vamysteryfan: (books)
In Search of the Perfect Loaf by Samuel Fromartz. Breadmaking requires all the senses: the way the dough feels in your hands while kneading, the way it looks when it's ready, the way bread smells when it's done, even the hollow sound a well-baked loaf makes. The book could have used scratch and sniff paper for the smell of bread. It does have some recipes but that's not the point, as even the author acknowledges. The point of baking is hands-on practice. Along the way, he discusses biodiversity, cultural differences, journeys around several countries, and more. I even liked the technical details about fermentation and yeast. He did explode one of my cherished myths about the air in San Francisco being special to sourdough bread. Even if you aren't a baker (I'm not), I think you'll find this an enjoyable read.

The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York edited by Cyrus Patell and Bryan Waterman. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's well-researched and the essay selection is well done. It's arranged chronologically through various genres, moving from the authors of the early days to the Age of Innocence to the bohemians to the modern days of poetry slams and musicians. Immigrant and ethnic literature are not ignored. Overall, a very solid review of New York-centric books.

The Universe edited by John Brockman. The back cover blurb is a little misleading. The essays are not tied to the discoveries of March 2014, but that doesn't diminish the collection of essays at all. They cover various scientists' views of cosmology over the last 15 years. But this is an elite group indeed. Leonard Susskind talks about meeting Murray Gell-Mann; there's an essay by Benoit Mandelbrot (fractals); Andrei Linde explains string theory. Some theorists believe they need to go back to philosophy. My favorite essay covered the concept that the universe computes. Not for everyone, but if you are interested in the topic, then you will enjoy the collection.
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Strangers by Bill Pronzini. I haven’t read Bill Pronzini in several years. I thought as long as I was revisiting Sharon McCone, I’d take another look at Nameless. Strangers is Bill Pronzini’s latest and it’s good. Nameless now has a first name – Bill – but he’s still the weary veteran. He’s better-connected to people he loves and thinking about retirement. He accepts a case from an old flame to investigate crimes her son is accused of committing. Pronzini gets the suspicious small town attitude just right. All the details he puts in bolster the atmosphere he creates. The mystery is good – I didn’t guess the perpetrator. Good characters and tight writing add up to a good book. Pronzini develops his characters in believable ways. Nameless is familiar but not stale. Guess I’ll be catching up with the ones I skipped.

The Good, the Bad, and the Emus by Donna Andrews. Who would have thought Meg would be here for 17 books? This is a nice next chapter in Meg Langslow’s life. The twins are growing, Michael’s still teaching and (thanks to yet another injury to her hand), Meg’s investigating another suspicious death. I would wish for more time spent with Michael and less time with some of the subsidiary characters. And I want Meg to have some time blacksmithing, darn it, because I loved those parts. (But it is authentic that with twins she doesn’t have time.) There’s one main plot point that you’ll guess pretty easily but the book is an enjoyable read. The animals are funny as always.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an ARC of this book. I was half-afraid she had abandoned the series. This is an excellent continuation. Ms. Barron captures Jane Austen’s voice perfectly. References to events in Jane’s life and concurrent events, such as Napoleon and the War of 1812, are sprinkled throughout. The mystery is excellent – a nice variation on limited suspects and a missing document. I liked the descriptions of the Twelfth Night party and also the difficulties of traveling at the time. Very well written.

Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories by Craig Johnson. I was given an ARC of this book. It’s terrific. It’s a collection of his Christmas stories over the years, plus a bonus story. Each story is a lovely little gem. The collection showcases the development of his characters from year to year.

This week’s nonfiction book is Antarctica by Gabrielle Walker. I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It’s the culmination of several years in which she visited numerous bases at varying times of the year. I knew a fair amount about the South Pole, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, but this book filled in the gaps. I liked how she wrote about all the different bases and different nationalities working on Antarctica. The science projects were fascinating. The challenges faced by the scientists are tough and it’s impressive that they meet them. The details of the working conditions can only be described by someone who’s lived them. I can’t imagine spending seven months on end with only ten people for company. One disappointment: the text cried out for photographs, especially when she wrote that she took her camera everywhere. I was lucky enough to have [profile] antarctic_sue's LJ for reference.

vamysteryfan: (books)
 Biographers face the tough task of getting close to their subjects and then writing about them objectively. These three books took very different approaches with varying degrees of success.

Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, this book is a must for anyone interested in the space program. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. She was an complex, talented woman who encouraged young girls to enter science careers and dream about space. She challenged NASA on its attitudes towards safety for astronauts after the shuttle disasters and participated in several presidential commissions on the future of space exploration. There's a detailed look at her shuttle flights and also at her outreach programs  after she left NASA.

On another level, it's a balanced look at someone who had to hide a significant part of her life for almost all of it. The times demanded it, her profession demanded it, and her background and upbringing seemed to make it easier to comply. She was fortunate in her friends who kept her secrets but it does make me wonder what would have happened if she had revealed it sooner. The final chapters will make you tear up as she battles pancreatic cancer.

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight by Jay Barbree. This is not a biography. About 40% of the book focuses on the moon landing. Add in Gemini 8 and two spaceflights take up almost 60% of the book. Once the moon landing is over, the rest of Neil Armstrong's life - more than half his lifespan - is dismissed in a bare 50 pages. That said, I am a complete space nerd. I loved the thorough coverage of the moon landing! Many of the photos were new to me and they were stunning. The stories of Neil, Buzz, and Michael working together were fascinating. The extensive research made for some excellent details.

There should have been more about Neil's background and early life. What made him the stoic he was? More information about his life after the moon would have been appropriate, too, for this to be a biography. One more thing struck me. There is only one mention of a woman outside the roles of wife and mother. Christa MacAuliffe is mentioned in the shuttle disaster. That's it. This is why Sally Ride is so important to American women and space exploration.

Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. This isn't a biography either. It's a fun, fast read that left me wanting more information. I had high hopes for this book. Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer relegated the astronauts' wives to background status in their books. I had hoped for more meat from a woman given so much access to these wives. The wives had to put up with a lot on the ground while their husbands lived in the NASA protective bubble. The wives were very much products of their times. The stories are sketchy at times, I think because the writer tried to cram too much into one short book. Still, I liked it.

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And other books.

Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion edited by Jeremy Webb. It turns out there's a lot to consider in nothingness, whether you are talking about zero or oblivion. From the placebo effect to absolute vacuum to voodoo curse efficacy - this book covers it all. I found this collection of essays alternately charming and exasperating. Most of the essays are well written and informative and discuss interesting concepts. They tried to be a little too cutesy in the organization of the book. The chapters aren't logically arranged. Instead they have chapter headings like Surprises and Mysteries. Instead of grouping like essays together, they tried to make a "create your own story" arrangement. At the end of some (not all) essays, they offered suggestions to skip around in the book to follow particular topics. I didn't care for the approach.

Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins. A really good suspense novel. The story is set in the near future and covers the murders of Supreme Court Justices. The protagonist is a former Secret Service agent good at reading body language. There are clever plot twists. The guy I pegged as doomed to die a heroic death turned out to be a bad guy. I liked the little chapter quotes from justices and others buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It's almost compulsively readable.

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman I thought this was an absorbing read. Normally I don't like books with shifting points of view but she carries it out very well. The protagonist is investigating a decades-old disappearance and a murder. The book changes viewpoints and eras among the protagonist and the five women left behind in the disappearance. Each character is sharply drawn and believable. I don't want to spoil it for any readers, so I'll just say her resolution is fair and she leaves enough clues. Tess and Crow make a couple of appearances, but mostly in the epilogue. It's definitely worth reading.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon A sequel of sorts to Steal Like An Artist, this book focuses on developing a reputation and sharing your work on the Internet and social media. Artists' communities are a time-honored tradition and we can create those communities virtually. He talks about the necessity of sharing and the importance of not oversharing. One piece of advice I've seen many times is to do something every single day. He encourages sharing work in progress. The book's design looks elementary but it contains useful information and encouragement.
vamysteryfan: (books)
A couple of really exceptional books in this post and one that made me tear up.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. An exceptional book, highly recommended to anyone who cares about the impact humanity has on the planet. Books like this one are important because they pull together scientific research from many sources, put it in context, and use plain clear English to explain complex concepts. The author does a stellar job with all these tasks. Another excellent part is that she offers competing viewpoints and covers several sides of the questions. Species are becoming extinct before our eyes. Luckily some people are paying attention.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. You should really run right out and buy this book. Her stories about her dogs are hilarious, as are some of her descriptions of her childhood. I also need to thank Allie Brosh for writing this book. It is funny and poignant and and so much on target. Her stories and drawings are amazing, as is her honesty. I never thought anyone else could capture my feelings so well.

