bunrab: (me)

As I described in the previous post, trying to read 5 fantasy books by June 21. Well, I don't really have to try hard; I read enough that I'll have far more than 5 by then. The part that's a challenge for me is remembering to blog about them, and then writing a post that actually says something more than "I read this."

So today's book is Brazen by Kelley Armstrong. It's the newest entry in a werewolf-and-vampire series, a minor entry in several senses of the word, and a disappointing one. Its purpose is apparently to convince us that there's more to a particular minor character than there appears to be, and I didn't find it convincing.

First off, it's barely novelette length - there's not much story here, not even for the short length of the book. What brings the price of the book up to that of others in the series is supposed to be the illustrations - a whopping three of them, on glossy page inserts, none of them necessary and none of them at all useful in furthering the story nor in clarifying anything from the text. So, if you were to pay the list price of the hardcover (I got it from the library; I don't buy hardcovers any more), you'd be paying for a longish short story in which nothing gets resolved, with three glossy black-white-and-red illustrations with no action in them.

Spoiler alert )

If you're following Armstrong's series, there's no real need to read this, I don't guess, and if it doesn't make it to your library, you can nonetheless read the next one without having lost any major threads in the series arc.
Other recent reading )

Now tackling a much more substantial volume: Daniel Abrahams. It's apparently the third in a series - new on the library shelves; I often start series in the middle and then decide whether it's worth going back and reading from the beginning. I liked Abrahams' Long Price Quartet, mostly, so this has promise. Stay tuned.

Book time

Apr. 2nd, 2009 03:22 pm
bunrab: (Default)
How to Live on Mars by Robert Zubrin - this isn't nonfiction, and it isn't a novel - it's a fictional piece written in the form of a nonfictional guide. Got that? Imagine one of Heinlein's libertarians carried away that one teeny step further into totally amoral greedhead, and then have that person volunteer to show you around Mars. Quite a bit of real science in it. Any fan of science fiction OR of popular science should like it. Single favorite bit: the "photo" on page 194 of "the founding of the Free Martian Republic." You'll recognize some of the faces right off, and be able to figure out others with just a bit of research.

Now to head for the library again!
bunrab: (Default)
Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick - second in his series about PI John Justin Mallory; I liked it better than the first (Stalking the Unicorn) - it made more sense as a mystery, if one can say that about farcical fantasy. Anyway, John Justin, aided by ex-military Winifred Carruthers and 90-pound cat-girl Felina, have to determine why Winifred's nephew seems to be turning into a vampire. This winds up involving several funeral homes with odd names not to mention the Vampire State Building. This is definitely the other Manhattan.

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb. Who could resist a title like that? Not I, certainly. I hadn't enjoyed what little I'd read of Webb's "Desert" series, but this is a new series, taking place in a small zoo in California. It's still not a great book, or a great murder mystery, but it's OK, and the details about the animals and their care are interesting enough and funny enough to make up for the stereotypical nasty rich people who populate the surrounding town. Among other things, we get a giraffe giving birth, as well as the banana-obsessed anteater giving birth. Spoiler: neither the anteater nor the butler did it.

The Handicap Principle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi. Probably the most boring pop-science book I've read in a while, partly because very little has been done to turn it from academese to pop. Excessively long to convey a fairly simple idea, the authors insist on dragging EVERY possible feature of an animal into play as a handicap for mating competitions, including, for pete's sake, why men have beards and women don't. The authors claim, you see, that it's because men fight a lot, and having a beard makes it easier for other men to grab them, so by displaying one, a man is claiming that he can win any fistfight, even with the handicap, thereby making him a more attractive mate. Women don't have beards because they don't get into fistfights. Honest, the authors say this!! Also, besides dragging their premise to absurd lengths, the book has crappy illustrations that do nothing for it. Would be much improved by editing out the more outrageous half of their claims, and filling the space with photos of the animals and some side-by-side comparison illustrations. Also including more rodents, perhaps overlooked here because so many of them aren't flashy and aren't terribly dimorphic in size and therefore would be difficult to stretch into the authors' thesis.

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. Known for her work with livestock animals, Grandin here adds pet animals to the mix, discussing how improving our pets' lives by considering their evolutionary environment can also improve our own lives. Some of it is redundant stuff from her other books. The chapter on cats is interesting - a good explanation of why, although cats and dogs are both "domesticated" animals, a cat is a lot less domesticated than a dog.

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson, edited by Hank Davis - a collection of some of the Van Rijn and Falkayn stories, nothing one hasn't read before, but with introductions to each explaining a little more of the big picture of Anderson's future history. Also, at the end, a very good timeline showing how the Polesotechnic League develops and dissolves and the eventual development of the Empire period of Ensign Flandry.

