Monthly Archives: June 2011

A nightingale dies for shame if another bird sings better.

Birdsong : A Natural History New York : Scribner, c 2005      Don Stap Birdsongs Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 261 p. ; 22 cm. Includes index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Following one of the world’s experts on birdsong from the woods of Martha’s Vineyard to the tropical forests of Central America, Don Stap brings to life the quest to unravel an ancient mystery: Why do birds sing and what do their songs mean? We quickly discover that one question leads to another. Why does the chestnut-sided warbler sing one song before dawn and another after sunrise? Why does the brown thrasher have a repertoire of two thousand songs when the chipping sparrow has only one? And how is the hermit thrush able to sing a duet with itself, producing two sounds simultaneously to create its beautiful, flutelike melody?

Stap’s lucid prose distills the complexities of the study of birdsong and unveils a remarkable discovery that sheds light on the mystery of mysteries: why young birds in the suborder oscines — the “true songbirds” — learn their songs but the closely related suboscines are born with their songs genetically encoded. As the story unfolds, Stap contemplates our enduring fascination with birdsong, from ancient pictographs and early Greek soothsayers, who knew that bird calls represented the voices of the gods, to the story of Mozart’s pet starling.

In a modern, noisy world, it is increasingly difficult to hear those voices of the gods. Exploring birdsong takes us to that rare place — in danger of disappearing forever — where one hears only the planet’s oldest music.

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It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.

Walking on eggs : the astonishing discovery of thousands of dinosaur eggs in the badlands of Patagonia New York : Scribner, 2001      Luis M. Chiappe and Lowell Dingus Dinosaurs  Eggs  Argentina  Neuquen (Province) Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 219 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 205) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Walking on Eggs is the riveting inside story behind one of the most significant paleontological discoveries in history.  Luis M. Chiappe and Lowell Dingus led an elite team of paleontologists and geologists into the rugged and desolate badlands of Argentina. Unsure of what they would find, Chiappe and Dingus knew that this region had produced many spectacular specimens of dinosaurs and fossil birds over the last century. Nothing could have prepared them, however, for the headline-grabbing discovery they were about to make: a massive dinosaur nesting ground covering more than a square mile and littered with tens of thousands of large, unhatched dinosaur eggs. Containing the first fossils of embryonic dinosaur skin ever found, the eggs gave rise to a host of mysteries. What species laid the eggs, and when? How were they preserved? And most intriguingly, what ancient catastrophe — deeply rooted more than 70 million years in the past — prevented them from hatching?

In clear, comprehensible language, Chiappe and Dingus frame their scientific investigations within the context of a gripping detective story, illustrating how they used paleontological and geological evidence to establish the identity and age of the eggs, as well as how they established the cause of death. Chiappe and Dingus also recount a return trip to the badlands in which they set out to learn more about dinosaur social and reproductive behavior. Their investigations once again unearthed a key piece of the historic puzzle: the bones of a twenty-foot predatory, carnivorous dinosaur.

As they decipher the evidence — divining origins, discovering identities, and pinpointing possible causes of extinction — Chiappe and Dingus interweave their field adventures with chapters illuminating the crucial precedents behind their groundbreaking work. Complementing the text are beautiful hand-drawn reproductions of what the dinosaurs and their landscape might have looked like, created by an artist who joined the expedition team in Patagonia. Infused with passion and an infectious sense of awe, Walking on Eggs illustrates the ups and downs of the scientific process and invites dinosaur lovers of all ages to experience the exhilarating sense of discovery.

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The seeming truth which cunning times put on To entrap the wisest.

Cunning Princeton : Princeton University Press, c 2006      Don Herzog Deception Hardcover. 1st ed., later printing. 197 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Want to be cunning? You might wish you were more clever, more flexible, able to cut a few corners without getting caught, to dive now and again into iniquity and surface clutching a prize. You might want to roll your eyes at those slaves of duty who play by the rules. Or you might think there’s something sleazy about that stance, even if it does seem to pay off. Does that make you a chump?

With pointedly mischievous prose, Don Herzog explores what’s alluring and what’s revolting in cunning. He draws on a colorful range of sources: tales of Odysseus; texts from Machiavelli; pamphlets from early modern England; salesmen’s newsletters; Christian apologetics; plays; sermons; philosophical treatises; detective novels; famous, infamous, and obscure historical cases; and more.

The book is in three parts, bookended by two murderous churchmen. “Dilemmas” explores some canonical moments of cunning and introduces the distinction between knaves and fools as a “time-honored but radically deficient scheme.” “Appearances” assails conventional approaches to unmasking. Surveying ignorance and self-deception, “Despair?” deepens the case that we ought to be cunning–and then sees what we might say in response.

Throughout this beguiling book, Herzog refines our sense of what’s troubling in this terrain. He shows that rationality, social roles, and morality are tangled together–and trickier than we thought.