Harvest: Field Notes from a Far-Flung Pursuit of Real Food by Max Watman. I was rather disappointed. The first eight chapters were disjointed and unfocused. He jumped all over the place. The last three chapters partially redeemed the book. He found his theme, but it was almost too late. It’s a short, thin read.

Circles in the Snow by Patrick F. McManus. I enjoyed this book. It gives a nice sense of place, the characters are interesting, and the murder was clever. The explanation for the snow circles was a little out there. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I had read the earlier books in the series. I will definitely look for them, as I think the author is good.

Moving Target by J.A. Jance. I thought this was one of the better entries in the series. We got a look at Leland’s back story. They solved a mystery around the death of Leland’s father. I liked th scenes in England. She blended together two separate plots. There was a very clever plot around a computer program. It was suspenseful and enjoyable. Really 3 1/2 stars. Worth reading.

Second Watch by J.A. Jance.  I'm a big fan of the J.P. Beaumont mysteries. I like how she's had her male character grow and mature as real people would. Here Beau is getting a knee operation. The drugs take him back to one of his first cases and also back to his service in Vietnam. He tries to close some unanswered questions. I teared up at the end of this book when she wrote about the lingering effects of the Vietnam War. I can't help but wonder if we'll see them for Iran and Afghan vets. Very well written.

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1. It's a great example of parents encouraging a child's interest in science. Especially because girls are so often discouraged from expressing an interest in science
2. It's a wonderful story of a father/daughter relationship.
3. It's all about the cutting edge of physics and the scientists involved in it, explained in clear, plain language.
4. Physics as philosophy - the subtitle is "the meaning of nothing and the beginning of everything."
5. Figuring out how we know when we are adults is something we've all thought about.
In other words I really liked it and recommend it highly.

Other books read this week included:

Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life by Jane Pauley. The book is very anecdotal. It's essentially a compilation of interviews from her TV show. I did like the stories and found some of them inspirational. I also liked her stories of her life. A good read if you like this sort of inspirational/aspirational book.

The Fire Baby by Jim Kelly. I quite enjoyed this. The setting was unusual, the fens near Ely Cathedral. The author shifts among different points of view and different time periods but handles it quite deftly. The mystery was clever. I thought the main character was interesting. I'll look for more by this author.

NYPD Puzzle: A Puzzle Lady Mystery by Parnell Hall. I have very mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, the puzzles and mystery were clever. On the other hand, the author's idea of witty dialogue is just painful. It's a quick read. I liked the author's early books and decided to give him another try. I am not enamored of this protagonist.

Rosemary and Crime by Gail Oust. A weak two. It is reminiscent of Diane Davidson's Goldy series, which is not a good thing to me. Divorcee opening food-related business in small town, rat exhusband, cute potential cop boyfriend, spunky eccentric BFF - no, no, no. Susan Wittig Albert handles it much better. Points for the doggie, but that's about it. I won't be looking for more in the series.
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I hate that people take their Christmas decoration down so early. What happened to keeping them up until Twelfth Night?

I hope everyone had a nice New Year. Sister 9 and I made a day of it. We went to the U.S. Botanic Gardens to see the model train sets. The theme this year was World Fairs. They had all these models from old World Fairs made out of plant materials. We also took a walk around looking at the orchids and palm trees.