The Fourth Time is Murder by Steven Havill - grabbed at random off library shelves, looking for more to read, this turns out to be a recent volume in a long-established series. It takes place in the Southwest - New Mexico, near the Mexican border - but is NOT, thank goodness, another attempt to be a Hillerman clone. (I get tired of those - all the Hillerman wannabes who toss in a Navajo and a mention of Navajo religion, and then expect that we'll all enjoy their books just because of that, regardless of how superficial or unrealistic it otherwise is.) Main protagonist is a woman under-sheriff. Plot is based around a financial scam we only slowly find out about; side plots include illegal immigrants, perhaps unavoidable given the location.

The Golden Age of Novelty Songs by Steve Otfinoski. Although it hits most of the high points, I can't entirely agree with a book that devotes almost an entire chapter to Alvin and the Chipmunks and only a couple of sentences to "Camp Grenada." And in the chapter about Christmas novelty songs, he doesn't even MENTION "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" - hmph! Includes photos, and does include things you might not instantly think of in the novelty song genre - Cheech and Chong, and William Fries (better known as C.W. McColl), along with the ones you would instantly think of - Napoleon XIV, Homer & Jethro, The Chad Mitchell Trio (my favorites! for their song "Lizzie Borden.")

There, now I'm only a couple weeks behind on the news.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Book list:
The 133 books that for one reason or another I saw fit to mention in my blog this year )
Not all of those were books I liked. The ones with asterisks are the ones that I guess I'd characterize as my "favorites" for the year. Hmmm, two science fiction, one historical fantasy, one fiction classic, and two nonfiction - not bad! One thing I was pleased at was meeting the goal I had set for myself back at the beginning of the year, of reading a bit more nonfiction, and rather fewer murder mysteries; there are only 30 books on the list that are mysteries, and considerably more nonfiction than last year! 48 of them are nonfiction - an average of nearly one a week! I feel so intellectual.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Marvel 1602. Neil Gaiman as lead author. Very amusing alternate history. I am not the comix fan some people are, so there are probably a few references I missed (and am too lazy to google), such as who is Virginia Dare supposed to be, and why does she look like an elf? And [livejournal.com profile] bikergeek, there's a quick passing reference to the very problem of the "fen vs. mundane" mindset you were mentioning. In some ways, that's part of the theme of the whole book - in the end, it's the characters who are human, rather than superheroes, who fix the problem - Nick Fury and Captain America. Maybe not "average" human, but not superpowers, either. So being a superhero doesn't mean one is any "better" than a plain ol' human.

Other quick reads:
The Guild of Xenolinguists by Sheila Finch - loosely related short stories, all of which seem a poor imitation of Suzette Haden Elgin's linguists. The stories run to excessive reliance on emotion, and rather obvious moral messages.
Snake Oil Science by R. Barker Bausell - although subtitled "The truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine" what this book is is an extended tutorial on how to conduct a properly double-blinded clinical trial; there's very, very little about the CAM "therapies" other than pointing out how poorly they've been tested.
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs - in which he proves that NO ONE, not the most dedicated fundamentalist, is actually following the literal word of the bible, and furthermore, no one *can* - partly because the language in it is so ambiguous; partly because many people are self-deluding as to how subjective their readings are. Very funny book.
Leisureville: Adventures in America's Retirement Utopias by Andrew Blechman - certainly reinforces my determination to never live in an "over-55" community; Blechman talks to many people who are happy in those communities, but the constant emphasis on golf and on sameness is depressing, and, he points out, this kind of age-segregated community violates a social contract, wherein older people recognize that their remaining future depends in part on providing education for the young.
bunrab: (alien reading)
A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark. Possibly the most annoying book I'll read this year - but I knew it would be going in; I just wanted to see whether the reviews I had read had conveyed an accurate impression. Sure enough, they have. Clark is a conservative English economist who thinks that it's your own fault you're poor if you didn't have the good sense to choose to be born White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And that the English class system is actually the ideal system for breeding the sorts of person who would be perfectly suited for taking over industrial capitalism. We have graphs that don't show what he claims in the text they show, mistakes of correlation for causation, switching of cause and effect, and a great many blanket statements with no supporting evidence whatsoever.
Countries such as Malawia or Tanzania would be better off in material terms had they never had contact with the industrialized world and instead continued in their preindustrial state.
Oh? While the rest of the world advances?
...there is ample evidence that wealth, and wealth alone, is the crucial determinant of lifestyles, both within and between societies.
And later on he goes to state equally blanketly that wealth, and the amount of stuff you can purchase as a consumer, are the main, if not only, determinants of how happy you are. Oh, and here's another one, wherein he manages to get things exactly backward:
...Europeans were lucky to be a filthy people who squatted happily above their own feces, stored in basement cesspits, in cities such as London. Poor hygiene, sombined with high urbanization rates with their attendant health issues, meant income had to be high to maintain the population in eighteenth-century England and the Netherlands. The Japanese, with a more highly developed sense of cleanliness, could maintain the level of population at miserable levels of material comforts, and they were accordingly condemned to subsist on a much more limited income.
He makes fun of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and pretends that comparing wages and prices in Malawi in 2001 is not completely apples-to-oranges with English wages in 1800, as though subsistence farming were exactly the same in both, and the types of craftspeople needed, and products needed, were the same in both, and as though initial climate conditions, health conditions, geography, degree of urbanization, etc., were the same in both, so that he can prove that the English are superior in all ways. He feels that the only area where England historically was not perhaps perfect was in the area of intellectual property rights. Really. Enough of that. Let's change the subject, he's not worth continuing with.

