You know what LEGO is. Do you know what LEGO Ideas is?
This is a program where people — not normal people but Lego Ninja Expert people — propose lego builds. The builds are normally actually built, but some are just designed or have parts that are just designed. These propose builds are then vetted on a publicly available web space at LEGO. People “support” the project by providing a very simple evaluation and, basically, a vote.
If a proposed build gets 10,000 votes, it goes into review. I suppose the review process is important, or all future LEGO projeects would be about Boaty McBoatface. Anyway, if the project passes review, then a limited number are produced.
Unsurprisingly, a relatively large number of these proposed builds are science oriented, science fiction, or otherwise, nerdy. Most of the rest are hot cars or airplanes.
These projects are usually expensive, and as noted, limited in production. But if you are willing to fork out 50 bucks or so for a very cool LEGO project, you can have some real nice ones at any given time. Sadly, no matter how cool the project is, it eventually fades into obscurity.
I should note also that you will find very few of these projects at any store. I’ve seen a few at Toys-backwardsR-Us, but most are only available on line.
I’ve gone through all the currently available projects (including several that LEGO no longer produces but that are still in the pipeline) to pick out the science and nerd oriented ones, plus one that is neither but still cool. Here they are.
Many LEGO kits have varying degrees of functionality, but most are minituarized versions of large things, like, say, an airplane or something, so they’ll have a prop that rotates and that’s about it. This kit is a kit to build a thing that is a thing, not a model imitating a thing. there are not many LEGO kits that do this.
These are my suggestions, mostly books, for holiday gifts that have some sort of science relevance. See this guide for gift ideas for kids. (There is a pretty good chance that there is an idea or two in the Kids Guide for the adult in your life, depending on the adult.)
For your Uncle Bob
Get ready for your favorite science-denying uncle, whom we all know of as “Uncle Bob” (though he goes by many different names) with these two important books related to climate change.
The book’s structure swaps back and forth between science (the parts written by Paul Douglas) and scripture (the parts written by co-author Mitch Hescox). I don’t know Mitch, but from the blurb I learn: “Mitch Hescox leads the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), the largest evangelical group dedicated to creation care (www.creationcare.org). He has testified before Congress, spoken at the White House, and is quoted frequently in national press. Prior to EEN, he pastored a church for 18 years and worked in the coal industry. Mitch and his wife live in Pennsylvania.”
Now, you might think that the chances of an Evangelical Christian reading my blog is about zero. This is not true. Many Christians, ranging from Evangelical to less-than-angelical read this blog, they just don’t say much in the comments section. Except those who do, mainly those denying the science of climate change. Well, this book is for all of you, especially the Evangelical deniers, because here, the case is made on your terms and in your language, in a very convincing way, and, including the science. It turns out that, according to the Bible, you are wrong on the Internet.
Let’s say that you are a fairly active atheist who likes to annoy your Christian relatives at holidays. If that is the case, then this book is for you!! This is the book to give to your Uncle Bob.
I can’t attest to the scriptural parts of this book. This is not because I’m unfamiliar with Scripture or have nothing to say about it. Both assumptions would be highly erroneous. But, in fact, I did not explore those parts of this book in much detail, just a little. But I am very familiar with the science in this book, I’ve delved deeply into it, and I can tell you that Paul has it right, and it is very current.
If Your Uncle Bob is Investment Savvy
Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm is the ideal climate change book for the person who is always checking their stock portfolio or watching the real estate market, or, simply, planning on moving or retiring soon. It is is also a very up to date examination of climate change science, the effects of climate change on humans, policy related problems, and energy-related solutions. Everyone should read this book, and if you teach earth system sciences you should consider using this book as a guide in your teaching, or in some cases, assigning it in class. The book is written to be read by general audiences, so it would work well in a high school or college setting.
As Romm points out, climate change will have more of an impact on humans, including you, than even the Internet. It is an existential issue. Romm acknowledges that some of these impacts are already happening, but that future impacts are likely to be very significant. Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen remarkable superstorms, significant drought, notable wildfires, and killer heat waves. These events have made people sit up and take notice. For this reason, more people want to know more about climate change, and indeed, everyone should know something about this problem. Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is an effort to provide that information to the average person.
While we are on the subject of Climate Change, here are must have, must read titles that are not necessarily new, but always worth mentioning. I’m giving you links to my reviews so you can find out more.
