Archimedes and the Door of Science

August 10, 2016 at 7:18 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

517SvkV79rL.jpgTitle: Archimedes and the Door of Science

Author: Jeanne Bendick

Publisher: Bethlehem Books

Genre: Children’s Biography

I love these Living History Library books and Jeanne Bendick has a wonderful way of introducing great people in history and what they did/discovered on a child’s level without truly “dumbing” anything down. These books should be a part of any child’s library, and for sure any homeschoolers’ library.  My kid’s eyes have been opened to so many ideas because of this book.  At age 5, she’s already been checking out levers and experimenting with density while playing in the bathtub, she showed me how her ball has a pattern of concentric circles on it and informed me that it was three dimensional… These aren’t things that would be in her vocabulary without me reading this book out loud to her this month.

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The Martian

June 24, 2015 at 10:09 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Book-Review-The-Martian

Title: The Martian

Author: Andy Weir

Genre: Science Fiction

The Martian is freaking amazing.  Just as amazing, it seems, is the author Andy Weir, as I was just as entertained by his essay and interview in the back of the Broadway Books edition I was reading.

In addition to being clever and snarky, the book has a fun history.  Originally it was self-published on a website.  It got such a following that it was then released for kindles… and was so popular there that Weir got a book and a movie deal practically at the same time.

Oh, and, Weir loves Doctor Who, so there’s that.

I’m a little late to the game, I wish I had discovered him sooner so I could say something original and exciting about The Martian (I would have loved to interview him) – so this review will be short and void of spoilers.  But if you’re in the mood for some suspenseful comedy set in space, all MacGyver style with the science, you need some Andy Weir in your life.

I can’t wait to see what he writes next.  If you’ve already read The Martian, you might also want to check out the work of Heinlein and/or George Wright Padgett.

In case you haven’t seen it yet – here’s the movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4PCI0NamI

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A Fragrant Universe

May 10, 2015 at 8:01 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

imagesTitle: Pheromones and Animal Behavior

Author: Tristram D. Wyatt

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Genre: Science / Animal Communication

Length: 391 pages

“[…] one doesn’t realise how much ‘savor’ is smell. You smell people, you smell books, you smell the city, you smell the spring – maybe not consciously, but as rich unconscious background to everything else. My whole world was suddenly radically poorer.” – O. Sacks, The man who mistook his wife for a hat

So completely fascinated with the human scent and sense of smell this month, I picked up a textbook on pheromones at the public library.

What I’ve learned is that I can read up on everything there is to know scientifically about ones sense of smell and how they use it, but I still won’t completely understand all the nuances of how that affects interpersonal communications. Correction – I understand how, but not why it affects us so completely.

Having this knowledge of the how should enable me to shut it off when it does not suit my emotional well being, right? After all, knowledge is power.

No. We, as humans, are too complex for that. (Or simple, depending on how you look at it.) Our emotions can even heighten our perception of these smells, tie that to menstrual cycles and memory and we’re pretty much screwed to always have knee jerk reactions to certain scents whether we like it or not.

Even Wyatt states in the closing chapter of his textbook:

“One of the major challenges to human pheromone research is that of designing rigorous experiments that eliminate other cues and variables. As well as the complexity of odour that being a mammal brings, humans are also complex emotionally. This makes us doubly difficult as experimental subjects.”

I absolutely adore the smell of a well cared for old book. But the effect that beautiful freshly cut grass mixed with vanilla, a tinge of dust, and leather has on me can be overwhelming or something I barely note in passing, depending on the mood I’m already in.

All this sensory awareness just reminds me of a John Oehler book I read awhile back, Aphrodesia – and led me to finally committing to pick up the book Perfume by Suskind (which I haven’t done just yet, but will soon). People have been talking about it for years, I’ve been shelving copies of it at the bookstore in droves for as long as I’ve worked there. It’s even on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, but I don’t read the books on that list merely because they are on it – I try to let those titles come to me organically via other means of gathering more books for my TBR pile. All of these things in Suskind’s favorite, but his work never really moved me until now.

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A Talking Dick Head

April 28, 2015 at 3:38 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

UnknownTitle: How to Build An Android, the true story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Restoration

Author: David F. Dufty

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company

Genre: Technology

Length: 272 pages

Yesterday afternoon I messaged my friend after returning from running errands which involved the bookstore, lunch with my daughter, Hobby Lobby, and of course – the library.

“So I know you’re at work, but did you know that in 2005 some scientists made an android that looked just like Philip K. Dick and one of them LEFT HIS HEAD ON A PLANE! The robotic Philip K. Dick head has never been found. Some super nerd freak has his head somewhere. (And I’m jealous.)” I said.

“We must search for this robo head.”