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Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less… Robert E. Lee

The conventional wisdom has always slighted Dwight D. Eisenhower both as a general and especially as a president. He did not have the Kennedy wit, the Johnson braggadocio, the Reagan elegance or the ability to shed crocodile tears while pretending to care like that unholy triumvirate of Carter, Clinton and BO. To be fair, although he acquitted himself bravely in WWI, he was never a combat commander. Then again neither was Nimitz, King or Marshall and the four of them had more to do with our victory in WWII than all of the members of Congress combined. More than anything it was his ability to plan, preside over planners and make decisions based on intelligence gathered and using those plans that allowed him to retire in 1961 with the proud boast – although he put it modestly – that the enemy had not gained a foot of ground nor had a single American casualty been incurred on his watch. This book is a wonderful contribution to the record of his accomplishments.

Secret empire : Eisenhower, the CIA, and the hidden story of America’s space espionage New York : Simon & Schuster, c 2003      Philip Taubman Aerial reconnaissance, American  History  20th century Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xx, 441 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 403-419) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

During the early and most dangerous years of the cold war, a handful of Americans, led by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, revolutionized spying and warfare. In great secrecy and beyond the prying eyes of Congress and the press, they built exotic new machines that opened up the Soviet Union to surveillance and protected the United States from surprise nuclear attack. Secret Empire is the dramatic story of these men and their inventions, told in full for the first time.

In a brief period of explosive, top-secret innovation during the 1950s, a small group of scientists, engineers, businessmen, and government officials rewrote the book on airplane design and led the nation into outer space. In an effort no less audacious than the creation of the atomic bomb, they designed, built, and operated the U-2 and supersonic SR-71 spy planes and Corona, the first reconnaissance satellites — machines that could collect more information about the Soviet Union’s weapons in a day than an army of spies could assemble in a decade.

Their remarkable inventions and daring missions made possible arms control agreements with Moscow that helped keep the peace during the cold war, as well as the space-based reconnaissance, mapping, communications, and targeting systems used by America’s armed forces in the Gulf War and most recently in Afghanistan. These hugely expensive machines also led to the neglect of more traditional means of intelligence gathering through human spies.

Veteran New York Times reporter and editor Philip Taubman interviewed dozens of participants and mined thousands of previously classified documents to tell this hidden, far-reaching story. He reconstructs the crucial meetings, conversations, and decisions that inspired and guided the development of the spy plane and satellite projects during one of the most perilous periods in our history, a time when, as Eisenhower said, the world seemed to be “racing toward catastrophe.”

Taubman follows this dramatic story from the White House to the CIA, from the Pentagon to Lockheed’s Skunk Works in Burbank, from the secret U-2 test base in Nevada to the secret satellite assembly center in Palo Alto and other locations here and abroad. He reveals new information about the origins and evolution of the projects and how close they came to failing technically or falling victim to bureaucratic inertia and Washington’s turf wars.

The incredibly sophisticated spies in the skies were remarkably successful in proving that the missile gap was a myth in protecting us from surprise Soviet attack. But in some ways, the failure to detect the planning for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, can also be attributed to these powerful machines as the government became increasingly dependent on spy satellites to the neglect of human agents and informants. Now, as we wage a new and more vicious war against terrorism, we will need both machines in space and spies on the ground to fight back.

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There are only 10 people in the world who understand binary code and you may not be 01 of them.

Minds, machines, and the multiverse : the quest for the quantum computer New York : Simon & Schuster, c 2000      Julian Brown Quantum computers Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 396 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 373-374) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

The traditional and ubiquitous digital computer has changed the world by processing series of binary ones and zeroes…very fast. Like the sideshow juggler spinning plates on billiard cues, the classical computer moves fast enough to keep the plates from falling off. As computers become faster and faster, more and more plates are being added to more and more cues.

Imagine, then, a computer in which speed is increased not because it runs faster, but because it has a limitless army of different jugglers, one for each billiard cue. Imagine the quantum computer.

Julian Brown’s record of the quest for the Holy Grail of computing — a computer that could, in theory, take seconds to perform calculations that would take today’s fastest supercomputers longer than the age of the universe — is an extraordinary tale, populated by a remarkable cast of characters, including David Deutsch of Oxford University, who first announced the possibility of computation in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of quantum mechanics Ed Fredkin, who developed a new kind of logic gate as a true step toward universal computation and the legendary Richard Feynman, who reasoned from the inability to model quantum mechanics on a classical computer the logical inevitability of quantum computing.

For, in the fuzzily indeterminate world of the quantum, new computing power is born. Minds, Machines, and the Multiverse details the remarkable uses for quantum computing in code breaking, for quantum computers will be able to crack many of the leading methods of protecting secret information, while offering new unbreakable codes. Quantum computers will also be able to model nuclear and subatomic reactions offer insights into nanotechnology, teleportation, and time travel and perhaps change the way chemists and biotechnologists design drugs and study the molecules of life. Farthest along the trail blazed by these pioneers is the ability to visualize the multiple realities of the quantum world not as a mathematical abstraction, but as a real map to a world of multiple universes…a multiverse where every possible event — from a particular chess move to a comet striking the Earth — not only can happen, but does.

Incorporating lively explanations of ion trap gates, nuclear magnetic resonance computers, quantum dots, quantum algorithms, Fourier transforms, and puzzles of quantum physics, and illustrated with dozens of vivid diagrams, Minds, Machines, and the Multiverse is a mind-stretching look at the  fascinating machines that, in the words of physicist Stanley Williams, “will reshape the face of science” and offer a new window into the secrets of an infinite number of potential universes.

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