Tag Archives: Book review

Coding iPhone apps for Kids

I can’t give this a meaningful review because I don’t have the setup to test it out, Coding iPhone Apps for Kids: A playful introduction to Swift by Gloria Winquist and Matt McCarthy looks like it is up to the high standards of this publisher and these authors, and might be just the thing for your kid:

Apple’s Swift is a powerful, beginner-friendly programming language that anyone can use to make cool apps for the iPhone or iPad. In Coding iPhone Apps for Kids, you’ll learn how to use Swift to write programs, even if you’ve never programmed before.

You’ll work in the Xcode playground, an interactive environment where you can play with your code and see the results of your work immediately! You’ll learn the fundamentals of programming too, like how to store data in arrays, use conditional statements to make decisions, and create functions to organize your code—all with the help of clear and patient explanations.

Once you master the basics, you’ll build a birthday tracker app so that you won’t forget anyone’s birthday and a platform game called Schoolhouse Skateboarder with animation, jumps, and more!

As you begin your programming adventure, you’ll learn how to:

  • Build programs to save you time, like one that invites all of your friends to a party with just the click of a button!
  • Program a number-guessing game with loops to make the computer keep guessing until it gets the right answer
  • Make a real, playable game with graphics and sound effects using SpriteKit
  • Challenge players by speeding up your game and adding a high-score system
  • Why should serious adults have all the fun? Coding iPhone Apps for Kids is your ticket to the exciting world of computer programming.

    Covers Swift 3.x and Xcode 8.x. Requires OS X 10.11 or higher.

    Example Page:


    Author Bio
    Gloria Winquist became hooked on iOS development in 2011 and has been programming professionally ever since. She works as an iOS developer at LumiraDx.

    Matt McCarthy has released more than 20 apps as part of a two-person team, Tomato Interactive LLC. He works as a software engineer at LumiraDx.

    Table of contents
    PART 1: Xcode and Swift
    Chapter 1: Hello, World!
    Chapter 2: Learning to Code in a Playground
    Chapter 3: Making Choices
    Chapter 4: Writing Code That Loops
    Chapter 5: Keeping Your Programs Safe with Optionals
    Chapter 6: Storing Collections in Dictionaries and Arrays
    Chapter 7: Functions Are a Party, and You’re Invited
    Chapter 8: Custom Classes and Structs

    PART 2: Birthday Tracker
    Chapter 9: Creating Buttons and Screens on the Storyboard
    Chapter 10: Adding a Birthday Class and Handling User Input
    Chapter 11: Displaying Birthdays
    Chapter 12: Saving Birthdays
    Chapter 13: Getting Birthday Notifications

    PART 3: Schoolhouse Skateboarder
    Chapter 14: Setting the Stage
    Chapter 15: Making Schoolhouse Skateboarder a Real Game
    Chapter 16: Using the SpriteKit Physics Engine
    Chapter 17: Adjusting Difficulty, Collecting Gems, and Keeping Score
    Chapter 18: Game State, Menus, Sound, and Special Effects

    A guide to the butterflies (book review)

    A Swift Guide to Butterflies of North America is a field guider’s field guide. It is the shape and size of a traditional field guide. The designers of this book said “we don’t need no stinking margins” so there are no margins. Color bleeds on the page edges allow a quick index to major butterfly categories. There is a two page spread visual index. A no nonsense introduction give you the basics about how to use the book, how to be a butterflyer, and how to not be a jerk about butterflies (like, don’t net them and kill them). The front covers even have those flaps that you can use as bookmarks.

    Ranges are an interesting problem with butterflies, since their biogeography is both very heterogeneous and in some cases rapidly changing. Also, a key feature of their breeding ranges is not so much when they are there, but how many times they cycle through broods over the warm months. So the maps are interesting:

    A species entry is jammed with info. The color of the species name indicates something about its range, and key information about habitat, timing of adult phase, etc. is pulled out and highlighted. And so on. I’m giving a few examples of the pages here so you have an idea of how no nonsense serious this book is as a field guide. This is the book in which you find the butterfly, no question.

    This guide, by Jeffry Glassberg, world expert on butterflies, is the revised second edition of what has always been recognized as the most usable and detailed field guid for the average intense person. 3,500 photographs cover all known species in the region, depicting details and variants.

