Tag Archives: books

Birds of Australia: New Book

There are close to just under 900 species of bird in Australia, and The Australian Bird Guide by Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke, Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack, and Kim Franklin covers just over 900 of them. Where do the extras come from? Sea birds in the nearby oceans, I think.

This is an excellent bird book that all Australian birders simply need to have. Holiday season is just around the corner. Get one of these for your favoriate Australian!

This is not exactly a pocket guide. It is more of a car guide, and you better have a big glove box. The 6.8 x 9.7 inch format is hefty, and there are over 550 pages of high quality thickish paper.

There are some 30 pages of excellent front matter giving all the usual contextual information any bird guide gives. Then, the species are laid out taxonomically with color coded bleeds grouping major taxa. Each spread of pages has information on the left and pictures, which are excellent Peterson style drawings, on the right.

The typical spread has four species, but many have three. A species will be represented by several drawings showing the different morphs (by age status and sex, typically) as well as other features, such as what a wing looks like in flight, or a close up of a tail’s markings, etc. The authors were very thoughtful in this aspect of the layout. The book is designed to help you identify the bird. Information needed to address subspecies or hybrids, etc. is provided. There are range maps for everything on the same page layout.

There is a checklist, glossary, and index.

The Australian Bird Guide has spread the 900 birds across 4,000 images divied up on 249 plates (with, as mentioned, three or four bird species per plate).

A very notable feature of The Australian Bird Guide is what appears to be a very extensive coverage of the elusive sea birds in the region. Distribution and status of the bird species is very up to date as well.

About the authors:

Peter Menkhorst is a principal scientist with the Victorian government and has forty years’ experience in ecological research and the survey and management of Australian mammals and birds. He is the author of A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia. Danny Rogers is an ornithologist specializing in shorebird ecology and patterns of feather molt in birds, and works for the Victorian government environment department. Rohan Clarke is a lecturer in vertebrate ecology at the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University. Jeff Davies is a Melbourne-based artist who specializes in portraits of Australian birds and their environments. Peter Marsack is an award-winning wildlife artist based in Canberra. Kim Franklin is a freelance artist and illustrator who has exhibited worldwide and is based in Adelaide.

Shooting At The Queen, Torchwood, AI: Cheap Books

In Tooth and Claw, Season 2 Episode 2 of Doctor Who 2.0, we see the formation of The Torchwood Institute and the banishing of The Doctor (and Rose) from the United Kingdom. Fat lot that does. Anyway, we also see Queen Victoria make mention of the multiple attempts at her assassination. I suppose it is understandable that some eight or nine (nine if you count the werewolf) attempts were made on her life. She was a women in charge of men in the most patriarchal culture ever (the White West generally, not just UK). They also said “Lock her up!” All the time, and there was a never ending investigation of her use of postage stamps, which by the way she freakin’ invented.

Anyway, I’ve been rewatching the new series, and saw that episode just today. I did not know about all those attempts on Her Majesty’s person, but by the way the fact was written into the script in DWS2E2, I suspected it was for real. So I looked it up. And, I cam across a book on it that was marked down to two bucks in Kindle form!

Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy

During Queen Victoria’s sixty-four years on the British throne, no fewer than eight attempts were made on her life. Seven teenage boys and one man attempted to kill her. Far from letting it inhibit her reign over the empire, Victoria used the notoriety of the attacks to her advantage. Regardless of the traitorous motives—delusions of grandeur, revenge, paranoia, petty grievances, or a preference of prison to the streets—they were a golden opportunity for the queen to revitalize the British crown, strengthen the monarchy, push through favored acts of legislation, and prove her pluck in the face of newfound public support. “It is worth being shot at,” she said, “to see how much one is loved.”

Recounting what Elizabeth Barrett marveled at as “this strange mania of queen-shooting,” and the punishments, unprecedented trials, and fate of these malcontents who were more pitiable than dangerous, Paul Thomas Murphy explores the realities of life in nineteenth-century England—for both the privileged and the impoverished. From these cloak-and-dagger plots of “regicide” to Victoria’s steadfast courage, Shooting Victoria is thrilling, insightful, and, at times, completely mad historical narrative.

For two bucks, we also have Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence–and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl.

When most of us think about Artificial Intelligence, our minds go straight to cyborgs, robots, and sci-fi thrillers where machines take over the world. But the truth is that Artificial Intelligence is already among us. It exists in our smartphones, fitness trackers, and refrigerators that tell us when the milk will expire. In some ways, the future people dreamed of at the World’s Fair in the 1960s is already here. We’re teaching our machines how to think like humans, and they’re learning at an incredible rate.

