Monday, October 28, 2013

the perks of being a book blogger

On September 2nd, I changed my “about” text to indicate that my tumblr blog would henceforth be focused on book-related things:

“I blog and reblog old books, new books, science books, story books, books I read, find, collect or write. Also: science, photography, art, movies with subtitles, pop/rock/latin music, cello and flute music, fair trade, and a modicum of nudity.”

This was simply because since December last year, the main source of notes for my material and new followers for my blog was reblogging from the lovely bookporn blog, so by September an overwhelming majority of my followers must have found me that way. In order to a) give those followers more of what they fancy, and b) increase the “stick factor”, i. e. the percentage among the visitors who find me via a bookporn reblog who then decide to follow me, I made the whole blog a bit more bookish. It’s not exclusively about books, but sufficiently so to get bookish visitors to accept it as a book blog.

Eight weeks into the experience, I can reveal that this switch has been quite successful. The perks of being a book blogger include:

* most trivially, having a focus that actually fits my existing URL and headline, which is a literary quote (from E.M. Forster, Howard’s End)

* by looking at other book blogs to find material to reblog, I’m getting to look at other people’s books at leisure …

* I’m still able to cover all topics that interest me, as all can be covered in books! Specifically, there is still science (especially scientific illustrations, as can be found in books), music, art, and politics.

* I can find a wider audience for my growing reservoir of book reviews, plus leave a scent mark for those books that I would really like to read but realistically will never find the time to (both are included in the “a book a day” tag)

* the bedtime belles I usually reblog as a sign-off at night look even more seductive if they are reading a lovely book,

* I‘m now gaining two followers per day (as opposed to one per day in the months since last December, while I was benefiting from bookporn influx but had no clear identity for the blog).

* I’m being constantly reminded to actually make time to read a book !

For the time being, this blogspot blog will remain the usual eclectic mix of science, culture etc., so if you like snooping around other people's books, find me at


One of those bookish flickr pics of mine which have acquired hundreds of views from the tumblr book fandom.

Monday, October 21, 2013

what the frack

I've avoided the topic of shale gas for a while, seeing that the stupidity of digging up fossil fuels that we can't afford to burn should be obvious to all, but as the UK government seems to have given up on renewable energies and embraced fracking, and we've had some lively protests this summer, I wrote a feature about the recent developments, mainly in Europe, where the responses range from an outright ban on fracking (in France) to enthusiastic support (Poland).

My feature is out today:

Dash for gas leaves Earth to fry

Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 20, R901-R904, 21 October 2013, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.10.006

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A poster that appeared in the New York City subways a few years ago warned of the impact of fracking on the city’s water supplies. The state has since imposed a moratorium on fracking. (Used with permission from Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, produced with Center for Urban Pedagogy and graphic artists, Papercut.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

aspiring actors

review of

Lucky break

by Esther Freud

Lucky break charts episodes from the interlinked lives of a bunch of aspiring actors who meet at drama school and remain loosely in touch for over a decade after.

As she’s been to drama school herself and is married to an actor, Freud has no shortage of material, and the book is rich in absurd details of both the successes and the frustrations of struggling young thespians, ranging from penguins and pantomimes through to staged conversation with members of the royal family.

The large cast and the episodic nature of the narrative requires quite a bit of attention from the reader. Sometimes I felt like I had to keep track of somebody else’s facebook friends, but as the characters mature and their paths diverge, it becomes easier to remember who’s who. Also, it may help to read the book a bit more swiftly than I did.

It all sorts itself out by the end though, and I felt rewarded for staying the course. I’m almost tempted to start over again, now that I know who’s who. The other perk of reading this is that as a freelance writer I suddenly feel I have an amazingly sane and stable career compared to what these poor souls have to deal with.

Friday, October 11, 2013

october harvest

The monthly roundup of things published in German magazines yields algal biofuels, mind-altering drugs and mysterious mechanisms:

Forschungspolitik: Drogengesetze schaden Neurowissenschaften
Chemie in unserer Zeit 47, 284 DOI: 10.1002/ciuz.201390056 restricted access

Biosprit aus Algen?
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2013, 61, 1035-1036

Ausgeforscht: Struktur und Funktion
Nachrichten aus der Chemie 2013, 61, p1083

The last item was inspired by the historical scientific instrument of unknown function shown below. There is a competition on for the best explanation of what it might be for.

PS: My feature on diatoms will appear in the next issue of Chemie in unserer Zeit (December) but it is already online (restricted access).

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

chemistry in pores

My latest feature in Chemistry & Industry juxtaposes two different approaches to conducting chemistry in nanoporous materials. There's the work of Makoto Fujita's group at Tokyo, who has used self-assembling, crystallisable molecular cages to carry out chemical reactions and even X-ray structure determination with molecules resident in the channels of these materials. Meanwhile, the teams of Achim Müller and Ira Weinstock have used globular molybdenum oxide capsules to study the assembly of minimalist micelles in their interior.

Pores for thought

Chemistry & Industry 2013, No. 10, 20-23

In the same issue, on pages 50-51, you'll find my long essay review of the book "Functional materials from renewable sources".

Both pieces are premium content on the C&I website, I'm afraid, but I'll be happy to send pdf files if you drop me a note. PS I noticed only recently that the tag "chemistry+industry" isn't actually working (at least in Firefox and in Explorer). It does work behind the scenes, on the page where I can manage and edit my entries, but not on the public side. Assuming it's to do with the "+" sign, so I'm replacing it with "chem-and-ind" from now on. To access old pieces, please use the sciencejournalism tag and patient scrolling. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

moving targets

Are plant diseases that cause catastrophic famines a thing of the past? Well, ahem, the pests and pathogens keep evolving, moving and spreading, and human activities like global trade and large scale monoculture often help them. So new threats to food security are emerging, and scientists have to find new ways of saving the crops we eat.

Some very scary things I learned from researching this feature which is now out:

Pests on the move

Current Biology, Volume 23, Issue 19, R855-R857, 7 October 2013, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.09.034

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Stem rust on wheat stalks. (Photo: Liang Qu/IAEA.)