Tech talk – computing, coding & designing

Are you wondering where on earth to start with setting up an email account or would you like to develop a new app? From beginners to experts, the library has books on computing and technology to suit all levels. Also check out our new database Lynda.com which is chock-full of online tutorials in IT, web design, development, animation and software too numerous to name.

Syndetics book coverThe computing universe : a journey through a revolution / Tony Hey, Gyuri Pápay.
“Computers now impact almost every aspect of our lives, from our social interactions to the safety and performance of our cars. How did this happen in such a short time? This book leads us on a journey from the early days of computers in the 1930s to the cutting-edge research of the present day that will shape computing in the coming decades. This exciting and accessible introduction will open up the universe of computing to anyone who has ever wondered where his or her smartphone came from.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow computers work : the evolution of technology / Ron White ; illustrated by Timothy Edward Downs.
“This full-color, fully illustrated guide to the world of technology assumes nothing and explains everything. For two decades, How Computers Work has helped newbies understand new technology, while hackers and IT pros have treasured it for the depth of knowledge it contains. This is the perfect book about computing to capture your imagination, delight your eyes, and expand your mind, no matter what your technical level! Beautifully detailed illustrations and jargon-free explanations walk you through the technology that is shaping our lives. See the hidden workings inside computers, smartphones, tablets, Google Glass, and the latest tech inventions.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book cover“Is this thing on?” : a friendly guide to everything digital for newbies, technophobes, and the kicking & screaming / Abby Stokes ; illustrations by Michael Sloan and Susan Hunt Yale.
“How to choose, buy, and start using the computer or tablet that’s just right for you, plus how to set everything up for maximum comfort and safety. How to connect to the Internet, sign up for email, understand and use search engines, and get started with word processing and text messaging. How to choose, buy, and start using a smartphone. How to take and share digital photographs and videos. How to discover online communities and participate in social media. How to explore the world of apps, online music, streaming movies, and ebooks.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWindows 10 for Seniors for the Beginning Computer User : Get Started With Windows 10
“Perfect for older adults who want to get started using computers, this book walks users through the basics of the Windows 10 operating system in an easy, step-by-step manner. The guide has been tested by seniors and is focused on acquiring practical skills including how to use the mouse, write letters and memos, send and receive email, and explore the internet. It offers additional exercises for practicing a variety of different tasks, a convenient reference section, and an extensive index, and there are instructional videos available online on the book’s support website.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHelp your kids with computer coding : a unique step-by-step visual guide, from binary code to building games / Carol Vorderman, Jon Woodcock, Sean McManus, Craig Steele, Claire Quigley, Daniel McCafferty.
“Introduce your kids to the world of computer programming early, with a fun and approachable method. This book begins by introducing the essential concepts of programming with simple instructions, and without specialized computer lingo. Fun projects throughout let kids start putting their computer skills into practice and build their own code using Scratch programming and Python, the two most popular languages.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCoding for beginners in easy steps / Mike McGrath.
“The book instructs you how to write code to create your own computer programs. It contains separate chapters demonstrating how to store information in data structures, how to control program flow using control structures, and how to create re-usable blocks of code in program functions. There are complete step-by-step example programs that demonstrate each aspect of coding, together with screenshots that illustrate the actual output when each program has been executed. The examples throughout this book feature the popular Python programming language but additionally the final chapter demonstrates a comparison example in the C, C++, and Java programming languages.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverManaging Apple devices / Arek Dreyer, Kevin M. White.
“This all-in-one resource teaches a wide variety of Apple management technologies; explains the theory behind the tools; and provides practical, hand-on exercises to get you up and running with the tools. You will be introduced to Apple management technologies including Mobile Device Management, the Volume Purchase Program, and the Device Enrollment Program. The exercises contained within this guide are designed to let you explore and learn the tools provided by Apple for deploying and managing iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite systems.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverProfessional Android wearables / David Cuartielles Ruiz and Andreas Goransson.
“Professional Android Wearables covers how to use the Android Wear platform and other techniques to build real-world apps for a variety of wearables including smartbands, smartwatches, and smart glasses. In no time, you’ll grasp how wearables can connect us to the Internet in more pervasive ways than with PCs, tablets, or mobile devices; how to build code using Google’s Wear SDK for Android-enabled hardware devices; how Android Wear and other Android development techniques are capable of building several presented example projects; and much more.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverCore Java for the impatient / Cay S. Horstmann.
“Core Java® for the Impatient is a complete but concise guide to Java SE 8. If you’re an experienced programmer, Horstmann’s practical insights and sample code will help you quickly take advantage of lambda expressions (closures), streams, and other Java language and platform improvements. Whether you are just getting started with modern Java or are an experienced developer, this guide will be invaluable for anyone who wants to write tomorrow’s most robust, efficient, and secure Java code.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverBuilding open source hardware : DIY manufacturing for hackers and makers / Alicia Gibb with [fourteen others].
“This is the first hands-on guide to the entire process of designing and manufacturing open source hardware. Drawing on extensive personal experience with DIY, maker, and hardware hacking projects, industry-leading contributors share proven approaches to design, remixing, fabrication, manufacturing, troubleshooting, licensing, documentation, and running an open source hardware business.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

I see trees of green – Recent Science books

Read more about the wonderful world of plant intelligence, whale and dolphin culture, restoring extinct animals through cloning and how seeds have shaped our history.