Then we went over to the American Indian Museum for lunch at the Mitsitam Cafe. A few of you have been there. The food is scrumptious. She had maple-cured turkey, I had Brunswick stew, and we split the Indian corn pudding. That pudding was outstanding! I want to try making it. Oh, so good.

We went to a couple of floors of the museum, including a short film about Indian tribes. (Jenn and I saw it a couple of years ago). We also went through some sections of what tribal life used to be like and what it's like now. Very interesting.

Then we went over to the Air and Space Museum. When she saw they had a movie about the Hubble Telescope in 3D in IMAX, we had to see it. It was fantastic. It's probably the closest I'll ever get to being in space, but it felt so real. It was so crisp and sharp. Afterwards we had a nice conversation about how "Gravity" contrasted with the real thing and how the photos are enhanced.

There will be photos soon I hope.

Nerd fun!

Nov. 3rd, 2013 03:16 pm
vamysteryfan: (Default)
You may recall I followed Commander Hadfield and his photos and tweets from the ISS avidly when he was up there. He wrote a book about his astronaut experiences and the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum hosted a book signing party for him. I dithered about going but could not resist.

I got there about 1 1/2 hours before he was scheduled to appear. There were 10 NASA and Hadfield aficionados there ahead of me but I was happily assimilated into their group. One woman brought abut 30 mustaches that she passed out.

the mustache gang )

The NASM actually ran out of books, so many people showed up. He was a real gentleman and insisted on shaking everyone's hands. He was very kind to the kids and even to a slightly pushy older woman who insisted on a little photo:

ahem, pushy lady )

I really was thrilled to meet him. So far the book is quite enjoyable. There's even a local connection. His family lived in Maryland when he was stationed in Patuxent River.
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A few months ago I subscribed to Spot the Station. Essentially, you plug in an email address and a Zip code and NASA sends an automated email when the ISS passes overhead. This weekend was the first time the times and the weather cooperated. Friday night, the ISS put on a nice display sailing overhead. And on Saturday night I got an even better, longer display as the statio sailed past the full rising moon. It made my little nerd heart very happy :)

Good thing I got it in, since it was bucketing down rain this morning.
vamysteryfan: (Default)
I went to an interesting lecture at the Library of Congress. NASA Chief Scientist Waleed Abdalati talked about “Looking Homeward Toward Earth: The Power of Perspective.” He was an engaging speaker, with great slides and video clips.

He started and ended with with the Christmas Eve picture from Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders of Earth over the lunar horizon. He showed how we've gotten increasing capability to analyze events here on Earth. What we do with the information is up to us. Some slides showed how clearcutting is affecting Brazil while others showed ice mass changes in the Arctic. One fascinating clip showed airplane flights around the globe as the day moved on. The more information we analyze, the better the perspective on problems.

The auditorium was standing room only, so people were interested in the topic.
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Courtesy of [personal profile] sallymn, here's the list of winners I am quite fond of the Literature Award to the GAO. The Peace Award is cool too. Actually they are all awesome. Go check it out :)
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NASA Goddard posted a satellite image of Pearl Harbor. Actually it's of the entire island of Oahu. Zoom in for stunning views of Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Honolulu, and more
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From Discover:
"Did you know there was a solar eclipse last week? Probably not, since — due to the geometry of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth — it occurred over Antarctica.

However, it was seen by the Japanese Sun-observing satellite Hinode (pronounced, "HEE-no-day"; meaning "sunrise"). As the satellite moved around the Earth, its viewing angle of the Moon changed, so it saw the eclipse not just once but three times, making for a very odd video of the event."
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of the movements of the Antarctica ice flow.
It's from a joint international study and it's very informative.
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Virginia quake seismic waves march across the US It perfectly illustrates the rolling motion and the way an earthquake takes time. It even set off seismic detctors in LA
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Terrific photos of Endeavour and Discovery, nose to nose in different phases of decommissioning.
The first one is a great example of foreshortening
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Now why didn't we have science experiments like this when I was in high school?

How to turn an orange peel into a mini-flamethrower

With bonus video. It's a very small flamethrower.


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