Monday, July 28, 2008

one of these days I'll give in and get that degree in medical anthropolgy...

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World
by Steven Johnson

I'm always amazed by how much science has changed in the past 200 years. At the time of London's worst and last cholera epidemics, almost the entire scientific community was convinced the disease was carried via "miasma", or noxious odors. The fact that there was raw sewage being pumped into the Thames or sitting, festering, in peoples' basements because they couldn't or wouldn't pay for it to be taken to the countryside for disposal, had nothing to do with the spread of disease. Riiiiight.

There was an outbreak of cholera in Soho in 1854; John Snow, an epidemiologist, and Henry Whitehead, the local preacher, worked against each other and then together, as they learned more, to backtrack the spread of the disease. Snow was looking to disprove the misasma theory and Whitehead had intimate knowledge of the community, and together they determined that, after victim zero, the disease had spread to hundreds of nearby people via one particular pump. This involved tracing where people got their water, and when, and learning how the pump became infected (remember those nasty basements I mentioned above? a diaper from a cholera-infected baby infected the ground water in her basement, which passed into the well below the pump, which in turn killed hundreds of people). This was not an easy task, but there were helpful indicators. For example, a local brewery employed many men, and supplied them with all the beer they wanted while they worked, and didn't draw its water from the infected well. Those men drank enough beer while at work that they weren't thirsty at other times, and, despite being very close to ground zero, weren't affected. A former resident of the area thought the water from that particular well tasted better than other water, so her sons would regularly bring her a jug of the water. She died of cholera in the countryside.

Snow's research methods were unprecedented - though it seems obvious now, he was the first to plot the deaths on a map, and then determine which households were closer to the Broad street pump than any other, tracing that radius on the same map. The enclosed area was not a well-defined circle, but a jagged shape due to the intricacies of the streets, and pretty much enclosed the entire area suffering the cholera deaths, and only that area. Freaking brilliant.

Of course, the powers-that-be were still fixed on the miasma theory, and, despite Snow and Whitehead's work, it took another ten years or so for it to be accepted as crap. Snow died before receiving true recognition.

But once accepted, the issue of disease transmission via water was responsible for the construction of London's sewer system in the 1860's or so, much of which is still in use and now handles the waste of millions and millions of people. It led to the general clean-up of cities around the world, and enabled them to grow to the immense sizes they are today.

There's an epilogue where Johnson goes on for a while relating cholera to terrorism and other stuff. Wasn't entirely sure where that came from, but the majority of the book (pretty much all the historical portions) was fascinating.

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posted by ket at 10:52 PM


More meh.

The Perfect Fake
by Barbara Parker

Lots of double-crossing and international terrorists and garden-variety criminal types all revolving around the forging of a Renaissance-era map that was inadvertently destroyed during a murder. Lots of people die because of this map. Lives are generally ruined, but, of course, the protagonists, who initially argue and hate and don't trust each other, come to their senses, and after the bad guys are all killed or arrested, sail off into the sunset (no, seriously, he's been restoring a boat in his spare time).

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posted by ket at 10:48 PM


I kindof want to quit my job and try this...

The Little Lady Agency
by Hester Browne

Melissa, the pliable, naive, obedient daughter of a scandal-attracting member of Parliament, is fired from her dead-end job, and, after accidentally becoming a call girl for an afternoon, starts a similar-but-not-quite service where, instead of providing sex, provides men with fake girlfriends to appease overbearing mothers, dates for weddings, advice buying clothing or gifts, and so forth. But because her father totally wouldn't approve, she dons a blonde wig, adopts a new persona, and calls herself "Honey", which is a bonus because the men don't really have to remember her name.

And then she meets Jonathan, an American who's now in charge of the office where she used to work and who needs help acclimating to London on top of his recent separation/divorce; he hires her all the time, rather wanting to hire her exclusively, and they have some chemistry, but it's weird because she's hired by the hour and they both acknowledge it kindof, but he takes her as his date to everything and she's his hostesss for a party and so forth.

It all comes to a climax at Mel's sister's wedding, where she's in the party and organized the whole thing despite her father acting like an ass the entire time, and Jonathan figures out who she is just before the wedding and wants to take her as his date, and she tries to be both Honey and herself, and it all kindof goes up in flames before Jonathan professes his love for her, not Honey, though she always thought he would never fall for the real her, and her father kindof apologizes, and she ends up happy. Yay!

I could totally wear a wig and retro clothing like it's normal, and there are so many men that need help. Anyone want to fund a start-up?

And then there's a preview at the end of the book for a sequel, where Jonathan is off in France and, though he asked her to not do the major makeovers/pseudo-dates anymore, she's about to do her grandmother a favor and transform a playboy prince. I see bad things happening here. Couldn't they have just left it with happily ever after??

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posted by ket at 10:37 PM



by Nora Roberts

Follows her usual plot of boy meets girl, they solve unresolved tragedy from her past, she almost dies at the end, but the baddie is captured/killed, they live happily ever after.

This time Cilla buys the farm where her (famous actress) grandmother mysteriously died of an overdose decades ago, falls for Ford who lives across the street, and stirs up memories of the past which results in mysterious accidents and stuff until the truth comes out that it was someone close to them and unexpected (Nora never gives hints), and then Cilla and Ford can get married.

I suppose that all could have been labeled with spoiler, but it's not like you read a Nora and think they might break up...

