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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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review 2018-09-24 08:34
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

I finally finished this one.  The delay was a combination of being on holiday, and needing to put some space between my experience of this book and the experience of others, as I was starting to feel like I was losing my objectivity regarding my feelings about this book.


So, my feelings: Get Well Soon was poorly sub-titled and marketed.  As a popular science book, or a popular history-about-science book, it fails.  As an introductory anthropological and cultural survey of how society has historically reacted to epidemics and pandemics, I think its excellent.


Furthermore, while I like her writing style a lot, it is polarising.  Jennifer Wright is a 30-something author whose voice is informal, irreverent and snarky.  She writes the way friends - good friends - talk when they don't have to behave themselves.  She uses this no-nonsense voice to sometimes share her thoughts about topics that are themselves, polarising.  


So this is a book that isn't going to appeal to everyone.  It particularly isn't going to appeal - at all - to anyone looking for a more sober, scientifically-focused exploration of the topic.  After reading the whole thing, I'm pretty sure it was never meant to, at least, not from the author's perspective.


"If you take nothing else away from this book, I hope it's that sick people are not villains."


This is a recurring theme from start to finish.  Wright's objective seems to be to focus a spotlight on humanity's reaction to mass illness throughout history, whether good or bad.  Her hope in doing so is that perhaps those who read this book will learn from history rather than doom themselves to repeat it.  She does this is the frankest, bluntest possible way, with a lot of snarky humor.


In this objective, I believe she succeeds.  I think those of us who could be labeled as 'prolific readers' or those who voraciously devour their favorite subjects, might lose perspective on how well-informed, or not,  most people today are.  Society today is at least as divided as it's been at almost any other time in history, and a good deal of opinion is shaped via the internet, a source we all know can be about as accurate as a round of the telephone game.


In this context, I think the book is fantastic.  Jennifer Wright seems to be a popular author of columns in various newspapers and magazines; if even a handful of her fans from Harper's Bazaar, et al, read this book simply because she wrote it, and they come away having learned something they didn't know before they started, or thinking harder about their responsibility in society, then Wright will have succeeded where others have failed.  (And yes, I'm generally pessimistic about the world I live in - my country is being run by an orange lunatic; I think I'm entitled to a bit of pessimism.)


I'm not one of her magazine/newspaper fans.  In fact it wasn't until after I'd started this that I realised I'd ever read anything by her before.  I'm also quantitatively better read, if not qualitatively (some would argue), and I can say that not only did I enjoy this book a great deal, but I learned more than I expected to.  For example, I had no idea that the Spanish Flu wasn't actually Spanish, but probably American, and I had no idea that it killed so many Americans.  Granted, most of my knowledge of the Spanish Flu comes from British fiction, but it's a testament to the horrifying effectiveness of government censorship during WWI that you still don't read about it in American fiction, and this is a disease that killed in one month more Americans than the US Civil War.  I'd also never heard of Encephalitis Lethargica, and sort of wish I never had.  Even on the diseases I knew more about, Wright managed to impart something new for me, and in at least 2 chapters, left me misty eyed over the power people have when they choose to be selfless.


As a popular science book meant to tackle a complicated topic in a palatable way, this book is a fail; there's not nearly enough scientific discussion or data here to qualify this as such a book.  But as a popular, cultural overview of the way societies throughout history have succeeded or failed to handle epidemics when they happened and the importance of rational, humane leaders and populace in times of crises, I think Wright succeeds very well.


The tragedy of this book is that it's marketed to the very people who are bound to be disappointed by it and likely don't need its message, and the people who might gain the most from it are likely to pass it by because they think it'll be too boring and dry.


I read this for The Flat Book Society's September read, but it also qualifies for the Doomsday square in Halloween Bingo.

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review 2018-08-23 09:36
The Contented Bee
The Contented Bee - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

An almost completely Australian-centric overview on the delights and benefits of backyard beekeeping.  It's informative for those, like me, brand-spanking-new to bees, and beautifully put together with loads of full-colour photography.


The first section of the book focuses on the basics of keeping European honeybees, touching on the different hive types, honey collection, and diseases/pests that affect the Australian population of EU honeybees.  The highlight of this section was a small selection of recipes/instructions for way to use your honey and beeswax.  I was especially excited to see instructions for making your own food storage wraps, as we are devotees of these things; knowing I can renew them myself has me excited to try it.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, check them out here - they replace plastic wrap for a lot of food storage and you have to see how well a cut avocado lasts wrapped in one of these things to believe it.  


The second section focuses on keeping the Australian stingless bees, which also produce honey, also known as sugarbag honey, albeit in about 1/10th the amounts.  The enthusiasm for the stingless variety is boundless here, and I can see why: even with much less harvestable honey, if any, the stingless are, well, stingless.  They also require almost no extra equipment or maintenance, unlike the more productive EU honey bees.  


A third section discusses the other native Australian bees, almost all of which are solitary, produce no honey, and sting.  But oh, are they amazing to look at, and I was especially interested in this section. Alas, if it wasn't a stingless, few of the contributors were interested.


That's my only real beef about this book; with all the information and instructions included, they don't have any instructions for making a 'bee hotel' that attracts a blue-banded bee, which, as some of you might remember, is my favorite of the natives.  They like to nest in holes bored into clay or mud bricks you can make yourself, but apparently not any old clay or mud will do, so some instructions for this would have been welcome - especially as they do tell you how to make your own bee hotels for other natives.


If you've read this far down and aren't an Aussie, you must be interested in bees, so to keep this from being a total waste, here are a few pics of the cooler natives Down Under, starting with my favorite, the Blue Banded Bee:



the metallic green bee:



and one I've yet to see, and neon cuckoo bee:




(sources:  green metallic: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Metallic_Green_Bee_(Augochloropsis_sp.)_on_Coreopsis_(7173773106).jpg

neon cuckoo: http://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/sciencecommunication/2013/08/26/a-buzz-about-australian-native-bees/

blue banded: mine.

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