Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hubble: Imaging Space and Time
(David Devorkin & Robert Smith, 224pp)
Amazing images, and a great account of the technology that launched the original HST. I particularly appreciated the clear explanation of the imperfection of the main mirror. I'd always associated Hubble with its fiasco launch, but the story behind the failure is fascinating. There was a "null-detector" device that analyzed the shape of the mirror, comparing its optics with the model, and when there was no difference between the model and the mirror, the null detector confirmed that the mirror was perfect. Alas, the sensor device (the null detector) had been misassembled, so it introduced a distortion that was recognized almost immediately after it began sending images. Three years later (1993), the mirror was corrected by attaching a mirror that exactly reversed the distortion. The contrast between images before and after the correction are astonishing. And of course, the images that have streamed since 1993 have deepened my sense of awe at the complexity of the universe. The images included in this book repay constant study.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Country Music: The Masters
(Marty Stuart, 384pp)
I picked this book up from the library because it promised some photos of country music stars. I didn't realize that the photographer was himself a very accomplished musician, who began playing with Lester Flatt when he was only 14 years old. Since Stuart was a musician, he had access to people that appears more natural. Once I understood how he had photographed the people he worked alongside of, the gaps omitting some musicians of stature is explained. His notes about the images are charming and humble; I haven't yet listened to the accompanying CD which includes his own stories about the photos.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity
(Michael Lewis, 14:08)
1987, 1997, 2000, and 2007 - four crashes worth revisiting. Michael Lewis has done the editorial work to collect newsy stories just before or after each crash. The prediction, in 1987, that the crash would wipe out yuppies, proves to be the most laughable prediction. Pretty interesting, although the latest crash doesn't require the same archival support for context.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Bizarre & Incredible World of Plants
(Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kesseler, Madeline Harley, 144pp)
My one peeve is that the labels for all the beautiful microscopic images are pushed to an appendix, so that one has to jump to the back to find out what is depicted. Since over half the pages don't even have page numbers, this task of decryption is extra hard. I wish that the authors would have found a design method for including a modest amount of identifying text on the page with each image. This quibble, notwithstanding, the book is a joy to page through, and repays frequent returns to study the unusual shapes of each surface.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What the Dog Saw and other adventures
(Malcolm Gladwell, 12:48)
This collection of Gladwell's favorite New Yorker pieces is interesting, but as the Yiddish saying goes, even kreplach one can eat too much. Gladwell is a very good story teller, but his handling of data is a little loose. He goes from "high correlations" (which would be on the order of .7 or so) to treating a relationship as if it's an identity, and then stacks up inferences built on chains of such plausibilities. In his piece on Nassim Taleb, I heard him read the phrase "igon value" for which Steven Pinker named his overarching critique of Gladwell's method. Besides the surprise that such a lapse occurred, it undermined the idea that New Yorker fact checkers do more than match phonemes. But here's a reference showing that the spelling was correct in the New Yorker, at least in their digital archive. But in Gladwell's own archive of his work, it's spelled igon. So, he likely used his text, rather than the one corrected by the New Yorker, for his book.

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons & True Stories, vol 1
(ed by Ivan Brunetti, 400pp)
I had seen this when it first came out, but only because of my great love for vol 2 did I try to scrounge this up to re-examine. I don't think it's as compelling and interesting as vol 2, in part because it has to cover much more hallowed ground, and so, doesn't show as much odd, crinkly, unusual material. It still succeeds in displaying great artistry in the editing, as there's a smooth flow between distinct artists. Yet, it's not eye-opening, and it much more likely that a reader has already read the artists collated here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Lynda Barry Experience
(Lynda Barry, 2 cassette sides)
It's always a good time to listen to Lynda Barry, before you "go out there and have your own experience." Amazing glimpses of what complex outgoing phone messages she crafted (perhaps during the era when Ira Glass was her frustrated genius boyfriend?).

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Sibley guide to trees
(David Sibley, written and illustrated by, 426pp)
Amazing and interesting book. The most lucid and helpful explanation I've ever encountered of how to identify and distinguish trees.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The lost books of the Odyssey
(Zachary Mason, 4:43)
Amazing re-animation of the Odyssey, without even once nodding to Joyce. I first read the opening chapters on paper, and was dazzled. I had to return the book before I'd gotten too far, but now that it's audible, I got a second chance to savor it. Oddly, the audible version leaves out the forward, where Mason discusses his archeo-cryptographic tricks for extracting these stories. Mason reminded me at times of Italo Calvino, esp'ly Invisible Cities, but Mason's taste is impeccable, whereas Calvino often had to fight against becoming a parody of his own talent for pastiche.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Portable Dorothy Parker
(Dorothy Parker, 15 hours - only read a couple of hours)
If this is portable, why is it 15 hours? Her work has never been out of print, but I found the stories at the opening too depressing to forge on.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Wild Child
(T.C. Boyle, 10:22)
Good, but suffers by comparison with his early stories, which impressed me more. Listening to Boyle read his own words is a real pleasure. His accent is interesting. His pronunciation of "Manichean" struck me as uniquely his own (Ma-nick-i-an).