In Thinking Machines, technology journalist Luke Dormehl takes you through the history of AI and how it makes up the foundations of the machines that think for us today. Furthermore, Dormehl speculates on the incredible–and possibly terrifying–future that’s much closer than many would imagine. This remarkable book will invite you to marvel at what now seems commonplace and to dream about a future in which the scope of humanity may need to broaden itself to include intelligent machines.

CheMystery is a graphic novel

CheMystery authored by C. Al Preece is a graphic superhero novel, drawn by Josh Reynolds, that teaches — wait for it — Chemistry!

A radiation accident transforms two youngsters into superheros, and simultaneously creates an evil villain for them to fight. The graphic novel covers that story and is indurated with frequent cleverly placed molecule size chemistry lessons.

Teachers need to know that this book complies with Next Gen science standards and is very classroom friendly. Indeed, author Preece is a chemistry and physical science teacher (and a trained chemist).

It is a great read, an engaging story, and the lessons are informative and easy on the eyes. I recommend it for the youth in your life who is into science. Teachers should have a look at it!

How to do Statistics Wrong

Telling people that they are doing statistics wrong is a cottage industry that I usually want nothing to do with, for various reasons including the fact that the naysayers are often blindly repeating stuff they heard but do not understand. But, Alex Reinhart, in Statistics Done Wrong: The Woefully Complete Guide, does not do that, and this is a book that is worth reading for anyone who either generates or needs to interpret statistics.

Most of the 10 chapters that address specific technical problems with statistics, where they are misused or misinterpreted, are very helpful in guiding a reader in how to think about statistics, and certain fallacies or common errors may well apply to a particular person’s work on a regular basis. I’ve put the table of contents below so you can see how this may apply to you. This is a worthy addition to the bookshelf. Get this book and stop doing your stats wrong!

The author is a grad student and physical scientist at Carnegie Mellon.

Here’s the table of contents:

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Statistical Significance
Chapter 2: Statistical Power and Underpowered Statistics
Chapter 3: Pseudoreplication: Choose Your Data Wisely
Chapter 4: The p Value and the Base Rate Fallacy
Chapter 5: Bad Judges of Significance
Chapter 6: Double-Dipping in the Data
Chapter 7: Continuity Errors
Chapter 8: Model Abuse
Chapter 9: Researcher Freedom:Good Vibrations?
Chapter 10: Everybody Makes Mistakes
Chapter 11: Hiding the Data
Chapter 12: What Can Be Done?

The Wildlife of Ecuador

Wildlife of Ecuador: A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians by naturalist Andrés Vásquez Noboa, witih photography byablo Cervantes Daza, covers mainland Ecuador (but by “mainland” we also mean ocean mammals). Focusing only on non-piscine verts, you will need to go elsewhere for your inverts and plants and such. But you get the point. This book covers most of what you are looking for when you are out in the wild looking for animals.

This is not a comprehensive guide, but covers the most frequently seen animals, totaling to 350 distributed across over 400 plates.

There is a good chance that if you are an American or European going to Ecuador, you are visiting the Galapagos, in which you will want to check outg Wildlife of the Galápagos: Second Edition. A rather broad gulf of evolutionary change and outlandish biogeography separates Ecuador from its famous island possessions. But there is a good chance that if you are going to teh Galapagos, you are making at lease one nature related stop, so this is the book for you.

This is a well done nicely bound standard field guide of field guide size and format with animal info and excellent photos on the same pages, and organized by taxonomic category (not all field guides are!). You might think a tiny country like Ecuador does not need range maps, but the topography is highly variable with conditions running from lowland moist to alpin-ish and from wet to dry, so there are, indeed, range maps as needed. And, that ecological diversity is explained in the preface material.

I highly recommend this book for travelers to the region.

If you want more ecology and evoluitonary biology with your field guides, check out my review of the Neotropical Companion, here.

My Review of Hillary Clinton’s Book Part I

Before discussing What Happened by Hillary Clinton, the nature of the political conversation demands that I preface this review with some context.

First, about me.

I supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election because I did not want Donald Trump to be president.

During the primary, which was not the 2016 election, I seriously had a hard time deciding between the various candidates (Clinton and Sanders). On an issue by issue basis, I preferred Sanders’ position over Clinton. However, on the issues about which I have an informed view (climate change and energy related, and education) by view was different from both, and the difference between Sanders and Clinton was smaller than the difference between either of them and me.