Syndetics book coverCakes, custard + category theory : easy recipes for understanding complex mathematics, by Eugenia Cheng.
Packed with entertaining examples of mathematical culinary analogies, puzzles and recipes (including chocolate brownies, sandwiches, Yorkshire puddings bagels) the author sets about her mission in life which is to rid the world of maths phobia. Her enthusiasm for the world of maths is infectious and this will appeal both to the maths glutton and those with little appetite. “This is maths at its absolute tastiest.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverHeadstrong : 52 women who changed science – and the world, by Rachel Swaby.
This features women who have achieved as innovators and inventors across the scientific spectrum, in fields ranging from physics to biology, astronomy, and engineering. More than 350 years are covered. Some are already household names e.g. Ada Lovelace and Florence Nightingale, but others rightly deserve a higher profile outside their own scientific communities. Discover some courageous significant scientists whose influence extends to our lives today. Recommended.

Syndetics book coverBrilliant green : the surprising history and science of plant intelligence, by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola ; translated by Joan Benham ; foreword by Michael Pollan.
Can plants solve problems, and communicate? We can all think of exceptions (like the Venus fly-trap) but on the whole we regard them as passive, silent and immovable if it were not for Wellington’s wind. Yet recent discoveries are challenging these ideas, and Mancuso argues that, in fact, they process information, sleep, remember, and signal to one another. He demonstrates a more sophisticated view of plant intelligence through a survey of plant capabilities from sight and touch to communication. “Part botany lesson, part manifesto, Brilliant Green is an engaging and passionate examination of the inner workings of the plant kingdom.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow to clone a mammoth : the science of de-extinction, by Beth Shapiro.
Could extinct species be brought back to life? “Ancient DNA” research says yes. This is not without controversy – from deciding which species should be restored, to considering how these revived populations might exist in the wild. Both scientific and ethical issues are explored. Shapiro’s focus is not so much the restoration of a handful of favoured species, but an overarching goal to revitalize contemporary ecosystems. Is this conservation’s future?

Syndetics book coverMt John, the first 50 years : a celebration of half a century of optical astronomy at the University of Canterbury, by John Hearnshaw, Alan Gilmore.
In 1965, Mt John University Observatory was founded at Lake Tekapo to take advantage of the favourable conditions for astronomy in the Mackenzie Basin. Since the telescopes were installed there has been a wealth of astronomical research before its role was expanded to astro-tourism. This book charts its varied history (including student protests) but is a testament to its widely regarded research work, especially in stellar astronomy.

Syndetics book coverExpanding universe : photographs from the Hubble space telescope, by Charles F. Bolden Jr., Owen Edwards, John Mace Grunsfeld, Zoltan Levay.
Hubble has changed both our understanding of astronomy, but our own place in the universe. This is a collection of wonderful ultra high-resolution deep space images celebrating science and photography – brilliant colours and textures revealed in several large foldouts, accompanied by an interview with Zoltan Levay, who explains how the pictures are composed, while Hubble astronauts Charles F. Bolden, Jr. and John Mace Grunsfeld discuss Hubble’s legacy.

Syndetics book coverA history of life in 100 fossils, by Paul D. Taylor & Aaron O’Dea.
“Iconic specimens have been selected from the renowned collections of the two premier natural history museums in the world, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and the Natural History Museum, London. The fossils have been chosen not only for their importance in the history of life, but also because of the visual story they tell. This stunning book is perfect for all readers because its clear explanations and beautiful photographs illuminate the significance of these amazing pieces…” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe cultural lives of whales and dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell.
Whales and dolphins are some of the most captivating sea animals to us, and this is not simply because they are mammals. Their intelligence, behaviour and social habits invite us to try to understand and interact with them. Human cultures pass on languages and customs and the authors consider could whales and dolphins have developed a culture of their very own? Drawing on their own research and observations as well as other scientific literature they ponder behaviours which Youtube clips have brought to the non-scientific world such as humpback whales bubble feeding, Australian dolphins using sea sponges to protect their beaks while foraging for fish in coral.

Syndetics book coverEinstein : his space and times, by Steven Gimbel.
A common view of Albert Einstein is of an eccentric genius who was single-minded in his pursuit of science. But Steven Gimbel argues that he was a man of his times, always politically engaged and driven by strong moral principles. Einstein was a pacifist whose social and scientific views earned him death threats from Nazi sympathizers in the years preceding World War II. To him, science was a foundation for considering the deeper questions of life and a way for the worldwide Jewish community to gain confidence and pride in itself. This biography offers a fascinating portrait of a remarkable individual whose scientific theories emerged from the reality of his lived experiences and times.

Syndetics book coverThe triumph of seeds : how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips, conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history, by Thor Hanson.
Seeds are quite literally the stuff and staff of life, supporting diets, economies, and civilizations around the globe. The search for nutmeg and the humble peppercorn drove the Age of Discovery, and cottonseed help spark the Industrial Revolution, while a Middle Eastern grass known as wheat has underpinned economies and diets for much of the world for centuries. In nature and in culture, seeds are fundamental–objects of beauty, evolutionary wonder, and simple fascination – as Hanson puts it, “the simple joy of seeing something beautiful, doing what it is meant to do.” This is essential reading for anyone who loves to see a plant grow. (drawn from Syndetics summary).

Recent Science Picks

Here are a few of the new science books that I have come across in the last wee while.

