science

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

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Like many people, I’ve seen the movie a few times, but had never read the book before.

Up until the final chapters, this book reads like the movie. The only real difference is the age of the girl (I cannot remember her name in the movie to know if they changed that as well) and her being given some of Tim’s (the boy) actions. I think this was a good change because it gave us a second strong female character. Lex, in the book, is like 7 years old and for the most part she acts like a 7 year old, which is a good choice. She’s a strong 7 year old, but still a 7 year old.

Where the movie ends, this book continues and there are distinct differences from the direction the movie went. I think I prefer the book in this, but I don’t remember how sympathetic I felt towards Hammond at the end of the movie, but he definitely learned his lesson by the conclusion of this book. And I think many readers will walk away with a more ethical approach to scientific advancement after reading Jurassic Park.

When it comes to Malcolm’s ethical preaching, I agree in the most general terms that we as humans should never seek to play God. BUT, whereas Malcolm seems to think that all scientific study is for the advancement of human ego, I think that study is inherently for good of humanity not just the prestige of the scientist. Take this conclusion Malcolm gives near the end of the story: “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet–or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.” Add to it this part of a lecture I heard in college where the professor listed a dozen or so animals and plants that have gone extinct recently and the potential cures to disease that died with them. There is a distinct line when it comes to ethics and science and I think that “do no harm” is a good rule of thumb because for every harm we cause to the environment, we have had the potential to harm ourselves. We need to see things much more broadly than the “thintelligence” that Malcolm coined and we do have to admit the potential consequences of all of our actions and admit that there are dozens more that we could never dream of. But to stop all scientific advancement simply because it has a possibility of causing harm is also dangerous.

I consider myself an environmentalist. But I do not automatically oppose mining for natural resources or even pipelines for transporting them. But I approach these issues with a very specific set of questions. First and foremost is “What will you do WHEN said pipeline leaks?” Oil and gas companies and the governments that support them like to talk about “ifs” and “maybes” even though all the evidence points towards “whens” and “definitelys”. The Alaskan pipeline has been leaking since the day it was built. Offshore drilling platforms do blow up. We do everyone a disservice when we pretend that we can play God because then we’re not allowed to plan for the inevitabilities (anyone who does plan is laughed at for being paranoid).

Anyway, there were a few specific items within Jurassic Park that made me giggle or roll my eyes. The first giggle was the description of a CD-Rom as a laser disk run by a computer. I think that folks just a few years younger than me will read this and think “what the hell is a laser disk?!?”. ‘Course, I’m one of the few people my age who has actually met a real floppy disk (the one about 5 inches across that really did flop when you waved it). I eye-rolled every time someone “clicked off the radio”. Uh…that means the radio would no longer be able to send and receive transmissions because it’s OFF! Physically off–no juice flowing from the batteries, OFF. I was in a search and rescue group in college and learning how to use the radios was one of our lessons, jargon included. In our organization (a conference of 2 dozen groups across the state and surrounding states), we used the term “clear” to indicate that we were done with the conversation and were putting our radio away. “Out” meant we were going to turn our radio completely OFF. When we worked with law enforcement, we’d have to remember that they’d use “out” with a different meaning so base wouldn’t panic. Anyone who’s used a radio before knows that you don’t turn your radio off during an exercise. You’d turn the volume down to get relative silence, but you’d still keep it loud enough to hear when someone needs you. And with as often as you’ll read about the hiss of the radio being heard, you know that it was a writer error to say that they were turning their radios off.

There is one last poignant conversation within Jurassic Park that bares mentioning. When Wu and Hammond discuss the nature of the park and whether or not the dinosaurs are real and if they really “re-created the past”. One of the classes I took in college was on the history of museums and we discussed to what extent these creations were creations vs. reality. Colonial Williamsburg is an excellent example. I believe that just about every building there was built during the 20th century to try to re-create what it looked like during the 1700s. But, it can at best be nothing more than a snapshot. In fact, the way the park is run, the “date” that it on any given day changes depending on what the overall plan for the season is. One day they may be showing a world preparing for Revolution. On another, it’ll be acting as the national capital after the war. On another, it’s life under British rule. But in all cases, it’s constructed to be entertainment. The restaurants cater to modern tastes. The actors perform on schedule. Sure, they hold slave auctions, but only on proscribed days (this would be historically accurate), but true slavery would have been on display every day during the real days of Williamsburg in the real 1700s. Back then, you’d see slaves getting slapped in the streets probably daily. Now, you’d only see that during a scheduled event. “Attention guests: at 3pm please come to the main square to see William Turner get beat for dropping the gravy on the carpet in the Governor’s Palace”. Actually…change guests to citizens and under certain circumstances that announcement would also have been historically accurate.

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Predator Dinosaur iPhone 5C Case
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Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science– and the World

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I picked this book mostly on a gut instinct based on the title and the cover while looking for my next book to blog for. I didn’t think twice about getting this one and ordered it immediately. When I received it in the mail, I was kind of astonished to realize that I’d already put it on my mental to-read list, though it hadn’t actually made it to my physical one on Goodreads. I’d stumbled upon the blurb originally during one of my monthly forays into the physical newspaper at work (I only browse it whilst waiting for my food to reheat in the microwave and usually don’t make it past the front page).

