Super Cheap Super Science eBooks

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For some reason there is a sudden avalanche of of inexpensive (most $2 or less) of kindle science books that are good, and a couple of other not so science books that also happen to be good and on sale. Without further ado:

The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Anil Ananthaswamy. Sais to be “A thrilling ride around the globe and around the cosmos.” —Sean Carroll.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018 (The Best American Series ®) edited by Sam Kean. An amazing diversity of topics, including politics of and in science.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel. Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known that “the longitude problem” was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day-and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives and the increasing fortunes of nations hung on a resolution. One man, John Harrison, in complete opposition to the scientific community, dared to imagine a mechanical solution-a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land.

Out There: A Scientific Guide to Alien Life, Antimatter, and Human Space Travel (For the Cosmically Curious) by Michael Wall. In the vein of Randall Munroe’s What If? meets Brian Green’s Elegant Universe, a writer from Space.com leads readers on a wild ride of exploration into the final frontier, investigating what’s really “out there.”

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern. Called “spellbinding” (Scientific American) and “thrilling…a future classic of popular science” (PW), the up close, inside story of the greatest space exploration project of our time, New Horizons’ mission to Pluto, as shared with David Grinspoon by mission leader Alan Stern and other key players.

And, not science but still cheap right now:

The classic Texas: A Novel.

Eleanor: The Years Alone

He, She and It: A Novel by Marge Piercy.


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Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex

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A polar vortex event like we experienced last week does not make the sunshine weaker, nor does it reduce the strength of the wind. In fact, very cold weather can be associated with very sunny conditions, and in Minnesota a long dreary cool but not frigid cloudy period ended with the arrival of a much sunnier but very cold Arctic air mass. And,the movement of great masses of air is what pushes those windmill blades around. Continue reading Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex


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Instead of Evernote, Try Raindrop

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I’m not going to try to talk you out of Evernote. If you use the venerable application productively, good for you. I used it for a long time and it was fine. But, recent changes in the application caused me to look elsewhere for the satisfaction I was seeking. And I found it. I found Raindrop.io. Continue reading Instead of Evernote, Try Raindrop


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Minecraft Handbooks

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First, if you don’t know, Minecraft is a computer game in which you, the protagonist, exist as a sort of sprite with a hammer out in front of you. As you move across the landscape (or through the air or water) you can whack at things and your hammer will destroy them, or y our hammer will make things, or change things. And it is often not a hammer you wield, but perhaps a shovel or some other tool. Meanwhile, you come to possess things, often by mining them, and these things can be crafted together of you do it right, to make unique things.

The visuals are highly pixelated, in that everything is a three dimensional square block. Like this: Continue reading Minecraft Handbooks


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Does “June Medical Services v. Gee” = End of Abortion Rights? This Week?

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Ian Millhiser, writing at Think Progress, thinks so.

Lawyers representing a Louisiana abortion clinic and at least two physicians filed an application in the Supreme Court on Monday asking the court to halt a Louisiana law that is identical to a Texas law the justices struck down in 2016.

The court is almost certain to deny this application in a 5-4 vote — possibly as soon as tonight. When it does so, it will effectively mark the end of Roe v. Wade.

Yes, the court is very unlikely to hand down an opinion this week which uses the words “Roe v. Wade is overruled.” But these abortion providers filed this application because a federal appeals court openly defied the Supreme Court’s most recent abortion decision. When the court refuses to enforce its own decision, that will send a clear signal to lower court judges throughout the country that they are free to uphold restrictions on abortion.

You better read this here.


Recommended reading: Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History, 2nd Edition (Landmark Law Cases and American Society)


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Go Home, Arctic, You’re Drunk

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Dusting off the old meme I made a few years back, last time the Polar Vortex attacked North America:

And yes, regardless of any dispute about the term “Polar Vortex” itself (there is some confusion and disagreement), the excursion of air masses that normally reside in a particular latitudinal region (i.e, tropical, temperate, polar) can be, and likely is, caused by the effects of human release of greenhouse gasses. Ironically, the sequence of steps that go from your local coal plant or the back end of your excessively large car to an attack by the polar vortex involves a warming of the Arctic. So, I suppose, the polar air we are at present being assaulted with could be worse.

Simply put, as the Arctic warms, the age-old and somewhat complex process of heat moving from the warm equatorial regions to the poles (which you know it has to do, right?) is messed up because the longitudinal temperature gradient is messed up. This causes the giant circles of fast air known as the jet streams to bunch up and form enormous semi-stable loops known as quais-resonant Rossby waves. Once these suckers are happening, all kinds of things happen, like very wet rainy periods causing major flooding, much larger and more intense than usual blizzards, multi-year droughts, and these very annoying arctic incursions.

And that’s what we are having right now in the upper middle part of North America.

Like this:

Note that when you get down that far, the difference between F and C matters little.


