December 31, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: The Toronto Star

Peter Calamai is a treasure. Every newspaper should be blessed with such a fine and diligent science reporter. Check out his article on University of Toronto scientists Myrna and Andre Simpson, written as part of the "People to Watch in 2008" feature the other day.

More importantly, he's published his annual list of best science books:

  • Canada Rocks: The Geologic Journey by Nick Eyles and Andrew Miall

  • Silence of the Songbirds: How We Are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them by Bridget Stutchbury (York U prof!)

  • Ebb and Flow: Tides and Life on Our Once and Future Planet by Tom Koppel

  • Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History by Dorothy H. Crawford

  • Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese

  • How to Build a Robot Army: Tips on Defending Planet Earth Against Alien Invaders, Ninjas, and Zombies by Daniel H. Wilson

  • Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd by Karsten Heuer

  • Understanding Popular Science by Peter Broks

This is a particularly interesting list, both because it highlights a number of books that haven't to my knowledge been given much publicity as well as highlighting a few Canadian titles as well. Oddly, the Canadian literary establishment is leary about publishing and reviewing Canadian science books, so hopefully this exposure will help out those titles. (I've bolded the Canadian books) He's also kind enough to include a couple of books that obviously don't take themselves too seriously.

Calamai has also listed a bunch of honourable mentions and related reads:

  • Over The Mountains by Michael Collier
  • Supercontinent: Ten Billion Years in the Life of Our Planet by Ted Nield
  • An Enchantment of Birds: Memories from a Birder's Life by Richard Cannings
  • Owls of the United States and Canada by Wayne Lynch
  • Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
  • The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier

Update 2008.01.04: Annie Palovcik of TK Media informs me that Tom Koppel is also a Canadian author so I'm bolding that item as well. Thanks, Annie!

December 17, 2007

Code4Lib Journal

The first issue of the Code4Lib Journal is out and it's full of interesting stuff. Needless to say, it's open access!

Here's a quote from the mission statement:

Libraries have seized upon advances in computer technology, using computers and the Internet to offer unprecedented access to information and library resources. Ironically, the prodigious increase in tools for accessing information has left many with difficulty managing information about these tools. Projects are announced on blogs, in IRC channels, on websites, at conferences, and many other venues. It can require a research project just to find out what a tool does. Online professional/social networks help mitigate this problem, but entering into these networks can present an unnecessary obstacle to the uninitiated.

The Code4Lib Journal (C4LJ) will provide an access point for people looking to learn more about these tools, about approaches and solutions to real-world problems, and about possibilities for building on the work of others, so that the wheel need only be invented once, and can then be cooperatively improved by all.

The first table of contents:
Also needless to say, I'll reiterate some of my past comments about the way e-only journals are set up.

  • The full citation information should be easy to spot on the first page of any article print out. Preferably it should be listed in one of the standard citation formats and should include the stable url for the article.
  • Articles should have DOIs which should be visible on the table of contents and in the citation information for each article. This will help with Connotea integration as well other such services I'm sure.
  • Integration with Zotero is a great idea too.
  • Each issue should have a stable url associated with it and that url should be on the home page and on every mention of that issue.
  • It's handy to be able to print out the whole issue in pdf as well as each article individually. Links to the individual article pdfs should be on the table of contents along with the links to the HTML versions.

One Laptop Per Child

Amidst all the Kindle hype, it's easy to forget that not everyone is able to be as gadget happy as we are. Especially in the midst of the xmas consumerist hype.

Thanks to Mita Williams for reminding me a few weeks ago, we should all take the time to share the wealth that we have. And one possibility to consider is the One Laptop Per Child program, formerly known as the $100 laptop program. The current incarnation of the programs allows us to purchase one of the special XO laptops for ourselves at the same time as we donate a laptop to a child in the developing world. The total cost is us$400, i.e. $200 per laptop. The program is limited but has been extended to December 31, 2007.

I've ordered mine. How about you?

The Mission:

Most of the nearly two–billion children in the developing world are inadequately educated, or receive no education at all. One in three does not complete the fifth grade.

