Summer Reading, June 29th ~ The Victorian Internet

SummerMagic2

I’m appropriating Mondays for short reviews of my summer reads (I’m behind in reviewing all the books I’d like to review) and my weekly preview.

What I Read Last Week

The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage

Cover via Goodreads

For centuries people communicated across distances only as quickly as the fastest ship or horse could travel. Generations of innovators tried and failed to develop speedier messaging devices. But in the mid-1800s, a few extraordinary pioneers at last succeeded. Their invention–the electric telegraph–shrank the world more quickly than ever before.

A colorful tale of scientific discovery and technological cunning, The Victorian Internet tells the story of the telegraph’s creation and remarkable impact, and of the visionaries, oddballs, and eccentrics who pioneered it. By 1865 telegraph cables spanned continents and oceans, revolutionizing the ways countries dealt with one another. The telegraph gave rise to creative business practices and new forms of crime. Romances blossomed over the wires. Secret codes were devised by some users, and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by its skeptics. And attitudes toward everything from news gathering to war had to be completely rethought.

The telegraph unleashed the greatest revolution in communications since the development of the printing press. Its saga offers many parallels to that of the Internet in our own time–and is a fascinating episode in the history of technology. (via Goodreads)

Oof. This is only my second book of summer! But it was a good one. The perfect lounging-in-the-cool-breezes of San Diego read.

The history of technology is a very cool niche and Tom Standage does a great job wearing both the history hat and the tech guy tie. I read The Turk at the end of 2013 and it shifted the way I look at the history of invention. The Victorian Internet isn’t quite as paradigm changing, but it was still enlightening. Standage provides us with a chain of invention leading from the optical telegraph system through the installation of the trans-Atlantic telegraph lines. The crux of the book is that telegraphy did for the world what the internet continues to do. The electric telegraph allowed for long distance communication to occur quickly, making the world seem to be a much smaller place. There are many other parallels as well. The abbreviations needed to keep messages short. The blind long-distance friendships that blossomed. The prophecies both optimistic (world peace) and dire (the death of the newspaper). I was also struck by how quickly the telegraph came and went, quickly transposed by the telephone within one generation. It makes me wonder how radically different the world will be at the far end of my life.

SmallAce

What I’m Reading This Week

For the first time in a year and a half, I’m behind on Deal Me In stories. I have “The Championship of Nowhere” by James Grady and Stephen King’s “The Tale of Gray Dick” for last week and this week. I’ve also been chipping away at The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 7. *And* I just remember that there’s a full moon Wednesday! I pick a deuce and deuces are wild. My choice is “When it Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster.

10-books
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Double Review ~ Two About Tesla

Cover via Goodreads

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson

Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America’s first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.

Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla’s private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an “idealist” inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion. (via Goodreads)

Last week, I finished my mini block of Tesla. Since November of last year I’ve read two fiction books and two-ish non-fiction books. The two fictional characterization were very strongly based on the mythology of Tesla, the mad scientist and the underdog geek hero. W. Bernard Carlson’s biography offers a different perspective, a more down-to-earth one.

“In writing about Tesla, one must navigate between unfair criticism and excessive enthusiasm.”

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age doesn’t cover the entirety of Tesla’s life or every aspect of it. Instead, Carlson mainly covers Tesla’s early life through 1905. The focus is on how Tesla invented and what might have influenced his philosophies, while incidentally debunking some of the Tesla myths. (For example: Tesla *would* build from what he designed in his mind, but the machines were not always perfect. The designs were only as good as Tesla’s understanding of the underlying system, which was often very, very good, but not always complete.)

The book is much more technical than I expected, but I was okay with that.  I didn’t need to understand every nitty-gritty electrical engineering detail. Rather than a recitation of events, Tesla’s innovations are given cultural and economic context. Neither Tesla nor Edison invented in a void. Like it or not, money was an issue especially in the case of disruptive innovations. In the case of DC and AC power, many DC systems were already in place. AC power might have had long term advantages, but the cost of refitting the existing systems was deemed too high during the economic downturn of the late 1800s. Also, Tesla seems to have suffered from an overage of ideas as he moved from the ideals in his imagination to the potential technologies. Often these ideas didn’t translate into products that would give the public or the money-men reason to back Tesla.

