Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Book Review: Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

The question that keeps coming up since I started reading this book, which was only a short two days ago, is what makes this different? What makes Theranos different from any other company (e.g. Enron) that went wrong and was charged with fraud? Why is Elizabeth Holmes now synonymous with failure while Mark Zuckerberg is only known as a young genius?

I'll never forgive what he did to Andrew Garfield
I'm not here to delve deep for that answer, but what I will say is that no matter how you slice it this was different. Even just in so far as Theranos was not simply a tech company that pushed the "fake it til you make it" model of Silicon Valley. No, it was first and foremost a Healthcare company that had patients and doctors that relied on the data it spewed. Fraud that can potentially affect lives to the point of death automatically should slot you into a category all your own.

Bad Blood follows the Healthcare/Tech startup Theranos and its CEO Elizabeth Holmes from its insurrection all the way to its unavoidable demise, which the author helped facilitate. John Carreyrou is the journalist that broke the initial story of the company's bad faith dealings in the Wall Street Journal. Following that is his book that takes a deeper look into all that went wrong with this "Unicorn."

While there can be claims that the book spouts a bit of sensationalism for drama's sake, it's hard to look at the players involved and not be overcome with frustration at the steps each took to deceive. Elizabeth Holmes most of all.

The story is essentially multiple paths that include former employees of Theranos, employees of Walgreen's and Safe Way (two companies who had contracts with Theranos), military personnel, Doctors, and families of patients who used Theranos's blood reader cartridge that all ultimately converge on the company and its illustrious CEO when the light is finally shown on the heap of lies.

GOOD POINT: I enjoyed getting a sampling of stories from various people with various connections to the company and Elizabeth. It showed that no matter how you tried to swing it the common factor of bad was Elizabeth and Theranos. It made it easier to believe and swallow the story.

Theranos purported to conduct multiple disease and wellness tests using a single drop of blood. This tech simply put, does not exist. But this didn't stop Elizabeth or Theranos from claiming that it did. This resulted in her revolutionary blood reader cartridges to come back with faulty data that couldn't pass basic inspections. Still, they managed to get it out to the public for use, mostly because the red flags were simply ignored.

The book is well researched and just as well written. I had a hard time pausing to do things that I couldn't avoid. I needed to know what happened, even though I had read reports about what ultimately does.

The level of manipulation, threats, and lies is almost comical. How could someone get this far and not get caught? And it wasn't like there weren't people who were suspicious. There were plenty who were and by some moronic miracle they were all brushed aside like their complaints weren't even the least bit valid.

GOOD POINT: The tension in this is great. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Every time I thought she had finally gotten caught or someone was going to stop her she was able to swerve out of the way and come back stronger. It was frustrating but oh so juicy that I needed to keep going until I saw her get crushed.

Elizabeth Holmes even managed to keep herself from being removed as CEO when it was clear she didn't know what she was doing. After she was sure her throne was secure she went about firing those that tried to stop her and made the board of directors powerless without her. Remember folks, there were other people and they stood by and let her do this.

We are led to believe that it was her charm, her charisma, her HUGE deep blue eyes that could hypnotize, and her startling baritone voice that made the people around her complete idiots. And mind you these weren't complete idiots, these were they top of their field Silicon Valley bros.

GOOD POINT: I enjoyed the fact that Carreyrou didn't hold punches even when it came to his sources. One source in particular, while helped bring Elizabeth down, was not an angel himself. In fact I would have loved a way for him and Elizabeth to just take each other out. However, the sources that were good people and were ultimately hurt in getting this story out he defended and helped as best he could. 

Clearly if they didn't see anything wrong with her creepy eyes and unsettling voice then not only was there absolutely nothing to worry about, but no need to question anything either.

Look into my eyes...deeper
Ultimately, she is caught and is currently facing 9 counts of wire fraud and 2 counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud along with her number two executive and ex-lover Sunny Balwani. Theranos is all but bankrupt and all we can hope is that the investigation doesn't come up with any deaths her company may have left in its wake.

I am also giddy at the prospect that movie rights have been purchased for Carreyrou's book where Jennifer Lawrence is slated to portray the CEO sociopath herself. I can't think of anyone better to play Elizabeth Holmes as the coo-coo bananas manipulator that she is. My wish at this point is that she goes to prison for a long long time.

BAD POINT: Black turtlenecks.

5 out of 5 stars

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: Paper Girls 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

This was a tough one. Now I know what you're thinking, it was just a graphic novel, aren't those super short and easy to read? You would be correct on both those fronts, but even if you write a graphic novel the story has to be believable and...well...good. This was neither.

I will give the benefit of the doubt in one regard however, this was the first volume out of a I don't know how many volume series, so it might pick up. I just don't see me going out of my way to continue the next volume.

The story itself was intriguing initially; 4 pre-teen girls off on an adventure a-la the Goonies or for a more modern comparison, Stranger Things. Here's the thing, I think the writers forgot that they were writing from the perspective of 4 pre-teen girls in the 80s. None of the dialog was believable and when it came to making them seem tough it was almost like the writers were trying waaaaay too hard.

So we start off on Halloween following Erin who is getting up early to do her stereotypical 80s kid's job of delivering newspapers.  As she's doing her job she is interrupted by a few high school boys (I'm assuming they were about 15) who decide that they'll be tough by harassing a 12 year old girl. 

However, before they can deal any real damage three other newspaper girls show up and defend Erin causing the boys to high tail it out of there because I guess they were outnumbered. So these other girls also
 deliver papers, but the story wants us to believe that this is their first interaction with Erin. While this makes sense in a way (Erin goes to Catholic school after all) if they all work in the same small town how are they JUST meeting each other?
Isn't Mac lovely?

