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Archive for the ‘science’ Category

grunt_cvr

Running Title: Grunt – The Curious Science of Humans At War.

Aye, it is that time of the year. We cave into our materialistic lust as we answer the Siren call of Black Fridays, and tons of sales “events” … and other such bollocks. It is also that time of the year when we look forward to drinking eggnog, with our our bearpaw slippers on as we curl up and watch another screening of Love Actually. Oh wait, that’s just me. Hey mates, don’t judge me. But enough with the bollocks and one with the review. Shall we begin?
When you combine the sciences with … well … war, you are bound to capture my attention, so with a running title like “the curious science of humans at war”, it was only a matter of time before this poor book was plucked from the stacks and nestled in my grasp for a few days. Yes, as you can easily surmise that Grunt does something is not so often reported when it comes to the world of war. Sure, we’ve read many books written by Special Operations warriors and military personnel about their brave and valiant deeds, but how often do you get to read about the science that goes into war that not only helps and protects our brave soldiers, but sometimes even save or heal them. Roach’s Grunt does an excellent job of this, though I must warn those who don’t have a strong stomach that they may want to reconsider reading this book during … say … eating times. Sure for the inwardly forensic fans such, such as yours truly, this great reading even whilst scarfing down mounds of lasagna. Others, maybe not so much. There is a lot of science that goes into war, and I really mean A LOT. Some of it may seem trivial, but to the folks downrange it is a big deal, such as zippers being a no-no on sniper clothing. Trust me on this one. Or (the best one) diarrhea being a threat to national security (hint: it’s every SEAL’s worst nightmare when on a mission). I bit you didn’t know that scientists have built a chicken gun that is used to propel dead chickens at turbines to test the effect of birds on aircraft engines. Some folks have all the fun. And then Roach hits you with the a literal blow to the minerals: penile reconstruction. Yes, many times when an IED goes off more than just arms and legs get injured. And for several chapters Ms. Roach explains this in great but understandably cringe-worthy detail: apparently strip of mucus membrane from the inner cheek is used to recreate urethra in penile reconstructions. There is a really dirty joke somewhere in that fact, but the science behind is amazing, and apparently it is doing wonders many of our soldiers’ lives. Occasionally, we are treated to some historical tidbits such as the REAL use of codpieces, and …no … it was not about enhancing or even protecting one’s manhood. In fact it actually stored materials that soaked up syphilitic discharges of blood and pus you get from sleeping around with wenches after beheading your wives. Yummy. I guess that explains why they were popular with hair bands in the 80s. Paging Lawless from WASP. And yes, I’ve seemingly gone there. Astounding fact: the scent of a seal and used tampon has the same effect on polar bear salivary glands. I kid you not. So ladies, be a bit wary if your mate is planning trips to the Polar-type regions and is somewhat inquisitive about your cycles. I’m afraid the love may not be there anymore and his plans for you may be malevolent. Slight detour there, everyone.
Roach’s Grunt is a fascinating read about the sciences that impact our soldiers both on and off the frontlines. If your fascinated with the sciences or just curious about what is going with our men and women in battle, Grunt is a delightful read. For the curious in mind that are not so scientifically-minded, fear not, for Roach practically keeps at a layman’s level that can be enjoyed by all but well appreciated by us nerd-types. Plus she’s got a scorchingly delightful wit that makes me wish I could marry … um, never mind. And I’ve said that too loud. Ignore that part. Please.

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poisonerhb_cvr

Running title: The Poisoner’s Handbook – Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

Chemistry has always been my first love. Yeah, I know … how nerdy of me, but yes there it is. Some of my best memories, spent as a teen, was amidst pipettes, test tubes and Bunsen burners preparing for the General Certificate Examinations O Levels. I think also having a really awesome girlfriend (my true first love …awwww) as a lab partner sort of helped. And of course, having a mum who was a chemist may have factored into that whole equation and my fascination of the chemical world. Alas, I have detoured … and I haven’t even started the review. So on with it … shall we?

So there I was amongst the stacks at work, when this book literally screamed at me. Alright, alright that was a bit melodramatic … I actually caught glimpse of it whilst researching another book and … it … yes screamed at me. A bloodcurdling scream. And so I had no choice but to check it out. Unfortunately, my choice of reading may have raised a few eyebrows from some co-workers and I may have destroyed several dating prospects, whilst reading, on public transit (trust me, several arched eyebrows and judgemental stares from gorgeous women sitting opposite you says a lot). But that’s how the Evil Parrot rolls. Oh, the things I do for my reading public.