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/08/24/mad-about-science-denial-this-book-is-for-you-and-your-uncle-bob/">The Madhouse Effect</a>, by Michael Mann and Tom Toles, is an excellent holiday gift. Not only is it a festive red in color, but it is full of cartoons. It is current, forceful, an excellent choice given the current political circumstances. </li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/04/30/dire-predictions-understanding-climate-change-must-read-book/">Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change</a>, by Michael Mann. This is the IPCCC "Scientific Basis" report converted into a very readable and illustration rich format. This is the book I give to science teachers. </li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2015/03/11/climatology-versus-pseudoscience-exposing-the-failed-predictions-of-global-warming-skeptics/">Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics</a>, by Dana Nuccitelli. This book proves that climate skeptics are FOS. </li>
This is not Yet Another Popular Book on how people don’t get science. This is a very well written, accessible, thoughtful analysis of the history of science vs. anti-science from the beginning of modern science itself, but focusing on the recent and current anti-science effort. Why is this happening? Who is doing it? What can be done about it?
This and much more is all covered. Also, since the book has been out for a few months now, the price has dropped so get a copy cheap!
I’ve written a detailed review with extensive commentary HERE.
A second book I’ll mention in this category is “Truth or Turthiness” by Howard Wainer. I wrote a review of that book here. Give this to your favorite skeptic so they can hone their skills.
The giant sloths may be extinct, but Don Prothero himself is a giant of our age among fossil experts. His primary area of expertise includes the fossil mammals (especially but not at all limited to rhinos). I believe it is true that he has personally handled more fossil mammalian material, in terms of taxonomic breath and time depth, across more institutional collections, than anyone.
A typical entry focuses on an order, and the orders are arranged in a taxonomically logical manner. A living or classic fossil representative is depicted, along with some boney material, in the form of drawings. Artist’s reconstructions, photographs, maps, and other material, with phylogenetic charting where appropriate, fills out the overview of that order.
The text is expert and informative, and very interesting. the quality of the presentation is to notch. The format of the book is large enough to let the artistry of the production emerge, but it is not a big too heavy floppy monster like some coffee table books are. This is a very comfortable book to sit and read, or browse.
I should also mention Don Prothero’s other book, just out at the end of last year so maybe you already have this, “The Story of Life in 25 Fossils.” I reviewed it here.
“The Grand Canyon: Monument to an Ancient Earth is an excellent geological overview of that amazing place. But it is also, explicitly, extensively and intensively, an exploration of the creationist view of the Grand Canyon, and the Canyon’s role in proving that evolution is not real.
It turns out that Evolution is real, the canyon is amazing, and this book is another excellent choice of a volume to pass on to a teacher in your local middle school or high school. I review it here.
Here is a list of general science books that I regard as excellent. Where I’ve written a review, I’ll link you through to that review, where I’ve not yet posted a review, I’ll link you through to the book itself on Amazon.
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/07/15/venomous-how-the-earths-deadliest-creatures-mastered-biochemistry/">Venomous: How the Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry</a>, by Christie Wilcox is just plain fun. And, disturbing at many levels. A great read. You won't be able to put it down, but if you do put it down, check for scorpions first!</li>
<li><a href="http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2016/02/11/the-serengeti-rules-the-quest-to-discover-how-life-works-and-why-it-matters-book-review/">The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters</a> by Sean (The <strong>B</strong>iologist) Carroll uses the key principle of homeostasis to explore complex biological systems. Very readable, fascinating. </li>
<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062368591/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0062368591&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=ae6dda6c59963fb2a33896f24ee7adcb">I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0062368591" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> by Ed Yong is about the gazillion cells that live in and on you, and how they are really, well, you. This book is about what is regarded by many as another revolution in thinking about how life works. Great read. </li>
<li>Do not. I repeat do not. Do not bring this book on your next airplane flight. You will learn things from <a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0143127322/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0143127322&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=f36c25867554f9981edfaa2f5ade91bc">The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World's Most Mysterious Air Disasters</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0143127322" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> that will amaze you and, frankly, freak you out. </li>
<li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1623493870/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1623493870&linkCode=as2&tag=grlasbl0a-20&linkId=7a055e283bdd1e4337ab8502a03ff7c9">Alligators of Texas (Gulf Coast Books, sponsored by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi)</a><img src="//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=grlasbl0a-20&l=am2&o=1&a=1623493870" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /> by Louise Hayes (Photos by Philippe Henry) may be of local interest, but I include it here because it is an excellent monograph on this particular animal. If you live anywhere near the Gulf Coast, but especially Texas, this book needs to be near your back door. </li>
I have a handful of super excellent bird books that are new and should be of interest to anyone with a science bent, not just bird people.
Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence was written by Nathan Emery, who is a Senior Lecturer (that’s like a Professor of some sort, in America) at Queen Mary University, London. He researches the evolution of intelligence in animals, including primates and various birds, and yes, including the crows!
He and his team “…have found striking similarities in the behaviour, ecology, neurobiology and cognitive mechanisms of corvids (crows, rooks, jackdaws and jays) and apes. [Suggesting that] these similarities are adaptations for solving similar social and ecological problems, such as finding, protecting and extracting food and living in a complex social world.”
The book is really great, the best book out there right now on animal intelligence, possibly the best book so far this year on birds. This is the kind of book you want laying around the house or classroom to learn stuff from. If you are writing or teaching about anything in evolution or behavior, this is a great way to key into the current work on bird intelligence.
HERE is my full review of this book, including musings about the subject matter.
Another bird book, that I’ve also labeled as the best bird book of the year, is What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young. This is an exploration of nature based on this premise: the robin knows everything about its environment, and this information is regularly conveyed via the bird’s call, or its behavior. By observing that behavior or understanding the robin’s vocalizations, you can poach that information and also know a lot about the immediate environment, which may be your own back yard, the area near your camping site, the wooded gully the enemy may approach you by, or a nearby park. (My full review is HERE.)
And, of course, it isn’t just the robin, it is all the animals including birds, insects, and everything else. But Young is talking about birds, and it is certainly true that in most or possibly all habitats, it is the birds that, owing to their diurnal and highly visible and sound oriented nature, are telling you all this information about your mutual surroundings as well as about the bird itself.
To me, birding (and nature watching in general) is not so much about lengthening one’s list (though that is always fun) but, rather, about observing and understanding behavior. Young explores this, teaches a great deal about it, and places this mode of observation in the context of countless stories, or potential stories, about the world you are sharing with the birds you are watching.
This is a four or five dimensional look at a multidimensional world. Lucky for us humans, as primates, we share visual and audio modalities, and mostly ignore odor, and we have overlapping ranges in those modalities (to varying degrees). But birds fly (most of them, anyway) and are small and fast and there are many of them. In many places we live, we are the only diurnal visually-oriented non-bird. Indeed, while I’m sure my cat communes with the rabbits at a level I can’t possibly understand, I’m pretty sure I get the birds in ways she could not possibly get her paws around. (Which is why we don’t let her out of the house. She would prefer to eat them, rather than appreciate them!)
This title is more for those specifically interested in birds. It is one of those books that looks at an entire category of birds over a large area. The title of Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide, by Sébastien Reeber could be rewritten to say “Temperate and Subtropical Waterfowl of the Northern Hemisphere,” though that would be a bit misleading because a large percentage of these birds migrate long distances, so really, it is more like “Waterfowl of the world except the ones that stay in the tropics or otherwise don’t migrate north of the tropics,” but that would be a silly title.
Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide is large format. The up and down and back and forth dimensions are not as large as Crossley’s bird guides, but it is way bigger than a field guide, and thick … 656 pages. The plates start on page 32 and the detailed text and photograph rich species accounts run from pages 177 to 616, to give you an idea of the balance and expansiveness found in this volume.
This book is organized in a unique way. There are two main parts. First, 72 plates show peterson-style drawings of all of the birds that are covered, with the drawings arranged on the right side, with basic ID information, range maps, and references to other parts of the book on the left side. This allows the user to find a particular bird fairly quickly. Importantly, the pictures cover both sex and age variations.
The second part of the book significantly expands on the plates, and is cross referenced by plate number, with extensive text and multiple photographs to add very rich detail.
So, when it comes to your preference for drawings vs. photographs, you can have your cake and eat it too. Also, when it comes to your need for a basic field guide vs. a more in depth discussion, you can have your cake and eat it too there as well.
This is really an idea gift book for a bird lover. Chances are they don’t have it, chances are, they’ll love it. Write a nice inscription in it.