Syndetics book coverThe edge of the sky : all you need to know about the all-there-is / Roberto Trotta.
“Explaining complex ideas in accessible language is the goal of every popular science writer, but Trotta, a theoretical cosmologist at Imperial College London, stretches that effort to creative extremes, telling the story of modern cosmology with only the “ten hundred” (aka 1,000) most common English words. At first glance, the deliberately simple language feels childish, more of a distraction than a valuable, creative approach. Airplanes are “flying cars,” planetary rovers like Curiosity are “space-cars,” a large telescope is a Big-Seer, and planets, with their wandering paths across the heavens, are Crazy Stars. But Trotta’s deft word choices quickly draw the reader into a surprisingly vivid alternate reality where student-persons (scientists) strive to pierce the mysteries of the All-There-Is: the universe.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverTuring : pioneer of the information age / B. Jack Copeland.
“Described by his mother as an “unsociable and dreamy child,” Turing found his calling in mathematics, applying his talents to WWII code-breaking intelligence (efforts “kept secret for almost sixty years”), but the breakthroughs that earned him a place in history were those in software-centric and stored-program computing, developments that gave rise to the fields of artificial intelligence and artificial life. Turing’s work was an exploration of the human mind via computers, though he theorized that there is nevertheless a “mysterious something” in the human mind that goes “beyond computability.” It is an increasingly relevant inquiry, as Turing’s inventions have spread from military-industrial applications into the everyday.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe quantum moment : how Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg taught us to love uncertainty / Robert P. Crease, Alfred Scharff Goldhaber.
“Histories of quantum theory are typically dense with complex, abstract ideas, but philosopher Crease and physicist Goldhaber offer a new twist, adding a fascinating look at the ways the mainstream world has embraced (though not always accurately!) the concepts of quantum mechanics. Pop culture took up the quantum cause with far more gusto than most physicists. When first proposed, quantum theory was deemed “ugly, weird, unpredictable,” and “quite distasteful.” Experimentalist Robert Milliken tried to kill the idea, but his lab results kept confirming it. While physicists struggled to fill in the missing bits of their incomplete theories, quirky quantum ideas became parts of a “sphinxian riddle” that captured the mainstream imagination and inspired everyone from cartoonists and sculptors to such writers as Ian Fleming and John Updike.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe science of Interstellar / Kip Thorne.
“Interstellar, from acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, takes us on a fantastic voyage far beyond our solar system. Yet in The Science of Interstellar, Kip Thorne, the physicist who assisted Nolan on the scientific aspects of Interstellar, shows us that the movie’s jaw-dropping events and stunning, never-before-attempted visuals are grounded in real science. Thorne shares his experiences working as the science adviser on the film and then moves on to the science itself. In chapters on wormholes, black holes, interstellar travel, and much more, Thorne’s scientific insights many of them triggered during the actual scripting and shooting of Interstellar, describe the physical laws that govern our universe and the truly astounding phenomena that those laws make possible.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverI think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that : selected writing / Ben Goldacre.
The very best journalism from one of Britain’s most admired and outspoken science writers, author of the bestselling Bad Science and Bad Pharma. In ‘Bad Science’, Ben Goldacre hilariously exposed the tricks that quacks and journalists use to distort science. In ‘Bad Pharma’, he put the $600 billion global pharmaceutical industry under the microscope. Now the pick of the journalism by one of our wittiiest, most indignant and most fearless commentators on the worlds of medicine and science is collected in one volume. (library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverOcean : the definitive visual guide / project editor, Rob Houston.
“From mangrove swamp to ocean floor, mollusc to manatee, the Japanese tsunami to Hurricane Sandy, unravel the mysteries of the sea. Marvel at the oceans’ power and importance to our planet – as the birthplace of life on Earth, a crucial element of our climate, and as a vital but increasingly fragile resource for mankind. You will discover every aspect, from the geology of the sea floor and the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere, to the extraordinary diversity of marine life. Includes an inspiring introduction by editor-in-chief Fabien Cousteau. Ocean captures both the beauty and scientific complexity of the ocean, making it perfect for families and students alike.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverPlanet of the bugs : evolution and the rise of insects / Scott Richard Shaw.
“Shaw, professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, Laramie, takes an arthropodist stand against “human-centric bias that seeks to place our vertebrate ancestors in some kind of elevated position,” as he frames evolutionary history from the vantage point of insect development. The million distinct catalogued species that Shaw says “rule the planet” only constitute a subset of those that are documented in the fossil record or that have been discovered in the microniches of environments such as the tropical rainforest. Shaw looks at groups of species in terms of the structural features that developed to exploit emerging habitats and examines them in light of their parallel development with plant or animal species for which they might be prey, parasites, or pollinators.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverTen million aliens : a journey though the entire animal kingdom / Simon Barnes.
“Life on Planet Earth is not weirder than we imagine. It’s weirder than we are capable of imagining. We’re all part of the animal kingdom, appearing in what Darwin called “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful”. In this breathtakingly audacious book, Simon Barnes has brought us all together, seeking not what separates us but what unites us. He takes us white-water rafting through the entire animal kingdom in a book that brings in deep layers of arcane knowledge, the works of Darwin and James Joyce, Barnes’s own don’t-try-this-at-home adventures in the wild, David Attenborough and Sherlock Holmes. Ten Million Aliens opens your eyes to the real marvels of the planet we live on.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe amoeba in the room : lives of the microbes / Nicholas P. Money.
“Writing passionately about a subject he clearly loves, Money, professor of botany at Miami Univ. (Ohio), explains the critically important, but largely overlooked, roles microbial organisms play in the world. He points out, for example, the amazing role that marine diatoms play in moderating climate change: “By absorbing 20 billion tons of carbon per year-about one fifth of the global total-they are a greater refrigerant on this warming planet than tropical rainforests.” Money goes on to note that the number of individuals and species of microorganisms is staggering: the average gram of human feces contains 40 billion bacteria, a full 90% of the living matter in the oceans are microscopic, and “we have characterized only one millionth” of the viruses inhabiting the soil.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverH is for hawk / Helen Macdonald.
“In this elegant synthesis of memoir and literary sleuthing, an English academic finds that training a young goshawk helps her through her grief over the death of her father. With her three-year fellowship at the University of Cambridge nearly over, Macdonald, a trained falconer, rediscovers a favorite book of her childhood, T.H. White’s The Goshawk (1951), in which White, author of The Once and Future King, recounts his mostly failed but illuminating attempts at training a goshawk, one of the most magnificent and deadly raptors. Macdonald secures her own goshawk, which she names Mabel, and the fierce wildness of the young bird soothes her sense of being broken by her father’s untimely death. The book moves from White’s frustration at training his bird to Macdonald’s sure, deliberate efforts to get Mabel to fly to her.” (Publisher Weekly)

Science Feature – The Rosetta Space probe

Image: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam
Image: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/Navcam
At ~5am NZ time, 13/11/2014, the comet lander Philae landed on the nucleus (central part) of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. 7 hours earlier it had separated from its parent craft, the space probe Rosetta.