Things quickly turn bad right away as one of the girls realizes her walkie talkie is missing and that someone is tormenting them by making scary sounds through it. They assume it's the high school boys, but of course it's not.

Then some hooded figures appear who are snooping around this neighborhood in the dark early hours which makes it all the more creepy. One of them wanders off and is killed pretty horribly by a crazy birdlike creature.

GOOD POINT: The visuals were actually pretty good. I enjoyed looking at them more than actually reading the story. It was dark, but not too much to make you feel like sinister stuff was around every corner. Kudos to the illustrator.

The girls find a machine in a basement after following the hooded figures still assuming they are high school boys. It looks very alien and it sends off some sort of power that freaks them out. They return to outside and everything feels off. No one is around as if the entire town has disappeared. 

They all decide to head to Mac's house because apparently her father has a gun and she thinks they are going to need it despite the fact that the only thing they have encountered that would potentially harm them were a few high school boys. 

At this point just let me say that Mac is not a good character. She is the typical trying too hard to be tough bad girl who claims to have had a rotten childhood (her dad remarried) and is just going to continue to make really bad decisions. 

Case in point, she brings her gaggle of girls to her parents house where they encounter her drunk stepmother who has taken it upon herself to already get the gun Mac alluded to earlier. There is a struggle for the gun and it goes off shooting Erin in the stomach. They all freak out and decide that the crazy stepmom needs to drive them all to the ER except she has run away. One of them suggests that they just drive and this is met with some resistance by the group, like why? You were okay two seconds ago to have a drunk adult drive you, but a sober 12 year old is just too dangerous?

Eventually they all pile into the car and are quickly stopped by what appears to be a knight riding a pterodactyl. He tries to speak with them, but is quickly dispatched by the hooded figures who randomly show up again. They claim that they can help heal Erin and not having many options the girls agree.

It's discovered that not only are the hooded figures time travelers, but they are also teenagers and one of them is gay. Now I knew that this was going to be a cringe moment because of the very tasteful comments Mac made earlier. Immediately she acts grossed out and is scolded by her friends. This was good, but it doesn't make up for the nastiness of this character. 

Oh, you're from the 80s? Then by all means continue with your homophobic rhetoric.
Then the two hooded teenagers need to take Erin to their time travel ship to fix her and they don't really explain this to the other girls opting instead to just straight-up disappear before their eyes. To which Mac reacts by calling them perverts. Yeah, that happens and she tries to defend her reasoning by the fact that they kidnapped Erin. Mac is just gross and at this point I was wanting her to have a gun shot wound.

The time travelers fix Erin, but in doing so end up killing themselves with no real explanation. The girls meet up with Erin in the basement from earlier because they realized the machine they found must have been the time machine and they just knew that is where Erin would appear. This makes no sense from a linear perspective.

They are then stopped outside of the basement by the Knights with pterodactyls who have called in this old guy to help them. I think he is their master, but it is never explained. Then another time jump sends them to the future or something because we then meet an older Erin and that is where the story ends.

It's just a mess. There is no flow in the story and no explanation as to why things are occurring. The characters are weak as fuck and Mac is just a garbage fire of a human being. Look, I get it's the 80s and stuff and the AIDS epidemic was a thing and gay rights were non-existent, but you don't need to have such a homophobic hate filled character. Especially a freaking 12 year old. 

I don't know where this story is going and frankly I do not care. I want to get rid of my copy of this, but my fear is that some adolescent child will pick it up and think this smut is okay. I would never let my daughter read this filth, there are so many better books with positive female role models I'm good without this one.

There are no other good points about this story but...

BAD POINT: This is what happens when two adult males attempt to write from the perspective of four pre-teen girls. You have no context to even attempt to do this. Either do the required amount of research to be able to give these characters the personalities they deserve or stay in your lane!

0 out of 5 stars

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Book Review: The Forbidden Words of Margaret A. by L. Timmel Duchamp

I find it eerie that the two books that have sent a chill down my back in the last year deal with two different people named Margaret A. There was first of course The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and now The Forbidden Words of Margaret A. I'm beginning to think that Margaret is the name of revolutionaries.

Bet her name is Margaret
This is a short story that follows a reporter who has finally received the opportunity she has worked her entire adult life to achieve, a photo-op with Margaret A., a woman incarcerated for her words and the power they exerted over the general populace.

It is told in such a brilliant way and you truly feel every bit the ramifications of the situation. The fact that the freedom of speech has been taken from a single individual whom the government has deemed too dangerous. The fact that while they want to silence her, they also don't want to make her a martyr. 

So in order to perpetuate this rouse they allow these monthly photo-ops to keep the public at bay in the hopes that Margaret A. will become nothing but a memory given enough time. The story describes the public's inability to let go of their obsession with Margaret A. as a forbidden fruit. The newer generations may not know her words, but in a way that spurns them on. Why are we being kept from something that others have had? We want it too and we won't stop until we have it.

Words have very effective powers and a person's right to speak and hear them is vitally important. I cringed hearing of Margaret A.'s living quarters. The fact that on the outside it doesn't seem all that bad, but a prison is a prison is a prison no matter how you look at it.

Though the MC has maybe ten minutes with the infamous Margaret A. it is all that is needed to change the trajectory of her life. She was always fascinated, but now she wants Margaret to be freed and you get the impression that this goal will consume her life.

Over the course of 14 pages you are told a beautifully tragic story and even though it may not have the satisfying ending you'd hope for I feel it is more wanting you to take a call to action. The world is fraught in turmoil and if we aren't careful the imagery presented in this story and others like it won't be far off.

Be worried, be vigilant, be the change.

You can read this story for free on the author's website by clicking HERE.

5 out of 5 stars

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