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The Kindle version of People of the Book: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks is currently, and I suspect briefly, available for $1.99

If you’ve not read it, you should read it.

Publisher’s summary:

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity by an acclaimed and beloved author. Called “a tour de force”by the San Francisco Chronicle, this ambitious, electrifying work traces the harrowing journey of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript created in fifteenth-century Spain. When it falls to Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, to conserve this priceless work, the series of tiny artifacts she discovers in its ancient binding-an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair-only begin to unlock its deep mysteries and unexpectedly plunges Hanna into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics.

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The American alligator is found only* in the US, and is widespread in Texas. It is found in both rivers, such as the Rio Grande and Sabine, and along the coast. And, it turns out that the preferred locations for many of the important activities in the day to day live of the American alligator overlap a great deal with humans.

Louise Hayes, biologist, and photographer Philippe Henry have produced, with TAMU Press, have produced Alligators of Texas, a highly accessible, well written, and richly illustrated monograph on these beasts.

LOUISE HAYES has been studying American alligators in Texas since 1985 at sites such as Brazos Bend State Park and the J.D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area. PHILIPPE HENRY is a professional wildlife photographer based in St. Mathieu du Parc. His photographs have been published worldwide.

If you are into Alligators and their relatives, regardless of where you live, this book may be an important addition to your collection. If you live in Texas in any of the Alligator areas (near larger rivers, the coast, etc) then you need this book along side your bird guides and plant ID pocket volumes. Not that you need to know how to identify an Alligator, but rather, to learn all about them.

This is a very nice looking book.

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*Originally, I wrote “only in the US” because the info that came with, and in, the book apparently says this, and there are other sources that say this as well. For example, one distribution map for Mexican relatives of the American Alligator shows no alligators anywhere near the Rio Grande. An interested reader, however, asked how the heck the Alligators stay on only one side of the Rio Grande and avoid Mexico.

It seems that these alligators actually do avoid the main body of the Rio Grande and are simply rare or non existent in Mexico, but at the same time, the ARE in the Rio Grande, but just rare. For example, a small population showed up in Fort Hancock in Hudspeth County in 2009. They must have been able to pass back and forth across the river.

So, it seems that this species of Alligator is an occasional but rare find in Mexico, and presumably not that common in the Rio Grande itself.

Anybody from the region have any local alligator information to add?

SEE THIS NEW INFO ON THE DISTRIBUTION OF TEXAS GATORS

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I’ve reviewed, researched, and generally looked around for a selection of gifts that could work for kids ranging from very small to High School (and beyond!?!?) that are science oriented.

Coding

The best kids coding books these days are probably those that use scratch. Before suggesting a couple, though, consider, especailly for older kids (middle and high school) this fairly recent Python language book that focuses on Minecraft: Learn to Program with Minecraft: Transform Your World with the Power of Python HERE is my review.

My favorite scratch programming book is Scratch Programming Playground: Learn to Program by Making Cool Games is a brand new offering from No Starch Press.

Never mind all the other programming books for kids, this is the best so far.

Scratch is in the Logo family of object oriented programming. Indeed, Scratch itself, as a language, is a very short distance from the original object oriented programming, much closer to the source than many professional object oriented language.

Scratch 2.0 can be run as a stand along program in windows and on a Mac, but works better on the web, in a browser, on all platforms. Working in that environment, on the browser, has the important advantage of immediate access to a large amount of work done by others, that you can freely borrow from. And, of course, you can show off your own work.

Al Sweigart, author, has really nailed a kids oriented programming book better than I’ve seen done before, and I’ve seen them all. I’ve got a full review of this book HERE.

Computer Coding Projects In Scratch: A Step-By-Step Visual Guide

Coding Projects in Scratch uses fun projects to show children how to code with Scratch, teaching essential coding and programming skills to young learners. Built on the basics of coding, each project follows simple, logical steps that are fully illustrated. Kids learn a new, important language through simply explained projects, with key coding concepts broken out in separate panels and illustrated with Minecraft-style pixel art. Learn how to create animations, build games, use sound effects, and more before sharing projects with friends online. Coding Projects in Scratch is highly visual and unique step-by-step workbook will help beginners with no coding skills learn how to build their own projects without any instructions, and helps them develop key programming skills that will last a lifetime.

Technology

Get a robot. I highly recommend the mBot robot kit (pictured above).

The simplest project in the new book Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! by Øyvind Nydal Dahl is the one where you lean a small light bulb against the two terminals of a nine volt battery in order to make the light bulb turn on. The most complicated projects are the ones where you make interactive games using LED lights and buzzers.

