Saturday, April 23, 2016

Launius, Roger D. and Dennis R. Jenkins. Coming Home. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2012. ISBN 978-0-16-091064-7. NASA SP-2011-593. In the early decades of the twentieth century, when visionaries such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Hermann Oberth, and Robert H. Goddard started to think seriously about how space travel might be accomplished, most of the focus was on how rockets might be designed and built which would enable their payloads to be accelerated to reach the extreme altitude and velocity required for long-distance ballistic or orbital flight. This is a daunting problem. The Earth has a deep gravity well: so deep that...

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Goldsmith, Barbara. Obsessive Genius. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 978-0-393-32748-9. Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. She was the fifth and last child born to her parents, Władysław and Bronisława Skłodowski, both teachers. Both parents were members of a lower class of the aristocracy called the Szlachta, but had lost their wealth through involvement in the Polish nationalist movement opposed to Russian rule. They retained the love of learning characteristic of their class, and had independently obtained teaching appointments before meeting and marrying. Their children were raised in...

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Jenne, Mike. Blue Gemini. New York: Yucca Publishing, 2015. ISBN 978-1-63158-047-5. It is the late 1960s, and the Apollo project is racing toward the Moon. The U.S. Air Force has not abandoned its manned space flight ambitions, and is proceeding with its Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, nominally to explore the missions military astronauts can perform in an orbiting space station, but in reality a large manned reconnaissance satellite. Behind the curtain of secrecy and under the cover of the blandly named “Aerospace Support Project”, the Air Force was simultaneously proceeding with a much more provocative project: Blue Gemini. Using the...

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Munroe, Randall. Thing Explainer. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-66825-6. What a great idea! The person who wrote this book explains not simple things like red world sky cars, tiny water bags we are made of, and the shared space house, with only the ten hundred words people use most. There are many pictures with words explaining each thing. The idea came from the Up Goer Five picture he drew earlier. Drawing by Randall Munroe / xkcd used under right to share but not to sell (CC BY-NC 2.5). (The words in the above picture are drawn. In the...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Flint, Eric. 1632. Riverdale, NY: Baen Publishing, 2000. ISBN 978-0-671-31972-4. Nobody knows how it happened, nor remotely why. Was it a bizarre physics phenomenon, an act of God, intervention by aliens, or “just one of those things”? One day, with a flash and a bang which came to be called the Ring of Fire, the town of Grantville, West Virginia and its environs in the present day was interchanged with an equally large area of Thuringia, in what is now Germany, in the year 1632. The residents of Grantville discover a sharp boundary where the town they know so well...

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Carlson, W. Bernard. Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-691-16561-5. Nicola Tesla was born in 1858 in a village in what is now Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father and grandfather were both priests in the Orthodox church. The family was of Serbian descent, but had lived in Croatia since the 1690s among a community of other Serbs. His parents wanted him to enter the priesthood and enrolled him in school to that end. He excelled in mathematics and, building on a boyhood fascination with machines and tinkering, wanted to pursue...

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Saturday, February 13, 2016

McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4767-2874-2. On December 8th, 1903, all was in readiness. The aircraft was perched on its launching catapult, the brave airman at the controls. The powerful internal combustion engine roared to life. At 16:45 the catapult hurled the craft into the air. It rose straight up, flipped, and with its wings coming apart, plunged into the Potomac river just 20 feet from the launching point. The pilot was initially trapped beneath the wreckage but managed to free himself and swim to the surface. After being rescued from the river,...

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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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