Archive for the ‘science’ Category

The Guinea Pig

24 July, 2013

The Guinea Pig: Healing, Food, and Riual in the Andes
by Edmundo Morales

A fun read, and makes me hungry to try cuy. The cuy is high protein, low fat, quick and easy to raise. But, since it is food of poor rural folk, has been ignored or even disparaged.

I wonder when it becomes popular like quinoa if you’ll be able to purchase in bulk at Costco.


The Path of Carbon In Photosynthesis

26 July, 2012

The Path of Carbon In Photosynthesis

J.A. Bassham & M. Calvin (1957)

And…this book, short, fairly straight forward read, I’m not really the audience.

It’s a good review, love how they discuss the experiments and what conclusions they drew from each experiment.

Great quote, funny, yet instructive about the process of science:

“It is easy to understand how an investigator unfamiliar with these variations might have some difficulty in repeating the results of others working in this field.”  (pg 30)

Photosynthesis – Silverstein, Silverstein, Nunn

24 July, 2012

Photosynthesis: Science Concepts 

by Alvin Silverstein, Virginia Silverstein & Laura Silverstein Nunn (2008)

Looks like the book, written for a 5th grade audience, was a family affair. That’s cool. Maybe I’ll author books someday with my family.

It was alright, and naturally a quick and easy read. But I asked MyBetterHalf if I could count it as a book, her answer, “if it’s on goodreads.”

I wish, when I was a kid there were more books like this, short but focused, instead of big old textbooks that try to cover everything superficially. (Maybe there were, and I was too busy day dreaming.)

One phrase bothers me though, “Other living things that are similar to plants but are not green, such as mushrooms…”  (pg 18) .  Wait. Mushrooms are just as closely related to animals as to plants.  Oh…Now I see that both book and article published in 2008. The authors are forgiven…but kid, remember, science changes.

Food in Antiquity

19 July, 2012

Food In Antiquity: A Survey of the Diet of Early Peoples by Don R Brothwell & Patricia Brothwell

A pleasant enough read.

There was a bit on the eating of snails, which we know because of shells in middens, which reminded me of a recent BBC 4 “Farming Today” episode about British snail farmers.

Coat of the Earth

20 June, 2012

“Coat of the Earth: The Story of Grass” by Eleanor B. Heady  (1968)

A well written, quick little read.

Beautiful drawings (by her husband).  I especially liked the one showing three common American grasses, with their roots, extending sometimes up to 4 or even seven feet below the surface.

Heady mentions thatched roofing, as a “skill that is disappearing.”  Yet, forty years later, still hasn’t died out, because just last week BBC-4, mentions the British still keeping the skill alive.

The chapters concern the major grass crops, bamboo, turf grass, & ornamental grasses. So only a tip of the variety that’s out there.

genesis – by Robert M. Hazen

13 March, 2012

This is the fourth book I’ve read since December regarding the start of life. It’s been fun. The theme for me, for Robert Hazen‘s Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins is “teach the controversy”. Hazen tells the stories of the scientists who vigorously defend their different theories on how life started. “We tend to favor the stories told by our friends or our mentors, while discounting those of our rivals,” he writes. I found too, with this short journey, that I seem to have a preference to that which I read first. Which I suspect is only natural, and why we are encouraged to read multiple sources. (Lucky for me, huh, that Hazen & Deamer are friends!)

Some of the countroversies:

  • Is life unique, or imperative in the universe?
  • Four options for start of genetics: Protenoid, RNA-world, Clay-world, Orgel’s proteins-DNA simultaneously
  • Did life begin with metabolism, replication, or a combination of the two?
  • Where did it happen? Miller/Urey primordial soup? Gold’s deep earth proposal? Deep sea vents ala Corliss?  (note: the Miller and Corliss groups seem to not like each other.)

A good read, about a fascinating problem, being worked on by humans. I do find it humorous, that the 45 minutes spent discussing origin of life in first year biology, easily could have been stretched to reading four, or many more, books for laymen.


Seven Clues to the Origin of Life

2 March, 2012

A.G. Cairns-Smith’s classic, Seven Clues to the Origin of Life was written for people like me. Short, entertaining, has an idea-hook/gimmick that pulls the reader along. He attacks the problem of “how did life begin” as Sherlock Holmes would, including Holmes quotes every chapter. (Whatcha think aboot those two cultures, CPSnow?) Well written, simple, not too many metaphores. Though, I do tend to zone out a bit when Cairns-Smith starts talking about clay…unfortunately, clay is the answer for the author.

