Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I was reviewing AppCoda’s Beginning iOS 10 Programming with Swift when the new versions of XCode, Swift, and iOS were released. The publisher also updated the book, so I decided to switch to the new material.

Instead of discarding the initial review and starting over again from scratch, I decided to publish what I’ve done already and will delete this older content once I reach the same point in the new book (Ch 14). I will leave out the screenshots for this older material as well, but will have plenty in the new material.

I intend to update this review once a week, even though it is the holiday season right now.  Please follow this post so you can see when it is updated.  Now on to the review.

Title: Beginning iOS 10 Programming with SwiftBeginiOS10Prgm
Author: Simon Ng
Published: AppCoda publisher
Price: NO LONGER AVAILABLE
Length: 612 pgs (PDF) (30 chapters)
Website: www.appcoda.com

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

This book is for Swift 3, Xcode 8 and iOS 10, and the intended audience is people without programming experience as well as people wanting to learn the Swift programming language.

I’ve been a programmer a long time, and have dabbled in mobile development awhile but have not been happy with the iOS tutorials I found until now. I came across ‘Beginning iOS Programming with Swift’ after searching for iOS tutorials on Yahoo, and started following the online book. AppCoda provides part of the course at no charge, which is a nice approach and similar to other publishers providing free chapters to interest prospective buyers. After going through the first five chapters, I had created two new iOS apps fairly easily, so I contacted AppCoda and got the book so I could complete the course.

Before we get started, I want to point out that this book used Xcode 8.0. If you upgrade to Xcode 9 and iOS 11, so if you already upgraded to both, you may want to contact the publisher to see when the update to this book will be done.

During development, you need to select a target version of iOS – my mini tablet just has 9.3.5, but my old iPhone 5 has 10.3.3, so I used that as the default target iOS initially. Now lets get started with the review.

IMPORTANT NOTE!! My review was done using the iBook version of the book, not the PDF, so I use those page numbers in my references. Please be aware there are a lot pages in the iBook version of documentation than in the PDF version, so the page numbers do not match up.

THE BOOK
The first three sections are: Preface, Ch 1:Getting Started with Xcode 8 Development, and Ch 2:Swift Playgrounds – all important if you’ve never developed, or new to development with a Mac. I’ve done both, but I still read over the material and did find it useful and accurate for setting up a development environment for Macs. Being anxious to create an actual iOS app, I pressed on to chapter 3 so I could see how easy it is to build an app.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The list in the table of contents at the start of the iBook lists the sections, but it shows Preface as the first. The actual chapters are not part of the items in the TOC, which is a small item I would suggest the author change, as well as update any chapter titles that might have been updated since initial publication.

Chapter 3: Build Your First App

This chapter has you build a simple Hello World app – the task most books have when teaching a programming language. Simon has you build an app with a single button, plus the code needed to tie the button to functionality.

The author gives you the specific steps you need to follow to create this app. It really is easy, and all I needed to do was follow the steps to build a Hello World app:

  1. Create a newXcode project.
  2. Select a template for your new project (Single View Application).
  3. Choose options for your new project (the book has the options plus what you enter for them – nice).
  4. Save the project (pick a location on your computer – I decided to use different ones for each book project).
  5. After selecting Next and Create, Xcode opened my new project (See below). The author points out the importance of learning a development environment, and I followed his advice and explored the Xcode Workspace. The author explains how to use the Xcode Simulator to run Xcode projects, and uses large and clear graphics to show what to select to see a project execute. I have an iPhone 5s, so I took the opportunity to change the Xcode Simulator to use that instead of the default iPhone 6. You could use newer iPhones or tablets too.
  6. To build the button for the Hello World project, you need to switch to the Interface Builder, where buttons and other interface items (like lists, other controls, etc are available to the developer).  I selected the Button and moved it to the middle of the View Controller area of the screen.  I positioned the button in the middle of the screen (easy the the Xcode alignment guideline, as shown in Fig 6), then renamed the button (per the book). The author says you can already test the app at this point so I did. It did take a few minutes for the Simulator to get started and render the iPhone with the new app, but it did – be patient. At this point, you have created a simple iOS app with a simple button that does nothing, but you still have created a app.NOTE: The author makes a great point about iOS development. The code and UI for apps are separate – this means you spend less time learning how to create a UI and more time on the layout and logic of app design. Sweet.
  7. To add code to the the app, which is executed when the button is selected, you need to switch to the ViewController.swift file.  I added the code is the first IBAction function (the other two functions were added later to extend my learning). As you see, Swift coding isn’t difficult. The book explains what each part of the simple code does, not too deep to slow you down at this point, but enough to understand what is happening.
  8. Now you need to connect the code you wrote in step 7, to the UI you created in step 6. This is easy. Just switch back to the Interface Builder, select the button and drag it to the View Controller under the View Controller Scene at the left of the UI.Now you can test how the code works with the button you added. This is better than the simple test you did in step 6, as you get to see your app do something. Run it with the simulator and there you are. Your first iOS works. Sweet.
  9. I wanted to learn more, so I did the end-of-chapter exercise and added a few extra buttons plus added two new functions to display different messages than the first button. It was intuitive and easy, and something I suggest you do too. The only way you get better as a developer is to learn all the ranges you have at your disposal, so play time in this case is actually very productive. Now play.NOTE: As this Hello World is very basic, I only used the Simulator to test it. I will deploy more advanced apps developed later in this book, using my iPhone and iPad Mini. The iPad mini will require an older version of iOS, so I will describe how easy that is to set before creating and deploying my apps.

Chapter 4: Hello World App Explained

This chapter goes into detail into what you just built. You must read this, as it clarifies the other options you have. I kept my Hello World app open while reading the chapter, and checked out the options as I followed along in the book.

The material in this section was just as useful as the earlier chapters, and keeping it separate from the first app you develop means you don’t get bogged down in language details while creating your first app, yet you still get the technical information needed to back up the process of creating an iOS app. I like this approach – very easy to make progress, while still learning detailed processes.

Chapter 5: Introduction to Auto Layout

Auto layout is where the UI elements can be arranged and can handle the different sized screens available to iOS apps. iPhone 4s – 8s use different screen sizes, as do tablets, so this is important unless you only want to develop apps for your own use.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time in this chapter, since it is no longer the way you develop apps for different devices. The author includes it so you see how it was done, but the next chapter gets into stack views, which is the newer method for developing multi-device apps.

To use auto layout, you set constraints to the sides and top or bottom of the screen, which help retain formatting when a device is turned on the side or when devices with different-size screens run your app. It takes a bit of work, but it works. Now on to the next chapter.

Chapter 6: Designing UI Using Stack Views

In iOS9, Apple introduced Stack Views to layout UIs. What is a Stack View? I asked that myself. As the author says:

“The stack view provides a streamlined interface for laying out a collection of views in either a column or row….
You can embed multiple UI objects into one by using stack views…
The stack view manages the layout of its subviews and automatically applies layout constrains for you. That means, the subviews are ready to adapt to different screen sizes. Furthermore, you can embed a stack view in another stack view to build more complex user interfaces.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 87

NOTE: This doesn’t eliminate the need for auto layout. You still need to define layout constraints for stack views. This is the chapter where we learn how to develop more advanced iOS apps.

Creating a New App

  1. You need to create a new project for this chapter. The author suggests StackViews, which is the same name I used for the directory to hold the new project. He provides the answers you need to create the project, so no guessing at this point.
  2. You will need some images (3 images, each in 3 different sizes), which he provides as a download. Xcode groups images in an asset catalogue (called Assets.xcassets in Xcode).
  3. Download the images and drag them to in the AppIcon list as described in the book. Once you need to access each image, you don’t need to specify size which is used – iOS does that for you.
  4. Open Main.storyboard for this project to add two labels to the new app. Drag a Vertical Stack View object (from the Object Library at the bottom left of Xcode) to the storyboard view controller.
  5. Now drag a label object and drop it on top of the stack view. Rename the label per the book, then resize it and change the font color as well.
  6. Drag a 2nd label object and drop it on the same stack view. Rename the second label, per the book. By default, labels left-justify, so change the stack view property from Fill to Center to center align both labels.
  7. Now add 3 images to the view. You place the 3 images side-by-side, then you will use another stack view to group them together. Add another stack view to the view and add the images to that stack view.
  8. Now you combine both stack views so all of the elements are positioned as a unit.
  9. Add constraints. This is where the free online material differed from the purchased book. The book says:

    “Now click the Pin button in the layout button. Set the space constraints of the top, left and right side to 70, 0 and 0 respectively. When the constraint is enabled, it is indicated by a solid red bar. Then click the “Add 3 Constraints” button to add the constraints.”- Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 100

    I found this unclear, so I looked around and noticed the button looking like a cutout of a tie fighter in the bottom right part of Xcode, so I selected it and was able to set the constraints as directed.

  10. The book then says that there will be problems positioning the stack view. I got (very) lucky and had no issues. Sweet.
  11. Now preview the app on other devices. It looked good, except some issues truncating the top label – easily fixed. I again got lucky and had no issue with the aspect ratios of each image (they did not appear stretched), which was due to my playing around with the app before receiving the book from the publisher. Compared to the first app, I was impressed.Per the book, I fixed the title truncation (very fast easy fix) and tested it and it worked fine.
  12. Add another 2 labels to the view, then add both to a stack view. Following the book, very simple. This app is starting to look like a real app. I adjusted position (relative to the bottom of the device) and size and spacing to keep the buttons looking good.
  13. Now it was time to learn about a new (since iOS 8) UI design concept: Adaptive Layout, which lets apps adapt the UI to particular devices and device orientation. You need Size Classes to achieve adaptive layout.

    “A size class identifies a relative amount of display space for both vertical (height) and horizontal (width) dimensions. There are two types of size classes: regular and compact. A regular size class denotes a large amount of screen space, while a compact size class denotes a smaller amount of screen space.”- Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 111

    “By describing each display dimension using a size class, this will result in four abstract devices: Regular width-Regular Height, Regular width-Compact Height, Compact width-Regular Height and Compact width-Compact Heigth.”- Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 112

  14. Size Classes made it easy to position UI elements, or hide them on certain devices. Sweet.

Chapter 7: Introduction to Prototyping

“A prototype is an early model of a product used for testing a concept or visualizing an idea.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 119

I’ve created many prototypes before and during projects over my career as a developer, as they help the customer see what you intend to deliver. Unfortunately, while prototypes can prevent scope creep with some customers. they encourage scope creep with other customers.

Scope creep is where projects change as work progresses, as customers decide to ask for more features or functionality. Scope creep is an enemy of any Project Manager, as it destroys estimated project timelines. You can’t prevent everyone from asking for more, but you try to get them to accept adding those after the initial project rollout or update.

With traditional enterprise-class software projects, writing a prototype on paper or in PowerPoint or on a whiteboard is usually faster than creating a software prototype. You draw the basic UI elements of each page and show the flow between design elements/pages. When you need to add functionality to an existing site or system, you just need to prototype the new functionality to demonstrate it works.

This chapter of the book has a list of good tools to help prototype iOS apps, including: Marvel, Photo.io, Flinto, Principle, InvisionApp, POP, Sketch, Adobe Experience Design and Keynote. Of these, only the last four are described – no worries as well all know how to Google. For this review, the prototype tool I used was POP (Prototyping On Paper), which lets you create working prototype without writing any code – a real timesaver when preparing a quote for a client.

I downloaded from the iTunes store and installed on my iPhone, then grabbed the app prototype same the author provided (1.6M file available as a link in the book). I added the downloaded images from the author to my iPhone, opened POP, created a new project, then linked the pages together. Pressing the Play button allowed me to navigate through the prototype screens, which would look very good and useful to any client. Then, you just need to make the app in Xcode, test, and demo the working product to a customer. Nice.

I like this included. Prototyping isn’t included as part of Xcode (wish it was, Apple) but the tools mentioned in chapter 7 are worth time learning. I’d suggest initially POP and Adobe Experience Design, but the others are very good too.

Chapter 8:Creating a Simple Table Based App

“First of all, what exactly is a table view in an iPhone app? A table view is one of the most common UI elements in iOS apps. Most apps (except games), in some ways, make use of table view to display content. The best example is the built-in Phone app. Your contacts are displayed in a table view.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 130

This is where you create your third iOS app. After creating a simple table project in Xcode, I added a single table view to the view, then made the table view take up the entire view. Next, I set the Prototype Cells to 1. Why?

“Prototype cells allow you to easily design the layout of your table view cell. You can think of it as a cell template that you can reuse in all of the table cells.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 133

The app created in this chapter uses the UIKit framework, which provides classes to construct and manage the UI app interface. All objects in the Xcode Interface Builder Object Library are in UIKit.

The author mentions in this chapter he is not discussing classes and methods yet – OOP elements that some find confusing – but he does cover them later. A good idea when the audience is new to development.

Following the instructions, I created a simple table, using a list instead of a database, similar to the iOS Contacts app. Not terribly difficult, however I forgot to set the prototype cell identifier to Cell, so I had an error to track down – an email to AppCoda and I had the answer how to fix the issue, so I was back at it again. Good example, but now I am looking forward to using a database or data source that isn’t a fixed array list and I want to see how to add individual images to each item in the list – the second item is covered in chapter 9.

Chapter 9: Customize Table Views Using Prototype Cell

This is where we built a real app called FoodPin. After closing the SimpleTable app, I created a new project, similar to the project in chapter 8 but using UITableViewController and using individual images for each restaurant displayed in the app. It was easy using Swift, which is well worth learning for novices as well as experienced developers.

This app has custom labels for each cell, which I created by dragging 3 Label objects to the cell, grouping them with a stack view, then grouping the new stack view and the cell image in another stack view. Simple. Then, Simon points out an important fact about iOS development:

“By connecting the source code with the UI objects, we can change the values of UI objects dynamically.

This is a very important concept in iOS programming. Your UI in storyboard and code are separated. You create the UI in Interface Builder, and you write your code in Swift. If you want to change the value or properties of a UI element (e.g. label), you have to establish a connection between them so that an object in your code can obtain a reference to an object defined in a storyboard. In Swift, you use @IBOutlet keyword to indicate a property of a class, that can be exposed to Interface Builder.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 391

We created a new class for the project, where we defined variables for all four items in each cell (Name, Location, Type and ThumbnailImage) using @IBOutlet.

“@IBOutlet is used to indicate a property that can be connected with a view object in a storyboard.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 393

You use these outlets to change font characteristics or events to be triggered when a button is selected. Handy and something you must understand. You also need to set the prototype cell to use the custom class you create, which is also simple. The chapter also explains how to set the images to appear circular instead of square – a few extra steps, but the presentation is worth it. We also set the restaurant name, location and type values to be dynamically displayed, which was fairly easy too.

Chapter 10: Interacting with Table Views and Using UIAlertController

In this chapter, we select an item in the view, just like selecting a contact name in the Contacts app. We also are exposed to UIAlertController, which is commonly used to display iOS alerts. In this chapter, we improve the FoodPin app by using individual images and rounding them to improve the look of our app. We also add three labels for each restaurant (name, location and type) to each row in the table, plus add three arrays to provide custom information for each restaurant.

No real problems following along with the directions in this section. I did copy and paste some of the code to save time, but I did read the information on everything new we are exposed to, and suggest you do so too. After getting the custom information to show in each line, we add a button to show a checkmark beside a restaurant – to show when a restaurant is selected. Then we addressed a known bug on reusing cells, plus add a line of code to deselect a cell once an option is chosen from the new popup list.

Good chapter. A LOT more Swift coding was covered. Not too much, but more than earlier chapters. Now on to chapter 11.

Chapter 11: Table Row Deletion, Custom Action Buttons, Social Sharing and MVC

According to Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model–view–controller):
Model–view–controller (MVC) is a software architectural pattern for implementing user interfaces on computers. It divides a given application into three interconnected parts. This is done to separate internal representations of information from the ways information is presented to, and accepted from, the user. The MVC design pattern decouples these major components allowing for efficient code reuse and parallel development.

I’ve used this architectural pattern doing web development, but was unaware this was also popular for desktop GUI development. Sweet. I would suggest you read more about this pattern if you even think you may do web development some day.

“Separation of Concerns (SoC). The concept is pretty simple. Here, the Concerns are different aspects of software functionality. This concept encourages developers to break a complicated feature or program into several areas of concern so that each area has its own responsibility. The delegate pattern, that we explained in the earlier chapters, is one of the examples of SoC.

The model-view-controller (MVC) concept is another example of SoC. The core idea behind MVC is to separate a user interface into three areas (or groups of objects) that each area is responsible for a particular functionality. As the name suggests, MVC breaks a user interface into three parts: Model, view and controller”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 446

To illustrate MVC using an iOS app, consider the SimpelTable app developed in chapter 8. The restaurantNames object is an array and is the model, the UITableView object is the view, and the UITableViewController is the controller.

On to deleting rows in a view. In iOS apps, data in a view is usually deleted by swiping across the row in the view. A good example: the iOS Mail app. The Swift code needed to delete a row and refresh the view is simple:

override func tableView(_ tableView: UITableView, commit editingStyle: UITableViewCellEditingStyle, forRowAt indexPath:IndexPath) {
// enables deleting a row in a table view
// Now u can swipe a row and a delete button is visible, but not enabled

// this code allows deletion of data from the 4 arrays:
if editingStyle == .delete {
// Delete the row from the data source
restaurantNames.remove(at: indexPath.row)
restaurantLocations.remove(at: indexPath.row)
restaurantTypes.remove(at: indexPath.row)
restaurantIsVisited.remove(at: indexPath.row)
restaurantImages.remove(at: indexPath.row)
}

print(“Total item: \(restaurantNames.count)”) // for debugging purposes
for name in restaurantNames {
print(name)
}
tableView.reloadData() // refreshes the view to show revised data
}

Something I like about this example: being able to access Twitter and other social media. I added the UIActivityViewController code to enable tweeting from the FoodPin app, including embedded images, logged into Twitter on the Simulator and tweeted from the simulation of FoodPin – it worked. Sweet. Talk about a great real world example! One suggestion I’d make regarding this functionality, is mention it is a test in your tweet plus include @AppCodaMobile in the tweet so the book publisher is notified you are testing this functionality of the book.

Chapter 12: Introduction to Navigation Controller and Segue

Navigation controllers let you drill down into content. Using our FoodPin app as an example, selecting a restaurant in the view, a navigator would drill down into pertinent information on that restaurant.

“Generally, you combine a navigation controller with a stack of table view controllers to build an elegant interface for your apps.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 484

Yes, it’s finally time to have more than a single view in our FoodPin app. Yay, lol.

“add more view controllers in the storyboard, link them up, and define the transitions between them. All these can be done without a line of code. When working with storyboards, scene and segues are two of the terms you have to know. In a storyboard, a scene usually refers to the on-screen content (e.g. a view controller). Segues sit between two scenes and represent the transition from one scene to another.
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 485

To make storyboards easier to use, large ones can be broken up and linked using storyboard references.

I followed the directions in this chapter, using the Interface Builder to add a navigation interface to my FoodPin app. It was easy and took no coding to get it to work. After adding the navigator, I used the Interface Builder to add another view controller to display restaurant details. I then added a segue to connect the first controller to the detail controller, also using Interface Builder. Now I had two view controllers and a navigation controller, and now I needed to share the first images with the details view controller, so it was time to add another class.

“A segue manages the transition between view controllers, and contains the view controllers involved in the transition.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS Programming with Swift, Page 674

This is the Swift code from the book for the segue:
override func prepare(for segue: UIStoryboardSegue, sender: Any?) {
if segue.identifier == “showRestaurantDetail” {
if let indexPath = tableView.indexPathForSelectedRow {
let destinationController = segue.destination as! RestaurantDetailViewController
destinationController.restaurantImage = restaurantImages[indexPath.row]
}
}
}

CH 13: Introduction to Object Oriented Programming

Swift and Objective-C are OOP languages, where you create and use objects. As the author points out, some of the iOS SDK objects we’ve already used up to this point include the UIViewController, UIButton, UINavigatorController and UITableView. Essentially, one uses OOP to develop complex applications using small building blocks, where each has a specific purpose. In OOP, you create a class and use that class as a blueprint to create objects (also called instances) with methods (to provide functionality) and properties.

In the FoodPin app, we have five arrays holding individual types of restaurant data. In this chapter, we modify that.  This is the Swift code used to make that new class:

class Restaurant {
var name = “”
var type = “”
var location = “”
var image = “”
var isVisited = false

init(name: String, type: String, location: String, image: String, isVisited: Bool) {
self.name = name
self.type = type
self.location = location
self.image = image”
self.isVisited = isVisited
}
}

The five properties for the new class are name, type, location, image, and isVisited. The 1st four properties are declared as blank strings (“”), while the 5th is boolean. init() defines the object initializer, which sets the initial property values for each new object created with this restaurant class. The restaurant data is now grouped by restaurant, instead of by number – data in the real world is kept in database tabes, grouped by a key value that is called instead of a relative position in an array. The code for this is:

var restaurants:[Restaurant] = [
Restaurant(name: “Cafe Deadend”, type: “Coffee & Tea Shop”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “cafedeadend.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Homei”, type: “Cafe”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “homei.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Teakha”, type: “Tea House”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “teakha.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Cafe loisl”, type: “Austrian / Causual Drink”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “cafeloisl.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Petite Oyster”, type: “French”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “petiteoyster.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “For Kee Restaurant”, type: “Bakery”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “forkeerestaurant.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Po’s Atelier”, type: “Bakery”, location: “Hong Kong”, image: “posatelier.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Bourke Street Backery”, type: “Chocolate”, location: “Sydney”, image: “bourkestreetbakery.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Haigh’s Chocolate”, type: “Cafe”, location: “Sydney”, image: “haighschocolate.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Palomino Espresso”, type: “American / Seafood”, location: “Sydney”, image: “palominoespresso.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Upstate”, type: “American”, location: “New York”, image: “upstate.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Traif”, type: “American”, location: “New York”, image: “traif.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Graham Avenue Meats”, type: “Breakfast & Brunch”, location: “New York”, image: “grahamavenuemeats.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Waffle & Wolf”, type: “Coffee & Tea”, location: “New York”, image: “wafflewolf.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Five Leaves”, type: “Coffee & Tea”, location: “New York”, image: “fiveleaves.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Cafe Lore”, type: “Latin American”, location: “New York”, image: “cafelore.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Confessional”, type: “Spanish”, location: “New York”, image: “confessional.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Barrafina”, type: “Spanish”, location: “London”, image: “barrafina.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Donostia”, type: “Spanish”, location: “London”, image: “donostia.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “Royal Oak”, type: “British”, location: “London”, image: “royaloak.jpg”, isVisited: false),
Restaurant(name: “CASK Pub and Kitchen”, type: “Thai”, location: “London”, image: “caskpubkitchen.jpg”, isVisited: false)
]

After making the code changes to reference restaurants.*, I ran the sample in the simulator and it worked just fine. Introducing OOP concepts and making this change was the purpose for this chapter. One thing I want to point out: at the end of this chapter, the author includes some links to Swift OOP programming. I am impressed he included a link to a free online course from MIT. MIT is one of the best sources for free college classes, and I rarely see anyone link to them, so kudos to Simon.

 

========================================================================

THE NEW REVIEW MATERIAL BEGINS HERE

========================================================================

Title: Beginning iOS 11 Programming with SwiftBeginiOS11Prgm
Author: Simon Ng
Published: AppCoda publisher
Price: $39, $69, $149
Length: 833 pgs (PDF) (30 chapters)
Book Website: www.appcoda.com/swift

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

I’ve been a programmer a long time, and have dabbled in mobile development awhile but was unhappy with the iOS tutorials I found on the internet. I came across ‘Beginning iOS 10 Programming with Swift’ after searching for iOS tutorials on Yahoo, and started following the online book, since the developer provides part of the course for free. Other publishers also provide free chapters to interest prospective buyers, since you can try before you buy.

I went through the first five free chapters and had created two new iOS apps fairly easily, so I contacted AppCoda and got the book so I could complete the course. Two weeks after starting the iOS 10 course, Apple released an OS and development tool update, so the publisher released an update to the course. I got the new course and started over, so this review will be from beginning to end of the new course material.

This review covers “Beginning iOS 11 Programming with Swift”, which is for Swift 4, Xcode 9 and iOS 11. The intended course audience is people without programming experience as well as experienced developers wanting to learn the Swift programming language.

CHAPTER 1: The Development Tools, the Learning Approach and the App Idea

This chapter covers what you need to get started: essentially a fairly modern Mac with Xcode. Not too expensive these days, and the only way to go to develop iOS apps, The material is good, plenty of pictures to guide the users, and it should put new developers at ease before they start creating their first app.

CHAPTER 2: Your First Taste of Swift with Playgrounds

This gets you started writing Swift code using Xcode playgrounds. . When I started reviewing “Beginning iOS 10…”, I said that this chapter was useful, but inferred it was unnecessary for experienced developers. The author has enhanced this chapter for this new release of the book and, while it does have good setup information useful for non-developers, the rest of the chapter is worth reading for experienced programmers that are new to programming on a Mac.

Why use Swift instead of Objective-C? Swift is easier to learn as the syntax is closer to English. An example from the book:

Fig2-1 Objective-C vs Swift

Fig 2-1 Objective-C vs Swift

I’ve used Xcode for a number of years, but I like how the author gives an intro to using Playgrounds. Playgrounds are places where you test pieces of code – AKA snippets – during learning or development. Something true about learning to program that is shared with music: you can’t learn how to do it by merely reading theory about it.

The author gets into writing Swift code with Playgrounds in chapter two, but not in detail until covering how to install Xcode for people new to development. He explains the Playground environment so new developers understand how to test their code snippets during the course of this course – good idea.

The Swift coding topics covered after Xcode setup are:

  • constants, variables, and how/when to declare types
  • control flow (looping and using switch)
  • collections (arrays and dictionaries)
  • optionals

Swift can infer what type to use for a variable, but specifying by declaring the types makes code easier to read and helps avoid type issues.

Flow control statements are if-else and switch. I particularly like Swift’s range operator for lower bounds and upper bounds, as it simplifies coding when using switch statements. Collections hold groups of data, and arrays are familiar to developers familiar with other programming languages. Like Java arrays, Swift arrays begin with element 0. Swift has the familiar for loop, but also has a for-in loop to move through dictionary elements.

What are dictionaries? They are like arrays, but they use a key to reference each stored value instead of a number relative to the index. The key can be specific to the data, so this can be quite useful when writing apps that use keys like ISBN numbers for books, account numbers for clients, etc.

The code example for creating dictionaries is simple but useful for people new to them. The last code topic covered in this chapter is on optionals. Optionals let you specify variables without default values, which makes you verify the variable has data before you access it.

Fig 2-2 Optional Var Checking Unwrapping

Fig 2-2 Optional Variable Checking Using Unwrapping

 

Fig 2-3 Optional Var Checking Binding

Fig 2-3 Optional Variable Checking Using Binding

Time to get started building an app, so let’s move on to chapter three.

 

CHAPTER 3: Hello World! Build Your First App in Swift

Every new developer knows what a “Hello World” program is: it’s the first thing you write when learning a new programming language. In this chapter, we create our first Swift iOS app and we call it Hello World. We worked with a Playground in chapter two, but now we will create a project and test it with the Xcode Simulator.

The book uses screenshots with the step-by-step process to show how you create the HelloWorld project. Not difficult at all. When finished, you should see something like this:

Fig3-1 New HelloWorld Project
Fig 3-1 New HelloWorld Project

Make sure you take time to get familiar with the Xcode project screen. You are expected to know where to find each area as the course progresses. The editor area in the center changes, depending on which design element (AppDelegate.swift, ViewController.swift, Main.storyboard) is selected at the left part of the project. The right side of the project is the utility area, where you select properties. You can expose or hide the leftmost and rightmost areas as well as the debug area for a project – this is at the top rightmost part of the Xcode project screen:

Fig3-2 Three Areas of an Xcode Project
Fig 3-2 Three Areas of an Xcode Project

After creating a basic project and a new iOS app, you can run it in the Simulator. One note: the first time you run the Simulator, it takes a while to start, so be patient. The Xcode control to run an app is the right-pointing arrow at the top left side of Xcode:

Fig 3-3 How to Run Apps in Simulator
Fig 3-3 How to Run Apps in Simulator

In this chapter, Simon points out something nice in the new version of Xcode 9: you can now run multiple simulators at the same time. Now that I like, as you may want to have an Apple Watch sim going the same time as iPhone and iTablet simulators.

Now it’s time to add an interface to the HelloWorld app. The book points out you can easily add one or more views and link them together without writing a line of Swift code. It’s similar to some RAD products like Power Builder and Lotus Notes. Xcode uses one View Controller per iOS app screen. The Interface Builder is shown below, with the View Controller in the middle, with the Button object in the center of the View Controller:

Fig 3-4 Xcode Interfact Builder Screen
Fig 3-4 Xcode Interface Builder Screen

I ran the Simulator after adding the Hello World button and saw this:

Fig 3-5 Simulator with Hello World Button
Fig 3-5 Simulator with Hello World Button

That’s it. I didn’t need to write any code to make a simple iOS app. It is simple. Hopefully this encourages people with good ideas but no programming experience to try to make something for themselves or for others.

The next step in the book is to add some code to make the Hello World button do something. We access the ViewController.swift file in Xcode and add the following Swift code to have the button say Hello World:

@IBAction func showMessage(sender: UIButton) {
 let alertController = UIAlertController(title: "Welcome to my first app", message:
 "Hello World", preferredStyle: UIAlertControllerStyle.alert)
 alertController.addAction(UIAlertAction(title: "OK", style: UIAlertActionStyle.default, handler: nil))
 present(alertController, animated: true, completion: nil)
 }

I want to echo the tip the author makes about entering code vs copying and pasting.  The easiest way to learn is to do, not copy.  Take the time to type, as you will see how easy it is to make mistakes, and when you fix them you learn a bit more. My 2 cents on developing:

A developer writes their own code, they don’t copy and paste and modify someone else’s code – that isn’t creating code, it’s appropriating.  If you want to work as a developer, you better remember this tip, because professional developers do not look fondly on people copying and claiming the work of another person.  It isn’t ethical.

 

Now you need to connect the Hello World button to this new code. Select Main.storyboard in Xcode, select the Hello World button and hold down the Control key and drag up to the yellow View Controller object at the top of the View Controller, then select showMessageWithSender: option in the popup box.

Fig 3-6 Connect Button and Swift Code
Fig 3-6 Connect Button and Swift Code

Run the Simulator again and now you see that the button does something:

Fig 3-7 Working Hello World Button
Fig 3-7 Working Hello World Button

There are a couple of exercises at the end of the chapter. I wanted to see what I learned, so I added 3 more buttons, which is what exercise 1 is, however I wanted to use different messages so I added additional code to ViewController.swift and linked it to each button. It was fun, and the best way I know to really learn. If you want to learn how to write code or develop apps, you must do it, mot just read about it. I strongly encourage people to do both exercises and play around on your own. It helps.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Hello World App Explained

This chapter explains in detail what happens in the first app you create: Hello World. Take time to go over this chapter, especially if you are new at learning to program, as the explanations here lay a foundation that grows in future chapters.

How does the interface you build connect to Swift code that you write? It is important to understand this now, so consider the TV remote example the author uses:

“The user interface in the storyboard is the interface, while the code is the implementation. The user interface objects (e.g. button) communicate with the code via messages.

Specifically, if you go back to the Hello World project, the button you added in the view is the interface. The showMessage(sender:) method of the ViewController class is the implementation. When someone taps the button, it sends a showMessageWithSender message to ViewController by invoking the showMessage(sender:) method.”
– Simon Ng, Beginning iOS 11 Programming with Swift, Page 95 & 96

As the author points out, this demonstrates the OO concept of encapsulation. The specifics of what happens is hidden when the button is pressed. For example, the programmer could choose to send an email as well as display “Hello World” when the button is pressed, and the button pusher wouldn’t know.

What happens when the Hello World button is pressed? The button is event-driven, meaning that it does something when the button is pressed or released. In this app, we made the action occur when the button was released. This illustration shows the process:

Fig 4-1 What Happens in Hello World App
Fig 4-1 What Happens in Hello World App

We used a method to specify the message we displayed when the button was released. Methods provide functionality to objects – they make things happen. In this example, the class ViewController has a method called showMessage() – Swift methods are declared with the func keyword, and the @IBAction keyword in showMessage() connects source code you wrote to the interface button object you added using the Interface Builder.

Fig 4-2 ViewController and showMessage
Fig 4-2 ViewController and showMessage

This chapter is loaded with great information for new developers, as well as people learning Swift. Take a day to cover the material the first time, then take a second day before progressing on to chapter 5. You will learn important information that will help you further into this course.

 

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.Merchants of Doubt dust cover 2010

Title: Merchants of Doubt
Authors: Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
ISBN: 978-1-59691-610-4
Published: 2010, Bloombury Press
Price: $27.00
Length: 355 Pages
Book Website: http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/index.html

In the past, tobacco use was socially acceptable and was allowed in most public places, including work and schools. When researchers learned that the scientific evidence was clear that tobacco use dramatically increases the chance of developing various cancers, they alerted the public and the government. In response, special interests mounted a PR campaign challenging that tobacco was bad for your health. Think tanks published papers refuting tobacco and cancer were related, ads aimed at placating people were run on radio and television; scientists and scientific data was attacked on a regular basis.

Why? Because the fact that ingesting tobacco products can cause cancer is inconvenient to companies making money selling tobacco products. Companies in the tobacco industry fought lawsuits for years, attacking the scientists and data and sometimes the victims themselves, in a bid to avoid accountability. Finally the US Government became involved, since the costs of treating cancer were costing so much money, and there was a settlement with the tobacco companies. That battle is over.

The new crisis our planet faces today is global warming. We have temperature records, using satellites and land-based and ocean-based temperature gathering sites around the planet, and that temperature data is readily available for scientists of every nation to examine. The data shows an important truth: the Earth is getting warmer. The Earth warmed up and cooled down in the past, but the data that concerns climate scientists today is the vastly elevated levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. These greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide and methane – help trap heat on the Earth, reducing the amount of heat we radiate back into space, resulting in a warmer planet.

Why is a warmer planet a concern? Ice caps. Ice caps on Antarctica and Greenland contain a lot of ice, which, if melted, will raise sea levels around the globe. Why is that a problem? Because the majority of people on our planet live fairly close to a coastline, so rising water levels can harm or require relocation of many millions of people. Can you imagine how much it will cost to move millions of people from our coastlines to the interior of our country? And the cost to upgrade the existing infrastructures of cities far from the coasts to support much larger populations? Let’s just approximate it for now: a lot.

Another reason a warmer planet is a concern: weather. Meteorology 101: warm air holds more moisture than cooler air. Climate scientists predict that weather systems like hurricanes and monsoons, will increase in force as our planet warms. On average, one category 5 hurricane occurs every three years in the Atlantic. In 2017 alone, three Atlantic cat 5 hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – made landfall, causing hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars of damage affecting millions of people in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. As of November 1st, 2017, months after Maria hit Puerto Rico, over half of the people there still lack electrical power, cellular phone support is spotty, and many people still have no clean drinking water.

The dangers of global warming are clear, and we need to act now to slow down the accumulation of global warming gases. We need to burn less fossil fuel, use alternate power sources with little or no carbon footprint, and use cleaner products like natural gas instead of coal. During the terms of President Obama, alternate power sources – wind, water and solar – were promoted and less clean fossil fuels like coal was de-emphasized. Unfortunately, the current US government under President Trump is actively suppressing and denying global warming. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) under President Trump removed climate change data from their websites, instructed scientists to not appear at conferences discussing global warming, and even replaced qualified advising scientists with fossil fuel advocates. Why? Because fossil fuel special interests have friends in the Trump administration.

Naomi Oreskes, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, and Erik Conway published a book in 2010 called “Merchants of Doubt.” This book has been identified as a classic for people interested in global warming, so I want to review it now, seven years after it was published. From what I saw, the material is not dated and it is still relevant. Let’s get started.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction
Ch 1. Doubt Is Our Product
Ch 2. Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Institution
Ch 3. Sowing the Seeds of Doubt: Acid Rain
Ch 4. Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight Over the Ozone Hole
Ch 5. What’s Bad Science? Who Decides? The Fight Over Secondhand Smoke
Ch 6. The Denial of Global Warming
Ch 7. Denial Rides Again: The Revisionist Attack on Rachel Carson
Conclusion: Of Free Speech and Free Markets
Epilogue A New View of Science

 

INTRODUCTION

There is good information in this section, so don’t skim over it. Two very relevant quotes:

“Why did they <climate change deniers> continue to repeat charges long after they had shown to be unfounded? The answer, of course, is that they were not interested in finding facts. They were interested in fighting them.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes, page 5

“Santer was reading the morning paper and came across an article describing how some scientists had participated in a program, organized by the tobacco industry, to discredit scientific evidence linking tobacco to cancer. The idea, the article explained, was to “keep the controversy alive.” So long as there was doubt, about the casual link, the tobacco industry would be safe from litigation and regulation. Santer thought the story seemed eerily familiar.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes, page 5

I’ve studied and followed science for nearly fifty years, and I’ve never met nor communicated with scientists that were not interested in the truth. Science is a self-correcting profession: when mistakes are found, they are corrected and our knowledge advances. The idea of scientists helping discredit valid data seems incredible, yet I remember how science and scientists researching tobacco and cancer links were attacked by people. It seemed incredible that, once science proved it was right the raised issue remained relevant to many people, but it did. At the time, it didn’t dawn on me that someone was trying to keep a controversy alive to fight the facts, but it makes sense in hindsight.

I am sure the scientists helping discredit climate change science have their reasons, but I don’t know what they are. I believe truth in science is mandatory, and that it is wrong to promote facts that are expedient to some political party or special interest or big business. I do not believe the bottom line is the most important thing in life. And in my opinion, any position that must be based on misinformation or falsehood is built on a wobbly foundation that will fail apart as soon as it is exposed.

When statements are proved false, why do the wrong statements still convince people. Let’s see what the authors of this book can show us.

CH 1. DOUBT IS OUR PRODUCT

This chapter shows that the tobacco industry used advise from a PR firm to create doubt about tobacco use being linked to cancer. They (the tobacco industry) used doubt to manufacture a debate to mass media that there two sides to the tobacco and cancer link, and the mass media needed to provide both sides equal time to argue. The mass media agreed and gave the tobacco industry a way to challenge scientific finds on tobacco use links to cancer.

A tactic used to counter prevailing science that tobacco use and cancer were linked was to cherry pick data and focus on unexplained or anomalous details. The purpose of this approach was to convert scientific consensus into scientific debate. Even when evidence mounted in 1964 that smoking increased the changes of developing cancer, the tobacco industry continued to fund research casting doubt on the facts.

Even into the seventies and eighties, when research that tobacco use was harmful, the tobacco industry was still quite profitable. It continued to market doubt by funding more research to counter scientific consensus on tobacco use links to cancer. Eventually, mass media realized that the argument that ‘the research raising doubts about tobacco use being linked to cancer’ deserved equal time to research showing ‘a correlation between tobacco use and cancer’ was wrong: it was not necessary to allow equal time to both sides. Why?

“While the idea of equal time for opposing opinions makes sense for a two-party political system, it does not work for science, because science is not about opinion. It is about evidence. It is about claims that can be, and have been, tested through scientific research – experiments, experience, and observation – research that is then subject to critical review by a jury of scientific peers. Claims that have not gone through that process – or have gone through it and failed – are not scientific, and do not deserve equal time in a scientific debate.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 32

The tobacco industry started fighting against the cancer links to tobacco use in the early 1950s, and didn’t start losing lawsuits until the 1990s. It is sad to note that:

“although the FDA sought to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug in the early 1990s, it was not until 2009 that the U.S. Congress finally gave them the authority to do so.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 33

An interesting correlation: the FDA didn’t get regulatory powers over tobacco until there was a democratic president and democratic majorities in the House and Senate in 2009. In 2017, there is a pro-business republican president and pro-business republican majorities in the House and Senate, and the US government denies that global warming is real or a threat to our planet – even though the scientific data and the rest of the world disagrees. Could that be part of the problem having a pro-business political party in power? I think you can be pro-business without attacking inconvenient scientific facts that prove some businesses are not good for people or our planet.

