Sunday, April 27, 2008
Travel only with thy equals or betters; if there are none, travel alone.
No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.
Agnes de Mille (1909 -1993)
Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950)
Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.
James Bryant Conant (1893 - 1978)
There's only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self.
Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)
Endeavor always to be patient of the faults and imperfections of others for thou has many faults and imperfections of thine own that require forbearance. If thou are not able to make thyself that which thou wishest. how canst thou expect to mold another in conformity to thy will?
Thomas a Kempis (1380 - 1471)
Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do.
Voltaire (1694 - 1778)
A ship in a port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for.
Grace Murray Hopper (1906 - 1992)
Posted by Hansisgreat at 12:56 PM
Friday, April 25, 2008
On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony
Science and fantasy fictions have made a place for themselves on the literary map. The works of such early writers as Edgar Rice Burroughs and J.R.R. Tolkein have spawned a thousand imitators and a host of Sword of Shannara type clones.
The novels of Piers Anthony are among the most original, creative, and entertaining. He's best known as the author of the lightly comical Xanth series. This is the first of seven novels in a series called Incarnations of Immortality.
Our hero is a man named Zane, who for a variety of reasons, has
been a spectacular failure in life in spite of many positive characteristics. When he attempts to commit suicide, his soul is about to be harvested by the Grim Reaper himself. In a moments of blind panic, he shoots the reaper in the face, killing him on the spot.
Because he has murdered the incarnation of death, he is forced to take its place; and so Zane begins a career collecting the souls of the departed, measuring their sins and virtues to commit them to hell, heaven, or purgatory.
The novel takes place at some undetermined time in the future, when technology has progressed alongside mankind's knowledge of magic. Zane's world involves both high-tech laser beams and magical incantations and fights with dragons.
It's really cool.
During the early part of the story, Zane is just getting the hang of his new job. There are a few snafus, which can be pretty serious if they take place during someone's agonizing demise. Before long he's forced to deal with some sticky situations. Some people are judged "evil" by technical standards, and condemned to hell when they don't seem truly deserving of this fate. The climax comes as he learns the true power of his position, and takes a stand to correct an injustice.
Most of this book is about Death, but we do get to meet the other Immortals: Time, Fate, War, and Nature. Even Satan himself, the Incarnation of Evil, makes a few grand appearances. Zane also gets a horse which can turn into a car. The two develop an odd chemistry and are quite funny when they communicate.
This is an impressive and highly imaginative novel which has had a cult following for many years. It captures the reader from the first chapter, and wraps up in a sensible 336 pages. Best of all, it's about death, but it's not too heavy or depressing.
Absolute first rate work by an outstanding and distinguished author.
Posted by Hansisgreat at 4:42 PM
Monday, April 21, 2008
The first two elements I'm posting on tonight are quite obscure; in fact, most people have never even heard of them! Strangely enough, their existence was known years before they were actually discovered.
When organizing the first Periodic Table, Dmitri Mendeleyev recognized that there must be elements below aluminum and silicon, and was even able to describe some of their properties. The discovery of gallium and germanium confirmed his theories, and proved that science had indeed developed an accurate method for organizing the chemicals that make up our world.
Atomic Symbol: Ga
Atomic Number: 31
The name is derived from Gallia, the latin name for France, this element's country of origin. It was discovered in 1875 by Paul-Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran in a zinc-ore from the Pyrenees. Several ores, such as the aluminum ore bauxite, contain significant amounts of gallium, and coal often has a high gallium content.
Gallium is much more abundant than lead, but less accessible because it is not concentrated in any particular mineral deposits: it is widely dispersed. It will actually melt when held in your hand, and remains liquid at a wider temperature range (2373oC) than any other known substance. For this reason, it has often been used in high temperature thermometers.
Atomic Symbol: Ge
Atomic Number: 32
In September 1885, a miner working 400 meters underground near Freiberg, Germany produced a mysterious silver ore. After months of analysis, Clemens A. Winkler discovered that 7% of the sample was a previously unknown element, which he named germanium after his home country.
Germanium is a superconductor, and was the first metal to be used in transistors beginning in 1942. Since all known sources of the metal were in Germany, the US government developed a discrete process for removing it from industrial waste. By 1948, this system was perfected and transistor radios went on sale to the public.
Atomic Symbol: As
Atomic Number: 33
Human contact with arsenic goes back to prehistoric times. The hair of an "Iceman" preserved in a glacier in the Italian Alps contains high levels of the element, probably as a by-product from the smelting of copper.
Arsenic gained notoriety during the nineteenth century as an undetectable poison, used frequently for removing unwanted dukes, kings, and even popes. It was readily available as weed-killer, and could be extracted from fly-paper. Even large doses can now be treated, if diagnosed in time.
A much more widespread threat from arsenic exists today in many developing countries, where polluted streams have exposed over 70 million people to chronic arsenic poisoning over many years. The World Health Organization's recommended maximum level of arsenic in drinking water is 0.01 milligrams per liter. Wells in Thailand, India, and Bangladesh may contain as much as 4.0 milligrams per liter.
My posts on all the previous elements, from hydrogen to zinc are here.
There's a good reference book on the periodic table called Nature's Building Blocks, by John Emsley.
Posted by Hansisgreat at 9:53 PM
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Tyrannosaur Canyon, by Douglas Preston
$5.99 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
Looking for a fast-paced thriller that's part Da Vinci Code and part Jurassic Park? Douglas Preston is the respected author of a long list of sci-fi novels heavy on intrigue.
This novel begins as Tom Broadbent witnesses the murder of a paleontologist searching for fossils in a remote New Mexico Canyon. The dying scientist gives Tom his journals and exacts a promise to deliver it to his daughter and no one else, especially not the police. The notebook is filled with a mysterious code. No one is sure what it means, but it must be very valuable if it's worth killing for.
Teaming up with a state police officer and a former CIA agent turned monk-in-training, the adventure begins. What is the mysterious treasure in the paleontologists notebook, and how do they decipher the code which will lead them there?
The villain is a deeply unsettling man named Maddox. He's the one who pulled the trigger, murdering the poor paleontologist, and the loss of his notes is an error which must be remedied at once. Maddox is brutal, patient, and utterly without compassion or mercy.
The scientist's prize (I'm not giving away the story here) is a perfectly preserved Tyrannosaur mummy, complete with skin, muscles, and internal organs. It's a priceless museum find, and highly prized by private collectors willing to employ unscrupulous agents like Maddox in its pursuit.
Preston offers just the right mix: there's information about dinosaurs, but it doesn't get too technical, and lots of code and computer hacking for the techno-junkies. There are a few interesting chapters that take place while the dinosaur in question is still alive, during the late Cretaceous. All this is wrapped in an exciting package loaded with action and suspense.
Best of all, the story doesn't take long to warm up: you'll find yourself engaged during the first chapter. The hero resembles Indiana Jones somewhat, and finds himself on a search for hidden treasure just as fraught with peril.
It's hard to top Tyrannosaur Canyon for thrills. All the elements of a great adventure story are represented, including a satisfying surprise ending. This is an ideal book if you're looking for an interesting diversion without too much unwanted depth.
Dinosaurs and psycho-killers are a deadly combination.
Posted by Hansisgreat at 4:28 PM