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Showing posts from May, 2020

Wikinomics - Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams ***

I was quite impressed when I read the book Wikinomics back in 2007. The authors seemed to understand the importance of networking in a way that companies which (for example) sent out emails from a 'noreply' email address didn't. However, there's always a danger of misreading the runes when trying to predict what will happen in the future - so it seemed interesting to go back 13 years later and see how Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams' picture of the economy of the future panned out. Coming back to the book, it does rely on a handful of examples and repeats distinctly vague concepts a lot (in this respect it emphasises its role as a business title). And it's true that some aspects - for example the importance of the likes of YouTube and the as-yet-unlabelled social media ring true. However, the authors did fall for an old trap of enthusiastic techie types - the assumption that everyone is going to become a producer as well as a consumer any time soon. We

The Flip - Jeffrey Kripal ***

In The Flip , Jeffrey Kripal (a professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought) argues for a new view of the cosmos, consciousness and the relationship between humans and everything else out there. The 'flip' in question is a damascene conversion, but one that is spiritual without being conventionally religious - having your viewpoint transformed by a life-changing experience, often one that might be associated with the paranormal. Kripal begins with two ‘true tales’ one of precognition the other of apparent communication with dead. But these immediately make me twitchy - data, as they say, is not the plural of anecdote. All too often people’s accounts of experiences (or even worse their memories) prove wildly inaccurate. Kripal tries to undermine this argument by saying we disempower stories by calling them anecdotes - yet the history of paranormal research shows that time and again as soon as controls are properly imposed the inexplicable experiences stop. (Kripal tells us

Laurence C. Smith - Four way interview

Image © Nick Dentamaro/Brown University Laurence C. Smith is a pioneering hydrologist, whose scientific research merges the latest technology with extreme field work to uncover the pace and processes of our Earth’s changing hydrosphere. He is currently tracking changing rivers in the Arctic and on the world’s great ice sheets. He is the John Atwater and Diana Nelson University Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University. In 2012 his book The World in 2050 won the Walter P. Kistler Book Award and was a Nature Editor's Pick. He has worked on issues from climate change to Arctic development with the National Science Foundation, NASA, the United Nations and the World Economic Forum.  His new book is Rivers of Power. Why geography? Geography is an unusual discipline in that it values the study of human processes equally with those of the natural world, leading to very different perspectives than say, a biolog

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz - Four Way Interview

Photo by John Cairns Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz is Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology at the University of Cambridge, and Bren Professor in Biology and Bioengineering at Caltech. She has published over 150 papers and book chapters in top scientific journals and her work on embryos won the people’s vote f or scientific breakthrough of the year in Science magazine.   Her new book, co-authored with Roger Highfield, is The Dance of Life: symmetry, cells and how we become human . Why science? I fell in love with biology when I was a child because I loved doing experiments and seeing what happened. It was fascinating and enormous fun. I also fell in love with art at the same time. Art and science are both based on experiments and uncovering new paths to understand the world and ourselves. Why do we think the way we think? Where do our feelings come from? Is the 'right' answer always right? Where do we come from? How do parts of our body communicate wit

Plan for the Worst (SF) - Jodi Taylor ****

The publisher classifies this book as fantasy, but as it is based on one of the classic SF tropes, time travel - and this is done by technology, rather than magic - it can sensibly be classified as science fiction. The book features St Mary's, an institute of history attached to a fictional university, where the historians research the realities of history using time machines. While not a particularly original idea - Bill and Ted did their history homework this way a long time ago - it's quite nicely set up with a Time Police organisation that is technically on the same side as the historians, but in practice is often in opposition, plus a couple of dastardly time travellers who are intent on messing with the St Mary's bunch, up to and including committing murder. I did have a slight problem coming to Plan for the Worst as it's book 11 in a series - I sympathise with Jodi Taylor in trying to make the opening accessible to someone who hasn't read the series bef

Meera Senthilingam - Four Way Interview

Meera Senthilingam is currently Content Lead at health start-up Your,MD and was formerly International Health Editor at CNN. She is a journalist, author and public health researcher and has worked with multiple media outlets, such as the BBC, as well as academic institutions, including the LSHTM and Wellcome Trust. She has Masters Degrees in Science Communication and the Control of Infectious Diseases and her interests lie in communicating global health issues to the general public through journalism and working with global health programmes. Her academic research to date has focused on tuberculosis, particularly the burden of drug-resistant tuberculosis and insights into the attitudes and behaviours of the people most affected.  Her new book is Outbreaks and Epidemics: battling infection from measles to coronavirus . Why science? I have always found science fascinating and have always had a strong passion for it. My friends in high school used to find it amusing to introduce me

The Dance of Life - Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and Roger Highfield ****

There is without doubt a fascination for all of us - even those who can find biology a touch tedious - with the way that a tiny cellular blob develops into the hugely complex thing that is a living organism, especially a human. In this unusual book which I can only describe as a memoir of science, Magalena Zernicka-Goetz, assisted by the Science Museum's Roger Highfield, tells the story of her own career and discoveries. At the heart of the book, and Zernicka-Goetz's work, is symmetry breaking, a topic very familiar to readers of popular physics titles, but perhaps less so in popular biology. The first real breakthrough from her lab was the discovery of the way that a mouse egg's first division was already asymmetrical - the two new cells were not identical, not equally likely to become embryo and support structure as had always been thought.  As the book progresses, throughout the process of development we see how different symmetries are broken, with a particular focu

The Alchemy of Us - Ainissa Ramirez ****

Materials science is one of the hardest topics to make interesting, probably only beaten in the potential dullness stakes by geology, but Ainissa Ramirez achieves the near-impossible of making the subject genuinely engaging, essentially by hardly covering materials science at all, but rather telling stories of people and their inventions with a  materials science context.  This  is the k ind of book academic publishers (and even more so academic authors) rarely achieve - lyrical and quirky, jumping around rather than linear: it's got a lot going for it. Ramirez picks out eight topics: metal springs and crystals (for timekeeping), steel (for rails), telegraph wires, photographic materials, carbon filaments (for lighting), magnetic data storage, scientific glassware and switches plus silicon for computing. Of themselves, nothing particularly new and exciting - but what's great is the way that she headlines with excellent stories, some of which I've never come across. So,