The History of the Snowman by Bob Eckstein. Very funny, though those who collect snowglobes may be a little offended at his suggestion that they are the ultimate form of kitsch. This would be a perfect secular winter holiday gift for many people. And the illustrations are the best part - the history of the use of snowmen in advertisements, the very first occurance of a snowman in artwork in recorded history, the world's largest snowman. He runs into feminist criticisms of snowmen, and also a giant French snow-woman representing revolutionary Paris. Perhaps my favorite illustration was the print of an anonymously-done fresco in Italy from 1403, the very first depiction of a snowball fight in recorded history. INcluding a lady in full dress being smushed in the face by a snowball.

Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin. A must for biology nerds; perhaps a skip for people who have no idea what a Hox gene is - although portions of the book are about gross anatomy, it's not just molecular biology. I should note that I have been reading this one at supper while [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet has been reading Napoleon's Buttons which is pop science about organic chemistry; we have looked really nerdy. Anyway, Shubin, the guy who more or less discovered Tiktaalik, the fish with wrists, is a good writer, and we hear lots about what it's like to go on paleontological expeditions, as well as how to give a skate an extra set of wings.

The Book of Ballads illustrated by Charles Vess. Introduction by Terri Windling. Various fantasy authors (and Sharyn McCrumb, who uses folk songs in her mysteries) pick their favorite Child ballads and construct some sort of back-story, and then Vess illustrates the backstory and parts of the ballad. Neil Gaiman chooses "The False Knight on the Road" and we see the boy at home with his elderly ma before heading off to school. Jane Yolen chooses "King Henry" which is one of my favorites of Steeleye Span's - oh, and in the back of the book, there's a discography of various groups who have recorded these songs, with Steeleye and Fairport Convention being the main suspects, of course. Sharyn McCrumb chose "Thomas the Rhymer." Midori Snyder chose "Barbara Allen" with perhaps the most complicated backstory. Elaine Lee chose "Tam-Lin" and I was least happy with the illustrations of that - not a style I liked at all. Anyway, there's several more, and if you are fantasy fan or folk-song fan or both (yes, I'm looking at you, [livejournal.com profile] angevin2), you will want to take a look at this book.

This is my Funniest edited by Mike Resnick. An anthology of "leading science fiction writers present their funniest stories ever" thereby proving that an author is not necessarily the best judge of what's funny. My favorite was Waldrop's "Night of the Cooters" but although it's funny, I don't think it's his funniest. Gardner Dozois' "The Hanging Curve" didn't even strike me as funny (and there's an intended pun there.) Anyway, there were enough good ones that it wasn't a waste of time, but not enough that you'd necessarily want to pay brand new trade paperback prices - used would be about right.

More later. Mostly, we've been doing house stuff - spent most of yesterday putting together flat-pack furniture in the new house; today and the next couple days, the electricity is off there while the electricians do the upgrades on the circuit box and attendant matters, so maybe we'll actually do some packing over here instead.
bunrab: (alien reading)
I did warn y'all that my attempt to read more nonfiction and a lower percentage of murder mysteries was going to probably mean a lot of pop science. Well, here's some of that:

Fish That Fake Orgasms, and other zoological curiosities by Matt Walker - whole bunch of biology trivia, in little factiod snippets. Not completely accurate, either; he consistently refers to the domestic horse as equus callabus instead of equus caballus, and apparently no proofreader or copy editor caught it.

Father Knows Less, or, Can I Cook My Sister? by Wendell Jamieson. One man's attempt to find answers to all the weird questions his five year old son asks. He also collects odd questions from other people's children, and even some of the ones he asked his father when he was around 5. After collecting all these questions, he then goes to various experts to find answers - the director of the Division of Pain Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, for example, to answer the question, "What would hurt more: getting run over by a car or getting stung by a jellyfish?" and to the official historian of the FBI in Washington DC, to answer , "Why is it called 'kidnapping' if you can steal away adults, too?"