This was PaleoFuture’s first “book club” book and Dr. Carlson was invited to answer questions about the book and his research into Tesla. The book itself has over a 100 pages of notes and references; Carlson is no slouch when it comes to research and it’s always fun to hear from an author who is obviously excited about his subject. I really enjoyed this look at Tesla. It’s very easy to say, “The guy was a nutty genius!” or “Poor Tesla, he was totally screwed over by everyone.” The truth is always more subtle and complex.

Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: May 7th 2013
Genre: Non-fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Curious about Nikola Tesla

And speaking complexity, or rather the lack of it:
Cover via Goodreads

Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century by Sean Patrick

If you want to learn about one of history’s most fascinating minds and uncover some of his secrets of imagination—secrets that enabled him to invent machines light years ahead of his time and literally bring light to the world—then you want to read this book.
Imagination amplifies and colors every other element of genius, and unlocks our potential for understanding and ability.

It’s no coincidence that geniuses not only dare to dream of the impossible for their work, but do the same for their lives. They’re audacious enough to think that they’re not just ordinary players.

Few stories better illustrate this better than the life of the father of the modern world, a man of legendary imaginative power and wonder: Nikola Tesla.

In this book, you’ll be taken on a whirlwind journey through Tesla’s life and work, and not only learn about the successes and mistakes of one of history’s greatest inventors, but also how to look at the world in a different, more imaginative way.

Read this book now and learn lessons from Nikola Tesla on why imagination is so vital to awakening your inner genius, and insights into the real “secret” to creativity, as explained by people like Jobs, Picasso, Dali, and Twain. (via Goodreads)

 

I picked this up as an Amazon freebie. While I don’t disagree with some of the self-improvement notions in this book, it somewhat annoying that Patrick uses a pretty stock bio of Tesla as a commercial for his longer work on genius. Yes, obviously, Tesla was imaginative and displayed perseverance, but that is the really simplistic, mythologized view of the man.

Publisher: Oculus Publishers
Publication date: April 9th 2013

Review ~ Abominable Science!

This book was provided to me by Columbia University Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids by by Daniel Loxton & Donald R. Prothero

Cover via Goodreads

Throughout our history, humans have been captivated by mythic beasts and legendary creatures. Tales of Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness monster are part of our collective experience. Now comes a book from two dedicated investigators that explores and elucidates the fascinating world of cryptozoology.

Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience that perpetuates their myths. After examining the nature of science and pseudoscience and their relation to cryptozoology, Loxton and Prothero take on Bigfoot; the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, and its cross-cultural incarnations; the Loch Ness monster and its highly publicized sightings; the evolution of the Great Sea Serpent; and Mokele Mbembe, or the Congo dinosaur. They conclude with an analysis of the psychology behind the persistent belief in paranormal phenomena, identifying the major players in cryptozoology, discussing the character of its subculture, and considering the challenge it poses to clear and critical thinking in our increasingly complex world. (via Goodreads)

This is an interesting book to review on the heels of Discovery’s Shark Week fiasco.

On Sunday, the Discovery channel aired a “documentary” on the megalodon as part of its Shark Week festivities. The megalodon isn’t a cyptid. It is a creature in the fossil record. Other than the fossil record, there is no other documentation of it. The stories of a 30ft shark that frequents the waters off of South Africa is closer to a cryptid-type story. A shark that big is the thing of tales and legends. Unfortunately, the Discovery channel’s show was absolute fiction, and fiction that couches the search for a modern megalodon and the legendary South African shark in ways that are similar to cryptid stories–lots and lots of eye-witness testimony, vague documentation, old stories, and half-truth science. If seen as a satire of cryptid documentaries, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, kind of works. More unfortunately, as a ratings grabber, the docu-fiction worked very, very well.