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posted by ket at 10:33 PM


Freaking Awesome

At Risk
by Stella Rimington

First (I think?) in a series following a (female! yes!) British spy handler who works for MI5. She gets into all sorts of trouble dealing with an imminent terrorist attack and the politics between her agency and MI6 and a bit of interpersonal stuff. Kindof a more serious Bond (and you know I love Bond). And the books are written by the woman who's actually the first female head of MI5, so they've got to have at least a decent amount of factual basis (much like how you figure Kathy Reichs and the Bones books are relatively forensically authentic). Of course, I devoured it in a few hours a few weeks ago, so I don't remember much except that I totally identified with Liz and pretty much immediately reserved the next one at the library.

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posted by ket at 10:26 PM


I'm still thinking the issue is more with the men

No Good Girls
by Jean Marie Pierson

This book totally wants to jump on the whole SATC bandwagon. It follows four friends in NYC, trying to make their careers and love lives work out, etc. And it's written in the first person. By a writer.

Of course, this narrator/heroine also has an imaginary friend, with whom she holds regular conversations. (SPOILER: she chose a random model to be the body of her imaginary friend in her head, but then she starts running into the actual model on the streets and talking to him like she knows him, which totally messes with his head, until she makes out with him on the subway and then he starts searching for her via personal ads - bizarre)

Nothing particularly new and exciting going on here, a nice bit of fluff. I can't imagine not realizing that my imaginary friend suddenly wasn't imaginary.


posted by ket at 10:21 PM


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Should've stayed lost

Title: Star Trek: The Lost Years
Author: J. M. Dillard
Bookmark: Snickers wrapper

Ever wonder what the original Enterprise crew did in the years between the final episode of the series and the Motion Picture (great title for a movie, huh?)? Me, either. But a friend sent me this book a year ago, and I got bored last month.

According to the author's note at the start, there's two other books that cover this time, too. Different authors, but they were all in the same meeting with the creative genius who apparently had those years all planned out, should anyone ever wonder what happened then.

Spoiler time.

Kirk becomes an admiral, and wants to bang his boss. Since he's Kirk, she wants to bang him, too. Who wouldn't? He's Kirk, and often appears in soft focus with too much eye make-up. What an aphrodisiac!

McCoy, in an effort to protect his buddy Jim from a desk job everyone knows he doesn't want, quits Starfleet. Nobody cares.

Spock continues to be a highly logical stone, with continuing disdain for anyone who isn't Vulcan, and several who are.

Uhura continues to play an uninteresting background role. Maybe she's still taking it easy after having her brain erased.

End Spoilers.

You'd think for such a "big deal" idea, they would have done a little more with it, but it's really just another Star Trek book. No more impressive or in-depth than any other. Then again, I never liked the original series as much as Next Generation, Voyager, or Enterprise.

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posted by reyn at 9:39 AM


Saturday, July 12, 2008

A nice, swift kick...

Sneaker Wars
by Barbara Smit

I had never realized how un-settled the athletic goods industry is. You think about us being all civilized and stuff, and then read about how athletes at the Olympic Games were receiving under-the-table bribes of cash and equipment to wear particular brands, how the executive within companies fought each other over marketing schemes, and how a family could be ripped appart by some soccer cleats.

Adidas and Puma were founded by feuding brothers; they dragged their entire town into the deal, with one side of the river being Adidas and the other Puma. Before WWII, in their small German town, they were part of a family shoemaking business. During the war? Both wanted to be in charge, and accused each other of bribing to get one sent off to serve with the Nazis, of cooperation, and all sorts of other bitter things, resulting in the split.

Even once that was "done", there was infighting within the Adidas family, and countless attempts at sabotage between the two families/companies. One of the sons of the Adidas founder felt forced out, and, having a good amount of autonomy as the head of their French division, started his own semi-rival line of Adidas goods, as well as founding/owning Arena (swimsuits), Pony (shoes), and Le Coq Sportif (clothing) - all without the remainder of his family finding out for many years.

There were ups and downs for both over the years, especially once Nike hit the scene and pretty much took over the American market. The distribution set-ups were ludicrous, production could never keep up with demand, and the companies faltered through the 80's and 90's.

At this time, neither really has any descendents in an ownership position, both having been sold off repeatedly to weathly investors, banks, conglomerates, and so forth. But they each also (finally) figured out a direction within the last decade, taking back much of their market shares. Adidas also managed to buy Reebok a few years ago, mainly because the two were tired of fighting for second and third place in market share behind Nike, and figure they have a better shot if they join forces. (Did anyone else miss this? It was 2003, and you'd think it'd be big news...)

There's no conclusion. The story is still on-going, as both Adidas and Puma continue the upward swing.

One interesting note: A LOT of executives and family members died (young) of cancer or leukemia. Within the family, it could be coincidence, but when you start factoring in all the outside business people who joined the board or bought giant chunks of a company and ran it, it gets a bit creepy...

Full disclosure: I own a bunch of athletic shoes/clothing/equipment.

Adidas: my current favorite running shoes, some trail running shoes, my current indoor shoes (though I don't really like them, and will probably be swapping them for some Pumas that are similar to my outdoor cleats...), some shinguards, a bag, various jackets and shorts, etc.

Puma: my outdoor cleats (which I love), and the current outdoor team shirt

Nike: various former running shoes and cleats, various other clothing items

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posted by ket at 11:40 AM