A Guinea Pig's History of Biology by Jim Endersby. Endersby is English, and so this history is slightly Anglocentric, but nonetheless good. Basically, it's the story of how the mating of a USDA colony of guinea pigs with a bunch of wild Russian fruit flies led to modern molecular biology. No, really, it's sort of an era-by-era look at biology by looking at what plants and animals were being studied, when. We start with the quagga, which went extinct in 1883, in a chapter titled "Equus quagga and Lord Morton's mare" and go on through a plant in Darwin's greenhouse, homo sapiens as Francis Galton's research animal, Mendel's work on the pale hawkweed; Hugo de Vries and some flower; then, "Drosophila melanogaster: Bananas, bottles and Bolsheviks" which ties back to Galton. Finally, we get to chapter 7, "Cavia porcellus: mathematical guinea pigs." We get a history of the domestication of the cavy, and of the naming of it, and then of Abraham Lincoln's establishment of the USDA in 1862, and within only a few decades, the USDA had a large colony of guinea pigs at its experimental farm in Maryland - which I happen to know where that was; we drive past the current Dept. of Agriculture site along Rt. 29 regularly, and every time I see its enormous front lawn now, I envision piggies browsing there. Sewall Wright, who had started working on guinea pigs accidentally as a grad student at Harvard, kept in touch with JBS Haldane from about 1915 on. Haldane and his sister had had a huge bunch of guinea pigs as children:
...his sister Naomi (who would later become a celebrated novelist under her married name, Naomi Mitchison) developed an allergy to the horses she had loved and took up keeping guinea pigs instead. She loved the animals and knew many of them by name; she could impersonate their squeaks and grunts so well that they would answer her. When her elder brother came home from Eton for the school holidays and discovered her new pets, he 'suggested that we should try out what was then called Mendelism on them.' She agreed, deciding that 'Mendelism seemed quite within my intellectual grasp,' and so her pet population began to expand. ... One of JBS's friends remembered that in 1908 the lawn of the Haldanes' house was entirely free from the usual upper-class clutter of croquet hoops and tennis nets; instead, behind wire fencing, were 300 guinea pigs.
Anyway, Haldane's work interested Wright, and Wright went to work for the USDA. And therein lies the tale. By the way, did you know that guinea pigs helped win twenty-three Nobel prizes?

The book does continue after that, to the bacteriophage virus, corn, a plant called mouse-ear cress (at least in England), the zebrafish - still in use in a lot of heart research! - and finally OncoMouse (r), the first patented, transgenic animal.

Great but serious reading, not written for humor like the first two or like Where's My Jetpack? from a previous post (that one was actually written almost entirely for the sake of being sarcastic).
bunrab: (alien reading)
Alan Alda - Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself - mostly, bragging about what wonderful college graduation speeches he gives and repeats the gist of them. It's OK, but it's not anything that will inspire you to mindblowing new ideas.

Daniel H Wilson - Where's My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived - a lot of fun. Jetpacks actually were invented, although so impractical that thus far even the extreme sports fans haven't really taken them up. However, as the author says, "Wherever a dangerous new technology exists, there is a guy with cool goggles and streaky blond hair waiting to shatter his fibula."

Blaize Clement - Even Cat-Sitters Get the Blues - third in the series about Dixie Hemingway, pet-sitter. This time, she's more of an iguana-sitter than a cat-sitter. And there's a mad scientist, in a more or less realistic fashion rather than cartoon fashion. She sort of overstates the similarities between iguanas and chickens, though; their last common ancester wasn't THAT recent.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Some interesting websites, courtesy of New Scientist:
How to evolve a watch (answering the creationists): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcAq9bmCeR0
Physics illustrates bizarre human decisions: http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=17528&fID=4269
A synchronized swimming team demonstrates mitosis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFuCE22agyM
The Late Alex G. Parrot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6KvPN_Wt8l
Don't try this at home - magnesium: http://www.science-tube.com/index.php?c=chemie§ion=002
LSD tested on British soldiers: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=517198059628627413
First episode of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos": http://www.guba.com/watch/3000082657
British comedian Ali G interviews a panel of scientists: http://chime.tv/#v/j0fs
Statistics, lots of them: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92
bunrab: (bunearsword)
OK, I got a box in the mail containing a heatproof glass mug with Science Blogs stuff on it. The return address was from Seed Media Group. There was no packing slip nor any other info to indicate why I would have received this mug. So which of you do I thank? It's a cool mug!

[livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet got me a a Bamboo tablet which means there will be lots more odd cartoons coming along. And we're going to go pick out a baby hedgehog tomorrow!

Cindy got me this book, which is one I'd been thinking about buying for a while!