In between, there is quite a bit of detail.

I’ve written a detailed review of this excellent book HERE.

Super Cool Tech is a book that looks like a laptop. Or do the kids, these days, call it a notebook. Whatever.

This is one of those innovative format DK books, and is great for kids around Middle School age through High School, in my opinion. This book …

… explores how incredible new technologies are shaping the modern world and its future, from familiar smartwatches to intelligent, driverless cars.

Packed with more than 250 full-color images, X-rays, thermal imaging, digital artworks, cross-sections, and cutaways, Super Cool Tech reveals the secrets behind the latest gadgets and gizmos, state-of-the-art buildings, and life-changing technologies.

Lift the unique laptop-inspired book cover to see incredible architectural concepts around the world, such as the Hydropolis Underwater Hotel and Resort in Dubai, and the River Gym, a human-powered floating gym in New York City. Discover how a wheelchair adapts to its surroundings and learn how a cutting board can give the nutritional information of the food being prepared on it.

From 3-D-printed cars to robot vacuum cleaners, Super Cool Tech reveals today’s amazing inventions and looks ahead to the future of technology, including hologram traffic lights and the Galactic Suite Hotel in space. Perfect for STEAM education initiatives, Super Cool Tech makes technology easy to understand, following the history of each invention and how they impact our everyday lives, and “How It Works” panels explain the design and function of each item using clear explanations and images.

This book could be in a kid’s gift guide or an adult’s gift guide, depending on the kid or adult: Arduino Project Handbook: 25 Practical Projects to Get You Started.

I’ve read quiet a few Arduino project books. There are two kinds. The intro book, such as the one being reviewed here, that provides a large number of projects that illustrate how the system works, while at the same time, providing a number of practical projects mixed in with some that are just for fun but that show important physical and programming principles. the other kind are more specialized, and cover how to use this system to build, say, environmental sensors, or robots, or to work with Lego Technic, or whatever.

All the intro books that don’t suck (some suck) are similar, give you similar tools, similar information, etc. But this new book, Arduino Project Handbook: 25 Practical Projects to Get You Started, is better than the other intro books for two simple reasons.

First, the instructions themselves are VERY clear and have EXCELLENT illustrations to show the wiring. The second reason this book is good is that it is current, new, up to date. This is the most current project book available, so if you are looking to get started with Arduino, this is the one you want today. I’ve written a more detailed review of it HERE.

This is not new, but look at the still current and fantastic new version of David Macaulay’s “How Machines Work: Zoo Break!” reviewed in detail HERE.

Not sure what category Wall-E goes in, but if you order quickly (supplies are limited) you might be able to get your hands on the LEGO Ideas WALL E 21303 Building Kit.

The official description:

Build, display and role play with WALL•E! Construct the LEGO® Ideas version of WALL•E with posable neck, adjustable head and arms, gripping hands, opening trunk and rolling tracks.

Build a beautifully detailed LEGO® version of WALL•E—the last robot left on Earth! Created by Angus MacLane, an animator and director at Pixar Animation Studios, and selected by LEGO Ideas members, the development of this model began alongside the making of the lovable animated character for the classic Pixar feature film. It has taken almost a decade to perfect the LEGO version, which incorporates many authentic WALL•E characteristics, including a posable neck, adjustable head, arms that move up and down and side to side, plus gripping hands and rolling tracks. With a trunk that opens and closes, you can tidy up the planet one pile of garbage at a time! This set also includes a booklet about the designer and the animated Pixar movie.

Math

Have a look at the Manga Guides to math and related topics.

I reviewed the Regression Analysis guide HERE.

Here is a list of most of the other guides, all of them are great:

  • The Manga Guide to Physiology
  • The Manga Guide to Physics
  • The Manga Guide to Electricity
  • The Manga Guide to Linear Algebra
  • The Manga Guide to Statistics
  • The Manga Guide to Biochemistry
  • The Manga Guide to Calculus
  • The Manga Guide to Databases
  • The Manga Guide to Relativity
  • The Manga Guide to the Universe
  • The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology
  • Climate Change

    Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth (Build It Yourself) covers many concepts in earth science, from paleontology to climate systems to how to make a battery out of apple (how can a kid’s science activity not include the apple battery!).

    This book represents an interesting concept, because it involves kids in mostly easy to do at home projects, covers numerous scientific concepts, and takes the importance of global climate change as a given. There is a good amount of history of research, though the book does not cover a lot of the most current scientists and their key work (I’d have liked to see a chapter specifically on the Hockey Stick and the paleo record, thought these concepts are included along with the other material).