Abominable Science! presents a very through history of several popular crypids–or, creatures whose existence has been suggested, but not confirmed by science. Some, like Bigfoot and Nessie are fairly young with stories not going back much further than the early 20th century. In those cases, the histories are based primarily on the testimonies of witnesses, much of the other evidence being admitted hoaxes. In the case of sea serpents and the yeti, folklore is taken into account as well. Sea serpents, for example, have an incredibly complex history spanning many cultures.

This is a book that is probably best dipped into instead of read straight through. The chosen cryptids could be pushed into two groups –Bigfoot/yeti and Nessie/sea serpent/mokele mbembe– and the discussions of the creatures in these categories overlap. Read straight through, the book is a tad repetitive.  The Sea Serpent chapter especially is less well organized due to the sheer amount information that Daniel Loxton attempts to address.

The cryptids are bookended by chapters on cryptozoology, pseudoscience, scientific method, and skepticism. These are good issues to be familiar with although I found that the last chapter veered a little too far into arguments about religious beliefs. Cryptozoology is an interesting intersection of science and belief, with both sides not particularly congenial to the other for various reasons. This book is written by two skeptics and, while debunking common evidence, there is definite appreciation, and even love, for their subjects. The narratives behind these cyrptids are the real point of this book, despite whether the belief in or study of them is a viable use of time and effort.

It is, of course, fun to think that the world is much bigger than it is, and still full of mysteries. And it is! But most of the time the mysteries are a little more subtle than Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster. The sad thing about Discovery’s Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives is that it belittles the actual coolness of the extinct megalodon, the mysteries that still surround living sharks, and the pretty awesome real efforts to tag and track sharks. Cryptozoology doesn’t generally step so directly on the toes of “real” science.

Genre: Non-fiction, science
Why did I choose to read this book? Seemed interesting; I’ve been a liker of cryptids from a young age.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Format: Kindle ebook, ePub document
Procurement: Net Galley

Throwback Thursday (08/23/12)

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging onften focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick a book released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

My original post from 01/20/05:

I don’t remember who recommended this book to me. I have a feeling it was some horror writer some where that mentioned a good book about “what happens when one dies.” This book covers the squishy details of decomposition as well as many other things. Roach handles the subject with a lot of humor, which I appreciate, though some might see her as a tad bit irreverent. Personally, I learned a lot, and Roach was fairly investigative about the subjects presented. I have to give her kudos for debunking some urban legends, something I’ve been thinking about taking up as a hobby myself. Informative and morbidly entertaining. Right up my alley.

Why should you read it today? If you’re a writer of anything that might involves a dead body, this is a good starting resource. It’s not as comprehensive as a book like Death to Dust, but it’s accessible and as humorous as death can be. If you’re a reader, it’s compelling and interesting. Good non-fiction, like good documentary film, should make you interested in a subject you wouldn’t have thought to be interested in. Mary Roach is us, tossing herself into the situation and finding the out the good details things.

Scientists develop a pill!, and the subject of curly hair.

From the land of terrible headlines comes one on a subject close to my heart.:
Scientists develop pill that could spell an end to straighteners after identifying ‘curly hair gene’
In direct contrast to the headline, lead researcher Nick Martin is quoted:

‘Potentially we can now develop new treatments to make hair curlier or straighter, rather than treating the hair directly,’

Potentially develop a treatment equals “develop a pill for” in headline-speak. There’s also mention of the forensic aspect of knowing if a suspect or victim has the “curly gene.” Which isn’t terribly useful do to the (somewhat) changeable nature of hair. At best, you could identify a person as having curly hair or straightened curly hair. Since my knowledge genetics and proteomics is rusty, I won’t speak of what else this article may have gotten wrong. Or rant again about the notions of ideals.

On a related note, I’ve been following the Curly Girl way of doing things for about a year now. No shampoo, only conditioner. No brush, only the *occasional* comb-through. While I still use gentle elastic bands, I’ve also played around more with pins and clips. I’m pretty happy with the results. My hair and I have come to an understanding: I treat it nicely and it behaves better. In the last three months, I’ve started spraying it every few days with a lavender oil mixture to add some “moisture.”  Surprisingly, my skin doesn’t have a problem with this, and honestly, the state of my scalp is no different than when I used shampoo. My main difficulty, which has always been a difficulty. is in finding conditioners and gels that works well for me. That don’t cost a finger and a toe. I liked Garnier Frcutis Hydra-Curls, but I can’t find it anywhere anymore. Tresemme has a Flawless Curls conditioner that works okay, but could be a little thicker. Thus far, the only gel I like is Aussie’s Sun-Touched Shine. I wish there was a donation site for hair product that are used about five times before being rejected.

