a superficial chronicle researched at about the level of a Vanity Fair longread. fun nonetheless, with some great quotes. upon reading some of DFW's sa superficial chronicle researched at about the level of a Vanity Fair longread. fun nonetheless, with some great quotes. upon reading some of DFW's source material (books like Ball Four and Short Circuit), you realize that he ripped off a lot of his base material; D. T. Max's glorified wikipedia article makes it even more clear that whole essential characters and dialogues, especially from infinite jest, were taken directly from life sources (indeed, early DFW flirted with a libel case for "My Appearance"). it's a quick read, but Richard Ellman on Joyce it is not. i look forward to scholars working through the piles of material at UT's Harry Ransom Center (how is it that UT in shitty Austin came to own DFW's papers anyway? http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/relea... provides few details) producing a real biography in coming years.
it's good to see that fellow mathematicians apparently agreed with my take on a history of everything (summary: it was garbage). i was entirely unsurprised to discover DFW failed introductory calculus. poor guy thought he knew how to add--stick to the critical theory, dave.
finding out DFW was a fellow unashamed Tom Clancy fan was delightful. Red Storm Rising: truly a watershed moment in 20th century american fiction.
and yes, on a personal note, the similarities were pervasive and distressing, especially regarding interaction with women, and the agonies and ecstasies of creation, and addiction, and that "feral talent is its own set of expectations and can abandon you at any one of the detours of so-called normal American life at any time." but that's neither here nor there....more
on one of the last pages, there's the line "How Verity conveyed to [their dragons] that they must feed only on the Raiders, i do not know, but that lion one of the last pages, there's the line "How Verity conveyed to [their dragons] that they must feed only on the Raiders, i do not know, but that line was held," pithily summing up this trilogy....more
the title is literal -- this is essentially a how-to manual for finding, agitating, culturing, and acquiring samples of various types of bacteria, incthe title is literal -- this is essentially a how-to manual for finding, agitating, culturing, and acquiring samples of various types of bacteria, including macroscopic indicators, (microscope) slide preparation, and safety procedures. each chapter succinctly introduces a type of bacteria, presents its metabolism and physical forms, and provides hypotheses regarding phylogeny/evolution and ecologic role. the writeups were interesting, but too short to be considered a real textbook on bacteriology. if you need to find some halophilic biofilm, or wonder whether the gas bubbling up from your anoxic backyard sludgepool suggests methanogenic archaea, this book is for you. if you just want to learn about our prokaryotic friends, turn to a more general biology text....more
not a great achievement in research or writing or insight or anything, but a pretty competent assembly of timelines and people. feels like it could hanot a great achievement in research or writing or insight or anything, but a pretty competent assembly of timelines and people. feels like it could have been a much more compelling 35-page michael lewis vanity fair article....more
pretty good. certainly thorough. "epidemic" is tossed around pretty liberally -- if a fever burns out a south american village, does it make a sound?pretty good. certainly thorough. "epidemic" is tossed around pretty liberally -- if a fever burns out a south american village, does it make a sound? poor editing, with numerous phrases and sentences repeated verbatim and certain acronyms expanded not at all, on late use, or multiple times. i'd like to have seen more on the virology and suppression of HIV and fewer tedious pages of stats and prediction histories. worth reading, though....more
750 pages of pretty dense prose, originating in Pennsylvania, spanning the globe (you'll come out knowing more than you did going in about venezuela,750 pages of pretty dense prose, originating in Pennsylvania, spanning the globe (you'll come out knowing more than you did going in about venezuela, bahrain, and azerbaijan) and ending on the shiite plains of iraq's central euphrates region in 1991 (an epilogue addresses the period ending in the second gulf war, but is cursory at best). characters of all ethnicity and nomenclature enter, live for a few pages, and then exit, sometimes referred to again fifty pages later. switches from backroom industry intrigue to global strategic strategy to wildcat drillers from chapter to chapter.
most striking was the lesson yergin drills home: oil is a strategic asset, unlike most commodities, and thus governments can't ignore it. the american military is the strongest in the world, but it runs on oil. military operations require tremendous drawdowns of stocks, and the ability to move them. power projection, barring nuclear weapons, is limited by where one can deliver oil, and the bandwidth of that delivery. without oil, your nuclear-powered carriers can get somewhere, but your planes can't fly. your trucks can't move materials, your tanks can't roll, and your men are stuck walking. my conclusion: our operations in the middle east were most certainly about oil, but not about oil company profits as so often accused. if we don't invade iraq, and it keeps kuwait, and prices skyrocket as a result, oil companies pass those costs on and do just fine. it's the military that eats it. keeping oil prices at historic lows for a decade may well have offset the cost of the first gulf war (i have done no analysis), especially if a major military adventure had cropped up.
also interesting was the desire of governments, even net importers like the united states, to keep oil prices above some minimum. what is that minimum? the cost of producing economically effective domestic oil. otherwise, one's domestic exploration and production infrastructure goes to seed as more cheaply-produced foreign oil swamps the market. you need that domestic production to buffer yourself against sudden foreign supply problems, even if it means oil is more expensive on average.
towards the end, he got into how the futures markets allow further buffering and hedging, at least via displacement in time, but the treatment was at a very high level and didn't satisfy me.
small details, easy to miss, are deadpanned and hilarious. did you know saddam's maternal uncle and father-in-law (what) wrote a pamphlet entitled Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies? i didn't, and my life is better for knowing it now.
A decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a loA decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a lot of its material. Focuses much more on the "history" element than the "future", which disappointed me. Unlike the author's more recent (but equally alliterative) Atomic Accidents, anyone who's deeply interested in this subject will have already found most of the information. Nonetheless, it's well-written, competently edited, and short enough to appeal to those for whom Rhodes was rather much of a slog.
full disclosure: Dr. Mahaffey and I both studied nuclear engineering at Georgia Tech, and worked at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, though not at the same time. I do not personally know Dr. Mahaffey....more
better than anthem and atlas shrugged, though that's no kind of high bar. the first third of the book has some good quotes and moves along breezily. tbetter than anthem and atlas shrugged, though that's no kind of high bar. the first third of the book has some good quotes and moves along breezily. the first gail wynand chapter is a great story, told competently. throughout, though, there's ayn's lapses into nonsense and bombast, and she still can't do a character of any complexity, and relies on double-crossing and tropes, and she's so goddamn hysterical all the time. the second half is pretty much entirely unnecessary, and a dreadful slog.
anyway, i'd not thought i'd read any more rand, but eighteen years later i picked this up in JFK on a whim. i'd heard from numerous people that the fountainhead was less silly than her other fiction. maybe if i'd read it as a teenager, it would have been more convincing -- i certainly wouldn't have been as jealous of the required time. but this closes out rand for me, and she's just not very good at all. her politics don't offend me (i'm a fairly radical Libertarian), but her writing does....more
marvelous! each year brings a new body of pop-nuke printed material, most of it rehashed and a good deal of it wrong. the discerning criticality fetismarvelous! each year brings a new body of pop-nuke printed material, most of it rehashed and a good deal of it wrong. the discerning criticality fetishist is lucky to find a single good book among the dreck. last year's was Schlosser's Command and Control. this year we get Atomic Accidents. too much alliteration.
i knew the basic facts about most of the events in this book (though the history of arranged train collisions was news to me, and delightful), but only because i'm a freak who's familiar with things like Los Alamos National Laboratories' Review of Criticality Accidents and has pored over tables detailing genetic damage as a function of 90Sr / 137Cs fallout in Kahn's On Thermonuclear War and has a shelf titled Oppenheimania. despite that, i was regularly surprised by new information, some of it major elements from the history of reactor engineering (this is a better survey of different reactor types than i've seen in most textbooks, and certainly a more entertaining one), some of it details staggering in their nerdiness (did you know the part number for the neutron generator used in the Mk-28 gravity bomb was MC-890A?), some of it personal reflection (thoughts on DASA/DNA/DTRA logos over the years). Mahaffey goes all the way and delivers the goods: most authors might be content to reference the urban legend that the AMF "candlepin" bowling pin spotter was inspired by fuel rod management technology from the Fermi-1, but Mahaffey is there with patent dates and part numbers. there's a lot of oral nuclear tradition and lore that Mahaffey's preserved in one place, previously unavailable or available only by trawling through the American Nuclear Society's unbearable Nuclear News. if you're a fan of David Lochbaum's "Fission Stories" series at All Things Nuclear (and if you're not, then to hell with you), you're gonna be happy.
i'm pretty sure mahaffey never reveals any currently classified information (nota bene: i have never held the Q+SigmaX (DoE) or TS+CNWDI (DoD) clearances necessary for weapon design work), which is understandable, but the weapons junkie will still find some gems. the marvelous qualities of 237Np, for instance, had escaped my attention. the discussion of melt-castable explosives is at least at the level of Agrawal's High Energy Materials. sometimes he's teasing (what are these alleged evidences for a neptunium test, Herr Doktor? and alluding to Fermat's Last Theorem when discussing "secret Japanese uranium-extraction filter materials" in a footnote doesn't fly. for one, fermat was almost certainly bullshitting or at least wrong. two, we can all go read Seko et al's "Aquaculture of Uranium in Seawater". i suspect the good doctor simply lacks confidence regarding amidoxime chemistry), which is annoying. he toes the line regarding initiator design (pretty much entirely classified), though i bet he knows more than he's saying. there's negligible information regarding thermonuclear design, which makes sense given the book's topic.
minor nits: the bibliography is good, but i'd have appreciated inline references, and plenty of details are presented for which i can find no listed source (i've confirmed some of them via literature checks, but a good number require simply trusting Dr. Mahaffey). the photographs are uninspiring, either iconic early 20th century shots everyone's seen or Mahaffey's own color shots. i understand not wanting to license photographs, too, but there's frankly way better pictures of nuclear reactors than these (i dug the selfie among the CRTs of Baxley, Georgia's Hatch plant). finally, dr. mahaffey doesn't quite seem to understand youtube URIs, which is more charming than anything--the man has forgotten more science than most of us will ever know, despite our new-fangled YouTubes.
finally, mahaffey is quite often funny, and always pleasant to read. not many authors could pack this wealth of technical detail into 420 readable pages. mahaffey deploys garrulous, digressive footnotes with all the abundance and profuseness of david foster wallace, and just as in Infinite Jest they're some of the book's best material. mahaffey writes with verve, and--unlike most technical prose--there are few gross lapses in editing. one gets the idea he'd be a good guy to have a beer with, discussing breeder reactors and why Jimmy Carter was a douchebag and pranks one could play on John McPhee.
tl; dr: if you like reading books about controlled fission and its applications, read this. if you don't, you probably won't enjoy it very much. and remember, kids, a day without nuclear fusion is like a day without sunshine!
full disclosure: Dr. Mahaffey graduated my alma mater (Georgia Tech), and we both worked at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, though not at the same time....more
What doesn't duplicate and summarize Helter Skelter is rather lacking, especially the bare fifteen pages covering Manson and the Family's life post-trWhat doesn't duplicate and summarize Helter Skelter is rather lacking, especially the bare fifteen pages covering Manson and the Family's life post-trial. The middle of the book can be skipped entirely by those of us who've read Bugliosi, save for the delicious detail that "other LA district attorneys infuriated Bugliosi by calling him Bugsy", which Vincent somehow left out of his own book....more