This is the first time a man-made craft has landed on a comet. Rosetta was launched in 2004, on a mission to rendezvous with a comet, send a lander to it, and escort the comet to observe any changes to the comet on its path around the sun.

On its travels to the comet, Rosetta has flown by Earth three times, Mars once, and an asteroid. It was also forced into a 31 month hibernation, to conserve energy. It awoke in January 2014 and continued its journey to the comet, culminating in the landing of Philae.

Though the landing can be considered successful, in that Philae made it down in one piece, the harpoons meant to hold it onto the comet did not fire upon landing, raising concerns about how stable it is, on the surface.

More information on the Rosetta mission can be found on the European Space Agency website.

Books on comets and asteroids:

Syndetics book coverThe solar system : a visual exploration of the planets, moons, and other heavenly bodies that orbit our sun / written by Marcus Chown.
Bestselling author Marcus Chown leads us on a grand tour through the incredible diversity of planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and spacecraft that surround the Sun in our cosmic backyard. Illuminating his insightful and surprising text are a wealth of beautiful images and diagrams, printed in full colour, richly detailed and accurately based on real scientific data. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverNear-Earth objects : finding them before they find us / Donald K. Yeomans.
“Humans may fret over earthquakes, nuclear meltdown, and heart attacks, but only collision with a near-Earth object has “the capacity to wipe out an entire civilization with a single blow.” Balancing the wonders of astronomy with the looming potential for an epic, planetwide disaster, Yeomans, a fellow and research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explores the origins of near-Earth objects-asteroids, comets, meteors, and meteoroids-and the threat they can pose to our planet. Though brief, Yeomans’s book is an accessible and far-ranging primer on the science of near-Earth objects.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Books for the Kids:

Syndetics book coverComets, asteroids, and meteors / Stuart Atkinson.
“What are comets and asteroids like, and could we ever visit one? Taking the form of an imaginary trip, this book explores the science and history of these objects, looking at recent studies and possibilities for the future.” (Amazon.co.uk)

Syndetics book coverThe lonely existence of asteroids and comets / by Mark Weakland ; illustrated by Carlos Aón.
“It can be tricky to keep all those chunks floating around in space comets, asteroids, meteors straight. And though these space rocks don’t have quite the brain-bendingly cool allure of other cosmic wowers like black holes and supernovae, they provide a solid thematic bedrock for a wide-ranging tour of the vastness of the universe in this graphic-format title in the Adventures in Science series.” (Adapted from Booklist)

Further online Rosetta reading:

— The Guardian – Why is the Rosetta landing so exciting: This article gives a good, basic outline of the mission, and why we should be excited!
— Stuff.co.nz – Philae landing: An article on the landing of Philae.
— Stuff.co.nz – Philae landing-Malfunctions made Philae bounce kilometre off comet: Outlines what didn’t quite work with the landing, and gives a history of man’s landings on other worlds.
— Wikipedia – Rosetta: Wikipedia’s article on Rosetta.
— Wikipedia – Philae: Wikipedia’s article on Philae.

Recent Science picks – October

Here are a few of the gems that have come across my desk in the last few weeks:

Syndetics book coverBasic math & pre-algebra workbook for dummies / by Mark Zegarelli.
“Whether you need to brush up on the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division or you’re ready to tackle algebraic expressions and equations, this handy workbook will demystify math so you can get back to having fun in math class. Properly use negative numbers, units, inequalities, exponents, square roots, and absolute value; round numbers and estimate answers; solve problems with fractions, decimals, and percentages; complete algebraic expressions and equations – Basic Math and Pre-Algebra Workbook For Dummies takes the guessing out of math and help you discover your problem solving potential.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe art and history of globes / Sylvia Sumira.
“From medieval globes made when much of the world was unexplored to the huge, decorative examples made for the princely courts of Renaissance Europe, this book celebrates the art and history of the globe, focusing on the 400 years when the printed globe – as navigational tool, scientific instrument and powerful status symbol – occupied an important place in the history of European exploration.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOrganic chemistry I for dummies / by Arthur Winter.
“The easy way to take the confusion out of organic chemistry Organic chemistry has a long-standing reputation as a difficult course. This fun, easy-to-understand guide explains the basic principles of organic chemistry in simple terms, providing insight into the language of organic chemists, the major classes of compounds, and top trouble spots. You’ll also get the nuts and bolts of tackling organic chemistry problems, from knowing where to start to spotting sneaky tricks that professors like to incorporate. Baffled by benzines? Confused by carboxylic acids? Here’s the help you need–in plain English!” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverHow not to be wrong : the hidden maths of everyday life / Jordan Ellenberg.
“The maths we learn in school often seems like a mysterious and impenetrable set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In How Not to Be Wrong, acclaimed mathematician Jordan Ellenberg shows us just how wrong this view is: in fact, maths touches everything we do, allowing us to see the hidden structures beneath the messy and chaotic surface of our daily lives. It’s a science of not being wrong, worked out through centuries of hard work and argument. Through supremely witty storytelling and wry insight, Ellenberg reveals the mathematician’s method of analyzing life, from the commonplace to the cosmic, showing us which numbers to trust, which ones to ignore, and when to change the equation entirely.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe quantum age : how the physics of the very small has transformed our lives / Brian Clegg.
“Quantum theory may be bizarre and inexplicable, but it’s been shown to account for as much as 30 percent of American GDP, as this brilliant new book by science writer extraordinaire Brian Clegg reveals. Clegg, who studied physics at Cambridge University and specializes in making the strangest aspects of the universe accessible to the general reader, explores the Quantum Age, the revolution led by our understanding of the very, very small. Incredible revelations along the way will thrill popular science fans and general readers alike.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverShaping humanity : how science, art, and imagination help us understand our origins / John Gurche.
In this book, internationally renowned paleoartist John Gurche describes the extraordinary process by which he creates forensically accurate and hauntingly realistic representations of our ancient human ancestors. Inspired by a lifelong fascination with all things prehistoric, and gifted with a unique artistic vision, Gurche has studied fossil remains, comparative ape and human anatomy, and forensic reconstruction for over three decades. In Shaping Humanity… he reveals the debates and brainstorming that surround these often controversial depictions, and along the way he enriches our awareness of the various paths of human evolution and humanity’s stunning uniqueness in the history of life on Earth.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe sixth extinction : an unnatural history / Elizabeth Kolbert.The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
“Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth.Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species – including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino – some already gone, others at the point of vanishing.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMeteorology manual : the practical guide to the weather / Storm Dunlop.
“This extensively illustrated book will follow the familiar Haynes Manual style, with down-to-earth text, supported by colour diagrams and photographs, including, where appropriate, step-by-step sequences of cloud and weather system formations. There is increasing interest in learning about how weather systems are formed, what causes variations in the weather, and how to study and predict the movement of weather systems to enable weather forecasting, all which can be found in this book.” (Syndetics summary)

