Saturday, May 18, 2019

Wood, Fenton. Pirates of the Electromagnetic Waves. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2018. ASIN B07H2RJK8J. This is an utterly charming short novel (or novella: it is just 123 pages) which, on the surface, reads like a young adult adventure from the golden age, along the lines of the original Tom Swift or Hardy Boys series. But as you get deeper into the story, you discover clues there is much more going on than you first suspected, and that this may be the beginning of a wonderful exploration of an alternative reality which is a delight to visit and you may wish...

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin, Vol. 2: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941. New York: Penguin Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-59420-380-0. This is the second volume in the author's monumental projected three-volume biography of Joseph Stalin. The first volume, Stalin: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 (December 2018) covers the period from Stalin's birth through the consolidation of his sole power atop the Soviet state after the death of Lenin. The third volume, which will cover the period from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 through the death of Stalin in 1953 has yet to be published. As this volume begins in 1928, Stalin is...

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Smolin, Lee. Einstein's Unfinished Revolution. New York: Penguin Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-59420-619-1. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, one of those nagging little discrepancies vexing physicists was the behaviour of the photoelectric effect. Originally discovered in 1887, the phenomenon causes certain metals, when illuminated by light, to absorb the light and emit electrons. The perplexing point was that there was a minimum wavelength (colour of light) necessary for electron emission, and for longer wavelengths, no electrons would be emitted at all, regardless of the intensity of the beam of light. For example, a certain metal might emit electrons...

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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Coppley, Jackson. The Code Hunters. Chevy Chase, MD: Contour Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-09-107011-0. A team of expert cavers exploring a challenging cave in New Mexico in search of a possible connection to Carlsbad Caverns tumble into a chamber deep underground containing something which just shouldn't be there: a huge slab of metal, like titanium, twenty-four feet square and eight inches thick, set into the rock of the cave, bearing markings which resemble the pits and lands on an optical storage disc. No evidence for human presence in the cave prior to the discoverers is found, and dating confirms that the...

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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Corcoran, Travis J. I. The Powers of the Earth. New Hampshire: Morlock Publishing, 2017. ISBN 978-1-9733-1114-0. Corcoran, Travis J. I. Causes of Separation. New Hampshire: Morlock Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-1-9804-3744-4. (Note: This is novel is the first of an envisioned four volume series titled Aristillus. It and the second book, Causes of Separation, published in May, 2018, together tell a single story which reaches a decisive moment just as the first book ends. Unusually, this will be a review of both novels, taken as a whole. If you like this kind of story at all, there's no way you'll not immediately...

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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Nelson, Roger D. Connected: The Emergence of Global Consciousness. Princeton: ICRL Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-936033-35-5. In the first half of the twentieth century Pierre Teilhard de Chardin developed the idea that the process of evolution which had produced complex life and eventually human intelligence on Earth was continuing and destined to eventually reach an Omega Point in which, just as individual neurons self-organise to produce the unified consciousness and intelligence of the human brain, eventually individual human minds would coalesce (he was thinking mostly of institutions and technology, not a mystical global mind) into what he called the noosphere—a sphere...

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

I have posted an overhaul of the Web pages supporting Your Sky and Solar System Live. The Your Sky Object Catalogues for asteroids by name, asteroids by number, and periodic comets now include links both to show the current position of the object in the sky in Your Sky and, for objects in non-hyperbolic orbits, plot the orbit in Solar System Live, automatically selecting a plot of the inner or full solar system depending upon the semi-major axis of the object's orbit. The Object Catalogue files have been upgraded in style and typography from the 1990s to the eve...

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Dutton, Edward and Michael A. Woodley of Menie. At Our Wits' End. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2018. ISBN 978-1-84540-985-2. During the Great Depression, the Empire State Building was built, from the beginning of foundation excavation to official opening, in 410 days (less than 14 months). After the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, design and construction of its replacement, the new One World Trade Center was completed on November 3, 2014, 4801 days (160 months) later. In the 1960s, from U.S. president Kennedy's proposal of a manned lunar mission to the landing of...

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

HotBits server version 3.9 is now in production at Fourmilab. This server is 100% upward compatible with existing HotBits users and API client programs, but has been extensively restructured to improve reliability and fault tolerance. It is able to communicate with multiple HotBits generators and recover from any timeouts or connection problems in obtaining data from them, and requests data from the two identical Fourmilab HotBits generators in a round-robin sequence. In addition to the existing hexadecimal, binary C data structure, and XML data formats, JSON is now supported. JSON is a JavaScript-derived data structure representation which is increasingly used...

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Monday, December 31, 2018

Here are my picks for the best books of 2018, fiction and nonfiction. These aren't the best books published this year, but rather the best I've read in the last twelve months. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear in alphabetical order by their author's surname. Each title is linked to my review of the book. Fiction: Winner: A Rambling Wreck and The Brave and the Bold by Hans G. Schantz I am jointly choosing these two novels as fiction books of the year....

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Stross, Charles. Iron Sunrise. New York: Ace, 2005. ISBN 978-0-441-01296-1. In Accelerando (July 2011), a novel assembled from nine previously-published short stories, the author chronicles the arrival of a technological singularity on Earth: the almost-instantaneously emerging super-intellect called the Eschaton which departed the planet toward the stars. Simultaneously, nine-tenths of Earth's population vanished overnight, and those left behind, after a period of chaos, found that with the end of scarcity brought about by “cornucopia machines” produced in the first phase of the singularity, they could dispense with anachronisms such as economic systems and government. After humans achieved faster than light travel,...

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

By the time I was in high school in the 1960s, the origin of the chemical elements seemed pretty clear. Hydrogen was created in the Big Bang, and very shortly afterward about one quarter of it fused to make helium with a little bit of lithium. (This process is now called Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and models of it agree very well with astronomical observations of primordial gases in the universe.) All of the heavier elements, including the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen which, along with hydrogen, make up our bodies and all other living things on Earth, were made in...

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Monday, December 24, 2018

Burrough, Bryan. Days of Rage. New York: Penguin Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-14-310797-2. In the year 1972, there were more than 1900 domestic bombings in the United States. Think about that—that's more than five bombings a day. In an era when the occasional terrorist act by a “lone wolf” nutcase gets round the clock coverage on cable news channels, it's hard to imagine that not so long ago, most of these bombings and other mayhem, committed by “revolutionary” groups such as Weatherman, the Black Liberation Army, FALN, and The Family, often made only local newspapers on page B37, below the fold....

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Marighella, Carlos. Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla. Seattle: CreateSpace, [1970] 2018. ISBN 978-1-4664-0680-3. Carlos Marighella joined the Brazilian Communist Party in 1934, abandoning his studies in civil engineering to become a full time agitator for communism. He was arrested for subversion in 1936 and, after release from prison the following year, went underground. He was recaptured in 1939 and imprisoned until 1945 as part of an amnesty of political prisoners. He successfully ran for the federal assembly in 1946 but was removed from office when the Communist party was again banned in 1948. Resuming his clandestine life, he served in...

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Cawdron, Peter. Losing Mars. Brisbane, Australia: Independent, 2018. ISBN 978-1-7237-4729-8. Peter Cawdron has established himself as the contemporary grandmaster of first contact science fiction. In a series of novels including Anomaly (December 2011), Xenophobia (August 2013), Little Green Men (September 2013), Feedback (February 2014), and My Sweet Satan (September 2014), he has explored the first encounter of humans with extraterrestrial life in a variety of scenarios, all with twists and turns that make you question the definition of life and intelligence. This novel is set on Mars, where a nominally international but strongly NASA-dominated station has been set up by the six-person crew first to...

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