One point the authors make about doubt and science also should be mentioned:

“Doubt is crucial to science – in the version we call curiosity or healthy skepticism, it drives science forward – but it also makes science vulnerable to misrepresentation, because it is easy to take uncertainties out of context and create the impression that everything is unresolved. That was the tobacco industry’s key insight: that you could use normal scientific uncertainty to undermine the status of actual scientific knowledge.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 34

If you had a relative that used tobacco products and die from cancer, this chapter is an eye opener. And the sad thing, is that other industries continued to use the same tactics developed by the tobacco to counter science in other issues affecting our world. Next up, President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative.

CH 2. STRATEGIC DEFENSE, PHONY FACTS, AND THE CREATION OF THE GEORGE C. MARSHALL INSTITUTION

SDI – Strategic Defense Initiative – aka Star Wars, was Ronald Reagan’s ballistic missile defense system. It was predicated on the false believe that nuclear war was winnable. I remember the SDI, and how scientists said it wouldn’t work, and how the Reagan administration was determined to implement it regardless what the experts said. Scientists like Cars Sagan were actively against it and vocal in their opposition, and Reagan and his cabinet were just as determined to install it. It was another case of science being attacked because it presented inconvenient facts.

“The crux of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was to install weapons in space that could destroy incoming ballistic missiles. This would “shield” the United States from attack, making nuclear weapons obsolete.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 43

As Naomi and Erik point out in this chapter, there were a number big reasons SDI should never have been promoted. One, it was technically impossible to work 100% of the time, so some bombs would get through. Two, if the Russians believed it would work, they would build more bombs to be sure they could win, meaning the arms race would escalate. Three, if Russia believed SDI would work, they might launch a pre-emptive attack before SDI was implemented to win before SDI could protect the US. Fourth, SDI was not testable, since we would need to launch many missiles at ourselves to test it.

A PR campaign, like the one used by the tobacco companies, resulted in Congress approving and budgeting $60 billion dollars for Star Wars. Crazy but true. Star Wars really was a major military buildup. Then scientists studying the atmosphere of Mars realized their model could be used to study Earth and began examining the chance that an asteroid strike killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. They thought dust in the atmosphere would cut off light to plants, killing off the dinosaur food supply and killing off the dinosaurs. The scientists realized they could test the effects of a nuclear war, and discovered something chilling: nuclear winter. If we have a nuclear war, we could wipe ourselves out like the dinosaurs. Thus the TTAPS paper was written.

TTAPS, a nuclear winter paper, was examined by scientific peer review and only minor revisions were made, so it was considered valid. Before the TTAPS article was published in the scientific magazine Science, Carl Sagan published articles in Parade and Foreign Affairs, showing that we had too many nuclear weapons – enough to cause climate catastrophe. We needed to reduce, not increase, our nuclear arsenals from 80,000 soviet/US weapons to 2000 total. Some scientists were not happy Sagan published his Parade/Foreign Affairs articles before publishing the paper in Science, and some felt he left out important information that showed a more succinct picture of nuclear winter. Unfortunately, other scientists published papers criticizing the issues with the publications – Sagan’s decision to go public early was a problem for TTAPS.

Pro-SDI forces decided to counter the TTAPS nuclear winter paper, attacking the data and science and scientists. Following the same process as the tobacco companies, pro-SDI forces demanded equal time for their views and the media agreed, giving them an equal voice in the issue. These pro-SDI people attacked scientists credibility, as well as denying the validity of their views and data. This was when scientists were painted as left-wing political activists, instead of seekers of truth. They were making this into a political issue, which meant anyone disagreeing with it could dismiss it as political. This was the time that right-wing turned against science. This was when the Wall Street Journal started publishing articles critical of science.

CH 3. SOWING THE SEEDS OF DOUBT: ACID RAIN

The same time science was being attacking by Pro-SDI forces, a new issue – acid rain – was coming to light. The opponents of acid rain used the same argument as pro-tobacco forces: not enough was known, so nothing should be done about the problem.

INTERESTING FACTS: President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and signed the following important legislation: the Clean Air Act Extension, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. President Reagan moved the Republican party away from environmental concerns and started the war on science. These days, the republican party is against environmental laws and rules, shown by Scott Pruitt attempts to change the EPA into the EDA (Environmental Destruction Agency).

What is Acid Rain?

“Collateral damage is what acid rain is all about. Sulfur and nitrogen emissions from electrical utilities, cars, and factories could mix with rain, snow, and clouds in the atmosphere, travel long distances, and affect lakes, rivers, soils, and wildlife far from the source of the pollution.”
— Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 68

acidrain

How did Acid Rain Become a Problem?

“… the acidity was due to dissolved sulfate and the rest mostly to dissolved nitrate, by-products of burning coal and oil. Yet fossil fuels had been burned enthusiastically since the mid-nineteenth century, so why had this problem only arisen of late? The answer was the unintended consequence of the introduction of devices to remove particles from smoke and to reduce local air pollution.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 68

The environmental damage caused by acid rain includes leaching nutrients from soils and plant foliage, acidification of lakes and rivers, damage to wildlife, and corrosion of buildings. Studies showed that acid rain reduces forest growth as well as impact fish mortality.

Acid rain was studied for twenty-five years, then a summary article was published in Scientific American in 1979, introducing the science to the general public. The problem with acid rain, was that it was not restricted to the area or country where pollution originated. It affected neighboring areas and other countries, so it was a global threat. Under President Jimmy Carter, the US worked towards reducing pollutants that caused acid rain, but that was about to change.

Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, and Reagan wanted to: reduce regulations, decrease the reach of the federal government, and unleash the power of private enterprise. Sound familiar? It’s the same stuff touted by republicans today, and they have the same disregard for the environment. Acid rain was as acceptable a subject during the Reagan years as global warming was during the George W. Bush years – meaning not at all.

There was research into acid rain, and scientific views that immediate actions was needed, but the government took the side of the power industry and wanted more studies done and less concern raised to the public. Sounds like the situation with global warming these days, doesn’t it?

The only scientific research into acid rain reviewed by Reagan’s administration was modified to make the issue seem less critical than it was. There was no legislation during Reagan’s administration to fix acid rain, as

“the problem was too expensive to fix.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 101

Sadly, regardless of twenty-one years research on acid rain, the official position of the Reagan administration in 1984 was:

“We don’t know what’s causing it <acid rain>.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 101

Eight years after the Reagan administration suppressed the seriousness of acid rain, it was finally acted upon by the George H.W. Bush administration, which implemented a “cap and trade” plan that reduced sulfur emissions by 54% between 1990 and 2007. Sounds promising doesn’t it? It isn’t.

Are you ready for the bad news? Acid rain is still a problem. “Cap and trade” DID NOT FIX IT, and the same pro-business forces that fought against action during the Reagan years continue to downplay the issue, which is getting worse. The reason that is a problem, is that deforestation impacts global warming (reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide removed by trees, means more in the air).

Acid rain was a concern during the Obama administration, but sadly it is no longer during the Trump administration. On 11/11/2017, a search for “acid rain 2017” on Yahoo yielded a link to the EPA. I went to the EPA link and selected “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule” under “What EPA is Doing” and got: “Page not found”. It has been removed from the EPA site, a common tactic Scott Pruitt has implemented to obfuscate science that threatens the technologies he and President Trump embrace. Apparently using more coal and gas is too important to allow people to see that the EPA knows that Acid Rain is still an issue. If this concerns you, please write, email and call your state and local representatives and ask them to investigate why the government is suppressing science to support industry.

CH 4. CONSTRUCTION A COUNTERNARRATIVE: THE FIGHT OVER THE OZONE HOLE

The public first became aware that our protective ozone layer was in danger was in 1970. This was a concern, because the ozone protects us from ultraviolet radiation, which is known to cause skin cancers, and a decrease in ozone meant an increase in cancer.

Initial research investigating the possible danger from Supersonic Transports (SSTs) looked at the impact of water causing problems with the atmosphere, but it was determined there wasn’t enough potential traffic to be an issue. Another venue studied was nitrous oxide compounds, which was a possible issue for ozone and it led to studies on emissions by the space shuttle, which used propellants that released chlorine into the upper atmosphere. Further studies focused on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which could degrade into chlorine and fluorine, which could reduce atmospheric ozone. CFCs were common, used in spray cans and air conditioners and refrigerators, and there were billions of pounds of CFCs produced every year for these uses.

CFCmolecule

Who would find this science threatening? How about the industries that used CFCs? And whom do you suppose mounted a PR campaign against the findings on CFCs? Yes, you are correct. Big business. Companies using CFCs argued against regulating or jumping to conclusions, but people eventually decided to use alternative products (roll-on deodorants, spray bottles) which made a difference. Then, in 1985, a hole was found in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

The ozone hole was verified by data from a satellite, but the amount of ozone depletion was unexpected. While people didn’t live on Antarctica, if the hole grew then it could affect people living in Australia and South America. NASA and NOAA began research in 1985 and sent researchers to McMurdo Bay in 1986 – the initial results confirmed the loss of ozone but failed to account for meteorological effects. NASA and NOAA conducted additional tests in 1987 to look at meteorological effects and found the weather conditions did speed up chlorine and ozone interactions.

Science studied the ozone hole and CFC issue, provided recommendations to cut back and eventually eliminate CFCs (thereby restoring Ozone coverage over time), and regulations were introduced to bring this about. It worked as it should, but there was still resistance from the CFC industry and skeptics, who continued to challenge ozone depletion after the science was settled. This resistance continued to propose that volcanos were the source of chlorine and that there was no need to regulate industry – the intention was to delay any action on CFCs to the benefit of the CFC industry.

The counter narrative to ozone depletion was driven by a pro-business group that decided to use their own facts to obfuscate science data to cause a delay in regulating CFCs. Is that right? Shouldn’t we want a safe environment for ourselves and the life on this planet, instead of merely making more money for some corporations? One of the people involved with producing a counter narrative to ozone depletion attacked the scientific community, and I want to share a quote I found astonishing when I read it in this book:

“It’s not difficult to understand some of the motivations behind the drive to regulate CFCs out of existence”, he wrote. ”For scientists: more prestige, more grants for research, press conferences, and newspaper stories. Also the feeling that maybe they are saving the world for future generations.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 129
NOTE: The “he” quoted above was neither of the authors – it was written by a skeptic.

EXCUSE ME?? It’s bad to want to save the world for future generations?? If that’s the case, I guess I’m in the same wrong camp, as I believe it is ethically and morally right to care what kind of world we leave our descendants. Perhaps I need to re-read Dantes’ Inferno to see where God sends people who care to save the world for future generations.

CH 5. WHAT’S BAD SCIENCE? WHO DECIDES? THE FIGHT OVER SECONDHAND SMOKE

In 1986, a new Surgeon General’s report concluded that second and smoke could cause cancer even in otherwise healthy non-smokers. When the EPA implemented regulations to limit indoor smoking, the pro business movement once again moved to attack, this time science and the EPA was the target.

In 1981, Takeshi Hirayama, chief epidemiologist at Japan’s National Cancer Research Institute did a study showing that wives of smokers had a much higher cancer rate than wives of non smokers. His study did as any good scientific study does: it demonstrated an effect and ruled out other causes. And, as you might expect, the study and the scientist was attacked by industry special interests. Health advocates responded to the attacks on Takeshi’s study and within five years forty states passed restrictions on smoking in public places.

The tobacco industry argued against second-hand smoke dangers, using studies to challenge the dangers to people around smokers. The EPA produced a report on the dangers of second hand smoke, linking it to lung cancer, bronchitis and asthma in infants and young children. One thing left out of the EPA report was the link of second hand smoke to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), as there was uncertainty at what point in development or life infants were actually exposed to second hand smoke.

To counter the science, special interests decided to attack EPA science as junk science. The intent: to slow or stop regulation of second-hand smoke. This counter narrative meant that the media should cover skeptics that fight science on the same level as science. Special interest also released a book “Bad Science: A Resource Book” aimed at challenging the authority and integrity of science. I did a search on Yahoo and easily found it. It appalls me that science and scientists should be attacked, and that more people are not outraged at the insinuations. In my personal experience with science and scientists, I found both far more truthful than any politician or business, and I hope that people without any science education would be less susceptible to accepting claims attacking the scientific community.

This book lists six key points that “Bad Science” uses to challenge and attack science and scientific findings. To sum up these six points: bad, bad scientists. Wow. Special interests want to be the authority figures to scold scientists and hold them accountable. Like, special interests have no “special interests” in the stakes. Right. And I have a nice bridge for sale, you can have it cheaply if you have cash and act now.

In addition to attacking science, special interests decided to attack the EPA. Using pro business scientists, they challenged that the EPA was fair and promoted the view that the EPA was motivated by environmentalists with a hidden agenda, not science. They also attacked how data was studied and suggested other approaches that would favor skeptics over science. Attacking EPA guidelines let special interests control the fight and slow down the EPA’s ability to regulate second-hand smoke.

It’s hard to do your job, when your credibility is constantly being attacked. If people doubt your credibility, they doubt your defense of yourself and your work. To attack science as being anti-business because of their work, means that people believe business cares as much about their welfare as about their spending. Do you believe that?

CH 6. THE DENIAL OF GLOBAL WARMING

I’ve read good, authoritative books on global warming – The Madhouse Effect, Dire Predictions, Unstoppable – so I understand global warming is real. Scientific research on climate change has been going on for over 150 years, so the science isn’t new. The lead organization on climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and it was formed in 1988 and published its first report on global warming in 1990. IPCC released their 3rd assessment on climate change in 2001, their 4th in 2007, their 5th in 2014, and the 6th assessment is scheduled for release in 2019.

In 2007, I worked with a self-proclaimed global warming skeptic. He proudly stated that “the only law I accept is the law of gravity.” He chose to accept the propaganda of his political party instead of actually reading any of the four IPCC reports. Why? Because it’s easy to be a skeptic when you believe in conspiracies. In 2008, Barack Obama became president of the U.S. and during the eight years he led the government, President Obama focused the government on the dangers of climate change – he signed the Paris Climate Accord, joining all but two countries of the world.

In 2016, Donald Trump became president, and he withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accords, and when the two remaining holdouts signed the accords, the U.S. was left as the only country in the world not to sign the Paris Accords.  As of November, 2017, 170 of the 197 nations that signed have ratified the accord.  That will be Donald Trump’s legacy, which is sad.

The facts are, 97% of scientists in the world accept evidence that humans are affecting our global climate and we must make changes to reduce our carbon footprint to reduce the impact to our planet. With the science settled, why are papers and websites still publishing articles that attack climate change science and scientists?

Why do we have climate change skeptics twenty-two years after the initial IPCC climate change assessment? Why does the current U.S. government want to erase the improvements we made reducing carbon emissions under President Obama? As you probably guessed, we can once again thank special interests for delaying action to reverse the effects of climate change.

To reduce global warming, we need to reduce greenhouse gases, which increase the greenhouse effect. What are greenhouse gases? Primarily carbon dioxide and methane. Both come from natural sources, but the increased dependency on fossil fuel energy sources has released a lot both gases into our atmosphere, causing the Earth’s temperature to increase over time until it is climbing at unacceptable rates, which will cause the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps to melt and raise sea levels so much that people living near our coasts will be forced to move inland.

a-3.greenhouse_effect

A sad fact about acceptance of global warming in the book:

“Yet many Americans remained skeptical. A public opinion poll reported in Time magazine in 2006 found that just over half (56 percent) of Americans thought that average global temperatures had risen – despite the fact that virtually all climate scientists thought so. An ABC News poll that year reported that 85 percent of Americans believed that global warming was occurring, but more than half did not think that the science was settled: 64 percent of Americans perceived ‘a lot of disagreement among scientists’.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 169

A TRAIL OF PRESIDENTIAL ACCOUNTABILITY ON CLIMATE CHANGE
The first official report on global change was given to President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, and the information was also made available to President Nixon when he came into office in 1968. Both Johnson and Nixon had more pressing matters at the time (social issues, Vietnam war), so climate change didn’t receive the attention it deserved. I would point out that Republican President Nixon did create the EPA and sign several important acts concerning climate change.

President Jimmy Carter was president from 1976 to 1980, and drought-related climate issues affected food supplies for Africa, Asia and the Soviet Union, demonstrating how our global food supply is affected by climate. In 1977 the Department of Energy (DOE) had an advisory committee look into carbon dioxide and climate, which recognized that:

“the acute sensitivity of agriculture, and thus society in general, to even small changes in climate: ‘The Sahelian drought and the Soviet grain failure … illustrate the fragility of the world’s crop production capacity, particularly in those marginal areas where small alterations in temperature and precipitation can bring about major changes in total productivity’.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 171
(referencing MacDonald et al., The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide)

This advisory committee developed a climate model that showed that doubling the preindustrial levels of carbon dioxide from 270 ppm would result in an increase in surface temperature of 2.4 degrees C. The model suggested that warming would be at the poles, with a temperature increase of

“10 to 12 degrees C – a colossal amount.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 172

NOAA knew and discussed this as early as 1977, and President Carter’s science advisor asked National Academy of Science president Handler to review the advisory committee study. Handler gave the study to MIT Professor Jule Charney to review, and he assembled a panel of eight scientists plus two climate modelers (Syukuro Manabe and James E. Hanson) that had created the most advanced climate models at that time. The new models showed there could be natural processes providing negative feedback, that could slow down global warming some, but these wouldn’t affect a substantial warming. The small things like negative feedback didn’t address the problem caused by the villain: carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas.

Charney’s group prepared a report which concluded:

“If carbon dioxide continues to increase, the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 173
(referencing Verner E. Suomi in Charney et al., Carbon Dioxide and Climate viii)

Charney’s group knew they needed more data, as they didn’t know how fast the oceans absorbed heat, as:

“the more the well mixed the oceans are, the more heat would be distributed into the deep waters, and the slower the warming of the atmosphere would be.”
– Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway page 173

Essentially, the oceans act like a heat sink, delaying surface temperature increases. A positive from this news was global warming would be delayed. A negative from this news, was that the delay might mean people wouldn’t accept global warming until it was too late to change it.

The next report on global warming was written in 1980, and it focused more unsocial and political impacts – the authors suggested doing nothing, until more data was available, so we could continue burning fossil fuels. This report suggested that natural market corrections (voluntary reduced use of fossil fuels, alternative fuel sources) would be enough to address climate change – no need to regulate anything. Sound familiar? Yep, the same argument we hear today.

The next study on global warming had scientists and two economists. As you might guess, they had very different views to the dangers and facts of global warming. The report was written as chapters by each expert, including those by the economists. The chapter on sea level rise predicted a rise of 5 and 6 meters (1 m = 3.28 ft, so that meant 16.4’ to 19.6’ increase of sea levels). All chapters written by scientists reported that increased levels of carbon dioxide was bad and needed to be addressed immediately. The chapters by the economists disagreed – they argued that changes were too far into the future to matter at that time. The problem was this study, was that is focused on the chapters of the economists, not the scientists, and so it was not a true synthesis of ideas from all of the authors.

It may have appeared to be balanced, but it was not. The paper also downplayed the issues involving with moving people from affected areas to other locations – it is not trivial, but the paper presented that it was not an issue. When reviewed, the paper was criticized for failing to provide evidence to back the recommendation of doing nothing, which was contrary to scientific views on the issue. The comments from the reviewers were ignored, and the report (leaning 100% to the economists view) was published.

The problem with this new study, was that it was used to refute real scientific evidence about global warming, from scientists and from the EPA. It gave climate change deniers a report to back their stance and to attack climate change science. This paper gave the Reagan administration an excuse to do nothing for the years 1980 to 1988, while Reagan was president.

In 1988, the first organized effort to deny global warming began during the presidential election. James Hansen, climate modeler, testified at a congressional hearing that climate change was now visible and affecting the world. Presidential candidate George H.W. Bush promised to use the presidency to address global warming and sent Secretary of State James Baker to the first IPCC meeting. Unfortunately, deniers began attacking climate science in 1989 and climate scientists a few years later.

The deniers first blamed the sun as the source of increased surface temperatures on Earth. The deniers published a white paper denying global warming, and presented it to departments of the U.S. government – this caused the George H.W. Bush administration to deny climate change. This report suggested the Earth was near the end of a 200 year heating cycle and should soon begin to start cooling off. The problem with this paper, was it misrepresented the actual data and cherry-picking valid data to support the position of no global warming.

The first IPCC assessment, published May 1990, rejected that the sun caused the temperature increases as shown in the report by the deniers. Unfortunately the deniers continued to say the sun was the source of global warming and presented their stance on the road in 1991 and 1992, attacking the IPCC.

In June 1992, leaders of many governments went to Rio de Janeiro for the U.N. Earth Summit. President George H.W. Bush also attended and signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which came into effect in 1994. The framework was an agreement in principle on limiting emissions, and the real limits would be set at Kyoto Japan. Unfortunately, adoption of the Kyoto accord was blocked in the U.S. Senate by Senators Hagel and Byrd in 1997.

CH 7. DENIAL RIDES AGAIN: THE REVISIONIST ATTACK ON RACHEL CARSON

Rachel Carson revealed the dangers of industrial pesticides, leading to the ban of DDT in 1972. Since it was banned, Ms. Carson and her work has been attacked by deniers trying to create a scenario where any regulation is bad. This has gone on into the 21st century and is part of the new denial culture.

======================================================================

CONCLUSION

I decided to leave out the individual players in the different chapters because the authors did such a good job with the details and references. This review isn’t meant to replace the book, but to encourage you to read it, as it is very powerful, compelling and honestly somewhat frightening. When you see the link between the deniers of tobacco and the deniers of climate change, you may be as shocked and angry as I was.

I’ve always maintained that, if you need to lie to promote your views, your views are wrong, you lack the courage or wisdom to accept the facts, or you are more interested in protecting something than doing what is right.

I understand that special interests have an obligation to support their industries – I disagree it should be necessary to misrepresent or distort facts or attack researchers, but I understand the motives. They are interested in the success of their industries; the bottom line rules.

I find it terrible that the people we elect to protect us – members of Congress and some presidential administrations – failed to support science, the EPA, and their constituents. Our elected government should have our best interests at heart, not the interests of companies that donate a lot of money to their election campaigns. I cannot see how history will view the actions of politicians that helped special interests affect the viability of life on our planet. Perhaps they hope to rewrite the history books.

In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria made landfall in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico respectively. Of the three, I only recall one climate change denier say he would stay in his house that was in the path of Irma, but he “changed his mind and moved to be able to continue his broadcasts”. If climate change is so wrong, why do these deniers not line every shore that scientists predict will be hit by hurricanes? Those predictions, based on science, are good enough reasons for climate change deniers to move to safety, so why do they choose to ignore predictions of rising sea levels and increased air and water temperatures? Choosing which facts you believe and which you deny, based on what costs the least money, is indefensible. Unfortunately it is a common tactic of science deniers.

HOW TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES

The truth is, we need to change how science raises concerns to adapt to the attacks by special interests. There will be more scientific findings in the future that will affect businesses, and special interests will continue to use the same type of attacks that worked for tobacco, ozone depletion and global warming.

SCIENCE: As long as some scientists are willing to put their economic or political interests ahead of the facts, more education isn’t the answer: we need an easy way to prove that science is right and has addressed some concerns already. There is a site online that contains a list of issues raised about global warming – I’ve not seen it mentioned on social media or in articles, but referring the media to it when skeptics attack should be done automatically.

THE PRESS: I cannot see how the press allows attacks on the scientific community, without questioning what attackers have to gain by these assaults. How can any members of the press promote that politics and big business as more trustworthy and reliable than people dedicated to seeking out the truth? Doesn’t make sense to attack the scientific community for having a political agenda, without questioning the political agendas of the people attacking science. The press needs to stop taking the view that there are two sides to every scientific issue and stop being used to slow down regulations that help people and the environment.

INTERESTED NON-TECHNICAL PEOPLE: Far too often people with little or no science background challenge scientific findings in newspapers and on the Internet. If you lack a basic science background in a topic, why do you believe you can challenge scientists? If you doubt climate change, read “The Madhouse Effect” by Dr. Michael Mann or “Unstoppable” by Bill Nye – both clearly explain the science, and neither author is making billions of dollars by selling books. They both want to educate people so people can make informed opinions on climate change. Curious people need to educate themselves, not with stories on the internet, but with solid information from people without a stake in the topic. Read a book, don’t watch a short YouTube video and consider yourself informed.

INDUSTRY: The government should reward companies that report issues with their products. If a company received a tax credit for coming forward about an issue, they would be compensated for their honesty. If they received a fine for failure to report, they also have financial motivation to be honest. If companies are shown to know about an issue but they decided to delay regulation, they should be massively fined and all people associated with that act sent to prison.

GOVERNMENT: Due to the complexities of science, we could use a special court to focus on science issues – this could lead to a new area of law in the near future. And regulatory portions of the government should be lead by non-partisan people that new political administrations can change, as Scott Pruitt has done with the EPA.

MY RECOMMENDATION ON THIS BOOK

I enjoyed this book – tremendous job by the authors on compiling so much relevant data and presenting it clearly and at a level most people can understand. The writing is logically organized and flows well, and it is easy to read. I give this book 5 stars out of 5. It is worth buying and keeping in your library. Buy a copy of this book for yourself and extra copies for family and friends that are interested in the subject.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Title: Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change 2nd Edition 2015 Product Details
Author(s): Michael E. Mann and Lee E. Kump
ISBN: 978-1-4654-3364-0
Published: 2008,2015 by DK Publishing
Price: $24.95 (hardback)
Length: 224 pages

Author Bios

Dr. Mann has undergraduate degrees in physics and applied math, a Masters degree in Physics, and a Ph.D in Geology and Geophysics. Dr. Mann has published books (The Hockey Stick, The Madhouse Effect) and over 180 peer-reviewed publications on global warming, and has testified in congressional hearings about the subject, as well as made himself available via social media to people with questions on global warming.

Dr. Kump has an undergraduate degree in geophysical sciences and a Ph.D in Marine Science. Dr. Kump has published over 100 peer-reviewed publications on global warming, and his work has appeared in documentaries produced by National Geographic, BBS, NOVA Science-Now, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

These two scientists are far more reliable sources on climate change than special interest commentators with an agenda to cast doubt on climate change. Let’s take a look at their book and see what the scientific data shows.

 

Table of Contents

Introduction – do NOT skip this section! Great intro to climate
PART 1: Climate Change Basics
PART 2: Climate Change Projections
PART 3: The Impacts of Climate Change
PART 4: Vulnerability and Adaption to Climate Change
PART 5: Solving Climate Change

 

INTRODUCTION

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation. ”
http://ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/factsheets/FS_what_ipcc.pdf

Dire Predictions explains the findings of the IPCC on climate change, using clear and detailed visual graphics to demonstrate the data in the 5th IPCC assessment.
Note 1: As of 2017, there is a new assessment on the IPCC website (ipcc.ch).
Note 2: The IPCC/Links website page contains links to different government websites that contain climate change information, and the US EPA website no longer contains Climate Change data per President Trump and EPA Admin Pruitt – for pre-Trump information, see  https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climatechange_.html

 

CLIMATE VS. WEATHER

“We plan our daily activities around the weather. Will it rain? Is a storm or a cold front approaching? Weather is highly variable, and, although considerable improvements in weather forecasting have been made, it is still often unpredictable.

Climate, on the other hand, varies more slowly and is highly predictable. … Climate represents the average of many years’ worth of weather. This averaging process smooths out the individual blips caused by droughts and floods, tornadoes and hurricanes, and blizzards and downpours, while emphasizing the more typical patterns of temperature highs and lows and precipitation amounts.”
Introduction, Dire Predictions

Sen. James Inhofe (republican, Oklahoma) received a BA from the University of Tulsa in 1973, when he was nearly 40 yrs old, which is commendable. Checking his biography (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe and https://www.inhofe.senate.gov/biography), t I was unable to find out what he studied for his undergraduate degree, nor could I find any graduate school credentials for the senator. On Feb 25, 2015, Sen. James Inhofe appeared at the US senate and used a snowball for the reason his does not believe that global warming is happening (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/02/26/jim-inhofes-snowball-has-disproven-climate-change-once-and-for-all/). Yes, a person elected by the people of Oklahoma to represent them in government doesn’t understand the basic difference between weather and climate.

For the sake of people that don’t understand the difference between weather and climate, let’s summarize:
WEATHER: highly variable and unpredictable.
CLIMATE: varies slowly and highly predictable.
CLIMATE REPRESENTS THE AVERAGE OF MANY YEARS WORTH OF WEATHER.

THINGS THAT INFLUENCE CLIMATE

  1. Latitude (location on the Earth)
  2. The oceans
  3. The atmosphere
  4. Atmospheric Circulation – the Hadley Circulation

Fascinating information about ice ages in this section. When they did and didn’t occur.

 

GREENHOUSE GASES

It is important to understand what greenhouse gases are, since climate change deniers often attempt to claim these are not important or that science is wrong is stating certain things are greenhouse gases. According to scientists that actually study climate science:

“Greenhouse gases exist naturally in Earth’s atmosphere in the form of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and other trace gases, but atmospheric concentrations of some greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are being increased as a result of human activity. This increase occurs primarily as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, but also through deforestation and agricultural practices. Certain greenhouse gases, such as CFCs and the surface ozone found in smog, are produced exclusively by human activity.”
Dire Predictions, Introduction page 14

Something in this section is very important today, as current news in 2017 shows that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting, and that ice sheet has remained intact during climate changes over the past 2 million years. The fact it is melting is extremely important, as it shows we are experiencing something today that hasn’t happened in 2 million years!

 

PART 1: CLIMATE CHANGE BASICS

THE ROLE OF SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS IN UNDERSTANDING CLIMATE CHANGE

“Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase. Though various natural factors can influence Earth’s climate, only the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations linked to human activity, principally the burning of fossil fuels, can explain recent patterns of global warming.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 16

Scientists study climate change, and often find themselves questioned by special interests or people hired to look for reasons to contest climate change. Scientists approach climate science the same way they approach other topics: using the scientific method (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method).

“Scientific conclusions arise from time-tested theories, accurate observations, realistic models based on the fundamentals of physics and chemistry, and consensus among colleagues working in the discipline.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 21

Real scientific conclusions are not based on what is politically correct, what pleases conspiracy theorists, or what is economically prudent. We do not live in a Star Trek universe where everyone has a theory, so the opinions of people that doubt climate science but lack a scientific education do not trump scientific theories.

 

IPCC 5th ASSESSMENT – WHAT IT MEANS

The 5th assessment of the IPCC makes predictions about the possible outcomes we can expect from climate change. I understand why possibilities that are low are not as alarming, but I do not understand why any politician would reject risks that 50% or greater probability of happening. Intensified cyclone activity, raising sea level (threatening coastal communities around the globe), rising surface temperatures (affecting plant and animal life, as well as humans), impacting the amount of sea life (reducing a food source for a growing population), and a change in long term weather patterns are serious. The IPCC report shows these dangers, yet many politicians ignore them and the outcome, endangering our children and grandchildren, as well as plant and animal life on this pale blue dot we call home: Earth.

Why do politicians argue against climate change? Ask your representatives in the US house and senate. And when (and if) they respond, ask them for the scientific data/peer-reviewed papers that back their position. And be sure to ask them why they disagree with scientific consensus, where 97% of climate scientists agree global warming is happening, is caused by human activity, and is a serious threat to humanity.

 

WHAT IS THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT?

A greenhouse lets sunlight in, reducing heat loss from wind and trapping the heat so the enclosed area is warmer than the outside. These are used in cold climates, as well as when there is a need for warmer climate plants in cooler parts of the world.

“The greenhouse effect occurs on our planet because the atmosphere contains greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are special – they absorb heat, which then warms the atmosphere. Not all gases are greenhouse gases.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 22

The greenhouse effect is simple:

  1. The Earth receives sunlight and warms up.
  2. The Earth begins to radiate heat.
  3. Radiating heat encounters greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane) that absorb and retain the heat.

When greenhouse gas levels increase in the atmosphere, more heat is retained and the Earth gets warmer.

Positive feedback loop – in global warming, it happens when one change (like increased carbon dioxide) causes another result (more water vapor in the air) – water vapor is a greenhouse gas, so more water vapor means warmer Earth.

Negative feedback loop – in global warming, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide causes increased amounts of water vapor (a greenhouse gas) in the air – clouds form. Some clouds trap heat, while others reflect heat, and so this isn’t as much of a factor as positive feedback.

Anthropogenic – human generated. A cause for concern, since we started burning fossil fuels over 200 years ago and have not done anything to remove the excess carbon dioxide. This anthropogenic greenhouse gas has been increasing without a mechanism to reduce the extra carbon dioxide, so our Earth is getting warmer.

Greenhouse gases can be studied in the past, by analyzing ice from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Scientists take core samples of the ice and analyze the air bubbles in different times to see how much greenhouse gases were present. Core studies show far more greenhouse gases are present today than in pre-industrial era air. Not good.

“If we use existing fossil-fuel reserves and do nothing to capture the Carbon dioxide released, atmospheric carbon dioxide will exceed anything experienced on Earth for over 50 million years.”
Dire Predictions, Part 1 Climate Change Basics page 43

There was a myth that climate scientists in the 1970s predicted a new ice age was coming. This was published in popular magazines, not scientific magazines nor scientific journals, and was not the opinion of climate scientists. It was speculation and it was wrong.

The authors discuss climate models in this section, in detail and showing the strengths and weaknesses of them. Many climate change deniers argue that models are bad or inaccurate, but I have not seen any model complaint that was not addressed by scientists. Climate change models are being updated and enhanced, which proves that scientists want the best models possible. Science needs accurate data, but that does not mean we cannot use what we have now, even though it bothers climate change deniers.

 

PART 2: CLIMATE CHANGE PROJECTIONS

“researchers can draw certain conclusions given best-guess scenarios of fossil-fuel burning and the average projections of theoretical climate models.”
Dire Predictions Part 2 page 82

Some critics claim that climate change is false because we still have winters. Ridiculous. Climate scientists believe that, as climate change speeds up, there will be fewer frosty days (that doesn’t infer it will never be cold or frosty), longer heatwaves (that doesn’t mean we will only have heatwaves), and more intense rainstorms (that doesn’t infer we never had intense rainstorms).

Climate Sensitivity – the amount of warming to expect when factors controlling climate change. This shows how how much Earth will warm with increased greenhouse gas emissions.

We have limited real temperature data for land and sea, about 150 yrs for land and 50 yrs for sea, so scientists use tree rings and ice cores to estimate how average temperatures varied over time in the past. We can track solar activity and volcanic eruptions and greenhouse gas concentrations much further back than 150 years, and these help improve our climate models, by helping discern when climate change was influenced by natural or human factors.

By studying historical climate information, science shows that continued buildup of carbon dioxide results in warming of the Earth. Since burning fossil fuels adds greenhouse gases to the air and seas, increased reliance on fossil fuels increases the amount of greenhouse gases and so increases the temperature of our planet.

Recently, there was a false pause, where it appeared that global warming slowed, but that was a result in sparse data gathered, plus a few natural factors that offset global warming. These natural factors included volcanic activity, a short term reduction in solar output, and a series of La Nina events. When you factor in ocean heat content and arctic sea ice losses, the climate change models are still accurate – our planet is heating up, even though natural factors masked global warming during this false pause.

There have been IPCC projects for nearly 25 yrs, and the early ones have proven to be quite accurate. What should concern people living near the coast, is that sea levels have risen as projected for each of the earlier IPCC projections, A large percentage of global population live near the coast, so many people can expect to be impacted in the future, based on current expectations.

While some climate change deniers attack the IPCC findings by claiming they overstate the impact of global warming, actual evidence shows the IPCC predictions underestimated the effects of climate change.

The most conservative estimates for climate change over the next century are grim, with a 50% chance we will exceed 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) increase in average global temperatures. That 2 degree increase is viewed as a dangerous amount of climate interference by humans – called a tipping point. The most liberal estimates are far worse than 2 degrees C increase, with effects far more devastating.

Precipitation will be affected by increased average Earth temperatures, meaning more droughts and more floods. Cold seasons would see more precipitation and warm seasons should less precipitation, which is only good if you like plenty of snow in the winter and no rain in the summer. Increasing droughts could have a terrible impact on desert regions of the world.

Increased temperatures means we can expect to lose ice from our two largest continental ice sheets: Greenland and Antarctica. If the Greenland ice sheet melts, it would result in rising global sea levels of 16’ to 23’!  If the West Antarctic ice sheet melts, that would add another 16’ of rising sea levels. If you live in Louisiana, Florida, New York, or on any island in the ocean, you should be very concerned.

With the evidence we see from climate science, I cannot understand why people would choose to deny climate change and refuse to understand science. Harvey, a recent Cat 4 hurricane hit Texas, and most people were willing to accept the news from climate scientists about that hurricane, so they left endangered areas. Why accept some of what climate scientists say and reject other information? Because special interests promote doubt about climate change, but they don’t interfere with warnings about hurricanes. If you accept scientists are right on hurricanes, you must accept they are right on global warming.

 

PART 3: THE IMPACTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

If you are a climate change denier, this is the section you should focus on. Scientists expect human and animal habitats will be impacted by global warming, and that we will see mass extinction of many land and sea creatures which will affect animal and human food chains.

Climate change will result in less food to feed more people, so who gets to eat and live? We can expect wars as people lack what they need to survive and they will want with others have. We can also expect mass migration of people from less developed countries to the most developed parts of the planet. More people means less surface area to grow or raise food, meaning still less food.

We have already started to see rising sea levels affecting people in Louisiana (Katrina, 2005) and Texas (Harvey, 2017), and the heavily populated eastern seaboard will lose habitat land and heavy storm surges will cause increasing damage and property losses to people and businesses, affecting our economy – insurance companies aren’t in business to pay out more than they bring in, so insurance rates will soar.

If the Greenland ice sheet melts, we can expect over 19’ increase in sea level. Belgium and the Netherlands in Europe, the entire eastern seaboard, the gulf coast, and the west coast will lose much of the available land. And coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef will be impacted by global warming too, impacting the sea life dependent on reefs and reducing parts of the food chain we humans need that eat food from the oceans. And with ice in the arctic and Antarctica gone, life that lives (like polar bears) in those parts of the world will be gone, except for the animals kept in zoos. That will be a tragedy as we learn from studying life in the natural environment.

Droughts, which we have been experiencing since the early 2000s in Texas, Oklahoma and California, reduce plant and animal food production and increase food costs for people everywhere. And flooding won’t just cause loss of life by drowning. Many infectious diseases spread in water, and having more floods means more people are exposed to those diseases and so health costs will also rise.

All continents will be impacted by climate change. Yes, even the US and Europe, as well as Africa and Australia. Less coastal land for people to live on, famine from reduced food production, more disease from floods, and economic chaos from skyrocketing cost increases in every aspect of life. And war, meaning too many people will die far from home and family and friends, trying to gain what they lack.

The only good news we have right now? That the amount of global warming impacts how much our world is affected by global warming. If we act now and reduce our carbon emissions into the environment, we can reduce the changes that happen in the future.

 

PART 4: VULNERABILITY AND ADAPTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE

For our economies to change, we need to reward use of alternatives to fossil fuels and to provide a carbon tax to reward companies that use less fuels that add to the carbon dioxide levels in our environment.

Rising sea levels means our global communities will need to either pump out the excess water like Holland, or move inland. The costs for either will be huge, to individuals and to each country.

We will need to find more fresh water, which could be done by desalination plants if we can find an economically feasible means to mass produce fresh water. We need to produce more food on less arable land, so improving the efficiency of growth/production, as well as reducing spoilage will help.

To adapt to climate change, we need to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use for energy sources. Alternatives like solar and wind and tide power, as well as nuclear will reduce the fossil fuel we need for energy sources, which reduces carbon dioxide output to the sea and atmosphere. Alternative transportation – more trains, intercity mass transit, and electric-powered vehicles – will reduce fossil fuel consumption.

Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is another way to adapt. Reducing carbon dioxide from cars by carpooling and improving engine efficiency will help reduce our carbon footprint. Reducing emissions from power systems – as President Obama did by requiring coal powered plants to decrease greenhouse gases – will help, as long as another administration doesn’t make changes that eliminate those emission savings.

Unfortunately, President Trump as made rolling back changes that help the environment a priority of his administration. Removing the US from the Paris Climate Accords was President Trump’s defining act that may well be his lasting legacy – and not for the better I am afraid.