My sister Steph got me the vegetable chopper I hinted at strongly - and she loved her hand-crocheted string grocery bags, too. We had a nice day at their place yesterday. My dad and stepmother were there also; they gave me a cookbook that fits excellently into my special diet, and gave [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet a shirt that's to his taste and some microfiber cleaning cloths, which they pointed out will be especially useful for the motorcycle. This may be the best they've done at actually taking our individual tastes into account in years! My nephew Ian, who is 10, gave S a model of a Corvette that he had built and painted - Ian likes giving handmade stuff - and then promptly sat down with the Get Fuzzy collection we had given him, and was scarcely heard from the rest of the day, except a couple of occasions when he came across a strip which he felt he HAD to read aloud to me and Hanna. Hanna read aloud a lot from one of her presents (not from us), a parody called The Dangerous Book for Dogs. All in all, presents all the way around were a success. Steph made dinner without any added salt. AND, we had a long discussion about religion, which was not a fight or even an argument - it was an interesting discussion that all three generations of the family contributed to, and involved lots of history and trivia. Almost enough to make one think maybe there is a god :D

Happy Feast of Stephen!
bunrab: (alien reading)
OK, I read a short story maybe 2 decades ago, in one of the SF magazines, I don't remember which one. It was a holiday story, lightweight and humorous. The basic plot was, some group plans to feed a turkey dinner to every homeless person - but then they get into all kind of bureaucratic wrangling, first it's gotta be evenly split between light and dark meat so there's no color bias, then there has to be something for the vegetarians - gets way complex and tangled. Does ANYONE else out there remember that story and could help me track it down? I thought maybe, from the style I remember of it, it might be Connie Willis, but I am not finding anything by her that matches that plot. Surely I wasn't imagining the whole thing - I don't have that good an imagination.

Recent reading:
Blood is the New Black - vampire chick lit, light and fluffy, better than I expected. Read my review here at Amazon.com. (As ever, clicking the little Yes button under my review would be much appreciated.
Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge by Don Lattin. Basically true crime with cult religion thrown in.
Justice Denied - J.A. Jance's latest in her JP Beaumont series, murder mysteries set in the Seattle area. Not bad, but they're getting a bit predictable and a bit stretched out at the same time. JP is an interesting character, his current love interest is also interesting, but the victims and the criminals in this particular volume aren't so interesting.
Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007 - [livejournal.com profile] urbpan, you have GOT to read this one if you haven't already. Articles from the usual magazines such as Natural History and The New Yorker, but also from some unexpected sources, such as Men's Health. Autopsies to birds, weasels to lemurs, and lots in between.
Howard Who? - collection of short stories by Howard Waldrop. Of course it includes "Ugly Chickens" but also some newer stuff. I don't need to say much more than that for the SF fans.
Best American Mystery Stories edited by Scott Turow. Some good ones in here, although I don't think I'll ever really like Joyce Carol Oates as a mystery writer.

I love lemurs.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Whew, a longish list.
What NOT to Build, a book on residential architecture and home improvement. Some amusing bits, but often quite repetitive. All right, we get it already, Monticello good, McMansion bad. I thought a few of the photos must have been photoshopped because no one would build anything that awful - and then, the next day, taking a new route to my saxophone lesson, drove right past a new row of 5 McMansions that had most of those awful features, such as fake keystones on windows with straight lintels, window transoms over the door that are taller than the door itself, vinyl siding and brick on the same side of the house... There was at least one example in the book that I spotted that was used as a bad example near the beginning, and then in a later chapter, that same exact photo was the good example.
Children of the Machine - latest in Kage Baker's Company series. Deeply flawed but with some terrific moments. It's the "last" book in the series - we hit 2355, where everything stops, and find out why - and I'm not happy with it. Serious flaws, like all of a sudden a physical Dr. Zeus AI - WTF? But the dinner party Victor throws for Aegeus and Labienus is a wonderful scene, and exactly right. The real hero of the whole book is Preserver Lewis, under the hills with the little people - blind and reciting epic poetry, like Homer.
Heart Seizure by Bill Fitzhugh, the author of Pest Control - this guy writes funny, funny stuff. HS is about organ-napping, sort of. And the FBI. And family. And, well, it's a mess, but a wonderful, funny mess. Only complaint: our protagonists' mom, who has heart failure and is waiting for a transplant - Fitzhugh says her heart is only pumping at "45 to 60% of capacity" - well, an EF of 60% is normal, but if we assume he means 45 to 60% of THAT, then it's an EF of 27% to 36% - and at an EF that high, she wouldn't be on the transplant list, really. *My* EF is only 21%, for pete's sake.
Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? - a collection of the last page questions column from New Scientist magazine. So, a mixed bag - some serious, some not, erratic quality, but extremely full of trivia you never knew you wanted to know!
40 Days and 40 Nights by Matthew Chapman, about the Dover, PA evolution/"intelligent design" trial. A little lightweight - it's as much about Chapman's making a documentary of the trial as it is about the trial - but it's a good read nonetheless - a quick way to get an overview and find out a bit more about the people involved, not just what was said in the courtroom.
Dragon Lovers - a rather flawed anthology of four novellas/novelettes, in the fantasy romance genre. Not worth finishing, despite that two of the authors are actually pretty good writers when they stick to the Regency romance subgenre.
An Ice Cold Grave - latest in Charlaine Harris' series about a young woman who can find dead bodies - mostly murder mystery, slight amount of fantasy. It's OK - but not only the plot, but even much of the details, were awfully reminiscent of Kate Wilhelm's The Price of Silence, a non-fantasy mystery. Interesting side note: in the acknowledgments, Harris mentions Margaret Maron, and the place where Harper is working this time is Knott County - which see, next entry.
Hard Row - latest in Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series - always good mysteries, and I like the characters, but there was rather more about vegetable gardening than I care about. As usual, touches on a few serious social issues, this time both spouse abuse and migrant labor camps.
Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels (1949-1984) - written in about 1984. Didn't agree much with the author's choices - too British, too New Wave, and he admits he flat-out doesn't like anything Asimov ever wrote, so he sort of picked a random Asimov since he felt it was obligatory.