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Making Raspberry Pi Robots

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At the core of this post is a review of a new book, Learn Robotics with Raspberry Pi: Build and Code Your Own Moving, Sensing, Thinking Robots. I recommend it as a great above-basic level introduction to building a standard robot, learning a bit about the Linux operating system, learning to program in Python, and learning some basic electronics. However, I want to frame this review in a bit more context which I think will chase some readers away from this book while at the same time making others drool. But don’t drool on the electronics. Continue reading Making Raspberry Pi Robots


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Global Warming vs. Climate Change: Origin Myths

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I’ve heard again and again the story of how we used to call it “global warming” then we called it “climate change” for one reason or another. I have honored esteemed colleagues who have their beliefs about the origins and shifts of these terms, and in some cases, they even have some documentation of how these terms came to be used, when, and why. However, my own version of this history is almost always different from theirs, and different from what I hear reporters, activists, writers, and others say.

Briefly, here is my version of the story. Originally it was called climate change, mainly because the people who studied it were looking at the long term, and warming was only one direction in which climate changed. Then a subset of people started looking much more closely at anthropogenic global warming, and started to use that term where appropriate. But even then, the basic theory and much of the empirical evidence related to the study of global warming came from the broader field of climate science, which studies change in climate and its causes (aka climate change). So, there are two axes of understanding here. One is the broader field of climate change of which global warming study is a part, and the other is the broader theoretical framework of climate change, of which global warming is a more narrowly defined application. Continue reading Global Warming vs. Climate Change: Origin Myths


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Some cheap books: Vonnegut, science, history

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In kindle form, generally three bucks or less.

John Steinbeck’s classic East of Eden, what might be Kurt Vonnegut’s best novel, The Sirens of Titan: A Novel.

The Fire Outside My Window: A Survivor Tells The True Story Of California’s Epic Cedar Fire by Sandra Millers Younger is about the worst wildfire in California up until the more recent worst wildfires in California, but these recent ones don’t have a book about them yet.

This might only be cheap for a few hours: Night: A Memoir by Elie Wiesel.


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Vermont could lead the way. But it doesn’t.

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Vermont. The state where everyone lives in a yurt and drinks organic maple syrup. Bernie Sanders is their Senator and I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama lives there. Or, at least, the yurts are lined with Llama fur.

You’d think that Vermont could get its act together to reduce greenhouse gasses more than most other states, but in fact, that has not happened, and it is probably important to know why.

Vermont had implemented one of the more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plans, but it turns out, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by about 16%. Like this following figure from this report shows:

Figure 1. Vermont Historic GHG Emissions Estimates and Future Emissions Reduction Goals.

From the Boston Globe:

“It wasn’t just disappointing and ironic, it was surprising,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney based in Vermont for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Many thought we were at least moving in the right direction. But we weren’t just missing the target, we were moving backward.”

The main reasons greenhouse gas emissions went up is because people, for the most part, did everything backwards. They did not buy electric cars, and they did buy bigger gas guzzling cars. They figured that as long as gas was cheap and easy to get, who cares about the planet?

Also, “Much of the blame falls on the aging pickup trucks, the state’s most commonly registered vehicles, which many residents often drive alone. The state also has a disproportionate number of tourists who clog its mountain roads on their way to ski resorts or leaf peeping.” (Boston Globe).

So much for the yurt people saving us all.


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Clean Energy: Good News Bad News

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First some good news:

Corporate clean energy buying surged to new record in 2018

Corporations purchased 13.4 gigawatts of clean power through long-term contracts, more than doubling 2017’s total, helped by demand from new industries and previously untrodden markets

Scenery conflict (I’ll just add, that solar panels replacing some nice vistas is better than post-apocalyptic landscapes replacing some nice vistas): Rhode Island town grapples with how to promote solar and protect rural views

Similarly, Massive Wisconsin solar proposal splits farmers and clean energy fans

And … Oregon adopts strict rules for solar panel farms on high-value farm soil

And for those who want to pay more but perhaps have something cool: RGS Energy Revives Dow’s Solar Roof, Claiming Better Efficiency and Lower Costs


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The Universe, Native American History, Brother Cadfael: Cheap Books

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A true diversity of cheap Kindle books right now available:

Wonders of the Universe (Wonders Series) by Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen. I’m not sure if this is the ideal Kindle book because the original print version is full of illustrations that may or may not translate well, but that might depend on what you want to do with it. I like having print copies, if I get them cheap, that go along with excellent documentaries (and this is a book that goes along with an excellent documentary), and a kindle version might be fantastic for that since it is searchable, and the whole idea is to have a memory jogger or a reference.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown is a classic. It was one of the key early books (ca 1970) to revise, as in making more accurate, the American conception of the history of Native Americans. The Kindle version contains additional information not found in the original.

If you read the Chroncles of Brother Cadfael and are not up to book 14, you may want to grab The Hermit of Eyton Forest , by Ellis Peters, which is book 14 in that series!


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