Science and Paris Hilton (not)

Brian Clegg, on his Nature Network blog PopSci, wrote a couple of weeks ago about the popularity of books by and about celebrities, compared with the relative unpopularity of books about science. Or, as he puts it, "I don’t see much science up the front of the bookstores on the “new and exciting things” shelves. I’m much more likely to find a cookbook or a celebrity biography." He therefore started a website called Popular Science:

Whisper it: science can be dull. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Celebrate the best that science writing has to offer on a site totally dedicated to popular science books and authors. This is primarily a book review site, but we also cover software, DVDs and gifts with a science flavour.

There’s a lot there: mainly, I guess for most visitors, you can see lots of books and read reviews, author biographies and interviews. But there is a lot more: details of scientists who give talks about popular science at schools; about interactive CD-ROMs, DVDs and other software that make science come alive; news (e-newsletter or RSS available); gifts; recommendations of accessible science books by the great names of science; links to reliable science information, and much more. Take a minute, take a look — it might even be as interesting as celebrity spotting ;-).

Take off your running shoes

Via Jenny Davidson of Light Reading, I read that Dina Rabinovitch has died. The last post Dina wrote on her blog was entitled Things you don’t predict…..

You can go to Dina’s Justgiving page here, and donate to the fund for the expansion of a cancer research team at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, and/or buy a copy of her book Take off your party dress, proceeds to the appeal. Dina has raised £73,632 of a target £100,000.

My sympathies to Dina’s family and friends at this sad time.

Grumpy Old Bookman’s books

Grumpy Old Bookman: Free books. Yes, if you go to this link, the Grumpy Old Bookman, aka Michael Allen, is giving away books. Not just any old books, but books he has written. Head on over before they all run out. There is a list at the link, and it is a veritable cornucopia.

Escape to the outside world

Child born in a secret labour camp tells of torture and beatings – Times Online.

I was very moved to read this story (above) today. Shin Dong Hyuk was born and raised in a North Korean labour camp until he escaped in 2005. Ever since his birth, Mr Shin was taught that his parents were criminals, he was tortured because, he was told, of their sins. He therefore grew up to hate them. When he was 12, his mother and brother were killed in front of him for trying to escape, and he was tortured further for this. He was thrown into a cell with an old man, who nursed him back to health– it was the first kindness Shin had experienced in his life. There were 60,000 inmates in the camp, who knew nothing of the outside world, including their own country. In 2004, Mr Shin befriended an inmate who had escaped to China but who had been recaptured, and from him he learned about the world beyond the camp. In 2005, he himself escaped. The Times writes: "Human rights groups estimate that as many as 200,000 political prisoners suffer in secret labour camps in North Korea’s mountains. Mr Shin is the first person who was born and raised in a camp to make it to South Korea."

There are some even more harrowing details about Mr Shin’s ordeal on ABC news, here. In writing this post, I have seen many tens of (apparently identical, as wire) news stories on the topic, several of them referring to a recently published book by Mr Shin about his experiences, with the title Escape to the Outside World. I can’t find any listing of the book on Amazon or anywhere else though, so either it doesn’t exist yet or we need Dave Lull (or both).

Blogging heroes

Future Nobel Laureate Chris Anderson (I predict he will win a few years after Tim Berners Lee) writes here: The Long Tail: A free chapter of a book (and a clever marketing strategy) about a new book called Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the world’s top bloggers by Michael Banks. (Link goes to US Amazon.)

Chris, who of course is one of the interviewed bloggers as well as being rather a fan of zero-rated products, is rather taken with Wiley’s marketing strategy of allowing the subjects to give away a PDF of their chapter. (So you can get Chris’s chapter at the Long Tail link provided here.)

I, on the other hand, am more interested in knowing the identities of the other 29 top bloggers, and if I have either heard of any of them or like their blogs. From the 10 mentioned on Amazon, apart from Chris, I’ve heard of Robert Scoble and Mark Frauenfelder (Boing Boing). I have also heard of the blogs engadget, techcrunch and lifehacker, but not their bloggers’ names. Nothing very book-related that I can see, but maybe they are among the other 20 bloggers.

From the Amazon listing (from which you can find lots of links to related material should you care to look): "This exciting book features interviews and conversations with 30 of the most experienced bloggers and offers unprecedented advice on how to start and maintain a blog, attract and measure audiences, and profit from blogs. Readers can then visit each blog to see how the advice and methodology from each blogger is implemented and successfully put into action.

  • The featured bloggers are the top in their respective fields and they share the single most-important element to their success, in addition to tips on selecting topics, researching, writing, dealing with problems and "lurkers," and more
  • Reveals techniques for publicizing blogs (online and off), using blogs for marketing, and getting others to participate."
  • TSS: next day

    A lot happened after I signed off last night — courtesy of the time difference. The Sunday Salon now has 12 members – some of these came via a Facebook group set up by Hsien-Hsien Lei . If you are a Facebook person, please do join our group there, and of course, anyone who is interested in spending a Sunday (or part of one) reading and having an online conversation while doing so is very welcome to join us via the Sunday Salon page at the link in the first sentence. By going to that page, you can see the books that were read by bloggers on the first Sunday.

    Sundays with Vlad, The Invisible Enemy, Rage, The Tin Woodman of Oz, and Osman’s Dream: A History of the Ottoman Empire are all titles that were read yesterday. You can read the entries via the Sunday Salon’s RSS feed, Twitter or e-mail, all via the main Sunday Salon page here.