There, that's about caught up. Skimmed through any number of magazines, of course, including a big lump of knitting and crochet magazines. And a couple of short story anthologies that were obviously forgettable, since I've forgotten what they were. Although I didn't agree with a lot of the "100 Best" above, the author's side comments and discussion reminded me of a few classics I wouldn't mind re-reading, so watch for upcoming old SF!
bunrab: (bunnies)
edited to quote the article so you don't have to jump to [livejournal.com profile] manjinakon.
article about it )
I'll miss Alex - I thought the work Irene Pepperberg was doing with him was just wonderful, and I have enjoyed reading about him over the years.
bunrab: (alien reading)
It's the end of the month; I might as well try to clear off the big stack o' magazines that's piled on my desk. Some of it will just be recipes to tear out, but there's a few things of general interest, I think.

Let's see. The Economist, 18th August, has a review of a book called A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World which sounds interesting - the E's headline for the review is "The merits of genteel poverty." Basic thesis seems to be that in pre-industrial-revolution England, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, and that spread middle-class attributes such as patience, hard work, and education to the middle and lower classes; in other societies at the time, the rich had fewer children. Thus Britain was positioned to take advantage of the capitalist/industrial revolution. If our library gets that one, I definitely want to look more closely at it.

The July/August issue of Washington Monthly has a review of a book entitled Are We Rome?: The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America by Cullen Murphy. This one sounds like fun, too - "post-9/11 geopolitics served up with a heavy dose of ancient arcana." A quote: "America is increasingly turning to its own outside sources - not the Visigothi and the Ostrogothae, but the Halliburtoni and the Wackenhuti."

OK, here's one that got me worked up: an article in New Scientist, 11 August, about a system that the US gov't is developing to try and stop terrorists by picking up "involuntary signs of hostility" on security cameras and have them analyzed by computer. I can barely begin to say how stupid an idea this is. Identifying microexpressions, gait, and perspiration rates that are characteristic of hositlity or the desire to deceive. Let's see. That would catch every guy who hasn't told his wife how much those golf clubs he's swinging into the scanner cost, and every wife who hasn't told her husband how much the shoes cost, and every college student who's lied to his/her parents about where they're going on spring break, and every spouse headed off for an adulterous liaison, and everyone who hates flying and airlines in general but has to do it, and all the people angry because someone else paid less for a ticket than they did, and... and then, looking for people who are "trying to hide their emotions" you'd get everyone who's had Botox or other cosmetic surgery on their face, everyone with heavy makeup or hair hanging down in their eyes, anyone with a medication or an illness that has flattening of the affect as a side effect... by the time you catch everyone who is either concealing their emotions or expressing hostility or deceit, is ANYONE going to get through airport security besides children under 8 years old and maybe the Dalai Lama?

Another issue of New Scientist, this time 28 July, has an article about pack-hunting squid. Somehow, I feel as though I've mentioned this already. But in case I haven't. Normally solitary, now jumbo Humboldt squid are forming predatory packs in Monterey Bay.

An article in Scientific American, August issue, about "race-based medicine," particularly the heart-failure drug Bidil. And a humor article about the taxonomy of "Artificial Plantae: the Taxonomy, Ecology, and Ethnobotany of the Simulacrae." Yes, taxonomizing plastic plants. Part of the original article, in the journal "Ethnobotany Research and Applications," was written in Pig Latin.

Oh, and a rather peculiar ad from that same issue - an ad from the "New York Mint" which is not a US mint at all, of course, selling gold liberty coins - so far, sounds like the usual not-quite-a-scam, right? But here's the interesting part: the ad claims that "since 1999, the number of coin collectors has sharply risen from 3 million to 130 million..." Oh, really? They're claiming that over 1/3 of every man, woman, and child in the US is a coin collector? And that this sudden hobby fad has arisen in the last few years - somehow unremarked by any other source of news? Uh huh.

Next up, the August issue of Discover - which I determined was August only by looking at the "Save the Date" listing inside it; they don't mention the month or issue number on the cover, the inside cover, the table of contents, or the editorial listing pages, nor at the bottom of odd-numbered pages. Sorta creepy. Anyway. A new species of bee fly, from the genus Phthiria, has been named Phthiria relativitae. Yes, that's pronounce "theory o' relativity."

