Friday, November 30, 2007

Eye Candy

The Rules of Attraction

The Rules of Attraction
by Bret Easton Ellis
$11.16 at Amazon.com
There was a movie version a few years ago, starring Dawson's Creek heart-throb James van der Beek.  A pretty good movie version, if memory serves, and an outstanding example of how even a good movie can't compare with a book. There's a lot more hedonism in the novel version.
Bret Easton Ellis writes grisly tales of modern alienation, usually set like this one, among rich people in the 1980s. Rules of Attraction takes place at an expensive, private, Northeastern college campus. The story takes place among 
the college kids, who seem to spend very little time going to classes or studying.
Most of them have been over-indulged, and grown bored with everything around them. There's loads of drugs, wild parties, and frequent, empty sex. The characters spend a lot of time plotting and lying to one another, and the novel's written in non-linear time (it jumps around between the past and present) which fills it with plot-twisting surprises.
The main character, Sean, spends his days getting high and inventing lies to get unwitting girls to go to bed with him. Considering he 
spends all his time in the pursuit of pleasure, he seems dreadfully unfulfilled. 
There's a love affair, if you can call it that. It's interesting how years of self-indulgence have affected Sean's ability to even experience emotions like love. He majors in Ceramics and talks about Ginsberg with classmates over mountains of grass. It's a charmed life.
I've read most of Ellis' books, and consider him one of the best writers of his generation. His characters create an interesting paradox: they have a joyless existence, yet (if you're like me) the things they're doing all seem 
like a lot of fun. To be young, attractive, and have lots of money to throw around just has to be fulfilling, doesn't it?
The chapters jump back and forth between the perspectives of different characters, which can be distracting at first. It's fairly post-modern, to less-experienced readers this may seem confusing. Just relax.
Overall, the Rules of Attraction is a fun ride. It's an especially good choice this time of year, if you are someone who finds holiday pageantry a bore.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Eye Candy

The Elements

I've decided to continue to posts on chemistry, if only because I like them. They also lend themselves to a lot of pretty pictures. Anything which creates pretty pictures is golden on the internet.

Consider the following...

Sulfur:
Atomic Symbol: S
Atomic Number: 16
Almost anything that smells awful contains sulfur. Rotten eggs smell terrible because they contain hydrogen sulfide. Skunk odor is a mixture of three sulfur compounds, all of them noxious.
Sulfur is mentioned 15 times in the Bible, and was best known for destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was also known to the ancient Greeks, and appears in Homer's Odyssey. Small doses have been prescribed as a laxative for over 3000 years, which works because it acts as an irritant in the intestines.
Sulfur is found in some meteorites and there appears to be a deposit on the surface of the Moon. Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, is covered in sulfur spewed from its active volcanoes. It has been suggested that sulfur-using bacteria might live there, similar to types which survive in sulfur-rich environments on Earth.

Chlorine:
Atomic Symbol: Cl
Atomic Number: 17
Its ion Chlorde (Cl-) is essential to many species, including humans. The element itself, Chlorine gas, is very toxic, as its use as a weapon in World War I showed. Chlorine was first used as a weapon on 22 April, 1915. The German army released the gas from hundreds of cylinders, and the breeze carried the gas across no-man's land and into the British trenches. 5000 men died in agony, and 15000 were disabled by it. The threat was eventually countered by issuing gas masks.
The chlorination of drinking water has been common practice for almost a century. It virtually eliminates water-borne illnesses such as typhoid, cholera, and meningitis which were once common in overcrowded cities. Chlorination is cheap, safe, and effective at ridding water of disease pathogens.

Argon:
Atomic Symbol: Ar
Atomic Number: 18
Argon is one of a group of elements called the noble gases. Like them, it is an odorless, colorless gas; but unlike most of them, it is not rare. Roughly 1% of the atmosphere is composed of argon. Argon was first isolated in 1785 London, by the eccentric millionaire Henry Cavendish, who had a private laboratory. Perplexed by this small portion of the air which would not react chemically, he did not realize that it was a gaseous element, nor was he able to identify it using the primitive techniques of his day. The element remained "undiscovered" until 1904, by the winners of the Nobel prizes for chemistry and physics.
Argon turned out to be not as inert as had always been assumed. In August 2000, scientists at the University of Helsinki, Finland created the first ever compound of argon. Don't expect to see it turning up at the mall, though: this highly unstable substance had to be created and stored at temperatures under -265 oC.

My previous posts on chemistry are here.