Get mad about science during the October School Holidays!

Grab your test tubes, clipboards and lab coats and get ready for mad science mysteries these school holidays! Hands on science experiments and stories that are perfect for 7-12 year olds. These fun events are free, and bookings are not required.

When and where:

Ruth Gotlieb (Kilbirnie) Library: Tuesday 30 September 11am – 12pm

Central Library: Wednesday 1 October 11am – 12pm

Karori Library: Thursday 2 October 2pm – 3pm

Miramar Library: Thursday 2 October 2pm – 3pm

Mervyn Kemp (Tawa) Library: Wednesday 8 October 11am – 12pm

Cummings Park (Ngaio) Library: Thursday 9 October 11am – 12pm

Khandallah Library: Friday 10 October 11am – 12pm

Contact your local library for more information.

holidays-scienceoct

Recent Science Book Picks – August 2014

Here are a few of the new science books that have crept their way across my desk over the last month. Topics span mathematics, animal behaviours, the fish in the Wellington harbour, and more!

Syndetics book coverThis is improbable too : synchronized cows, speedy brain extractors, and more WTF research / Marc Abrahams.
Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, offers an addictive, wryly funny expose of the oddest, most imaginative, and just plain improbable research from around the globe. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe cartoon introduction to statistics / by Grady Klein and Alan Dabney, Ph. D.
“If one is looking for a nonthreatening introduction to the basic concepts of statistics, then this cartoon guide will serve admirably. Klein (cartoonist) and Dabney (Texas A&M) lead readers carefully through the ideas of graphical appearances, averages and spread, the central limit theorem, and inference with short descriptive captions, while the accompanying cartoons provide lighthearted background illustrations supporting the principles at hand. It is certainly fun seeing data gathering tied to truckloads of random rhinos, confidence intervals related to expressions of hatred between aliens on two neighboring planets, and hypothesis testing tied to the speed comparisons of spotted and striped flying pigs. However, accuracy is never sacrificed. In general, the book first illustrates each statistical concept by a humor-injected example, but ultimately brings the traditional vocabulary into play so that integrity is maintained.” (Adapted from CHOICE)

Syndetics book coverAtlas of the southern night sky [cartographic material] / Steve Massey, Steve Quirk.
If you ever needed a book to help you explore the wonderful night skies from down under, be it Australia, South America, South Africa or New Zealand, this is it! With hundreds of full colour star charts and maps of the Moon and planets of our Solar System, this book will ensure you get the most out of a pair of binoculars or a small telescope from suburban and dark country sky locations. Includes many new and updated images and objects to find in the night sky, several new images by southern amateur astronomers, updated star charts, updated planetary information, extended equipment and image processing information and an all-new Deep-Sky month planner. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOrigins of mathematical words : a comprehensive dictionary of Latin, Greek, and Arabic roots / Anthony Lo Bello.
“This fascinating work by Lo Bello (mathematics, Allegheny College) is an etymological dictionary of popular mathematical terms of Latin, Greek, and Arabic origin. The language of mathematics is an important instructional component in elementary and secondary schools, and in colleges and universities. Scholars have claimed that students may have difficulty reading, understanding, and discussing mathematical ideas if they are not familiar with the words used in mathematics. When students do not know the meaning of mathematical terms such as “perpendicular,” “derivative,” and “asymptote,” they have difficulties grasping the deeper structures of mathematical concepts. Teaching the origins of mathematical words helps bridge the gap between everyday language and mathematical language.” (Adapted from CHOICE)

