Archive for Science

The Disappearing Spoon – I Want This Book!

As you probably recall, I am a light science dabbler, someone who wishes she knew a lot more and had had the chance to study her favourite scientific subjects. My main love is astronomy and astrophysics, but I’m fascinated by things at the other end of the spectrum too, in the atomic realm.

As a result, I am postively avid to get this book: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, by Sam Kean, writer for Science magazine.

Kean himself describes the contents of the book by referring to the “money, petty politics, quackery, sex, war, and, yes, science” connected to the Periodic Table. Who knew? Doesn’t that intrigue you?

But what drew my attention to the existence of the book is the fact that for a few weeks this summer, Mr. Kean is Blogging the Period Table for Slate. He’s already written about mercury (his own “gateway element” for getting into the Table), hydrogen, antimony, selenium (was it was Custer was defeated at Little Big Horn??), and several others. He’ll be doing eighteen in all. And he assures us that these aren’t just a rehash or reprint of what’s in the book. So this is bonus material!

In the meantime, you can have a look at the Table of Contents and read an excerpt from the actual book at the Sam Kean website. I’m going to be catching up on the blog posts already done, and following those still to come. And I really, really want to get the book!

Retire in Peace, Atlantis

One hundred and twenty million miles travelled. Thirty-two flights. Twenty-five years.

Retire now in peace and honour, Space Shuttle Atlantis.


Two Books for Earth Day

Happy Earth Day! I hope the earth is having a very good day today as we celebrate. If you click on that link, you’ll see lots of people making pledges to do green acts or change their habits, and see larger campaigns you can get involved in if you want. Every day should be Earth Day, don’t you think?

But in honour of today, I wanted to mention two books, one of which I’ve known about for a while, and another I only heard of this morning.

The first one is The Geography of Hope, a Tour of the World We Need, by Chris Turner, a Calgary writer and researcher. I wrote at some length about him and the book two years ago, at my Confessions of a Cultural Idiot blog (Chris Turner: Wielding the axe of hope), when he visited Toronto to present the book and talk about his discoveries.

In essence, the book describes what he found when he travelled the world, looking for what people have already done to change to new, greener technologies. It’s easy to get discouraged about global warming and whether it might be too late to do anything to get off the fossil fuel treadmill we’re now on. If you’re in that state, read this book or find somewhere where Chris Turner is speaking, and go hear him. You will come out of that event uplifted and inspired.

One of the greatest, most hopeful examples Turner describes is the Danish island of Samso, which has not only become carbon neutral but is trying to become carbon negative, producing more energy than they consume. But that’s just one of the many examples Turner found. Something can be done to change to green energy. Something is being done.

To that end – and in case you think switching to green technology is a hope entertained only by tree-hugging lefties with no real sense of business – there is the second book, whose author I heard interviewed only this morning. Tom Rand, currently the Cleantech Practice, Lead Advisor at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, is a venture capitalist who founded a private venture fund called VCi Green Funds in 2005. This is part of the description of the fund, taken from the website:

The fund provides seed and venture capital to companies developing technologies that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy use, particularly CO2. Efficiencies and alternate sources are each considered target areas of application.

So Mr. Rand has knowledge not just of how to make the green switch, but how to fund and profit from it. And he’s sharing that knowledge with the wider public now, in his book, Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World. (See also the actual website for the book: Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit, and Mr. Rand’s YouTube Channel.) Just reading the Table of Contents gives me shivers of happiness:

  1. Solar
  2. Wind
  3. Geothermal
  4. Biofuels
  5. Hydropower
  6. Ocean (Tidal and Wave)
  7. Smart Buildings
  8. Conservation
  9. Transportation
  10. The Energy Internet

I think, if you read no other books in celebration of Earth Day, these two should be the ones you read. Turner’s Geography of Hope for examples of how well the green energy switch has worked for countless people already (and, incidentally, without violence or financial ruin), and Rand’s Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit, for firsthand information about how this switch can be done on a large scale, in a way that not only won’t ruin the economy but could energize it and create profits for capitalists with vision.

Happy Earth Day! And with the last word, here’s Google:


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