Do you want to know more? Then check out Nature's Building Blocks, by John Emsley

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eye Candy

A View of the Ocean

A View of the Ocean 
by Jan de Hartog
$12.21 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 978-0375424700
Before I begin reviewing A View of the Ocean, let me say that it is not like most of the books you'll see here at Hansisgreat. 
Usually I try to find books which are pleasant and diverting. This one is very heavy and very sad. If you're looking for something to read on an airplane, look elsewhere!
It's an autobiography which focuses on the author's periods of grieving and loss. The dust jacket describes it as an "inspirational memoir".
Here's a run-down on the author: Jan grew up in the Netherlands. During World War II he was a secret courier for the British Navy, and helped Jewish babies escape from Nazi occupied Holland. His 1940 
novel, Holland's Glorie, is considered a national treasure by the Dutch, because it symbolized their resistance to German occupation.
I did not know any of this when I began A View of the Ocean. It interested me because the story concerns the death of his mother, and his conversion to the Quaker religion. Coincidentally, my own mother died a year and a half ago, and I also became a Quaker around the same time. 
Weird.
I never rescued any babies, though.
Anyway, this is a sensitive and beautiful memoir about the deaths of 
the author's parents. No, they weren't killed because of the war, they both died the "normal" way: of sickness and old age. There's very little action: just a few short scenes from his childhood along with the story of how his parents met. Jan's father means well but is a bit heavy-handed. He's a clergyman with what our era would call an idiosyncratic, almost Victorian personality. For example, during Jan's boyhood, his father would bring the following items along each time the family went on vacation:

- a hip bath
-a tea service
-his own silverware
-three footlockers full of books
-a plaster bust of the philosopher Schopenhauer

Jan's deepest affection, naturally, is for his mother, whose death brings an unexpected 
spiritual twist to the end of the story. When Jan donates some of his late mother's books, he comes in contact with a group of Dutch Quakers, who provide him with hope during his time of loss.
There's truly not much of a story here. This book struck a chord with me for deeply personal reasons. It's not something you'll want to read for leisure, but if you've lost a close loved one it may offer you some comfort. It promises a rational possibility of an afterlife, which by itself makes it worth checking out. 
Additionally, those not too familiar with the Quaker religion may learn a few things about it that are interesting. The only other 
reason one might want to read it would be if they were Dutch. Mostly, it's for people who are grieving.
Unless they die young, most people experience the deaths of their parents. I found it was one of the least enjoyable parts of life, but there's no avoiding it. I'm sorry if all this is a bit depressing for a website featuring shirtless men.
I only mention it because, if this book is what you're looking for, then it's important for you to know that it's out there.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Eye Candy

Constellations

Since ancient times, people have tried to find patterns in the stars. Some groups are so distinctive that they have been recognized for as long as 20,000 years!Today 88 constellations are recognized by the western world. Here are three which are currently visible in the northern hemisphere. If you can get away from bright city lights and find a clear night, see if you can spot these four. We'll start with an easy one...


Orion:
Probably the easiest winter constellation to spot, because of the three bright stars in a straight line that make up his belt, Orion is my favorite constellation. It features two of the brightest (first magnitude, star brightness is measured by magnitude) stars in the heavens, Rigel and Betelgeuse. If you follow the line of Orion's belt past Alnitak, you can find Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky. In fact, November's sky is filled with very bright stars.
Just below the center star in Orion's belt is the Orion nebula, one of only two nebulas bright enough to be seen without a telescope. Orion first appears in September, but is now visible well above the horizon by midnight.

Taurus:
An easy way to find this one is to remember that Orion chases Taurus the bull. In fact, people have thought this group of stars looked like a bull since earliest recorded history. Many scientists believe that Stone Age cave paintings in Lascaux, France depict this constellation. It's currently visible just above the horizon, but will rise high in the sky throughout  the winter. Look for Taurus' glowing red eye, the star Aldebaran, in the middle of his face.

Pegasus:
Now almost directly overhead, the great square that makes up the center of Pegasus surrounds a large portion of the midnight sky. This patch of sky is also important because it contains the Andromeda Galaxy, our closest galactic neighbor, only 2.5 million light years away from our own.
The constellation only represents the front half of the legendary winged horse for which it's named. Pegasus in myth was the son of Medusa, the hideously ugly gorgon, whose look could turn men to stone.

Ursa Major:
Probably the most recognized constellation, the Big Dipper is now visible just above the Northern horizon. Originally called "the Great Bear", because the bowl of the dipper resembles a saddle on a bear's back. Above Ursa Major is Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper which contains Polaris, the North Star. 
If you have good vision on a clear night, the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper appears to flicker. This is because it's actually a binary star, a group of two stars: Mizar and Alcor. 

If you'd like to see my previous posts on astronomy click here.

There's an outstanding book with lots of beautiful, glossy pictures called Astronomy: A Visual Guide, by Mark A. Garlick. Consider it as a holiday gift for a loved one. Buying this or other fine products by traveling through this site to Amazon.com helps support Hansisgreat.