I’m only 3578 words behind…

Meant to post since Sunday. I’ve…uh…been busy.

Around Wednesday of last week, it was becoming obvious that the direction we were going in with the NaNoWriMo project wasn’t working. Eric wasn’t happy with what I was doing and I wasn’t happy with what I was getting from Eric. And, to clumsily extend the relationship analogy, when you both fall out of love at the same time, you’re in trouble. I went through a day and a half melt-down which reaped a whole 749 words when I needed 3334. Eric and I have reformulated and since Sunday I’ve somewhat started over. Coming into week three I’m a bit behind. I should hit the halfway point on the word count today (and handily pass it).

To some extent, it’s been a long time since I’ve been an every-day writer. I tend to be a binge-and-fast writer. I work like mad to the deficit of everything, burn-out, and then avoid writing like the plague for longer than the binge lasted. Maybe that’s the way I work, or maybe that’s unhealthy. I’d like to try and find a more sane way of being a writer. If I come away from this November with a daily habit and half the ability to balance the rest of life, I’ll be happy. I don’t count on it.

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Several things to file under “Don’t Complain to Me About Your Lack of Flying Car”:
Consumed – The Hype Around Augmented Reality – NYTimes.com:

For example, Yelp, the online service that reviews restaurants, bars and small businesses, has added a feature to one mobile app: point your (properly enabled) phone at a row of restaurants as if you were going to take a picture of it, and in addition to seeing what’s really there, you’ll see the Yelp ratings hovering in front of each.

Digital Tattoo Interface Turns Your Skin Into A Display – Gizmodo
How Much Power Does The Human Brain Require To Operate? « Derren Brown Blog
Those last two are on the concept end of science, but are still interesting.

As a note to myself concerning a theme that should be prevalent in my NaNo novel:
Infinite Summer: Dracula » Blog Archive » Dracula Postmortem, Part IV:

At times the book was a novelization of the worst fears of the anti-immigration crowd, a depiction of malevolent foreigners skulking into a Western country, siphoning off valuable resources, and converting people over to their side.

And lastly, something I will make a concerted effort not to be neurotic about:
Ecstatic Days » Blog Archive » How cover art influences book sales (at least, for one picky reader)

I’m not dexterous enough to be a magician…

Neuromarketing has had a couple of good posts this week:
The Neuroscience of Temptation
Got Branding?, Or Oreo, Part II (What a weird commercial.)
Also check out Sands Research Ad Favorites for a few commercials with comparative brain scans.

Science-Based Medicine » David & Goliath: A Dramatic Role Reversal Spurred On By The Media
Considering that most people still go to a regular medical doctor for their health care, I’m not entirely sure that alternative medicine is the goliath yet. It’s a squeaky wheel that getting a lot of notice, and the skeptical community is looking to see it’s influence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an evidence-based kind of gal, and I wince every time someone I know personally mentions some cure-all that has been firmly debunked by science. But I’m also not a fan of overstatement. It’s a weakness that can make proponents of science-based medicine less creditable.

Speaking of “marketing” and the skeptical community, there’s a web series called Science of Scams. Derren Brown and company have released seven “viral” videos into the world; all with paranormal themes, all hoaxes. The point is to show how easy it can be to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Which reminded me of another series I enjoyed and recently realized was on truTV: The Real Hustle. Originally released in conjunction with the show Hustle, the perpetrators setup and reveal everything from bar bets and pickpocketing to three man thefts from hotel rooms. In a similar vein, Penn and Teller linked to Scam School today on Facebook. I’ve only watched a few episodes but it’s interesting stuff. Well, interesting if you’ve always had a secret yen to be a magician. Or a criminal.