Poisoner’s Handbook (contrary to its name) is a chronicle of the work of Chief Medical Examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler that basically gave birth to forensic medicine in the 1920s. Yes, surprise, surprise, it is not a book teaching you how to poison people … though …
Though thoroughly enjoyed by chemistry buffs (such as yours truly), it is also a great compilation of crimes and incidents that involved … well … poisoning and some astounding bits of historical facts. Though very scientific in its writing, most non-scientifically inclined readers will still find it a delightful read since Blum doesn’t overwhelm on technicality and is a delightful storyteller. Some disturbing facts include people dying from alcohol poisoning during the Prohibition … even when they were WARNED of the dangers of imbibing treated wood or ethyl alcohol. Even more shocking was the government (i.e. the wonderful folks in Washington) putting forth decrees that required the poisoning of industrial alcohols as a DETERENT to those willing to break the law for a drink. Needless to say, many still kept dying. Ah Prohibition, a time where people were literally dying for a drink. Then there was the radium poisonings of the women that painted radium dials on watches, where the radium (a radioactive element that have a half life of 1600 years) not only penetrated their bones, but caused rapid decay of bones and whilst most people exhaled carbon dioxide, radium victims exhaled radon gas. Aye, makes secondhand smoke sound like aromatherapy. Beyond the alcohol and radium poisonings, there were also those criminal poisonings where, for the most, it was easy to poison someone (in the 1920s) and even when arrested most people walked before David Caruso could put on his dark glasses to the on oncoming strains of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again. And boy, did people love their poisons back then. It is good to know that if my future wife serves food that tastes too metallic (arsenic) or desserts that have a hint of almonds (cyanide) even when there is NO almonds present that maybe I might need to reconsider my marital status. This is precisely why I do my own cooking. Yes, the Evil Parrot is full of surprises … and yet he is still single. Pray tell. Also note to self: I’ve got to stop watching too much bollocks on ID, BIO and Oxygen.
So whether you’re reading it for the science, the crime or even a bit of history … or all of the above, Poisoner’s Handbook turns out to be a majestic read. And who knows, some of this information just might save your life someday. Hey, I’m just saying, mates.

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Running Title – Wired For War: The Robotics Revolution And Conflict In The 21st Century

I’ve always been fascinated with robots. From the day my parents bought that lame “Made In Japan” toy robot in the 70s to seeing Johnny 5 on Short Circuit, it was love at first sight. So much that I got my undergrad in Electromechanical Engineering (and there you thought I was some Liberal arts major … shame on you). I’m also fascinated with weapons ( I know … you didn’t see that coming), to a high degree that can be classified as … well … unnerving to some. Here’s a typical example: I might be one of a few librarians (and I’m being generous) who knows what a kriss xv is (it is a recoiless .45 caliber assault pistol). So needless to say, I am extremely fascinated with unmanned/robotic technology that is currently in operations in the war on terror. Price’s Wired examines the growing roles of robots in our lives but specifically in the military. It is quite an eye-opener especially when you begin to realize that this technology is not only used exclusively by the US but also by many others and in areas of the world that we’d least expect.

Though Wired starts out, seemingly, as a gushfest and technolust that may warrant the service of hand lotion and paper towels, it more or less becomes a cautionary exploration in the use of military robotics. The book is well-written, well researched, and does give the reader much to ponder. It is in my honest yet humble opinion that if such a book was written on nuclear energy many decades ago, the world would have possibly fared better without dealing with nuclear bollocks that we’re confronted with today. Note that this book is not a cause for alarm but merely an imploring to deploy technology with some regulation and discretion. Does this mean that there is a possible Skynet future to deal with? Will I have to go and run off into the desert with Linda Hamilton and learn survivalist stuff? Seriously, no … but I wouldn’t mind running off into the desert with Linda Hamilton. Bloody hell, I wouldn’t mind running off with her into an active volcano. I have detoured. Wired gives us lots to ponder and merely states potential consequences should we not heed the warning signs … on the wall … the leads into the future. Still it is quite a thrilling and extremely educational read.

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Running Title: Alex & Me – How A Scientist And A Parrot Uncovered A Hidden World Of Animal Intelligence – And Formed A Deep Bond In The Process.

It would be a bloody shame if a book review site named The Evil Parrot Book Club did not have a review of, at least, one book that featured a parrot. So, thankfully, that is not going to happen. But you knew that from the way this started out. Tragedy averted. Back in the late 80s to early 90s, the folks at PBS had featured a documentary called Parrots: Look Who’s Talking, that featured a charming yet brilliant African Grey Parrot. That African Grey Parrot was named Alex.