    A big thank you to Debra (the deblog) and Clare (Keeper of the Snails) for setting it all up. I’m already looking forward to next week.

    TSS week 1 post 5: a let-down

    Sunday_salon_7It wasn’t good for much longer. The hero gets to London and confronts the various employers, eventually sorting out who ordered what and why. But then he decides to return to Switzerland to rescue his partner, who has been kidnapped by the rival assassins. Or is this the case? Unfortunately, the last few chapters of the book are taken up with sub-James Bond scenes of torture, Blofield-like villains, explosions and more torture.
    Verdict: in the end, disappointing but it was a mildly diverting experience. If you are keen to read a conspiracy/adventure/political thriller, in my opinion you’d be better off reading Peter Temple’s In the Evil Day , which is excellent — or for something less contemporary, John Le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl, which today seems remarkably prescient (it was considered too far-fetched to be realistic at the time. Ha!).

    The books are on the shelves, the school bag is packed: but next week’s groceries are yet to be ordered and the evening meal is yet to be cooked. I may be back later.

    TSS week 1 post 4: bookshelves

    Sunday_salon_6 The Russians have kidnapped the "girl" and the hero is trapped on a boat with two companions, one of whom he thinks betrayed him. He’s on the boat because even though it is going in the wrong direction, he thinks it will lead him to information that will enable him to find out where the "girl" is and hence how he can rescue her. I have now got to fill out some bookshelves. I say "got" because part of our furniture moving today involves moving some bookshelves from upstairs to downstairs. Hence, I can put "downstairs" books into these shelves, selected from many of the tottering piles to be found everywhere in the house. If I don’t do it, someone else will. So the "girl" and the guy will have to wait for now, on their respective cliffhangers.

    In the meantime, I enjoyed reading a review of Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire by Caroline Finkel, by fellow-Salonist Bill Parsons of BillBlogX. What’s more, from his blog, he looks like the kind of person who might know some things about Titus, Berenice, Vespasian et al., people in whom Jenny has considerable interest right now owing to her having read all 14 (15? 16?) of Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries stories in the space of about a week. Jenny, by the way, is writing her own Roman Mystery for her school reading journal. It is a great story, though I say it myself and she’s only written the first couple of chapters. It is lovely how she’s got the culture and social mores of the day interwoven with the mystery element.

    TSS week 1 post 3: complications

    Sunday_salon_5 One reason, then, for the absorbing quality of this book is that an iconic event is being looked at from a new angle (new to book publishing, that is).

    But that’s not enough on its own. In addition to the set-up, complications abound. Half-way in, some of the elements include:

    • Two rival sets of assassins, each out to remove the other
    • One assassin defects from one group to the other — maybe.
    • The organisation who set up assassin 1 want to remove him now, to avoid loose ends.
    • The organisation who set up assassin 2 are currently focusing on eliminating assassin 1, but no doubt it will have its own agenda later in the book whether or not it succeeds in this immediate goal.
    • Assassin 1 (the hero) has to operate on his wits, one step ahead of certain disaster. This adds plenty of tension and excitement to events, in addition to the dilemma of who is responsible for commissioning him (and decommissioning him).
    • There are several government departments, security departments and even the Bildberberg group (subject of the hilarious "expose" Them, by Jon Ronson, a few years ago) involved, either in the set up, the cover up, or in taking advantage of the chaos that has ensued since the crash. So far, this isn’t too confusing as the reader is thankfully allowed to focus on one or two at a time to let them gel, before being whisked off to the next.
    • Relationships. There is love interest, jealousy, loyalty, betrayal and passion between individuals. Vignettes about other situations tangential to the plot tell mini-stories within the main story, a nice touch.
    • The crime. The investigation of the death of the princess and others in the car is not featuring much so far, thankfully, but it is there in the background — cleverly, often in the form of conversations between senior characters, rather than being described directly.
    • Pacing. We are aware of other potentially significant characters who are going to appear, but haven’t yet. How are they going to affect events?

    So for me, the excitement works on various levels — "will they get away?", "who set them up and why?", "if they get away, how are they going to ensure their safety?", and more. So far, the author is keeping plenty of balls in the air, breezily cross-cutting between countries and characters with aplomb, and not letting the pace slacken for an instant: as soon as one situation calms down, there are plenty of other strands that can be tautened. Yes, the hero does have convenient friends who can hack into password-protected computers and set up a perfect sting with cameras in cigarette packets, but never mind– I can forgive a few flaws;-).

    So this is where I was up to this morning before the day really got started. Since then, as well as these posts, I’ve been doing domestic chores, made the lunch, shifted furniture around, bagged up "stuff" for charity shops and the attic — and am currently typing to "Die Walkure" being listened to by the MP while he paints some shelves. So I’m off upstairs to read some more pages of Accident Man for as long as this window remains open.

    TSS week 1 post 2: so why?

    Sunday_salon_4 So why am I enjoying Accident Man? Although the opening is pretty cliched, the writing is good and the story soon kicks in.

    The first big event is that car crash – my aversion to reading about this topic is dealt with effectively in two ways: first, events are described sparely, quickly and are soon over; and second, they are told from a unique perspective — that of the [would-be?] assassin[s?]. So where the real world has been and is focused on whether or not the crash was an accident, the book’s premise is to treat the reader as an insider, assume it was not, and then depict events immediately after the event from the perspective of the [?] killer[s?] — who do not know who was in the car, so the author provides some nice touches: the attempted escape by the perpetrators in parallel with their realisation of what they [may have] done.