    The guide is photographic, but using modern techniques to this approach (which, in the old days, was usually not as good as drawing) so you have the best illustrations in this book.

    See also: Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book


    The information about each species in together with all the other information about each species.

    Species are grouped in major categories that are essentially morphological. So you go, “look, there’s a skipper” and look it up in the section on skippers.

    This is an excellent must have field guide.

    From the publisher’s site:

    Jeffrey Glassberg is a leading butterfly authority and author. He is president of the North American Butterfly Association, editor of American Butterflies magazine, and the author of many books, including the Butterflies through Binoculars series. He is adjunct professor of evolutionary biology at Rice University and lives in Morristown, New Jersey.

    The Table of Contents:

    Introduction 7
    About This Book 7
    Butterfly Identification 7
    Butterfly Biology 8
    Names 9
    Interacting with Butterflies 9
    “Releasing” Butterflies 10
    Conservation 11
    North American Butterfly Association 11
    Wing Areas and Body Parts 12
    About the Species Accounts 13
    Abbreviations, Symbols and Glossary 14
    About the Maps 15
    Swallowtails Papilionidae 16
    Parnassians Parnassiinae 16
    True Swallowtails Papilioninae 18
    Whites and Yellows Pieridae 36
    Whites Pierinae 36
    Marbles and Orangetips 46
    Yellows Coliadinae 52
    Sulphurs 52
    Yellows 68
    Gossamerwings Lycaenidae 74
    Coppers Lycaeninae 74
    Harvester Miletinae 83
    Hairstreaks Theclinae 84
    Blues Polyommatinae 122
    Metalmarks Riodinidae 146
    Brushfoots Nymphalidae 158
    Heliconians and Fritillaries Heliconiinae 158
    Heliconians 158
    Greater Fritillaries 162
    Lesser Fritillaries 182
    True Brushfoots Nymphalinae 190
    Patches, Checkerspots and Crescents 190
    Anglewings, Ladies and Relatives 220
    Admirals and Relatives Limenitidinae et al. 232
    Leafwings Charaxinae 246
    Emperors Apaturinae 250
    Snouts Libytheinae 253
    Satyrs Satyrinae 254
    Ticlears, Clearwings Ithomiinae 277
    Mimic-Queen and Monarchs Danainae 277
    Skippers Hesperiidae 280
    Firetips Pyrrhopyginae 280
    Spreadwing Skippers Pyrginae 280
    Skipperlings Heteropterinae 332
    Grass-Skippers Hesperiinae 334
    Giant-Skippers Megathyminae 394
    Hawaii 400
    Photo Credits 402
    Selected Bibliography 403
    Selected Websites 403
    Caterpillar Foodplant Index 404
    Butterfly Species Index 408
    Visual Index 418

    A climate insurgency manual

    Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual by Jeremy Brecher is a new and helpful book a the growing and essential literature.

    Late in 2015, nearly two hundred countries signed the Paris Agreement acknowledging their individual and collective duty to protect the earth’s climate—and willfully refused to perform that duty. In response to this institutional failure and to growing climate destruction, we are witnessing the birth of a global nonviolent constitutional insurgency. Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual tells how to put strategy into action—and how it can succeed. It is a handbook for halting global warming and restoring our climate—a how-to for climate insurgents.

    The Birds Of India: New Guide

    A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh is one of those next gen guides that uses photos but photos that are either enhanced or contextualized to serve the same role as drawings served in the old days, when drawings were better and photos were merely fun.

    From the editors:

    This is the only comprehensive photographic field guide to the birds of the entire Indian subcontinent. Every distinct species and subspecies–some 1,375 in all-

    -is covered with photographs, text, and maps. The guide features more than 4,000 stunning photographs, many never before published, which have been carefully selected to illustrate key identification features of each species. The up-to-date facing-page text includes concise descriptions of plumage, voice, range, habitat, and recent taxonomic changes. Each species has a detailed map reflecting the latest distribution information and containing notes on status and population density. The guide also features an introduction that provides an overview of birdlife and a brief history of ornithology in India and its neighbors. The result is an encyclopedic photographic guide that is essential for everyone birding anywhere in the subcontinent.