Many ecosystems around the world are sensitive to climate, and many will be wiped out unless we make changes now. Our scientists have seen the effects of climate change on sea corral, and the changes have been accelerating in recent years as greenhouse gases increase.

The truth is, economically it is less expensive to address climate change now that after it gets far worse. We can’t expect to see things immediately return to pre-industrial era conditions, but we can hope to see lower temperatures and less dangerous weather systems. Climate Scientists have shown that higher concentrations of greenhouse gases will take a long time to remove from the environment, so the longer we wait to reduce emissions, the longer the recovery time.

We can do something besides reduce emissions. Implement a carbon tax to reward companies that produce fewer greenhouse gases. This is not popular among republicans, but we are all Americans first and our country’s needs should come before party needs. We are past the point where we can do nothing and things will fix themselves. The cost of inactivity will escalate the longer we ignore or fail to correct the problem. That should motivate anyone that cares about this planet more than profits.

 

PART 5: SOLVING CLIMATE CHANGE

Adaption will help, but we still need to do more to solve global warming. We need to work with the other countries of our planet together, as we all impact each other. Unfortunately, President Trump removed the US from the Paris Climate Accords, so a future administration will need to make alliances with other countries and get political buy-in to prevent some other politician from harming our environment for the sake of profit.

We also need to improve engineering processes to reduce power wasted by inefficient transmission, improve tools like stoves to use fuel more efficiently (reducing the amount needed). This chapter of the book shows graphs that demonstrate the potential places we can reduce greenhouse emissions, along with the costs for each place.

Creating more wind farms and tapping more water power sources like dams and tidal power systems will help. We also need to stop trying to get more fossil fuel from the Earth, so reduce or eliminate fracking (which has proven a problem in Oklahoma, where they are experiencing earthquakes up around 5 on the Richter scale) in 2017.

Using lighter colored surfaces on the roofs of homes and businesses and road surfaces means less solar energy to be absorbed, which will help as well. Using electric cars instead of gas burning cars will make a tremendous difference as well.

We also need to consider future building projects, to reduce power needs and to utilize alternate power sources like solar. We may want to eat less red meat, as cows produce methane, and wheat doesn’t. Nothing wrong with people adapting by having meatless days during the week, which is healthier for us too.

Planting more trees as well as rewarding countries that preserve trees will help. We can’t match the efficiency of trees to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, so planting more is a good option. Some people propose returning carbon to our environment, the same way that fossil fuel holds carbon. There are np good methods at this time, but that will change.

Each person on Earth can help in the fight against global warming. Reduce your use of carbon dioxide producing power systems. Add solar panels and energy efficient appliances to your home. Bike to work or work from home to save gas (and money) while reducing carbon dioxide output. Have a meatless day, where you eat no red meat one day a week. Add insulation to your home, turn off unnecessary lights, get rid of power-leaching power strips, and turn down your thermostat in the winter (and turn it up in summer). Communicate with people that doubt climate change and get them to see the reality of the problem. And write your government representatives and remind them they work for you, not the fossil fuel industry, and we need them to make laws to protect our planet. Plant a tree and a garden at your home.

We must act now. Global warming is real, and a serious threat to life on our planet. Sea life and land-bound life alike are at risk, and the effects will last a very long time, affecting our descendants who will rightly blame us for leaving them in this predicament. Climate change is a very real danger and we need to push our politicians to stop taking special interest money opposing climate change and to start fighting for us, their constituents. Inaction is no longer a realistic option.

 

CONCLUSION

This is an update to the first edition of the book, which includes updated scientific data. The pages in the book are thicker than normal and loaded with illustrations, graphs and images to help convey the information. The book is organized into five sections, which are easy to read sequentially or in any order you like. I hope that some people that embrace climate warming denial either buy or borrow this book from a library and read it with an open mind – I don’t see how any real, intelligent, and unbiased reader could go through this book and still believe global warming is not a real issue.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5 possible and strongly encourage that it be purchased and read by everyone in your family. This material should be easy enough for people with a high school education to understand, and it has enough detail for people with higher education to enjoy.

Title: Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the WorldProduct Details
Author: Bill Nye
ISBN: 978-1-250-00714-8
Published: 2015 by St. Martin’s Press
Price: $26.99 hardback
(Reviewing the Kindle version)
Length: 352 pages

 

Yes, another long book review (>6100 words), but this book is loaded with data worthy of an in-depth review.

Chapters

1: We’ve Got the Whole World In Our Hands
2: The Call to Greatness
3: A Hothouse of Disbelief
4: Putting a Price on Inaction
5: Inputs and Feedbacks
6: Thermodynamics and You
7: Fighting Global Warming with … Bubbles?
8: Talkin’ ‘Bout Electrical Energy Generation
9: Stop the Burn – Don’t Frack that Gas
10: Nuclear Energy: Too Cheap to Meter… Again
11: One More Reactor (No, Make it Two)
12: Power of the Sun
13: Is the Answer Blowing in the Wind?
14: Down to the Wire
15: Let’s Transform the Grid
16: Dude, Where’s My Battery Pack
17: Quest for Storage
18: Bottling Sunshine with Moonshine
19: NASCAR – A Catalyst for Change
20: Got to Get Moving on Moving
21: Moving Our Masses
22: Rise of the Taxipod, Robotruck, and Bioplane
23: The Water-Energy Connection
24: Time to Get the Salt Out
25: Feeding the World
26: Bringing it all Back Home to Bill’s House
27: Quien es Was Verde – or, Keeping Up with the Begleys
28: Bill and Ed in a Fight for the Sun
29: Bill and Ed Get Into Hot Water
30: The Tap is Off and the Garden is Green
31: The Case for Space
32: Building a Better Rocket Equation
33: Do Humans have a Destiny in Space?
34: Setting a Fair Price for a Better Planet
35: The Unstoppable Species

 

WE’VE GOT THE WHOLE WORLD IN OUR HANDS

“Climate change is coming, and it is coming right at you. Regardless of where you live on Earth, you will live to see your life or the lives of your kids and their friends change due to the overall warming of the planet.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 1

Bill Nye is no climate change denier. He knows enough of the science to know climate change is a real threat to life on Earth and it must be addressed now.

Bill was in China at a science conference and a student became his guide around Beijing and loaned Bill his father’s bike, as his guide’s family was successful enough to now own a car. That prompted this observation:

“That desire – to get more done with less effort – multiplied by billions of people who burn fossil fuels to satisfy that desire, is the root cause of climate change.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 1

He points out that everyone wants what we have in our country: cars, planes, readily available electricity, more electronic devices, more more more.

I’ve heard climate change deniers state that “God wouldn’t let humans change or damage the world he created.” Poppycock! I always counter with “Did you ever hear about nukes? We have far more than needed to change our climate and wipe out all life – God didn’t prevent them.” Bill points out that another species – cyanobacteria – once changed our climate by producing oxygen, which in turn killed off life that couldn’t tolerate oxygen. We humans aren’t the first to affect our climate, although we can hope we will change it back for the better while we can.

When I was young, our total population was 3 billion, and scientists wondered if we could handle feeding 6 or 7 billion people. We are over 7 billion now, and we do feed them, but now our concern is how adding so many new users of fossil fuels adds to climate change. And as more people are born, that means more fossil fuel users are adding to the carbon dioxide contribution in our atmosphere, and carbon dioxide levels directly impact the temperature of our planet.

 

THE CALL TO GREATNESS

“I encourage everyone to reject both of those sentiments (“The climate has always changed in the past and it will always change in the future”, and “We have to save Earth”) and think instead, “We have to save Earth – for us! For us humans!”
Unstoppable, Chapter 2

The first sentiment is a head-in-the-sand view on global warming, and the second is a misunderstanding that the Earth will be destroyed if we do nothing to save it. Both are wrong. We need to act now to counter the effects of global warming, and we need to understand that the effects of global warming could make Earth uninhabitable for humans.

I really liked the author’s question for climate change deniers:

“Would you trust a scientist or a politician who insisted, pounding his fist on the table, that there is no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer?”
Unstoppable, Chapter 2

For decades, politicians and special interests (the Tobacco industry) denied cancer and smoking were linked, and the approaches they used for denying the smoking-cancer link are being used for climate change denial. Too many people that believed the politicians and cancer deniers died, trusting those people over scientists. Are you willing to let your children and grandchildren go through that same experience? The difference between climate change denial and smoking-cancer link denial, is that everyone on Earth is affected by climate change – you can’t stay away from second hand climate change the way you could stay away from second hand smoke. And, unlike smoking, you can’t quit climate change denial. We have to reverse the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The author points out that, to address climate change, we will need to come up with solutions for energy to replace fossil fuels, better ways to transmit electricity, and better ways to store electricity. We also need to be able to convert seawater to drinkable water, grow more food and transport it using power sources other than fossil fuels.

 

A HOTHOUSE OF DISBELIEF

The author studied astronomy with Carl Sagan when he went to Cornell University. I read Sagan’s books titled ‘Cosmos’ and ‘Pale Blue Dot’, and Sagan’s Cosmos video series is still one of my favorite science series ever produced. I think that explains Bill Nye’s audience friendly approach to discussing science, as Sagan was excellent at making complicated subjects understandable by novices. I forgot was how Sagan developed a computer model that showed how the greenhouse effect warms Earth – fortunately the author describes that and gives a simple yet clear explanation of global warming:

“A carbon dioxide molecule is linear. It’s an atom of oxygen connected to an atom of carbon, connected to an atom of oxygen, all in a row. It’s the right length and of the right atomic flexibility (or floppiness) to allow visible light, with wavelengths ranging between 390 and 700 nanometers (billionths of a meter) to pass right by. But, these molecules block the longer reradiated infrared rays (heat), whose wavelengths are about ten times as long as those of visible light. That heat-trapping ability is a feature of the size and shape of carbon dioxide molecules, and the length of waves they trap or let pass. Yes, this really is somewhat like what happens in a greenhouse.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 3

That is one of the easiest explanations why carbon dioxide is directly involved in global warming. The author goes on to explain that the extra heat trapped by increasing levels of carbon dioxide alters weather patterns and local climates around the world. It’s amazing that climate change, which has scientific consensus for 30 years, is still contested by climate change deniers. It is disappointing that the media allows climate change deniers to quote an article in Newsweek published in 1975, that suggests we were heading for a new ice age, not warming. Newsweek is not a science magazine, and we know a lot more about climate science than they did in 1975, yet this is rarely called out by the media when they let deniers state that as evidence scientists don’t know enough about climate to predict changes. The media should stop giving deniers, especially those without education climate science, equal footing with climate change scientists. And a little more fact checking would dispel these old claims that have long been disproven but are still raised by deniers.

“People who should (or do) know better keep confusing weather with climate. Weather is what happens day to day in one place. Climate is what happens over many years to a large geographic area, or the planet as a whole.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 3

This happened in February 2015, where Sen. James Inhofe brought a snowball to the senate floor and declared it proved global warming was a hoax, because it snowed somewhere. Funny, and quite wrong. This senator doesn’t understand climate change. And the argument that more carbon dioxide is good for plants is wrong, as it ignores that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means more retained heat for our planet – not good, as that means some areas of the planet will become too warm or dry for plants to thrive.

Another concern climate scientists have concerns methane, as it has much more effect on global warming than carbon dioxide. Methane is trapped in ice, and will be released as more arctic/antarctic ice melts. Attacks on climate scientists, on the data used, on gases on that cause global warming, and on climate change models serves one thing: to delay a response to global warming.

 

PUTTING A PRICE ON INACTION

The author lists costal cities that will be impacted by rising seas, and it’s not good. New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Sydney, Venice, Mumbai and Qingdao will need major infrastructure changes to prevent being rendered useless. And these cities will be affected all too soon, as sea surges during storms will impact them long before the sea is thigh for the existing banks and dams. And don’t forget countries like the Netherlands that already have sea level issues. If people need to move inland to get away from the water, where will they go?

Transportation to new homes, food and water and clothing, as well as new equipment for jobs, updating existing infrastructures to accommodate new settlers, and creating new sea ports will cost a lot. And don’t forget, that land can be used for housing, work and food production – if more land is needed for housing, we will lose land that could generate food supplies.

And rising seas will result in flooding, which means water-born diseases and mosquito-born diseases, which will cost lives and time and money to address. And parasites normally unable to handle cold weather will flourish in new warmer climates. If we do nothing, the costs to address these problems will be overwhelming.

 

INPUTS AND FEEDBACKS

“A lump of coal is nearly pure carbon. When you burn it, each carbon atom hooks up with two oxygen atoms from the atmosphere to make carbon dioxide, CO2. An oxygen atom weighs one-third more than a carbon atom, so the greenhouse gases add up quickly. When you burn one kilogram of coal, you get 3 2/3 kilos of carbon dioxide.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 5

That’s a lot of gas that retains heat. In 2014, our atmosphere topped 400 parts per million for the first time in history. The author points out that the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere isn’t the problem: the rate of change is. The rate that carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere is accelerating because there are more of us each day. More people means more need for power and food and transportation, meaning more carbon dioxide.

Bill describes a feedback loop in climate science: adding heat increases water evaporation. Warmer air holds more moisture than cooler air, so as air warms up, more moisture is evaporated. And water vapor traps heat too, so this addition of water vapor to the air demonstrates a positive feedback in climate science. When water reaches a certain altitude, clouds form, and clouds reflect sunlight into space, causing the Earth to get less sunlight and less heat. This effect of reflecting heat by clouds is negative feedback. But that isn’t all. Clouds low in the atmosphere reflect heat, but clouds high in the air actually reflect heat back down to the Earth, so high altitude clouds have a positive feedback.

Another example of feedback is arctic ice. When arctic ice exists, it reflects sunlight, which is negative feedback. When arctic ice melts, the darker seas absorbs more sunlight and heat, which is a positive feedback. And warmer seas mean more ice melts, so even more positive feedback. Not good. And warmer seas means disruption in sea currents, causing changes in air and ice and sea elsewhere, causing an even bigger positive feedback.

 

THERMODYNAMICS AND YOU

“But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics (the law that entropy always increases) I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”
Sir Arthur Eddington, Unstoppable Chapter 6

“The energy of motion is converted to the energy of heat all the time in just about everything we do. …
It (the Second Law) constrains all the efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. In short, it is the foundational challenge to anyone who wants to improve the way we live without increasing the amount of energy we use.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 6

This chapter highlights one of the limits affecting the fight against global warming. Heat released as inefficient use of motion energy. There is only so far we can go to improve efficiency. Fascinating read and the one I’ve enjoyed most, so far.

 

FIGHTING GLOBAL WARMING WITH…BUBBLES?

This chapter deals with geoengineering, a proposed way to address global warming. The author explains that clouds and arctic/antarctic snow and water allow Earth to reflect around 30% of the solar energy that us, so we retain 70%. As we get warmer, there is less ice to reflect solar energy and so Earth gets hotter – not good.

One proposal to reduce the amount of solar energy the Earth retains is to inject bubbles into water. That works because bubbles are more reflective that calm water, and so the water with bubbles would reflect more solar energy. Another benefit of adding bubbles is that it reduces the amount of water lost to evaporation – very important in a world with dwindling natural resources like potable water. The author points out that, while this isn’t currently done intentionally, it could be worth the effort very soon.

If injecting bubbles could be done economically, and on a wide enough scale, it could reduce the solar energy we retain and help fight global warming. Other things that could help geoengineer Earth include adding more trees and more green growing things in the seas, as well as genetically engineer food sources to be lighter in color.

 

TALKIN’ ‘BOUT ELECTRICAL ENERGY GENERATION

This chapter shows we as a society have dependence on electricity, and that we need to reduce the carbon used to generate that electricity.

“Electricity is actually a moving energy field, the pure energy of the cosmos, and that field travels at the speed of light.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 8

“Volts measure electrical pressure, amps measure flow, watts measure power. Power over time equals the total amount of energy. That’s why your electric utility bills you in terms of watt-hours.”
Unstoppable, Chapter 8

 

STOP THAT BURN – DON’T FRACK THAT GAS

Coal generates power, but with a huge carbon footprint. so cleaner burning natural gas could be a temporary bridge to newer ways to generate electricity. Bill Nye points out that natural gas is, at best, a temporary solution and we need to leave it underground, due to release of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is even more of a heat trap than carbon dioxide, and methane can leak into the air when fracking to extract natural gas.

The author explains how fracking has evolved over time, from vertical to horizontal fracking. Some states ban fracking, while other states like Oklahoma embrace fracking. The thing is, Oklahoma started experiencing earthquakes after extensive fracking, and now sees earthquakes at level 5 of the Richter scale where none were experienced in the pre-fracking days. Cities and buildings have been damaged enough to warrant evacuation, and the lessons learned in Oklahoma should be recognized by other states using fracking for natural gas extraction.

Tar sands, like those proposed to be carried by the Canadian Keystone pipeline, are far more dangerous to our environment. That is why I was surprised one of President Trump’s first acts as president was to approve the pipeline previously rejected by President Obama. As of July 2017, the Canadian company wanting the Keystone pipeline is reconsidering the need for it. Hopefully Canada will be more environment-friendly than our current Trump administration.

With the Trump administration’s anti-environment, pro-fossil fuel stance, Trump’s EPA director has been rolling back or refusing to implement regulations designed to protect the environment passed during President Obama’s term. What should scare reasonable people, is EPA head Scott Pruitt’s decision to ignore regulations to control methane pollution (http://tinyurl.com/y9nvsbdc). The courts have recognized the validity of these regulations established during President Obama’s administration and have sided with our world against the Trump administration, but one has to wonder why Trump’s administration is so bent on harming our planet. If you die from pollution, how much good does it do to have more money?

 

NUCLEAR ENERGY: TOO CHEAP TO METER… AGAIN

Chapter 10 focuses on nuclear energy – cleaner power plants than coal/gas fired plants, but with their own risks. The author explains how nuclear energy produces power, but isn’t sold on it as a bridge technology from fossil fuels to a clean power system.

 

ONE MORE REACTOR (NO, MAKE IT TWO)

The author gives a simple and clear explanation on the fundamentals of nuclear power plants and the risks they pose. Bill suggests a reactor with thorium may be safer than uranium or plutonium, and he discusses fusion, which has been discussed but not possible for forty years. Fusion would be clean and cheap, but not something we can handle right now.

 

POWER OF THE SUN

Chapter 12 covers solar power: how it works, how efficient it is, and why it is a good carbon-free source of energy. We need better and less expensive solar panels on more homes, and that should happen over time. Bill points out that solar panels used in space are 40% efficient, whereas the ones homeowners can afford are around 15% efficient. Unfortunately, the US only produces about .4% of its power by solar energy and we need to make a lot more to replace coal-powered electricity to make a dent in our climbing carbon dioxide levels.

When I was young, people talked about having solar panels in space to gather energy and send it to Earth. Bill points out the difficulties with that approach and shows how individual power systems for buildings or a city would be more feasible.

 

IS THE ANSWER BLOWING IN THE WIND?

Wind power. Clean energy and the US currently produces ~4.5% of its electricity from the wind. I’ve seen the wind farms in Iowa, many large windmills I’ve never seen stopped whenever I pass nearby. We could have more, and our previous administration encouraged wind power development over coal (a favorite of our current administration).

The author makes a great point about the feasibility of wind power replacing coal powered electricity. Costs for wind power have dropped to 2.1 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour), whereas coal-powered electricity costs 1.2 cents per kWh, so the cost increase for wind powered electricity is not unmanageable.

Bill describes how some hobbyists have rigged a propellor on the top of a boat to catch the wind, and linked it to a propellor under water to drive the boat through the sea. He says that this type of sail boat can drive straight into the wind (something anyone that ever sailed on a traditional sail boat will tell you is impossible). I’ve never seen these myself, but they sound really interesting.

Unlike solar power, wind power typically isn’t reliable during the middle of the day, when electrical energy needs are highest. And the wind does stop, and wind isn’t available everywhere, but the low cost and no carbon footprint of it make wind power a valid candidate to replace much of our coal-based electricity in the US.

 

DOWN TO THE WIRE

Getting power from where it is generated to where it is used isn’t free nor simple. There are limitations to the efficiency of power being transferred. This chapter explains the details why there is power lost during transmission, so you understand why we need to get more efficient to reduce losses (and, in turn, reduce how much electricity we need to generate).

 

LET’S TRANSFORM THE GRID

Chapter 15 covers the power grid – how we distribute power from different sources like hydroelectric dams, to cities and homes. The important items for discussion here are magnetism and electricity: two of my fav topics. Bill says that increasing efficiency and reduces losses by electrical devices will reduce our need for electrical power. He also explains how transformers work, stepping up and down voltage as needed. But don’t let that cause you to skip this chapter. Bill gets into power transmission issues, buckminsterfullerene and nanotubes of carbon atoms. Nanotubes made of carbon atoms would provide almost no power loss of electricity over long distances, but we can’t make them very long now (50 nm max) – Bill points out that solving this problem would be huge and would change the world.

 

DUDE, WHERE’S MY BATTERY PACK

Chapter 16 covers electric-powered cars. In 2007 I worked with a guy that had an electric car and he was proud of it. Unfortunately, he had a short drive (under 20 miles each way) and had to charge his car once he arrived at work and again when he arrived home. It may have been quite, but he told me the cost to replace the batteries would be more than buying a new car. Newer cars do much better these days, and the author is right that we should do more to move to electric cars.

 

QUEST FOR STORAGE

This chapter covers the many many different types of power storage containers (batteries) we’ve used in the past and present. Interesting material, but near the end of the chapter Bill talks about gravity storage pistons, which are simple but potentially huge ways to store power for use when the sun or wind are unavailable. Fascinating subject and the first I’ve seen about it. Really really good information.

 

BOTTLING SUNSHINE WITH MOONSHINE?

In chapter 18, Bill discusses how batteries are not the only means of storing power for off-hour consumption. Food like corn gets energy from the sun, and in turn can be fermented into ethanol, which can be drank or burned. Unfortunately, sun-to-corn-to-ethanol is not efficient (2% according to the author) so it isn’t a good standalone solution over fossil fuel. Sugar from sugarcane can also provide stored power – more than 2x what corn provides – and sugar can be fermented and produce alcohol too.

Bill brings up catalytic converters also. I remember when they were introduced and how some opposed them as too expensive and not likely to help with pollution. As we know today, and as Bill points out, they made a big difference in reducing pollution and weren’t too expensive for their intended purpose. The same arguments many deniers and fossil fuel industry shills make today about reducing carbon dioxide output – and the deniers are as wrong today as they were in the 70s.

 

NASCAR – A CATALYST FOR CHANGE

I’m not a NASCAR fan. No problem with people that like it. Never developed a taste for it. Bill talks about NASCAR and how they use old auto tech to make races exciting, and (showing my age) I understood as I remember a time when cars had carburetors and pushrods. At least he didn’t bring up records yet (if you don’t know what they are, you are not old and you know how to use Google).

 

GOT TO GET MOVING ON MOVING

“almost a third of all energy we use in the United States goes to transportation. We use almost as much energy moving ourselves and our goods around as we use to produce or create those goods in the first place.”
Unstoppable, chapter 20

Bill points our our inefficiency moving power as a great place to start to address global warming. The author mentions that trains are 4x more efficient than a truck – a neat tidbit of knowledge – so trains are better at movement than trucks.

 

MOVING OUR MASSES

This chapter covers mass transit, pointing out that subways are far more efficient at movement than cars. The only unfortunate situation is that mass transit away from the New England area of the US (not including Chicago) usually relies on buses for mass transit, not trains or subways. I agree with Bill that riding public transportation lets passengers read or use their smart phones – something car drivers shouldn’t do while on the road (but, unfortunately, too often do while driving).

One year I worked as a consultant for a client that had showers onsite for the employees, as they encouraged their people to bike to work to conserve gas and reduce pollution. I wish this was the stance of more companies. For a while, many companies allowed their people to telecommute, but that policy comes and goes over time, and it has been cut back the past two years in the technology field.

Bill talks about the need for helmets when biking and I agree. I wear one when I bike outside, on a mountain bike or a road bike, and I wear a helmet when I ride a motorcycle. Being safe means more than looking cool to me. Biking is a great way to exercise, so any laws passed making it more convenient are ones I’ll always vote for – I hope you do too.

 

RISE OF THE TAXIPOD, ROBOTRUCK, AND BIOPLANE

This chapter covers automated cars. We’ve seen stories about self-driven cars the past few years, and Bill believes this will happen and become the major method of transportation within cities in the future. That would make Elon Musk happy.

The idea of flying cars appealed to me, until I earned a pilot license. Ground school and CFIs proved that flying takes a lot more mental work than driving a car. Too many people mentally disengage while driving to talk, text, or play games – you can’t do that in a plane and survive long. Self-piloting planes (or helicopters, like Iron Man used in Captain America: Civil War) would be far safer.

 

THE WATER-ENERGY CONNECTION

Navy ships and subs distill their own water while at sea, whereas cruise ships lack the power needed to distill water, so they use membranes to filter out particles from water. The author points out that this second method would work for cities needing water. This was what I thought, when I considered the recent droughts affecting California, and I suspect this type of solution will happen sooner rather than later.

 

TIME TO GET THE SALT OUT

Mangroves are trees that can handle salty water – they filter out salt for useful water, and eject the salt on their leaves. The author points out that this is what we need to create – a system emulating mangroves. There is a material – graphene – that would work, but the cost of production and utilization could be a problem.

 

FEEDING THE WORLD

“the economic sector that uses the most of Earth’s resources and produces the largest environmental change is our agriculture. Our farms produce greater volumes of more greenhouse gases than all of our cars, trucks, trains, ships and airplanes combined.”
Unstoppable, chapter 25.

With a growing population, this means even more climate change. And we waste too much food. Most of my neighbors don’t eat leftover food, so it goes in the trash. We had leftovers in my family when I was growing up, so I have no issue using leftover food for lunches. The author talks about using GMFs (Genetically Modified Foods) that need less food and water to grow more food, and GMFs have have fans and dis-tractors for many years, but eventually we will need to rely on them to feed our people.

 

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME TO BILL’S HOUSE

Bill looks for ways to use less energy in his own home. He uses solar power and talks about paying $10 every other month for an electricity bill. Now that is incredible. And he uses other systems to reduce power needs for lights and heating water. What is amazing is that he estimates he saves a tremendous amount of power usage for less than it costs for a nice SUV, and that savings is paid for in 10 years. If only more people did as much as Bill – maybe this will motivate more people to do the same.

 

QUIEN ES MAS VERDE-OR, KEEPING UP WITH THE BEGLEYS

Bill talks about his eco-friendly competition with neighbor Ed Begley Jr., and this is the type of competition we need to see more often if we want to beat global warming. Striving for more efficient uses of power and resources can only help: us save money and the planet save resources and energy used to gather those resources.

Bill had a reflector installed in his fireplace, which reflects more heat into the room. When I spent some time in a Scottish castle, it had one too, and the amount of heat that a few logs gave to the room was impressive. I sat back 20 feet from the fire and could still feel the warmth.

 

BILL AND ED IN A FIGHT FOR THE SUN

This chapter covers solar power panels and the cost benefits. His solar cells generate more power than he needs, so that power is sold back to the power company and he receives the money instead of a bill. Bill’s solar panels are 15% efficient, but I found a company online that says it gets 22.1% efficiency from their solar cells, which is a nice improvement.

 

BILL AND ED GET INTO HOT WATER

The author uses solar power to heat water for his home, which is a cost saver. He also installed tankless water heaters, which I too have looked into, which instantly heat water and save money as there is no need to wait for running water to heat up. A good idea, and I plan to install solar heating and tankless water heaters in my next home for sure.

 

THE TAP IS OFF AND THE GARDEN IS GREEN

The author had a garden installed and used a system with multiple zones and a rain sensor to improve efficiency. I had a sprinkler system with the same arrangement (zones and rain sensor) installed after I built my home, and saw a 40-50% decrease in water used (according to water bills) than when using regular mobile sprinklers. It helped to be able to time the sprinklers to work during the middle of the night, and to be able to control the amount of water sent to each zone.

 

THE CASE FOR SPACE

Finally, some numbers that intrigue me: space flight. The author shows why calculus is needed for rocket science: because burning fuel changes the weight of a space craft constantly. According to Bill, a 100% efficient rocket needs 500 million joules to life one ton of cargo to 62 miles (the beginning of space). To get into orbit, you need twice that amount of energy. To get into geosynchronous orbit (1 day for each time around the Earth), it takes 5000 million joules of energy. This energy does not count the rocket mass and fuel itself.

Air pressure against a rocket decreases as altitude increases.

“When the decreasing static pressure and increasing dynamic pressure reach a maximum, it is called max-q.”
Unstoppable, chapter 31

Max-q is dangerous for the rocket as the pressure on the nose of the space craft is maximum. The location where a space craft is launched is important as well, since launching near or at the equator means the Earth’s rotation will add to a craft’s orbital velocity.

Returning to Earth means getting rid of the energy used to get into orbit. When in low Earth orbit (like the ISS), one ton of payload must dissipate 30 billion joules of energy, and the easiest way to do that is use the friction of the atmosphere to convert energy into heat (the reason for good heat shields on space craft).

There. Bill provides the information you need to plan how much fuel you need to get your own space craft to space and back again.

 

BUILDING A BETTER ROCKET EQUATION

The author states that most rockets use rocket fuel called RP-1 (Rocket Propellant #1), which is refined kerosene with chains of carbon atoms. All particulates are removed (which explains why the first launch in ‘The Astronaut Farmer’ failed so badly). Liquid hydrogen (used in Apollo and the space shuttle) contains more energy than RP-1.

A nice surprise in this chapter is the simple yet clear explanation of ion propulsion (xenon gas atoms propelled by electrical grid out of the craft, pushing it forward as the xenon leaves the craft. Since ion engines develop slow but constant power, they currently can only be used once in space, so you still need RP-1 to get to space.

Bill also talks about solar sail power. NASA launched their own NanoSail-D into orbit in 2011. The Planetary Society successfully launched LightSail in 2015, and they intend the next generation of this to launch in 2018.

The takeoff weight for airplanes is around 10% fuel, while the takeoff weight for space craft is 90%. Lighter materials affect both airplanes and space craft, and would lower takeoff fuel requirements.

 

DO HUMANS HAVE A DESTINY IN SPACE?

“this common goal – to leave the world better than we found it.”
Unstoppable, chapter 33

As global warming is a modern threat, just as dangerous as ISIS and other terrorists, our generation needs to solve the global warming threat to our planet. That would make the world a better place – for us and for our children and grandchildren. We also need to explore space to learn more about life here and out there.

Mars facts that interest maybe just me in this chapter: atmospheric consists of carbon dioxide, air pressure is .7% that of Earth, average noontime high temperature is -40 C/F. Space craft can only depart for Mars every 26 months (due to orbits of Earth and Mars)

 

SETTING A FAIR PRICE FOR A BETTER PLANET

A carbon fee or carbon tax will work, if conservatives stop opposing it. This is the best way to tie economic considerations into carbon emissions, and it could be our best hope to reduce greenhouse gases.

 

THE UNSTOPPABLE SPECIES

“When I decided to write this book, I did it with one enormous goal in mind: I want to help change the world.”
Unstoppable, chapter 35

The issues and optional ways to address them are well covered in this book. Reasonable people being logical should have no issue with Bill’s suggestions, unless they have a special interest agenda that provides economic incentive to ignore the dangers of global warming. That incentive means that some of our politicians and policy makers put the interest of the fossil fuel industry ahead of their own families, friends and fellow countrymen. Is money worth more that human life? It shouldn’t be, but unfortunately it is.

Global warming is real. Doesn’t matter your political or religious affiliation, facts are facts. Radio and internet personalities, political scientists, and people drawing paychecks from think tanks paid by companies promoting fossil fuel use do not know better than people with advanced degrees in science. If that bothers you, you are being unreasonable and are fooling yourself.

I’ve seen vicious attacks on climate scientists by trolls on Twitter, whose arguments were worthless but these trolls were blinded by hate and refused to be reasonable and refused to accept that uneducated people cannot know as much about a subject as subject matter experts with advanced education on climate science. Why trolls with no or little hight school education feel like they can challenge these people on climate science is beyond me.

Either we fight this battle now, or allow our children and grandchildren to face much greater (and potentially unbeatable) challenges that we do at this time.

 

CONCLUSION

This book is well written, flows well and breaks down technical items enough for anyone (except senators on the payroll of fossil fuel companies) to understand the danger of global warming and the technical difficulties we must overcome to make changes to reduce our carbon output.

This book educates and informs people that really want an education on climate science. Deniers should read it as it disproves denier excuses intended to delay our fight against global warming. I can’t see how an honest denier could read this book and still fail to understand the dangers of global warming. I’d think even someone with an advanced degree in political science would understand the science explained in this book, clearly enough to realize they are hurting, not helping humanity.

I give it 5 stars out of 5 and recommend purchasing it. Students and adults will learn a lot about science, and it is not partisan. It is real, it is true, and it must be a wake up call to people trying to harm our world by fighting the fact that global warming is the biggest danger to our species right now.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.MassiminoSpaceman

Title: Spaceman
Author: Mike Massimino
ISBN: 978-1101903544 (hardback)
Published: October 4, 2016 by Crown Archetype
Price: $28.00 hardback/$11.50 paperback/$13.99 Kindle (7/17)
(Reviewing the Kindle version)
Length: 336 pages

Mike Massimino was an NASA astronaut from 1996 to 2014, and he flew twice in the Space Shuttle, both times to work on the Hubble space telescope. Let’s look at his book.

Book Chapters

Prologue: A Science Fiction Monster (do NOT skip this section)
Ch 1: A Perfect Good
Ch 2: Most All-Around
Ch 3: Who You Gonna Get?
Ch 4: The Smart-Kid Olympics
Ch 5: Force Feedback
Ch 6: Human Factors
Ch 7: Disqualified
Ch 8: Yes or No
Ch 9: There’s Mach 1
Ch 10: If You Have a Problem
Ch 11: Spacewalker
Ch 12: Shackleton Mode
Ch 13: Seeing Beyond the Stars
Ch 14: Ready to Go
Ch 15: Weightless
Ch 16: Earth is a Planet
Ch 17: Maybe this is Heaven
Ch 18: The Story of Space
Ch 19: February 1, 2003
Ch 20: Why We Go
Ch 21: From the Ashes
Ch 22: One Last Job
Ch 23: Line 28
Ch 24: Grounded
Epilogue: Around the Next Corner

And now, my review

Don’t skip the prologue, or you will miss some well written material.  Mike’s description of his first time outside the space shuttle Columbia, as they waited to lift off to head to the Hubble, made me feel like I was there:

“The shuttle was making these ungodly sounds.  I could hear the fuel pumps working, steam hissing, metal groaning and twisting under the extreme cold of the fuel, which was hundreds of degrees below zero.  Rocket fuel burns off at very low temperatures, sending huge billows of smoke pouring out.  Standing there, looking up, I could feel the power of this thing.  It looked like a beast waiting there for us.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Prologue

Now that is descriptive writing!

Mike talks about his childhood, seeing Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the moon, which made him want to be an astronaut.  During his senior year of high school, Mike decided to go on to Columbia for his undergraduate degree.  He interned before graduating and a mentor at Sperry encouraged him to go on to graduate school to find something he was passionate about, to do with his life.  He saw one of my favorite movies, “The Right Stuff“, which made him realize he really wanted to try to become an astronaut.  He decided his best bet to become an astronaut meant he needed to get a graduate degree (or two) from MIT.  He took a job and decided to wait a year or two before starting grad school, but while he was at work he saw the news about the space shuttle Challenger exploding, and he realized he needed to go ahead and start grad school at MIT.  While there, he started working on skills he needed to become an astronaut, which included scuba diving and getting a private pilot license.

After completing two Masters degrees, Mike decided he needed more education to stand out to NASA, so he started on a program Ph.D at MIT.  It was difficult, and he failed his first qualifying oral exam.  He was on his honeymoon in Portugal when he thought about the early ocean explorers that took risks and never quit, so he realized he needed to try again.  I too had issues in college when I was younger, but later in life I returned and earned my undergrad degree in Computer Science.  That graduation ceremony is one of my own personal high points in life.  Like Mike, I encourage people to not give up and continue to try, as accomplishing a major life goal is always worthwhile.

Before reading Mike’s bio, I figured that a man with a Ph.D from MIT that became an astronaut and had two shuttle missions working on the Hubble might be arrogant and full of himself.  I was wrong.  In this book, Mike credits the people around him that helped him become what he wanted.

“I owe everything I’ve ever accomplished to the people around me – people who pushed me to be the best version of myself.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 6

It is inspirational to see someone with such a impressive career be that humble.  You don’t need to be a superman to become an astronaut – you need to work long and hard and with focus to become one.  I should add that Mike prepared differently for his second Ph.D oral exam and passed it.

After earning his Ph.D, Mike took a job with McDonnell Douglas and moved to Houston to be near NASA.  He applies and goes through the astronaut selection process, passing everything but the eye exam.  Now that his vision was a disqualifying issue, he decided to fix it instead of giving up.  He sees an eye doctor and starts vision training.  Working hard, following the advice of his doctor and friends, his vision improved enough and after reapplying, was accepted into the NASA astronaut program.  At last, he was in.

Mike undergoes new astronaut orientation and talks about flying T-38s.  I’d assumed all astronauts are pilots, but that isn’t true.  Mission specialists like Mike fly in the back seat – they get to do maneuvers including aerobatic, as well as handle the radio and navigate, but they don’t do take offs or landings.  Bummer.

“There are a couple of things you do on your first flight, kind of like your initiation.  The first thing is to go weightless.  The second thing you do is break the sound barrier.  When we reached <mach> 1.0, I said, ‘There’s Mach 1,’ in my best Chuck Yeager impression.

I loved flying.  I could not get enough of it.  Backseaters had to log a minimum of twenty-five training hours in the T-38 every quarter.  I was always near the top of my class in hours.  I had more hours than any mission specialist in my group, especially out of the civilians.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman

I’d love to have a chance to ride in a T-38, even just one time, and yeah, I’d take as many photos as my phone would hold (and maybe one or two short movies) to be able to relive the event.  Maybe some day.  Everyone can dream, can’t they?

Shortly after being accepted to the astronaut program, Mike’s father became ill and he asked his fellow astronauts for help and they gave it.  Mike said something about astronauts I hadn’t heard before and feel like I should share it with you:

“If you’ve ever wondered what the right stuff is, that’s what the right stuff is – the real right stuff.  It’s not about being crazy enough to strap yourself to the top of a bomb.  That’s actually the easy part.  It’s more about character, serving a purpose greater than yourself, putting the other guy first, and being able to do that every single day in every aspect of your life.  People ask me all the time what it takes to become an astronaut.   It’s not about being the smartest or having the most college degrees.  The real qualifications for being an astronaut are: Is this someone I’d trust with my life? Will this person help look after my family if I don’t make it home?”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman

Mike’s father recovered and was able to attend his graduation ceremony from Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) to full Astronaut.  The way Mike’s fellow astronauts and friends rallied around when he needed help was incredible – not many companies where you matter so much to you coworkers, especially in this modern world.

When Mike was becoming an astronaut, it was the time we were preparing to build the ISS.  Assembling the ISS would require a lot of spacewalking, so Mike learned that skill.  He covers the details in depth, and I had no idea how much was involved just learning to move about in space.  Fascinating read, chapter 11.  Do not skip it.

