Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Like the Queen of England has her yearly Christmas message, I thought I would do the same this year. It has been a year of highs and lows throughout the world. There have been atrocious acts of terrorism, as well as fantastic stories of love, hope, and perseverance. We've heard tales of wonder, and seen visions of utter devastation. We've lost many who were dear to our hearts, and watched as new faces are born. 

As we look forward to the rapidly approaching new year, we each feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation over what is coming. On this special day, I hope that you and your family can celebrate the holiday season with a smile on your lips and tears of joy in your hearts. May you and yours have a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: "Black and Blue" by Ian Rankin

Inspector John Rebus is brash, hard-headed, and utterly unlikeable as a person. This could all explain why John Rebus has been such a successful character for author, Ian Rankin. I've read several of the John Rebus novels, have seen several of the, often times, completely irrelevant BBC Television adaptations, and listened to the BBC Radio adaptations (far better than the television ones). So, I decided to read another novel in the long-running John Rebus series.

Black and Blue (named after a Rolling Stones album) features John Rebus investigating the gruesome murder of an off-duty Scottish oilman. Amidst his investigation, the media spotlight and an internal affairs investigation brings to light potential corruption on the part of Rebus' old partner and mentor over an old case. To top things off, the police of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Glasgow are reeling from yet another killing by a serial killer known as Johnny Bible, who is committing copycat crimes of a similar killer from the sixties and seventies named Bible John.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand I really enjoyed it, and felt like Rankin had crafted a well-thought out primary plot. The challenge for me was that there were so many sub-plots that sometimes it was hard to keep them all straight. They seemed to distract more than help the flow of the story. One minute Rebus was in Edinburgh. The next he was in Aberdeen, and then suddenly he's off to Glasgow. John Rebus spends what seems like a third of the novel in his car.

An interesting note about Black and Blue is the premise of the original serial killer from the sixties and seventies. I did a little research after reading this novel and found that there actual was a serial killer named Bible John, who terrorized Glasgow in the sixties and seventies. Rankin often does this in his novel, integrating a real life event into the story and grounding his characters more into a Scotland that people can relate to.

Overall, Black and Blue was a good novel, and a strong addition to the John Rebus series, but I don't feel like it was the best. I would still recommend it to anyone who is an Ian Rankin fan, but don't make this a starting place. I'd more recommend trying The Falls.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: "Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters" by Jim Mahaffey

I decided to try and tackle something a little out of my comfort zone recently. I picked up a copy of the book, Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters by Jim Mahaffey. Now, I'm not much of a science guy, at least when it comes to nuclear physics, or physics in general for that matter. So, I wondered if this would end up being a snooze fest for me. But, I decided to give it a try anyway.

The book wasn't a necessarily a disappointment for me. But, it was challenge to get through at certain points. What I really found interesting in this book was the historical perspective on the dark side of nuclear energy - radioactivity. Mahaffey does a decent job of exploring the advances made in nuclear energy by discussing the numerous mistakes made, and what was learned from them. In his book, he takes the reader back to the earliest recorded radioactivity exposures in the late 19th century, the early experiments by Madame Curie and Thomas Edison, and the United States' Manhattan Project during World War II.

Mahaffey doesn't stop there, however, he also makes his way through modern day events such as, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Interspersed among his detailed descriptions of each accident (and there have been far more than I thought), the author provides an analysis of what went wrong, what was learned (and sometimes not learned), and how it helped advance the science of nuclear energy.

One of the things that I like about the book was that Mahaffey doesn't try to convince the reader that nuclear energy is either good or bad. I didn't get the opinion that there was any agenda hidden in the subtext of the book. What I didn't necessarily like, however, was the author's sometimes long discussions on the concepts of nuclear fission itself. There is only so much talk about isotopes, protons, and neutrons that a non-nuclear physicist can take. There were a number of sections where I found myself getting lost because the detail behind nuclear fission was getting far too deep.

All I all, I found the book to be entertaining, and informative. It was amazing to hear about the numerous accidents, and how, more times than not, the cause was human stupidity or carelessness. I found it surprising how nonchalant many scientists were in the early years of nuclear exploration. The early years were particularly interesting, especially when you read about early attempts to sell radioactive water as a cure-all. Some of it was horrifying, but, I must admit, some was kind of funny.

This isn't a book for the faint of heart, or someone who gets easily bored by long, drawn out scientific explanations. But, it was a decent book none the less.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Work in Rectangles when Shoveling Snow

As much as I hate to admit it, the time has come to talk about shoveling snow. Just last month, the city of Buffalo in upstate New York was hammered with several feet of snow. This post may be a bit late for them, but it is still early in the snow shoveling season for it to still be useful.

As I made the rounds on my RSS feeds, I found this interesting article from Popular Mechanics. It is titled, 16 Cardinal Rules for Snow Shoveling. Most of these rules only apply to manual shoveling, and some are just common sense. For instance, Popular Mechanics recommends moving snow the shortest distance possible or don't move snow twice. But. there was one that was interesting. They recommend being more efficient by shoveling in a rectangle. The article says, to clear snow from a rectangle, first shovel a strip clear along the perimeter of the rectangle. Then, moving from the center to the edge, push the snow into the cleared area. Next, lift and throw the snow out of the area. 

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pringles Can Oven

I found an interesting tidbit online the other day. Someone had posted instructions on how to make an oven out of an old Pringles can. In the instructions, they used the Pringles can to cook hot dogs. So, I see two benefits to this. First, I get to eat Pringles, and second I get to eat hot dogs. Both are good things in my book. In the end, you just use the heat of the sun to cook your hot dog. Not bad. If you want to see the full set of directions, click the link below.

Hot Dog Cooker / Solar Oven