Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius by Zach Schonbrun

The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius by Zach Schonbrun. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright April 2018.; hb., 352 pp.; ISBN: 978110986332.

Many years ago, I recall reading an article about how Tiger Woods learned to golf so well by the scientific methods taught to him by his father.  Curious, I never pursued that interesting fact, but it came to mind again with this book about the brain and athletic performance.  The brain can be trained for athletic performance up to a certain age, exemplified by the author’s reference to Michael Jordan who had an interest in baseball but couldn’t grow in the required skills and yet had what was needed for baseball. 

Dagmar Sternad has an Action Lab at Northeastern University.  Here she experimented with the game skittles, demonstrating how timing from the brain and physiology conspires to make us winners or losers and how movement or kinetic patterns and features could be retained for up to eight years.  There is also an interesting discussion of skills that are learned and involve brain activity but can not develop further because of “habit” that negates any further learning curve from progressing. This involves “action controllers, “automatization” or even “muscle memory” as an action or sequence of actions that get formed, reorganized and consolidated in our long-term memory.  And so it goes.

These are a few of the examples and explanations that tell the story of athletic and normal action in an understandable presentation, such as the reflex arc, the feed-forward loop of sensory-to-motor connections that trigger everyday actions or the position of neural swing decisions in baseball, tennis and volleyball serves.

The factor of intention is also discussed as in using a scalpel to operate or to murder.  The same applies about these motor skills applied to kinematics or movement.  All in all, “stimulus-response connections build up a nervous system of sets which function like cognitive maps.” 

The authors even describe how “virtual arms” learn to operate or are taught by science to understand the training behind using these prostheses.

Anyone interested in physical activity, sports, coaching etc. will find this book fascinating and interesting for practice or just understanding the theories and applications that apply when playing or watching sports.  Highly recommended and engaging science in a credible, readable book.  Nicely done, Zach Schonbrun!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Becker Circle by Addison Brae

Becker’s Circle by Addison Brae. Tirgearr Publishing. Copyright March 2018.; pb. 281 pp.; ASIN #: B07B3HT15Y.

Gillian is a survivor!  Graduating from Harvard, she makes a bold move by abandoning her narcissistic boyfriend who does nothing but demean her and moves to Texas!  She’s now studying for her CPA Certificate while working for business company as an accountant and bartending several nights a week.  It’s a stressful life but she handles it with admirable aplomb before the actual conflict begins!

She must learn to dress appropriately for her nighttime job but gets the help of a friend.  The result is not only does she make great drinks but is a hit with the guys.  As she proceeds from night to night, she learns several “rules” that she lives by which mostly include being attractive enough to be “hit on” but not to allow abuse or crude behavior.  She’s pleasant but not a tease. 

Things, however, become challenging when she learns there’s a large circle of drug runners operating in Beckers Circle and some of the sellers are frequenters of the bar she’s tending.  Then tragedy strikes – an acquaintance who saved her life one night dies suddenly after jumping from a high riser apartment deck.  But slowly but surely it seems it was a murder although no one wants to admit that or get involved in the suspicious rumors.  With the help of a guy Jon and some cop presence, she realizes someone she calls “Creepy” is stalking her and not for sex.  They want her to stop asking questions about the dead “Bobby.”

The remainder of this swiftly moving plot reveals that there’s a drug war happening.  In the process of her being involved, another person will die, and Gillian will be placed in a life or death situation.  Gillian, however, gets wiser and stronger throughout the stressful experience and discovers warm, caring, sexy love without the trashy attitudes some associate with love.

Addison Brae is great at crafting a mystery and romance that is endearing and nail-biting at the same time.  Although the reader thinks Gillian will figure it all out by the end of the novel, she keeps the reader guessing until very close to the last page!  The engaging and seedy side of the bar life is shown without being highly offensive, and we have an intelligent, sensitive, compassionate and determined, spunky character to root for all the way!  Nicely crafted, Addison Brae!  Keep writing!

See Also Proof: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery by Larry D. Sweazy

See Also Proof: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery by Larry D. Sweazy. Prometheus Books. Copyright April 2018.; pb 251 pp. ISBN: 981633882799.

Marjorie Trumaine is an ordinary woman with an unusual job, that of an Indexer of books.  It’s a job that demands a good memory and a high degree of organization and order.  All of those gifts have been offset for a few months since her husband Hank passed away.  Marjorie lives in Dickinson, North Dakota, a place that is extremely unkind in winter weather but whose residents take it all in stride.  They love the area with its farming community and town activities.  When things get tough, they all band together and they will certainly be doing this several times as this mystery evolves!

Marjorie’s time right now is divided with her work indexing an Audubon book about birds and joining the local Ladies Aid group, as well as taking care of her farm which is now dormant with winter.  It’s an old-fashioned type of community in 1965 comprised of residents of German, Swiss and other northern European heritage.  The descriptions of the dishes mentioned in this novel will make each reader drool for sure!

The first mystery involves a missing young girl, Tina Rinkerman, who is mentally challenged and has not been seen in two days.  As the weather is viciously cold and snowy, it is believed if she is not found soon she will not survive as she was not wearing a hat or coat when it is believed she disappeared.  The men in the town and the local Sheriff set to forming search groups and getting to work to find Tina.  They are severely challenged though as it keeps snowing more and more each day.

On one of these trips, Marjorie’s travels with the Sheriff and what they find is a murdered neighbor, Nils. One can feel the shock of the community.  Although all are occupied in providing for food etc. for the wake and funeral, Tina is still missing. 

No spoilers here but the remainder of the story centers on finding the murderer and finding Tina.  The end is ultra-shocking and also brings back some distressful realities about how mentally challenged patients were abused in the last half of the 20th Century.  Marjorie will be shocked by the identity of the murderer of Nils.

See Also Proof is a fine, fine mystery that progresses slowly but interestingly.  It has spunk, humor, suspense and some fascinating qualities about the occupations of the main and minor characters.  Nicely and sensitively done, Larry D. Sweazy!!!