Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Carroll, Michael. Living Among Giants. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2015. ISBN 978-3-319-10673-1. In school science classes, we were taught that the solar system, our home in the galaxy, is a collection of planets circling a star, along with assorted debris (asteroids, comets, and interplanetary dust). Rarely did we see a representation of either the planets or the solar system to scale, which would allow us to grasp just how different various parts of the solar system are from another. (For example, Jupiter is more massive than all the other planets and their moons combined: a proud Jovian would probably describe...

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Click image to enlarge. Here is the solar eclipse of March 20th, 2015, taken at maximum eclipse, around 09:35 UTC. Although this was a total eclipse, from my location (47°4' N 7°3' E) the Sun was only about 70% obscured. The sky was milky/murky, but the Sun was clearly visible through the solar filter. (Photo taken with a Nikon D600 camera and NIKKOR 300 mm prime lens through a full aperture Orion metal on glass solar filter. Exposure was 1/125 second at f/8.)...

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Heinlein, Robert A. Rocket Ship Galileo. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, [1947, 1974, 1988] 2014. ASIN B00H8XGKVU. After the end of World War II, Robert A. Heinlein put his wartime engineering work behind him and returned to professional writing. His ambition was to break out of the pulp magazine ghetto in which science fiction had been largely confined before the war into the more prestigious (and better paying) markets of novels and anthologies published by top-tier New York firms and the “slick” general-interest magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post, which published fiction in those days. For the novels,...

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Reeves, Richard. A Force of Nature. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-33369-5. In 1851, the Crystal Palace Exhibition opened in London. It was a showcase of the wonders of industry and culture of the greatest empire the world had ever seen and attracted a multitude of visitors. Unlike present-day “World's Fair” boondoggles, it made money, and the profits were used to fund good works, including endowing scholarships for talented students from the far reaches of the Empire to study in Britain. In 1895, Ernest Rutherford, hailing from a remote area in New Zealand and recent graduate of Canterbury...

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Rawles, James Wesley. Tools for Survival. New York: Plume, 2014. ISBN 978-0-452-29812-5. Suppose one day the music stops. We all live, more or less, as part of an intricately-connected web of human society. The water that comes out of the faucet when we open the tap depends (for the vast majority of people) on pumps powered by an electrical grid that spans a continent. So does the removal of sewage when you flush the toilet. The typical city in developed nations has only about three days' supply of food on hand in stores and local warehouses and depends upon a...

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Testament of James. Pahrump, NV: Mountain Media, 2014. ISBN 978-0-9670259-4-0. The author is a veteran newspaperman and was arguably the most libertarian writer in the mainstream media during his long career with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He earlier turned his hand to fiction in 2005's The Black Arrow (May 2005), a delightful libertarian superhero fantasy. In the present volume he tells an engaging tale which weaves together mystery, the origins of Christianity, and the curious subculture of rare book collectors and dealers. Matthew Hunter is the proprietor of a used book shop in Providence, Rhode Island, dealing both...

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Osborn, Stephanie. The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus. Kingsport, TN: Twilight Times Books, 2013. ASIN B00FOR5LJ4. This book, available only for the Kindle, collects the first four novels of the author's Displaced Detective series. The individual books included here are The Arrival, At Speed, The Rendlesham Incident, and Endings and Beginnings. Each pair of books, in turn, comprises a single story, the first two The Case of the Displaced Detective and the latter two The Case of the Cosmological Killer. If you read only the first of either pair, it will be obvious that the story has been left...

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mazur, Joseph. Enlightening Symbols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-691-15463-3. Sometimes an invention is so profound and significant yet apparently obvious in retrospect that it is difficult to imagine how people around the world struggled over millennia to discover it, and how slowly it was to diffuse from its points of origin into general use. Such is the case for our modern decimal system of positional notation for numbers and the notation for algebra and other fields of mathematics which permits rapid calculation and transformation of expressions. This book, written with the extensive source citations of a scholarly work...

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Farmelo, Graham. The Strangest Man. New York: Basic Books, 2009. ISBN 978-0-465-02210-6. Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac was born in 1902 in Bristol, England. His father, Charles, was a Swiss-French immigrant who made his living as a French teacher at a local school and as a private tutor in French. His mother, Florence (Flo), had given up her job as a librarian upon marrying Charles. The young Paul and his older brother Felix found themselves growing up in a very unusual, verging upon bizarre, home environment. Their father was as strict a disciplinarian at home as in the schoolroom, and spoke...

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Here are my picks for the best books of 2014, fiction and nonfiction. These aren't the best books published this year, but rather the best I've read in the last twelvemonth. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear in alphabetical order by their author's surname. Fiction: Winner: The Martian by Andy Weir Runners up: My Sweet Satan by Peter Cawdron Avogadro Corp. by William Hertling Honor Bound Honor Born by Steven D. Howe Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez Nonfiction: Winner: Miss Leavitt's Stars by...

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Robinson, Peter. How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. New York: Harper Perennial, 2003. ISBN 978-0-06-052400-5. In 1982, the author, a recent graduate of Dartmouth College who had spent two years studying at Oxford, then remained in England to write a novel, re-assessed his career prospects and concluded that, based upon experience, novelist did not rank high among them. He sent letters to everybody he thought might provide him leads on job opportunities. Only William F. Buckley replied, suggesting that Robinson contact his son, Christopher, then chief speechwriter for Vice President George H. W. Bush, who might know of some openings...

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

All 25 of the public domain Tom Swift novels have been posted in the Tom Swift and His Pocket Library collection. I am now returning to the earlier novels, upgrading them to use the more modern typography of those I've done in recent years. The fourth novel in the series, Tom Swift and His Submarine Boat, has now been updated. Several typographical errors in the original edition have been corrected, and Unicode text entities are used for special characters such as single and double quotes and dashes. An EPUB edition of this novel is now available which may be downloaded...

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Thor, Brad. Hidden Order. New York: Pocket Books, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4767-1710-4. This is the thirteenth in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). Earlier novels have largely been in the mainstream of the “techno-thriller” genre, featuring missions in exotic locations confronting shadowy adversaries bent on inflicting great harm. The present book is a departure from this formula, being largely set in the United States and involving institutions considered pillars of the establishment such as the Federal Reserve System and the Central Intelligence Agency. A CIA operative “accidentally” runs into a senior intelligence official of...

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thorne, Kip. The Science of Interstellar. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014. ISBN 978-0-393-35137-8. Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar was eagerly awaited by science fiction enthusiasts who, having been sorely disappointed so many times by movies that crossed the line into fantasy by making up entirely implausible things to move the plot along, hoped that this effort would live up to its promise of getting the science (mostly) right and employing scientifically plausible speculation where our present knowledge is incomplete. The author of the present book is one of the most eminent physicists working in the field of general relativity...

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheritance. New York: Penguin Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-59420-446-3. Geographically isolated populations of a species (unable to interbreed with others of their kind) will be subject to natural selection based upon their environment. If that environment differs from that of other members of the species, the isolated population will begin to diverge genetically, as genetic endowments which favour survival and more offspring are selected for. If the isolated population is sufficiently small, the mechanism of genetic drift may cause a specific genetic variant to become almost universal or absent in that population. If this process is repeated...

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