Syndetics book coverArt and architecture of insects / David M. Phillips.
“Former virologist Phillips collects dynamic, creepy, and starkly beautiful electron micrographs of insects to bring out the gorgeous, detailed structures imperceptible to the naked eye. Phillips’s love of both entomology and photography comes through clearly in what he describes as a retirement project after ending his career as a biomedical researcher at New York City’s Population Council, and though the text rambles from topic to topic without obvious breaks, the material is still clear, informative, and surprisingly entertaining. Though most of the black and white photos are of entire insect bodies, chapters are divided by body part-eyes, antennae, wings, etc.-and focus largely on functional anatomy, detailing how body structures make each insect well-suited for its ecological role and biological needs.” (Adapted from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverThe secret language of animals : a guide to remarkable behavior / Janine M. Benyus ; illustrations by Juan Carlos Barberis ; foreword by Alexandra Horowitz.
“Humans have always pondered what makes us different from animals. After all, many species exhibit behaviors that resemble our own (or is it the other way around?). This informative volume covers 20 of the world’s most well-known animals, including African elephants, flamingos, giant pandas, Nile crocodiles, and polar bears. Divided by geographical regions (African Jungles, Plains, and Waterways ; Asian Forests ; Warm Oceans ; North America ; and The Poles), the chapters cover some of the basic habits and behaviors of a particular animal, such as elimination, self-grooming, and sleeping. Social behaviors, from friendly to threatening, are discussed, as are sexual and parental interactions. Numerous sidebars showcase vital stats on each animal, quirky facts, and trivia. Each chapter ends with a list of behaviors for readers to look for at the zoo or in the wild.” (Adapted from Booklist)

Syndetics book coverWellington down under / Stephen Journée ; edited by Lorraine Olphert.
Stephen Journee, a skilled diver and photographer, gives a rare insight into the world below and brings to life all the fish varieties and other forms of marine life that have made the Wellington harbour and the surrounding coastal bays their home over the centuries. From the unbelievable colour of the sea sponges, sea squirts, jewel anemones, blue and red moki, triplefins, seahorses and jellyfish, to schools of jack mackerels and spotties, to dolphins and the occasional visit by pods of orcas – all feature between these covers. Stephen also takes the reader on a tour of famous shipwrecks of the 19th and 20th centuries, a look back in time and what remains from past tragedies; wharves and slipways from yester-year. (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe melting world : a journey across America’s vanishing glaciers / Christopher White.
“Whenever global warming and rising sea levels are mentioned in the same breath, the presumed source of the extra water is usually the polar ice caps. Yet according to nature writer and frequent National Geographic contributor White, melting mountaintop snow and ice will have just as much of an impact on environmental decline as shrinking coastlines. In the late summer of 2008, White joined a team of government-funded ecologists, led by veteran earth scientist Dan Fagre, to chart the rapid disappearance of alpine ice in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Here White eloquently describes the scores of breathtaking views he enjoyed during his five seasons with Fagre, even as the team grappled with many disturbing findings. White’s account is both an urgent wake-up call to nations across the globe that share responsibility for climate change and a heartbreaking elegy to a vital component of Earth’s ecology that may soon be gone forever.” (Adapted from Booklist)

Recent Science Picks: June

Here a few of the  pulchritudinous new science books that have filtered their way over my desk in the last month.

Syndetics book coverLucky planet : why Earth is exceptional, and what that means for life in the Universe / David Waltham.
“Science tells us that life elsewhere in the Universe is increasingly likely to be discovered. But in fact the Earth may be a very unusual planet – perhaps the only one like it in the entire visible Universe. In this book, David Waltham asks why, and comes up with some surprising and unconventional answers.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverWhat is relativity? : an intuitive introduction to Einstein’s ideas, and why they matter / Jeffrey Bennett.
“*Starred Review* Doubtful in 1919 that even three scientists fully understood Einstein’s theory of relativity, the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington would marvel at this book. For in its relatively few pages, Bennett explains relativity to ordinary readers. Applying two simple principles the uniformity of natural law and the invariance of the speed of light readers conduct thought experiments that fuse time and space into a single concept. Armed with this concept, readers see why time slows down for space-travelers streaking across the cosmos, their spaceship growing more massive but shorter. Similarly, as they plunge into a black hole, doomed but enlightened readers can at least congratulate themselves on comprehending how extreme gravitation creates inescapably lethal tidal forces. Still, a perplexing mystery remains. Why does the singularity at the center of a black hole look irreconcilably different when viewed through quantum physics than it does when viewed through relativity? Undaunted, Bennett views this conundrum as the stimulus for scientific progress that will resolve it. Indeed, in the very fact that one man could formulate a theory as powerful as relativity, Bennett sees reason to hope that the entire human species can ultimately conquer stubborn nonscientific problems social, political, even metaphysical. An impressively accessible distillation of epoch-making science.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverPhysics in minutes / Giles Sparrow ; consultant, David W. Hughes.
“‘Physics in Minutes’ covers everything you need to know about physics, condensed into 200 key topics. Each idea is explained in clear, accessible language, building from the basics, such as mechanics, waves and particles, to more complex topics, including neutrinos, string theory and dark matter. Based on scientific research proving that the brain best absorbs information visually, illustrations accompany the text to aid quick comprehension and easy recollection. This convenient and compact reference book is ideal for anyone interested in how our world works.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverA little course in… astronomy / written by Robert Dinwiddie.
“Ever wanted to learn more about astronomy but don’t know where to begin? This book takes you from beginner to being able to identify stars, planets and other objects in space. It helps you study the Moon, build on your skills to find constellations and observe the solar system to see the Milky Way, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverAre we being watched? : the search for life in the cosmos / Paul Murdin.
“Is there life out there? The short answer is probably not. The shorter and more intriguing answer. maybe. In this beguiling and accessible book, the man responsible for finding the first black hole in our galaxy roams the universe looking for life-from Earth to Mars and beyond. Though he writes that his head is telling him one thing, astronomer Murdin (Secrets of the Universe) admits that his heart is telling him another, and he’s hopeful that life out there exists. One encouraging sign comes from the moon missions-bacteria normally found in the human mouth survived for over two years in Surveyor 3 equipment, which was later collected by astronauts aboard Apollo 12. But in order for life to flourish, Murdin explains, you need water, energy, and atmosphere. He goes on to explore possible combinations of these critical elements on neighboring planets, while also interweaving accounts of relevant discoveries and the scientists that made them, from Aristotle to Darwin to contemporary researchers, as well as the debates that continue to confound them. Murdin’s enthusiasm and fascination with the subject matter is palpable throughout, and he deftly manages to inform without boring knowledgeable readers or dumbing it down for lay folk. Photos, illus., and tables.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverPlants for a changing climate / Trevor Nottle.
“The global warming trend is expected to result in a warmer, drier climate. In this updated edition of Plants for Mediterranean Climate Gardens (2004), an Australian horticulturalist discusses the impact of climate change on gardening practices. Rather than lament what may be lost, Nottle touts expanding opportunities for growing everything from shade-making plants to more exotic drought tolerant ornamental and edible species and cultivars. The book includes color photographs of his favorites and recommended reading.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverScatter, adapt, and remember : how humans will survive a mass extinction / Annalee Newitz.
“”Earth has been many different planets with dramatically different climates and ecosystems,” says Newitz, journalist and founding editor of io9.com. Finding a common ground between climate change arguments Newitz found a thread of hope while researching mass extinctions: that life has survived at least six such events thus far. Without addressing the cause of the current shift, she cites data that indicates we may already be in the midst of another period of mass extinction. Guiding readers through the science of previous mass extinctions, Newitz summarizes the characteristics that enabled species to survive: variable diet and habitat, and ability to learn from the past. “The urge to survive, not just as individuals but as a society and an ecosystem, is built into us as deeply as greed and cynicism are.” She reviews theories of how Homo sapiens survived while Neanderthals did not, discusses how science may one day enable a disaster-proof city, and advocates geoengineering and research for eventual moves to other planets. “We’ll strike out into space…. And eventually we’ll evolve into beings suited to our new habitats among the stars.” Newitz voice is fervent and earnest, and despite her gloomy topic, she leaves readers with hope for a long future.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverLast ape standing : the seven-million-year story of how and why we survived / Chip Walter.
“‘Last Ape Standing’ is evocative science writing at its best – a witty, engaging and accessible story that explores the evolutionary events that molded us into the remarkably unique creatures we are; an investigation of why we do, feel, and think the things we do as a species, and as people – good and bad, ingenious and cunning, heroic and conflicted.” (Library Catalogue)

