Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler

Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed EverythingApollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful book I got from the publisher through LibraryThing. Accessible to a younger audience, it still has plenty to offer adult readers. I was born in 1961 and like many young (and older) Americans in the 1960s, was enthralled by the “Space Race”, and especially the Apollo Program and the moon landings. Despite that fascination, I knew little – and I suspect most others also know little – about Apollo 8; it just isn’t as sexy as Armstrong and Aldrin’s Apollo 11 triumph.

But it really is. Continue reading

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Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of BeesBuzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was given an advanced review e-copy of uncorrected page proofs from the publisher through NetGalley. I’d love to see the final book because all of the images were in gray-scale. That and I’d like to share it. Lately I have too many books to read – assigned and by choice – but I read this over the entire weekend.

If asked to reduce this love affair to one word, I would choose habitat. Mr. Hanson repeats that theme/concept/perspective multiple many times throughout his book, but gently, as part of the story, and not in-your-face. It needs to be in our faces, though, because we are destroying the habitats of so many species that are vital. “Ideal habitat”, “perfect habitat”, “limited habitat”, “diversity of habitats”, “nesting habitats”… “habit […] eroding”…

Hanson is quick to inform that while honeybees are the widest known, and are in the news the most for their decline, they are only some species of the more than 20,000 identified species in the world. Not generally known, even by agriculturists who stand to benefit from the knowledge, is the relationships of the particular bees species that best serve fertilization of particular crops, and the habitats necessary to sustain a symbiotic bonds. Worse, with our increased production, we run risks (I’ll risk a quote myself, noting this isn’t the final copy of the book):

When farmers and orchards devote hundreds or thousands of acres to a single crop, it creates a brief and intense flowering period that often overwhelms local bee populations, particularly in highly cultivated landscapes with limited nesting habitat.

So, a stopgap solution is a cottage industry of pollination services…mobile hives for rent. The problems with this should be obvious: transportation can be harmful to the health of bees; not all bees are adapted to general pollination – many need specific habitats and food sources. Now, the purveyors do tend to ship around the kinds of bees that can pollinate different crops, but that is still not a sustainable solution (hint: native bee populations is a solution.)

Among the abundance of information here, I found this nugget interesting (okay, I found lots of nuggets): when researching the history of bee/human relationship, Hanson describes research into how it might tie to human evolution – how Australopithecus, with a massive jaw and molars could lead to Homo, with smaller jaws and teeth and a greater brain capacity. Common theories point to tools development and hunting richer foods, but some anthropologist are linking honey – incredibly energy-rich – to that brain explosion. New analysis techniques “can pinpoint lingering chemical fingerprints from even the tiniest stains and residues.” Anthropologists used to wash tooth specimens for display but now know that fossil plaque contains “a surprising amount of information about ancient diets, and it can even hint at social behavior.” Science helps science!

The story of bees cannot avoid the hard truth of Colony Collapse Disorder, sudden and too often evidence-less, though seemingly decreasing in frequency, crisis in mass die-offs of hives. Finding reasons for the bee population declines lead to what are called the “four Ps”: parasites, poor nutrition, pesticides, and pathogens. Of those four threats, poor nutrition is probably the least obvious, but as one researcher says: “People look across a park or a golf course and think it;s green and lush, but to a bee it’s like a desert or petrified forest – there’s nothing to survive on.” Telling. To those four, though, must also be added N for nesting habitat (there’s that word again), I for invasive species, and CC…the danger with so many complications: climate change. An oversimplified example is plants flowering earlier before bees emerge from nests, too late for the preferred food.

I knew some of bees, enough to want to read more though clearly not enough having read this. Hanson does a beautiful job explaining in accessible terms the histories of bees, some on different species, the biology/anatomy, the interaction, and the decline and loss. This is a story, and it is Hanson’s, but it is also all of ours. It is wonderfully told, not academic though bursting with obviously deeply researched information.

A note on the notes: I am not a fan of end notes not referenced directly in the text. I know that is increasingly done so as to not interrupt the reading flow or make the book seem academic, but I find it irritating to find them at the end and then have to flip back and find the reference on a page. And if I happen to check before starting, it is even more annoying to know there are cites, but flipping back and forth “just in case” disrupts more than a simple superscript. But that’s me. Some books don’t even provide citations, so there’s a win. And I’m not dinging the format…this is excellent.

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Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin EverythingSoonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly Weinersmith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love, but admit I don’t regularly follow Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. They think! My son got this book and shared with me when he finished. On top of being quite brilliant, they also had me literally (and I do mean that in its correct definition!) laughing out loud several times.

The authors looked at more-probable-than-not technologies that could might possibly someday come to fruition: cheap access to space, fusion power, augmented reality, synthetic biology…and more. “Looked at” is a gross understatement. They researched, examined, sifted, distilled, and summarized brilliantly the histories, how the world would be changed, current states, possibilities, concerns about the technologies and some things to take special notice for each.

And they do it with humor! Not too worry, though, just a few snarks and jokes inserted here and there. Like the difference between a geneticist and a genomicist: “This may sound like the genomicist is just smarter, but it’s kind of like the difference between a psychologist and a sociologist.” The footnote shreds!: “The former is wrong about individuals, the latter is wrong about groups.”

And the analogies! On why electroencephalograms are so limited (poor spatial resolution, among other reasons): “Imagine you have a giant sphere filled with a million cats. You have sound detectors all around the rim of the sphere, There is no outside interference because your friends have stopped speaking to you.”

The eleven pages of bibliography (in maybe 4 or 5 point font) are enough to keep me reading for the next 111 years. Brilliant. Well done. Highly recommended.

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Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans – a MUST READ

Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well MattersDo I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters by Harold Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I needed this book. Everybody needs this book – even if English is not your language of choice. In an age when degenerated vernacular makes its way into electronic mail, and worse… papers, reports, news stories…when the idiotic term “fake news” is slung with chopped sentence fragments of Twit-verse…the need to write well has never been more … needed.

This was listed as a reference in a class on writing I had last month and as I had it on my “someday” list, I bumped it up to “now”. Evans has an impressive pedigree and writes with authority and knowledge. He also writes for a reader, no stretch given his editorial positions. In three parts, he breaks down the mechanics of writing well, focuses the reader on making words count and focusing on meanings, and explores the consequences of bad writing. And on the mechanics, I had difficulty not succumbing to monologophobia when writing that last sentence. Coined apparently by Theodore Bernstein, a monologophobe is “a guy who would rather walk naked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue than be caught using the same word twice in three lines.” (“God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was solar illumination.”) Evans might have convinced me that there is nothing wrong with repeating the correct word.

Full of tools, great stories, even better examples of actual editing for content and communication, I’ll be returning to this (particularly as I has to write a research paper for a course administrator who seemingly thinks just like Evans…)

Evans gets a sixth, invisible star for skewering the tragedy of what writing and communication has become since the … come on, you can do it… tragedy… of 2016.

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