The book, Alex and Me, written by Irene Pepperberg, is a touching story about an adorable African Grey Parrot that she took under wing (no pun intended … ok, maybe a little) and basically changed the way how the world viewed animals and their behaviour. Especially, the world of parrots. Heaven knows they can do without the pirate stereotypes and “polly-wanna-cracker” jokes. The eerie thing about Alex and Me is that as you read this book, you somehow miss the point that you’re reading about a parrot and occasionally mistake Alex for a child. It is only when you read about Dr. Pepperberg locking Alex in his cage, that the reality does kicks in … why yes, this IS an actual parrot that we’re talking about. And yes, he is really an amazing bird. Ironically, before his passing Alex was tested to have the equivalent IQ of a four-year old child (or the combined collective IQ of reality tv stars that appear in Bridezillas, Bad Girls Club and the Housewives series … combined). What was even more amazing was reading about Alex “mentoring” other African Greys that Dr. Pepperberg took under wing to include in her studies. It is safe to say that people that often refer to other people as “birdbrains” have never met Alex. The book is a fascinating journey that documents the Dr. Pepperberg studies (minus the technical blabber) and the brilliant feathered star that was a product of it. In another sense, it is a touching tribute to a charming, brilliant yet cunning (he always found ways to get lab assistants to circumvent his training in order to obtain food and head rubs) creature whose life ended abruptly and in the most heart shredding way possible. And this was evident from the outpouring from around the world that was sent to Dr. Pepperberg upon learning about the passing of Alex. Yes, I teared up. Please don’t mention this to anyone. I have a reputation to uphold as an Evil Parrot. Thanks for understanding.
Truly touching, very fascinating, and even eye-opening, Alex and Me, is a delightful, hearty read. And I can’t help but think that the world is somewhat, slightly, better for Dr. Pepperberg’s introduction of Alex to the world. My honest and humble opinion.

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The Expanded Quotable EinsteinWhen I was young, I remember telling someone that I wanted to grow up to be a scientist only to have that person tell me that “scientists don’t believe in God”. That bothered me a bit since I was brought up in the church (or at least went to church regularly) and had a fascination with science. Still, I kept on with my studies. It was during my later years in high school as I was I studying Physics I came across the story of Einstein. A little detour if you may. During my high school years, back in Guyana, I got labelled as “The Daydreamer” mostly by a good portion of my teachers and eventually some of my classmates. Yes, my grades suffered a bit, but I was a teenager with raging hormones and all that usual jazz. So what was I daydreaming about? Phoebe Cates in that red swimsuit? No. Virginia Madsen in that Ophelia scene in “Fire with Fire”? No (but there were those few moments). I was actually thinking about how to create nanoscopic conductive fibers that could be used to siphon electrical impulses from active parts of the body to reanimate the inactive parts such as those in person that suffered from partial to complete paralysis. For some reason that consumed my thoughts. I know, quite a mouthful on that one there. I once brought this up to my Biology teacher and was told that I should stop “daydreaming”. A nutcrusher, yes, but I’m wired differently than most so I continued daydreaming of other stuff. I was never content to just learn a principle of Physics, Biology or Chemistry just for the sake of regurgitation. I was always thinking about how this stuff can be applied beyond the class room. Years ahead. Of course, this sort of behaviour made me a sort of threat during Chemistry lab hours and my name got upgraded from Daydreamer to Mad Scientist. Trust me, that’s a long story on that one.
There were times when that “daydreamer” crap got to me, but when I read about Einstein I found out that he wasn’t exactly an Einstein in high school. In some cases he was seen as daydreamer of sorts. That gave me a boost. The other part was his spiritual views on the use of scientific discoveries. This was significant since it told me that it was okay to be a scientist and yet have some spiritual insight on things. Even though The Expanded Quotable Einstein was a collection of quotes on Einstein’s views of Germany, religion, politics, and all those other little elements of his life, it is the next best thing to an autobiography. Actually, it seemed more like an autobiography … in 3D. We get to see Einstein in many dimensions, and you’re left fascinated after each chapter. Interspersed throughout the book, readers are treated to photographs (some very personal) that shows the many aspects of Einstein life. Yes, he was family man, played the violin and apparently loved big fuzzy bedroom slippers (good taste). And then there are those dark moments such as his disappointment with path taken in the use of atomic energy and the J. Edgar Hoover file on his activities.
Compiled and editted by Alice Calaprice, this book is a pure delight to read on one of the greatest minds there is. I said “is” and not “was”. Everything, from cell phones, chip miniaturization and MP3 players are innovations that are constantly being derived from Einstein’s exploration in the field of quantum physics. One of my favourite quotes: “Faith without logic is blindness, and logic without faith is madness.” It is the antidote for pseudo-intellectuals that like to toss out that overused Nietzsche quote of “religion is the opiate of the masses”. Sure. Whatever floats your boats, mates.
By the way, to the snarky few that might wander onto this humble blog, this was not an attempt to compare my life to Einstein’s. Heaven forbid. He’s a world famous genius, and I’m an underworked techie turning librarian. That’s a very big chasm there. Trust me. And yes, I do have that poster with Einstein sticking his tongue out.

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