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Showing posts from October, 2020

Sticking Together - Steven Abbott ***

When I saw the subtitle of this book 'the science of adhesion' and the fact that it was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry I imagined turf wars breaking out with the Institute of Physics - as surely the science of adhesion is pure physics. However, it would be fair to say that in practice the majority of the book covers the science of adhesives, where chemistry can certainly lay a firm claim.There is no doubt that this book will answer everything you ever wanted to know about how things stick to other things - from geckos to PVA adhesive - it is both comprehensive and often fascinating. Steven Abbott has a friendly style and supports the material in the book with regular links to YouTube videos where you can see various experiments and tests being undertaken for real, which is really helpful. The reader also gets an insight into some of the more contentious aspects of the science of stickiness, where Abbott is entirely prepared to declare that some of his colleagues i…

Hard Time (SF) - Jodi Taylor ****

Jodi Taylor has had a lot of success with her Chronicles of St Mary's series, time travel adventures with a quirky sense of humour. Those books feature St Mary's, a sort of university history department with no teaching, which investigates through time travel, with staff that are more like the staff of Hogwarts than any real university. I enjoyed Plan for the Worst in that series, but found the constant juvenile jokey behaviour of the staff irritating. Here, in the second of a spin-off series, Taylor switches focus to the Time Police, an organisation that are to some extent the enemy of St Mary's, though both are technically good guys. Although there's still far too much banter between characters, the more serious setting lifts the book to a higher level, allowing Taylor's skill at putting her characters in danger to shine through with gripping adventure.The Time Police are responsible for preserving the timeline - in this adventure they rescue a privileged time to…

Entanglements (SF) - Ed. Sheila Williams ***

It's important to say up front that the star rating here is an average: there are some 5 star stories in this collection and there are some that would only get 1 star.

It's very brave to put together a collection of science fiction stories with a message - in this case, the impact on relationships and families of emerging technologies. There is something very dampening about an enforced message that can so easily kill a story by making it feel like little more than propaganda. It's to the credit of many of the authors here that this doesn't usually happen.

This is a collection of ten SF stories. A few really stand out. The opening story Invisible People, by Nancy Kress was excellent, exploring the tangled concepts of gene editing and designer babies with a fascinating twist on the subject of altruism. My only criticism would be that I think writers rather let their reader down when the story pointedly ends just before a major decision by a character, leaving the story in…

Nicholas Mee - Four Way Interview

Nicholas Meestudied theoretical physics and mathematics at the University of Cambridge.  He is Director of software company Virtual Image and the author of over 50 multimedia titles including The Code Book on CD-ROM with Simon Singh and Connections in Space with John Barrow, Martin Kemp and Richard Bright. He has played key roles in numerous science and art projects including the Symbolic Sculpture project with John Robinson, the European SCIENAR project, and the 2012 Henry Moore and Stringed Surfaces exhibition at the Royal Society. He is author of the award-winning popular science book Higgs Force: Cosmic Symmetry Shattered. His latest title is Celestial Tapestry.Why mathematics?Mathematics has its own inner beauty. But it also represents far and away the most powerful set of intellectual tools that we have and it contributes enormously to our understanding of how the universe works and our place within it. Furthermore, it enables us to control and manipulate the world with great pr…

Mars - Stephen James O’Meara ****

This is the latest in the excellent ‘Kosmos’ series from Reaktion Books (who clearly have a thing about the letter k). They’re beautifully packaged, with glossy paper and hundreds of colourful images, but the text is so substantial and insightful they can’t simply be dismissed as ‘coffee-table books’. My earlier reviews of the Mercury and Saturn titles, written by William Sheehan, gave both books 4 stars. This new one by Stephen James O’Meara is up to the same standard.As with the previous books, this one goes into more detail than you might expect on the ‘prehistory’ of the subject, prior to the advent of space travel. The first three chapters – about a quarter of the book – deal in turn with mythological narratives, ground-based telescopic discoveries and romantic speculations about the Red Planet. Some of this is familiar stuff, but there are some obscure gems too. The Victorian astronomer Richard Proctor, for example, decided to name dozens of newly observed features on Mars after…