One thing the astronauts had to learn was cold weather survival skills.  They went to Cold Lake in Canada, where it was subzero most of the the time they were there.  As a Minnesota transplant, I understand how difficult it can be for warm climate people to be forced to contend with severe cold, and they did well.  During a trip to Japan to help the Japanese Space Agency, he realized something important about his job:

“Going to space doesn’t make you an astronaut.  Being an astronaut means you’re ready to go to space.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 12

The Hubble Space Telescope is simply incredible.  In addition to sharing the same first names, Mike Massimino and I are both impressed with the Hubble as it is a great engineering triumph for humanity.  The research done by the Hubble far exceeds the beautiful images it sends back, and it is indeed a valuable tool for discovering our place in the universe.  Before reading this book, I was unaware the Hubble has 6 gyros that keep it aligned on a target, and that the internals of the Hubble are kept at room temperature even though the outside conditions vary between -200 and 200 degrees F every day.  The Hubble had problems with gyro failure, so two missions were planned: 3A and 3B.  Mike was part of the development process for 3B and he hoped to be part of the actual mission:

“Bob Curbeam, who flew on a couple of station assembly flights (of the Shuttle), used to say, ‘Hubble guys are the Jedi.  The coolest.’  I wanted to be a Hubble guy.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 13

Did he get to go on flight STS-109, mission 3B?  Yes he did.  He talks about the details of establishing the shuttle crew, the dynamics and skills of the people that were mission specialists and the flight deck crew, as well as the Hubble components they were to replace.  The amount of work he and other astronauts do, just to get ready for a mission, is incredible.  It is amazing how well NASA can provide different ways of duplicating conditions the astronauts face while working in space.  They not only have the pool for full size practice.  They also use virtual reality to practice how it feels to move mass in a weightless environment.  The preparation for the mission was lengthy, but finally they launched.  Mike’s description of the Earth from the shuttle is worth sharing:

“We were over the Indian Ocean, which was a beautiful shade of blue with puffy white clouds sprinkled across it.  I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you’re magically floating above everyone else.  I could see the ripples in the ocean, the horizon with the blue atmosphere in thin, hazy line.  It was like all the pictures I’d seen, only a thousand times better.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 15

Mike continues to provide details about the mission, including that they needed to setup the toilet, galley, and exercise bike after launch.  I never thought about them being stowed, but it makes sense.  Again, great details for space enthusiasts as well as prospective astronauts.  Mike’s description of how they needed to get used to being in space was also new.  He describes how it feels to have all the fluid in your body move towards your head, and it doesn’t sound fun.  And I didn’t know that your spine stretches so you grow an inch, but the muscles in your back have to stretch and adjust, so that’s painful too.  And he gives the best description I’ve seen about space sickness:

“Then there’s the nausea.  ‘Stomach awareness’ is the official term.  That whole first day I floated around feeling like I was going to barf at any moment.  Space sickness is the opposite of seasickness,  The effect is the same, the nausea and vomiting, but the root cause is different.  … In space, you’re floating around and this time it’s your eyes that are telling your brain you are moving and your inner ear that’s telling your brain that you’re still, because your inner ear doesn’t move when you’re weightless.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch 15

It took three days to catch up to Hubble, so they had time to adjust and to prepare for the mission.  Mike was very nervous, but he remembered details he shares in this book, like how he sounded in his suit:

“My voice sounded different, too, because the sound wave travels differently through the lower atmospheric pressure.  It’s at a lower register.  I sounded like I was about to cut a blues album.”

– Mike Massimino, Spaceman Ch16

Mike and his teammate do their first EVAastronauts install ACS on Hubble and replace one of the solar array panels.  It was an intense process, physically difficult and draining, and the part of the mission Mike was most concerned with.  He was stressed, but Mike says the view of the Earth was worth it.  His second EVA was working with James Neuman to replace the failed Faint Object Camera with the Advanced Camera for Surveys and NASA has a picture of the two mission specialists doing that during the 3B mission.

Astronauts have reported having an epiphany during their missions.  I’ll let Mike speak for himself on his own epiphany:

“I took a moment and turned and glanced over my shoulder at the Earth again. …

The thought that went through my head was If you were in heaven, this is what you would see.  This is my view from heaven.  Then that thought was immediately replaced by another thought.  No, it’s even more beautiful than that.  This is what heaven must look like – maybe this is heaven. …

And my thought looking down at the Earth was Wow.  How much God our Father must love us that he gave us this home.  He didn’t put us on Mars or Venus with nothing but rocks and frozen waste.  He gave us paradise and said, ‘Live here’.”

Mike Massimino Spaceman Ch 17

While he was resting after the mission finished, Mike listened to music and said certain music was better during the day or night.  He liked Sting, Phil Collins, Coldplay and U2 during the day.  At night, Radiohead, plus the soundtracks for Dances with Wolves and Meet Joe Black.

At the end of chapter 17, Mike mentions that their Hubble mission, STS-109, went before STS-107.  Both were Columbia missions.  Mike’s flight came home, STS-107 broke up during re-entry and all aboard were killed, and Mike devotes chapter 19 to explaining how the loss of the crew of STS-107 affected their families and the other astronauts.

We’ve lost too many of our astronauts – the crews of Apollo 1, the Challenger,  and the Columbia – I wish, as a country, we could have an astronaut remembrance day to remember each of these brave individuals that gave their lives exploring space, to make us better as a race.  We should remember them as they deserve: as our heroes.

Chapters 20 through 23 are about the final mission to the Hubble.  After the Columbia was destroyed during re-entry, the decision was made to cancel the last planned trip to the Hubble, as it was considered too unsafe.  NASA kept a planned robotics mission to go to Hubble, and then the NASA administrator was replaced by someone wanting to do something big for NASA, and the mission was back on.  Due to the costs of replacing entire defective systems, the decision was made to repair them in place – something that qualify as the most technically challenging repair ever done in space, on could be viewed as the most important piece of astronomical equipment ever deployed: the Hubble.  The technical challenges they faced, disassembling, repairing and reassembling equipment not designed to be worked on in orbit, were considerable, but NASA being NASA, they were addressed and the mission to upgrade and fix Hubble was on, using the Atlantis shuttle.  In addition to saving the Hubble, one other notable event happened during the flight: the first tweet from space was done by Mike on the Atlantis.

Every good thing comes to an end.  Mike decided against doing any long term Soyez missions, so he was removed from flight status and moved on from being an astronaut, but he is still using social media – I follow him on Twitter, as do many.

I took four days to read this book, because I didn’t want it to end, any more than Mike wanted his time as an Astronaut to end.  A truly great story about overcoming obstacles to accomplish what is important to you in life.  I found three videos plus a ton of podcasts about or by Mike Massimino on iTunesU – go there if you want to see and hear the man himself.  Or you can try episodes of The Big Bang Theory on TV – he’s made a number of guest appearances since the 5th season

Conclusion

I really enjoyed Mike’s bio.  Learned a ton of things about becoming and being an astronaut, as well as understanding how a shuttle mission was planned and implemented.  Like Col. Hadfield’s bio, this is one I will re-read.

I strongly encourage people to buy this book.  Mike Massimino tells a great story, and his vivid details paint a clear picture of his experiences.  He takes you inside the astronaut program and lets you see how hard it is to get in, but shows that you can overcome obstacles if you work hard enough.  I give it 5 stars out of 5.

Only one task is left for me now: I need to track down an autographed copy in hardback for my home library.  I want to read it again and then I will encourage my wife to read it.  I may even buy a few paperback copies to give as Christmas gifts.

Note

I have written book reviews for print magazines in the past.  The largest I wrote was 1000 words, but usually they were 200 – 500 words.  This review is much longer because I wanted to do justice to this biography.  It is well crafted, exciting to read, and reveals more details about NASA and space missions than other NASA bios I’ve read.  I enjoyed the book and hope Mike Massimino has another one planned – if he does, I’ll read it.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.

Title: The Madhouse Effect
Author: Michael E. Mann, Tom Toles
ISBN: 978-0231177863
Published: Columbia University Press (September 27, 2016)
Price: $24.95 hardback/$11.50 paperback/$13.49 Kindle (7/17)
Length: 208 pages

I’ve studied science since I was a child, and what still amazes me is how people with little or no science education find some science topics offensive.  When I was young, evolution concerned some religious people. The theory of evolution wasn’t intended to affront religion, as many scientists have religious beliefs, but the idea our world could be older than 6000 years angered some that calculate the age of the Earth using the Bible.  Scientists weren’t trying to disprove religion.  They were trying to understand why things on our planet changed to what we see today.

Another topic scientists studied when I was young was the dangers of smoking.  Smoking was socially acceptable, long after scientific studies showed smoking increased the risk of cancer.  Powerful special interests (the tobacco industry) did not want these scientific studies about the dangers of smoking to affect their sales, so they had others publish conflicting studies that tobacco was safe.  The tobacco industry’s fight against scientific studies lasted decades, until the tobacco industry finally ceased their war and settled huge lawsuits from people affected by smoking.  These days, some people smoke, but people no longer argue about the dangers of using tobacco.

The current scientific topic under attack by special interests is climate change.  The science concerning climate change is accepted by 97% of scientists trained in this area, but special interests that have products (coal, gas, oil) that contribute to global warming and have declared war on science.  These special interests pay politicians and hire their own experts to try to create doubt in the minds of the public.  Why?  So they can continue to sell products that are endangering our world.

I believe when you see something troubling, you need to learn more about it so you can discuss the topic intelligently.  No one of ordinary intelligence should want others to provide their own talking points, as that restricts how much is really known about the subject.  People should read this book because it was written by a scientist trained in climate change, and it is illustrated by an award winning illustrator that shows the issues with people attacking the science of climate change.  Let’s get into this fascinating book.

Book Chapters

Ch 1: Science: How it Works
Ch 2: Climate Change: The Basics
Ch 3: Why Should I Give a Damn?
Ch 4: The Stages of Denial
Ch 5: The War on Climate Science
Ch 6: Hypocrisy – Thy Name is Climate Change Denial
Ch 7: Geoengineering, or “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”
Ch 8: A Path Forward

Science: How it Works

The first chapter of this book explains science, so people without formal education in science understand how science works.  Why was this needed in a book on climate change?  Because many people believe there is some global conspiracy by scientists to promote climate change – completely wrong.  Some believe scientists gets rich researching climate change – ridiculous.  Let’s look at Dr. Mann’s explanation of science.

“Science is unique among human endeavors in the “self-correcting” machinery (to quote the famous Carl Sagan) by which it is governed.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 1

Self-correcting means science continues to study topics, trying to learn more and making corrections when it is mistaken.  Science embraces skepticism, as it strives to improve what it understands.  Dr. Mann points out a truth known by people that accept scientific consensus on global warming.

“Unfortunately, the term skeptic has been hijacked, especially in the climate change debate, to mean something entirely different.  It is used as a way to dodge evidence that one simply doesn’t like.  That, however, is not skepticism but rather contrarianism or denialism, the wholesale rejection of validated, widely accepted scientific principles on the basis of opinion, ideology, financial interest, self-interest, or all of these together.”

The Madhouse Effect, pages 1&2

It’s one thing to dislike something you hear.  It’s wrong to insist on new or alternate facts (a term used by Kellyanne Conway) that attack something you disagree with.  A professor at my college had an excellent sign on his wall, addressing this issue:

“You are entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.”

But these climate change deniers don’t only want their own facts; they also attack the motives of scientists studying climate change.  These “skeptics” lack a college education, or never took a science course in an accredited college, and they believe that scientists have an economic advantage to promote global warming.  Poppycock!  I studied science in college (biology, microbiology, chemistry, biochemistry) and I never met a wealthy science professor.  The people I met in college studying or teaching science were motivated by learning and helping solve scientific questions and peer recognition, not money.   And climate science is far from the best paying fields these days.  I do not doubt there are some scientists that are wealthy, but people that study science are not in it for the money.

There is another misconception about science that is covered in chapter one: the belief that scientists are motivated to work together to promote something so they get research funds.  Baloney!  Scientists that find and reveal something different than what is widely accepted are the ones that get research funds and peer recognition.   Scientists are looking for issues with global warming, and it is to the benefit of any scientist to publish any studies that show if they find problems with the consensus belief.  And the mythological “super scientist” that tells all other scientists around the world what to say or teach or publish on climate change is rubbish.  Anyone suggesting a super scientist calls the shots in any field demonstrates they never took a science class in their life.

Special interests with an agenda affected by global warming use the same tool the tobacco industry used to counter studies that tobacco was dangerous: doubt.  They try to counter scientific evidence any way that causes the public to doubt the science.  This war on science is not new, but it is disappointing that many forget the tobacco industry attacks on science and how they parallel those used today against climate change.

Climate Change: The Basics

“The basics of climate science are actually very simple and always have been.  Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat, and we are adding more CO2 to the atmosphere.  The rest is details.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 15

I heard Senator James Inhofe (of Oklahoma in senate meetings) deny Carbon dioxide is involved in global warming.  Senator Inhofe is not a scientist, does not have education in climate studies, and is 100% wrong about carbon dioxide.   Senator Inhofe also brought a snowball to the senate and tossed it on the floor and proclaimed it proved that global warming was not an issue – rubbish!

There are other factors that impact global warming, but those factors do not change the fact that carbon dioxide is increasing in our atmosphere and carbon dioxide traps heat and so it contributes to global warming.

“Next time that cantankerous uncle of yours whom you see every Thanksgiving tells you that the greenhouse effect is “controversial new science,” remind him that it’s actually basic physics and chemistry that go back nearly two centuries.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 16

Scientists have studied climate change for nearly two centuries, and have known that carbon dioxide has a heat trapping property since the days of Joseph Fourier.  As Dr. Mann points out, Svante Arrhenius recognized the correlation that burning fossil fuels cause the earth temperature to increase.  That is enough evidence that climate study is a mature science.

We have ice cores dating back thousands of years, and scientists can use them to determine how much carbon dioxide was in the air in earlier periods, and are adding carbon dioxide at an alarming rate!

Global warming is indicated by more than regular heat waves, like we have been experiencing, especially in Senator Inhofe’s state of Oklahoma.  Climate scientists warn that wind patterns will start to change which can produce dry spells like those recently experienced in Texas and Senator Inhofe’s state of Oklahoma.  Other warning signs of global warming are increased flooding in same areas that have dry spells, such have also occurred in California.

A major reason for concern about global warming: rising sea levels, as they impact our coastal cities.  Dr. Mann’s book mentions the antarctic ice sheet melting as a problem, and a major part of that ice sheet broke off on July 18, 2017.  This trillion ton iceberg will be a navigation hazard until it melts, which will result in increased sea levels.

Dr. Mann points out global warming doesn’t necessarily mean that tornadoes will increase in frequency or intensity, but hurricanes should get worse.  Do we really want another Katrina?  Dr. Mann also points out that we can’t say for certain that global warming causes a specific heat wave or storm or flood, but global warming should increase how often these three events occur – increased events means increased damage.

Some of the dangers of global warming already are affecting us, but that doesn’t mean we should give up.  Decreasing carbon dioxide output by reduced dependence on burning fossil fuels will slow down changes we may not be able to recover from, but we still need to deal with too much carbon dioxide in the environment if we want to reduce the impact of this danger to our world.

Why Should I Give a Damn?

If you want a wake-up call to the seriousness of global warming, check out Tole’s illustration on page 30.  Not looking good right now.

“And if you think the effects <of global warming> will be felt only in some far away corner of the globe where only polar bears and penguins live, think again.  The consequences of a changing climate are occurring everywhere and, yes, likely right near you, affecting you, your family, your friends, your community.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 31

That’s right.  We are not alone in the world; we are all in this together.  Global warming doesn’t change based on politics, country borders (with and without walls), or fervent religious beliefs.  Everyone on Earth has a stake in global warming – some more so than others, but still we are all at risk.  This next quote of Dr. Mann should get your attention:

“Dreams of slowly adapting to climate change will have to be replaced with the hard reality of an ever-escalating pace of of disruption and unpredictability.

In what ways will the effects of climate change be felt?  In nearly every way.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 32

Do you want to know what will be effected by climate change?  This is a list:

  • Security – national and alliance security will be affected by changing shorelines;  people losing homes to rising seas need to go somewhere, and other countries as destinations will happen when the arable land of a country is gone.
  • Food – likely less food due to changing weather patterns, increasing temperatures affecting crop production rates and viability;  increasing population and decreasing food supplies is a sure recipe for conflict.
  • Water – more sea water, less fresh water, so another reason for water and land conflicts between haves and have nots;  the Keystone pipeline rejected by the Obama administration could potentially polute freshwater sources for millions of Americans, and that pipeline was approved by the Trump administration.  Ocean acidification is a very serious threat to the creatures living in it and to those of us dependent on the bounties of the ocean: food.
  • The Food-Water-Energy Nexus – using food sources like corn as energy source (ethanol) will be more problematic when more people need food.
  • Land – 33% of the population live within 60 miles of the ocean coastline, and 10% live within 30′ above sea level, and with rising seas and increasingly dangerous hurricanes, those people need to move inland – competing with agriculture and livestock for living space; we have a finite amount of land, so this is a problem when the population continues to grow.
  • Health – heat stroke, malnutrition, flooding and droughts affecting nutrition availability, mosquito-born diseases and water-born diseases, and asthma and allergies will kill a lot more than currently die.
  • Ecosystems – the Arctic, great barrier reef, and snow-covered mountains will be impacted by the rate of climate warming – shouldn’t we want these wonders to be around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy?  As ecosystems disappear, so will other species, and some reports show global warming could kill up to 1/3 of all living species within 50 years – that is a tragedy.
  • Economy – it will cost a lot to move food and water to areas lacking them, and it will cost money to pay for increasing health issues, and relocating people means increasing infrastructure costs as well as transportation and food costs; people making insurance claims to cover their losses mean insurance companies will raise rates to cover their losses, also affecting the economy.
  • Ethics – the current Trump administration is intent on rolling back changes made during the Obama administration that were intended to fight global warming.  The worse thing President Trump did was withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.  This president’s cabinet is an assembly of people from the very industries (coal, oil and gas) that have a vested interest in keeping us dependent on fossil fuels, so we have President Trump to thafor vastly increasing carbon dioxide emissions, causing even more global warming than was forecast during the Obama administration.  The ethics of letting the very industries impacting global warming have control of the EPA and other government agencies intended to help and not harm Americans cannot be whitewashed – President Trump’s only legacy is that he did everything wrong climate-wise to help America and the world.

If you aren’t concerned after reading this chapter, you either plan on dying soon without an heir or are in denial.   In either case, this problem is the legacy of our generation if we do nothing to address it, or if we let politicians with a personal economic agenda destroy our chances for a better world in the future.

The Stages of Denial

“climate change is (1) real, (2) caused by humans, and (3) a grave threat, one might rightfully ask how it is that some of our most prominent elected officials can still deny that climate change is even happening.

The answer, of course, is that climate change denial isn’t really about the science; it is instead about the politics.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 53

The stages of climate change denial:

  1. It’s not happening – I do not understand why non-scientists believe they can reject the findings of scientists.  If you lack the education and background, why believe you know better than trained and educated professionals?  Of all stages, this one is the most puzzling one to me.  I’ve heard US senators deny carbon dioxide levels in the air has increased at all – EVEN THOUGH SCIENTISTS CAN PROVE IT HAS!Sometimes deniers cherry-pick data to use time ranges that don’t show temperatures rising, while ignoring long term trends that clearly show our planet is getting warmer.  It’s sad that some of these deniers rely on sites promoting inaccurate date or falsified data analysis sources, and worse that some of them state that organizations like NASA and NOAA would stoop to falsifying data to show warming trends.
  2. OK. It’s happening…but its natural – this approach tries to claim that temperatures were warming in the past, like the medieval times, but science has show the overall temperature of the Earth was cooler in the medieval times.  Essentially, this line of denial promotes the view that, since the Earth was warmer in the past, humans cannot be the source of current warming trends – poppycock!
  3. The problem is self-correcting anyway – WRONG!!  To believe that self-correcting environmental mechanisms will handle the unprecedented increase in carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere is wishful thinking or it is still trying to deny we need to make changes now to address carbon dioxide buildup.  The Tole illustration on page 60 covers this form of denial in a humorous manner.
  4. And it will be good for us – proposing that plants love carbon dioxide and will flourish with more, ignores the fact that regions of the world already borderline on high temperatures will reach conditions where plant production will decrease or cease completely.  How can rising sea levels be good for people living in coastal regions? Two prominent deniers (Bjorn Lomborg and Roger Pielke Jr, both with background in political science, not climate science) use this approach to argue against global warming or against the need to make changes to address global warming.  I doubt that people who listen to political scientists instead of climate scientists on climate change are probably not interested in scientific facts.
  5. It’s too late or too expensive to act – when you consider the costs to transport food and water to places unable to provide them, when you consider infrastructure changes needed to adapt to the loss of food or water, and the costs to provide medicine to those impacted by global warming, it doesn’t seem to be cheaper than developing and promoting technologies besides fossil fuel-driven systems.
  6. We’ll find some simple techno fix anyway – that’s optimistic but it may be inaccurate, and would you really want to try nothing now and make the problem worse for your children and grandchildren?

The truth about these forms of denial, per Dr. Mann:

“There is no simple way out.  Ultimately, we’re left with one real solution: reducing our collective carbon footprint.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 67

The War on Climate Science

Tole’s illustration on page 68 (at the start of chapter 5) does sum up denier mentality about their war on climate science.

“The war on science can be traced back more than half a century, beginning with the activities of the tobacco industry in the 1950s.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 69

Considering the current republican view on global warming (they deny it), it is amusing when Dr. Mann points out that President Richard Nixon (republican) created the EPA, considering the irony that current US President Donald Trump assigned former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the administrator to the EPA.

What I find interesting, is that republican presidents Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan signed legislation that was pro-environment and regulated industries that caused environmental problems, whereas President Trump seems intent on siding with industries like the coal, oil and gas industries against legislation protecting the environment.  Tom Toles illustration on page 73 is appropriate, and humorous.

What could motivate people to attack climate science?  Would an answer of “money” surprise anyone?  Industries producing coal and oil and gas generate a lot of money, and in turn can pay people to provide ways to attack climate science. A quote from Upton Sinclair is appropriate:

“As for money, the famous Upton Sinclair quip “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it” is once again relevant.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 75

While climate change deniers charge that real climate scientists have a motive to promote global warming, industry-financed think tanks actually paid people, providing a motive to deny climate change.  In this case, the people making the charge of money-driven-motives were actually guilty of that themselves.  This is similar to the approach of modern republican politicians that attack democrats and them decry the anger in modern politics.  Very hypocritical, to anyone being honest about the situation.

This chapter includes a list of prominent climate change deniers, as well as groups that promote climate change denial, and is a must read the next time you see someone claim that ‘climate science doesn’t prove global warming.’ Speaking of hypocrisy …

Hypocrisy – Thy Name is Climate Change Denial

Tom Toles’ illustration on page 90 sums up the concept in chapter 9: hypocrisy.

“The best examples of hypocrisy can, of course, be found in the words and actions of politicians who deny climate change. Many have quite literally buried their heads in the sand when it comes to the threat of climate change.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 91

Politicians are supposed to put the good of their constituents ahead of party or special interests, but many do not when it comes to climate change.  Why?  YOU should ask them at town halls, by writing letters and sending emails, and show up at their offices and ask why they disagree with educated professionals that know the subject of climate change better than any politician.  If you like poetic justice, you need to read about the attack on Dr. Mann (for the horrible sin of studying – are you ready? – climate change!) by Virgnia’s former attorney general (and now oyster farmer) Cuccinelli, who lost his bid for Virginia’s governor in 2013.  Cuccinelli lost to Govenor Terry McAuliffe, who is a politician that accepts scientists appraisal on climate change.

I am a native Floridian, and follow the news (and Dolphins) whenever possible.  I am unhappy to see how Gov. Rick Scott has done everything he could to fight climate change, even though most models show Florida will be devastated by rising sea levels.  I saw the news that Dr. Mann mentions: Gov. Scott banning the words ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ in all Florida state official communications.  Talk about putting special interests ahead of your own people!

I have family that live in Oklahoma, so I follow the weather there.  I’ve seen when their senator James Inhofe attacks climate change whenever possible.  I saw on CNN when he brought a snowball to the floor of the US Senate, dropped it, and proclaimed it was proof global warming was not real (Tom Toles’ illustration on page 96 is probably aimed at Inhofe).  Dr. Mann mentions two times he testified in congress about global warming, when Sen. Inhofe was trying to attack it, and the second time was interesting as Sen. Inhofe had invited science fiction writer Michael Crichton to testify.  Wow.  Why doesn’t he ask David Brin, a science fiction writer as well as a real scientist?  Because David Brin isn’t a climate change denier and I doubt he’d agree with Sen. Inhofe at all.

Joe Barton, representative from Texas, also is a climate change denier, and is well known for telling one of his constituents to ‘shut up’ during a town hall meeting.  He not only tries attacking climate science.  He also apologized to British Petroleum when they were called in to explain an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that did a lot of damage to the creatures in the area.  How can any politician apologize for asking a company to explain what happened during an ecological disaster?  And don’t forget that Texas lost a lot of cattle recently to a drought (yes, caused by climate change).  If Joe is your rep, you probably should be asking him why he doesn’t accept scientific consensus on climate change.

Texas Senator ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz (President Trump gave him that nickname, not me) also embraces climate change denial as a way to get support for his political aspirations.   He ran once for president and will probably do so again. Sen. Cruz is not the most popular man in the senate, with his fellow senators, and Senator John McCain once famously called him a ‘wacko bird’.

Then there is Lamar Smith, another Texas republican representative, who uses his position as chair of the house committee on Science, Space, and Technology to attack science itself by redefining the science peer review process, issued subpoenas to NOAA asking for personal emails because they published a study disputing that global warming stopped, and he tried to cut NASA’s earth science budget to depress climate change study.  Rep. Smith is vocal and actively opposing climate change, and someone that prefers Breitbart News’ stance on climate change over scientists at NASA and NOAA.

Climategate was a contrived attack on climate science itself, and the people behind it cooked emails stolen from a server in the UK to make it appear that climate scientists themselves did not believe in global warming.  After numerous studies in the US and UK, it was proven that emails stolen from scientists were cherry picked for anything that cast a doubt on climate change.  The next time you see a reporter or politician rage about some issue on TV, maybe you should email or tweet and ask why no one is looking for the people behind Climategate?  Could that be An Inconvenient Truth?

The press, in an attempt to be fair, has given deniers an equal chance to state their opposition to climate change.  The problem with that, is that deniers don’t use valid science, they use contrived facts or situations to make their point, so the press has helped the deniers raise more doubt instead of showing them for being tools of special interests.  And Dr. Mann points out something I hope every denier hears and remembers:

“History will judge the actors in this debate, and many will be judged harshly.  By that time, unfortunately, it will be too late.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 115

The important thing to take away from this chapter, is that politicians have evidence of climate change – storms, hurricanes, droughts – and they still fight efforts to address it.  Isn’t it time to vote for people that care what kind of world we leave our children and grandchildren?

Geoengineering, or “What could possibly go wrong?”

Some climate change denialists promote that we will just make changes to our environment instead of needing to curtail use of fossil fuel.   Our climate is complex, so this ‘simple answer’ deludes people into thinking we can easily fix the problem down the road.  The danger of this is two-fold.

One – we stop trying to fix things now, with the hope of some tech advance in the future, which means our temperatures and seas continue to rise until that happens.  Two – that we come up with some tech solution but it has unintended side effects.  If you saw Chris Evans’ movie Snowpiercer, you  understand how this can be dangerous.

A possible solution, using artificial trees to remove carbon dioxide, is something I’d considered as viable, but the costs to implement as well as the development costs and implementation mechanism are still a too much to consider viable.

Some of the things proposed have never been done, have huge engineering issues to overcome, will not make the changes we need with any certainty, and will probably be outrageously expensive (which will cause politicians to again rage and say no).  It would be far less expensive, have faster results, and make life better for everyone, if we just deal with our excess carbon dioxide right now?  Wouldn’t it be safer and more responsible to use the means we have now – reduce use of fossil fuels and increase energy sources like solar and wind energy – than to risk the lives and health of our children and grandchildren?

The Path Forward

“The time for wishing for climate policy action has long passed.  The time for demanding it has come.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 131

Now for some scary facts:

“Human beings currently emit more than 30 gigatons (30 billion tons) of carbon dioxide pollution ever year.

If we want to avoid planetary warming of 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C)- or what many observers consider “dangerous warming”, though, as we have noted, others might reasonably argue that’s already too much – we have a very limited “carbon budget” left to work with.  No more than 1 trillion tons or so of carbon dioxide.

At the current rate of 30 gigatons per year, we will burn through our budget in about three decades.  To remain within the budget, we have to reduce emissions by several percent a year, bringing them down to 33 percent of current levels within twenty years.”

The Madhouse Effect, page 132

Why is this scary?  Because one way we could reduce our carbon output was negotiated through the Paris Climate Accord, which President Obama signed us up for, and President Trump removed us from this year.

The concerted effort of the Trump administration to remove all climate and ecological bills and rules implemented by the Obama administration is nothing short of blind trust in special interests and absolute blindness in trusting science.  The effects will be catastrophic, and we have President Trump to thank for causing incredible harm to our planet.  And our allies in countries that actually understand we need to make a change to save our world?  Well, they are shocked and appalled that the US would not lead the efforts to save our planet, and that our current administration is intent on making climate change even worse.

It shouldn’t matter what your political party is, as this affects everyone on our planet.  Removing the US from an agreement that all but two countries signed, which addressed climate change, is inexcusable.  That was no reason to do so, except that special interests in fossil fuel industry didn’t want us to cut back on using fossil fuel.

If you want to help save our world, stop accepting that politicians are more honest than scientists.  Stop accepting false statements from special interests, and start studying climate change from real sources, not shock jocks or people with agendas.  Write and email your congressman and let them know you care about your world.  Stop remaining silent when you hear people making false claims about climate change- that is silent support for their position.

Take a science class at a local junior college or university and see and speak with real scientists.  And realize that people with degrees in law or political science are not climate science, and climate scientists do not get rich promoting climate change.  In other words, you have to do something now, while we still can make a difference.  Be responsible, and make this world better for your descendants.  I promise you, they will remember what you did and did not do to fight this disaster.  You can make a difference.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile for this planet Earth.

Conclusion

If you read this book and still aren’t convinced global warming is a serious threat to life on our planet, I have a question for you.  If you are ill, do you go to a Political Scientist with a doctorate or visit a medical doctor?  Why should you follow advice from someone without the proper credentials and education?  Why would you trust the word of politicians over scientists?

This is an excellent book on climate change for everyone, especially climate warming skeptics.  As with any subject, you learn when you keep an open mind.  The writing flows well, is informative and logically ordered, and the Toles comics are a great addition that help provide humor and information to the book.  After reading The Madhouse Effect, I looked through all of Tole’s comics several times, and I still chuckled as he nails the deniers reactions.

I give this book 5 stars out of a possible 5, and strongly encourage people to read it.  Climate change is one of the most important issues of our day, and it directly affects our children and grandchildren, so people need to learn all they can.  What do we say about ourselves as people, if we pass along a world we destroyed to our descendants,  without trying to fix the problems?

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved.Product Details

Title: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
(print versions in English, Spanish, German)
Author: Col. Chris Hadfield
ISBN: 978-0-316-25301-7
Published: October, 2013 by Little, Brown and Company (www.littlebrown.com)
Price: $28.00 for hardback/$11.99 for Kindle (7/2017)
Length: 284 pages

Chris Hadfield is a Canadian that decided to become an astronaut when he was young, when Canada did not have a space program.  Chris decided to make education and career decisions that would affect his chances if he could become an astronaut, but would also be rewarding if he failed to achieve that goal.  He devoted himself to learning in school and became a glider pilot at 15 and then a licensed private pilot at 16.

When Chris was young, the path to NASA was open to people in the military (being a jet pilot was/is very important to NASA), so Chris decided to go to military college and he earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then went the jet pilot route awhile before becoming a test pilot.  Like other test pilots, he applied to NASA, and yes he was accepted.  I’m not going to go into more detail as he does a fine job covering his education and military experiences in the first chapter of this book.

This book covers Chris’ experiences on getting accepted to NASA, on riding in the space shuttle, and on riding in a Soyuz. While those mission descriptions were very interesting, I found Chris’ work experience at NASA and in Russia fascinating.  I knew astronauts are always training for missions, but I wasn’t aware how many other roles they have at NASA.  Chris was heavily involved with so many aspects of the space program, that he is one of those people you hope to find that will share his experiences with you.  This book does that, but I’d still love to meet this person and hear from him about his adventures as an astronaut.

Book Chapters

Introduction (do NOT skip this part)
Ch 1 – The Trip Takes a Lifetime
Ch 2 – Have an Attitude
Ch 3 – The Power of Negative Thinking
Ch 4 – Sweat the Small Stuff
Ch 5 – The Last People in the World
Ch 6 – What’s the Next Thing that Can Kill Me?
Ch 7 – Tranquility Base, Kazakhstan
Ch 8 – How to Get Blasted (and Feel Good the Next Day)
Ch 9 – Aim to Be a Zero
Ch 10 – Life on Earth
Ch 11 – Square Astronaut, Round Hole
Ch 12 – Soft Landings
Ch 13 – Climbing Down the Ladder

Every chapter is worth reading – don’t be tempted to skip ahead.  My favorite chapter was Ch 7, about Chris’ experience working with the Russians.  This was fascinating, as we see so little of what goes on in Russia on NASA TV.  The main information I’d seen before was on the ceremonies that the Russians follow before and after a flight.  Very elaborate, and proof that space flight means a great deal to them.  Chris talks about his time there, and it helped me see how much our space program has been helped by cooperating with Russia.  They have helped us build and run the ISS, as well as ferry many people there.  I would hope they are part of our missions establishing outposts on the moon and on Mars.  Both of our countries would benefit from the joint effort.

The chapter that surprised me was Ch 9 Aim to Be a Zero.  I guess I assumed that, once people made it into the space program, they knew they needed to get along with others in all aspects of missions.  How could anyone not understand that human dynamics is extremely important when you have multiple people crammed together in a small space for a dangerous assignment in space?  Apparently Chris encountered some people that failed to understand that being exceptionally good doesn’t mean being exceptionally self-centered.  Chris offers great advice for future astronauts: don’t try to be difficult or cause issues, and learn how to get along with others if you want to work in space.

Conclusion

Great book, and a fast and easy read.  I’ve started re-reading it as it enjoyed it so much the first time, and this is the first time I’ve re-read a bio. There wasn’t great detail about being in the Canadian military, but that was due to the fact that this book concentrates on Chris’ life experiences that lead him to NASA, and helped him over his career.

If I had any complaint about this book, it was that it was too short at 284 pages.  I hope Chris does a followup book and provides more about specific details about his three trips to space, as well as about the daily experiences of working at NASA.  That might seem boring to people working at NASA, but not to us space flight fans that follow the space program.

I didn’t want to forget to mention that Chris was into photography when he was on the ISS, and he published another book called: “You are Here: Around the World in 92 minutes: Photographs from the International Space Station” – I haven’t seen this one yet, but I will.  To see actual pictures from the ISS would be really wild – kind of make you feel like you were there for a short visit.

Recommendation: Buy this book for yourself, and buy another copy for any space fan (young or old) in your family.  It will make a great gift this holiday season.  I give it 5 stars out of a possible 5.

AppleTV 3.0 Review

Posted: July 17, 2015 by Mike Hubbartt in Hardware Reviews
Tags: , ,

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Vendor: Apple (www.apple.com)
Price: $99

We owned the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of the AppleTV, and like both of them as they were reasonably priced and functioned as we needed. We mainly used the Apple TV 1.0 to watch digital content we bought – as standalone or as part of a blu-ray movie, since streaming was not very good with our setup. We use the AppleTV 2 to stream movies from iTunes or Netflix, as well as watch digital content. The AppleTV 1.0 worked best with digital content stored on the AppleTV hard drive, whereas the AppleTV 2 streaming is far superior and so all content is streamed with few or no problems most of the time.

We were happy with our AppleTVs, but decided to buy the AppleTV 3.0 because we wanted the 1080p video resolution instead of the 720p offered by the AppleTV 2. We bought our new AppleTV at a local BestBuy store, brought it home and the installation was simple and fast. I added it to our main television, moved the AppleTV 2.0 to our second television, and retired the AppleTV 1.0 to the parts closet.

The higher resolution is better, but honestly not so great that we wanted to toss the AppleTV 2 and buy a second AppleTV 3. The video is good, and the streaming is also much better than the AppleTV 1.0, so it a good addition to our environment. I would recommend replacing an AppleTV 1, but don’t think I could recommend replacing an AppleTV 2.0 just for the video res improvement. If Apple adds more features, like gaming for example, I’d replace the remaining AppleTV 2 in a heartbeat.

The streaming with the AppleTV 2 and 3, from our in-house comparisons, seems to be the same. Since the AppleTV 2.0, Apple updates the devices, which can include patches or enhancements to services offered. One service I like is Apple Events, where you can stream WWDC (Developer Conferences) from this year as well as past conferences. Being able to see the sessions each year (keynote as well as information) is very educational for us developers without the time or money to travel to San Francisco to be there. To be honest, these sessions tend to be glitchy when streamed over the internet, so I prefer to download them in iTunes and then stream them locally.

Two other services Apple recently added are HBO GO and Showtime Anytime. Both allow people with out cable (me) to get HBO and ShowTime. We are going to subscribe, but have not yet, so I can’t give any performance info on either service yet, but will update this article once I try one out. I believe this move by Apple shows how networks may unbundle themselves from providers like cable companies, so we subscribers get to chose the channels we want to purchase, instead of taking many unused and unwanted channels for a few prime channels. Sounds liberating to me.

One last thing. The AppleTV 2 and 3 devices use the same remote (the newer one is slightly lighter than the older one) and so both remotes work with both AppleTVs, which is convenient. And both remotes have replaceable batteries, which is also nice. So far, I have only replaced the battery in the AppleTV 2 remote, so the battery life for both remotes is excellent.

OVERALL RESULTS

One negative comment: The reason we decided to upgrade from AppleTV 2 to AppleTV 3 was the enhanced video. We knew the 2.x version only supported 720p, so we wanted better quality. What we didn’t know, was that the AppleTV 3 supports 1080p, but NOT 1080i, which is the highest resolution of our current monitor. Not good, as we could not anything better than 720p even with the AppleTV3.

One positive comment: We have been using the AppleTV 3 since it was released, and Apple continues to update the device regularly. Being able to just get HBO and Showtime on demand, without needing cable, is a huge plus in my book. I had cable, a long time ago, and will never again as long as there are other options like Satellite or AppleTVs.

RECOMMENDATION

Buy the AppleTV 3.0 if you don’t own an AppleTV product, if you own an old AppleTV 1.0, or if you want the best resolution for your home theater.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Title: The Object-Oriented Thought Process
Author: Matt Weisfeld
Edition: 1st (2000)
ISBN: 0-672-31853-9
Publisher: SAMS Publishing
Price: $29.99
Length: 226 pages (9 chapters, 2 appendices)

This book, according to the author, is ‘an introduction to fundamental O-O concepts’. It is not a book aimed at people already familiar with OO concepts, so bear in mind it is not intended for people that already understand OO development. I read the first edition of this book in 2000 and enjoyed it, but it sat on my bookshelf until last summer. I had a class in grad school at UST and the professor recommended this book before taking the class so I decided it was time to reread it. I read 3 chapters per day, so it only took 3 days to finish it, even though I took notes from each chapter. Like the 1st ed K&R, this book is not huge – 226 pages including the title page, table of contents, index, and acknowledgments – but it explains how procedural programmers can make the move to OO development. Let’s look at the book chapter-by-chapter.

Chapter 1 – Introduction to Object-Oriented Concepts

This chapter explains classes and objects and how they differ. Encapsulation, one fundamental advantage of OO programming, is covered nicely in this chapter, as is the introduction to the difference between a class interface and implementation, polymorphism, constructors, and overriding.

I liked the code samples included to demonstrate some of the concepts like overriding. I also liked the UML class diagram showing how class elements are displayed via UML – very easy to follow. I would have liked more code samples covers more concepts introduces in the chapter.

Chapter 2 – How to Think in Terms of Objects

This chapter teaches how to think in an OO manner. This chapter goes into the introduction of public interface and private implementation portions of a class. Very nice, clear, simple explanation. Not over or under covered – just enough to introduce the material that will be covered in more depth later in the book.

Chapter 3 – Advanced Object-Oriented Concepts

This chapter covers object creation and initialization, plus error handling. Very good explanation of constructors – what they must and must not have – and how there can (and often should) be more in some classes. Exception handling, which is a topic that could fill a book, is introduced here. There was a bit of source code showing how to use exception in Java code. I liked how the author covered static attributes, which can be used to allow multiple objects to share attributes.

Chapter 4 – The Anatomy of a Class

This chapter explains the differences between the implementation and interface of classes. This is the meat-and-potatoes section of the book. Where a class is broken down using Java to show the implementation and interface sections, as well as constructors. Very clear and my favorite chapter of the book.

Chapter 5 – Class Design Guidelines

This chapter explains that classes must interact and it covers the iterative nature of class design. This goes into design considerations, covering a safe constructor to initialize a class, serializing (deconstruct a object), persistence (maintaining the state of an object), and stubs (minimal implementations of an interface). More good Java code examples, although C++ concepts are also covered.