Climate Change and Ice Sheets

earthcooker1Since the Industrial Revolution, leading scientists believe that man has been responsible for releasing large amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The most well known of these gases is carbon dioxide. This is realeased (along with methane and carbon monoxide) during combustion/burning of fossil fuels.

Due to this ‘release’, greenhouse gas levels are the highest they have been since about 100 000 years ago, or two ice ages ago.

We can tell from trapped air bubbles in ice cores, taken from the ice sheets, in Antarctica and Greenland what the CO2 concentrations were going back roughly a million years (the most famous of these being the Vostok Ice Core). Scientists are able to extract these air bubbles, measure what the gas concentrations are, and work out the age of the bubble from the oxygen ratio in the surrounding ice.  (See the Two-Mile Time Machine book or Vostok Ice Core database paper below)

In the last week, Nasa have released a report saying that most of the Glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice sheet have retreated past the point of no return, and climate change is the culprit. The loss of these glaciers could lead to a collapse of a large portion of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which in turn could lead to a sea level rise of several metres (according to some reports). This could take a decade, it could take 1000 years, but scientists are now adamant that it is happening.

Website Articles

Here are the two articles from Nasa and Scientific American.

Books:

Here are some books on climate change and ice sheets:

Syndetics book coverIce, mice and men : the issues facing our far south / Geoff Simmons and Gareth Morgan with John McCrystal.
“Our far south is packed with history and wildlife, and is renowned for its breathtaking and photogenic beauty. But does our appreciation of the region run more than skin deep? Do Kiwis really understand how important the region is and what issues are facing it? In February 2012, Gareth Morgan trapped ten of New Zealand’s top experts on the region in a boat with 40 ordinary Kiwis for a month. Together with Geoff Simmons, he grilled them about the issues facing the region and this book is the result. What they found was startling. Our Far South – that part of New Zealand that extends from Stewart Island almost without interruption to the South Pole – harbours precious wildlife and is the engine room of the world’s oceans and climate. We are blessed to live in this unique part of the world, but we also have a huge responsibility to look after it. This book looks at the three ways we risk inflicting long-term, even permanent harm, on this precious and fragile region. The race to exploit resources has been underway for three centuries, and may be poised to escalate. Pressure from human activity may be threatening biodiversity and even the survival of species. And looming ever larger is the threat of climate change. Damage done to our far south will have profound implications, both for New Zealand and right across the globe.” (Cover)

Syndetics book coverThe two-mile time machine : ice cores, abrupt climate change, and our future / Richard B. Alley.
“Richard Alley, one of the world’s leading climate researchers, tells the fascinating history of global climate changes as revealed by reading the annual rings of ice from cores drilled in Greenland. In the 1990s he and his colleagues made headlines with the discovery that the last ice age came to an abrupt end over a period of only three years. Here Alley offers the first popular account of the wildly fluctuating climate that characterized most of prehistory–long deep freezes alternating briefly with mild conditions–and explains that we humans have experienced an unusually temperate climate. But, he warns, our comfortable environment could come to an end in a matter of years.” (Amazon.com)

