Friday, May 29, 2015

Scalzi, John. Redshirts. New York: Tor, 2012. ISBN 978-0-7653-3479-4. Ensign Andrew Dahl thought himself extremely fortunate when, just out of the Academy, he was assigned to Universal Union flagship Intrepid in the xenobiology lab. Intrepid has a reputation for undertaking the most demanding missions of exploration, diplomacy, and, when necessary, enforcement of order among the multitude of planets in the Union, and it was the ideal place for an ambitious junior officer to begin his career. But almost immediately after reporting aboard, Dahl began to discover there was something distinctly off about life aboard the ship. Whenever one of the...

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. A Short History of Man. Auburn, AL: Mises Institute, 2015. ISBN 978-1-61016-591-4. The author is one of the most brilliant and original thinkers and eloquent contemporary expositors of libertarianism, anarcho-capitalism, and Austrian economics. Educated in Germany, Hoppe came to the United States to study with Murray Rothbard and in 1986 joined Rothbard on the faculty of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he taught until his retirement in 2008. Hoppe's 2001 book, Democracy: The God That Failed (June 2002), made the argument that democratic election of temporary politicians in the modern all-encompassing state will inevitably result in profligate...

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ford, Kenneth W. Building the H Bomb. Singapore: World Scientific, 2015. ISBN 978-981-461-879-3. In the fall of 1948, the author entered the graduate program in physics at Princeton University, hoping to obtain a Ph.D. and pursue a career in academia. In his first year, he took a course in classical mechanics taught by John Archibald Wheeler and realised that, despite the dry material of the course, he was in the presence of an extraordinary teacher and thinker, and decided he wanted Wheeler as his thesis advisor. In April of 1950, after Wheeler returned from an extended visit to Europe, the...

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Thor, Brad. Act of War. New York: Pocket Books, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4767-1713-5. This is the fourteenth in the author's Scot Harvath series, which began with The Lions of Lucerne (October 2010). In this novel the author returns to the techno-thriller genre and places his characters, this time backed by a newly-elected U.S. president who is actually interested in defending the country, in the position of figuring out a complicated yet potentially devastating attack mounted by a nation state adversary following the doctrine of unrestricted warfare, and covering its actions by operating through non-state parties apparently unrelated to the aggressor. The trail...

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hertling, William. A.I. Apocalypse. Portland, OR: Liquididea Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-9847557-4-5. This is the second volume in the author's Singularity Series which began with Avogadro Corp. (March 2014). It has been ten years since ELOPe, an E-mail optimisation tool developed by Avogadro Corporation, made the leap to strong artificial intelligence and, after a rough start, became largely a benign influence upon humanity. The existence of ELOPe is still a carefully guarded secret, although the Avogadro CEO, doubtless with the help of ELOPe, has become president of the United States. Avogadro has spun ELOPe off as a separate company, run by Mike...

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

van Dongen, Jeroen. Einstein's Unification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-521-88346-7. In 1905 Albert Einstein published four papers which transformed the understanding of space, time, mass, and energy; provided physical evidence for the quantisation of energy; and observational confirmation of the existence of atoms. These publications are collectively called the Annus Mirabilis papers, and vaulted the largely unknown Einstein to the top rank of theoretical physicists. When Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921, it was for one of these 1905 papers which explained the photoelectric effect. Einstein's 1905 papers are masterpieces of intuitive reasoning and...

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Friday, April 10, 2015

In December 1947 there was a single transistor in the world, built at AT&T's Bell Labs by John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, who would share the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery. The image at the right is of a replica of this first transistor. According to an article in IEEE Spectrum, in the year 2014 semiconductor manufacturers around the world produced 2.5×1020 (250 billion billion) transistors. On average, about 8 trillion transistors were produced every second in 2014. We speak of large numbers as "astronomical", but these numbers put astronomy to shame. There are...

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Beck, Glenn and Harriet Parke. Agenda 21: Into the Shadows. New York: Threshold Editions, 2015. ISBN 978-1-4767-4682-1. When I read the authors' first Agenda 21 (November 2012) novel, I thought it was a superb dystopian view of the living hell into which anti-human environmental elites wish to consign the vast majority of the human race who are to be their serfs. I wrote at the time “This is a book which begs for one or more sequels.” Well, here is the first sequel and it is…disappointing. It's not terrible, by any means, but it does not come up to the high...

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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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