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review 2020-07-17 09:27
Urban Aviary: A Modern Guide to City Birds
Urban Aviary: A Modern Guide to City Birds - Stephen Moss

I bought this because it was pretty.  The author takes us on a whirlwind tour across the world, highlighting one bird in each major city that has, despite all the odds, thrived.  Each gets one page, and the facing page is a watercolour of the bird, done by Marc Martin, and each is astonishingly wonderful in its simplicity and detail.


As a bonus to the eye-candy, I learned quite a bit about a range of birds; even the ones I'd already heard of had facts that were new to me, so it's a win all around.  

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review 2020-07-17 03:23
Consider the Platypus
Consider the Platypus: Evolution through Biology's Most Baffling Beasts - Rodica Prato,Maggie Ryan Sandford

I had this book on my list to buy long before it was published, so when I did buy it a few months ago, I was surprised:  I was expecting the book to be about the platypus.  Silly me.


It is, instead, a book about the animals that display aspects of evolution in its most baffling forms, or animals through whom are knowledge of evolution and homo sapiens has been advanced.  It's cheekily written, and could almost be used as a supplemental text for introductory classes in high-school, though it's nowhere near comprehensive enough.  Each animal gets between 2-4 pages, with a generous, though not excessive, illustrations.


I learned a bit about just about everything, and learned about a few creatures I'd never really heard of before.  Light, enjoyable to read, and something that is easily picked up and digested in small bits.

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review 2019-12-27 02:14
Coral Reef Fishes
Coral Reef Fishes: Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean Including the Red Sea - Revised Edition - Robert Myers,Ewald Lieske

I bought this after our trip to Vanuatu (oh, to go back...) so I could attempt to identify the fish I caught in my photos.  It's a nice sized 'pocket' guide (you'd want a big pocket), perfect to travel with, and the color illustrations for each fish are gorgeous.


BUT, I have two complaints:


It's hard to find the fish you're trying to identify if you've never attempted a fish identification before.  Which, honestly, isn't the books fault - it's neatly organised into the different species, but if I've never seen a damselfish I have no idea that the fish I'm trying to identify IS a damselfish.  This is made more frustrating by the fact that damselfish don't all have common traits, so two fish that could not look more different if they had arms and legs, could totally both be damselfish.  I'm not sure this is a solvable problem, except with time and experience.


The color plates, while gorgeous, are not the same as photographs if you're a beginner trying to identify fish for the first time.  I'd read that photos were better when I bought the book, but this title had the most comprehensive list of species and I figured it can't really be THAT hard.  But it can, and it is.


I've still found the guide useful and I'm glad to have it as a reference in my on-going Name that Fish! project, but I have also ordered a different guide with photographs to use as a companion reference.

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review 2019-04-06 08:49
The Honey Factory: Inside the Ingenious World of Bees
The Honey Factory: Inside the Ingenious World of Bees - Jürgen Tautz,David C. Sandeman,Diedrich Steen

My friends all know my husband and I started hosting a bee hive in our garden last year; for a small yearly fee, we enjoy having the bees in our garden, pollinating our plants and trees, providing endless hours of fascination for us, and the beekeeper takes care of them and does all the hard work.  Once a year, the beekeeper gives us a small percentage of the honey they produce.


I've always been fascinated by bees, and as a kid learned that if I was very still, I could watch them as they worked away extracting the pollen and nectar from the powder puff (Calliandra haematocephala) tree in our front yard.  I was giddy when MT told me he'd found this setup for us and arranged for it as my Christmas present.  But I wanted to learn more about how these fascinating insects - who are responsible for 80% of the pollination behind the food we eat - worked.  I wanted to know what went on inside the hive.


The Honey Factory provided exactly that.  To say that I learned something vital in every chapter would be almost an understatement.  The chapter on bee vision and how and when they can see us, has made an incredible difference to how we move about in the garden when they're at their busiest.  Unfortunately, I read this chapter after MT got stung at the corner of his eye and on the edge of his ear (within seconds of each other), BUT he hasn't been stung since, even after gardening just outside their hive door.