We certainly do not plan to go searching for Philip K. Dick’s robotic head that has been missing for a decade.  The police have not found it and ended their search a long time ago.  The creators aren’t even looking for it anymore.  It was never insured, so there was nothing fraudulent about the circumstances.  But someone, somewhere, in a very A Gentle Madness style, is hoarding Dick’s head in their basement – probably in Washington State… or Orange County… or well, anywhere the airline could go.

Dufty’s recount of the building of the android and his version of events at Comic Con and other such places is a fun, light, entertaining read that I read in two sittings. It’s fascinating that so many intelligent people were involved in such a large scale plan that ended in something Philip K. Dick would probably determine predestined and foreseen.  They made an android of the author who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? then lost its head.  It’s a funny bit of irony, no?

The book isn’t just about building an android though, and isn’t as mechanical as you’d think.  It’s got a lot of commentary about Dick, his life, his themes, his work, and, of course, what makes a human human and an android a mere android.  If you appreciate robotics or are a Philip K. Dick fan, I recommend checking this one out sometime.

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Pheromones

April 27, 2015 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Bombardier Beetles and Fever Trees31eAU6EV17L._BO1,204,203,200_

Author: William Agosta

Publisher: Helix Books * Addison-Welsey Publishing Company

Genre: Science/ Nature

Length: 224 pages

It started because I realized I had used the word “pheromone” one too many times during every day discussions that week.  It seemed from a biological standpoint my nose – and my whole body really – was on high alert.  I could smell EVERYTHING.  Which happens more often than I’d like.  And not normal smells like the fast food restaurants when you drive by or someone’s overbearing perfume.  It’s not even the homeless guy that comes into work from time to time.  He’s odorous, don’t get me wrong, but those aren’t the smells I tend to notice.

I smell clean skin a lot.  And not the soap that was used, just skin.  I tend to pick up on not the typical overly sweaty man on a jog, but the very subtle clammy sort of sweat that someone gets when they are thinking too hard or are wearing the shirt they slept in.  I can smell my daughter’s little curls – not the shampoo, not the preschooler desperately needs a bath smell, but HER smell.  Obviously, I have a word and a basic gist of why humans respond to these smells (whether they are aware of them or not), but I wanted to know more.

The library has NOTHING on people.  So beetles it was.

And Agosta is fascinating.  I love this book and plan to purchase it for kiddo to read for a biology course when she’s older.  It’s smooth reading, has a lot of information, and has taught me something new about a subject I was already interested in (nudibranchs) that I wasn’t aware was going to be included in this title.  Agosta goes over caterpillars and butterflies, discusses spiders and their silk, and even talks about plants, opium, and medicinal remedies.

Definitely loved every word and page and am now moving onto Wyatt’s Pheromones and Animal Behavior.  Pipe in if you’re interested in a discussion.

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Swirl By Swirl

March 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

P1000952

Title: Swirl By Swirl

Authors: Beth Krommes & Joyce Sidman

Genre: Picture Book / Educational

We actually read this one quite a bit ago, I was hoping to review it when I finally got around to purchasing it, but I can’t wait any longer.  It’s too wonderful to keep under wraps any longer and it has been an inspiration to my kiddo who now draws swirls and “round ups” into all her artwork.

P1000953

The book is all about finding math in nature.  About how snails, flowers, and everything have mathematical patterns that create functional things we can see.  It first page by page identifies all these things… spider webs, tendrils on foliage, the curls of animals’ tails, etc.

Then, it explains the how and why of it all.

Kiddo’s eye lit up at the end of the book every time (we had to read it over and over again before we turned it back into the library).  My four year old’s mind was blown.

P1000956 I want to have this book on hand when she’s older as well, to revisit and enjoy the beautiful illustrations again and again through out her studies.  It’s so lovely.

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Stuffed Grape Leaves and Dewberry Pie

May 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Homeschooling adventures have turned into some serious life skills lessons, which in turn have become foraging.

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As previously mentioned, we use foragingtexas.com as a main source of information, but we do a lot of external research on our own as well.

Mustang Grapes – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Vitis mustangensis
Abundance: plentiful
What: fruits, leaves, young tendrils
How: fruit raw (very tart), cooked, dried, preserves, wine; leaves and tendrils cooked,
Where: Edges of woods. Mustang grape leaves are fuzzy and have a white underside.
When: summer
Nutritional Value: calories, antioxidants
Other uses: water can be obtained from the vines (see technique in grapes- muscadine post), wild yeast from the fruit
Dangers: Mustang grapes are very acidic and handling/eating large amounts of the raw fruit can cause burns to hands and mouth.

