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review 2018-06-17 21:33
The Double Helix
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA - James D. Watson

Gossip, backstabbing, petty squabbles, arrogance, snobbishness, and misogyny take a front row seat in this personal account of how the double helix structure of DNA was discovered. 

 

I expected more from Watson's book. 

 

And then there is the question about Rosalind Franklin's contribution to the discovery.

 

While Watson does spend some time in the epilogue to credit Franklin for her work on the subject, it seems too little, too late. He spends the entire book painting her as an uncooperative, dour, argumentative, bossy, frump with an "acid smile" in a career mostly reserved for unattractive women who have little chance of catching a husband. (He actually introduces her in the book in almost exactly those terms.)

 

Oh, and there is little explanation of the structure of DNA itself. It really is more of an account of his thoughts on girls, stomach pains, and on the personal lives of people Watson encountered when working on the project. 

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review 2018-06-17 16:54
The Science of Everyday Life
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

I had started this book with the intention to comment on each chapter - or part, as each section contained smaller chapters on the various topics of the book - but as so often, I ended up finishing the book before I could summarise my notes for each part. 

 

I much enjoyed the buddy read of this with Murder by Death, who is infinitely more patient with books than I am. Unlike her, I am not just a bit biased by my admiration for Helen Czerski's Storm in a Teacup, I fully enjoyed - and have no regrets - about Storm in a Teacup spoiling Marty Jopson's attempt here at making science accessible to the general reader. 

It is not that The Science of Everyday Life was a bad book - it wasn't! - it is just that the brevity of descriptions and eclectic selection of topics really makes an entertaining introduction to science for people who think they don't like or want to know about science. I am just not Jopson's target reader here. (But I am, evidently, Czerski's target audience.)

For what it is, tho, Jopson does an excellent job at showing how science is the basis of everything around us - from the colour of autumn foliage to the workings of toothpaste to why sheep don't shrink in the rain (despite wearing woolly jumpers) and why people shrivel up in the bathtub.

Each topic is explained just briefly enough to gather interest but not leave you bored with pages and pages of explanation.

 

Again, I wish there had been more explanation and connection between the topics, but this was not in the scope of this book.

 

I should add, tho, that there was one chapter that left me baffled and criticising its content - the part about the boomerang did nothing for me. I could not follow the description of the experiment and could not understand the explanation that was offered for how a boomerang works. I had to google the answer and explanation here.

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text 2018-06-12 22:13
Reading progress update: Part 3 - Marvels of Science Around the House
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

This Part included the following sections:

 

- Lighting up slowly (lightbulbs)*

- End over end down the stairs (slinkies)

- Machines that can see in the dark

- Making glass one-way

- Disappearing down the plughole left and right

- Einstein, relativity and your phone*

- Different flavours of smoke alarm*

- The vanishing transistor and Moore's law*

- Wobbly crystals in your clock

- When batteries die*

- Bursting your bubble

- Bottled clothing

- Non-shrinking sheep

- Fresh air really is good for you

 

I really liked this part of the book, especially the parts with a *. 

 

The non-shrinking sheep had me at the title of the section but it turned out to nothing new. Still credit to Jopson for including sheep. :D

 

As with the other chapters before, there is nothing really new in these parts but some of Jopson's explanations worked really well for me. 

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text 2018-06-07 00:21
Reading progress update: Part 2 - The Heart of the Home and Kitchen Science
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

Part Two of the book continues along the same lines as Part One, but I found this part a little less interesting. Partly, this was because there was not a lot of new information in this chapter, and partly I could see missed opportunities for explaining other things relating to the following:

 

- Refrigerators

- Calories

- Dribbling tea pots

- Kitchen scales and the Kilogram

- Induction hobs

- Microwave ovens

- Toasters

- Coffee rings

- Ice cubes

- Candles

 

I really enjoyed the section on coffee rings, but was ultimately disappointed that the section on the toaster focused on the bread used for toast rather than the appliance.

 

Also, I found it impossible to read the section on the candle without comparing it to the description of how a candle works in Czerski's Storm in a Teacup. I missed the mention of nanodiamonds being created inside the candle flame.

 

Also, I still want to read Faraday's "The Chemical History of a Candle". 

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text 2018-06-06 03:48
Reading progress update: Part 1 - The Sustaining Science of Food and Drink
The Science of Everyday Life - Marty Jopson

A long overdue update on the buddy read with Murder by Death of Marty Jopson's Science of Everyday Life:

 

I'm not sure about this book, yet. The first part  - and, looking ahead, the other parts, too - is made of short sections on different topics in the general theme of Food and Drink, some more interesting (even if somewhat revolting - see Prawn Crackers update) than others. I enjoyed the explanation of why egg whites change colour when heated, I also enjoyed the prawn crackers story, and the description of why onions make people cry. 

 

I was decidedly less interested in the parts about bread and baking, except that the discussion of the tax implications with respect to cakes and biscuits had me research the UK VAT (value added tax) rules for longer than I ever thought I would - and it was bizarrely fascinating.

 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/food-products-and-vat-notice-70114

 

The distinctions between taxable and tax exempt may all seem arbitrary and mad, but at least there is a clear acknowledgement that cakes and biscuits are necessities in life and therefore exempt from tax.

 

With respect to the onion section, Jopson tries to describe why it is that onions make some people cry. I added "some" in this as Jopson doesn't actually go into why onions affect some people but not others. I've not been affected by onions when cutting them in ... decades, so his generalisation made me think about what other generalisations he may have mixed into the "science parts".

Take a knife and start to slice up the flesh of an onion. As you do this, you break open lots of the unusually large cells of the onion. Within these cells are two chemicals that normally don’t come into contact, since they are contained in different cellular compartments. By cutting open the cells you also break these compartments and the chemicals mix. The first of these substances is a group of protein-building blocks called amino acids, linked to a sulphur and oxygen atom. When these sulphur-linked amino acids encounter an enzyme known as alliinase, they produce a highly reactive sulphenic acid. (And I have spelt the word alliinase correctly. It comes from allium, the scientific name for the onion genus of plants, and for reasons unknown the enzyme has an extra ‘i’ thrown in for good measure.) The creation of the sulphenic acid is not the end of the chemistry; a second enzyme gets involved. The grandly named lachrymatory factor synthase gets to work on the sulphenic acid and produces – you guessed it – lachrymatory factor, or syn-propanethial-S-oxide – I think it would be wise to stick with lachrymatory factor in this instance. Now we are getting to the tearful end of the story, as lachrymatory factor is a highly volatile liquid that turns into a gas that floats up to your eyes. It’s possibly surprising that the see-through part of the front of your eye, the cornea, is packed with sensory nerve endings. These are there to detect anything that touches the delicate cornea, and when this happens we unconsciously blink and also produce tears to flush the irritant away. The lachrymatory factor sticks to these nerve endings, fooling them into believing that something hot has touched our cornea. We feel this as a burning pain, even though there is no heat there, and we begin to cry, or to lachrymate, to use the fancy word. There are many chemicals that can cause the same reaction – capsaicin, for example (see here), but it is only onions and their relatives that produce a gas that does this.

 

Anyway, the onion section reminded me that I have this:

 

 

They were a Secret Santa thing, I think, as otherwise I have no idea how I got them... No idea if they work.

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