Syndetics book coverThe Goldilocks planet : the four billion year story of Earth’s climate / Jan Zalasiewicz & Mark Williams.
“The climate change debate has long been dominated by climatologists, politicians, and economists, but the contributions of geologists to an understanding of this issue have been underreported. In The Goldilocks Planet, geologists Zalasiewicz and Williams (both, Univ. of Leicester, UK) synthesize a vast body of work on paleoenvironmental reconstruction and paleoclimate through geologic time. They identify the greenhouse and icehouse episodes from the Archaean eon to the present and explain how these conditions waxed and waned. The authors concentrate on the warming and cooling episodes from the Pliocene period (prior to the Pleistocene glaciations) to date and use substantial and diverse recent research findings. The Earth is now thought to be headed to that Pliocene warming benchmark. Zalasiewicz and Williams provide simple explanations of the astronomical, geological, chemical, and geographic factors that weave into the natural greenhouse and icehouse episodes. This scholarly book is well written and documented, and the authors make good use of analogies to convey the scale and importance of the processes at work. Along the way, readers also learn about the scientists in many fields who have contributed to the development of these ideas.” (CHOICE)

Databases:

Here is an article from our Databases on the Vostok Ice Core

Recent Science Picks

Here are some of the latest science goodies that have come across my desk in the last month or so.

Syndetics book coverNumbers are forever / Liz Strachan.
“This title is only about numbers – that is, whole numbers and nothing but the whole numbers, which start from from 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 … and go on forever. Here you can meet perfect numbers, happy numbers, lucky, untouchable, weird, narcissistic, evil and deficient numbers, not to mention nice Friedmans and multi-legged repunits, as well as primes and their cousins, the sexy primes. It is also full of fascinating facts and curios, prime number conjectures, the sieve of Eratosthenes, the Fibonacci series, and much more besides.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe story of physics : from natural philosophy to the enigma of dark matter / Anne Rooney.
“The Story of Physics traces the development of physics from the natural philosophers of the ancient world to cutting-edge experiments in quantum mechanics Also features the giants of science history, from Archimedes through Newton and Galileo to Curie, Einstein and Hawking.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverThe perfect theory : a century of geniuses and the battle over general relativity / Pedro G. Ferreira.
“At the core of Einstein’s general theory of relativity are a set of equations that explain the relationship among gravity, space, and time–possibly the most perfect intellectual achievement of modern physics. For over a century, physicists have been exploring, debating, and at times neglecting Einstein’s theory in their quest to uncover the history of the universe, the origin of time, and the evolution of solar systems, stars, and galaxies. In this sweeping narrative of science and culture, Pedro Ferreira explains the theory through the human drama surrounding it: the personal feuds and intellectual battles of the biggest names in twentieth-century physics, from Einstein and Eddington to Hawking and Penrose. We are in the midst of a momentous transformation in modern physics. As scientists look farther and more clearly into space than ever before, The Perfect Theory engagingly reveals the greater relevance of general relativity, showing us where it started, where it has led, and where it can still take us.” (Publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverSpeed : how to make things go really fast / Guy Martin.
“How far can Guy Martin travel on a bicycle, in a human powered aircraft, on a hydroplaning motorbike or in a supersled? How will Guy Martin complete these four dangerous, adrenaline-fuelled speed challenges in record time?” (Cover)

Syndetics book coverNeanderthal man : in search of lost genomes / Svante Pääbo.
“As Paabo tells it, sequencing the genome of Neanderthal man seems to have been about equally fascinating and frustrating. Fortunately, fascination predominated, and ultimate success was reported in 2010 and closely followed by the sequencing of another progenitor of modern humans. The frustration that dogged the project arose from the difficulty of finding Neanderthal fossils with enough DNA left in them to reconstruct the genome, and the constant need to expel contamination by modern human DNA, which, since it highly resembles Neanderthal DNA, routinely corrupts sequencing the latter. The tale Paabo tells is largely one of technological improvement enabling the elimination of contamination and speeding up the sequencing process. Secondarily, it’s about creating scientific foundations and multinational scientific cooperation to pursue the promises of research into ancient DNA, including that of nonhuman species as well as hominins. Although he never mentions it, Paabo is the acknowledged founder of ancient DNA research. Instead, he sparingly recounts his personal odyssey from homosexuality to marriage and fatherhood, without relating it to his work, which may perplex some readers.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverThe monkey’s voyage : how improbable journeys shaped the history of life / Alan de Queiroz.
“Biogeography, the study of the geographical distribution of living things, has been of interest since at least the time of the Greeks. In his entertaining and enlightening book, evolutionary biologist de Queiroz demonstrates that despite this longstanding interest in the subject, the discipline has resisted an organizing paradigm. De Queiroz comprehensively describes the shift, beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, from Darwin’s belief that long-distance dispersal was the dominant explanation for biogeographic patterns to the rise of those promoting vicariance-the belief that environmental fragmentation is responsible for observed patterns-and back again to promoting long distance dispersal. He cogently describes the science underlying these ideas, the nature of continental drift, the complexity of molecular clocks, and the mathematics of cladistics, explaining why he believes the only reasonable interpretation for current data is an acceptance of rare, long-distance dispersal events that can only be called “mysterious” and “miraculous,” including the book’s eponymous monkeys accidentally crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Beyond the actual science, de Queiroz brings insight into the nature of scientific discourse itself.” (Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverVolcanoes of the south wind : a volcanic guide to Tongariro National Park / Karen Williams.
“A comprehensive field guide to the remarkable landscape of this dual World Heritage site. With photographs and diagrams, it tells the turbulent story of a volcanic complex that continues to make headlines. It explains the incredible forces that shape and mould the landscape, and where on the park’s walks and tracks you can see them.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverA garden of marvels : how we discovered that flowers have sex, leaves eat air, and other secrets of plants / Ruth Kassinger.
“In the tradition of The Botany of Desire and Wicked Plants, the author of Paradise Under Glass gives us a witty and engaging history of the first botanists interwoven with stories of today’s extraordinary plants found in the garden and the lab.” (Provided by publisher)