Starts the investigation with three facts of the case (pg 5)

  1. “There is life on earth”
  2. “All known living things are at the root, the same.”
  3. “All known living things are very complicated.”

Along the way, uses basic chemistry to point out the exaggerate ease & plausability that other origin-of-life researchers propose. Reading Deamer, and others, I get the feeling that most origin-of-life scientists don’t fully go with Cairns-Smith theory, but they do admire the way he presented it to the laymen.


The Farming of Prehistoric Britain

1 March, 2012

P.J. Fowler’s The Farming of Prehistoric Britian.

Once again, a book that was not written for me. Though, Fowler did warn me that the book was a review, and not a “historical narative” because we just don’t know enough. There was discussion of use of air photography for surveying the land, of excavating ard marks, and the other archeological classics such as analyzing pot shards. The question of the book, what do we know about agriculture in Britian before the Romans showed up. Fowler states, “Our ignorance…is impressive.” (pg 81)

Learned that grain storage pits, when properly sealed, keep out vermin and halt rotting due to excess carbon dioxide. (pg 182) This doesn’t make sense, I would think the pits would get soggy, and I need to investigate this further.

The quote that gives a good taste of the best of the book, what can be learned and inferred from tiny bits of evidence, “Seashells in the sandy plough-soil…are not among the most dramatic of archeological finds; but, in that they represent the practice of manuring, they are amongst the most significant.”  Previously, the people did not manure their fields, but would pack up and move along to a new spot when fertility dropped. But, by the first millenium BC they were staying put, and replenishing field fertility (in some parts of Britian) using seaweed, or manure. “…muck-spreading…is critical to agrarian stability and,…involves the fairly skillful, long-term management of numerous human, livestock, and environmental resources.” (pg 171)

I liked the part about crops, harvests, tools, …the pages on pages of soil-scratch evidence, sorta bored me.

The Origin of Chirality in the Molecules of Life

24 February, 2012

The Origin of Chirality in the Molecules of Life, by Albert Guijarro & Miguel Yus (2009)

I was not in the intended audience for this book. One would need a chemistry degree, preferably advanced.

So, once upon a time, Louis Pasture noticed that some crystals make mirror images of each other…much like left and right gloves. Nature will produce left & right handed versions in chemical processes about equally, but here’s the strange part, for the chemicals of life, only “left handed” amino acids and “right handed” sugars. Why?

The authors search for answers, delving into chemistry, crystallography, cosmology, particle physics, looking for clues in clays, on meteors, in particle accellerators.

Quotes: “We are, after all, simply stardust.” (pg 56)

The Emergence of Agriculture – Bruce D. Smith

11 February, 2012

A Scientific American book, The Emergence of Agriculture by Bruce D. Smith was an enjoyable read.

During the read, I was inspired to fix an Andean dinner for my family…potatoes were easy enough, but I got some (expensive) fancy organic multi-colored potatoes, MsSqueaky was interested in the purple ones. Also, I happened to pick up some quinoa, which, didn’t smell tasty whilst cooking, but the favor was mild and the texture rice like. For me, bringing variety into my diet is important, because, I can get bored of the regular stuff…and that leads to a dinner of chocolate, which, at my age, ain’t necessarily a good thing. Also, I need to expand the childrens’ acceptance of new food, and develop their taste buds. Too bad we didn’t have any guinea pig to eat, too. Yeah, gonna have to try one of the American domesticated meats, and I think guinea pig meat will be easier to find than llama or alpaca. Now, here’s the thing, could I grow/farm/butcher my own? What would the childrens’ think…which is silly, because we moderns are so removed from the natural process of how we get  meat to eat. I’m sure in the old days, well, if they lived past five years, the childrens would be helping me hunt/butcher dinner. So, roast guinea pig…on my to-do list.

The main point, that Smith brought up many times, “Rather than maintain a rigid strategy for survival in environments where resources vary in abundance from one year to the next, hunter-gatherers were constantly experimenting, trying out innovations that might make resources, and life in general, more predictable.”   pg 169

Humorous part: “Suffering through day after difficult day of deep-blue skies, clear-flowing streams, and stunning fall foliage, we again and again found floodplain populations of C.pepo gourds flourishing far from any farms…”  (pg 194).