Are You a Postal Employee?

Ready Player One is a visually intensive “blast.” Stephen Spielberg pulled off many amazing stunts and scenes, utilizing the latest special effects technology. The look of the film, which seems to have an unlimited budget, is designed to capture gamers and video game lovers attention. Lots of virtual reality weapons, car and truck racing, explosions, and many movies playing a part like a Disney theme park come to life. (The Shining was particularly effective and fun.) My favorite scene was when Chucky and a emoji attack players. Their real world is broken, and depressing. Slum trailer parks and mansions, little in between. Based on the novel by Ernest Cline, it features a USPS van driven at the climax by the heroes, who are being attacked by corporate killers. The message of the film is that “VR is not reality, only reality is real.” So in a way it takes the path of Avatar, drama and romance and war, ending with food for thought. The switch from first person shooters to adventure games with puzzles may get some fans to switch from thinking “Reality is Broken” as an escape to thinking “Reality can be fixed. Let’s do it.” 

Postmarked for Death is at Audible. And iTunes. A postal clerk in Tucson targets government offices and mail processing equipment supporting food stamps and Mexican immigrants near the border fence/wall. He is hunted by a rookie postal inspector while police search for the wrong man. (Calvin continues to work and mail letter bombs, with a patsy/fellow postal worker framed and tied up in an abandoned Titan missile base in the desert just north of Nogales.) A psychological suspense told from two viewpoints, with a look into the mind of the bomber (who realizes that shooters are committing suicide!) Based on actual postal shootings, like the one in Edmond Oklahoma that killed 14, and the Unabomber. New to audio in 2018, read by writer/actor Len Cassamas and myself. Endorsed originally by John Lutz (bestselling novelist plus Single White Female movie) and: “A class performance, powerful and accomplished. Mystery at its best.” –Clive Cussler 

Audible Trial

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Horse Racing with Barry Abrams

Barry Abrams

Jonathan Lowe) There is a Barry Abrams horse trainer from Belarus who retired with throat cancer, and an article I saw said, “he was barely audible.” Like Audible. How did you start as a Voice actor? Was it a transition from horse race announcing? Which came first—the voiceover egg or the jockey? 

Barry Abrams) I started doing the horse racing podcast, “In The Gate” for 2 reasons. First, as a marketing tool. In researching the voice-over industry, I found that several name voice artists did podcasts of some kind. It didn’t necessarily matter what the topic was, as long as it was sustainable and presented reasonably intelligently.  I settled on thoroughbred racing since I know a lot about it, and I am fortunate that my day job employer allows me to post the shows on their world-renowned website. The second reason I started the show was to get built-in mic time each week… practice. I also learned better ways to edit my own stuff, since that is now part and parcel of the job. I actually had the trainer, Barry Abrams, on the podcast, but he really didn’t get the joke. Opportunity wasted.  Nice man, though. First-generation immigrant. Hope he recovers completely. 

Lowe) I once interviewed Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand, who loved the horse, as did so many at the time due to the horse being an underdog that people in the Great Depression identified with. What do the numbers say about the greatest horses of all time, like Secretariat, and what horse is your personal favorite? 

Abrams) In terms of numbers, Man O’War has the longest stride of any horse ever measured – something like 28’, a good 2-3 more than most, so he was gaining on you just by running your speed. Secretariat had a heart twice the size of a normal equine heart, and a third larger than any ever previously measured. He had a bigger engine and could pump more blood so his muscles recovered faster.  

Lowe) Lance Armstrong had similar advantage. A physically big heart.

Abrams) Well, they are arguably the two best American thoroughbreds ever, and now you know why. My favorite, though, is a female named Rachel Alexandra. In 2009 as a 3-year old, she beat males 3x including a Triple Crown race – the Preakness. Her win against older males, which very rarely happens in American racing, in the Woodward Stakes at Saratoga still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Check it out on YouTube. 

Lowe) The Letterman incident where he got you to repeat the phrase “He shoots, he scores!” Were you surprised to see him sitting there at your internship interview at NBC?

Abrams) The date was Monday, April 13th, 1990. As I reached the spring of my first year at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, I went to NBC to apply for a summer internship. Rob Burnett, still a budding producer at that time, came into the waiting area to announce that Letterman wanted to do a gag where he pretended to be personnel director. We in the waiting area were assured we would also get a real interview afterword for the internships we wanted. I called my mother, since I was to be home at 12:30 in order to vacuum the house for that night’s first Passover seder. That’s why I was back at home that day, and the internship interview made sense to do while home. My mother didn’t know or care about Letterman, and she said, “When are they doing this?” “Now (10am),” I replied. She said, “be home by 12:30pm.”  

Lowe) Some titles you’ve narrated include The Well-Tempered City, The Four Things That Matter Most, Watching Smarter Baseball, Scienceblind, Whiskey Business, Brady vs Manning, This Narrow Space, and Destination Earth. Mostly non-fiction. Favs? 

Abrams) I enjoy primarily non-fiction. Since I am a journalist by trade, I am wired to want to learn about the actual world around us, not necessarily a made-up world. I mean, I enjoy a good story or a good movie as much as anybody, but the publishers I service figured out, without my even having to tell them, that I perform non-fiction well. Of all the titles I have done so far, I really enjoyed This Narrow Space. It is about a pediatric oncologist who moves from New York to Israel to try to set up a pediatric palliative care unit at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Hearing from an American perspective about the cultural differences between the two places was fascinating. The timing was coincidentally perfect, also – I traveled to the Holy Land about two weeks after completing the book, and it all hit home for me.

Lowe) Fav books you haven’t narrated?

Abrams) To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Torah.

Lowe) You recorded the title Vitamin N. How can listening to audiobooks while hiking get one more attuned to nature, with a capital N? 

Abrams) Vitamin N is a perfect book to which to listen while walking around. Wear small earbuds, though – not big cans that block out the natural sound. Walking around while listening to Vitamin N is like talking a guided tour of a historical location. You’ll start to notice so many little things that your eyes and mind would normally just pass right over. Even though you’ll be using an electronic device to get there, you’ll start to unplug and learn to appreciate the simple but wonderful gifts of nature..

 

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The Promise and Perils of CRISPR

Big Pharma

CRISPR(pronounced “crisper”) stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPRCas9 genome editing technology. It may soon be possible to eliminate certain diseases genetically, to change the eye color (and more) of babies, and to lengthen the lifespan of humans. Many strides have already been made, such as the means to fight cancer using gene therapy. To some, this is all “playing God,” while to others it is progress: the “search for better explanations, leading to discoveries,” as David Deutsch put it in “The Beginning of Infinity.” Whatever one’s beliefs, there are problems with all technologies, as discussed in the new book on social media interfaces: “Dawn of the New Everything” by Jaron Lanier. In my novel “The Methuselah Gene” a neutered HIV is used, not as a cancer therapy as in the Breakthroughs show produced by Ron Howard, but to implant a longevity gene taken from a bristlecone pine tree past the blood/brain barrier, and extend human life by decades. A pill to do something like this is now in the works, and may be here within a decade. How much would such a pill cost, and will only the super rich be able to afford it? In the New Rules governing culture, before our young icons can acquire near immortality via science, what if nefarious forces tested it on a small town in Iowa without their knowledge or consent…and discovered that there were side effects? 

Breakthroughs

genetics