The individual and societal consequences of this chronic global crisis are profound. Children are consigned to poverty and isolation—just like their parents—never knowing what the light of learning could mean in their lives. At the same time, their governments struggle to compete in a rapidly evolving, global information economy, hobbled by a vast and increasingly urban underclass that cannot support itself, much less contribute to the commonweal, because it lacks the tools to do so.
It is time to rethink this equation.

Given the resources that developing countries can reasonably allocate to education—sometimes less than $20 per year per pupil, compared to the approximately $7500 per pupil spent annually in the U.S.—even a doubled or redoubled national commitment to traditional education, augmented by external and private funding, would not get the job done. Moreover, experience strongly suggests that an incremental increase of “more of the same”—building schools, hiring teachers, buying books and equipment—is a laudable but insufficient response to the problem of bringing true learning possibilities to the vast numbers of children in the developing world.
Standing still is a reliable recipe for going backward.

Any nation's most precious natural resource is its children. We believe the emerging world must leverage this resource by tapping into the children's innate capacities to learn, share, and create on their own. Our answer to that challenge is the XO laptop, a children's machine designed for “learning learning.”

XO embodies the theories of constructionism first developed by MIT Media Lab Professor Seymour Papert in the 1960s, and later elaborated upon by Alan Kay, complemented by the principles articulated by Nicholas Negroponte in his book, Being Digital.

Extensively field-tested and validated among some of the poorest and most remote populations on earth, constructionism emphasizes what Papert calls “learning learning” as the fundamental educational experience. A computer uniquely fosters learning learning by allowing children to “think about thinking”, in ways that are otherwise impossible. Using the XO as both their window on the world, as well as a highly programmable tool for exploring it, children in emerging nations will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential.

OLPC is not, at heart, a technology program, nor is the XO a product in any conventional sense of the word. OLPC is a non-profit organization providing a means to an end—an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community.

Some additional links on the OLPC site:

December 13, 2007

2008 Science Blogging Conference: Register while there's still time!

Registration for the upcoming Science Blogging Conference in North Carolina is getting tight. The conference is Saturday, January 19th 2008, with some pre-conference activities on the Friday. The program looks great.

Anyways, the registration count currently stands at 186 and they're going to cap it at around 200. So it you want to go, now's the time to decide. For what it's worth, I'll be at the conference this time around.

So, in Bora's tradition, I thought I'd highlight some of the people that will be attending -- Canadians and library people, of course!

Canadians (Of course, I can only rely on locations in the registration list -- there may be other Canucks based in other places):

Library People:

And of course, there's going to be another Science Blogging Anthology! Nominations are still open until December 20th, so nominate one of your own posts or one from your favourite science blogger.

Best Science Books 2007: Science Friday

Thanks to Stephanie for bringing the list from the National Public Radio show Science Friday to my attention. Lots of cool and interesting stuff!

  • Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy by Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks
  • Apollo's Fire: A Day on Earth in Nature and Imagination by Michael Sims
  • Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race by Richard Rhodes
  • A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey: 1957 - The Space Race Begins by Michael D'Antonio
  • The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days by Mark Edmundson
  • Einstein, His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • A Field Guide to Bacteria by Betsey Dexter Dyer
  • Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death by Deborah Blum
  • Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
  • Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World by Jessica Snyder Sachs
  • The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World by Phil Schewe
  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
  • The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS by Helen Epstein
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks.
  • Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee
  • Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming by Chris Mooney
  • The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker
  • Terra: Our 100-Million-Year-Old Ecosystem--and the Threats That Now Put it at Risk by Michael Novacek
  • What We Know About Climate Change by Kerry Emmauel

December 12, 2007

I've been memed!

I'm not much of a memer, but this one looks fun.

The rules are:

  1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
  2. Share 7 random and or weird things about yourself.
  3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
  4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

So, who tagged me? It was Sandra Porter of Discovering Biology in a Digital World.

My seven random or weird things about myself:

  1. I collect bookmarks. I particularly like to get ones from different independent bookstores from cities while I'm traveling or from museums or other cultural centers. I'll tend not to buy cutesy Disney-type bookmarks, though.

  2. For some reason I seem to have an unusual number of CDs by the bassists of famous bands: John Entwistle, Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones. Oddly, not Roger Waters or Bill Wyman, though. Extra points if you can name the five bands without googling.

