Monday, September 28, 2015

The Armchair Astronomer: Stunning Images and a Wealth of Detail

Book Recommendation: The Armchair Astronomer - Vol 1 (Nebulae)

Interested in astronomy? Like gorgeous images of beautiful objects from the cosmos? Then take a look at The Armchair Astronomer - Volume 1 (Nebulae) by Brian Ventrudo and Terry Hancock.

Terry Hancock is a renowned astrophotographer who regularly posts his stunning images on our local astronomy Facebook page of astronomical objects like nebulae, planets, and galaxies. His photos are crisp and colorful and show the amazing beauty of the universe in which we live. This first volume features his images of nebulae.

His partner in publishing is Brian Ventrudo, a professional astronomer who has mastered a career in writing and teaching about astronomy. So while you'll enjoy Terry Hancock's superb astrophotography, you will also benefit from Brian Ventrudo's vast knowledge about the incredible objects in our skies. See them and learn about them!

The Armchair Astronomer is available in ebook format. Learn more about the book, its topics, and where to download a copy at a great introductory price at Cosmic Pursuits (Ventrudo's website). Includes a couple of sample pages.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fake Fruit Factory: Well Written Humor

Book Recommendation: Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink

I have to admit right off the bat that I haven't finished the book - I tried, but the publisher sent me a pdf file of the book (instead of a paper version) and my ebook reader made it so difficult to read, I couldn't finish it. But I am prepared to say that of what I did finish, the characters were interesting, the setting was fascinating, and the plot was engaging - it's well written.

That said, I haven't read enough to do an honest review.

I follow Patrick on Facebook and he's funny and fun and a great writer. I like an author who is willing to engage his fans online, and Patrick is that and more. And the proof of his writing ability comes out in his social media postings. So I feel safe in recommending him.

But so you have a chance to learn more about the book before making a purchase, here's an excellent article in Lit Reactor discussing this new book, just released: "A Conversation with Patrick Wensick About His New Novel, 'Fake Fruit Factory'.

Monday, September 07, 2015

The Weather Experiment: A Splendid and Illuminating Read

Book Review: The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore

We are all used to watching the weather report on the TV. We may hear the forecast on the radio, see the daily temperature readings in the newspaper, see the current temperature and weather conditions on our computer screen. Our cars often feature an outside temperature readout and banks and stores often show the outside temperature. Today, the current weather and future forecasts are everywhere - but it wasn't always so.

The Weather Experiment tells the story of how the science of weather forecasting came to be. It's subtitle is "The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future."

The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore

Even today weather forecasters don't always get the details right. But back in the mid-1700s they had hardly begun to understand what caused the wind to blow, the clouds to rise, lightning to strike, and storms to hit with fury. Until the early 1800s, the civilized world still thought the atmosphere extended between the Earth and the Moon - the territory of the meteors, and thus the root of the word meteorology.

Driven by loss of life at sea in the age of the great sailing vessels when storms would rise without warning and loss of property on land when climate would change drastically without reason, a group of determined men began searching for an answer. It took decades of developing accurate instruments, taking readings, and exploring the world to gather a larger and larger pool of information to begin to figure out the weather. Many risked their lives to discover the secrets of the atmosphere and develop what would become the science of meteorology.

As controversial as global warming and climate change are today, so was meteorology then. This story involves great drama, both for the men who devoted their lives to gathering the data behind meteorology and those who ignored it to their peril. Both today and back then, climatology and meteorology are a science devoted to gathering data and then trying to make sense of it. This book is about those men of science who sought to bring order to an often chaotic world, knowing the cost in lives and property without it and knowing there must be an answer.

In between the detailed historical tales of these men and their lives and the times in which they lived are interspersed short chapters of the most eloquent descriptions of weather phenomena. You learn some amazing things about everyday observations like rainbows, clouds, the cycle of moisture in the atmosphere to form dew on plants or fog in the air, and more.

It's a splendid and illuminating read.