Chapter 6 – Designing with Objects: The Software Development Process

This chapter explains how to identify class responsibilities and class collaboration. This goes into the way to design an application, covering statements of work, requirements documents, and CRC cards. This was my least favorite chapter of the book – I liked the issues to take into consideration during the OO design process, but I’d rather have more OO concepts than requirements gathering information.

Chapter 7 – Mastering Inheritance and Composition

This chapter covers the differences between composition and inheritance. Very good coverage going into important means of code reuse: inheritance and composition. The author has nice UML diagrams to cover the concepts, and the text explanations are clear and accurate. I also liked how the book explains abstract classes and methods – very clear.

Chapter 8 – Frameworks and Reuse: Designing with Interfaces & Abstract Classes

This chapter covers frameworks and abstract classes vs Java Interfaces. Another good chapter, which covers APIs. I liked the code sample for an abstract class, and the author includes nice UML diagram that demonstrates a interface, inheritance and composition. A short chapter but good material and worth the time spent to read it.

Chapter 9 – Building Objects

This is where you learn how to use objects to build other objects. This goes into both types of composition: aggregations and associations. The author also goes into cardinality (a familiar concept to DB developers). I liked the material here but would gladly give up all of chapter 6 for more information in this chapter. Good, but I’d like more.

Conclusion

A very good book that is well illustrated, deep enough to explain the material without overwhelming someone new to OO development, and a good starting point for more advanced/in-depth books on OO development.I like how the author goes into UML enough, but not too deep to obfuscate the topic of OO development – the appendix is a good starter for people new to UML, but I wouldn’t recommend it as the source for programmers needing to gain more mastery of that topic.

Recommendation

I enjoyed reading it and will pass it along when I find someone that could benefit from it. The most current version of this book is the 3rd edition, which was published in September of 2008. I would recommend this book to undergrad computer science majors that learned to develop with any non-OO language, or for procedural programmers moving on to OO development. I would not recommend this book for an intro to UML

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyFi Wifi to Serial Adapter
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com/index.html)
Price: $149.95

Introduction

SkyFi is another fine product from Southern Stars, who sell SkySafari software for mobile devices and Mac computers, as well as other telescope-related hardware products. SkyFi uses WiFi to connect the RS232 control data flow from a telescope controller to an device (iPod/Phone/Pad apps as well as computer applications).

Setup

Figure 1 - SkyFi

Connecting the SkyFi to your telescope controller isn’t difficult. The package includes a couple of adaptors which will work with the mosre common telescope setups. The connection on the SkyFi itself is an RJ11 telephone jack. You can make a cable that connects the SkyFi directly to your telescope controller, use the included adaptors, or purchase a cable specifically for your computer from Southern Stars. Once connected to the telescope controller, you turn it on and it creates a wireless network.Your remote device needs to be connected to this network and also needs to be running software that can send and receive telescope control and data using the TCP IP. The connection scheme is the same as the one in the previous article. The Southern Stars web site has a nice explanation and pin out of the cables you need, in case you want to make one.

The SkyFi device itself is a bit larger then a cell phone. It is powered by 4 double-A batteries and can accept a power brick as well (6 to 12 VDC). There is no on/off switch, but there is a switch that selects either external or internal voltage source. Switching to external voltage source disconnects the internal batteries. (Which acts like a switch). A piece of velcro can be used to attach the SkyFi to the telescope mount, out of the way of motion. It is very light and once running, you won’t need to adjust it at all.

Once on, the SkyFi makes a wifi hotspot available. Firmware on the device controls the IP address and security. There is a standard IP address which is printed on the SkyFi, but you can change this and security settings if needed. I didn’t bother changing the default settings, as they worked well. I could find no fault with the defaults!

Using the Product

Before you begin using the SkyFi, you need to be sure that the telescope control software you use can communicate to the telescope using TCP IP. I Didn’t know some programs do not support TCP IP. On my MacBook, I have Voyager 4.5 and a copy of Sky Safari Beta that will work. The Starry Night Pro Plus that I like using doesn’t do TCP connections to telescopes. The people at Starry Night were unaware of a solution that would work on the Macintosh. For Windows users there are a couple of shareware applications that create a virtual com port that can be tied to the TCP connection, so I imagine this would work with a Window based machine and Starry Night or any other non-TCP controller application.

Figure 2 - SkyFi with a Telescope

If you are controlling with your i-device, you will need the Southern Stars Sky Safari package. (I am unaware of any other astronomy app that controls a telescope). We looked at these Apps a bit in the last article. In the App’s settings, you choose to use TCP IP to connect to the telescope controller. The default address is the same as the default on the SkyFi. (No surprise there!) Select to control the telescope and you are in control using your iPod/iPad/iPhone.

Working with the Voyager software, I had no issues controlling my telescope computer at all. Commands were instant as was feed back. The only issue I had was with me forgetting to choose the SkiFi network rather then my own home wireless network. You also need to make sure the controller software has the same TCP address that the SkyFi has. In Voyager 4.5, there is a box to enter this address. The default address is printed on the SkyFi device, which is another good reason for keeping to the defaults. However, if you need to change it, you can always re-label the back of the unit.

When I first read about the SkyFi, I thought that it was a wireless device and that it would log onto the local wireless network and make the telescope available on that network. It doesn’t do that. Rather then logging onto an existing network, it creates one of it’s own. So I couldn’t use this device to control my telescope with my desktop computer, since it doesn’t have a WiFi card. Nor would one be able to use it to allow access to the telescope from a remote site. You need to be in range of the SkyFi’s wireless netwrok to connect.

Figure 3 - VSP3 Screen

Since the computer you are controlling the telescope with is connected to the SkyFi network, it won’t be connected to your regular one. While observing I usually listen to Internet radio and I will often pop onto some internet site to inspect images and information about the object I am seeking. So I don’t get to listen to the Internet Radio, but I can still do my research by logging back onto my home network, do the research, then re-connect to the SkyFi. Luckily, this isn’t a big issue. Once the telescope is aimed at an object, the onboard controller takes care of compensating for the movement of the earth. Once connected back to the SkyFi, the data stream identifies the slightly changed location and all is well. It is just an added step in the process.

Conclusion

The biggest issue I had with the SkyFi is that it doesn’t come as a package. You buy the SkyFi and then need to find some compatible software. If the software you already purchased isn’t compatible, then you need to consider this as part of the purchase cost. It would be a whole lot nicer if the SkyFi came packaged with either SkySafari or Voyager. However, if you are into astronomy, you probably already have some package that will work with the SkyFi.

Much to my chagrin, I had expected that using the SkyFi would remedy the tangle of cables that I “need” to deal with when observing. However, I found that I still need to bring an extension cord to power the AutoStar (or use the battery adaptor). Since I had the power cord there, I went ahead and plugged in my MacBook Pro, so I still had the extension cord cable and the power supply cord to the MacBook. Thus, the tripping issue wasn’t really resolved. I suppose I could run the Scope on battery and bring the extension cable to the MacBook Pro, but that would cost me a lot in the battery budget.

As far as distance, the SkyFi does pretty well. I walked around the yard with my MacBook and had to get pretty far away to loose the connection. I think I was able to move slightly father then the expected 100 feet from the device. I was also able to put the MacBook on my dining room table and still control the telescope in the yard. I can see this as a real advantage in the winter as it would give me a chance to warm up between observations.

SkyFi is available through the Southern Star’s web site as well as many other astronomy stores. Southern Star also sells Sky Safari for MacOS X in three flavors, the Plus and Pro versions includes telescope controls ($20 and $50 respectively). The version for the iPod/Phone/Pad can be purchased through iTunes store again, you will need either the Plus or Pro version to control the telescope. In the next installment of this series, I will look specifically at the Sky Safari applications for the Macintosh.

Recommendation

Overall, the SkyFi works very well. If you are looking for a wireless connection to your telescope, this is the device you want. I don’t think there are many other options. I had no issues controlling my telescope using the device. If you have an iDevice and want to control your telescope, this is again a terrific solution.

By Ted Bade,  © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: iBank 4
Company: IGG Software (http://www.iggsoftware.com/)
Price: $59.95 USD (single user license)
Available at: http://www.iggsoftware.com/ibank/ (Also available through the App store)
Required OS: Mac OSX 10.5.7 or higher

iBank is a terrific alternative to any version of Quicken. It is robust, has an intuitive easy to use interface, and offers a lot of useful tools for managing your personal finances. If you are looking for an alternative to the old Mac versions of Quicken and/or find you cannot stomach the pathetic “Quicken Essentials”, you won’t go wrong with iBank.

I will be looking at iBank from the viewpoint of a person who has been using Personal Finance applications for well over ten years. This also means I have many habits and expectations about a financial program (both logical and illogical ones ☺), as well as a LOT of financial history. Also, my data needed to be transferred to iBank manually, not imported from an old Quicken file, because I did try using Quicken Essentials for a time before moving to iBank. There is no way to import QE saved data into iBank. However, iBank will import files from the older versions of Quicken, including Windows versions. The import process brings in your various accounts, transactions, investment account information, and budget categories. It won’t bring in scheduled transactions, reports or budgets.

Getting Started

There is one issue to consider with regard to importing from Quicken. iBank doesn’t use the Quicken save or backup file to import, but it imports from an exported QIF file. In my case, I had already converted to Lion (MacOS X 10.7), and had been using QE for a while, so there was no QIF export available for me. If you don’t export from Quicken before you convert to Lion, you might not have any way to run the old version of Quicken to perform the export, which means that you will have to do the import manually. I expect that the same thing would be true if you were previously a Windows user, and didn’t manage to keep your old machine (perhaps it died, which is the reason you are converting financial applications). I imagine a Window’s user would have one option of running Quicken for Windows in a virtual Machine on the Mac to perform the export file creation.

Author’s Note: Being a curious kind of guy, I asked iBank’s customer service what my options are. I was pleasantly surprised by the reply. Essentially, their customer service department offered to do the conversion for me. They provided a small script app to grab the data and to create a secure file that could then be emailed to customer service. For QE files, they suggested asking Intuit to do the conversion. So, even if you made the jump, there are options. Great job IGG Software customer support!!

If you have a QIF file to import, the process is pretty nice. iBank analyzes the file you give it, and then asks you to verify the the account types. This is mainly due to the fact that iBank offers more account types than Quicken does. You can choose to change an account type to one of iBank’s more specific choices. iBank then translates the date into a new iBank file. Once it is done, you need to go through your accounts and make sure they are correct. In the case of the file I imported, it has a muddled history going back to early 2001, so the import would probably have required more work then just stating over. This was my fault, since I did a poor job of cleaning up my Quicken files and they had issues. I don’t expect there would be any real issues for people importing with only a few clean years of history, or even ten years of well kept files! Ideally, it would be terrific if you could run iBank side by side with Quicken (or any of the other financial applications it can convert from), to verify account data.

 One thing I have learned about financial programs (and it actually applies to any program), is that the people involved with creating it decide on a method for doing whatever it is that the program does. This method may or may not be exactly the method you are familiar with. When I attended elementary/high school, there wasn’t a course covering personal finances. So most of my methods have been monstered together from what I have learned from various sources, friends, books, and financial applications. Consider also, there is an element of anxiety in moving to a new financial application. A simple mistake might mean an important loan payment is forgotten or a checking account is over drawn. Because of this, one needs to pay particular attention to what actually happens when you use a new program. Don’t assume anything.

In my case with iBank, years of complacency using one version or another of Quicken left me expecting an application would respond in a particular way. iBank is not a clone of Quicken, and so it follows it’s own set of rules and processes. I say this not to criticize, but point out the way it does business. I want to point out iBank works differently than Quicken, and new users need to consider each action taken while learning the software. Once past this awkward application learning period, people should find that iBank is very intuitive and easy to use.

iBank provides a view of your finances when it initially opens. On the left side there is a column that gives access to various things, such as accounts, websites, and other functions. The right side is a window showing information about the item selected on the left side bar. For instance, if you have selected an account, the register is shown, if you select a web site, the browser function opens to load it, or if you select a report, the report is displayed. The side bar offers a lot of choices, more then will show on the screen, you will have to scroll down to find everything. Accounts occupy the top of the list, which makes sense, since you will spend a lot of time working with them. The side bar offers areas for Accounts, Websites, Reports, and at the bottom a Manage area providing a variety of functions (including syncing with the mobil version of iBank, which I didn’t test). Accounts are organized in order of creation, but the user can drag the icon to any position. I personally like to keep my most active accounts near the top, for easy access.

Transaction registers offer three views. The regular register looking view, a cover flow view, and a reconcile view. I am not totally sure what functionality the cover flow view actually provides. It allows one to slide along through the transactions in the account in a cover flow like method (displaying the icons related to the accounts). It also provides a chart on the bottom showing the value of the account over time. Clicking on the chart brings up the transaction you clicked. The chart lets you visualize the account value over time, so you can see the rise and fall of a checking account from paycheck to paycheck. It also shows the minimum and maximum values in the account. For a credit card, you can easily find the periods of most charging.

One things I really like about iBank is that it can be very visual. For instance, iBank uses icons for various category types to make it easy for you to recognize them in a register. You can use the ones included in iBank or find those of your own to use; the process is as easy as cut and paste. You can also set a color to a category, then the register line for a transaction of that type is tinted with the color. For instance, I use green for grocery transactions. When I look at the register, it is easy to locate all the grocery transactions by finding the green tinted ones. Both of these methods are a big benefit to people who are very visual.

You can choose to have a tool bar near the top of the iBank window, below the menu bar; the default tool bar option has buttons for several common features. The tool bar can be changed to satisfy your way of doing things. For instance, iBank has a calculator function, which can be added to the tool bar if you find it useful. Alternatively, you might not want the tool bar and be content to use the menus.

Finally, the iBank window offers a summary area (Summary Page) showing how much you have and how much you owe, it will also turn into a “Net Worth” bar graph if you click it’s top bar. This summary gives a quick overview of your financial picture. This area covers the lower portion of the side bar, and you can choose to hide it if you would rather see more of that area.

Before you start using iBank, you will need to create (or import) all your accounts. If you are in a position to import from another financial program I highly recommend doing this. Although you should spend some time making sure the translation was correct, you won’t have to spend the time it takes to create each account individually.

One improvement I would like to see with iBank’s manual is a section giving a logical method for people moving accounts in manually. Their manual is written with the view point that all accounts have been created and all you might need to do is create a new account to add to the picture. While the manual explains quite well how to create new accounts, it doesn’t suggest an order to create them in if you start from scratch. I highly recommend that you begin with the checking (or whatever other) account you use to pay the majority of your bills, followed by any others you use for this purpose, then create credit card accounts, loans, and finally investment accounts. The reason for this is simple, if you pay your bills, credit cards, loans, and investments from one or two accounts, it is a good idea to have them created before your download transactions for these other accounts.

iBank easily downloads data from your financial institutions. When you create an account, after naming it, you choose which type of account it is, savings, checking, credit card, and so on. Then iBank downloads the current list of institutions that fit into this category. Hopefully you will find your institution in this list. If not, then you can enter the company’s web site manually or enter all your transactions manually. iBank checks for new financial institutions every time you create a new account, unless you create several of the same type one after another. While this is a safe method of business, it does prove a bit tedious waiting the short time for it to check. I found myself tapping the screen muttering, “Hey buddy, I saw that company in the list yesterday, you don’t have to check again”.

In case your financial institution isn’t in the list iBank downloads, there is an option to select: “Other financial Institution”. If you select this option, you can either provide iBank with the company’s web address (where you can download account information), or choose to enter transactions manually. iBank puts this choice, alphabetically, within the list of the several hundred other institutions that are downloaded. Although it is selected by default, one might forget this or choose a different company option, then forget what it was called. It would be a lot nice if this option had a permanent space of it’s own, not part of the list, for easy location and selection when needed.  (Note: a recent upgrade to iBank now keeps the “Other” choice in the list even when you search for the name of your financial institution, which is almost as good as having a dedicated Other button!)

 One VERY cool feature iBank offers is an in program web browser. While some companies allow iBank to download data directly, many others require that you log into your account and download a file. While it isn’t a big deal to run Safari and get the files, the neat thing about iBank’s browser is that when the file is downloaded, iBank takes it in. You don’t have to save it, then open the saved file with iBank. I ran into one odd issue, more with my bank then with iBank. One of my banks requires Safari 4 on the Mac, which means that neither my Lion hyped Mac nor iBank can get transactions from this bank! I did manage to get the transactions using an old version of FireFox. While I can almost justify not having tested Safari 5 yet, I was aghast at needing to use Firefox 3.x!

Logging into the bank with iBank is identical to what you would do with Safari. You will still need your passwords and user name and any other pieces of information the bank might require. There is one issue with iBank’s browser. One financial institution required that a second browser window be opened to initiate the download. iBank’s browser cannot open a second window. In this case, you need to use a regular browser to get the data. Overall, it is very convenient having a browser built into iBank.

Day to day usage of iBank is simple. iBank keeps track of how you do transactions and uses auto fill to reduce your work. For instance, I download my credit card transactions. iBank opens a two pane window, the top showing the newest downloaded, the bottom showing the current register for that account. You look at the transactions and choose to accept them or not, when done you click to bring in all those you accepted.

As you begin using iBank, you teach it which categories various transactions refer to. iBank allows you to create a “rule”, that says something like, all payments made to a specific grocery store go into the category of “Groceries”. Now when iBank sees a transaction with that grocery store, it fills in the category for you. However, some stores have multiple purposes. You can choose to either not create a rule, which means you enter a category every time you download a transaction, or you create a rule, then change the category when the need arises. One issue with not creating a rule is that iBank asks to create a  rule every time a transaction from this company shows up, until a rule is created. Ultimately, this autofill feature saves a lot of your time.

I like to verify that a credit card transaction matches the receipt that I have. There are a variety of reasons for doing this. iBank doesn’t provide a check box or space to indicate that a receipt was verified. Sometimes I need to make sure that one or another transaction was actually made. I have been hit twice by transactions not made by the household showing up on a credit card. I like to take action quickly!

iBank comes with a lot of pre-made categories. As you type a name in the category field, iBank provides a list of categories that fit the letters you type, the list gets smaller as the word completes. While this is a real time saver once you know all the correct names, iBank doesn’t search for the string anywhere in the name, only from the beginning. This process could be made a lot easier if they had used a Keyword search, rather then a Browse search method. So there is a learning curve here. If you choose to use their method, you need to learn it.

iBank organizes categories in groups, then by sub-categories. There is a group called “Utilities”, with sub-categories such as Utilities:Cable, Utilities:Cell Phone, and Utilities:Electric (notice the use of the colon to designate the sub-category). I download a transaction that shows a payment to my cell phone company. If I type “Cell phone” into the category field, iBank finds nothing, since iBank lists this as “Utilities:Cell Phone”. You need to understand their syntax/structure to find the correct category. This is only an issue the first time the transaction comes up. Once you create a rule, iBank fills it in, so you don’t have to type anything unless you need to change the category. It also gets easier as you become comfortable with iBank’s category naming methods. When you need to find how iBank names a category, you can use the menu option to “Change Transaction Type”. Clicking on this menu item opens a list of all the category names, and you can visually search the list to find the appropriate one.

If you enter a category that iBank doesn’t already have, it opens a window to allow you to create a new category. You need to enter various bits of information about the category. iBank’s category organization structure is efficient and I recommend staying with their format. The need to locate a proper category occurs early on. Once you set up a rule or become familiar with the scheme, it becomes easy, however you can easily create all your own categories in a way that makes the most sense to you. This demonstrates another reason why iBank is a great choice for tracking your finances: there are so many ways to modify the application to get it to suit your personal methods.

Some transactions move money from one account to another. When you download transactions, iBank compares the downloaded transactions to those already in the register. If it finds one that already exists, it automatically un-checks the accept check box, since the transaction already exists in both registers. If you did import it, there would be a duplicate transaction. When importing transactions, you need to look over the list and make sure that only the transactions you want to import have the check box checked. Had I known this when I first started downloading transactions, I could have saved myself a bit of time. Luckily, if you do duplicate a transaction, you need only delete the duplicate. The issue is realizing that it was done, which is a good reason for reconciling an account on a regular basis.

I found a few inconsistencies with how iBank works with respect to transactions. The default transaction type often doesn’t make sense for the account type. For instance, when I download a new credit card transaction the type defaults to “Withdrawal” not “Charge” as I expect. For a new checking transaction that I enter manually as I write a check, it defaults to “POS”, not new check number. However, if I change the type to Check, it automatically chooses the next check number in my sequence. Note that if you create a rule with a particular store, the type of transaction is included in the rule, so the next time you download a transaction from that company, it is correct.

 iBank does a very good job of tracking investments. Overall, the process is very simple and intuitive, although there are a few things to remember. If you set up a new investment account to hold shares of various stocks, you need to enter the number of shares you own manually. The number of shares wasn’t transferred from the account I own. Once you enter the total number of shares, iBank will track the share value, provide a chart of the value over time, and even keep track of the cost basis of the stocks or mutual funds.

When you manually bring an existing account into iBank, there are a few things to be aware of. First of all, any past account history is not brought into iBank. While some companies will provide cost basis for an account for iBank, many do not. You can add this information manually. iBank shows only the cash available in an investment account in the register, so if your account has only shares of stocks or funds, it will show as a zero value. The actual value of the account, based on share values as of the current quote download, shows up in the accounts side bar. The value is kept up to date by downloading stock quotes (which includes mutual fund quotes).

Reconciling an account with iBank is easy. You choose the start and end dates and balances, then choose to either reconcile manually or automatically. In the auto mode, iBank accepts all the downloaded transactions between the two dates you gave it, marks then as reconciled, then you verify if this list matches your statement. Manually, it displays the entire register of unreconciled transactions, and you need to click on each transaction to indicate it was on the statement. Once you have a good reconcile, you click a lock icon to lock the transactions as reconciled. If you use the auto mode, you see only those transactions within the dates of the statement, but you need to create a manual method to record that you verified each transaction on the statement. I ran into a small gotcha when I forgot to use parenthesis around the negative balance of a credit card statement. iBank considers any number inside a parenthesis as negative and without a parenthesis as a positive value. When you enter a credit card, you need to be sure the negative balances are within parenthesis, or you get some unusual results. ☺

During my tests I found that for accounts for which you download transactions, the auto method almost always creates a register that looks exactly like the statement from the financial institution. This is a real time saver, as all you need to do is enter the numbers, make sure the difference is zero, and you are done! If there are issues, you then need to figure things out, but this method is significantly faster then the manual method of adding transactions.

Once you get all your accounts into iBank, there are two other things you might want to do. Track where your money goes and how much you have, and create a budget to help you better manage where your money goes and how much you save. iBank offers the tools to help with these items as well.

While recording transactions is a very important part of any financial application, it isn’t everything. Some people like to look at where their money goes, how much their savings is worth, and to keep track of tax related transactions. iBank offers some built in reports as well as a set of very useful tools to create reports of your own. The reports themselves are interactive, so you can easily dig deeper into them if necessary (or if you are curious). The best way to explain this is to consider one of iBank’s included reports. The report called “Last month to date expenses” is an income and expense report. Click on the report icon in iBank’s source list (the left side bar) to run that report. The program’s main window changes to show the report, and there are two pie charts on the top: one for expenses and one for income. Below the pie chart is a key, showing the names associated with the colors of the pie chart. Below the pie charts is a list showing the categories that make up the charts.

Both the pie charts and the list of text data are interactive. When you click on a piece of the pie chart or an area in the list, iBank generates a sub report showing the accounts and/or transactions that make up this section. For instance, if the category is $500 on groceries, you can click on this then see a list of the different grocery transactions which make up the total. If you are inclined to keep precise records of your finances, this is a good way to make sure you didn’t accidentally include a transaction that doesn’t belong. It is also a good way to see where the money goes. You might find that most goes to a particular store. People who might use iBank to take control of their “Fun”spending, as they will easily see where the money goes if they keep good records!

If you find reports useful, you will want to create your own reports. iBank makes the process relatively easy, yet offers the tools to do some very complex things. iBank lets you create reports by walking through a series of screens, each part setting up a different aspect of the report. You start with a report type, then specify specifically what items will be included and the dates to be covered. For example, one report I always set up is a list of charitable contributions I have made in the past calendar year. To create this report I choose Category Detail, include all accounts, but limit the category to charity contributions, set the date to last calendar year, and finally give it a name. Then, when I am working on my income tax, I can run this report, which will provide me with a nice list to print and include in my tax records.

When creating a report, you can get pretty complex using iBank’s “Smart Rules”, which essentially is a group of nested “and” and “or” statements that limit or extend the included items. I have to admit I am not really a report kind of guy, so my use of reporting is very limited. However, it is easy to see that there is a lot of power in iBank’s report wizard to do some very specific things.

Finally, you can easily create a budget for the next year using iBank’s budget tool. Just like the report tool, it is very easy to do. You predict your income first, then predict how much you will spend on various items in the budget. Obviously, any budget is only as good as the validity of the data you use. Often it is easier to create a home budget after you have collected a year or more of data on where your money goes (however, you might need to control the budget before collecting this data ☺). Also consider that people prone to spend too much might well served by creating a budget on specific “fun” or entertainment items.

Once the budget is created, iBank offers two ways of looking at the information. First is the traditional view, which is a window that lists your incomes (on the top of the screen) and expenses (on the lower part of the screen), showing the budget, actual to date, and  amount remaining (over). Each line is followed by a bar graphically showing how much of the budget is remaining (or how far past the value you are). The bar is green for under and red for over and yellow for getting close to the limit. Using this chart, you can easily monitor where you are. The bar graphs give a quick visual review of items. The middle of the screen shows a “remaining cash to spend” as a total, along with a bar graph, and a summary of total incomes/expenses, budgeted versus actual. This is a very useful to easily monitor and keep an eye on the budget.

As with many other screens in iBank, this one is interactive. If you click on an item, you go into an edit mode, allowing you to modify the budget item (come on, no cheating here, this is really important!!).  I do disagree slightly with their handling of incomes. People are paid on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. This means that for income, you will be under budget until some time near your last pay period, giving a negative impression for a normal sequence of events. However, budgets are more about watching where the money goes rather then where it comes from. Unless, of course, you are in a field where you have to create income and need a little push to get you going.

iBank offers another method of monitoring budgets, called the envelope method. This is a very practical method for people who don’t use a program iBank does a great job implementing this process. Using this method you have an envelope representing an amount of cash to spend on different budget items. There is one for food, one for housing, one for keeping the car going and so on. When you need to pay for something, you take money from the envelope for that item. You can also move additional money into an envelope if necessary. The idea behind this method, is that you can see how the envelope empties as you spend money. It is a very visual method and has been used by a lot of people to help them take control of their finances.

iBank shows a screen of envelopes; nice green bills stick out the top of an envelope and the envelope shows a black positive number when it is positive. For over budget items, the envelope is closed, the number is red and in parenthesis. The lay out is similar to the the first method with incomes on the top, expenses on the bottom and the middle with some summary information. With this method, it doesn’t show you where you are relative to the period, but the income area shows how much unspent money you have, while the expense area shows how much of each envelope’s total you have spent already. The summary area show how much over or under budget you are and offers a table of days left to the period (usually a month), how much is available (positive or negative), and how much reserve cash you have.

The vendor is very active in updating and improving this program. They host a very active forum where people can ask questions and get answers from users and staff. Their tech support was quick and very helpful. They appear to listen to the comments made by users, and act to modify the program when it makes sense. There were a couple of things that changed while I as working on this review, making the program even better. This commitment to customer service is another great aspect of iBank.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this program. Overall, iBank is a terrific program. Having used it for a while, I find that it is actually more comprehensive and logical than my previous version of Quicken. iBank offers tools for importing your data from other programs, and gives you a wealth of tools for controlling your personal finances. I found iBank to be very easy to use and relatively easy to covert to. The vendor even offer a free download with a 30 day trial period, so how can you go wrong with that?

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Tides Calculator
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $.99

Wolfram’s Mathematica (now version 8.0.4) is a mature product used by many professionals and academics, and the past couple of years Wolfram has started getting developing mobile applications. I’ve already reviewed their Astronomy and Chemistry course assistant apps, which are excellent and inexpensive products for students. This review is on Wolfram’s Tides Calculator, one of their new Reference apps for the iPhone/Touch and iPad.

The tides are relevant to many people around the world that live on or near the coast, or that make a living on the sea. Wolfram provides a low cost ($.99) app that is easy to transport and provides good information about the tides, including Current Tide, High Tide, Low Tide, Average Tide, Tide Forecast/History, and Extras.

Getting Started

I downloaded the Tides app from the iTunes store and it was a typically easy install onto my iPod Touch. I selected the first option (Current Tide), and and the default location was set to Current Location (handy of you are on the go and want the tide info for your current site. As tides are not as much of an issue for us in Minneapolis, MN, I entered Maine for the Location and pressed the Compute button. In a couple of seconds, the app displayed a chart for the tides covering 24 hours, with the time and height of high and low tides for Maine. As I entered the search in the afternoon, the returned results covered the current and next days which is better than forcing one to go to a different path to get the tide info for the next day. One thing to note: this data was computed based on historical data and did not include weather-influenced factors like hurricanes, so take this into consideration if you need current information and bad weather impacts your location.

There is other useful data on the same screen. The tide reporting station for Maine is at Bangor, at the Penobscot River, and the coordinates of the station are included (good for using with Google Earth), along with the relative position of the station in relation to the state of Maine. Another bit of useful information on the screen is sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset. Not all of the screen information is visible at the same time, but it is easy to move around or zoom out as needed.

Next I checked out the High Tide and Low Tide information. I again used Bangor Maine as the location and essentially saw the same information displayed as I saw at the Current Tide screen, although the graphs highlighted the high and low tides respectably. I used Bangor again for the Average Tide option, and there were a few extra bits of information (range of tide, average high tide, average of high and low tides, and average low tide), but had mostly the same information as was shown at the Current Tide screen.

The next option I tested was Tide Forecast/History. Using my favorite (Bangor, Maine) location, I retrieved the tides forecast for 11/24/2011 (Thanksgiving Day in the US) and saw a nice 24 hr graph of the expected tides, with times/heights of high/low tides along with sun/moon rise/set times. Good data for a forecast. Next I left the location alone and changed the date to 11/24/2010 and the app downloaded the historical tide data for last year – also, good data.

Finally I checked out the Extras options and they were: Sunrise and Sunset, Sun Exposure, UV Forecast, Weather and Forecast, Moon Phase, and Properties of Oceans. For Sunrise and Sunset, I retrieved the information for my current location (Minneapolis, MN) for tomorrow and saw the data, plus the duration of daylight (good to know as we edge closer to the shortest day of the year), the altitude and azimuth for my location, a nice graph of the sun path for tomorrow, some cool (to amateur astronomers) star properties, an image of the current Earth/Moon/Sun configuration (science teachers, paying attention?), and the 10 closest stars (including Wolf 359, mentioned once or twice in Star Trek: The Next Generation). Excellent information for educators and astronomers.

Another Extras option is Sun Exposure, where you can enter your location, date, and skin type to compute the most appropriate sun tan lotion needed to protect your body. Nice. With my skin type, I will need an SPF 15 if I head outdoors tomorrow. I like the UV Forecast option too – it gave the current UV conditions, along with a map of most of the country that showed this data, along with the expected time to get a sunburn (based on skin type and exposure), and the recommended SPF factor for sun tan lotion.

The next Extras item I checked out was the weather forecast. I regularly check weather when I fly, and I’m just as interested in the weather when driving in Minnesota in January and February, so this is one of my favorite extras.The forecast for the current day and next day is useful, and the graph for the temperatures for the upcoming week is also good to know (especially as the highs and lows for each day is also included). I also find the precipitation rate and wind speed forecast graphs to be very useful and both enhance this aspect of the app. I should add you can get weather forecasts for other locations than current location, so this could be a nice assistant when planning a vacation.

The next option in Extras is Moon Phase, which provides good info if you’re wanting to look at the Moon. The last Extras option is Properties of Oceans and it provides Ocean Information, Ocean Properties, Speed of Sound in the Ocean, and Pressure Under Water data. Good information for planning a dive, don’t you think?

Likes

  • The price is excellent, and the UI is simple yet functional.
  • This is a good tool to use to help plan a vacation.
  • The app does what good apps do – it retrieves information over the internet (from Wolfram servers), reducing the footprint of the downloaded/installed app.
  • I like how the locations default to the current location (great for lazy mobile device owners like myself).
  • The amount of information in Extras is excellent and really expands the app. Weather is my absolute favorite option in this app.

Dislikes

  • Didn’t like seeing the same information in Current Tides duplicated in the High, Low, and Average Tide screens. I’d rather have buttons at the Current Tide screen that would provide the additional information. I think it might have been better to release a Weather App, which includes Tide information, that a Tides App with weather information.

Conclusion

The information is useful to a lot of people, not just sailors. As a fiction writer, I may need to know past or future tides that affect the characters in some of my stories, and this inexpensive app would be an excellent resource. While I know many people (including me) prefer free apps, it is hard to argue with the low price for this app.

Recommendation

Buy it. Skip the burger on the McDonald’s value menu and buy this app. It is interesting information, and good, inexpensive apps need to be purchased to encourage vendors to continue to provide quality apps at a low price. Wolfram currently has another 8 Reference Apps available, and the next one I’ll review is their Fractals App.

Please let our readers know if you’ve tried this app and your impression of the software. Sharing experiences on expensive apps is important, but so is telling others about good, low cost applications.

Be well.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: General Astronomy Course Assistant
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $4.95

Many modern students use their smart phones in school, and Wolfram understands this so they are releasing a series of course assistant applications for smart phones and devices like the Apple iPhone and iPod touch. I’ve already looked at Wolfram’s Course Assistant for Astronomy, and I wanted to look at Wolfram’s General Chemistry Course Assistant when it was released since I initially majored in Biochemistry when I first started my undergrad degree.

This Course Assistant is sold through the Apple Apps store for $4.95, and I downloaded and installed the app through iTunes, which was flawless. The data (just like in the Astronomy Course Assistant) was organized by categories:

  • Atoms, Molecules, Ions
  • Atomic Structure & Periodicity
  • Reactions & Stoichiometry
  • Gases
  • Chemical Bonding
  • Liquids & Solids
  • Acids & Bases
  • The Nucleus
  • Units & Chemical Properties

Atoms, Molecules, Ions

This category has these subcategories: Find an Element. Find an Isotope, Atomic Properties of Elements, Abundance of Elements, Properties of Monoatomic Ions, and Ion Groups.

I went to the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory and entered 8, and then pressed ‘Compute’ to see the information on Oxygen, which displayed the element name,the location in the periodic table, an image of the element, some basic element properties (symbol, atomic number, electron configuration, block, group, period, and atomic weight), thermodynamic properties (melting point, boiling point – in centigrade and fahrenheit – critical temperature and pressure, molar heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, specific heat at STP, and adiabetic index), material properties (density, molar volume, refractive index, sound speed, and thermal conductivity), electromagnetic properties, reactivity (valence, electronegativity, electron affinity, ionization energies, atomic properties (term symbol, atomic radius, covalent radius, and van der Waals radius), abundance (universal, crust, and human), nuclear properties (half-life, isotopes), and identifiers (CAS and PubChem numbers).

In addition to searching for elements by atomic number, you can also use the number of protons and electrons. My favorite subcategory of this category of the course assistant was the ‘Atomic Properties of Elements’, because the search criteria you can use to find information include atomic number/weight/radius, number of protons/electrons.neutrons, and the Lewis structure.

Atomic Structure & Periodicity

This category has four subcategories: Light & Matter, Electron Configuration, Periodic Properties of Elements, and Ionic Radii.

The ‘Light & Matter’ subcategory lets you compute EM Radiation, the energy of a photon, and photon energy. The ‘Electron Configuration’ subcategory lets you compute configuration information for atoms or ions. The ‘Periodic Properties of Elements’ calculates information for elements and element groups. The ‘Ionic Radii’ subcategory computes radii for monoatomic and polyatomic ions.

Reactions & Stoichiometry

This category has eight subcategories to Solve for Mass/Volume, Convert Mass/Volume, Calculating Molar Mass, Composition of Compounds, Concentration and Solutions, and Equations and Reactions. My favorite subcategory was Equations and Reactions, which lets you plug in data to compute Reaction Enthalpy, the Reaction Equilibrium Constant, balance chemical equations, and calculate theoretical yields. Each section lets you specify 1 to 4 reactants and 1 to 4 products. Very useful.

Gases

This category has nine subcategories to solve for Avogadro’s Law (V or n), Boyle’s Law (V or P), Charles’s Law (V or T), Gay-Lussac’s Law (P or T)/Density or Molar Mass, the Ideal Gas Law (P, V, n, and T), Graham’s Law, Average Kinetic Energy, and RMS Velocity.

Chemical Bonding

This category has two subcategories: Bond Properties of Chemicals and Lewis Structures of Elements. The ‘Bond Properties’ include dipole moment, bond types and bond lengths for water, ethanol, acetic acid, acetone, and chloroform.

Liquids & Solids

This category has three subcategories: X-ray Analysis of Solids (Bragg Equation), Boiling Point of Liquids, and Liquid Vapor Pressure. I really liked how the second subcategory lets find boiling points based on city, elevation or mountains.

This was the only area of the app that I saw an error. I went into all three subcategories and all were blank, even though I waited 10 minutes. I quit the app and after I went back into it I was able to see each subcategory, but then the app locked up for a minute. I was able to restart the app, but I have notified Wolfram about this issue and will update this review as soon as I hear back from them.

Acids & Bases

This category lets you look up properties of acids and bases, calculates the ionization percentage of a solution, determine acidity and basicity of solutions (calculate pH and pOH, H+ and OH-, and look up the pH of a chemical), calculate pKa, and solve for pH or pKa.

The Nucleus

This category lets you look up information on isotopes (get element isotopes, look up nuclear properties, and find isotope half-life), as well as compute carbon-14 dating (if you believe that the earth is actually older than 6400 years). I went into the ‘Isotopes’ subcategory and looked up the isotopes for Oxygen, which showed all of the stable and unstable O isotopes. My favorite subcategory of this section was the ‘Isotope Half-Life’, as you can easily use element name or mass numbers to compute the half-lives of elements, which was interesting considering the reactor problems currently being experienced in Japan (as well as in Chernobyl).

Units & Chemical Properties

This category contains five subcategories: Unit Conversions, Physical Properties, Thermodynamic Properties, Element Properties, and Chemical Properties. The ‘Unit Conversion’ subcategory allows conversions based on length, mass, temperature, and volume. The four types of ‘Physical Properties’ are molecular weight, density,boiling point, and melting point. The types of properties found using ‘Thermodynamic Lookup’ are enthalpy of formation, entropy, free energy, heat capacity, enthalpy of fusion, and combustion heat.

I liked the ‘Element Properties’ subcategories, because it returns a ton of information for each element (the element name, periodic table position, an image, basic element properties, thermodynamic properties, material properties, electromagnetic properties, reactivity, atomic properties abundances, nuclear properties, and identifiers), but that seems to be the same as the data returned in the ‘Find an Element’ subcategory option in the ‘Atoms, Molecules, Ions’ category of the app.

Conclusion

Wolfram has expanded their offerings beyond the first 6 course assistant apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. I tested this app using my iPod touch and was satisfied with the amount of useful information as well as the content layout. I did have a problem at one point and had to exit the app, but it then functioned normally.

As much as I enjoyed this app on my iPod touch, I’d love to be able  to retrieve all of the ‘Element Properties’ (in the ‘Units & Chemical Properties’ category) using a GUI image of the periodic table instead of the keyboard that was implemented in the app. To select elements not included on the keyboard, you just need to highlight the element that begins with the same first letter of the alphabet, then select the desired element. Preferring a GUI for this UI is a person preference and not a bug or error, but it might be more appropriate on the larger screen on the iPad.

Recommendation

A good value. Good data that will preclude the need to look up technical information in a textbook, which is handy for high school or college students.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: SkyWire Serial Accessory
Vendor: Southern Stars (http://www.southernstars.com)
Price: $79.95 USD
Shipping: varies according to destination

SkyWire Serial Accessory is a simple cable that makes it a breeze to connect your iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone to your computerized telescope and control it with an app called SkySafari. Set up and use is really easy, although you need to use Southern Stars SkySafari version 2.1 app (or later) to take advantage of this cable.

