Book Review: ‘Mad Science 2’ by Theodore Gray

Thanks to Netgalley and Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers for a copy of this wonderful book to review.

I feel envious of any science geek yet to discover the wonderful works of Theo Gray. But not that envious as I have had the pleasure of having them in my life for the last few years. Theo’s books speak volumes about the simplicity and beauty of the elements and chemistry in general.

Theo is a chemist, educator, element collector, photographer and a mad man; so essentially a scientist with a camera. But he is much, much more than the rest of us.

His latest book carries on from his first ‘Mad Science’ Book  by showing great backyard science experiments coupled with his unique, yet effective safety message which boils down to “just don’t be a dickhead”. Some of these experiments could be tackled by anyone, some are aimed more at the chemist, and others are given with the message “REALLY don’t do this no matter who you are.”

Highlights involve making tomato puree between two neodymium-iron-boron magnets, burning diamonds, floating an aluminium foil boat on a volume of sulfur hexafluoride, X-ray photography with radioactive sources, extracting bismuth from Pepto-Bismol… I might just end up naming everything in the book if I carry on.

The first project that I’m going to tackle is photography with a radioactive source. I have a piece of trinitite in my collection that would come in handy for a source. Also Theo suggests potassium chloride, which is sold as “diet salt”, as a source due to the relatively high abundance of potassium 40.

I’d recommend this book and all Theo’s books to science geeks especially chemists.  The ‘Mad Science’ books would also be great for people who love to tinker and have sheds. But I think the best recommendation would be to buy these books for young teenagers who have any interest in science. You’ll be setting them up to be great scientists.

Book Review: ‘NOS4A2’ by Joe Hill

Read from June 29 to July 10, 2013 

This is the first Joe Hill novel I have read. I read and thoroughly enjoyed “Locke & Key” his highly acclaimed graphic novels series.

A lot of people have been raving about this book with 4 and 5 star ratings being bandied about so it was a natural choice for my first Joe Hill novel. I’m sorry to say that I was slightly disappointed, mainly due to all the rave reviews I have saw and partly due to what I felt was a story that was too drawn out and needed a good edit.

Before I jump into the negatives, I think I should address the positives since I did enjoy this book, despite the negatives. The one thing that I adore about Joe’s stories (well the two I have finished) is his use of magical objects in everyday life. For example, the keys in ‘Locke and Key’ and in this book, the bike, car and scrabble set that are more than what they appear. Added to this Joe invents a rule system on their use, kind of parallelling high fantasy magic systems. Characterisation is great also. They are very well-drawn and seem real and fallible.

But I felt this book was just too long. Three quarters the way through I just wanted it to be over already. The long drawn out road to that final confrontation, that you knew was bound to happen for hundreds of pages, did end up tiring me somewhat. Because of this I lost sympathy for the main character and the impact of the final scenes was a little lost.

Another negative (maybe only in my opinion) is the similarity to his fathers writing. Take away 20% of the characterisation, the magical objects and what you have is a Stephen King-by-numbers. Not the great Stephen King, but the drug-fuelled formulaic novels of yore. Sorry, but it did feel that way.

But apart from these gripes, still a worthwhile read. I’m reading ‘Horns’ next, so obviously I still have a lot of faith in Joe.


‘Ticket to Ride’ Boardgame

While down in Canberra on the weekend I went to one of my favourite stores, The Games Capital, and had a hard time deciding between purchasing ‘Pandemic’ and ‘Ticket to Ride’. Ticket to Ride won out due to it being easier to teach others to play, something I need to consider when hoping to play with others.

In ‘Ticket to Ride’ players aim to claim train routes between US cities in order to fulfil chosen tickets. Say if I chose a ticket that said “LA to Miami 21 points”, my aim would be to claim a continuous set of routes between the two cities to claim those points. If I do not, I lose those points.

 
Once you have played it a while you can see why it has won so many awards.

I have an ipad version which is a great adaption, but it is much more fun competing against friends in the same room.