The Weather Experiment makes a good read for anyone interested in science, a student needing a science project, someone interested in science biographies (there are multiple biographies in this book), or the person simply who wonders about the wonder that is the weather.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Weather Experiment. I am a science reader among other topics and this filled this niche nicely.

(c) 2015. Alan Eggleston. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Lucy: A Series of Pastiche Pieces and More

Film Review: Lucy (science fiction, 2014)

I'm in between reading two books so I thought that today I would review a film: Lucy, described in Wikipedia as an "English-language French science fiction film." My wife loved it and insisted that I watch it, because I love a good science fiction film. While there were parts that were interesting, in whole I would say - meh!

Also according to the Wikipedia article, writer and director Luc Besson "stated that he intended for the first part of Lucy to be like Léon: The Professional (which he also wrote and directed), the second part to be like Inception and the third part to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey." Therein lies part of the problem.

A film needs to be presented as a whole, not a series of pastiche pieces. And it needs to be its own whole, not an apparent homage to another - or a series of other - films.

Furthermore, the film was shot in Taipei, Paris, and New York City, but often it was hard to tell where you were. And the breadth of locations were important to the story line.

What the film did well was set you up for the supposed science behind the plot.

Morgan Freedman plays the world's foremost expert on the human mind who explains the capacity of the brain and how little of most humans use. That sets the audience up for the experiences the protagonist Lucy, played by Scarlett Johansson, is about to go through when, as an innocent forced to act as a drug mule, she is accidentally exposed to an overdose of an experimental mind altering drug.

Parts of the film are cinematically stunning. Some of the imaging is imaginative. Some of the plot is interesting. But the farther you go into to film, the less science-based the conjecture becomes and the more far-fetched and plodding the plot becomes.

The "science" suggested is that the average human uses only 10 percent of his or her brain. The idea pursued is that Lucy's brain is building on itself and as it does so, she is able to use a larger and larger percentage of itself. But as the process goes on she needs more and more of the drug to keep the process going. As she uses more of her brain, her powers become greater so that she can manipulate her environment. For example, the drug lords who forced her into becoming a mule are after her to get the extra supplies of the drug, and she uses her mind to physically restrain them. She moves traffic, shifts through locations around the world, even time travels backward to meet the original primate Lucy. And all of that I had a hard time believing.
By the way, the idea that humans use only 10 percent of their brains is a myth. Here's a good article on the science behind Lucy.
In addition, in a couple of places the film showed Lucy zipping through computer screens. It doesn't matter how fast your mind works, computers and the Internet with today's connections only work so fast. That was totally unbelievable.

The other hard part for me is the selection of Amr Waked as Pierre Del Rio, the Parisian police officer who she commandeers to help her but whose help she ultimately doesn't need. He also becomes a love interest for her, although through her drug-altered experiences she first seems to have heightened emotions and then seems to lose all emotional connection. Not only does his character seem unnecessary to the plot, but as an actor his physical appearance is more like a gangster than a hero. That's more a casting call I suppose.

I don't like to write a review that is entirely negative, and there were things that I liked about the film.

For instance, Scarlett Johansson was exceptional as Lucy and Morgan Freeman was brilliant as Professor Samuel Norman. The exposition on brain science and brain capacity were well handled. And the scene where Lucy was about to be captured by the Taiwanese mobsters interspersed with scenes of African lions converging on an antelope for the kill were interesting (although not a convention carried out through the film, so they stood out as odd in the character of the film).

Besson does carry out the imagination of Inception and the broad speculation of 2001: A Space Odyssey as he supposes how the mind can force its will on world and how the advancement in human ability can achieve greater aims. He also twists the world visually and even manages to invert 2001's visual primate interplay by having the modern-day Lucy physically meet and touch fingertips with humanity's mother Lucy. Those were both interesting and appealing.

However, I can't say that they overcome the other shortfalls of the film for me.

We caught the film on one of the cable on-demand channels. So we didn't waste a lot of money at the theater or on a night out. But still, it was an evening of television wasted for me.

My wife liked it. Perhaps you will like, too.