Years ago I purchased a computerized telescope mount (and telescope), and found it was a serious step up for the rank amateur sky observer. Nowadays, rather then dealing with the frustration of using guiding stars to target in on a celestial object, I can now let a computer do all the work. Although the process isn’t perfect, it was an improvement over the tasks I needed to follow to get setup in the past. The Meade Autostar computer controller on my mount has a funky red LED display, which has issues like being completely un-readable when temperatures are in the lower 30 degree F. While it does know the position of a fair number of objects, it is also a bit of a process to select one. Not to mention that, before you begin to search, there is no indication  that an object is currently in the sky until after you select it. It didn’t take me long to look for a more intuitive interface.

From my previous articles here on our Space page, you see that I use my MacBook Pro along with different Astronomy software to make the process even easier. But what if you are starting out like most people today, you may already have one of Apple’s i-devices. SkyWire used with the SkySafari software makes it easy to step a telescope up. Additionally, most of these devices make use of the compass and GPS features, so you can use them to assist with locating the general area of the sky your object of choice might reside.

SkyWire is a cable that transfers the serial data (RS232) signal from the telescope controller to the i-device you are using. The SkyWire cable ends in a DB9 connector. If your telescope controller doesn’t use this connector, you will need a cable to convert the DB9 connector to whatever your ‘Scope” uses. In my case, the Meade LXD75 uses a standard telephone connector (RJ11). It came with a cable that has the RJ11 on one side and a  DB9 on the other, so all I had to do was plug the SkyWire DB9 into the telescope’s DB9 connector and plug the RJ11 end into the AutoStar. Note that I mention all this cable detail because it is specific to my set up. Hopefully there is enough detail so that someone with a different set up will understand what to do.

The current version of SkySafari is version 3, and you need version 3 plus to gain the telescope control features. I was pretty impressed with SkySafari. It is a very comprehensive piece of astronomy software with lots of features. It is a great standalone product and worth considering even if you don’t have an interest in the SkyWire feature.

With SkySafari 3 Plus running on my iPod Touch, I plugged in the standard i-device connector into it and an alert box in the software told me I am connected to the SkyWire. By default SkySafari 3 Plus has the telescope control set to “demo mode”.  You need to go into the settings and select your telescope controller and mount type. This system will work with a wide variety of telescope controllers (those that use the RS232 interface), but some do not. Check the products web site to see if your controller is included.

Once you have selected the telescope controller, bring up the telescope control and select connect. If your controller is on and ready to go it should immediately connect. Now all the power of SkySafari 3 Plus is available to control your telescope. And there is a lot of power in this program!

I have both an iPod Touch and and iPad, so I used both to control the telescope. The iPod Touch is a bit smaller then my Meade Autostar controller but it is infinitely easier to find objects in my sky and slew the telescope to them with this setup. The display is huge compared to the Autostar’s display. Secondly, I am looking at an image that represents what the sky looks like where I am currently located, so by looking at the display I know if the object is above or below the horizon. Using the iPod’s compass feature, I can actually locate the part of the sky tof he object I am interested in viewing, and it is easy to see if there are obstructions that would prevent viewing. SkySafari 3 Plus provides information about the object as well as an image, so I have an idea of magnitude and have data I can read about the object, and can even see what it would look like using a larger telescope. It would be truly cool is there was an easy way to mount and align the iPod on the telescope, so that it could be set to show what was in that part of the sky the telescope is currently pointed toward!

A benefit of any piece of software to aid in observing the sky is its ability to help find objects of interest. Like most astronomy packages, SkySafari show solar system objects, many stars, and puts symbols on the screen where deep space objects are located. It also has two features that point out interesting objects in the current sky. First of all under the search menu there is a “Tonight’s Best” selection, which lists a number of items that should be viewable in your local night sky. You can go through the list and create an observing list of objects you would like to view, or just select one and go to it. The observing list(s) in SkySafari are accessed using the search menu.

The other feature requires an internet connection, it is Sky & Telescope’s SkyWeek feature. This weekly list provides a sky observing task or suggestion for each night of the week. Scroll through the weeks list, choose the correct day and you can read their suggestion. There is also a “View” button that when clicked, centers the object in SkySafari, so you can see where it is.

Using the iPod is nice, but the screen is small. The iPad has a larger screen, and I find this more effective when displaying the night sky. However, it is a bit more awkward to hold up to the sky, (but just only a bit more difficult). One issue I have had with connecting my MacBook Pro to the Autostar is tripping over the cable. The cables I have aren’t long enough to easily string around to protect from an accidental pull and unplug. One advantage of the iPod is that it is small enough to just hang on the telescope mount, so the cable stays out of the way, just as the Autostar cable does.

The SkyWire coupled with SkySafari and your i-device is a cool way to control your telescope’s computer. It is easy to set up and simple to use. I am certain any user will discover that using the data, display, and easy interface of an i-device will be far superior to what came with the telescope. If you have a telescope, and i-device, and want to make the connection, this is definitely the way to go.

Author’s note: In the next review, I discuss Southern Star’s SkyFi, a device that lets you wirelessly connect your telescope computer to your WiFi enabled computer.

By Harry {doc} Babad,  © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Authors: Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto, Keita Takatsu and Trend-Pro Co, Ltd.

Publisher: No Starch Press — An O’Reilly Media Imprint

Web Site: http://nostarch.com/mg_relativity.htm

Updates/Errata: http://www.nostarch.com/mg_relativity.htm

Review Rating:  4.5 Quills

Cost: List Price: $19.95, Ebook:  $16.00 (PDF format),  Print +Ebook $21.95 [USD], Street Prices:  $10.88 [USD],  £15.19 [UK],  $15.12 [CDN].

ISBN-10: 1593272723
ISBN-13: 978-159327272

Language: English, Published (April 22, 2011)

Product Dimensions: 192 Pages including the Index, is a 9 x 67 x 0.3 inches paperback, or if you prefer buy it as an eBook from the publisher or Safari books online. The publisher offers the Ebook free when you buy the book from them.

Audience: Folks with science interests who not offended by comic based learning.

Strengths: A high quality, but at time mildly repetitive introduction to the history and implication of relativity from early classical mechanics to the world of Einstein.

Weaknesses: The detailed more academic sections are more disjointed then I cared for, relative to the comic story line and narratives, for my comfort.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Introduction

Since I attended undergraduate school or perhaps earlier, I have been interested in relativity, as well as the peripherally associated quantum mechanics. That interest was always piqued by the apparent paradoxes they establish related to classical Newtonian mechanics. My often love-hate relationship blossomed as I read popularizations of these theories (often at ‘dummies’ level) about Albert Einstein, the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and Erwin Schrödinger’s discovery of quantum mechanics. [Check Wikipedia for lots more detail on these and other topics in this review often with beaucoup equations.]

Alas, the hate part of relativity related information; my class on ’introduction to’ was so filled with math (Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, NY) that I nearly imperiled my future as an organic chemist. For my BS and Ph. D. degrees, at that time, organic chemistry and to a lessor extent analytical chemistry (my minor) were computational requirements-free fields of study.

Flash forward… Articles in Discover, Scientific American and other reputable secondary sources (e.g., not journals or textbooks) kept me reading. Although I was and still am mathematically impaired. More recently my interest level was heightened when my readings alerted me to reports that both physicists and engineers were discovering likely quantum (fuzzy logic) and perhaps relativistic effects associated with Newtonian mechanics. Wow… I’ve added a few references at the end of the review to peak your interests toward further reading.

The Manga Guides — I have previously reviewed a number of books in the Manga series (Molecular Biology, Electricity, Databases, Newtonian Physics and Statistics.) Therefore I was pleased to discover that a new book on relativity had been released. This review services as killing two virtual birds with one quantum stone, as it were. The book credibly supports both my interest in science and technology education and my love-hate for relativity and associated subjects. I am also hard science fiction addict and dote on the assumptions of hyper drives and faster then light travel, as well as the effects of relativistic travel in closer proximity to Sol, our sun.

The book covers all the main questions and topics you would expect such as the definition of relativity, the time dilation effect (where times slows down as speed approaches the speed of light), mass and the contraction of length (again, as speed approaches the speed of light), and explores the difference between special relativity and general relativity.

Each main chapter, as I expand upon below, contains both a Manga comic section and a text tutorial. The former serves as a quirky manga type introduction to and discussion of a relativity-associated subtopic. This is followed in each chapter by a more detailed and technical section filled with equations and deeper explorations of the chapter’s subject.

The Nature of the Beast — How the book is organized

The preface to the book succinctly neatly frames its purpose and goals… “Everyone wonders what relativity is all about. Because the theory of relativity predicts phenomena that seem unbelievable in our everyday lives (such as the slowing of time and the contraction of the length of an object), it can seem like mysterious magic.

“Despite its surprising, counterintuitive predictions, Einstein’s theory of relativity has been confirmed many times over, by countless experiments by modern physicists. Relativity and the equally unintuitive quantum mechanics are indispensable tools for understanding the physical world.” This includes such demonstrated knowledge that the speed of light is a constant, the very faster you travel, the slower you relatively age, and time is not quantized.

The books preface has introduced us to the fact the ’players’ not the story characters, are going to be Galileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. It alas neglects one of my scientific favorites James Clark Maxwell, the father of electromagnetic theory and of course the infamous ‘daemons.’ He is only initially acknowledged in Chapter 1.

The preface concludes that:  “Relativity has given us a more accurate understanding of concepts regarding the space-time in which we are living. In other words, relativity is the result of asking what is actually happening in our world rather than saying our world should be a particular way.”

So on to what our ‘graphic’ teachers (the characters) teach us about the mysteries of relativity in the manga world. These characters are mainly our suckered student ‘hero’ Mr. Minagi and his oddly sexy teacher, Miss Uraga. And look out for the metaphysical dog.

In the material that follows I have paraphrased liberally, but only of a sentence or three from references [1 & 2], which surprisingly were both written by Michael Larsen. Nice writing sir!

Okay – Let’s get truckin’

Ignoring the ‘comic’ stage setting prologue and the somewhat surreal epilogue, the later dominated by a sort of deus ex machina dog. The book’s four main chapters focus on:

Chapter 1:  What Is Relativity?
 — “The first chapter helps us get into the mindset of our protagonist Minagi and his sensei Uraga as they discuss the differences between special and general relativity. The history of relativity from Galileo, Newton, Maxwell; on through Einstein and the idea that the speed of light is a constant and the fact that all reality is in constant motion is explored. The illustrations are both cute and informative, and help fill in the blanks for many of the concepts that might be difficult to visualize any other way.” [1, 2]

Chapter 2:   What Do You Mean, Time Slows Down? —“Time dilation is the situation where as an object approaches the speed of light, time slows down for the object. The manga guide uses an imaginary device called a “light clock” to help define how this idea works. This is further emphasized but use of the traveling Twins paradox. It occurs when one of a set of a twins goes on a space voyage for a year at light speed and returns to Earth, and sees that their twin has aged by several years in their absence.” [1, 2]

Chapter 3:  The Faster an Object Moves, the Shorter and Heavier It Becomes.


“The text continues with a discussion of the idea that, when an object gets towards the speed of light. Space and time are said to contract based on this theory of specific relativity (general relativity is discussed in Chapter 4.) Because of these findings, we need to look at space and time as not separate entities, but as interlocking interrelated subjects. In addition, we learn that objects get progressively heavier as they approach the speed of light. Light, which by its very nature is assumed to have a mass of zero is excluded from these relativistic effects. Strange! But otherwise the theories will not work the way they do).” [1, 2]

Chapter 4:  What Is General Relativity?

Special relativity focuses on the concept that gravity and motion of an object traveling in a straight line. General relativity is more mathematically complicated, because the gravity of nearby objects (such as stars) has a direct effect on the object in motion. That requires gravitational effects on fast traveling ‘things’ must to be accounted for. … Time also slows down as it passes such a large gravitational pull as well.” [The later effect has rationalized a number of unexplained fundamental astronomical observations. 1, 2]

The Plot Thickens – General relativity also takes into account, counter intuitively, that matter, space and time all have interactive relationships, and while it’s a “theory” there are devices we use everyday that depend on this theory [e.g., GPS] and in its actions prove it works. [1]

“Follow along with The Manga Guide to Relativity as Minagi learns about the non-intuitive laws that shape our universe. Before you know it, you’ll feel more comfortable, alas not master (shucks) difficult concepts like (1) inertial frames of reference, (2) unified space-time, and the (3) equivalence principle. You’ll get introduced to the concepts that are the basis\ in relativity theory affect modern astronomical observations. Then you’ll discover why GPS systems and other everyday technologies depend on Einstein’s extraordinary discovery.

The Manga Guide to Relativity also teaches you how to:

  • Understand and use E = mc2, the world’s most famous equation
  • Calculate the effects of time dilation using the Pythagorean theorem
  • Understand classic thought experiments like the twins paradox, and see why length contracts and mass increases at relativistic speeds — Poor space explorers.
  • Begin to grasp the underpinnings of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity

If the idea of bending space and time really warps your brain, let The Manga Guide to Relativity straighten things out.”

 

The Text Tutorials

The Underlying Technical Basis

What is light  — Chapter 1 associated tutorial provides detailed descriptions of the results of (1) Maxwell’s pioneering work, (2) Einstein’s positing and others demonstrating the constancy of the speed of light and the (3) the true meaning of “simultaneous” which is really in the eye of the beholder. The section then proceeds to explaining the Galilean principal(s) of relativity and relating things Galilean to (an introduction to) Einstein’s  special principal of relativity.

Looking at the Slowing of Time —Chapter 2‘s lessons first use the Pythagorean theorem to prove time dilation and then follows this up with qualitatively dealing with how much does time slow down?

Using an Equation to Understand Relativistic Length Contraction — Focusing first on the implication of Lorentz contraction, and then for reason of which I’m some what uncertain, the tutorial branches off in the effects of Muons (a sub-atomic particle) as a means to demonstrate (1) the slowdown of time and (on 2) the parallel effects of contraction of an objects length at near light speeds. [The objects mass also approaches infinity.]

The primary focus of this material is to explain relativities’ effects on a rapidly moving mass using three approaches. First comes a discussion of the Galilean theory. Then, Newton’s second law of motion is invoked. Third and finally there’s a fine discussion of the use of the Lorenz transformation.

These ideas ore explained and their relationships related. [These relativity associated topics (ideas) and more  are explained in significantly greater details and depth on Wikipedia, alas often in a more mathematical manner. — Do check out my  reference 6].

My favorite part, herein, is the treatment of the relationship between energy and mass. The section ends, alas with an all to brief (an after thought?) on whether light has mass; no being the answer.

General Relativity and the Slowing of Time  — Chapter’s 4’s science focus deals with a discussion of the slowing of time under relativistic conditions. It is well illustrated by fallen and at rest clocks, and is accompanied by thee math that support the theory. Check it out, it’s clear in the book.

Kudo #1 —Of all of the technical sections of the book this one is both extremely clear/accessible and well illustrated. All though accompanied by equations of ‘proof’; the diagrams make what could be abstruse ideas, are made clearer, even to the minimally mathematically incline reader.

But then I’ve always had a weakness for melting watches (e.g., Salvador Dali) or even ones that fall, the later were used as thought experiments in the various physics classes I attended.

This section concludes with a more detailed, than the comic section, discussion of Gravity and other phenomena that become more understandable using the principles of general relativity. Nicely done!

Kudo #2 – The Plain Text Sections I found these sections too brief, a bit too mathematical for my taste, but scientifically very solid. Indeed I crosschecked parts of the subject matter in Wikipedia. All passed both that external screen, and my memory of courses long ago taken and doubtless somewhat forgotten.

Disappointments

None of significance

Conclusion

As noted by Michael Larson with whom I agree [References 1-2], the combination of storytelling, emotion, quirky characters and an illustration style that’s both cute and engaging helps lends itself to the idea that “hard topics” can be discussed using manga, and  in addition, that the topic will be much more engaging for the reader.

The comics style approach is as is usual for the Manga Guide Series, is always augmented by thoughtfully presented topical analyses, that provide the reader with a more detailed technical basis for understanding tough aspects of the comic’s subject matter. The Manga Guide to Relativity is an excellent example of this approach to knowledge sharing. Most notably, to my delight as an ex-academic, researcher and author, the book covers a broad variety of interesting, difficult and sometimes downright geeky topics.  Horray for No Starch Press.

As always in this series, the Manga Guide to Relativity is focused on a science or engineering topic. Pedagogically, it uses the premise of the accessibility, in both the young and not-so young, to visual or cartoon learning. There is usually a quirky story, written in a way to entice adolescent page turning. I was also both impressed and delighted that there was no attempt of Americanize the text. Shades of California and Texas textbook sensors’. I loved the subliminally sexual innuendos and ‘light’ by play between the characters; obviously, at least to the Japanese reader, are not either puritanical or virginal.

Never the less, this book, and the series for that matter the intent is more serious, to maintain attention long enough for the ideas in the story to take root in the brain. While the “come on” is the cartoons, there is a lot of knowledge hidden both in the often-simple seeming image sequences. This is accompanied by the more detail information in the textual materials that accompany the graphics based presentations the book is well worth my stingy 4.5 Quills.

My only concern about the effectiveness of this book in reaching the majority of American students is the deplorable level of science education we’ve foisted upon them. This as acknowledged in statistics of worsening scores in math Science and all too often reading, compared to Japanese, Chinese, and other students in the word from India to Sweden. But since I’m not in favor of dumbing down, to the least common denominator our educational goals, bring on this book… and more in the excellent educational and entertaining series.

PS:

If I appear to be badmouthing American education, don’t let my soft tone deceive you. As a hiring manger and ex-academic I was contiguously, even 35 years ago bewildered and frustrated by so-called graduates with great grade point averages who could not write even a simple ‘product’ description or project statement. All to often these folks as well as those I tried to work with in education associated volunteer organizations were both functionally illiterate and totally estranged from scientific reasoning, methods and logic. Someday I’ll blog about my experiences.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –

References

[1]Amazon.com <Books> By Michael Larsen (San Francisco, CA United States)
http://www.amazon.com/Manga-Guide-Relativity/dp/1593272723

{2}  Book Review: The Manga Guide to Relativity, by Michael Larsen. April 28, 2011.
http://mkl-testhead.blogspot.com/2011/04/book-review-manga-guide-to-relativity.html

[3] The Manga Guide to Relativity, Reviewed by Dr. Richard Isaacman
http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/review/manga-guide-relativity

[4] The Manga Guide to Relativity, Reviewed by Brian Dunning, May 19 2011
http://skepticblog.org/2011/05/19/the-manga-guide-to-relativity/

[5] Book Review: The Manga guide to Relativity by Jonathan DuHamel, on May. 18, 2011            http://tucsoncitizen.com/wryheat/2011/05/18/book-review-the-manga-guide-to-relativity/

Other General References

[6]  Einstein’s Theory of Relativity
Made Relatively Simple — Written for those who want to understand relativity but can’t quite grasp the concepts. <Hurrah, no equations!!!>
http://www.perkel.com/nerd/relativity.htm

[7]  Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity – An Easy (I hope!) Explanation, Squidoo blog site – Undated with no author listed
http://www.squidoo.com/relativity_explanation

[8] Theory of Relativity Made Simple, Factoidz Blog, May 22, 2010,
http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=Relativity%20-%20Simple

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Sidebar #1: Reviews were written in MSW 2011 on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running Mac OS X version 10.6.8 with all current security updates installed.

Sidebar #2: Disclaimer: When reviewing books I will often use the authors or publishers product description, functions and features descriptions. Because of this unless I’m quoting directly from another unique external source, I do not clutter up the review with quotation marks. All other comments are strictly my own and based on my review. Why need I rewrite the developer’s narratives, if they are clearly written?

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Astronomy Course Assistant
Vendor: Wolfram Research (www.wolfram.com)
Price: $4.95

When  I returned to college to earn my undergrad degree in Computer Science in 2007, I was surprised to see how many students used their smart phones in school. I started on a Masters degree (MS in SE) in the Fall of 2010 and was surprised to see how many students have embraced mobile devices to help with classwork. With the release of the iPad 1.0 product, I’ve seen little or no use of netbooks on campus, and huge numbers of students using mobile devices to access and retrieve information while studying and in classrooms. I bought a iPod Touch in March and have to admit I’m hooked. The apps I’ve tried look and function very well, so I was pleased to see Wolfram Research releasing course assistants for students.

For the 3 or so readers that are unfamiliar with Wolfram Research, they have been selling Mathematica for many years. Over the course of the product life-cycle they have constantly added functionality to their powerful software. Many universities provide Mathematica for their students at low or no cost, and it is a fantastic product for Math, Engineering, and Science majors. I started using Mathematica 5 and have enjoyed using and reviewing versions 6 and 7 for MacWorld UK, and I cover 8.0 (and 8.0.1) on this blog.

This review covers the Wolfram Astronomy Course Assistant, which is sold through the Apple Apps store for $4.95. I downloaded and installed the app through iTunes, which was as fast as you’d expect. After opening the app for the first time, I noticed the data was organized by categories:

Sky Orientation, Moon, Physical Astronomy, Light and Telescopes, Starlight and Atoms, The Sun and Stars, Black Holes, Cosmology, Solar System, and Life on Other Worlds.

Sky Orientation

This category has data on: Constellations, Zodiac, Reference Points, Basic Angles, Degrees to Right Ascension, Angular Diameter, Size Comparison, Seasons, Periapsis/Apoapsis. My favorite option was the size comparison, where you compare 2 astronomical objects. My least favorite option was Seasons, where you look up the nearest solstice/equinox for a specified date.

Moon

The moon is one of my favorite bodies to observe as it is so close that many features can be seen with binoculars. I liked everything in this category, which covers moon phases, lunar and solar eclipses, and the tides. I checked out the most recent solar eclipse yesterday, and it was yesterday (May 20), although it was not visible from many places as it was primarily seen over the Atlantic ocean.

Physical Astronomy

This section covers Newton’s Laws, Newton’s Second Law, Circular Orbit Velocity, Stationary Orbits, Escape Velocity, Moment of Interia, Rotational Angular Momentum, Kepler’s Laws, Kepler’s Third Law, Kepler’s Third Law with Mass, and Relativistic Energy. All are good to have when taking an astronomy or physics class, but my favorite was escape velocity where you can compute this information for astronomical bodies based on radii of AUs, kilometers, miles, meters, and feet. Mass is set using kilograms, pounds, or grams. Very useful.

Light and Telescopes

This section covers materials useful for building or using telescopes. It uses eyepiece focal length and objective focal length to determine telescope magnification. I also like how it calculated light gathering power, so you can compare 2 telescopes (very handy when you decide to purchase your next telescope).

Starlight and Atoms

There were a few options I really liked, but don’t see a need for the Temperature Conversions as this is fairly simple to calculate and I’ve seen the conversion formulas in more than a few intro programming books. My two favorite areas in this category were the Stellar Spectral Classes (determine the property of stars using class/subclass/luminosity) and the Relativistic Doppler Effect (determine speed of a light source using wavelengths). Good stuff!

The Sun and Stars

A ton of information about our sun and stars. It is useful being able to compute the physical properties of the sun based on distance from the surface.

The Star Properties section of the category provides properties for Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Rigel Kentaurus A, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, Achernar, Betelgeuse, Hadar, Altair, Acrus, Aldebaran, and Spica. The type of data returned for each star was useful, however I’d rather have a dynamic list of stars pulled from Wolfram’s servers than a fixed, hard coded list.

Black Holes

How can you not be interested in one of the most powerful objects in the known universe? This category provides a means to calculate Schwarzschild Radius, Hawking Temperature, entropy, surface gravity, surface area, and gravitational redshift for black holes. Excellent information, especially for students.

Cosmology

This category lets you calculate the wavelength of an object that is red shifted. Nice, but I wish there were more sections than the 3 that are provided.

Solar System

Some good, quick reference information on bodies in our solar system. I particularly liked being able to retrieve images of the planets – you first retrieve a thumbnail image and can select a larger image if you want. I like how much amount data you can retrieve on our solar system bodies. I did use some of the data in the Dwarf Planets section when I wrote my piece on Dwarf Planets (see the Astronomy page of this blog for more information).

Life on Other World

This category consists of inputs to compute the Drake Equation, which accepts various data to yield the probability of life on other worlds. Very handy.

Conclusion

Wolfram has 6 course assistant apps available for the iPhone, iPad, and touch. I tested this app using my touch and was satisfied with the amount of useful information as well as the content layout. I would like to see fewer hard-coded lists in future releases, as Wolfram’s data source servers are excellent sources of materials and I’d love to have the capability of this (and other) apps expanded without needing to download an updated version of the app.

I had no crashes or errors when testing, although 1 time I had a timeout when attempting to retrieve an image of Mercury. As much as I enjoyed this app on my iPod touch, I’d love to see it on an iPad.

Recommentation

A good buy for reasonable price. Good for students in high school or college, as they can have a good valid source of information that will help when they take a class in the fascinating subject of astronomy.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

I know it seems like yesterday when Wolfram released Mathematica 8.0, but they just released an update: version 8.0.1. This version is not an incremental update, so the entire application must be downloaded and installed. This update is free for owners of Mathematica 8.0, and it can be installed over or in addition to version 8.0.

8.0.1 Enhancements

The list of updates from version 8.0 to 8.0.1 (courtesy of Wolfram’s site) are:

  • Many new automatic simplifications for derived distributions, including affine transformations, sums of variables, parameter mixtures, and censored and truncated distributions
  • Improved results for Dot with large (> 1,000,000 elements) lists of integers
  • Improved stability under Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs by including a new version of the Intel Math Kernel Library
  • Performance and robustness improvements for many graph and network operations
  • Improved startup time of the front end
  • Improved the creation of MathLink TCPIP connections under certain special network conditions
  • Improved export of Real and “Real32” images to TIFF, to be compatible with more external TIFF image viewers
  • Improved functionality and stability of Home Edition by including more 64-bit components

Click here for a complete list of changes/enhancements to Mathematica, going all the way back to version 1.0.

5-18-2011 Update

Last weekend I downloaded and installed the 8.0.1 release. It is not an incremental update, so it took awhile to download the >2 GB file. The installation of 8.0.1 in parallel with versions 7.0 and 8.0 still on my laptop was nearly flawless, but I had to exit and restart the program to get the application to run without any warning messages (something about an initialization that failed to complete). After the restart there were no more problems (or warnings) and my initial tests with the product have been fine. I did not use a stop watch to time it, but it did seem to start noticeably faster than version 8.0.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved

Apple iPod touch 32 GB 4th generation iPod
Price: $299.00
From: Apple (www.apple.com)

I’ve been an early adapter for several of Apple’s products. I bought (and still have) Apple’s 1st generation Shuffle, Mac Mini (G4 CPU), and AppleTV. I like them even though better versions of the products followed a relatively short time after the initial units were released, but I am still cautious about buying other 1.x or 2.x released. I did get a 3rd generation iPod Nano and love it but the next one has recording features I could have used, but it still functions well and I have no intention of getting rid of it.

We recently bought a new AppleTV (the 2.0 release) and love it, but I have been wanting either an Android or iPad tablet or something similar in function but costing less money. I decided to get a 4th generation iTouch and after using it for a week, I love it. I bought a 32GB iPod touch from the bookstore at my school (University of St. Thomas) for the same price that it is sold at stores or from Apple.

After class I took it home plugged it in to charge over night while I looked at the rest of the goodies in the package. The box for the touch is barely larger than the unit itself. There is a tiny manual, the usual Mac earphones, a cord to connect it to your computer, and a tiny manual that directs you to Apple’s site to get a larger (and far more useful) manual. The touch is thin. it appears to be 20% the thickness and weight of my archaic PalmPilot LifeDrive.

I waited overnight for the unit to charge and then began by getting the user manual and some free goodies from iTunes. Almost immediately I was notified there was a newer version of iOS 4.3, so I downloaded and installed it without a problem. The first thing app I got from iTunes was the remote control app to control our new AppleTV. I used the remote control app to go through the AppleTV options and it worked as well as the remote included with the AppleTV. I also grabbed the NASA app and a few astronomy-related free apps, then downloaded the new commercial Astronomy Course Assistant app from Wolfram ($4.99 at the iTunes store). What can I say? I’m into astronomy and Ted (few contributor on our site) always touts how the iPhone and iPad are great tools for astronomy. You know what? He’s right.

I decided to test streaming movies, so I selected several digit downloads from my iTunes library and synced them to the touch, then streamed the content to the AppleTV. It worked flawlessly. We saw the 2.5 hr Robin Hood movie (the Russell Crowe version, not the dreaded Kevin Costner version) and it was as smooth at play and fast forward as our 1st generation AppleTV when playing and fast forwarding locally stored content (on the internal drive).

Something I didn’t know (should have read more of the manual, I know) was that, when streaming, the touch will send an entire playlist to the AppleTV. To take advantage of that, I went into iTunes and added some new playlists to show the movies I wanted by category.

I used the camera indoors – this generation of the touch has forward and rear-facing cameras and both looked good in the situations when I used them. I took a few pictures but did not do any HD recording, but I will this Spring. I should mention that the 4th generation has what Apple calls Retina Display – it just means they put more pixels of images per area of the scree, so it the content is clear and sharp. Very nice.

I tested FaceTime to call a friend with an iPhone. Dave-Bob and I worked together years ago at a company called BORN, and Dave-Bob has a 4th generation iPhone, so I added him to my contacts list. With my touch accessing the internet with wifi, I called and chatted with Dave-Bob for 15 minutes. We both were really impressed, as it worked so well. The images were clear and updated at a decent (although not flawless) rate. We both were able to switch between the front-facing and read-facing cameras during the call. This feature requires that the receiver has a current version iPod or iPad, so it won’t work with cell phones or landlines, but it is very cool and one of the best reasons to have a new touch/iPhone.

I have some work to do before I’m fully over to the touch. I need to get some music loaded, plus I need to export my PalmPilot data and import it into the touch.

June 1, 2011 Update

I installed a few more apps recently and they are decent:

  • Solitaire – free, but it runs ads before the start of every game and they are a pain to deal with
  • Tetris – old school, but addictive
  • BurgerTime – one of my wife’s favorites and the reason she hijacks my iPod Touch every night
  • Madden NFL – free; the eval version which lets you play a quarter (probably much better on an iPad)
  • Pandora – free; streaming music organized by genre

Email and Tweet alerts continue to be an excellent reason to have the touch nearby while working on code or writing articles. I rarely use the headset at home but have used it several times while on campus.

May 23, 2011 Update

I’ve installed a number of apps since this review was posted on April 2. The ones I liked best are:

  • Angry Birds – $1.99; as easy and addictive as Tetris, and I enjoy playing it a few minutes a day
  • Skype – free; it works as well as the version on my laptop
  • Twitter – free; it also works as well as the version on my laptop
  • WordPress – free; and the Stats section provides a nice way to monitor traffic at my blogs
  • Food Network – $1.99; it has a lot of easy yet tasty recipes

Alerts are an excellent reason for having a new iPod touch. While in sleep mode, my iPod uses WiFi to notify me when I have new email or a new Tweet. I don’t have to stop working on a program or website to see if I need to respond to someone, which is very handy.

CONCLUSION

The new touch is not only good for music and movies, it should be invaluable in college classrooms. My school (UST) does provide support for the touch/iPhone and I expect I’ll test that out when I take it to class next week. I could have used the HD video recording capability last semester in my web design class, but also think it will come in useful this summer when I’m outside on the biking trails. Overall, I really like it and feel it is as good (and useful) of a purchase as my Macbook. Now I have no reason to put off learning how to develop for the touch, and maybe I can create something that will help fund future Apple product purchases. Now that would be nice indeed.

POSITIVES

  • Thin, light, powerful, and a bargain for the features.
  • Auto-reorientation: switches between portrait and landscape easily.
  • Easy to navigate between screens and applications by gesture.
  • Absolutely gorgeous display – small or not, it is easy to read.
  • Video calls over wi-fi connections with another 4th generation touch/iPhone rocks.
  • Good quality video – HD quality recording according to Apple.
  • Streaming content to our AppleTV was flawless – I particularly like having the Touch connected to my Macbook to recharge it and to have the Touch stream a movie at the same time (saving valuable battery life).
  • Use the Remote App to to add Playlists to organize iTunes movies – we put series together in each playlist, so we can watch as few or many of the series without needing to manually select them.

NEGATIVES

  • When watching a movie on the touch, the screen was dark. I know that was due to the low light level in the room, but it wasn’t a simple matter to easily adjust the brightness and I’d like to see Apple include that in a future update of the video player.
  • My fingers are a bit large for doing a lot of typing on the on screen keyboard – I’d love it if they’d let me use a stylus or external keyboard the way I do with my PalmPilot. I’d really like being able to use my Apple wireless keyboard with the touch, and hope Apple does provide that functionality in a later update to iOS.

RECOMMENDATION

5 Stars. Buy it. If you have a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation iPod, this version is far and away the best I’ve seen. I like my 3rd generation Nano, but it will strictly serve as a backup from now on. I know Apple will release another update, probably this Fall, but I don’t see what they can add besides more memory or a faster processor to make an improvement over this release. My wife also likes it and she let me know this touch will become hers when we get an iPad later this year. She loves playing games on it, and is interested in being able to use it to stream movies to other AppleTVs in our house.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2012, All Rights Reserved.

We bought the first generation AppleTV with a built-in 40GB hard drive as soon as it was released. With market trends driving the movie industry to start including digital copies with many new releases, it didn’t take to max out that 40GB and we wish we’d been able to buy the 160GB version, but it was not available when we bought our unit. Just one of the risks being early adopters, but one we accepted. We found it most advantageous  to keep our favorite movies and songs on it, and stream any others we want to watch. Overall, we really did enjoy it and found it absolutely worth the $199 price tag.

When Apple announced the new version of AppleTV, we were hesitant to get another unit even though we really like our AppleTV, because the new unit has little on-board storage and replies on streaming video and music. Our experiences using streaming with our first unit was not impressive – too much jerky replay and it was almost impossible to fast forward (not an issue on locally stored movies).

At the start of the 4th week in March, we decided to buy an new unit because the only version of AppleTV that supports Netflix is the newest model. We wanted to get away from the large satellite bills we have every month, and Netflix offers a low streaming option of $7.99/month for all you can watch. We bought a new AppleTV at Best Buy and it took very little time to install and configure it – we didn’t need to read the documentation, as the product requires very little technical knowledge.

The AppleTV 2.0 was $99.00 (a $100 drop in price from the first gen version) and came with the unit, a remote control, a power cable, and a short instruction manual. The 2.0 version is tiny – much smaller than the 1.0 version. I unpacked and unwrapped the unit and power cord and noticed it lacked the composite video and audio outputs found on the 1.0 version – this was bad as our HDTV only has a single HDMI input so I had to use that one. There is also an optical output I will eventually use for audio, but I need to pick one up before I see how good it sounds.

I used an HDMI cable (not included with the unit) to connect the AppleTV to our television, then I had to configure the unit to access our wireless network (which uses an Apple 1 GB router), which only took a couple of minutes. Then I setup iTunes on a computer to provide the movies and that too was simple.

As I said earlier, we’ve had difficulties fast forwarding movies we stream on the 1.0 version, so I tried fast forward several movies as they were streamed and it worked great. Exactly the same as when fast forwarding locally stored movies on the version 1.0 product. Next we watched a movie and the only time we saw any glitches (where the video/audio transfer was not smooth) was at the very start of the movie. I’m not certain, but I think Apple streams most of the movie as soon as possible, so playback is smooth and more than merely watchable. We also watched movies on Netflix and there was a few times movies did not flow as smoothly as we’d have liked, but they were still watchable, so the viewing experience was fine.

I have found I use the Remote app on iPod Touch more than the remote that shipped with the AppleTV. I also feel Netflix brings enough movies – old and new – to the table that I’ve decided to drop satellite service. Neither satellite vendor can compete with $7.99 a month, and we rarely watch any network shows, so I doubt we’ll feel deprived sans satellite.

Positives

  • The price, especially compared to both versions of the 1.0 release of AppleTV, is excellent.
  • The small size of the unit makes it easy to place the unit wherever I want.
  • Almost no heat given off, especially when compared to version 1.0 of the AppleTV.
  • Streaming movies is no problem. I’ve only seen a couple of times where streaming was not flawless, which is impressive.
  • I like the new remote that comes with this version of AppleTV. It is thin and metallic and the battery is replaceable, while the 1.0 version’s remote is white and plastic and the battery cannot be replaced. And the new remote works with the 1.0 version, so I view this as a decent improvement.
  • I enjoy being able to use iTunes Playlists to organize movies so they play in the order I want.
  • I have been using the iPod Touch remote app with the AppleTV for over 6 weeks (as of May 9, 2011) and love it.

Negatives

  • Some Netflix streaming issues (since then fixed). I’ve never seen it the first time I watch one movie or show, but have had this issue several times when watching more than two shows or movies sequentially. The symptom: jerky video/audio.
  • I wish the composite audio/video outputs were still available.
  • I have noticed that I occasionally lose iTunes connectivity between my laptop and AppleTV. To resolve it I just quit and restart iTunes and that restores my content to the AppleTV. (NOTE: Appears fixed with the March 2012 update to AppleTV)
  • I really, really wish Apple provided Netflix support for the 1.0 version of AppleTV. Our older AppleTV still does a fine job, but without Netflix we have no choice but to buy another unit if we want to see Netflix content on another TV.

Conclusion

Our impression of AppleTV 2.0 has been very favorable. The remote is better and has a replaceable battery, the unit itself is much smaller than the 1.0 version, the unit itself does not heat up the way the 1.0 version does (it can get quite toasty when left on for more than a few days), and the iTunes video streaming was smooth and far superior to what we saw on the 1.0 version.

Will we go to the AppleTV 3.0 (released March, 2012)? Yes we will. We want to see if the higher resolution is noticeable, and we can always use the 2nd gen AppleTV downstairs – waste not, want not.

Recommendation

Would I recommend it to someone? Absolutely. A very good price for something that works great with our environment. I did test the unit using a 1GB router and would suggest upgrading to one if you are still using a 100MB router – Apple’s new wireless router is dual band, so you can have 100 MB and 1GB devices access it at the same time without slowing down overall access.

3/14/2012 Review Update

There was another update to the AppleTV I installed today. The AppleTV menus changed – they are laid out instead of under menu categories at the top. The 2nd generation AppleTV has a max output of 720p, so you have to scroll down to see all of the items on the screen. I wonder if the newer 3rd generation AppleTV’s 1080p resolution means you don’t need to scroll to see all of the items on the screen – comments, anyone with the 3rd gen AppleTV?

Something else to note. In the past, if my laptop that has the movies I stream to the AppleTV went to sleep, I had to quit and restart iTunes to get the movies to show up – that is no longer the case. One thing that bothered me before, was that I could not see movies on the AppleTV if there was an update available on my laptop with the movies I want to stream – I had to accept or quit out of the the update notice before I could stream, and this is still the situation after the most current update.

11/20/2011 Review Update

I’ve downloaded a couple of AppleTV updates the past week, with the most current (4.4.2) today. This update addresses Netflix support in Mexico, plus audio issues via the optical output when a television is off. Click here for a detailed list of updates from Apple.

5/28/2011 Review Update

Today I spoke with Brad, who is another AppleTV 2.0 owner, and he mentioned that he had too many problems streaming Netflix content. Several times I’ve seen streaming problems with Netflix content, but put that down to network traffic. The only times I saw this issues was after I watched two shows or movies, which is very rare, so this had not happened enough to concern me.

Brad said he spent 2 months trying to get a resolution and after no luck he returned the AppleTV 2.0 and went back to his AppleTV 1.0 unit. He mentioned a couple of discussion threads where people discussed this problem: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2616899 https://discussions.apple.com/thread/2597992.

Brad said he mainly streams music and podcasts, not movies, so he has no problem using his older AppleTV. I do a lot of movie streaming and the newer AppleTV unit is so much better at steaming than the original version, so I will stay with the newer unit. Hopefully Apple will find the source of the problem and issue a patch to the AppleTV – They did (see comments below).

Have you experienced a Netflix streaming issue?

5/9/2011 Review Update

It has been over 3 weeks since the April 17th update to this review, and I still have occasional problems accessing iTunes on my laptop, but iTunes streaming is still smooth as locally stored movies on the AppleTV 1.0 product. I should add that using Netflix is always good on the first movie or TV show, but I sometimes have streaming problems when watching more than 1 show.