The rest seems to be recipes and yarn ads.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Mostly aimless re-reading, skimming through some library books on a random topic that struck my fancy but not actually reading them, and more re-reading. However, I am in the middle of:
Happiness: Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard, about the developing neuroscience of studying the brain.
Sagramanda by Alan Dean Foster - murder mystery in a near-future science fiction setting in India. Stolen tech secrets thriller, as well - some would say that's supposed to be the main plot.

But mostly, I have a cold, and have all the energy and motivation of a slug, and not even a nice active racing banana slug, either.
bunrab: (Default)
Science News from 20 January: hamsters and other pet rodents are likely spreaders of salmonella. Wash your hands after you snorgle your hamsters. Also from same issue, note to self, gene variant shapes beta-blocker's effectiveness, and the beta-blocker in question is carvedilol, which is one of the drugs I take; unknown exactly when cheap testing for this gene will be available, but the note to myself is that I might be one of the people it's not effective on, which would explain some.

Clipping of ad as note to self: look for in library, Adam Gopnik's The King in the Window as ad makes it sound like an interesting kid's fantasy.

Clipping of ad for a yarn company, of interest only to yarn freaks, except that this one is notable for its tag line, "Yarns for which to dye!" which is just a really silly example of how people have bought into the "don't end a sentence with a preposition" nonsense.

Book review (short) in Science News of 21 October 2006 (yes, it's been a while since I last cleared the stack of magazines off my nightstand; why do you ask?) for a book called Creatures of Accident: The Rise of the Animal Kingdom by Wallace Arthur, sounds interesting.

Current issue of Skeptical Inquirer (Vol. 31, No. 2) is mostly articles on science and religion. Odd little poem by Alan Dean Foster, who should leave the atheist-poetry-writing field to Philip Appleman, who does it much better. What I did make a note of in this issue, however, is a letter to the editor about an article in a previous issue. Here's the letter:in full )
3 February issue of New Scientist also has a letter in it, and again I will give you the entire letter:here ) The issue also has a review of The Last Human by Esteban Sarmiento et al., which also sounds interesting - discusses as much as we know about the daily life of each species of hominid, sort of a family album, of which we humans are the last living member.

Some dog-eared pages from the November 2006 issue of Prevention; I have no idea why. Oh wait, this little bit at the end of a paragraph might be it: if you are taking zinc to stave off/reduce a cold (mixed research on whether it accomplishes anything), don't take flavored ones, since if the zinc does have any effect, it's stunted by citric acid and tartaric acid, common in flavorings.

A rundown of stuff happening during March, in the March issue of Discover, oncludes the lunar eclipse on the 3rd - you all knew about that already - but also mentions that March 31 is Bunsen Burner Day. "Yes, there's a day for that." - their words.

There, that clears off a BIG stack of magazines from my desk. Maybe now I can spread out my music.
bunrab: (Default)
The torn-out pages from magazines are not overwhelming, but the pile is big enough that I might as well feed y'all the scraps, so I can recycle some paper. Let me note that Discover's format changes during 2006 have made it annoyingly difficult to determine what issue one is looking at.

From the December 2006 issue of Discover: the essential all-time reading list, the 25 greatest science books ever written, at least in their opinion:
list )

The last page of that same issue is "20 Things You Didn't Know About Rats" including the facts that rats don't have gallbladders or tonsils. Also, rats do not sweat. They regulate their temperature by constricting or expanding blood vessels in their tails.

For some reason I've saved the 2 September 2006 issue of Science News, open to an article about new treatments for tuberculosis, but I have no idea of why.

9 December 2006 issue of Science News: the tube-lipped nectar bat, a small bat from the Andes, can stick its tongue out one and a half times its body length, the most of any mammal, and exceeded only by the chameleons, who can stick theirs out the most of any vertebrate.

Most of the rest of the pile seems to be articles about heart failure for my other blog, and book reviews for me to jot down titles to look for in the library. So I won't bore you with those.

We went to a Navy Band (not Marine Band) concert tonight; they were, of course, excellent. They had a vocalist, who was also the announcer, who sang a very nice tenor and an excellent bass - quite a range. Featured a clarinet soloist on one piece. The lights on stage went out during the middle of one number, and they had to stop until the lights flickeringly came back on. All in all, if part of the point of the concert was to prove that Balto. County school district needs to allocate some money to renovating Randallstown High, they succeeded in that point admirably: besides the wonky electrical system in the auditorium, there was totally inadequate handicapped access; as we were leaving, one lady's wheel chair fell completely over when she went over the curb (no ramp; luckily, no injuries, either), which was exacerbated by the inadequate lighting in the parking lot and the broad cracks in the pavement of the parking lot. (Does it surprise anyone to hear that Randallstown High is about 90% black, and that the "whiter" schools in the county are in better shape? One would think that in a county with this high a black population that there wouldn't be quite so obvious inequalities, but there you are.)
bunrab: (alien reading)
I've got a stack of magazine articles dog-eared to share, time to clear them off the desk!

