Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: The Cartoon Introduction to Economics Vol. 1: Microeconomics by Grady Klein et al.

The Cartoon Introduction to Economics Volume 1: Microeconomics by Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman, Ph.D.

This book is a fun and informative guide to the basics of economics, covering the economic activity of individuals, small groups of people, and markets. Various terms like the Invisible Hand, marginal analysis, sunk cost, etc. are explained clearly with entertaining examples. Recurring characters help to tie the confusing terminology and ideas together more easily. The running gag about Nobel-Prize winning economists is fun.

I have not studied economics so I am not sure how comprehensive the book is. It does seem comprehensive. There is a section on economic policies that can reduce carbon emissions which strikes me as a too specific application in a general overview of economics. The cartoon economist says "The way to get people to pollute to make polluting expensive!" (bold in origin, p. 189) The king of Sweden (who has been handing out Nobel Prizes throughout the book) says, "Wow, now that's an idea worthy of a Nobel Prize!" Dr. Bauman is an environmental economist, so I suppose his bias is showing (or maybe he thinks he should get a Nobel Prize). That makes me interested in reading another economics primer to compare.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Walking Dead Ep. 512, Remember

The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 12: Remember

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Offensive content

Less than the usual number of zombie kills; human-on-human violence that's pretty mild by this show's standards; some rough language; Daryl kills a possum, carries it around with him, and eventually guts it; some blatant lies.

Synopsis & Review

Rick and company go into Alexandria, a walled town that was a posh suburb designed before the zombie outbreak to be a self-sustaining community. U.S. Representative from Ohio Deanna Monroe got stuck there during the outbreak and she's been leading the community since. He husband (who is curiously absent from the episode) was an architect and used material from a nearby construction site to build the massive walls around the community. The people have been living with electricity and running water for a long time.

At first, Rick's people are cautiously optimistic. Rick is cautiously pessimistic, being reluctant to share information and having everyone stay in the same house (even though they've been offered two). As they all go for an interview with Deanna they start to settle in more. She is giving jobs to everyone based on their previous lives and what they have been doing since. Glenn, Tara, and Noah get assigned to the supply run crew, which is run by Deanna's son who is a bit stuck on himself. Things don't go well for them. Rick has better experiences, leading him to think they should stay, and take over if they need to.

Interesting new possibilities are opening up. Deanna appreciates how Rick has taken care of his group like family and hopes that he will do the same for Alexandria. Several of Rick's people are worried about "getting weak" by living there, another issue that has potential to play out well in the next episodes. I am cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

The Goddard Space Flight Center has a nice, not very large, visitor center where we spent a fun afternoon. What kid doesn't love space? The center includes all sorts of displays, about planets and galaxies, artificial satellites, space ships, and they even have some rockets outside.

Goddard's Visitor Center

Jacob and Lucy enjoyed posing in front of informational displays more than reading them. They have a nice one on the planets and another on galaxies.

The sun's natural satellites

Lucy in the galaxy

Models of various scientific satellites are on display. Probably the most famous is the Hubble Space Telescope, which lets astronomers sees the far reaches of the universe in visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. It was launch in 1990 and is still working today.

Hubble Telescope model

A model for seeing into the Hubble (Lucy was not impressed)

Detailed view of the model

A less famous telescope is the James Webb Space Telescope planned to launch in 2018. It will replace the Hubble Telescope and provide imagery in the visual and infrared ranges.

James Webb Space Telescope

Another display shows the International Space Station along with a scale model of the space shuttle. The first bits of the station were launched in 1998. Now it is earth's largest artificial satellite and can be seen with the naked eye on a good night.

International Space Station

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is a spacecraft launched in 2009 to map the moon in preparation for further exploratory missions.

LRO model

Orbiter details

The Center also has a moon rock, which was much cooler to me than to the children.

Moon rock

A more fun interactive exhibit is one on solar panels, demonstrating how the proper angle gives more power.