    One of the coolest things about the book is the material on what an individual can do to address energy and climate related problems, including (but not limited to) advice on activism, such as writing letters to government officials.

    Climate Change: Discover How It Impacts Spaceship Earth (Build It Yourself) is listed as for reading ages 9-12 (reading level U), but with a parent working with the kid, this can work for much younger children, especially if you focus on the projects. I intend to work with my five year old on some of the projects, and use a couple of the sections as night time reading material. When he gets a bit older he can read the book himself. This would also be a good book to give as a gift to your kid’s school library, or even better, the appropriate elementary school teacher.

    Please Don’t Paint Our Planet Pink!: A Story for Children and their Adults was a go fund me project that eventually evolved to become a real live book and an excellent one.

    magine if you could see CO2? In the book, it is imagined to be pink. The imagining takes the form of a quirky father, one imagines him to be an inventor of some sort, coming up with the idea of making goggles that would allow you to see CO2 as a pink gas. This is all described by the man’s patient but clearly all suffering son, who eventually dons the prototype goggles and sees for himself.

    I read this to Huxley, age 5, and he loved it. He kept asking questions, and saying things like, “Is that true? Really?” I knew he would enjoy the book for its witty chatter and excellent illustrations, but frankly I did not expect him to be enthralled. He is fairly laid back when it comes to matters of science, nature, and for that matter, mathematics. He tends to absorb, then, later makes up song about it or comes up with difficult questions. His reaction was unique.

    Bill McKibben’s reaction was pretty strong too. He is quoted as saying, “I’ve often wondered what would happen if CO2 were visible. Now I know!” … except he already knew. There would be pink everywhere. At the density of about 400ppm. More than the 350 value that gives his organization its name!


    Doing Science

    Treecology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Trees and Forests is an excellent new nature activity book for kids of a fairly wide range of ages.

    Like a tree, the pattern of the book is pretty straightforward but fractal like; you start off simple but end up pretty much anywhere in the world of ecology. The book begins with the basic definition of a tree, simple tree anatomy, some phylogeny, some tree physiology and biology, but then branches off (pun intended) into things that are related to trees, like things that live on them, eat parts of them, etc. Seeds and seed dispersal come in around this point as well, as one might expect. The role of trees, or tree related images or tree names, etc. in human culture is also explored.

    As indicated by the subtitle, these lessons are organized into thirty things you can do. Some of these things simply involve looking (dividing your local landscape’s larger plants into “tree” and “not a tree,”, etc.) while some involve more intense observation (like telling different trees apart) or interaction (including, of course, waxing leaves and similar activities).

    The book includes some great tips on observing (or attracting) forest insects. I think Huxley’s Buggy Camp could have used some of this info this week to help them find tree-related buggy creatures in the nearby woods.

    This book can probably work in any North American region, as it is not too specific at the species level, and pretty generic at the genus level. As it were. There is more than enough activity in this book, in terms of both amount and diversity, to keep a family with any number of kids busy on several weekends. The activities are also spread out across seasons fairly well.

    Monica Russo has written and illustrated several nature books for children, and authored “Nature Notes,” a column in the Sun Chronicle. Kevin Byron is a nature photographer who’s work is widely recognized.

    The Outdoor Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments for the Yard, Garden, Playground, and Park is a good guide to home science experiments for kids, usually with adult involvement, ranging across a fairly wide range of age but mainly, I’d say, middle school for unsupervised work, or pretty much any age if supervised.

    All of the experiments can be done by adults with younger kids watching or being involved to varying degrees.

    Most of he experiments cost little or nothing, depending on where you live (like, do you live near a pond?) and what the phrase “common household ingredients” means to you.

    Many of the experiments involve things in nature, which is why it is the “outdoor” and not the “kitchen” or “bathroom” science lab.

    Make a pitfall trap, find and observe inverts, conduct plant warfare using the principle of allelopathy.

    For those in temperate zones, these are mainly spring-summer-fall experiments, so with 52 of them, this book is good for a few years.

    Each spread (two pages) has one experiment, richly illustrated with photographs. There is a list of materials, safety tips, the protocol, and a side bar on the science itself, along with a “creative enrichment” idea such as making graphs, or testing the allelopathic properties of invasives.

    The author, Liz Heinche, is a molecular biologist and mom, thus this book. From the publisher:

    Outdoor Science Lab for Kids offers 52 fun science activities for families to do together. The experiments can be used as individual projects, for parties, or as educational activities for groups. Outdoor Science Lab for Kids will tempt families to learn about physics, chemistry and biology in their backyards. Learn scientific survival skills and even take some experiments to the playground! Many of the experiments are safe enough for toddlers and exciting enough for older kids, so families can discover the joy of science together.