Being in David Attenborough’s Presence

What did you do on Friday night? Pizza? Movie?

I just ended up hanging out with my friend Sir David Attenborough. Sure I had to pay about $100 and there was a couple of thousand other people there, and I was about 50 metres away, I’ll give you that.

David did a talking tour of Australia last week and I was lucky enough to secure a ticket for the Canberra show. He was previously scheduled to come a couple of months earlier, but was advised by his doctor to have a pacemaker installed before he travels. So we ended up seeing a him one step closer to immortal cyborg David Attenborough.

The show consisted of him being interviewed and telling anecdotes which were interspersed with footage from his work over the years. He is a great speaker and storyteller and the three hours went by very quickly. What I especially enjoyed we’re stories from the very early years of television broadcasting where he produced live studio-bound documentaries.

David Attenborough is an amazing and humble man. He has the uncanny knack of revealing deeper layers of beauty in nature and his message of the importance of the ecosystem and conservation is more pertinent now than ever. I’d say that he is one of the greatest educators and communicators in the history of the humanity. Big call, but his work speaks for itself.

Anyway, I guess my message is watch and listen to David. Seek out his work.  Definitely one of my heroes.


Book Review: Doctor Who: Series 3 Volume 1: The Hypothetical Gentleman

Thank you to Netgalley and IDW Publishing for an advance readers copy in exchange for an honest review. 

It is easy to write and produce bad and mediocre Doctor Who and there is an awful lot of it out there. I am a very devoted fan and I can admit that readily. But not in this case. 

Collected in this volume are two 11th Doctor story lines originally published as monthly comics in the IDW Doctor Who range. The first story, “The Hypothetical Gentleman”  sees the Doctor trying to visit the Crystal Palace in London for the Great Exhibition. The Doctor, Amy and Rory encounter a strange machine that is on display and get caught up in an adventure that is more than what it seems.

The second story, “The Doctor and the Nurse”, is a comedy where Amy, frustrated that the Doctor and Rory seem to bicker with each other a bit too often, orders the two to spend some quality “guy time” together in a Victorian pub. However the Doctor and Rory have other ideas.

I did go into this read with low expectations. I have rarely encountered good Who comics beyond certain good runs in Doctor Who Magazine, and the recent “Prisoners of Time” releases ,which now that I look at the details are also IDW produced. And as you can tell from the score, I was pleasantly surprised. The quality of both stories were high, the artwork was great and the main thing was that it felt like Doctor Who, especially the latter half of Season 6 Who.

“The Hypothetical Gentleman” felt like a Mark Gatiss historical through and through with an intriguing premise and some good one liners. The mannerisms and speech of Matt Smith’s Doctor were captured brilliantly, all backed up by spot on yet stylistic artwork.

“The Doctor and the Nurse” is written purely as a comedy. Dangerous, but it works. The sequence of The Doctor and Rory getting deeper and deeper into trouble is hilarious, yet it does not feel contrived or forced. It does parallel comedy sequences from the TV episodes, but here we a given one whole story dedicated to a laugh.

I’d recommend this collection to any Doctor Who fan, especially one who has never picked up a tie-in comic or book before. The style and quality of both stories closely mirror that of the TV series and it would be a great introduction to the world of non-television Doctor Who.

Hello non-existent audience,

So today I’m making a blog.

Why? Because there just isn’t enough people writing shit that no one will ever read on the interweb and it seems to be so hip and new in 2013. Now without sarcasm, I need to improve my writing skills both professionally (science) and for my book reviews. So even though no one reads this, I am improving my skills.

My professional writing includes preparing to write my thesis as well as review articles for scientific literature. Also I write book reviews on  www.goodreads.com as ‘Brendon Schrodinger’. I hope to improve these reviews, so that maybe one day I can write book reviews for a web page with an audience.

So the intention is to post my book reviews as I read, as well as improve and edit past reviews, as well as post interesting scientific ideas and other cool random stuff that I may want to share and talk about. There may be a lot of Doctor Who chat also.

Brendon

Science news, geek chat and book reviews