(Hint: bees can't see things that move slow - think of their vision as a flip book animation; the pages have to move at a certain speed before they 'see' something, and the faster the pages move, the clearer they see what's on them.  So, move slowly around bees, and if they are too close for comfort, be still, or move slowly away.  Also, sweat is an attractant, so take that into consideration when deciding whether to freeze or move slowly away.)


The chapter on the structure of modern beehives was also incredibly enlightening as I now completely understand excluders and funnels - what they look like and how they work.  The mechanics of swarming, too, now make much more sense.


The book was originally written in German, and the perspective is primarily from German beekeeping, but this presents no problem in terms of the knowledge contained herein; honey bees are honey bees the world over (Apis mellifera).  It's told in alternating sections by a beekeeper, Diedrich Steen, and a scientist, Jürgen Tautz; first from the friendly, some might say 'folksy' POV of the everyday, though expert, beekeeper, and then from the POV of the scientist.  The science is hard science, sometimes made simpler for the broader audience the book is aimed at, but really, not all that simplified.  The section on the science of bee foraging started to become a miasma of site A, site B and feeding substations; even with the charts and graphs, there were a number of eye-glazing moments.  


My only real gripe was the weird tone of the book.  It's a translation, so keep that in mind, but there was a folksy tone to the writing that danced back and forth between being weirdly friendly and patronising.  The tone felt aimed at small children but the science was definitely aimed at adults.  An example:


The house telephone works best when dances are held on open, uncapped comb cells. The telephone net is impaired on other dance floors because they cannot oscillate freely. Dances on capped cells, on the wooden frames or, as we will see later, on the bodies of colleagues in a swarm attract significantly less attention. 




Gaps and holes between the comb and the frames are gnawed out by bees to provide the net with the necessary flexibility. Telephone-repair bees have ensured that the dance floors keep swinging and the house telephone remains intact. 


Additionally, in the introduction the authors announce their intention of referring to the hive throughout the book as The Honey Factory, and by god, they do.  By the end it irritated me; I get that they're trying to make this accessible to a vey general audience but I don't think it's asking too much of any reader that picks this book up to understand "hive" in relation to honey production.


This is the only reason I dinged the book 1/2 star; the information is outstanding for a beginner wanting to know the mechanics of how a hive works, but the tone of the language, either through intent or translation, was the single barrier to an otherwise perfect read (for me - as always, your mileage may vary).

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review 2019-01-02 05:19
Big Science for Little People
Big Science For Little People: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Child Discover the Wonders of Science - Lynn Brunelle

I knocked half a star off because there are some detrimental editing errors scattered throughout (i.e. errors that affect the ability to carry out the instructions).  Otherwise, it's a great collection of experiments to do with kids that illustrate some fundamentals of science.  A few are super-basic, like how to make a paper airplane.  But a lot of them are clever, creative, and sound like a lot of fun.  A bonus for me were the number of experiments that involve exploding things.  (What can I say? I like exploding things. Safely.)


The author did a decent job writing up the instructions and explanations.  Her introduction was a little too parent focused, if I'm being nit-picky (obviously, I am). You don't have to be a parent to find this book useful; aunts, uncles, grandparents, and teachers will all find it a fun resource too, and it wouldn't have taken much thought to write for the wider audience.


Her explanations are bare-bones basic, but they seemed to cover the broad-concept basics, and often included suggestions for how to explain the science in terms kids could easily grasp.  My only other complaint that went towards the 1/2 star deduction is that while she offers suggestions for how to take the experiments further, she doesn't offer any explanation for why these supplemental variations might deviate from the original experiment.  I can see how this might leave the adult at a loss for a properly scientific explanation.


Some of the experiments that will get a go here next time the nieces are around include Magic Milk, Crystal Snowflakes, Marshmallow launcher, Super-squirter water blaster, and the one I'm personally most excited about: Exploding Sidewalk Chalk.  It's messy, it's colourful, and best of all, it EXPLODES!  :D

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