    I know of at least one pre-school that uses the book. I’m not a big fan of home schooling, but home schoolers will like this book. The book is not a substitute for middle school or high school science instruction in schools.

    Also in the same series are Kitchen Science Lab for Kids (where you will find an excellent milk rainbow protocol) and Gardening Lab for Kids, which I’ve not looked at.

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    Chanting “God Save The Queen,” a mob of angry children surrounded Westboro Baptist Protestors who had shown up to harass a school’s community who had elected a transgender homecoming queen. The protesters were forced to get back in their care and get the hell out of Dodge. Or, in this case, Oak Park Missouri.

    From this Revolution News:

    High School students, Church groups, anarchists, antifacists, liberals, LGBTQIA+ activists, and more came together to send the Westboro Church and their message of hate back to Topeka Kansas – and to honor Landon Patterson. The Westboro Baptist Church didn’t even make it to the school.

    At a street corner, activists swooped in on them, and a group of anarchists immediately held a banner in front of the WBC to block them. Other protesters swarmed in from behind, and everyone chased the four or five members of the WBC back to their van. The police, of course, protected the WBC the whole way.

    Muslim_Pencil_Box_For_Bomb_Where_To_Buy

    Huxley has not yet been required to use a pencil box. He had to buy one, but they’ve not used it yet. I guess they get to that later in Kindergarten.

    So, I have time to get a new one, just ordered. Better get yours now, they are likely to sell out.

    I’m wondering if this would hold the Raspberry Pi.

    Anyway, note that there is also a version available for pirates.

    Click here to get it at Amazon.

    Do not build an actual bomb. This is for hoax bombs only.

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    Bjorn Lomborg often touts, and has done so recently, that his Copenhagen Consensus Center works with seven Nobel Laureates. I’ve always let that pass but wondered if it was really true, who they were, and what that involvement consisted of. Graham Readfearn of DeSmog Blog has done the hard work of running this down and he found out that this is not as impressive as it seems. For one thing, one of the Seven is not actually alive. Of the other six, at least one is a very well known climate change contrarian, and overall the amount of work, and the quality of the work, they have produced is unimpressive.

    Check out: “Seven Nobel Laureates” Behind Climate Contrarian Bjorn Lomborg’s Think Tank Are Not All They Seem, Or Even All Alive

    Here is a meme I made to commerate Graham’s efforts:
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    Click the image to get the full size original.

    Click here to learn more about Lomborg.

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    The “Nones” are rising, at the expense of the Nuns.

    From “Openly Secular“:

    Recently, two studies have been released that affirm the number of nonreligious Americans is rising. For several years, the percentage of secular Americans has been increasing rapidly and the media has been reporting on it. But dig a little deeper, and it becomes abundantly clear that this new data is fundamentally different and demonstrates a significant shift in the hearts and mind of American citizens, and critically, American voters.

    These new studies, one conducted by the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life, the other by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reveal that not only are there more religiously unaffiliated Americans (often called “nones”), but more of these people are calling themselves atheists or agnostics. At the same time, the number of Americans who identify as Christians is shrinking.

    Since 1993, the percentage of Americans who claim no formal religious affiliation has grown from 9% to 22% according to the PRRI study. No other group has risen as sharply. Not only is the overall number of unaffiliated Americans surging, a greater proportion of these “nones” are identifying as secular. The Pew study shows that 31% of the “nones”—representing 17 million Americans—self identify as atheist or agnostic, up from 25% in 2007. An additional 39% of the “nones” say that religion is not important to them, which means 15.8% of the total population of the United States is atheist, agnostic, or secular.

    Almost sixteen percent of potential voters carries a lot of political clout. A group of voters this large who believe in the separation of church and state simply cannot be ignored.

    “This data is particularly meaningful as the 2016 presidential election approaches,” says Todd Stiefel, Chair of Openly Secular. “For the first time, politicians will not be able to ignore the substantial voting bloc of secular Americans. We have real clout and we vote. As the number of secular people continues to rise, more and more Americans will come to realize that many of their loved ones, next-door neighbors and coworkers do not believe in God, and that they are still moral, good people.”

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    Hunter Cutting, Director of Strategic Communications at Climate Nexus, talks about the upsides of the issues surrounding climate change. “One of the very interesting things I think about this whole issue is it’s actually not a scientific problem. Thanks to work of scientists we’re actually pretty clear what causes global warming,” said Cutting. “What we’re really talking about is moving our economy from a fossil fuel economy to renewable energy economy and the cost to that is marginal at best.”

    From here.