When homeschooling, this is a good time to teach your kiddo about plant classifications.  While picking the leaves (we had a mixture of Mustang grape leaves and Muscadine grape leaves, but I don’t recommend stuffing the Muscadines, they end up a little stringy).

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Vitales

Family – Vitaceae

Genus – Vitis

Species – V. mustangensis

Our lessons then continue into the kitchen where we follow recipes and learn about fractions and conversions.  You’d be amazed at how much a three year old will pick up on if you just show them.  We halved this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/my-own-famous-stuffed-grape-leaves/ as well as added lemon balm from our home garden to the rice mixture.

P1020054Our dewberry & grape leaf haul.

Dewberries – from foragingtexas.com

Scientific name: Rubus species
Abundance: plentiful
What: flowers, berries
How: open mouth, insert flower/fruit, then chew. seep flowers/young leaves in hot water for tea
Where: Sunny wastelands, borders between woods and fields. Dewberry plants grow as a low, horizontal ground cover.
When: Spring
Other uses: wine, jelly, tea, wine
Nutritional Value: carbohydrates, vitamin C; small amount of minerals and vitamins A & B
Dangers: sharp thorns

Again, our goal is to memorize the classifications and understand how they work:

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Rosales

Family – Rosaceae

Genus – Rubus

Species – R. arborginum

Well, that and to make pies.

We used this pie recipe, except exchanged the blackberries for dewberries, and used a bit more sugar.

It was a hearty dinner and dessert.

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An Autistic History

February 25, 2014 at 9:29 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

notevenwrongTitle: Not Even Wrong

Author: Paul Collins

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Memoir/ Psychology

Length: 245 pages

I’ve journaled nearly twenty pages of commentary on this book.  Now, having finished it, I’m not sure what I should share and what should be kept to myself.

Collins does a spectacular job sharing memoir with known history, diving into tales from the world and mixing it with tales from his personal world.  The first few chapters are dedicated to his pursuit of Peter the Wild Boy and an existing desire to write a biography on the mysterious boy who was ‘rescued’ by King George. (Reference to the boy made in Notes and Queries, of course.)  Collins later discovers his son is autistic.

The entire book is an ode to his son and his autism.  An ode to their life, their relationship, the world of Autists.

Therefore a lot of information is shared regarding what that means.  A lot of reflection on the gene pool it takes to cook up such a neurological anomaly that is an essential part of humanity as a whole.  The trifecta being science, art, and math.

Collins writes on page 96:

Apparently we have been walking around with the genetic equivalent of a KICK ME sign:

my father: mechanical engineer

jennifer’s father: musician, math major

my brother: phd in computing

jennifer: painter

me

At this point, I remember taking my own personal inventory.  My father is a civil engineer, not only that he was a musician and painter, and suffers from what I think is undiagnosed and extremely mild tourettes (also discussed in Collins’ book).  My immediate cousins and family members on that side of the family are musicians and scientists.  Some work in labs, some in an engineering field.  Although I’ve been an English and History girl my whole life, much to my father’s chagrin, I was raised by and around extremely scientific minds.  I think I get all the feelings and other eccentricities from my mother’s side.  But in a parallel universe, had I somehow procreated with people I had dated in college rather than the love of my life whom I married – musicians, computer geeks, Synesthesiacs (also discussed in Collins’ book) – I think I was very close to wearing that KICK ME sign as well.

Looking at the world through the eyes of Collins’ research, I think many people have been close to wearing that sign.  I think everyone should read through this book and see just how close.  It’s enlightening.  It’s scary.  It’s beautiful.

There are so many amazing people through out history who have changed the face of humanity – the way we work – integral parts of society and science… and they were very likely autistic.   Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Glenn Gould, Andy Warhol, Paul Erdos.  These people are essential to who we are as a species today.  These people have made our world more beautiful, even though they are very likely to be the same people described on page 109:  “Imagine if you tried to pretend to understand people, but didn’t really.  So you rehearse it all in your head: taking notes, analyzing every social action, trying to connect it all together.”  I don’t have to imagine.  I may not be a genius like Albert Einstein, I may not be as clever as Glenn Gould, and I’m certainly not nearly as eccentric as Andy Warhol – but I know all about rehearsing, taking notes, analyzing, and still feeling quite out of the loop.  A little bit of understanding from the rest of the world goes a long way in my book – even though I’m not so good at understanding the rest of the world, I’m trying to be better about it.

“You know, it used to be that when I saw someone acting or talking strangely, or just being odd on the bus, I’d think to myself: What’s his problem? I still have that reaction.  But now I stop, pause, and have a second thought: No, really, what is that man’s problem? There is a decades-long chain of events that created the person who are seeing.” – pg. 213

Paul Collins brings a little bit of humanity and the importance of curiosity and empathy into ALL his work.  For that I adore him, and will always adore him, forever.