First, in New Scientist from 20 October, an article entitled "Alzheimer's alert over anesthetics." (Well, it actually uses the British spelling, anaesthetics.) Last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Atlanta,a medical researcher said that the inhaled anesthetics halothane and isoflurane encourage clumping of beta amyloid protein, as does the common IV anesthetic propofol. This protein clumping is similar to that seen in Alzheimer's cases, and may account for the memory and attention problems many patients have after surgery. ("There are plenty of anecdotal reports about elderly relatives never being quite the same after going in for surgery.")

Why this is important to us: the inhaled anesthetics are not commonly used on people in the US or Europe, more in Asia and Africa, but isoflurane *is* commonly used in the US for pets - in fact, it's about the most common anesthetic in use for small and exotic pets, because it has so few of the side effects of more traditional anesthetics such as nausea and lack of appetite. Anyone who has had their rabbit neutered, or their guinea pig's rear molars treated, the pet probably had isoflurane as the anesthetic. So, since these studies were on animals, we can assume that the brain protein clumping definitely applies to them. The upshot seems to be that exposure to isoflurane (and the others) is more likely to cause the problem if you are exposed repeatedly, and/or if you are elderly. Which means, I think, that if you are deciding whether to put an elderly pet through surgery for something, and considering the benefits vs. the risks, this is another factor to take into account.

I could swear I already mentioned the article in the September 30 issue of Science News, about penguins that nest in cactus. Why is it still on my desk?

Let's see, an article from Woman's Day about heart failure - that belongs on my other blog.

And from Science News, August 12, "Scientists find midnight-snack center in brain." The article is more technical, and is about studies on mice, but isn't that a great headline?

Non-science related: the October issue of In These Times recommends a book called Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media, by Jeff Cohen. Says it's a fun read, not as dry as most media criticism.

That leaves another 3 magazines with no pages tabbed down, still sitting on my desk. Why did I put them here?

The Arts

Nov. 11th, 2006 01:26 am
bunrab: (chinchillas)
Since we have sort of "fake" season tickets - we pick and choose some 8 concerts from among all the series during the year, and get a season ticket price for them - we don't always sit in the same place, and in fact, we deliberately vary where we sit from time to time, to try out different places in the hall. This evening we were smack in the center of the rear Orchestra (floor) level, rather than closer up but off to stage left (floor right) where we "usually" are. It turned out to be a good spot for this particular concert, as it happens, but it did bring out one particular observation that I had previously just attributed to being off on one side. And that is, that the violins, on stage right (floor left) are holding their instruments with their left arms, and so their shiny white shirt fronts show up a lot, while the violas, at stage left, their right arms not only have the black jackets on them but, when lifted, block whatever sliver of white shirt might happen to show. So stage left looks a lot darker than stage right, even though it's undoubtedly as well lighted. It seems to me that the stage techs ought to light up stage left a teensy bit brighter, just so that from the audience it appears better balanced. This isn't so much a problem in orchestras where the cellos sit on the outside, rather than the violas, but in Baltimore, the violas sit on the outside. (No telling whether once Marin is fully in charge, she might change that.)

The concert was great. This one was part of the "Explorer" series which does multimedia/artsy stuff, not just play great music. First was "Night on Bald Mountain" which I feel the guest conductor took a little bit too fast, and so the tonguing on the brass parts wasn't as crisp as it could have been. The second piece was a BSO premier of Christopher Theofanidis' "Rainbow Body." The "guest artist," if you will, was astronomer Mario Livio, from the Hubble Space Telescope Institute. What he did was narrate a series of slides, of photos from the Hubble and other space telescopes, before the piece was played, having the orchestra just play a few notes at times to illustrate a theme, a leitmotif for different kinds of novae, as it were. Then, the orchestra played the piece, with the slides going on again, but no narration. The piece was lively and loud, not at all "hearts of space" minimalist stuff, and although it was somewhat gimmicky, it was a really cool gimmick, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. We gave them a standing ovation, including the composer, who was in the audience with his wife and 10-month-old son. (Livio wore a dark business suit; Theofanidis wore a turtleneck and sports jacket.)

After intermission was Beethoven's "Pastoral" (#6), which was preceded by a very brief lecture by Livio accompanied by more slides, relating the major themes of nature that Beethoven was trying to illustrate in the Pastoral, to the birth/formation of new stars. There were no slides during the music, as Beethoven needs no gimmicks. It was an interesting idea, the birth of new starts and the renewing powers of nature.
bunrab: (chocolate)
According to a post on the [livejournal.com profile] classical_music community, Anna Russell died Wednesday. Everybody please hum something from her 20-minute version of Wagner's Ring Cycle in memoriam.

And from Science News, September 30: Humboldt penguins sometimes nest in cactus. Honest, there's even a photo. Weirdest looking version of a burrowing owl you've ever seen. Penguins. In cactus.


bunrab: (Default)

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