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Non-fiction Review: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

Long before I knew who he was, Alexander von Humboldt had exercised a major influence over me. I first encountered his name in an undergraduate oceanography lecture, when I learned about the Humboldt current that flows northward along the Pacific

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Living in a nuclear-armed world

There have been many false alarms that could have led to nuclear retaliation. A chance of large-scale disarmament was missed in the mid-1990s, when US-Russia relations were good. Former US Defence Secretary William J Perry thinks nuclear catastrophe is likelier

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

The pontifications go irregular

  On the high note of the squabble over the morality of coffee in Restoration-era England, I now declare that I will no longer be pontificating to a weekly schedule. They’re a lot of fun to research and write, but

Posted in Notification, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: The gendered war on coffee

In 1674, a ‘women’s petition’ denounced the craze for coffee in England. It claimed that it lured Englishmen away from ale and rendered them impotent and effeminate. The men’s response declared that Englishmen were so virile that they all had

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Non-fiction Review: The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carré

I discovered John Le Carré in Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. I picked out a battered paperback Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy from a tiny used book stall. It looked as though it had been round Southeast Asia in a few backpacks, but

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Riding the bomb to Saturn

The nuclear pulse drive would power a spacecraft with a series of nuclear explosions. Project Orion, led by Freeman Dyson, planned a four-year round trip to the moons of Saturn. After Orion was abandoned, pulse drive has led to several

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Richard Feynman on the value of doubt

Richard Feynman’s essay, The Value of Science, described a philosophy of ignorance. The scientific mindset is excited by ignorance as an opportunity for discovery. The opposing demagogic mindset denies the existence of ignorance and claims certainty. We all use the

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Fiction Review: Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

When Elmore Leonard wrote his ten rules of writing, he opened with: Never open a book with weather. Yet eleven years earlier, he had opened one of his better-known novels with: When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years

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Posted in Book review: fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Greater minds: John Joseph Adams on the art of short fiction titling

Prolific editor John Joseph Adams wrote his thoughts on what makes a good title. Short stories need longer titles than novels, as they stand without cover art. The best titles hook attention with tension. Other approaches are to use slang

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Apocalypse at the touch of a button

Shuntaro Hida has been an anti-nuclear advocate since seeing Hiroshima destroyed. Modern nuclear weapons are orders of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Carl Sagan, Richard Turco and colleagues described nuclear winter in 1983. A small percentage of the

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification
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