his life until it claimed him, cut down at an  early age from a heart attack that left his widow to continue to raise the three daughter who lived at home.  As Monica remembers those days - timing that coincided with the nation losing its young "head of family" to an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas - she recounts how her mother drew inspiration from the way in which Jackie Kennedy handled her public widowhood.

The memoir is full of loving memories of quirky neighbors and landlords, of acts of kindness, of the ever-present parochial school experience that the Wood girls shared, and of visits with their uncle, Father Bob.  Father Bob's descent into alcoholism and subsequent recovery serves as a subplot that adds real texture to the family's struggles and indomitable spirit.

The deep impact of the paper mill - its economic impact and its spiritual impact, is beautifully present in the last pages of the book:

"As I drive over the Mexico-Rumsford bridge on the way to a house Anne has bought with her groom, the valley opens like a coat I can't wait to put on.  The cleaned-up river makes its old ribboning trail.  The mill - now, as then - hunkers on the riverbank, outsize witness to my childhood.  The Oxford, with its bruising power to give and take, was my first metaphor.  I pull over to give it a good look.

I was there, it tells me, still pushing smoke signals into the sky.  Beneath those clouds, I experienced the shock of loss, the solace of family, the consolation of friendship, the power of words, the comfort of place.  Beneath those clouds, I learned that there is, as my birthday Bible instructed me at age ten, a time for every season.  Beneath those clouds, my parents died before their time. But they lived here,too, thankful for their chance.

The sign across the river says NewPage, after the investment company that bought our Mead-Westvaco, which bought out Mead, which bought out Boise-Cascade, which bought out Ethyl, which bought out the Oxford.  They've just shut down the Number Ten - temporarily; again - another two hundred jobs gone.  The mill looks like an animal that has outlived its ecosystem.  Huge, beached, but still breathing.  When did it cease  to sound like God and instead like an old man wheezing?  Puff . . . puff . . . oooom, it says, sighing over what might be its last generation of children, most of whom, like me, will make a break for it when they come of age and spend the rest  of their lives looking back.

Of course they will.  There is such joy here.  The day is chilly, the sky so high, the steam clouds shaking with memory.

Thank you, I tell the dying beast.   I forgive you." (Pages 230-231)

Wow. That is good writing.