I can only say that I’m thrilled that this book reappeared in my life :-).

loved that the first mini-biography (or rather micro-biographies) was about Mary Putnam Jacobi (1842-1906) who put a lot of effort into writing a well researched paper on exactly why it was utter bullshit that educating women caused their ovaries to shrivel up and die (as was the leading argument by a male who didn’t like the idea of educating women). I though this the perfect place to start this amazing list of women.

However, if you were expecting to find a blurb on Marie Curie in this book, you’ll be sadly disappointed. I don’t really agree with the reasoning behind this omission (it’s discussed in the introduction)–that she’s simply too famous to be included. The methodology for choosing these 52 women (which does include Iréne Joliot-Curie, one of Marie’s daughters) doesn’t say that they must be women who were overlooked during their day. Unwittingly when I was ordering my books from the library for this month(s), I grabbed Almost Famous Women  where I do expect to find a lack of the usual favorites. The women in this book run the gambit of those who were ignored, stolen from, and those who were actually given a lot of praise sooner or later in their career (the category to which Curie belongs).

I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed by the limited scope of these micro-biographies. Generally, except for when a bit of author’s bias creeps in, these are cut and dry descriptions of where these ladies came from, what their passion was, and how they went about making their discoveries. There is just a bare hint that one of the reasons Jacobi was so pissed off by Clarke’s book (Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for Girls) was because she was a mother as well as a scientist, so obviously her ovaries hadn’t shriveled up beyond use. While I too find it appalling that the obituary that gave rise to this book listed Yvonne Brill’s “mean stroganoff” well before mentioning that she was a brilliant rocket scientist, I think it harmful to disregard how these women themselves felt about their circumstances.

I consider myself a “practical libertarian communist” with the communist aspect being relevant here: at work, I feel proud when we as a team succeed. I don’t need the personal accolades or recognition to feel like I’ve done a good job. I don’t even mind when someone else takes credit for something that I’ve done a lot of work on, namely because of the smug satisfaction I have knowing that without me they’d fall flat on their face. So long as I make a fair wage for the work that I’ve done, anyone and their brother can step in and claim all the glory. Of course, if they were able to reap the benefits of this glory without me benefiting as well (not foreseeable where I work), then I’d happily step aside and let the glory-takers prove their worth. Currently for me this “glory” is the responsibility of talking to customers and solving the problems that I try my damnest to prevent before they happen even though this is NOT my responsibility, which is why I can’t stop a good half of them.

Anyway, I just dislike when people decide that folks who are seemingly “oppressed” should feel outrage over their situation. Different strokes for different folks, as I say, so while it’s nice to see a generally cut and dry account of these women’s scientific achievements, I think it’s unfair to not list her children if at the end of the day she felt that that was her biggest achievement.

While these micro-biographies are informative, I think they should just be the jumping off point for further research. I know I plan to look into at least a few of these ladies more in depth. I may even finish Madame Curie which I set aside immediately after reading the part about her husband’s death. Otherwise it was a really good book!

I received this book for free from Blogging For Books in exchange for this honest review.

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The Tell-Tale Brain

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In this landmark work, V. S. Ramachandran investigates strange, unforgettable cases—from patients who believe they are dead to sufferers of phantom limb syndrome. With a storyteller’s eye for compelling case studies and a researcher’s flair for new approaches to age-old questions, Ramachandran tackles the most exciting and controversial topics in brain science, including language, creativity, and consciousness. 45 illustrations

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Elements of Ecology

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Known for its emphasis on the relevance of ecology in everyday life and the human impact on ecosystems, Elements of Ecology, Seventh Edition  features new “Interpreting Ecological Data” exercises to help readers develop quantitative skills. Each chapter draws upon current research in the various fields of ecology providing accessible examples that help readers understand species natural history, specific ecosystems, the process of science, and ecological patterns at both an evolutionary and demographic scale.
The Nature of Ecology, Adaptation and Evolution, Climate, The Aquatic Environment, The Terrestrial Environment, Plant Adaptations to the Environment, Animal Adaptations to the Environment, Life History Patterns, Properties of Populations, Population Growth, Intraspecific Population Regulation, Metapopulations, Interspecific Competition, Predation, Parasitism and Mutualism, Community Structure, Factors Influencing the Structure of Communities, Community Dynamics, Landscape Ecology, Ecosystem Energetics, Decomposition and Nutrient Cycling,  Biogeochemical Cycles, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Aquatic Ecosystems, Land—Water Margins, Large-scale Patterns of Biological Diversity,Population Growth, Resource Use, and Sustainability, Habitat Loss, Biodiversity, and Conservation,Global Climate Change
Intended for those interested in learning the basics of ecology
I wasn’t sure what to think of this class in college. I LOVED the content (I’ve kept this book because it was a really interesting read). But the first test was odd. We didn’t get our test back so we could see our grade until I believe after we took our second test (it became a running joke). As many of us started freaking out about what our grade could have possibly been, a good month after we’d taken the test the professor finally sent out an email reassuring us that if an individual had gotten a poor score, he would have talked to them privately. But he didn’t mention what he felt a “poor score” was until after he finally handed us back the test. Turns out, that would have been a B-. I think I got an A- on the test and a B+ in the class which suited me just fine :-D.