Posts Tagged ‘books’

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.
— Carl Sagan, Cosmos

A few days ago, the free online video service Hulu made Carl Sagan’s 1980 science series Cosmos available among their releases (also available through Google Video).

This is the most recent release, containing Sagan’s 1990 updates as well as recent intro comments from his wife, writer Ann Druyan.

In 1980, the landmark series Cosmos premiered on public television. Since then, it is estimated that more than a billion people around the planet have seen it. Cosmos chronicles the evolution of the planet and efforts to find our place in the universe. Each of the 13 episodes focuses on a specific aspect of the nature of life, consciousness, the universe and time. Topics include the origin of life on Earth (and perhaps elsewhere), the nature of consciousness, and the birth and death of stars. When it first aired, the series catapulted creator and host Carl Sagan to the status of pop culture icon and opened countless minds to the power of science and the possibility of life on other worlds.

Carl Sagan was an astronomer and a writer who did enormous work to popularize science. He died of pneumonia contracted during his fight against myelodysplasia (a form of anemia) in 1996 and I was very sad when we lost him.

This weekend my husband and I watched a few episodes of Cosmos, dreading how old news it might seem after three decades, but the series has aged reasonably gracefully. I wish certain sections were presented in a different order, but I believe it continues to be an excellent introduction to the intricate interconnectedness of humanity’s scientific quest, and the beauty of the universe.

I was 15 when the series was first aired. Sagan’s memorable “Billions and Billions” — with an emphasis on the Bs he reportedly added so there would be no confusion with “millions” — and his beatific gazing at starscapes, the Vangelis soundtrack, and the voyages of the “spaceship of imagination” were among the high points of an otherwise dreary year in high school. The handful of astronomy nerds I hung out with — Nathalie, Christian, Alain, Marc — talked animatedly about the episodes the next day, straining our then-limited knowledge of English. The next Christmas, mom gave me a copy of the book based on the series (there is a bit of irony in this) and later on I used the contents in many a class paper.

Hulu is co-owned by NBC Universal, News Corp. and Providence Equity Partners, and operated independently. Cosmos was first broadcast on PBS.

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Getting Things Done coverBased on a recommendation from Patty Huntley, the trainer at the project management class I recently attended, I picked up David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.  It’s my turn now to recommend it as a very useful reading.

Getting Things Done provides a very practical, down-to-earth, useful plan for getting organized and sticking to it.  The book is divided into three parts: an overview of the system, a nuts-and-bolts detailed methodology, and a higher level examination of key principles.

I suspect that a lot of the book was compiled from transcripts of the years of training seminars author David Allen has been giving on the matter of getting organized.  At least, this would explain one of the book’s minor flaws, the uneven writing style and authorial voice.  Part 1 — The Art of Getting Things Done, in particular, uses more of the trendy buzzwords I have come to expect from the Business section of an average bookstore.  It’s not too terrible, he doesn’t go crazy with jargon, but it’s more noticeable than in the next section.

Part 2 — Practicing Stress-Free Productivity, is a very accessible, easily read series of practical steps to take in order to get organized and set up a home and office system.  I very much liked that for every step, several different tools and approaches were offered, from paper files to computer-based files to palm-top devices.  Allen makes it clear that there are many different ways to accomplish the task, and that you should pick tools that suit your needs, habits, knowledge, and lifestyle.

Another aspect I like is that Allen integrates the methods for getting both your business and personal life organized, but without melding them into a single entity.  It’s necessary for most of us to keep work and home separate, yet access the information in more than one place.  This is well addressed in the book.

Part 3 — The Power of the Key Principles steps back to look at the thinking that underpins the proposed method.  Allen shows good insight in deciding to expose the reader to the practical benefits of the method — letting you take the car for a spin — before trying to “sell” grand principles.  He understands that if you’re reading this thinking about the mess in your office and the multitude of projects waiting for you, you won’t be interested in focusing on principles.

I’m fairly certain that this book can be useful for just about anyone.  Maybe it won’t revolutionized your habits, and maybe you’ll only get a few useful tips out of it — or maybe you’ll completely change your planning methods.  Either way, you should get something useful from this inexpensive little paperback.

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I picked up a couple of good books at Tin Can Mailman last week.

rainforests book coverFirst, I picked up The Rain Forests of Home, which talks about the coastal temperate rain forests ecoregion stretching from the San Francisco Bay Area in California to the Cooke Inlet in Alaska. This is a chance for me to explore the ties between several different places and issues I have some personal knowledge of.

I love books that tie many different aspects together to provide a comprehensive picture. And fortunately for me, the book appears to be used as a textbook at Humboldt State University, resulting in multiple cheap copies in the local used book stores.

Selfishly, I could wish for even more maps, particularly colour ones, but the book seems very interesting so far.

cadillac deserts coverThe second book I picked up is considered a classic and even an oldie, but I decided it was time I re-read Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert after I attended Tom Stokely’s presentation last week, “The Trinity River, the Peripheral Canal, and the Future of Water in California“.

A book over 20 years old, Cadillac Desert remains very topical as it examines the role water development has played in every aspect of the history of the American West, particularly of California. A fascinating summary of the California Water Wars was published in the San Francisco Chronicle three year ago, providing some of the more recent news. As I mentioned in a recent post, water resources is a hot topic in California and even in this time of recession, there are a lot of jobs for water professionals.

Mr. Stokely, a Director of the California Water Impact Network, will be speaking again on this topic next week when he gives the keynote presentation at the Sixth Annual Berkeley River Restoration Symposium. He is extremely knowledgeable and passionate, although in truth I wish his talk had been better organized. I felt a strong urge to grab the PowerPoint presentation and whip it into shape for him!

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