Working the solar panels

By far the most popular exhibit is the life-size replica of a Gemini capsule. The Gemini Program ran from 1961 to 1966 and put crews of two astronauts into earth orbit. Lucy and Jacob were happy to try out the capsule.

Jacob boards the capsule

Jacob pilots the capsule

Capsule controls

Another control panel

The crew of two with plenty of space

Lucy wants out!

Outside are several rockets and missiles along with a planetary rover.

Third stage engine of a Delta Rocket


Tomahawk missiles

Planetary rover

In case you were wondering, Dr. Robert Goddard was a pioneer in rocketry. He made the first successful liquid propelled rocket and developed multi-stage rockets. He died in 1945 just days before the Hiroshima bombing.

Bust of Goddard

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: Messiah: Origin Adapted by Matt Dorff

Messiah: Origin adapted and edited by Matt Dorff, translations by Mark Arey, art by Kai Carpenter

A lot of superhero franchise reboots suffer from the same problem. The adapters don't appreciate the source material from which they craft a "new take on" or a "more relevant version of" someone like Superman, who has been ill-served recently in both comic books and on the big screen.

Messiah: Origin takes on a person much more significant than Superman. It retells the story of Jesus Christ's origin as described in the four Gospels. The text in the book is a new translation from the Greek without any new words or ideas added. The translation is happily faithful--the text is at once familiar and fresh. The words harmonize well with the new and striking imagery. Reading the book feels like plunging into history and art. It pulls out wonder and surprise from stories that may have become too familiar to pay close attention to. The reader feels the weight of the prophets pointing to the Messiah and the majesty of the angels who visit Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. Facial expressions communicate a lot and draw out the emotion of the events. The art is wonderfully evocative.

The authors of this book have done a brilliant job of weaving the source material into a seamless whole and presenting it in a visually affecting manner. The first page simple says "Messiah - Volume 1," and I can only hope that there are more volumes to come of this fresh and invigorating presentation of the gospel story.

SAMPLE IMAGE--The birth of the Lord

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) directed by Matt Reeves

A decade after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the ape-ocalypse is in full swing. The apes have built a primitive community in the hills outside of San Francisco, where they hunt and gather and speak in sign language. They haven't seen any humans for two years but that changes quickly. Two friends go fishing. As they are walking back they run into a single human male who panics and shoots one of the apes. More humans show up and try to ease the situation. The gunshot is heard by the apes, too, and a bunch of them show up and start shouting "GO!" at the humans. The humans leave but they can't stay away. They are running out of fossil fuels in what's left of San Francisco and want to repair a hydroelectric dam that is near the apes' home. Malcolm, leader of the humans, begins a tense and precarious negotiation with Caesar, leader of the apes. The humans back in Frisco want power at almost any cost (and they do have a lot of weapons); the apes in their community want nothing to do with humans. Can we all get along or will there be all out war?

The movie is very tense and exciting, filled with action and complicated themes and ideas. The apes have a law that no ape kill another ape, which of course gets broken during the course of the movie more than once to great effect. Member of both the ape and the human communities look on the others as lesser beings and as fair game. The leaders work for a more nuanced approach to the others, hoping to preserve peace and well-being for everyone involved. The moral and political tension is just as high as the action tension. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a thoughtful and exciting sequel well worth watching.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jacob's BSA Report for February 2015

February may be a short month for the calendar but it is a busy month for Cub Scouts. Jacob's den meeting was devoted to making centerpieces for the Blue and Gold Banquet later in the month. The banquet is a celebration of Scouting, which began in February of 1910. At the banquet, most of the boys receive recognition for their achievements that year, including the most senior cubs who move from their Cub Scout pack to a Boy Scouts pack. The decorations were fun to make but, as is usual with six- and seven-year old boys, chaos threatened to take over.

