Saturday, January 30, 2016

Regis, Ed. Monsters. New York: Basic Books, 2015. ISBN 978-0-465-06594-3. In 1863, as the American Civil War raged, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, an ambitious young cavalry officer from the German kingdom of Württemberg arrived in America to observe the conflict and learn its lessons for modern warfare. He arranged an audience with President Lincoln, who authorised him to travel among the Union armies. Zeppelin spent a month with General Joseph Hooker's Army of the Potomac. Accustomed to German military organisation, he was unimpressed with what he saw and left to see the sights of the new continent. While visiting Minnesota,...

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ward, Jonathan H. Countdown to a Moon Launch. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2015. ISBN 978-3-319-17791-5. In the companion volume, Rocket Ranch (December 2015), the author describes the gargantuan and extraordinarily complex infrastructure which was built at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to assemble, check out, and launch the Apollo missions to the Moon and the Skylab space station. The present book explores how that hardware was actually used, following the “processing flow” of the Apollo 11 launch vehicle and spacecraft from the arrival of components at KSC to the moment of launch. As intricate as the hardware was, it...

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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Levenson, Thomas. The Hunt for Vulcan. New York: Random House, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8129-9898-6. The history of science has been marked by discoveries in which, by observing where nobody had looked before, with new and more sensitive instruments, or at different aspects of reality, new and often surprising phenomena have been detected. But some of the most profound of our discoveries about the universe we inhabit have come from things we didn't observe, but expected to. By the nineteenth century, one of the most solid pillars of science was Newton's law of universal gravitation. With a single equation a schoolchild could...

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Waldman, Jonathan. Rust. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4516-9159-7. In May of 1980 two activists, protesting the imprisonment of a Black Panther convicted of murder, climbed the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour, planning to unfurl a banner high on the statue. After spending a cold and windy night aloft, they descended and surrendered to the New York Police Department's Emergency Service Unit. Fearful that the climbers may have damaged the fragile copper cladding of the monument, a comprehensive inspection was undertaken. What was found was shocking. The structure of the Statue of Liberty was designed by...

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Click image to enlarge. A recent solar storm produced a coronal mass ejection which is presently hitting the Earth's upper atmosphere, causing a brilliant auroral display in northern latitudes. Above is a picture I took a few minutes before midnight UTC on 2015-12-31 looking toward the north at latitude 54° North in the British Isles. You can see the southern part of the auroral oval around the geomagnetic pole. The green colour is due to atomic oxygen in the upper atmosphere excited by the energetic particles from the Sun. Toward the left you can see curtains descending from the...

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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Here are my picks for the best books of 2015, 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: Trustee from the Toolroom by Nevil Shute Runners up: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank A.I. Apocalypse by William Hertling Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Kilian Plunkett Sweeter than Wine by L. Neil Smith...

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Rawles, James Wesley. Land Of Promise. Moyie Springs, ID: Liberty Paradigm Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-475605-60-0. The author is the founder of the survivalblog.com Web site, a massive and essential resource for those interested in preparing for uncertain times. His nonfiction works, How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (July 2011) and Tools for Survival (February 2015) are packed with practical information for people who wish to ride out natural disasters all the way to serious off-grid self-sufficiency. His series of five novels which began with Patriots (December 2008) illustrates the skills needed to survive by people in a...

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Western politicians say, “We're not at war with Islam.” But Islam is more than a just a religion. Its scriptures specify a political system, civil and criminal law, economics and trade, laws of war, and other matters which other major religions leave to civil authority, and some of these policy prescriptions conflict with Western values. Clash of Ideologies: Communism, Islam, and the West explores whether the West should treat these aspects of Islam as an ideology, like communism, fundamentally incompatible with its values, and how best to confront it....

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Ward, Jonathan H. Rocket Ranch. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International, 2015. ISBN 978-3-319-17788-5. Many books have been written about Project Apollo, with a large number devoted to the lunar and Skylab missions, the Saturn booster rockets which launched them, the Apollo spacecraft, and the people involved in the program. But none of the Apollo missions could have left the Earth without the facilities at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida where the launch vehicle and space hardware were integrated, checked out, fuelled, and launched. In many ways, those facilities were more elaborate and complicated than the booster and spacecraft, and...

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Suprynowicz, Vin. The Miskatonic Manuscript. Pahrump, NV: Mountain Media, 2015. ASIN: B0197R4TGW. ISBN 978-0-9670259-5-7. 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 (a collection of his essays has been published as Send In The Waco Killers). He earlier turned his hand to fiction in 2005's The Black Arrow (May 2005), a delightful libertarian superhero fantasy. In The Testament of James (February 2015) we met Matthew Hunter, owner of a used book shop in Providence, Rhode Island, and Chantal Stevens, a woman with military combat...

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ferri, Jean-Yves and Didier Conrad. Astérix: Le Papyrus de César. Vanves, France: Editions Albert René, 2015. ISBN 978-2-86497-271-6. The publication of Julius Cæsar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentaries on the Gallic War) (August 2007) made a sensation in Rome and amplified the already exalted reputation of Cæsar. Unknown before now, the original manuscript included a chapter which candidly recounted the Roman army's failure to conquer the Gauls of Armorique, home of the fierce warrior Astérix, his inseparable companion Obélix, and the rest of the villagers whose adventures have been chronicled in the thirty-five volumes preceding this one. On the advice of...

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Is Islam compatible with political freedom? Using data from the Pew Research Center and Freedom House, Islam and Political Freedom explores whether there is a correlation between the percentage of Muslim population of a country and whether it is ranked as “Free”, “Partly Free”, or “Not Free” based upon political and civil rights....

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Outzen, James D., ed. The Dorian Files Revealed. Chantilly, VA: Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance, 2015. ISBN 978-1-937219-18-5. We often think of the 1960s as a “can do” time, when technological progress, societal self-confidence, and burgeoning economic growth allowed attempting and achieving great things: from landing on the Moon, global communications by satellite, and mass continental and intercontinental transportation by air. But the 1960s were also a time, not just of conflict and the dissolution of the postwar consensus, but also of some grand-scale technological boondoggles and disasters. There was the XB-70 bomber and its companion F-108 fighter...

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

Munroe, Randall. What If? New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-27299-6. As a child, the author would constantly ask his parents odd questions. They indulged and encouraged him, setting him on a lifetime path of curiosity, using the mathematics and physics he learned in the course of obtaining a degree in physics and working in robotics at NASA to answer whatever popped into his head. After creating the tremendously successful Web comic xkcd.com, readers began to ask him the kinds of questions he'd mused about himself. He began a feature on xkcd.com: “What If?” to explore answers to these questions....

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Chiles, Patrick. Farside. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2015. ASIN B010WAE080. Several years after the events chronicled in Perigee (August 2012), Arthur Hammond's Polaris AeroSpace Lines is operating routine point-to-point suborbital passenger and freight service with its Clippers, has expanded into orbital service with Block II Clippers, and is on the threshold of opening up service to the Moon with its “cycler” spacecraft which loop continuously between the Earth and Moon. Clippers rendezvous with the cyclers as they approach the Earth, transferring crew, passengers, cargo, and consumables. Initial flights will be limited to lunar orbit, but landing missions are envisioned for the...

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