  • Covers all 1,375 subcontinental bird species
  • Features more than 4,000 stunning photographs to aid quick field identification
  • Includes up-to-date facing-page text and range maps
  • Contains concise descriptions of plumage, voice, habitat, and much more
  • John F Kennedy’s Birthday Book

    JFK: A Vision for America. As our political system slides off the seat and into the crapper, I am finding this book to be a worthy and informative distraction. From the publisher:

    Published in commemoration of the centennial of President John F. Kennedy’s birth, here is the definitive compendium of JFK’s most important and brilliant speeches, accompanied by commentary and reflections by leading American and international figures—including Senator Elizabeth Warren, David McCullough, Kofi Annan, and the Dalai Lama—and edited by JFK’s nephew Stephen Kennedy Smith and renowned historian Douglas Brinkley. Combined with over seven hundred documentary photos, it tells the story, in words and pictures, of JFK’s life and presidency, and depicts his compelling vision for America.

    JFK brings together in one volume John F. Kennedy’s greatest speeches alongside essays by America’s top historians, analysis from leading political thinkers, and personal insights from preeminent writers and artists. Here is JFK at his best—thought-provoking, inspiring, eloquent, and wise—on a number of wide-ranging topics, including civil rights, the race to the moon, the environment, immigration, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and much more. JFK demonstrates the deep relevance of his words today and his lasting power and influence as an outstanding American leader and orator.

    Elegantly designed and enriched by more than 500 photographs and facsimiles of Kennedy’s marginalia on drafts of speeches, his notes from important meetings, letters, and other fascinating documents, JFK is a major contribution to American history.

    The august list of contributors includes Secretary John Kerry, Ambassador Samantha Power, Congressman John Lewis, Senator John McCain, Senator Elizabeth Warren, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Robert Redford, Conan O’Brien, Dave Eggers, Gloria Steinem, Don DeLillo, David McCullough, George Packer, Colum McCann, Michael Beschloss, Robert Dallek, David Kennedy, Ted Widmer, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Drew Faust, Tariq Ramadan, Pastor Rick Warren, Jonathan Alter, E. J. Dionne, Ron Suskind, Paul Krugman, Kofi Annan, Governor Jerry Brown, Paul Theroux, Jorge Domínguez, and many others.

    Check it out

    A Guided Tour of the Solar System From Someone Who’s Been There

    I’ve been enjoying Worlds Fantastic, Worlds Familiar: A Guided Tour of the Solar System by Bonnie Buratti.

    Burratti is a planetary astronomer at NASA’s JPL, and is the head of the Comets, Asteroids and Satellites Group. She was a key player in the Voyager program, and in the research done with the Cassini-Huygens, and New Horizons space ships.

    Worlds Fantastic, Worlds Familiar: A Guided Tour of the Solar System is a personal exploration of what it is like to personally (via robots) explore our solar system, and at the same time, a systematic accounting of the solar system. The story is told, I think, as a geologist might tell it, about land forms and surface features. In other words, it is a somewhat finer scale look at the very big scale picture of the solar system, which is something that could not possibly have been done prior to the exploration of that solar system with these various flying robots. Which, Bonnie Buratti herself flew, directed, or otherwise played around with.

    New Neil deGrasse Tyson Book Out Now

    Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by NdGT is now available.

    What is the nature of space and time? How do we fit within the universe? How does the universe fit within us? There’s no better guide through these mind-expanding questions than acclaimed astrophysicist and best-selling author Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    But today, few of us have time to contemplate the cosmos. So Tyson brings the universe down to Earth succinctly and clearly, with sparkling wit, in tasty chapters consumable anytime and anywhere in your busy day.

    While you wait for your morning coffee to brew, for the bus, the train, or a plane to arrive, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry will reveal just what you need to be fluent and ready for the next cosmic headlines: from the Big Bang to black holes, from quarks to quantum mechanics, and from the search for planets to the search for life in the universe.

    Give a listen to my interview with NdGT, from a few years back. Which, by the way, was a great interview, because I did two things to prepare. First, I checked out several other interviews done of him, and vowed to not ask any of those questions. Second, I read all his books and looked into his professional and academic background, and mostly asked him questions about his area of research. Do you know what his specific research area is? Most people don’t. Find out.

    His new book is actually more about his research are than many of his other books are.

    Raptors of Mexico and Central America

    There are about four hundred species of birds we call “raptors” of which most are falcons, hawks, eagles, owls, and so forth. I believe there are about 40 in what is considered the United States (from a person, not a bird, perspective) and many of them are found across much of the US, with the usual breaks across the Rockies, and a certain amount of north-south geography, and varying degrees of migration.