On that note, I want to check out the artwork of his wife.  I love art.  I love paintings.  I am the CMO of an art company called Aoristos and I’m curious to see the style of art the spouse of my favorite author paints.  If anyone knows and can provide reliable links – please do.

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The Planets

June 22, 2012 at 2:29 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

Title: The Planets
Author: Dava Sobel

I’m impressed with how accessible Dava Sobel has made Astronomy.  As a New York Times journalist, she brings all the important information to the table.  As a writer, she’s a story teller of the highest degree.  Beautiful, fluid, and full of all the ancient romance of the stars, The Planets is full of history, poetry, and all the most relevant of scientific discoveries.  Sobel’s  work is not only a pleasurable read, but the dream-find for a homeschooling mom intent on classically educating her child.

With Sobel’s newspaper background, the book is very readable; a proficient sixth grader shouldn’t have a problem with it.  I plan to use this for my child’s eleven year old Astronomy lessons, along with a middle grade level study of Ancient History, as Sobel has filled the book with quotes from or about many of the Greats.  “Pythagoras believed the cosmic order obeyed the same mathematical rules and proportions as the tones on the musical scale,” (pg. 163.) introduces an entire chapter dedicated to man’s fascination with the planets and how that has been celebrated through the centuries through the art of music.

Always presented to me in school as a pitiable underdog, small and petite, Pluto was my favorite planet.  Even more so when it was first threatened by the idea of being stripped of its planetary status, I became indignant, an uneducated supporter of allowing it keep its rank in the sky and in our textbooks.  Like an older sibling protecting a small child, I felt like it was a personal attack to say Pluto wasn’t really a planet.  I was angered that someone had decided to take back all I had been taught and strip this little planet of a description I thought it had earned.  After reading Sobel’s explanation of Pluto’s discovery, history and status and then a chapter on Uranus, I think I may be sold on the reasons why Pluto title as the 9th planet is threatened and that Uranus is actually my new favorite.  So heavily tied to the literary works of Shakespeare in name and attitude with such a unique history, my new knowledge of Uranus now pales my previous love for Pluto – a childish emotion of elementary proportions, tied to an association with the Disney dog.

I have other books by Sobel lurking around in my library, and I can’t wait to dive into those when I’ve exhausted this particular topic.  I look forward to reading Longitude and see if she attacks the subject of geography with the same fervor as she did Astronomy.

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Mid Week Thrifting

May 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm (The Whim) (, , , , , , )

I used to haunt thrift stores the way I currently haunt bookstores.  In late high school and early college, its where I picked up all my clothes.  There was nothing better than a 50 cent blouse and some $2 jeans.  Unfortuneately with the recession, thrift store clothing prices have increased to an amount that (unless its the world’s most awesome thrift store find) I can often find similar cheapy items for less at Wally World (sacriledge, I know).  In theory I hate WalMart, but sometimes a tight budget makes the decision for me.  But when my best friend says she wants to check out the newly reopened Goodwill Select in the Heights, I’m game.

Of course, I found dozens of things I wanted (there were piles of amateur paintings done by the same unknown person), but only came away with a few of the most inexpensive but longest lasting items money can buy: books.  I acquired a few nice copies of things off Ayla’s Classical Education list that I didn’t already have… Sophocles and such because I will need them eventually and haven’t seen copies in this nice a condition for this cheap.  It looks like someone dropped off an entire school library in mint condition.  And two things that aren’t as easy to find (not difficult, just not typically parading themselves around in large quanities):

Profiles in Science for Young People: Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity by Robert Cwiklik, perfect for ages 9-12, depending on your kid.  I want Ayla to grow up with accessible biographies.  I’ve already been collecting the DK biographies for kids and have about a dozen of them for various public figures, but its always exciting to pick up more, especially for 30% off $1.99.

Then, for me, I picked up The New Science of Strong Materials(or Why You Don’t Fall through the Floor) by J.E. Gordon. Also only $1.99, its from the Princeton Science Library and I can’t wait to read it!  I loved science as a child, and then had too many horrible public school teachers take all the excitement out of it (most of them seemed like people who wanted to do great things in their lives, but didn’t hack it in the science field, so decided to teach instead – and were very bitter about it).  So as an adult, I’m constantly seeking material to read that will help me learn the things I rebelled against as a teenager out of hatred, but in a way that I can enjoy the experience.  Therefore, a science publication in mint condition for $1.99 is Thrift Store Gold to me.

For more on the exciting world of thrifting, follow Her Library Adventures, she too has a mid-week thrifting notice this week: http://herlibraryadventures.blogspot.com/2012/05/midweek-thrifting.html

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