Updates

November 20, 2011 – added comments about AppleTV updates, plus a link to Apple’s list of AppleTV updates.
May 28, 2011 – added date-based section, add another negative feature, add ‘Have you experienced?’ question
May 9, 2011 – add date-based section, add another negative feature
April 17, 2011 – add more positives, plus a 2nd negative feature

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: PDFpen Pro 5.2.1 – a tool to split, combine, re-order, and edit PDF files
Vendor: Smile Software
(Developer’s Website)
Cost
: Price PDFpen $55.95, while the Pro Version is $99.95 [USD]. An upgrade from Pen to Pen Pro is available, if desired at a later date. An upgrade from PDFpen version 5 is available for $25. [USD]
Availability: Download (41.7 MB)
Quill Ratings 4.5
A Functional time-limited demo is available

System Requirements: System Requirements:

  • PDFpen 5.x and PDFpen Pro 5.x require: Mac OS X version 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or later.
  • For Macintosh OS X 10.4 and 10.5, use PDFpen 4.7.1 or PDFpen Pro 4.7.1.

Audience: All individuals needing to modify PDF, no matter their general level of Macintosh proficiency. This is NOT an Acrobat Pro replacement, nor is it meant to be, but it’s a darn fine PDF content ‘text’ and PDF page-editing tool.

Strengths: When it comes to modifying PDFs, SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen far exceed the functionality of OS X’s free Preview and is a one-for-one feature competitor to Adobe’s $449 Acrobat Pro. At only $50, PDFpen goes well beyond Preview’s PDF processing power, yet it offers some of the same features you’ll find in the much more costly Acrobat Pro.

Weaknesses: Within its stated design and functional scope, I could find no serious or even significant flaws in the software. Like all complex and full-featured software packages, the product has both its strengths and an occasion weakness. The strengths includes include a clean but not quite intuitive interface, low cost and exceptional stability. None of my experiments crashed this program. However, an occasional task that isn’t intuitive only took a quick check at the instruction manual or help files. The combination of a Macintosh compliant design, an easy to explore interface, and acceptable availability of help made becoming comfortable with it an easy task.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Doc’s Introduction Including the Publisher’s Summary

Background On This Software Genre — I spend somewhere between six to eight hours a day on my iMac doing research for and writing many articles and an occasional book. I am passingly skillful at most non-graphics oriented software and even review Macintosh software genre tools for word processing, image editing and label creation, email, database creation and use, and internet search. Most of my time is spent either word processing in MS Word [MSW] and on occasion NeoOffice, or in editing and annotating downloaded (mostly) or scanned and OCR’d PDF files using Acrobat Pro or more recently PDFpen Pro.

By circumstance I’ve become quite proficient in using the editing and page reformatting = features of Adobe Acrobat Pro 9.x, in part from having had the opportunity to beta test version 9 for Adobe. I have also demonstrated Acrobat’s editing tools focused narrowly on cleaning up messily formatted web recipes for my local Macintosh users group and in articles for the now defunct macCompanion eZine.

I’m also half-way, perennially, through writing an ebook into which I crammed everything I learned about editing PDFs with Acrobat Pro, a fantastic Mañana project that will serve as a source of at least a baker’s dozen tutorial articles.

Never the less, or perhaps despite this focus, I’ve followed the evolution of Phil Goward’s Smile On My Mac’s (now, Smile software) PDFpen and PDFpen Pro software. Indeed, in back in 2009, for macCompanion [macC], I reviewed PDF Pen 4.0.4 giving it a stingy 4.5/5.0 rating. My June 2005 macC review of version 2.1 rated the product a 4.0/4.5.

Two Things Have Led Me To Re-Review This Product.

First and foremost it was a excellent, easy to learn and use PDF editing tool that met many if not most of my editing needs. The fact that the Smile products were moderately priced, did not hurt my incentive for a re-review.

I have no needs for doing collaborative reviews in PDF format, which I do in MSW. I have never needed to create interactive forms, seriously control document formatting for commercial publication and distribution, or using top-level securitization.

Second, unlike the introduction of Elements by Adobe as a poor man’s Photoshop, and Bento by FileMaker Corporation, it appears that Adobe has not committed to an Acrobat Elements for the rest of us at a reasonable non-business users price.

  • I found a $199 upgrade to Acrobat 9.x to X on the Adobe site,
  • A Student/Teacher edition for $199 or Adobe Acrobat X Professional Upgrade [Mac] for $183 both on Amazon, and
  • A student/teacher edition for $119 and the Pro version for $159 on the at the Academic Superstore site

I found the newest version of PDFpen for ca. $36 but not the Pro version on Amzon.com. Of course Smiles Software offer an upgrade path. – The combination is what Consumer Reports would call a best buy!

Publishers Summary Product(s) Description — Edit PDFs easily with PDFpen! Add text, images and signatures. Make corrections. Fill out PDF forms. Merge, delete and reorder pages. Pro allows you to convert websites into PDFs, create PDF forms, and build a table of contents.

In the Appendix, I show Smiles comparison, using an edited version of the core abilities in PDFpen, PDFpen Pro and Adobe acrobat, with an added bit of Apple’s Preview for information. The short version is provided below.

Features of PDFpen Pro:

  • Replace text in original PDF with editable text blocks
  • Move, resize, copy and delete images in original PDF
  • Overlay text and images onto PDF (for example, sign purchase orders by applying signature image)
  • Perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on scanned documents
  • Insert and remove pages; re-order pages in a PDF by drag & drop
  • Copy and paste rich text; retain fonts and formatting when copying from PDFs
  • Select and copy text across multiple columns
  • Fill out and save PDF forms
  • Add (and print) notes and comments
  • Markup documents with highlighting, underscoring and strike-through
  • Save frequently-used images, signatures, objects and text in the Library
  • Use with Page Sender for a complete fax turn-around solution
  • Automate PDF manipulations with AppleScript

Getting Started

This is a well-developed Macintosh application. Drag it to your applications folder. Start using it in demo mode or type in a password. Decide which preference settings you prefer. Check out any readme files. Your good to go.

Working With the Product — My tough love choice.

I knew I was well trained (conditioned) both consciously and subliminally to edit any new PDF in the ‘acrobat’ manner. So, for most of this review, I turned Acrobat Pro off, and instructed the finder to open all PDF files in PDF pen. No you don’t really want to do this – I hated every minute of it!

However, I couldn’t think of any better way to force my self to do ALL my routine work in the Smile product.

Using the Software

Over 3-4 weeks of routine on and off PDF associated work, I did my thing with Smiles latest Pro Version 5.2.1

What thing(s)…

  1. Annotating several dozen downloaded (with Safari mostly) technical articles for my software and greening articles including some posted at a technical meeting site for which I am a peer reviewer,
  2. Cleaning up 10’s of downloaded recipes, both for my general recipes collection but mostly for my new ‘cooking for Kosher-keeping friends’. Cookbook. These download were created by (1) using Apple’s print to PDF feature and either Safari’s (2) new reader tool, or the (3) get a printer friendly copy on a site’s web page.
  3. Working with and extracting technical information from scanned/OCR’d documents, of the still to be shrunk down, collection of paper documents. Much of this was simply annotating the papers for easier future search [HoudahSpot a Spotlight front end] by adding key words, or other notes relating the document to other related technical work.

Some of the items I worked with were documents that I’d printed to PDF from MS Word files, others came to me as PDF files from my PC using colleagues — the remainder, were web downloads from technical information sites. A nice mix, if I do say so myself!

The Bad, but Only Transient, News — The user interfaces, menu and command structure in PDF Pro were sufficiently unique, that my knowledge of Acrobat Pro was a distraction if not a downright hindrance to my relearning the new software. I was also seriously distracted but the tool named created by the software’s developer, that bore little or no relationship to the semantics of the Adobe tool names and at times function. More about that later. As a result, for perhaps a long week of intermittent use, it slowed my work down. This was unlearning curve time, while I tuned in to, and became comfortable with the PDFpen interface. For me, a one time significant but quickly passing productivity problem.

Troublesome Tools Interface, At Least Initially — The lack of the ability to highlight the various icons shown below to show their names, unlike tools in in Acrobat, slowed me down. The help files told me that each tool did, but the icon functions were unfamiliar and their tool names/functions took time to learn.

But checking PDF Pen Help on line helped in making my review possible, but didn’t shorten my Acrobat trained, learning curve. …Old dogs, new tricks?


PDFpen Pro Toolbar [Customized]
Format Menu Text Tools Select Objects Tools

The Good News — I soon learned how to do everything I needed that was within the software’s functions, with the Smiles product. Once I’d learned the interface, it’s like owning and driving both a stick shift high performance car and a family automatic SUV. For less experienced users to those new to PDF editing tools, beyond a PDF reader, that learning curve is more normal, and not at all as steep.

Note — Apple has provided some PDF editing capabilities in its free Preview Application, but I’ve never knowingly tried to use it. Preview has some ability to view PDF files including read, search, and add notes to PDF files; as well as allowing you to annotate image files by adding your own notes, for highlighting text you want to remember, and circling sections you don’t want others to miss. It however it is not, nor claims to be, a full featured PDF editor.

Rather than continue this review, by summarizing the focus of PDFpen and Pro’s main features and where appropriate identifying each feature where PDFpen and Acrobat have functions in common — Reader, check out the appendix.

Note Apple has provided some PDF editing capabilities in its free Preview Application, but I’ve never knowingly tried to use it. Preview has some ability to view PDF files including read, search, and add notes to PDF files; as well as to annotate image files by adding your own notes, highlighting text you want to remember, and circling sections you don’t want others to miss. It however is not, nor claims to be a full featured PDF editor.

Software Focus and CapabilitiesAlthough PDFpen Pro can be used for tasks I don’t yet need, it serves mostly as a tool for PDF file creation, manipulation and ultimately content editing. It is software for people who want to work with, tweak of make major modification to PDF files rather than just read acquired PDF documents.

The product allows you to insert images, text boxes, comments, and links to other pages in the same document. You can also create hypertext links to website or email address, edit text, and draw almost any shape. PDFPen, since version 4.5.2 had added an improved OCR engine, and better scanner support in Mac OS X 10.6.

Specifically, features I value, I can replace text in original PDF with editable text blocks, move, resize, copy and delete images in a downloaded PDF and insert and remove pages; re-order pages in a PDF by drag & drop techniques. The software allows me to to copy and paste rich text from Word or other word processed documents into PDFs and to retain the original fonts and formatting when copying from PDFs into a document into NeoOffice or MS Word. When I need to, rarely, select and copy text across multiple columns that works with a minimal need to reformat the materials to unscramble the words parsed by lines not columns.

The software provides you the ability to use multicolored highlighting and

and remove the background color from imported images, neither of which interest me, yet. According to a tidbit by Rob Griffiths on Macworld, this is great for inserting your signature into PDF documents.

Although I have not yet used the software to develop a table of contents for a long PDF document, I’ll give that a try while working on my new eCookbook, useful since most of its example pages are downloaded and annotated web-blog recipes.

The original Smiles Features Comparisons List also contained information on PDFClerk Pro and Apple’s Preview, which I’ve eliminated as irrelevant to this review.

Kudos

There were two small but useful things I was delighted to easily do in PDFpen that required a round about route in Acrobat Pro 9.x.

  • First adding a new black PDF page was a menu item – no need to import a blank page from the finder.
  • Second, scanning Prescription or Medical ID card, two images are obtained, one for each side of the ID card. Combining these images (two PDF pages) using PDFpen was easy; I never did figure out how to do this in Acrobat. My required pasting the two images to a MSW document and printing that to PDF. Oh, when doing this with PDF pen, DON’T OCR the image… for obvious reasons.

Discomforts

I would welcome an easy way to split a full pdf page in to two or more parts, each part becoming a separate new PDF page. I’ve done this with both acrobat and PDFpen, but it’s a several step process — tedious.

Conclusions and Recommendations

One strength of PDFpen, apart from its lower price, is its simple WYSIWYG graphic interface where you can all the changes that occur as you work, and can undo any actions that don’t meet your needs or intent. Although I’ve gotten quite skillful at using Acrobat 9, there are too my things going on under the hood, to allow me to relax with the software.

Phil G, I will not give up Acrobat Pro for PDF Pen Pro, call it teaching an old man new tricks. But I do thank you, here an in an accompanying article entitled “WYSIWYG or Not which I will post later in the week.”

However, I unabashedly recommend PDFpen and ultimately PDFpen Pro to all of you readers who have not been gifted a corporate copy, of Acrobat Pro. In addition, should you have a copy of an earlier version of Acrobat pro (say v.7 or 8) on your computer, and need PDFpen’s rich feature set — do not pass GO – do not collect (spend) 200+ dollars; check out and do a test run with the Smiles Product.

PS:

I will be shortly posting an article called “WYSIWYG or Not — Web Page Content Redesign in Acrobat (Pro) and Now PDFPen Pro, A Responsible Macintosh Column [MHReports]. It contains my adventures, with the help of Smile’s Phil Goward, in pushing PDFpen beyond it’ design limits to clean up a really cluttered web downloaded obtained by printing a raw blog page recipe to PDF.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –

Appendix

This Appendix contains an edited, truncated version, of the PDFpen and Pro product features as compared to Acrobat Pro 9 (Macintosh) posted on the Smile’s website. I have not, nor needed to validate the accuracy of Smile’s comparison for the all the itemized features of PDFpen, PDFpen Pro, and Acrobat 9. However, I vouch for those I used!

However, all the tools I needed for doing routine PDF file editing and reformatting were available to me. As I mentioned earlier, being a self acknowledged expert at editing in Acrobat was a liability. I’m guessing that most of you, my readers, will not be troubled by such skills so you learning curve will be shorter, or just perhaps just less frustrating than mine.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.
Sidebar #1: Reviews were carried out on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running Mac OS X version 10.6.4 with all security updates kept current.
Sidebar #2: Disclaimer: When reviewing software I will often use the developer’s product, functions and features descriptions. Because of this unless I’m quoting directly from another source, I do no cutter up the review with quotation marks. All other comments are strictly my own and based on testing. Why need I rewrite the developer’s narratives, if they are clearly written?

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Software: Bento 4
Vendor: Filemaker
Website: www.filemaker.com
Price: $49.00 new purchase, $29.00 upgrade from versions 1-3
Format: Available as boxed product or download (93 MB)

System Requirements for Bento

  • Bento requires Mac OS X v10.5.7 Leopard or Mac OS X v10.6 Snow Leopard and will not work with earlier versions of the Mac OS.
  • A Mac computer with an Intel, PowerPC G5, or PowerPC G4
  • 867 MHz or faster processor
  • 512MB of RAM; 1GB recommended
  • A CD drive is required for installation of boxed product software

Introduction

Filemaker has released version 4 of its popular and very capable consumer database program called Bento. Bento 4 offers all the abilities of the earlier versions and includes a list of enhancements that approaches my wish-list for this program.

Bento is a powerful database program that makes it easy for the home user to create and maintain databases for any purpose they can imagine. Programmers at Filemaker have obviously applied their years of experience with creating their professional level database program to develop a truly powerful program for the home and small office use. The interface is easy to learn. Most users will be able to apply an existing template, or even create their own layouts with ease.

This powerful database program integrates nicely with Apple’s iPhoto and Address book, and iCal programs. Allowing the user to take advantage of features these applications don’t offer but Bento does. For instance creating a “smart list” that instantly creates a subset of the data that meets specific criteria. A popular smart list in my house is one that extracts those close friends we normally exchange gifts and cards with, from a huge list of friends, business associates, and other contacts that reside in our home address book.

I and others have written many reviews of Bento since the release of version 1. If you are unfamiliar with this application and all its abilities I recommend that you search for one of these reviews. This review will primarily consider the improvements and new features of this program.

On with the Review

First of all, Bento 4 seems to perform very well. I have run into no issues, including upgrading my old database. The people at Filemaker say that this new version is faster. Not much has changed in the interface, except for a few new commands, so if you already use Bento there is only a short time to learn how to use this new version. It is important that the user upgrading to Bento 4 learn about the new features, since they are mostly well integrated into the program and you will only see them if you look for them.

For instance, one feature I have begged and pleaded for is for Bento to print labels. Now it does! Previously, Bento shifted the label printing functions to those native to Apple’s address book. This was okay for some purposes, but posed some challenges. For instance, Apple’s address book doesn’t recognize any smart list you create with Bento, so there was no way to print labels from a smart list, (although there was a work around).

The design of this new feature is well thought out. The default is a basic address label. When you select print, there is a button on the print dialog that says, “print labels”. Click on this and a new print dialog opens. The default layout makes a fine label. However, you can choose to include other fields from your database as well. There is an option to attach an image on the label. The program shrinks the image down nicely to fit into the small label size. Bento includes templates for Avery and Dymo labels by their number. If you need a specific label layout, you can easily create your own layout by adding fields and stacking them as you like. Which means you can use the Bento database to create labels or tags for just about any purpose you can imagine.

These printing routines give you a lot of control on how the label is organized. There is a print preview, so you can see how the labels will look. There is also the ability to start printing on some label other than number one. This is great if you have a partially used sheet of labels and want to finish it up.

Another useful feature is the ability to share the data in a database along with the template. You could share the database template, but not the data in previous versions of Bento. Now you can share the data as well. I can see this is very useful in a lot of situations. For instance, in an office where one person is tasked with maintaining a database which is to be used by others. In previous versions, you could share and even update a database from another computer that has sharing turned on, but this database would not be available when you are not connected to the local network. You could also export the database and import it on the other computer, but important items like the layout of data fields, images and other media would not be transferred. So a small business could not easily share a catalog of their products, with animations, and images with their own sale people or even customers.

With Bento 4, when you choose the export function, there is an option to include data along with the template. The data includes all the media as well as the text. I think this is a terrific new feature. Years ago there were programs on the Mac that gave anyone the ability to share organized data about something of interest to them to others who owned the application (Hyperstudio and Apple’s Hypercard for instance). Using the sharing feature of Bento 4, I could create a database of information and share it with students in a class or just friends who own Bento. This feature has a lot of potential!

Of course, this leads me to suggest one more step in the sharing process, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to share a copy of the catalog, information, or whatever with people who don’t own Bento as well? Some form of a licensed runtime only version of Bento. Just food for thought!

In any case, the export feature is easy to use and works as expected. Just one work of caution, since the export data is part of the export template dialog, be careful to turn it off if you intend to just share the template! Otherwise potentially personal information might go along with your template.

Speaking of sharing templates, Bento 4 makes it even easier to share with the template exchange. In the template export dialog you just need to click on share with template exchange and the template is sent. I assume you can share the data with the template exchange as well. It will be interesting to see what type of new templates along with data make their way to this exchange in future.

For people who want to include even more data in their databases, Bento 4 includes two new interesting features: Voice memos and automatic location. Automatic location uses the location services of your portable device to find and record your current location. Using an iPhone or iPad with cellular services, you could capture an image, or write some information, then have the location services record the exact GPS location of where this occurred. The location feature is also tied to Google Maps, so you can click on the coordinates and see a map of the location.

Using the voice memo feature, you can create a field in the database to record audio into. There are several practical uses of this feature, one that comes to mind is the classroom. A database could be created which includes space to take notes during the lecture as well as recording the lecture. After, when reviewing the notes, the lecture could be reviewed as well, and those points that weren’t clear or even missed will become available. I could also see  it being used to provide information about an object in a database that might not be apparent by looking at the object.

Another very useful new feature is the ability to lock a form’s layout. I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of accidentally grabbing a field when I click around a database. So instead of doing what I intended, I move or re-size the field I clicked in. In Bento 4, you can choose to lock the form. This turns off the ability to rearrange and re-size fields on a form. If you later decide you would like to work with the fields, click off the lock, and the fields become movable again.

A lot of people are not happy that they cannot move iCal tasks onto their portable Apple devices. It doesn’t make sense, moving your task list onto a portable device makes them available for review no matter where you are. With Bento 4 you can now sync the iCal tasks with Bento, then sync them to your portable device. You will see them and be able to edit them on the Mac.  This is a feature I think a lot of people will be very happy with.

Along with the release of Bento 4 for the Mac, Filemaker will be releasing new versions of Bento for the iPod Touch / iPhone and iPad. These new versions take advantage of the new features in Bento and add several new features to the portable device.

I am a big fan of the iPod Touch and tend to use it as a PDA as more then a music player. I have been using Bento on the iPod touch for a number of tasks, but the most important use is for shopping lists. Rather than wasting a scrap of paper, I created a database of products at various stores. Along with this list, I created a smart list that shows only the items that I designated when needed (using a check box). At the store, I load the smart list, and as I put items in the cart, click off the check box, which removes the item from the list. Really cool and efficient! In the previous version of Bento for the iPod Touch, I had to select the item, open the record, to be able to click off the needed check box. In Version 4, you can choose to have a check box field shown on the list view. This means I can click off items directly from the list view, without opening the record. I love it!

Bento 4 also makes accessing the smart list view easier. Previously, there were two ways to view one’s list of databases in the iPod version of Bento, list view and cover flow view. While any large database could have a number of sub lists, you could not access a sub list from the list view. To access a sub list, you needed to select the main database in cover flow view, click on a button to flip the cover view around, then select the sub list from those listed there. In the new version of Bento for the iPod Touch, the cover flow view is now used only for selecting templates to create a new database. Your created databases all show in a list view. If there are sub lists, an icon at the end of the database name shows the number of sub lists, touch this icon and you get a menu of sub lists, then select the list of interest. This seems a lot more efficient to me.

The new version of Bento for the iPod/iPhone also now allows you to change screen orientation. This is very useful when trying to read a longer entry. It also means that the virtual keyboard has a wider aspect when you need to type, a real benefit on this small screen.

Voice memos seem like a great feature for these portable devices. It would be a lot quicker to speak a comment, or thought, onto the device, then later you can transcribe it into text. Or remember a thought you had.

While this is not an issue for me, the newer version of Bento for the iPhone/iPod Touch will also be available in other languages including: Japanese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.

Although I do like all the changes and improvements, I am still unhappy when a database created on the Mac is moved to a portable device. Most of my databases are simple lists of information and the arrangement of the data isn’t really that important. But I also keep a database of books I have either read or listened to the audio version. My list has names of books, author’s name and website, and other useful information which I use to find more books. The list is organized with the title on top, author’s first and last names, website link, then a description of the book. I also keep an image of the books cover art (just for fun). There is other information as well. When I transfer this database to my portable device, the fields are scrambled. The author’s first name ends up near the top, but the last name is someplace near the bottom, title is in the middle, and so forth. On the iPad, the cover art is given a field large enough to see the entire image, but the longer text description field defaults to 2 lines of text. (I realize on the small devices (iPhone / iTouch), only a little text can be seen on one page and I can live with that.)

On the iPad, I expected more. For my longer text field, there is a way to tell the iPad to give it more space, by choosing how many lines of text to show, not intelligently by how much data is in the field. Each database field takes up one entire line, so instead of a neat layout of the author’s first name on the left side of the line followed by the last name to the right, they are forced to be displayed on two separate lines. With the iPad and its larger format, I would expect some semblance of the layout on my Mac display would transfer to the iPad, but this was not the case.

I realize that the transferred database can be shifted around to make sense on the smaller device, but why not keep some of the original order? In both cases, the transferred layout still mystifies me. What I get bears little resemblance to how I had the field organized on the Mac. Granted, you need to tell the app which two fields, and which media or check box field to show (if there is more than one), when you view the list of records in the database. But when I enter the view showing the full record, the layout is scrambled. I expected data would be organized a bit more like it is on the Mac. And especially do on the iPad.

I see an easy solution for Bento on the Mac. Among all the layouts that one can create, there should be an option for iPad and iPhone/iTouch devices. This way one can take advantage of the Macs interface tools to create logical screens for the portable devices. The default layout of fields should at least, approximate that of the Mac’s layout.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like these two portable versions. I do. I regularly use Bento on my iPod Touch as a shopping list, to find contact information, and even to research what is going on with an author’s web site.  I would be lost without Bento on the iPod! I have yet to find a real purpose for Bento on the iPad, but that’s just me. I am sure there are thousands of users who have found this App to be very useful. I can see it used in classrooms, as a high end catalog with pictures and even animations, and other uses.

Overall, the new version of Bento is terrific. It is a must-have for all current Bento users. If you use the portable devices, the new versions of Bento is also a great idea and I would recommend downloading them. The cost of Bento 4 is the standard $49, and there is a $20 rebate for current Bento owners. A group of five licenses can be purchased for $99. The portable versions are $4.99 each and the update is free to current owners. I highly recommend Bento for anyone who has a need or interest in organizing data. It is the easiest database program I have ever used and by far the most powerful consumer one available.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

As you have probably gathered, I really enjoy astronomy. I like looking at objects in deep space, gazing at the moon and the planets of our solar system, and sometimes even enjoying a glimpse of a comet. I enjoy using my telescope but often, at my home in New England, the skies are overcast, or the weather is rotten. (Especially this current winter with record amounts of snow fall.) So what does one do to enjoy a little astronomy when the sky doesn’t cooperate? Find an alternative, I say. This is easy for Starry Night users, who can look at the LiveSky menu and select ‘Online Telescope Imaging…’  which opens a browser window to access a site called SLOOH.

SLOOH the Site

Several years ago, I learned about www.slooh.com. The name SLOOH is a play on the word slew, which in Astronomy circles to slew a telescope is to move it’s position. What slooh.com offers is access to large 20” telescopes, via the Internet. The telescope is controlled remotely and moved through a series of targets as the night moves on. The scope stays with each object for a period of time, giving the camera time to collect and even color the light, producing beautiful images.

SLOOH the Software

The SLOOH interface is the user’s window to what the telescope sees. You can watch as the image develops on your screen. Starting with a monochrome, then watch the colors revealed as various filters are applied. You can capture up to three images any time during the exposure, you select when. One of my favorite tricks is to make an image before the colors start, and one just before the end of the exposure. This gives a great comparison of  naked eye viewing versus a time exposure.

Granted, you are not specifically in control of where the telescope points, or how long the exposures are, but a great many of the objects available to see based on the time of year  are on the list. Also, don’t forget, two very important aspects of this telescope: It is large (20” reflector) and the position of the telescope.

When SLOOH started, there was one telescope on a mountain in the Canary Islands, which is close to the equator. This means that it can “see” most of the sky, north and south. Within the past year, SLOOH has added two more telescopes, one in the mountains of Chili and one in Australia. (They recently shutdown the Australia site because the weather conditions there we rarely good and they weren’t getting much use of the telescope.) With telescopes in these various locations, a member has the potential of being able to see any part of the sky.

After you log into your SLOOH account, you are then taken to the “Launch Pad” which gives you access to various features of the site. In addition to the three telescopes, there is a link to the images you have downloaded, banners telling you of “radio shows” the site provides, access to reservation of time slots, as well as a brief list of what is currently being looked at as well as what the next few targets are.

From the launch pad, you can choose which telescope you would like to see, providing that telescope if currently on line. Once you choose a telescope, a new window opens which is your window to accessing the telescope view and information about what is on the screen. This window provides your view of what the telescope is seeing as well as a lot of other information. Take a look at my screen shot.

First of all there is a big circular area which displays what the telescope camera is seeing. As the exposure continues, you watch see it change in this window. A button near the bottom of this circular area shifts the camera view into full screen. To the right of the circular view area there are three buttons that control the view you see. There are three possibilities, High Mag, which gives a view using the maximum magnification, Wide field shows the image in a wider field and with less magnification. (Note that some objects do not use the high magnification, because it wouldn’t make any sense. Looking at a small corner of a large object wouldn’t be of much use). The last view is “all sky”, which is essentially what you would see if you just looked out of the telescopes dome.

The left hand side of the window is the information area. There are several choices of information and settings to choose from. The default is “Mission data”, which offers information about the object currently being viewed. The other tabs provide other features, for instance, you can tune the program to your system and display, check the weather conditions at the dome, or get some help. When there is a radio event on there is usually a chat channel open for members to ask questions/make comments during the show. You can digitally enlarge an image, see how long the current exposure is and how much time is remaining, and more.

SLOOH has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and interacts with Google Earth. There is also a forum to participate in if you like that. With Google earth, you can share your images of the universe with the Google earth (universe view) site. It’s a cool way to share your work!

One feature, I haven’t tried personally, is the ability to schedule a time slot to view coordinates that you are interested in. There are three options for selecting a target, choose from a list of objects, choose by using a catalog number, or enter the coordinates of an object or area of space you are interested in. The schedule window shows slots for the current week. So to schedule the telescope you choose an object and an available time slot. Just be sure that you will be able to view the scope when your time arrives! Otherwise, you will miss the view.

While looking at a live computer image of what the telescope can see isn’t as exciting as looking through one’s own telescope in the backyard, it is very nice. The images that you capture are tagged and dated, then stored for your later perusal or downloading.

The SLOOH site organizes the images you have captured for easy retrieval. The images are organized by category such as Solar System, Globular Clusters, various types of galaxies, and more. When you select a type, you are presented with a list of objects of that type, each object in the list also indicates how many images of that object you have collected. It also tells you the time and date of the most recent image. If you click on a specific object, you are shown a list of your images. Here you can enjoy looking at your images or download them for better processing. As with any astrophotography image, a little digital darkroom works can go a long way! You can also delete images you don’t like.

Besides downloading the image, you can share the image with your friends. SLOOH provides easy links to many different social networking sites.  Images have a SLOOH logo on them, so they get credit for the image, but they are your images to work with. Being a Mac guy, I collect and process my favorite images and have made a photo slide show of them. Mostly I use my favorites for backgrounds on my desktop and as a screen saver.

There are two basic plans for buying into SLOOH. First there is the “Commander Membership”. With this membership you pay an annual fee and can log in and view any of the scopes any time they are up and running. You also have a fair amount of personal scheduling time (When I started years ago the membership included so many minutes of scheduling time, currently it appears that, as long as things aren’t busy, you can use more time. The Commander fee is $50 a year, but I noticed that Amazon.com sells it for a discount.

The other method is called a Credit Membership. In this plan you buy an amount of credits which can be used anytime you log in. When you use them up, you can buy more credits. You can buy credits along with activity books and other things from various retailers. SLOOH links directly to Amazon.com as their retailer, but I have seen the packages at other locations.

I have been a member of SLOOH for several years. My activity varies, but when I have a bit of free time I like to log in and see what’s on the display. As with any telescope, weather conditions can be an issue. Cloudy skies, a full moon, and other factors can make the telescope unavailable. Sometimes the images are spectacular and at other times they are terrible. But this is typical for astrophotography. The radio shows have come and gone over the years I have been a member. It’s great listening to an astronomer (amateur or professional), as they share their insights and thoughts about astronomy.

I truly enjoy this site and the services they provide. I intend to remain a member as long as I am able. I really enjoy this site and have a great time watching the sky through their telescopes. If you want my advice, I’d encourage you to visit SLOOH’s site and see what they have to offer.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Title: Unleashing Web 2.0 From Concepts to Creativity
Authors: Gottfried Vossen and Stephan Hagemann
ISBN: 0123740347
Published: August, 2007 by Morgan Kauffman Publishers
Price: $52.95 for paperback/$29.95 for Kindle

This semester (Spring 2011) I’m taking a course in grad school called ‘Advanced Web Application Development’, and the only required textbook is ‘Unleashing Web 2.0 From Concepts to Creativity’. I bought the book before the start of the semester from Amazon.com (good price and fast delivery) and started reading it the day it arrived. I had read 3 or the 6 chapters by the time the class first met, when I learned that we would only cover those chapters, but decided to finish the book as the material was interesting and I found the material to be an easy read. Let’s check it out.

Chapters in the Book

The book is organized into 6 chapters:

  1. A Brief History of the Web
  2. A Review of the Technological Stream
  3. Enabling Techniques and Technologies
  4. Sample Frameworks for Web Application Development
  5. Impacts of the Next Generation of the Web
  6. The Semantic Web and Web 2.0

The authors approach is to present the topics and refer the reader to URLs for current information.

Chapter One provides history and terminology relevant to Web 2.0. It includes definitions of the 5 types of e-commerce (B2B, B2C, C2C, G2C, B2G), PayPal, and some code examples. There were examples of CSS and XML  code – not enough to do more than see a short example, but still useful when taking free online language sources. I particularly liked that the authors mentioned MAMP/WAMP/LAMP – Mac/Windows/Linux Apache MySql PHP/Perl – which developers use to develop and test server-based applications using Apache and MySQL. I also liked how the authors explained Web Services.

Chapter Two has HTML code and tags, more CSS code, some JavaScript and PHP. This chapter goes much deeper into Web Services and WSDLs, and it brings up Amazon’s ECS (E-Commerce Service). I’ve worked with Web Services before, and while this material is not enough to know how to configure them by itself, it is well-covered and the authors give internet references that are useful.

Chapter Three goes into RIAs (Rich Internet Applications), Saas (Software as a Service – the included diagram is very good), Google APIs, and Flickr. Good data, especially on the APIs although you still need to go to the API websites for detailed information.

Chapter Four goes into client-side and server-side frameworks. Our Advanced Web Application Development class has a project where we use Ruby on Rails (server-side framework), so this was interesting but no where near enough for what I’ll need to do the coding so I will pick up a book dedicated to Ruby on Rails development. This chapter also covers MVC (Model View Controller) and has a decent diagram as well as written data on the topic.

Chapter Five goes into the business-side of Web 2.0. It breaks down the types of commerce that (as of 2007) is done using Web 2.0, and this is the main section I’d love to see updated to 2011, as there are probably a few new ones that came out since this edition was released.

Chapter Six is on Semantics, which I just started and will add that information when I finish the book.

Conclusion

For now, I liked this book. I like the approach of referencing many free online sites that will have more current information than books several years old. I will keep this book on the bookshelf, even though I have many pages of notes I made while reading the book (who wants to memorize hundreds of URLs).

Positives

  • Reasonable priced: check out Amazon.com for used copies if you’re watching your book budget.
  • There is a version available for the Kindle. I don’t own one, but understand some students are going the ebook route as often as possible to save money and weight.
  • Excellent references to many internet sites with relevant Web 2.0 information. Most of the URLs I checked for Eclipse add-ons or plug-ins were still available.
  • The content flows well – not disjointed, which does occur with books that have multiple authors.

Negatives

  • The book was published in 2007, and 3-4 internet years is like 50 human years. I’d love to see this book updated with 2011-current information. I bring this up is that some of the Eclipse add-ins did not work with Eclipse Helios (although they did with Eclipse Galileo).
  • Only provides code snippets, so you need to buy other books to learn more about the programming languages mentioned in the book – to be fair, there are enough internet sites on the languages that you don’t need to buy a programming book, but I prefer to learn coding from old school printed books.

Conclusion

Recommended buy for developers or managers that want more understanding of Web 2.0 technologies. This is good book and it was worth the time to read it for my class, as well as to come up to speed in Web 2.0 technologies and terminologies. I liked the approach of providing an overview of topics while providing URLs, which should have more up-to-date information than printed books.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

iPad versus Android

iPad

Freescale aPad IMX515

What is the fuss about tablets? Do we need them? Why or why not? How much do they cost? Which one should we buy? What is the supported hardware and software? How do we get more (software and hardware)? Can the operating system be upgraded? What OS versions to avoid? What do they lack, straight out of the box, and what add-on is worth it’s weight in gold? Let’s find out.

I’ve been tracking tablets since Apple released the iPad, and I have to admit I’m impressed. I’d like an iPad, but the price tag is so much higher than 7″ or 8″ Android OS-based tablets, so my first tablet will probably run Android. I’ve done some online comparisons and see there are 7″, 8″ and 10.1″ Android tablets that run different versions of Android (1.6, 2.1, 2.2) and have different supported hardware/software features.

The hardware features that vary include CPU and clock speed, memory (ranging from 128MB to 1GB), hard drive storage (2 – 8 GB), TF slots for additional memory (max ranging from 16 – 32 GB), cameras (no camera, have web cam, have 1.3 M Pixel cameras – similar to cell phones from 2 – 3 yrs ago), USB Ports (some do, some don’t), and wireless connectivity (a/b/g/n).

The main supported software I’ve seen is probably related to the version of Android installed on the tablet. The types of supported video formats varies considerably – only 1 or 2 I looked at support H.264, and only 1 said it supports Flash 10.1.

The tablet that has caught my eye today is the Freescale aPad IMX515 ARM Cortex A8 8″Android 2.2 tablet. Speed is 1 GHz, it has 512 MB RAM and 4 GB storage (plus TF expansion slot for another 32 GB storage).

My question: Has anyone out there that bought an Android OS tablet be willing to share their experience of using the tablet? Ted, one of the other contributors of this site, has an iPad and loves it. I’m curious if the Android tablets invoke as much appreciation by their owners.

I’d like to learn what owners like and dislike about their tablets, what they cost and what they spent to upgrade them, how long is the battery life on a single charge, what types of applications are bought (vs free downloads), how many use these devices at work or school, and whether or not the owner feels these devices can replace laptops or netbooks.

My impression is that these devices are very handy and can take the place of a lot of stuff being done on laptops (gaming, internet browsing), but I don’t believe they currently can replace a laptop. I cannot imagine writing a long book or developing large software applications on a tablet. I can see them as terrific devices to take out in the field – I know I’d love to take one along when going out at night to observe the skies, as long as the battery life kept it going all night.

If the Android tablets have short battery life and the iPad is much greater, it seems wiser to skip the Android tablet purchase and move right on to the one that will do what I need, because battery life is just as important as supported applications.

I’d like to hear from anyone willing to share about their good or bad experiences using a tablet.

IMPORTANT NOTE 3-2-2011

Apple released the new iPad (2.0) on March 2, 2011. It is 2/3 as thick as iPad 1.0, faster dual core A5 processor, better/faster graphic processing (1024×768), lighter (1.3 lb), has front and rear-facing cameras, 3-axis gyro, accelerometer,  runs iOS 4.3, same 10 hr battery life, and ships 3/11/2011 at the same price as the iPad 1.0 models. Mac computers must have a USB 2.0 port and run OS X 10.5.8 or later. Click here to go to the site for product details. Want to see the new model? Here it is:

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: RedShift 7 Advanced
Vendor: United Soft Media (www.redshift7.com)
Price: $79.90/£49.90 (Boxed), $59.95 (download)
Supported OS: Windows 7/Vista/XP/2000

Ted Bade and I are both amateur astronomers. We’ve both used a lot of commercial and open source products for different operating systems – some which we cover on this site (Starry Night Pro, Voyager, etc) – and since Ted reviewed RedShift for the iPhone/iPad, we felt I should take a look at the version of the product for Windows: RedShift 7 Advanced.

I contacted the product vendor and they were happy to provide a download of the software to evaluate, so let’s get started with the evaluation.

Using the Software

I downloaded and installed the product on the Windows XP partition of my 2.26 GHz dual core Intel processor Macbook (~ 14 months old) which has a 250 GB hard drive and 2 GB RAM. No problems during either phase of this process. The software was installed in the C:\Program Files\Maris Technologies folder.

I began by checking out the UI. First of all I like the Getting Started screen:

This is ideal for the first time user. I checked out all of the tabs to learn how to use the software. Very nice.

Next I decided to take some of the many guided tours included with the software. The tours were good, but the quality of the planets and moons was not what I expected. I poked around and found a few options that looked like they could help (‘Extras/Enable OpenGL’, ‘View/Surface Features/Planets’ and ‘View/Surface Features/Moon’), so I enabled them, then restarted the software and took a few additional guided tours. Now I saw a nice improvement when I took the tour of the 5 main Jupiter moons.

This is the screen shot I took using RedShift 7, which shows Jupiter and 5 of the largest moons. I like the perspective as the orbits are clear and the information (in the box at the top right of the screen) was interesting. Only comment – the text appears center-justified.

Callisto – one of the larger moons of Jupiter, Callisto has been viewed as a potential landing site for a Jupiter system exploratory mission. Callisto is further away from Jupiter, so the closer and larger moon might be a better landing site.

Ganymede – probably my favorite Jupiter moon. This moon is bigger than Mercury, and it was the site of Robert Heinlein’s ‘Farmer in the Sky’ science fiction story about future colonizing efforts of humanity. This moon is closer to Jupiter, but the radiation levels there may be higher than on a moon that is further away.