The Ten Equations that Rule the World - David Sumpter ****

David Sumpter makes it clear in this book that a couple of handfuls of equations have a huge influence on our everyday lives. I needed an equation too to give this book a star rating - I’ve never had one where there was such a divergence of feeling about it. I wanted to give it five stars for the exposition of the power and importance of these equations and just two stars for an aspect of the way that Sumpter did it. The fact that the outcome of applying my star balancing equation was four stars emphasises how good the content is.What we have here is ten key equations from applied mathematics. (Strictly, nine, as the tenth isn’t really an equation, it’s the programmer’s favourite ‘If… then…’ - though as a programmer I was always more an ‘If… then… else…’ fan.) Those equations range from the magnificent one behind Bayesian statistics and the predictive power of logistic regression to the method of determining confidence intervals and the kind of influencer matrix so beloved of social m…

Women of Science Tarot - Massive Science **

The Tarot is a fascinating and often beautiful thing. A variant of the traditional card pack dating back to the fifteenth century, the four suits have an extra face card, while there's effectively a fifth suit of 21 permanent trumps and a joker or fool. There are a number of ways to play Tarot, but primarily it's a game similar to whist. A couple of hundred years ago it began to be used for cartomancy (fortune telling with cards) and this use has come to dominate popular knowledge of the card pack, including the renaming of the suits and trumps plus fool to be the minor and major arcana.The somewhat bizarre attempt to use the Tarot to educate in this popular science pack replaces the major arcana with 'powerful ideas in science' and the minor arcana with 'important women in science.' The suits (in many traditional packs swords, batons, cups and coins) become 'nano, micro, macro and astro' to divide up the fields in which those women worked.The cards the…

Celestial Tapestry - Nicholas Mee ****

There was an old tradition amongst the landed gentry of collecting a 'cabinet of curiosities' - an unstructured collection of interesting stuff they had picked up on their travels. In many ways, Celestial Tapestry feels like a cabinet of curiosities of the mind, with interesting things linking maths and the the world, particularly the arts, that Nicholas Mee has picked up.It is delightful being able to be transported by Mee on a number of distinctly varied trains of thought and diversions, all with shiny, full colour illustrations. (If I have one complaint about the pictures, it would have been better if this had been a coffee table sized book, so the beautiful images could have been bigger.)The book is structured into six sections: the fabric of space, time and matter; weaving numbers and patterns; drawing out the golden threads; higher space and a deeper reality; wandering round the knot garden; and casting the celestial net. However, these heading don't really give a fe…

Paul Nurse - Four Way Interview

Paul Nurse is a geneticist and cell biologist whose discoveries have helped to explain how the cell controls its cycle of growth and division. Paul’s contributions to cell biology and cancer research were recognised with a knighthood in 1999. In addition, Paul’s endeavours relating to the discovery of cell cycle regulatory molecules saw him jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2001. His new book is What is Life?
Why science?

Our society is increasingly dependent on science and technology and everybody will need to understand science better. 
Why this book?
For me, the key question in biology is ‘What is Life’, which is why I wrote the book.
What's next?
I have no idea what is next.  Let’s see how well this book does.
What's exciting you at the moment?
What is exciting me is working with cells to try and make contributions to answering that question. 

The First Killer Robots - Andrew May ***

Mention killer robots and inevitably thoughts go to something from science fiction like the Terminator - but Andrew May makes the point in this compact book that the real-life killer robots have been guided missiles. Starting with the V1 and V2 missiles used by the Germans during the Second World War, we come forward in time to see these destructive weapons become more and more sophisticated.Whether we are talking surface to air missiles, cruise missiles or ICBMs, May gives us a guide to the development of this technology and how it has changed aspects of warfare. Guidance may have changed from vague point and time approaches to potential pinpoint precision, but missiles (and drones get a quick look-in too) are amongst the most advanced technology used in warfare and peacekeeping.One of the most quoted put-downs in the history of science is Rutherford's alleged remark that all science is either physics or stamp collecting. A fair amount of this book fits into the stamp collecting …

I am a book. I am a Portal to the Universe - Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick ***

Although not providing a direct parallel, there's something reminiscent here of Jan Pienkowski's wonderful adult pop-up books, which used a style that was more familiar in a children's book than something we would expect to find in a title for more mature readers. Similarly, I am a Book looks like a children's book (handling it, it feels strangely like a board book, though it proudly announces on the back that it has 112 pages) and in the mildly outrageous claim to be a 'portal to the universe'.What we get is a series of very colourful and dramatically, if sometimes minimalistically, illustrated pages with small amounts of text, making observations about everything from biology to cosmology.Sometimes the approach can be very effective. So we have a whole page dedicated to the words 'Touch this dot' alongside… a dot. But the facing page tells us 'You just left behind 100,000 bacteria,' which is neat. There are quite a few pages dedicated to demon…