I decided early on during the primary to support the candidate that was likely to win the nomination as soon as I was pretty sure who that was. In order to facilitate that, I developed a model predicting the primary outcome. At the very outset, Clinton was predicted to win, but we needed to pass through several actual primaries to have confidence in that. In the end, it turns out that my model predicted almost every primary outcome to within a few percentage points, often getting the outcome exactly correct, and predicted the winners very well (when a primary is a half point difference, the difference between a very good prediction and the actual outcome is literally a coin toss). A very small number of primaries were different from what I predicted in magnitude, and I never made predictions using my model for Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, and the various territories (the model could not work in those areas). (I made predictions, but not based on my model.)

It became clear to me that Clinton was going to win the primary long before I openly stated that. I avoided stating it because I knew that would cause an unfair and obnoxious reaction from many Sanders supporters. So I waited until a blueberry muffin would have the brains to see who was going to win. In retrospect that was a mistake because none of those folks I was worried about ever got smarter than a blueberry muffin anyway.

So, to summarize, I supported Sanders and Clinton both, liked them both, avoided being mean to either one of them, attended fundraisers for both, attended rallies by both, but all along I knew Clinton was the more likely nominee.

I want to add something else about Sanders vs. Clinton. I regarded Sanders non-incrementalism as better than Clinton’s incrementalism for many but not all issues. I Think both candidates were flawed in having one or the other of a strategy. I know because I’m much smarter than a blueberry muffin that there are times for incrementalism and times for revolution. I also knew it was time for more revolution in two or three areas (such as the energy transition and health care). That’s why I leaned more towards Sanders than Clinton with respect to that philosophy.

Having said that, I felt that Clinton was the more competent and more likely to simply do a good job as president, and I had no sense whatsoever as to how Sanders would do with foreign policy. I did, however, have confidence and reason to believe that Sanders would have come up to the challenge of foreign policy excellence, and Clinton have put the hammer down on certain issues, casting aside the incrementalism.

Now, a quick word about Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was a gubernatorial first lady, and a presidential first lady. She was a trained lawyer and political activist fighting hard fights. She brought the whole idea of public preschool to the US and did more for health care reform, including and especially for children than any other individual until Obamcare. Then, she was an effective and much liked Senator and an excellent Secretary of State. She then became the first woman to win a major party nomination for president, won the popular vote, and probably would have won the election were it not for Russian meddling.

After her loss, she withdrew from public view for over half a year.

Then she wrote a book, What Happened, expressing her point of view.

Then, a lot of people felt compelled to tell this woman to shut her pie hole based on this book.

Finally, my review of the book:

I don’t have one. The book is not published yet. I don’t intend to say anything about the book until I’ve read it (I pre-ordered it). And, if I hate it, I will tell you what I did not like about it, and I’ll even tell Clinton if I get a chance, but I will not tell this woman that she should not have written it. She gets to do that, and all those people telling us that the book that is not yet published is terrible and that Secretary Clinton should not have written it, are deeply embarrassing themselves.

Disagree with the contents of this book you haven’t read, if you can manage to eventually read it and be fair and not a cherry picker with your opinion. But do not, I repeat, do not, tell her to shut up. That’s what Republicans do, that’s what dictators do. That’s what the original American Patriots did, who burned literature they didn’t like and physically assaulted the authors, and burned their homes, back before we got civilization.

I’ll tell you this: I am very interested in what happened during the last election. I’ve written quite a bit about it, I’m writing more about it. Why would I not want Clinton’s point of view?

Stay tuned for Part II of this review, in which I … actually review What Happened after I have actually read it!

(PS: If you didn’t know that bit about the original American Patriots you must read THIS BOOK. )

The Horses Of The World: Don’t say Neigh to this great book.

Over the years, the field guide and the coffee table book have merged, and we now have coffee table-ish books (but serious books) that include a species description of every critter in a certain clade. In the case of Horses of the World by Élise Rousseau (Author), Yann Le Bris (Illustrator), Teresa Lavender Fagan (Translator), while every living species of horse is in fact covered, the book is a comprehensive guide to breeds of horses.

Of which there are 570.

A horse is horse, of course, but but is a donkey or an ass? What about zebras?

Horse people are very picky about what they call a horse. It is generally thought that there are onlly three living or recent species of horse. The Prewalski’s horse (Equus ferus prezewalski), which lives in Asia, the tarpan (Equus ferus ferus) which is the European version of this animal, and went extinct when the last zoo inmate of this species died in 1909, and the modern horse, Equus ferus caballus. But if you think of a horse as a member of the genus Equus, there are more, including the donkey/ass and three species of zebra, the Kiang (a Tibetan ass), and another Asian ass called the Onager. And, since when speaking of horses, the extinct European wild horse is generally mentioned, we will add the Quagga, the half horse-half zebra (in appearance) African equid that went extinct in 1984 (having disappeared from the wild in 1883).