    A typical page
    A typical page
    There are 69 species of raptors, many overlapping with those in the US, in Mexico (which is part of North America, from a human perspective) and Central America. Interestingly, many of those species are geographically fairly limited in space, compared to the more northerly North American raptors. Or at least, that is my impression from looking at the distribution maps in Raptors of Mexico and Central America by William Clark and N. John Schmitt.

    This is a very nice book. Given that it covers only 69 birds (but comprehensively, because it has all the raptors in this raptor book) it is possible to have all the methods and modes used in one book. There are plates with multiple species, appropriately collected to make helpful comparisons, using drawing of the old Peterson style. If you use this book to identify raptors in the field, you’ll probably make your final decisions based on reference to these plates, as that is what they are designed for.

    The bulk of the book are species essays, some several pages long (generally about two-three pages). Each essay has a prominent photo of the bird, other photos, a range map, etc. Details on behavior and ID are given, as one expects in a bird book, but with much more information than usual, making use of the space available. Variations of sex, morph, age, and molt, are very important with raptors, depending on the species. The species-level discussions of molt are fantastic.

    The front and back matter is modest and appropriate.

    Plate of the Collared Forest-Falcon.
    Plate of the Collared Forest-Falcon.
    If you live in the US Southwest or south to Ecuador, this book needs to be on your shelf. If you ever go to any of those places, bring it. The format is full size trade book, not field guide.

    William Clark is a photographer specializing in raptors and one of the leading authorities on this type of birds. N. John Schmitt is an artist who specializes in drawing birds of prey. You’ve certainly seen their work many times. The book Raptors of Mexico and Central America gives you 213 more color photos and 32 plates with many drawings per plate.

    A few other books by these authors:

    A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors (Natural World)
    Birds Asleep (Corrie Herring Hooks Series)
    A Field Guide to the Raptors of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa

    I like this book so much I’ve read it 3 times: Neotropical Companion

    The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher came out years ago, in the late 80s if I recall correctly. I’ve got a copy of it around somewhere.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 1.48.31 PMI loved that book because it did a great job integrating all the things in one place: animals, plants, habitats, evolution, etc. Even though I was working in the paleotropics at the time, I found it informative.

    Then, more recently, I got a revised version of the same book. I’ve got it around somewhere. It is from the 1990s, I think. Great book, same idea as the first one, but with more in it, and a somewhat larger format. This dates to after my fieldwork in the rainforests, but overlapped with visits to arid regions in the tropics, though again, I’m paleo and the book is neo, but still great.

    Then, I got a new copy of f Kircher’s book, The New Neotropical Companion. I got this one in the future! (Not quite published yet, but I think you can actually get it now.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 1.48.36 PMThis is a serious book. To a large extent, the intended audience is folks who plan to travel in the neotropics and want a strong background in areas of evolutionary biology and conservation. But the book is very high level in terms of the material covered, the range of facts and scope of theoretical work brought to bear, and so on. It is easy to read, even engaging to read, but it is very very rich in content.

    So, the book includes information on traveling, and seeing nature on your trip. But then it includes all that information on the nature itself. It is not a small book, not a field guide format (as the first version was), but it is worth lugging around if you are doing some serious visiting.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 1.49.10 PMOr, if you are simply a student of the tropics, evolutionary biology, or nature (not and, but or, on all of that) this book will be an excellent addition to your library.

    And, it should be in school libraries, and on the shelves of biology teachers. There are many well developed examples of wildlife and evolution in here, that can be expand on with further literature review (and the book provides a handle on that) for developing in class projects.

    I’ve put the table of contents below. As you can see, the book is well organized and covers a lot of material. Also, it is a well produced (as is typical for this publisher, Princeton) and nice looking.

    The author, John Kricher, is a biology professor at Wheaton. He’s also written: Galápagos: A Natural History, Tropical Ecology, A Field Guide to California and Pacific Northwest Forests (Peterson Field Guides), By John Kricher – The Balance of Nature: Ecology’s Enduring Myth, and a couple of book on tape thingies such as Ecological Planet – An Introduction to Earth’s Major Ecosystems: The Modern Scholar (well, not really tape, of course).

    Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 2.03.37 PMTABLE OF CONTENTS:

    Preface 9
    Acknowledgments 11
    How to Use This Book 12
    1 Welcome to the Torrid Zone 15
    2 Why It Is Hot, Humid, and Rainy in the Tropics 29
    3 Rain Forest: The Realm of the Plants 39
    4 Finding Animals in Rain Forest 58
    5 Sun Plus Rain Equals Rain Forest 73
    6 Essential Dirt: Soils and Cycling 81
    7 If a Tree Falls . . . Rain Forest Disturbance Dynamics 95
    8 Evolutionary Cornucopia 113
    9 Why Are There So Many Species? 134
    10 Tropical Intimacy: Mutualism and Coevolution 155
    11 Evolutionary Arms Races: More Coevolution, More Complexity 181
    12 Cruising the Rivers to the Sea 205
    13 Scaling the Andes 235
    14 Don’t Miss the Savannas and Dry Forests 250
    15 Neotropical Birds: The Bustling Crowd 262
    16 From Monkeys to Tarantulas: Endless Eccentricities 319
    17 Human Ecology in the Tropics 365
    18 The Future of the Neotropics 377
    Appendix Words of Caution: Be Sure to Read This 389
    Further Reading 392
    Index 417

    Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed: An amazing new book

    monarch_milkweedMonarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution by Anurag Agrawal is a fantastic, readable, scientifically rich, detailed monograph about – you guessed it – the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant.

    The monarch butterfly begins a springtime northward migration by flying a good ways north, where females lay eggs and die. Then the eggs hatch, the caterpillars feed and metamorphose, and the newly minted butterflies then fly further north, and this cycle happens again. This happens a few times. The southward migration is different. The butterflies, which are across large areas of temperate North America, fly all the way south to their Mexican wintering grounds.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 8.42.14 PMIt is a widespread belief in America that monarchs rely on milkweed plants, and that the decline of milkweed explains an alarming decrease in monarch butterfly numbers over recent decades. That first belief is true: The monarchs lay their eggs on the milkweed, and the caterpillars feed on that plant. But it may not be true that a decline in milkweed is a problem for the monarchs. Agrawal makes a very good case that milkweed is not connected to monarch decline, and suggests but does not pin down other explanations.

    Monarchs are bitter tasting and, actually, toxic. They are toxic because the caterpillars take in and sequester, and pass on to subsequent morphs, a specific toxin in milkweed. You probably knew that. But, did you know that there was a very clever and rather complicated experiment conducted in the 1960s that established this fact?

    We often hear that there are two kinds of milkweed. There is the kind that monarchs lay their eggs on, and the kind that they don’t. We know this because, according to the Internet, some people, in an effort to save the monarch, planted the incorrect species instead of the correct species.

    Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 8.42.43 PMBut did you know that there are 37 species of milkweed? Monarchs uses several species, but may prefer some. There are other butterflies that also rely on the milkweed (they are known as the “milkweed butterflies”).

    The milkweed and the monarch have a tight and long term evolutionary relationship, both having adapted to the other’s adaptations, in a co-evolutionary story of epic proportions. But, this is not one of those stories of mutual benefit or cooperation. The monarchs exploit the milkweed, and the milkweed tries to defend itself, with only limited success. It is not a pretty picture, but it is a very interesting one.

    Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution is to date the coolest nature or science book I’ve seen so far this year. The year is young, but this book is fantastic, so I expect to see it finish in the top two or three, at least. Increasingly, I’m enjoying books written simultaneously for the general public as well as scientists, by scientists who know the material because they are among the contributors to the base of knowledge being expounded upon. This is an example; Anurag Agrawal is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Department of Entomology at Cornell University. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

    I highly recommend this book.

    (By the way, if you’ve not read Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver, about monarchs, climate change, an interesting family living in Appalachia and an interesting monarch butterfly research, you should!)

    Table of Contents:

    List of Illustrations vii
    1 Welcome to the Monarchy 1
    2 The Arms Race 22
    3 The Chemistry of Medicine and Poison 43
    4 Waiting, Mating, and Migrating 63
    5 Hatching and Defending 90
    6 Saving Up to Raise a Family 119
    7 The Milkweed Village 148
    8 The Autumn Migration 178
    9 Long Live the Monarchy! 210
    Acknowledgments 243
    Notes 249
    Image Credits 271
    Index 275