Jacob finished his last requirement for the Tiger Cub badge when we visited a radio station to see how they communicate with others. We visited 95.1 Shine FM. We toured the whole building which was surprisingly small. They do have some CDs but most of the music is stored on computer servers. The main broadcasting room (where the DJ sits and talks on the radio) was fascinating. We also met an audio editor for the station who puts together jingles and commercials. He demonstrated his work by having one of the boys record "I am a boy, I am not an alien," which he re-edited into "I am an alien, I am not a boy." He even added a sound effect to make the voice sound like it was from outer space. The boys loved it.

In lieu of the pack meeting on the third Wednesday, the pack had the banquet. The highlight for us was Jacob receiving his Tiger Cub badge.

Pack leader presents patches

Unfortunately, all the snowy weather prevented the patches from arriving on time but the Pack Leader was diligent enough to print paper patches which we attached with double-sided tape. At the next meeting we'll get the official patches.

Taping patches on

The food at the banquet was kid-friendly fare--hot dogs, pizza, nachos, carrots and celery with dipping sauce, soft pretzels, and popcorn. Vendors wandered among the crowd giving out the hot dogs, pretzels, and popcorn like at the ball park.

The popcorn vendor

The highlights for the children were the activity stations. Some crafts and games were available, but most popular by far was the obstacle course which was open to siblings big enough to race.

Lucy ready to run course #1

Lucy gets some air on the trampoline

Bola toss

Ladder climb

Lucy on the other ladder (taken with the other camera)

Lucy jumps hoops while Jacob jumps rope

Frisbee toss

Jacob builds

Jacob smashes

Walking the line

Cool skateboard move

Yes, there was a skateboard!

Nicholas didn't get to play but he was well behaved, quiet, and quite charming with other people. He helped mommy win some of the silent auction items--gift certificates to restaurants!

Everyone had a good time at the banquet. We look forward to next year!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Aristotle of Everybody by Mortimer J. Adler

Aristotle of Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy by Mortimer J. Adler

Writing a comprehensive and concise summary of Aristotle's ideas is a difficult task, especially if the author wishes it to be accessible not only to the average reader but also to children in middle school. That ambition is what Mortimer Adler aimed at with this book. His thirteen year-old and his eleven year-old read the manuscript and gave helpful feedback, so he certainly thinks it is a success. But is it readable for children who don't have a professional philosopher and intellectual for a dad?

The book is comprehensive, touching on all the topics in Aristotle's theoretical and practical thinking. Adler uses an easy to follow structure to work through them all. He starts with the idea that Aristotle has reflected deeply on the common sense understanding of the world, so deeply that his theories are uncommonly common sensical. Most everyone wants to be like this and that's why they enjoy games like "Twenty Questions" or "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?". Those games naturally lead into a discussion Aristotle's taxonomy of reality, dividing it into living and non-living things, then the living into plants, animals, and human beings.

Humans, as rational animals, can be looked at in various ways. In one way, they are makers of material things like chairs and songs, leading into discussions of the four causes, changes in being, and artistic endeavors. In a second way, humans are doers of actions, looking at us as moral agents who seek a certain good not only for themselves (ethics) but for others (politics). In a third way, humans are thinkers, leading to discussions of how men know what they know, along with the nature of truth, logic, and certainty in Aristotle's philosophy. Adler concludes the book with more difficult questions on infinity, eternity, immateriality, and God. An appendix references the sections of Aristotle's texts that Adler drew upon for each discussion.

Since the scope is so huge, this book is not a quick or light read even at 200 pages. His exposition is clear but a little dry. Examples are used throughout the book but only with laser-like focus on the point at hand. Readers never come to a passage where a short story explains an idea and provides a little color for the book. On the other hand, the book does hit all the major points in Aristotle's philosophy, making it a nice substitute for or supplement to a college course on Aristotle. Reading the book is definitely worth the effort put into it. I think it would be too challenging for middle school students, but high school and up can make it through.