Since “horses” (as in Mr. Ed and friends) and Zebras can interbreed successfully, and some of these other forms can as well to varying degrees, we need to think of Equus as a close knit genus and not be exclusionary in disregarding the Zebra and Donkey.

Anyway, that is not what this book is about. As noted, there are some 570 or possibly more varieties of horse (no two experts will likely agree on that number) and Horses of the World covers them all. There is introductory material about horses, breeds, how we tell them apart, conservation status, etc. Each horse breed is then given one half of a page on each of two folios, so you see overleaf some illustrated text on one side, and a fuller and very official illustration on the other, for most breeds, with some variation.

This is one of the few books that comes with a movie, compete with some rather galloping music:

Élise Rousseau is the author of numerous books on horses. Illustrator Yann Le Bris has illustrated numerous books.

Science Books: New And Cheap (not necessarily both)

Let’s start with CheMystery.

This is a fun graphic novel mystery book by C.A. Preece and Josh Reynolds. Two cousins experience an incident that would make a physicist cry, but that works in a chemistry book because they now have the ability to observe and change matter. So this is a superhero book, designed to teach chemistry. The story is great, the science is great, and the pedagogy is well suited for kids and adults that like graphic novels.

Preece is the chem teacher (high school) and Reynolds is the artist.

This is written for grades 7 through 10 (ages 8-12) but some younger kids will do fine with it.

This book is pretty new, but I think it is available.

Here are some books that are currently available cheap on Kindle, for anywhere from free to two bucks, that are either science or otherwise, I suspect, of interest to readers of this blog:

Electric Universe: How Electricity Switched on the Modern World

In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, an d 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World

Adams: An American Dynasty

Almost Free Book Alert: The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson

Tom Levenson is a professor, a teacher of journalism and science journalism, and an Einstein scholar. He also knows a thing or two about Isaac Newton.

One of my favorite non fiction books of all time is Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist. One of the reasons this book is so good is because the author is an expert on the subject and a great writer. These are not necessary or sufficient conditions to make a book good, but probabilistically, if you’ve got both you’ll probably be spending your book money well most of the time.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to inform you that Levenson’s The Hunt for Vulcan: . . . And How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe is currently on sale, in Kindle form, for two bucks!

The Hunt For Vulcan brings together Levenson’s Einstein expertise and his Newton expertise and his expertise on other things to look at this interesting historical thread whereby Newton predicted the existence of Planet Vulcan, everybody looked for it but did not find it, and Einstein ultimately explains it all.

Little did any of them know that Vulcan does actually exist. In a galaxy far far away accessible only with a five year voyage …

To help you make your decision about spending this $1.99, here’s the publisher’s blurb. I do not know how long this deal will last so act before midnight!

The captivating, all-but-forgotten story of Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and the search for a planet that never existed

For more than fifty years, the world’s top scientists searched for the “missing” planet Vulcan, whose existence was mandated by Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity. Countless hours were spent on the hunt for the elusive orb, and some of the era’s most skilled astronomers even claimed to have found it.

There was just one problem: It was never there.

In The Hunt for Vulcan, Thomas Levenson follows the visionary scientists who inhabit the story of the phantom planet, starting with Isaac Newton, who in 1687 provided an explanation for all matter in motion throughout the universe, leading to Urbain-Jean-Joseph Le Verrier, who almost two centuries later built on Newton’s theories and discovered Neptune, becoming the most famous scientist in the world. Le Verrier attempted to surpass that triumph by predicting the existence of yet another planet in our solar system, Vulcan.

It took Albert Einstein to discern that the mystery of the missing planet was a problem not of measurements or math but of Newton’s theory of gravity itself. Einstein’s general theory of relativity proved that Vulcan did not and could not exist, and that the search for it had merely been a quirk of operating under the wrong set of assumptions about the universe. Levenson tells the previously untold tale of how the “discovery” of Vulcan in the nineteenth century set the stage for Einstein’s monumental breakthrough, the greatest individual intellectual achievement of the twentieth century.

A dramatic human story of an epic quest, The Hunt for Vulcan offers insight into how science really advances (as opposed to the way we’re taught about it in school) and how the best work of the greatest scientists reveals an artist’s sensibility. Opening a new window onto our world, Levenson illuminates some of our most iconic ideas as he recounts one of the strangest episodes in the history of science.