Next, I checked out some of the space flight tours. I took the Mars tour and liked the quality of the image of the surface of Mars:

The next tour I checked out was Cassini, which was interesting as it was a 6 part tour which shows each phase of the complex flight the probe took. The probe had a complicated route to Saturn. It made several near planet passes to gain speed: twice by Venus, once by Earth, and once by Jupiter (mostly for course correction than for speed) before arriving at Saturn. This was an important mission as we took many great pictures of Saturn and the moon Titan. I would’ve liked to see some mention that the Cassini mission has been extended far beyond the planned life of the mission – this is interesting information and relevant to astronomy students.

I then ran the tour ‘Guided Tours/The Essentials/A comet plunges to its death’ which is a re-enactment of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke up and the chunks plunged into the atmosphere of Jupiter. The impacts were clear and RedShift has some of the images of those impacts.

There are also spaceflights for Yuri Gagarin (first human to orbit our planet in 1961), Apollo 13 (ill-fated and near disasterous trip to the moon in 1969), Voyager 2 (deep space probe launched in 1977), Galileo (Jupiter mission – launched in 1989 and sent into Jupiter atmosphere in 2003), the Mars Express, and the MER Opportunity and Spirit missions. The Mars Express mission was the ESA’s first Mars mission and it is still active today (January, 2011). The Opportunity and Spirit rovers were sent to roam over the surface of Mars and take pictures. Both are still on Mars, however the Spirit rover stopped responding to NASA after a short while, but the Opportunity rover is still active and is currently parked at the Santa Maria Crater (January, 2011), where it is taking some revealing images.

I was surprised at some missions that were missing, like the Apollo 11 and the New Horizons missions. Apollo 11 was the first manned landing on the moon and is much a landmark as Yuri Gagarin’s first mission into space. New Horizons is on the way to Pluto and the Kuiper belt, which as also huge.

I only had one bad experience using this software. Three times when I was working with guided tours, RedShift 7 crashed with the following error message:

I am running with the most current Windows XP updates on my Macbook dual core CPU laptop. If anyone else sees this error, please contact United Soft Media so they have more information to use to address this problem. This is not a show stopper, and it may not be a problem for other versions of Windows.

Conclusion

I enjoyed using RedShift 7 Advanced. The guided tours are very useful, although a few seemed to take longer than I’d prefer. After getting comfortable with the user interface, I enjoyed using this software.  There is good information, although it would be nice to see more information. I love how the company website is positively loaded with astronomy-related content, which is available to people that don’t have RedShift.

Positives

  • Number of supported versions of Windows – good to see they still support Windows 2000 users, as well as Windows 7.
  • The price is right. A good value for the low-cost of the software, especially the download version.
  • The installed software didn’t kill my drive space. It only took 1.24 GB of space, which is pretty low when compared to other astronomy products.
  • Getting Started screen, which has many features new users will want to access immediately to learn how to use the software.
  • An excellent website to support the product, as well as provide a tremendous amount of astronomy-related content.
  • Guided Tours – very nice. A lot of them to help build interest in astronomy.
  • Number of configurable options – very good. It is useful to be able to specify actions to occur at start-up or when exiting the program. I wish more vendors did this, as most serious users want to have as much control of their environments as possible.
  • Telescope Control support – a must for serious users.

Areas for Improvement

  • The company needs to find and fix the uncaught exception that caused the software to crash 3 times over the months I was evaluating RedShift.
  • Some of the UI controls had an old school feel to them. They did function, but were not as modern as some other astronomy packages I’ve used. I’d love to see the UI updated in the next major release of the product.
  • I had to enable the software to use OpenGL for video, as well as turn on surface features for planets and moons. Both of these affected the quality of the software images and I’d rather be asked at first launch if I want those features enabled, instead of finding them after I look at the software. Initially I was not impressed by the quality of the images, but after enabling these features I was much happier.
  • I liked the tours, but some seemed to go without a lot happening. A nice sound track or slide show with thumbnails of the tour subject would make these more interesting. I’d also like to see planetary tours similar to what is done at http://www.worldwidetelescope.org, which are very informative and visually interesting.
  • Many good space flights/missions, but not the Apollo 11 or the New Horizons missions.

Recommendation

A good value and recommended for astronomy students of any level. The tours are a nice touch for students just learning about the missions and the planets and stars, as well as for older folk wanting to recall the things that so captivated television audiences in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Contextual Menus — A Tool Macintosh users too often miss

Responsible Macintosh Safe, Secure and Polite Macin’ — Things You Should Know or Practice

Introduction

Several months ago I had the pleasure of making a presentation on contextual menus [CM] to the Mid-Columbia Macintosh user group here in the Tri-Cities Washington area. A contextual menu offers a range (often limited) set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Because Apple blessed us with the one-button mouse, unlike our PC/Windows colleagues, we’re not as tuned to using the extra feature the Macintosh OS has made available for ‘right-clinkers.’

I, as I browse shareware offerings have found additional CM goodies easily accessible via my two-button Logitech scrolling mouse. All these and more are grist for what follows. Oh, don’t have a two-button mouse, Apple makes one or three, sort-of, try an option-click! See Note 1 for more specific details.

Note that in the graphic samples I have included, are only a samples, of two different selections from the same general environment (e.g., Finder Windows, MSW 2011 {this article} DEVONthink and a PDF of a Recipe.) So explore, you enjoy the new flexibility CM’s give you every day Macintosh work tasks.

CM Options — A Recipe PDF

MSW CM Image Optio


Contextual Menus Revealed

In some ways the Macintosh operating system reminds me of two medieval rabbis <scholars> discussing a line or paragraph of the Old Testament. Then and perhaps even now there were at least three alternatives for each ‘reading.’ And of course all of this invisible to the common rabbinical-Torah student.

Similarly, for the Macintosh there are at least 3 ways of working with files/folders/actions whether in the Finder or often (if supported) in other applications.

We all know and have gotten comfortable with a menu bar, tool bars in applications like the Finder and MSWord} and of course keyboard short cuts. There are also the added choice of using the Apple dock and when visible the open/active window sidebar. Huh, I always hide my sidebar in open finder windows, making them visible only if I have to do a sidebar-oriented task.

But there’s a faster more focused and faster way, in many cases, to deal with desired ‘short-cut’ actions while you work in a context specific way — Save time, spare your wrists and your mind from extra work — use contextual menus where they are available.

The tool you use on a 2-button mouse is a right hand click.) On Apple’s one-button mice, a bit more fuss, but still easy, an Option Key-Mouse Click. When this works, at the place where your mouse’s pointer is ‘hovering’, Shazam, a menu that focuses only the actions/options available to you magically appears.

That menu will change as the CONTEXT of what you are doing changes. It will focus ONLY on what you can-are allowed-to do from that point (location) in your work.

If you don’t yet use these tools, you will be surprised to know that contextual menus can provide unexpected useful features. For example, in Safari, a contextual menu can be used to easily view or print a web page or to view the source code (HTML code) of any web page. In addition, there are excellent free contextual menu plug-ins for Mac OS X 10.4 to OS X 10.6 that can be added to Mac OS X to let you easily view images, launch applications or organize files. I’ve share a few of my favorites later in  this article.

Like standard menus, contextual menus are sometimes hierarchically organized <think outline view>, allowing navigation through different levels of the menu structure. The implementations differ: Microsoft Word was one of the first applications to only show sub-entries of some menu entries after clicking an arrow icon on the context menu, otherwise executing an action associated with the parent entry. This makes it possible to quickly repeat an action with the same actions (parameters of the previous execution), and to better separate options from actions.

  • What are they and where are they hidden?
  • Apple’s OS X Contributions
  • Share/Free Ware CMs
  • My Favorite Access Tool – Fruit Menu

So, What Are CM’s?

In Mac OS X, when you hold the Ctrl key down and click an item (e.g., an icon or window), a pop-up menu appears. It is called a contextual menu because its contents depend on the item you click; the menu features a list of commands you can perform relative to, or within the context of, the item you click. For example, if you Ctrl-click a file icon, you can choose to open it, open Get Info or an Info window about it, give it a label, duplicate it, or make an alias of it. Other items will give you different menu options. Contextual menus appear with most items in the Finder, but won’t necessarily be available in other applications.

On systems that support one-button mice, the original and mist recent Apple Mice, contextual menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (most often on one the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or more usually by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS); see Note 1.

Usually the available choices are actions directly related to the selected object. Most often, these are more focused ways of achieving a usual menu bar action, but accessed faster and with less mousing around, clicking and scrolling. However, if short-cuts are assigned to selected menu based actions, the keyboard short cut is faster. But who want to cram hundreds of shortcuts into their memory.

Actually there was, years ago, a CM for collecting shortcuts. I seem to have discarded it along the way of moving through OS upgrades. Any who can find it, please provide feedback in our comments window.

Macintosh OS X CM Actions///Try them out – Try accessing the CM’s in the following environments and see both what you get and how the difference CM differ in their choices based on where you mouse is pointed.

FinderIcon View on the Desk Top 

  • Document –
  • Folder –
  • Folder Alias –
  • Document Alias –
  • Background –
  • Link –
  • Get Info (Spotlight Comments)
Other Finder Windows 

Sidebar – No action

Main Window Area –

– List View

– Icon View

– Column View

Peek-a-Boo, see what you get!

Application Documents 

Open Apple “TextEdit” File

Open PDF File (Acrobat)

– Text

– Image

Open PDF File (Apple’s Preview)

GraphicConverter – Only a few universal ‘moves’

Safari –

Firefo

Desktop Finder — Selected Folder

Desktop Finder Window-No Selection

CM of a Folder in a Finder Window

Other Share/Free Ware CMs I Find Useful

FruitMenu — My Favorite ‘super’ Haxie <Utility> FruitMenu is a haxie that gives you the ability to customize the Apple Menu and contextual menus. There’s more focused CM tools listed below.

Shareware and Freeware With Which I Work
A Better Finder Context Menu 

ClipToIconCM

ClipToWebCM

CopyPastePro Contextual Menu *

DEVONthink CM *

Doc Merge 2.4.1 *

FilePathCM 

MoveCM

PrintWindowCM *

Shortcuts 2.0.1

WordDumpCM

* Part of a parent application

These CMs and others can be found on the MacUpdate Site [http://www.macupdate.com/

Shareware Item Details:

  • A Better Finder Attributes 4., Context Menu — A Better Finder Attributes allows you to change file and photo dates and times, as well as other useful file attributes that the Finder won’t let you touch. Quickly change the following file attributes: modification date and time, creation date and time, batch adjust the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) time & date that JPEG pictures were shot to compensate for time zones or incorrectly set camera clocks, set the file creation date to the time that a digital camera picture was taken, lock or unlock the file (prevents the name and the contents of the file to be modified, set the Mac OS 9-style creator & type codes, show or hide the file extension for particular files.
  • ClipToIconCM 1.0 — ClipToIconCM is a contextual menu plug-in which adds custom icons to files using pictures on the clipboard.Suppose you have a file with a generic icon and you want to add an icon that conveys more information on the file’s contents. You can add a custom icon to this file using ClipToIconCM by first putting an image file on the clipboard. For example, you could use your web browser to find a web page with the desired graphic and then use “Command-Control-Shift-4” to select a portion of the screen to “capture” to the clipboard.
  • ClipToWebCM 1.0.3 — ClipToWebCM is a service application and contextual menu plug-in which tries to open the currently selected text (or clipboard contents if there is no selection) as a URL in your default web browser. Of course this isn’t anything a copy and paste operation can’t achieve, but it’s quicker. It’s also more versatile than the “Open URL” contextual menu item since it doesn’t require a full URL. (Note: As of version 1.0.2 the selection can also be a Finder file or folder; the text will be the name of the object.)
  • FilePathCM 1.2 — FilePathCM is a contextual menu, menu bar item and service for copying the:POSIX path, URL encoded POSIX path, Server afp URL, Abbreviated (Tilde) POSIX path, POSIX path for Terminal, HFS path and more
  • MoveCM 1.2 — MoveCM is a menu bar application, service and contextual menu item for moving, copying, aliasing, hard linking and archiving (zip compressing) files and folders quickly into common folders. i.e. without the need to drag and drop them, use aliases, etc. It is a generalization of the Finder’s “Move to Trash” contextual menu item, you can apply it to any folder you like. Use the System Preference pane to specify destination folders. The menu bar application or contextual menu will then consist of menu items that correspond to these destinations. Control click on one or more files and/or folders in the Finder, select a destination from the menu, and the files and/or folders will be moved (copied, archived) to that destination. You have the option, specified in the preference pane, to have the destination folder opened for you after the operation completes. You also have the option of having the menu items in the contextual menu named after the destination folder, or by its pathname.
  • PrintWindow CM 4.1 — Print Window offers the ability to print a file listing directly from within the Mac OS X Finder. No more taking screenshots of windows or settling for text-only printouts of filenames only. Print Window provides the works: icons, file information, sorting and so much more!
  • ShortCuts CM 2.0.1 — Shortcuts is a Mac OS X application to assign hot keys to contextual menu items. Version 2.0 also allows you to display a menu with items added by CM plug-ins. Since Apple removed contextual menu plug-ins support for 64 bit applications in Mac OS 10.6, Shortcuts is currently the only known way to use contextual menu plug-ins in 64 bit applications.
  • WordDumpCM 1.0.9 — WordDump is an application, contextual menu and service for extracting all the words from documents. Supported document formats include Text, PDF, MS Word, HTML and RTF. The WordDump service, available from the Services menu, also counts the characters and words in files and text selection. These menu items are called “Count Characters” and “Count Words.” You may need to turn on the option to display the service menu items in the Services Preferences of System Preferences.

DEVONthink File Item CM  

DEVONthink CM of a Found ‘Search” Item

Final Thoughts

Contextual menus are a great way to do things faster and more efficiently on your Mac. They also give you some added functionality to programs, while just giving you easier access to frequently used commands in others. Overall, I find contextual menus to be quite useful and periodically check MacUpdate site for new ones. <Note: I’m much less enamored with the Apple related services menu which I’ve not yet mastered and which my favorite applications do not support – More about that in a future article.>  If you haven’t considered using them, try them out- you just may start asking yourself how you could have lived without them.

References and Notes

More About Contextual Menus,

The Apple Macintosh’s Keyboard Option Key – Wikipedia

Contextual Menus, Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Context_menu

Note 1.

On systems that support one-button mice, context menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (this works on the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS). A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is Function + Ctrl + 5 or Ctrl + 5 (numeric keypad) or Function + Ctrl + i (laptop). [Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contextual_menu]

AppendicesMore Than You Wanted To Know

For Lawyers and Philosopher Only! — A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a mouse-click activated menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) that appears when implemented by the user, It works by using a right mouse click or middle mouse click to operate.

The Gobblygook {double-speak c/o Wikipedia} Definition A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a “Mouse Activated pop-up menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) like the Macintosh OX that appears upon user interaction, such as a right mouse click or more rarely a middle click within a mouse operation. A context menu offers a specific limited set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Usually the available choices are actions related to the selected object or “window.

More Complexities You May Not Need — A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is <Function + Ctrl + 5> or <Ctrl + 5 on a numeric keypad> or <Function + Ctrl + i on a laptop.>

Snow-Leopard CM Limits CM’s to 64 Bit Mode Only. — I don’t know what that statement means but all of my CM’s including ones dating back to 2007 seem to work just fine.

Acknowledgements: Unless otherwise noted I have provided the referenced source of the contents in these articles. I also found in my many notes I’ve stashed for future articles, that certain themes keep coming up, that parallel what I’ve read or practiced.  In many cases I have acknowledged as well as modified the original document(s) to personalize their content for our readers.

As needed the information provided was created, and as appropriate demonstrated on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB installed 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running the latest Snow Leopard Mac OS X version with all current security updates installed.

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies. Some of the articles listed in this column contain materials that are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educationally related purposes, which this column provides.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

This afternoon I read an email in my St. Thomas account about the new Wolfram mobile apps for the iPhone/iTouch/iPad and Android, so I went to their site to see what they had to offer. There are three new Wolfram Course Assistance Apps for students ( Algebra, Calculus, and Music Theory) but more are planned for a lot of other courses. I checked out the Music Theory app and it was $1.99 at iTunes.

Then I noticed the Developer Products menu at the top and checked it out. You can download API documentation, download a widget for your website or blog, or build your own widget. I’m a developer, so I decided to build a widget.

Before getting started I decided to watch the demo video from Wolfram and it is very clear. So clear I wondered if it really was as easy as it was portrayed in the video. The demo example retrieved the distance between two cities. After retrieving the information, the speaker showed it is simple to replace the names of the initial cities with variables, and it is easy to add custom labels for the variables. He then showed how easy it is to change the color of the widget, to set the widget titlebar, and a description for users.

Being an amateur astronomer, the choice of topic for my widget was simple. Yes, astronomy. I tried some code I wrote that runs in a Mathematica workbook (it retrieves images of the 8 planets in our solar system) but it didn’t work. I then just tried ‘planets’ and it worked exactly as I hoped.

All you have to do is decide what type of data you want to retrieve and then enter that into the Wolfram|Alpha site. If the site understands the query, it returns the requested data. After seeing my query retrieved information on all of the planets (including images), I created the widget but changed planets to a variable so users can specify a planet of their choice. I entered Jupiter and tested it, and it worked – a lot of good data, Jupiter’s current location in the solar system, and a picture of the largest planet in the solar system. So simple.

I saved my widget with the name Planets in Our Solar System, and you can check it out in the Astronomy section of the Wolfram website at http://developer.wolframalpha.com/widgets/.

You have to check this out  – go to Wolfram’s site and look at all of the available widgets. Watch the demo video, then create your own widget for yourself or for others. The only thing I’d mention is that I was unable to embed my widget on this site – I don’t host my own copy of WordPress and had not found a way to be able to add it with my current configuration. I am amazed how little effort it takes to create a widget and hope our readers will explore this aspect of Wolfram|Alpha.

Easy, fun, useful, and free. How can you beat that?

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

I bought a first gen Apple TV when they were released. My unit has a 32 GB drive and I’ve enjoyed using it from the very start. I keep my favorite movies and songs on the unit itself, streaming other content as desired. In truth I am now far more likely to buy a movie if it comes with a digital copy, because the AppleTV is so convenient to use. If I have any negative, it is the problem trying to fast forward streamed content – I can easily do this with content stored on the Apple TV hard drive, but it doesn’t work well on streaming content. I’m sure the problem is that I use a 100 MB connection speed instead of a 1 GB connection, so I can’t really blame Apple for this shortcoming.

Overall I am very happy with the Apple TV and am considering buying one of the new second gen units for a different TV and stereo. I do wish the first gen USB port would allow me to attach an external drive, but that isn’t going to happen, based on the second gen of this product. The new Apple TV has a lot less local storage and instead it replies on streaming content from other sources.

Why talk about this now? Yesterday Apple released a press announcement that it expects Apple TV sales to top 1,000,000 units this week. That, in and of itself, is impressive as the first gen unit didn’t do well and some analysts predicted Apple would completely drop the product line.  I hope they have as much success with the Apple TV as they are with the iPad. I like mine and hope they are around a long time.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Vendor: United Soft Media Verlag GmbH
Price: $11.99
E-Mail: info@usm.de
Product Site: http://www.redshift-live.com/en/

Introduction

RedShift is an astronomy application for the iPod touch/iPhone/iPad. This program offers the features you would expect from an astronomy title and has a couple of useful unique options. It also makes use of the device’s built-in compass to act as an information window to the sky.

This is the second Astronomy app for portable devices that I have reviewed here. So I am going to make references to my previous review of Distant Suns for comparison reasons. Redshift has all of the basics. You tell it where you are located and it will show you the sky, adding labels to identify the objects. You can increase or decrease the Field Of View (FOV), using a gesture. Tapping on a star or other object will provide more information about it. The program includes a huge database of objects, but is more designed for naked eye viewing of the sky then as an assistant for telescope viewing.

Getting Started

When you first start Redshift, it loads and then plays a neat animation of your view, moving from a point off the earth and flying down to the location you have set as your home location. Then the sky is filled with stars. When you D-tap on an object seen on the screen, a red hued information bar appears on the top providing links to the program’s built in database of information, a link to the Wikipedia entry for that object, a rocket icon that lets you take a “flight” to that object, and a lock for locking the object in the window. The Wikipedia link is pretty neat, the Wiki page for the selected object opens in a window over the app screen. Whatever information and pictures the page has can be scrolled to. You can click on the links within the Wiki page, to see even more information. Essentially you are using a very basic web browser within the application. To return to the view of the sky, there is a “back” button. The biggest issue with this feature is that there is no way to navigate back and forth between pages in the simple browser window. The Wiki page offers links to lots of information. When you click on one, it loads the page. But Redshift provides no means of getting back to the previous page. The “back” button only brings one back to the main Redshift window. This makes a potentially terrific educational feature simply a good feature.

Another really cool feature on this information bar is a link to the devices compass feature. If you touch it, arrows on the screen direct you to move the device back and forth and up and down, until you are facing the object! So not only can you look at the simulated sky, but you can use the application to actually find where an object is in the real time sky. Making this a truly terrific way to learn how to identify what is up there. If you don’t select an object, and turn the compass on, Redshift will show the sky you are facing with names and constellations shown – a neat tool.

Side note: I didn’t have a compass device when I did my previous review of Distant Suns. I now have an iPad and can make use of its compass. Distant Suns also makes use of the device’s compass, and I will make an effort to include extra information in the previous review.

There are some options for labeling the sky in Redshift, although not as many as I would like. You can change the star density up and down using a slider, which decreases and increases the magnitude of stars that show as a dot. Another slider increases or decreases the density of labels displayed on the screen.  But this mostly affects stars. Other types of objects are in the database, but Redshift doesn’t provide symbols or labels to show their location unless the field of view is small enough to show the object. If you go to the extreme density of labels, some deep space objects will appear, but the screen is way to cluttered with information to be of use. Which means Redshift isn’t a good choice for locating objects that require a telescope to see.

However, the objects actually there. Some larger objects, like the North America Nebula, can be seen graphically on the screen, and a label for it will appear if the FOV is small enough. I know other objects are represented because, as I was perusing the sky of Redshift, I saw a pixel flicker. I thought there was a defect in the program, so I tried to figure out what was causing it. It turned out to be the crescent nebula. The program was trying to represent the image of the crescent nebula with one pixel, as the angle of view to the object changed, the light of the image changes, so the one pixel representation flickered. When I shrunk the FOV down enough, a very nice image of this nebula appeared then grew. All deep space objects in Redshift are represented by photo-realistic images, which can be see when the FOV is small enough.

Redshift offers basic search features for locating objects that might not be visible, or that you might want to see a better image of. There is a feature called “Observatory” which lets you choose from one of four categories (Solar system, Stars, Constellations, Deep Sky) to search in. Selecting one provides an alphabetical list of well-known objects. Selecting an object first centers the sky on its location then changes the FOV until the object is visible. There is also a magnifying glass icon on the screen that lets you enter a text string to search for an object. You can search in any of the four categories or all of them. A history of your recent searches is kept so you can return to them. The text search is useful, but it is very basic. It browses names rather then looking for keyword matches. For instance, when searching for the Saturn nebula, you enter Saturn, and see two hits, one for the planet and one for the nebula. However, if you are looking for the little dumbbell nebula, enter the keyword dumbbell won’t find it, but entering “Little” will.

The photo-realistic image of the sky is very nice and this makes it easier to compare to the real sky. If you take it out at night and are concerned about night vision, Redshift has a button to instantly enable night vision, giving everything a red hue, which should not reduce your night seeing abilities while still being readable. You can also turn on or off the effects of daylight, giving you the ability to see what is going on in your day sky. A few images are provided to fill in the area below the horizon, which show to occlude the space below the horizon. If the Daylight effect is off, this image is translucent, allowing you to see through it. Markers on the display the altitude and azimuth of the screen center.

To zoom in on a part of the sky, or in more astronomy parlance, to change the FOV, you use the pinch and expand hand gesture. You can also use the rocket ship feature to zoom in on a particular object. It the object is a planet, you can simulate an orbit of it, a very nice effect. Zooming in is a lot of fun, but zooming out, back to the standard FOV using gestures is a bit of work. Luckily, there is an icon on the screen to restore the display. One issue I had with this feature is that it restores both the time and the view. I often find myself considering this evening’s sky at lunch. So I set the application’s time to evening and poke around a bit. When I use this button to return, I have to remember to reset the time to the evening, or I will find myself perusing the daytime sky! I know they can reset the view without resetting the time, because a simulated rocket flight to an object offers a reset which doesn’t reset time, just the view.

Redshift can make access of the devices location services and compass. If you let it, it uses location services to determine your location on earth. Since I am new to the iPad and I have the base model, I am skeptical about the function of its GPS. Luckily, RedShift used a neat model of the earth, showing a dot on the image of the earth representing your home location, as well the Lat/Long. Between the Touch and the Pad, Redshift has me somewhere in the vicinity of where I live, which is a whole lot more accurate then say, choosing the nearest major city, which is many miles away. You can also zoom into the image of the earth, and if you know your relative location, tap on the image to set it.

Conclusion

The only thing that I find lacking in programs like this is real time event information. For instance it won’t tell you the name of that satellite you see flinging across the sky, but more importantly, it can’t be used to help you find that neat comet that is there either. While I realize keeping track of thousands of satellites might be an issue, this program has a lot of power and should be able to at least offer some information about current events, things to see, and interesting conjunctions. There is no need to keep track of events that are not currently happening and all it would require would be to download somer data on a regular basis. That’s my wish for Redshift!

Overall Redshift is a pretty good astronomy application. I like some of the features and the image it shows of the sky is very nice. It is a good choice as an astronomy title for your device. It worked flawlessly for me. You won’t go wrong if you decide to give this a try. Personally, I don’t put this on the top of the list astronomy apps I have tried. Not because there is a problem, it’s my overall experience and preferences. I do like this program and give it a very good rating!

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Wolfram Research (http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica)

Hardware Requirements:

  • CPU:
    • Intel Pentium III 650MHz or faster for Windows/Linux
    • Intel CPU for Macs
  • Hard drive space – 4 GB
  • Memory – 512 MB (1 GB recommended)
  • Internet access

Operating Systems:

  • Windows – 7/Vista/XP/HPC Server 2008/Server 2008/Server 2003
  • Mac OS X – 10.5 and 10.6 with Intel CPU
  • Linux – Ubuntu 7-10/Red Hat Enterprise 4/CentOS 5/Debian 5/openSUSE 11

Price:

  • Standard New License $2495/GBP 2035/EURO 3185 (download or shipped media)
  • Standard Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Academic New License $1095 (download or shipped media)
  • Academic Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Student Regular New License $139.95 (download or shipped media)
  • Student Annual $69.95 (download only)
  • Student Semester $44.95/starting at GBP 20/EURO 29 (download only)
  • Student Upgrade (need your serial number for pricing information) *
  • Home/Hobbyist New License $295.95/GBP 195/EURO 295 (download only)
  • Home/Hobbyist Upgrade $99 (available as of 01/02/2011)

Network licenses offer discounts and special pricing is available for use in education, government, and non-profit organizations.

* Upgrade pricing varies depending on version owned.

Introduction to an on-going review

Wolfram released version 8 of Mathematica on November 15, 2010, and it is similar to the version 6 update where there are many enhancements and improvements over the previous version. This review will be ongoing – I will revise and add to it as I become more familiar with the product and so I encourage readers to periodically check back to see updates to the material.

BREAKING NEWS (4-27-2011)

Wolfram released an update to Mathematica 8, version 8.0.1 is now available. Click here to see our post on the new version of Mathematica.

BREAKING NEWS (3-8-2011)

I was informed by Wolfram’s PR firm on 12/01/2010 that the Player plug-in for interaction with Wolfram Demonstrations will not be available before January, 2011, and the plug-in would support the latest versions of all major browsers on Mac/Windows, including Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Opera on both platforms, and IE for Windows. Under Macintosh, the plug-in requires that you run the installer in the disk image–i.e., copying Mathematica.app is insufficient to set it up.

As of today (3/8/2011) Mathematica Player and Player Pro have been replaced by the CDF (Computable Document Format) Player, which is available for download from Wolfram. The Mac OS X version includes plug-ins for Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera. The Windows 7/Vista/XP version supports the same browsers as the Mac OS X version, but includes support for IE. The Linux version currently is a desktop application – browser plug-ins are currently under development.

Click here if you want to test whether you already have the CDF Player installed.

Mathematica users that want to publish MM6 and 7 Notebooks for Player can still do so, using Wolfram’s online service.

RELEASE DATES FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE VERSIONS OF MATHEMATICA 8 (Updated 3/30/2011): Per Wolfram’s PR, Mathematica 8 Japanese Edition was available on 1/20/2011, and Mathematica 8 Chinese Edition was available 3/23/2011. Mathematica 8 Spanish Language Kit will be available in early 2011 (Unlike fully localized editions, this plug-in kit localizes the interface (menu, palettes, error messages) but not the documentation)-still no release date as of 1/20/2011.

Getting Started

I downloaded the 1 GB file from Wolfram and installed it on my 2.26 GHz dual core Macbook laptop, where it took up nearly 2.9GB for the installation.

Tip! If you have an older version of Mathematica already installed, rename the executable by appending the version to the file name, so that older version is not overwritten during installation of version 8. NOTE: Wolfram’s PR firm confirmed this was intentional in an email to me I received on 12/1/2010.

The initial version 8 screen is shown here:

The Welcome screen is new – better organized than earlier versions.

First, the new browser plug-in

One of the first things I wanted to check was the new browser plug in which comes with the software. Be aware that the new Mathematica 8 Player was not available when this product shipped in mid-November, so people strictly using the player will need to wait to test this added functionality.

This was seen while using a Safari plug in – Mathematica launched Safari even though I already had Firefox running. I now have the list of browsers that will have this plug in (see Very Important Notes below). I suspect user demand will drive the plug in release for other browsers.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONAL BROWSER PLUG-IN INFORMATION (12-02-2010)

Busy day yesterday, but I received more information from Wolfram’s PR about the browser plug-in that I want to share with you. Per the PR contact:

“The browser supports notebook content in two modes.  The first mode is a full-screen mode, which you can easily see right now by going to any web page which hosts a notebook file.  For example, go to demonstrations.wolfram.com and, for any demonstration, click “Download Live Version.”  This will work for any notebook linked on any website (so long as the web server isn’t configured to override the MIME type, at least).

The second mode is an embedded mode.  For example, you could embed a Mathematica Manipulate output in a regular web page.  Right now, we only have one public example of that, which is shown as part of the installation here:

http://www.wolfram.com/mathematica/plugin/success.html

I tested the first mode this morning by going to Wolfram’s Demonstration Project page and went to the Physical Sciences/Earth Sciences/ Meteorology page and checked out the Sea Level demonstration (contributed by Herbert W. Franke):

I selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and saw this in my browser as the plug-in loaded:

The first time I used the plug-in in Firefox (ver 3.6.12) I had to reload the page to see and use the demonstration. The demo was accessible within my web browser and I could manipulate the controls just like working within Mathematica.

Next (because I’m currently working on a Genetic Programming project) I checked out the Order of Operations Tree demonstration (contributed by Sarah Lichtblau) and was able to change the formulas to use for the tree:

Finally I went to the Physical Sciences/Astronomy page and selected the Bump Map of Mars (contributed by Yu-Sung Chang) and selected DOWNLOAD LIVE VERSION and was able to manipulate the controls from the browser:

I rotated the planet and saw Olympus Mons (as well as the three smaller shield volcanoes that make up the Tharsis Montes region below it). Nice detail in the demonstration – not as much detail as I’d prefer, but still usable to show geological features of the red planet.

NOTE: Two times when I tried to open demonstrations (including Bump Map on Mars) they did not display properly: there was a gray box in place of the demonstration. Both times I reloaded the browser page and it fixed the issue each time. I am using Firefox 3.6.12 on a Mac running OS X 10.6.5 and did not test on another browser or operating system, so I informed Wolfram’s support about the issue – they were unable to reproduce the problem.

Moving on beyond the browser plug-in

Time to get back to our review of new Mathematica features. I started the software and did a spot check to verify previous functionality. I periodically use Mathematica to gather astronomical data and so I tested the AstronomicalData function. I produced a table with the 8 planets names and images:

This function provides extrasolar system data as well as planetary information and is my favorite function from version 7 – still works fine. The version 8 documentation says that this function was improved in this release – an email from Wolfram’s PR firm explained that this function was only enhanced in the ability to access data from Wolfram|Alpha.

OK,  lets take a look at the new features in Mathematica 8.

New Features

1. Free-form linguistic input/Integration with Wolfram|Alpha

Free-form linguistic input is a fancy way of saying that you enter content using plain English and still get results. Nice. When I saw this feature during the demo for this release, I understood the rationale. Wolfram is helping new users start using their software before they need to learn all of the aspects of the software’s programming syntax.

I opened a new notebook and entered “= radius neptune/earth” to test this functionality – I just wanted a comparison of the size of Neptune versus Earth. The results I saw are below:

I like this, because it provides both the solution to the query plus the equivalent Mathematica syntax. This test also demonstrates the Integration with Wolfram|Alpha functionality as it retrieved the data from Alpha.

Wolfram’s decision to add the ability to retrieve data from Wolfram|Alpha right into notebooks is appreciated. For some excellent examples of notebooks from Wolfram, check out this link.

A Quick Overview of Wolfram|Alpha

My previous post shows the integration of Mathematica with Wolfram|Alpha, Wolfram’s computational knowledge engine. Since I never reviewed that new service I want to mention it now. I went to their website and did a few searches. I first search was requesting data on extra solar planets this is what I saw:

It took a lot of scrolling to go down through the list of data returned by this search, and I saved the data as a PDF for future reference. I believe this was always available since Wolfram|Alpha was made available, but this was the first time I used it and I like what I see.

My next search was to see if real data agrees with the pseudo-experts that deny global warming and this was the result:

After looking at the graph, even thought I’m no expert I’d have to say it appears that the temperature on our planet is increasing after all.

I like having internet access to scientific and technical data without needing to be concerned about the validity of that data. I would reference Wolfram|Alpha if citing from it, but I would never use data from Wikipedia in a paper. On back to the review of new features in the software.

2. New algorithms for real time image capturing

During the demo, Jon showed how easy he could configure Mathematica to act like a security system by enabling his web cam and utilizing the ability of Mathematica to only send updated images when he moved. This is important for people doing image analysis for security identification systems as well as pattern recognition.

For one test I used the built-in camera of my Macbook (although you can specify a different camera for input) to capture a picture of my alma mater t-shirt using ImageCapture to produced a picture in the notebook. This was the Mathematica screen:

I could save the image in my notebook to a free-standing file in a number of different formats including JPEG, JPEG2000, GIF, etc. Not a major feature but still useful.

Mathematica can capture a single image or record a series of images. Consider how companies could take advantage of this feature. A company using 12 web cams to cover their warehouses need to handle the constant bandwidth of 12 signals, which also requires one or more people to stare at the screens looking for movement, If the only time a camera sends a signal is when something moves, no signals are transmitted so no transmission bandwidth is needed and this changes a dedicated task to a side job for an employee. This is my favorite enhancement so far during my evaluation of this software.

3. New Import and Export Formats

The 26 new import/export formats are:

There are a lot of new import/export formats to test, so I’ll test the C and ICS import/export functionality to save time for assessing other improvements. Why? I already expressed an interest in exporting C, and I have my old Palm Pilot LifeDrive with years of data that I want to move to a more modern (and supported) hardware platform.

4. Automatically convert Mathematica programs into C code

I like writing C and now Wolfram lets you take a Mathematica program and directly convert it into C code for free-standing or integrated use. Nice. No, very nice! During the demonstration I asked about converting programs into object-oriented code (C++/C#/Java) and was told that decision was market-based. Wolfram does sell a C++ solution called MathCode C++ which is compatible with Mathematica 7, but not (as of 1/20/2011) listed as compatible with version 8. If enough users request it then it could happen in a future release. Wolfram didn’t promise this would happen, but they do listen to customer suggestions so let them know if you too would like to see support for object-oriented code generation.

Important Note (3/7/2011)

I spoke with Wolfram’s PR dept on 1/20/2011 and they said that the MathCode C++ is on the list for updating to Mathematica version 8 compatibility, but they do not have a date when we can expect that update. They did say they don’t have any known issues with MathCode C++ and Mathematica version 8. If anyone reads this post and has seen problems with this combination, please let us (and Wolfram) know.

I also requested a list of add-ons being updated for version 8 – the coordinator said all add-ons are being tested for compatibility with Mathematica 8, but there is no date when that testing will be finished.

MathCode C++ is still listed as Mathematica 7 Compatible as of 3/7/2011.

5. Dynamic Library Loading

Incorporate external C and C++ libraries, which is nice for developers integrating Mathematica with other lab systems. Mathematica can share data with external libraries using LibraryLink functions to pass integers, reals, arrays, strings, Mathematica expressions, as well as pass messages.  Sweet.

6. Enhanced 2D and 3D Graphics and Drawing Tools

The primary area where Mathematica 7 stood out over version 6 was the enhanced graphics capabilities. Version 8 has enhanced scaling and surface texture mapping for 2D and 3D images. In truth, a picture is worth a thousand words and improving the way Mathematica represents data is much needed. I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess this enhancement was based on user feedback, so it does pay to speak up.

Version 8 also has enhanced illustration and drawing tools, which may not beat Photoshop or Illustrator, but they do enhance the quality of work that can be done within Mathematica so this enhancement is a time saver. I do wonder why it took this long to add an easy way to align drawing elements, as that has been a part of most graphic packages for a long time. A new color picker is nice, although I am more inclined to use my browser plug-in or Photoshop for that functionality.

7. UI and Usability

The look-and-feel seems the same between versions 7 and 8, although text processing is improved in version 8. There is a new Custom Style dialog or you can select (and preview) a style using the Format/Style menu options. It is simple to use the supplied styles or create a new one. Something I didn’t see was a way to use external styles from other external word processing products like Word – couldn’t find a menu item or a place on the Classroom Assistant to import styles (but there is a menu option to import stylesheets). If the capability to import or use external styles doesn’t exist yet, it would be one of the enhancements I’d like to see in release 9.

Positives

  • Tons of new features and enhancements. I like how the free-form linguistic input will help newcomers learn the correct way to enter Mathematica syntax, and I like the integration with Wolfram|Alpha. I should add that internet access is a necessity if you want access to Wolfram’s dynamic data.
  • Modest hardware requirements – very little needed in the way of processor, system memory, and disk storage space.
  • I love the new Home license, introduced in version 7. One of my previous complaints was the price of this software precluded many home users from buying and using it. The college I attended for undergrad courses did provide current students with a free 1 year licenses for Mathematica and that did influence my decision to go there. I was pleased to learn the school I’m attended for graduate classes also offers a free 1 year license to current students, but eventually I will no longer be attending classes and appreciate being able to afford to buy this useful product when I complete my degree.
  • Improved image capturing and analysis. Capture a single image or a sequence, where sequences can consist of an image that changes over time. The version 7 release was heavily oriented towards working with graphics and I’m pleased to see they continue to improve that aspect of the program.
  • C code generation from Mathematica programs. (Note: I will test this and post my findings during this review-the fact that Wolfram provides this functionality means a lot to me).
  • Integration with external libraries is huge for multiple system environments. A big plus in my eyes.
  • Technical support response is excellent. I contacted them 3 times during my review and they were prompt in responding and helpful.

Negatives

  • No longer support for OS X running on PPC Macs. This bothers me considering the modest hardware requirements for this upgrade. The problem for most Mac users is that Macs continue to run well even when they are replaced by newer and more powerful computers. I understand other vendors like Adobe made this same business decision, but my 20″ G5 PPC Mac works fine even though it lacks an Intel CPU and now I have to restrict it to version 7 of this software.
  • I also saw that Solaris is no longer in the list of supported operating systems and that is a shame. I didn’t install Mathematica 7 on my Sun workstation but feel others in academia use Suns as well as Linux and would like to see it continue to receive support. I also believe that the Mathematica Player was not supported for Solaris, so perhaps Wolfram felt they did not hear enough from Solaris users when release 7 was released to be a valid reason to drop support for version 8 of Mathematica on Solaris.
  • While it supports creating new styles for text processing, it does not appear to support importing or integrating with external styles. I hope I’m wrong – let me know if I missed that and I’ll correct this review.

Conclusion

Very, very positive so far, and strongly recommended as a new or upgrade purchase. It will take awhile to cover all the improvements and additions in this version of the software, so my final conclusion when come when this review is finished.