  3. I was a huge Harlan Ellison fan as a teenager. Not so much anymore. Same with Frank Herbert and Robert E. Howard.

  4. On the music side, some teen obsessions that aren't so hot any more inlcude Styx and Journey.

  5. I used to really hate Rush but now I kinda even like them. Genesis has also grown on me as I've gotten older. On the other hand, Yes, King Crimson, ELP and Supertramp are still a mystery to me.

  6. I actually have a little book at home where I write down the title of every book I read as I finish them. I've been keeping track since 1982. The most books I've ever read in a single year is about 90. These days I average 40-50.

  7. I took my first web development course in 1996, an HTML course at the McGill Cont Ed centre. I took three or four courses there over the next few years on advanced HTML and Frontpage.

And now, I have to tag seven more random people, and leave a comment at their blog. As usual, I'm concentrating on Canucks and scitech library bloggers. To those I'm tagging, please don't feel you need to do the meme. I will completely understand if you decide not to. Also, my apologies if you've already done the meme but I missed it

  1. FRBR Blog
  2. Science Library Pad
  3. Carolyne's Pages of Interest
  4. STLQ
  5. Connie Crosby
  6. Eloquation (Squandrous, actually. Thanks, Sameer!)

December 11, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: Globe and Mail gift books

This past weekend the Globe and Mail did an extensive list of gift books for the holiday season, mostly coffee table books of course. And any list of coffee table books is bound to have quite a few science and nature titles, right? You bet. A great list in a bunch of different categories. Here a selection of the large number of relevant titles:

  • Pan American Clippers: The Golden Age of Flying Boats by James Trautman
  • Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations by Vincent Virga and the Library of Congress
  • 50 Aircraft that Changed the World by Ron Dick and Dan Patterson
  • Map Satellite (published by DK with no author)
  • Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide by David Burnie
  • The Last of the Wild Wolves: Ghosts of the Great Bear Rainforest by Ian McAllister with Chris Darimont
  • Starfinder: The Complete Beginner's Guide to Exploring the Night Sky by Carole Stott
  • Evolution by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu
  • Earth then and now: Amazing Images of Our Changing World by Fred Pearce
  • Hubble: The Mirror on the Universe by Robin Kerrod and Carole Stott
  • Storm Chaser: A Photographer's Journey by Jim Reed
  • The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss by Claire Nouvain
  • Earth from Space by Andrew K. Johnston
  • Oceanic Wilderness by Roger Steene

Any of these books would be a fine gift for the scitechy people in your circle of family and friends.

December 10, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: Los Angeles Times

A quite small list from the Los Angeles Times:

  • The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor by William Langewiesche
  • Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin
  • Proust Was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

December 8, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: The Atlantic Monthly

The Atlantic has chimed in with their lists of the notable books from the last year. If anything, this may be the most bitterly disappointing of any of the lists I've highlighted so far. The Atlantic is generally I magazine I enjoy and respect and for them to so thoroughly ignore science and technology in their selections says something about the way some aspects of "intellectual" culture sees the place of science in society. Their non-fiction lists include: Current Affairs, History, Biography and Memoir and Society and Culture.

Here goes for a few vaguely relevant items I could find:

  • The Gentle Subversive by Mark Hamilton Lytle (bio of Rachel Carson)
  • Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind by Peter D. Kramer
  • Europe’s Physician by Hugh Trevor-Roper (bio of Thodore de Mayerne, who is better known as a spy & diplomat)
  • Beyond 9 to 5 by Sarah Norgate (about people's experiences of time)
  • Where’s My Jetpack? by Daniel H. Wilson

December 7, 2007

Friday Fun: Monopoly!

Not sure if there's any other conceivable productive activity for a Friday at 4:55 other than writing a Friday Fun post...

I love Monopoly! And I often play quite well, so much so that my family hates playing with me. In fact, sometimes I'll sit out the game and just "advise" various people in strategy.

A post at BoingBoing links to a page with some very good suggestions on how to win. I'll quote the same bit at BoingBoing:

  • Always buy Railroads; never buy Utilities
  • At the beginning of the game, focus on acquiring a complete C-G (Color Group) in Sides 1+2, even if it means trading away properties on Sides 2+3. After acquiring one of these C-Gs, build 3 houses as quickly as possible: no more houses, no less!
  • Once your first C-G starts to generate some cash, focus on completing a C-G and building 3 houses in Sides 3+4.
  • Single properties are the least good investment if you don't build on them.
  • The only exception to the above rules are when you need to acquire stray properties to prevent your opponents from completing their C-Gs to accomplish the above strategy.

I actually think I have a book lying around the house somewhere on winning at Monopoly that has a lot of the same suggestions. There are also other fun Monopoly posts at BB.

Here & There

A few items that might have deserved full posts had I not become strangely obsessed with lists of science books:

December 3, 2007

Best Science Books 2007: National Post

Another Canadian newspaper has published their list of holiday reading, this time the right wing National Post. I'm actually pleasantly surprised; it's a pretty good list with no evolution or global warming denialism in sight.

  • Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
  • Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War by Michael J. Neufeld
  • Beneath My Feet: The Memoirs of George Mercer Dawson with Phil Jenkins (diaries of the first head of the Geological Survey of Canada)
  • Red Moon Rising: Sputnik and the Hidden Rivalries That Ignited the Space Age by Matthew Brzezinski
  • The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary
  • The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

Ok, it's not perfect. The Spirtual Brain has been pretty widely debunked.

Via Locus.

Best science books 2007: Washington Post

Via Uncertain Principles, I see that The Washington Post has a holiday gift guide list of books! I'm going to pull a little more broadly from the list than Orzel did in his post:

  • Einstein by Jurgen Neffe
  • The Lost World of James Smithson by Heather Ewing (bio of man who initially funded the Smithsonian)
  • Nature's Engraver by Jenny Uglow (bio of nature artist Thomas Bewick)
  • Something in the Air by Marc Fisher (history of radio)
  • The Toothpick by Henry Petroski (pop engineering)
  • Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington (a history of The Tuskegee Syphilis Study)
  • Body of Work by Christine Montross (med school memoir)
  • The Body Has a Mind of Its Own by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee (neuroscience)
  • Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
  • Passions and Tempers by Noga Arikha (history of the humoural theory of health)
  • Vaccine by Arthur Allen
  • Cheating Destiny by James S. Hirsch (caring for diabetes)

Not much in the way of straightforward science writing in the list, as evidenced by the frequent need for me to annotate the items to show their relevance. On the other hand, it's quite a varied list of things off the beaten path. Given all the other lists I've highlighted, this one certainly brings some breadth.

BTW, I do promise to post about something other than science books eventually. I'm just having too much fun with it right now! If you know of a list out there that you would like me to highlight, just let me know.

December 1, 2007

Best science books 2007: The Globe and Mail

Today's Globe and Mail featured their annual Globe 100 list of the year's most notable books. As usual, there were quite a few science and science-related books on the list. Unfortunately, they are also not separating out a separate Science & Nature section like in previous years.

Here's the list:

  • The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
  • The Geography of Hope: A Tour of the World We Need by Chris Turner
  • The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis
  • The World without Us by Alan Weisman
  • Silence of the Songbirds: How We are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them by Bridget Stutchbury
  • 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen
  • The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through A Century of Biology by Bernd Heinrich
  • The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph From the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge

Note that Silence of the Songbirds: How We are Losing the World's Songbirds and What We Can Do to Save Them is by York biology professor Bridget Stutchbury.

A couple of non-science non-fiction books that seemed interesting to me this year include: A Secular Age by Charles Taylor, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens, Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia By John Gray and Green City: People, Nature & Urban Places By Mary Soderstrom.

What do I think of the list overall? Well, compared to last year's list of 15 notable books, this year is down dramatically at 9. On the other hand, 9 is amazing compared to the Quill & Quire or the New York Times. During the course of 2007 I had the impression that the Globe was reviewing very few science books compared to other years and I guess this list bears that out. I sincerely hope that they're back to their previous levels in the coming year.

Or it also could mean that we should all be turning to the blogosphere for reviews of books that interest us and let the MSM book review section continue their decline.