Cool stuff from the Selectors – Nature

9781472152244As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Birds and books by Alex Preston
Having kept notebooks over many, many years, Preston has collected the words of dozens of writers. Each chapter is arranged around a bird, each bird illustrated by Neil Gower. The Guardian gives this book a rave review:

Memoir, or rather memory, gilds the narrative. The most moving chapter describes Preston’s father, bedbound with lymphoma, as he watches a family of collared doves on the rooftop opposite his window. He is woken by a fledgling dove on the windowsill inside the bedroom and tries to rescue the bird. Describing himself in the third person, Preston’s father writes: “Placid and accepting, she allows his right hand to embrace her body… while he emanates all he can in telepathic sedation. It, or something like it, must be working, for her wings remain static and spread, her breast neither heaving nor fluttering … How warm to the touch. He wants to stretch the moment to eternity.” This, perhaps, is the essence of the book, this longing for communion, for connection with things other than ourselves.

CoverBritain’s Wild Flowers: A Treasury of traditions, superstitions, remedies and literature by Rosamond Richardson
Keeping with the literary/nature bent, Richardson traces the history of wild flowers and celebrates the important role they have played in literature as well as their uses in food, medicine and their place in history and myth.  A very beautiful book that is ideal to dip into.

9781473651975Basic Mathematics: An Introduction by Alan Graham
I reserved this book on a whim…I am not known for my mathematical ability and thought that it was about time I tackled what could almost be called a phobia. I must confess to scanning this book and promptly returned it, obviously I will need some more indepth counselling before I can tackle my “issues”. However, in the brief time that this book held my attention I did think it was very user-friendly, tackled basic concepts, and would be especially useful if you were struggling with keeping up with your school age children’s maths.

9780714873527Honar: The Arkhami Collection of Modern and Contemporary Iranian Art
A very disappointing cover hides a luscious book documenting the Afkhami collection of Iranian art. The art in the collection is incredibly varied and at times surprising. Each artist has their own essay, plus there are well written and interesting chapters devoted to the collection itself and to Iranian art history.

9781783963508What’s Your Bias? The Surprising science of why we vote the way we do by Lee De-Wit
We may think that we make rational decisions when it comes to voting but apparently we are just as much affected by our personality traits and unconscious biases as we are by what the news media and political debates are telling us. Perhaps you want to know more about why you think Jacinda is just the ticket or what it is about Bill that makes him irresistible? Apparently you will get to know more about yourself and the bigger political picture!

Smartmath Practice – a digital solution for numerical problems

SmartMathI did mathematics with statistics until seventh form – or Year 13 as it is now known. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it or was very good at it, but I did feel it was important as it worked out my brain in a way that history and English did not. In the olden days when I was at school you didn’t have any inspiring online whizzes and bangs. You had your maths teacher and a textbook riddled with the rubbed out scribbles of past sufferers. Some call mathematics beautiful, in its complexity but I just found it to be one battle after another. These days help is at hand for people like me. With the development of online learning we get to experience maths in a more interesting and colourful way.

An example of this is Smartmath Practice which is an interactive and fun way for those aged 6 to 14 to improve their math skills with activities, tests and quizzes. There is something about having an online avatar shake their pom poms at you when you get something right that makes the whole learning experience so much easier. There are no furrowed brows looking your way nor big red marks through your work. Just a lot of online love and support as you make your way through the questions.

Who knows maybe my life would have been different if I had come to enjoy maths as much as history and English? Certainly the bohemian poverty of an arts degree graduate has worn as thin as the pleather on my shoes. Maybe if I had taken maths instead of history I could be cruising these streets in Manolos or Jimmy Choos instead of my three for two deals from Number One Shoes? Smartmath Practice is a great way for students at all levels to improve their maths skills. As for us more “mature” users, maths is much more fun in bright colours without the pressure of exams and judgement. Maybe people like me can still find the beauty that others see in numbers.

Ada Lovelace – Computing before it was cool

Cover of the bride of scienceToday is Ada Lovelace Day. Celebrated on the second Tuesday in October Ada Lovelace Day is a day for celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and science.

But who was Ada Lovelace?

Born in 1815, Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron and his wife Annabella Milebanke. As a child she was fascinated with machines and this was fostered by the education she received, which for the time was rather unorthodox, with its emphasis on mathematics, logic and science.

Through her friendship with Charles Babbage she became intimately familiar with the earliest clockwork and punchcard “computing” devices. In 1842 she contributed to an article about Babbage’s latest machine or “Analytical Engine”. Part of her contribution to the article were several “computer programs”. This is why she is often described as “the first computer programmer”. She is also credited with seeing the possibilities of computing, greater even than Babbage, who saw his machine as an advanced number-cruncher, where Lovelace imagined more creative possible outputs –

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.

 

When Alan Turing undertook his work that led to modern computers, it was Ada Lovelace’s notes that informed his work.

As many legends do Lovelace died young, at just 36 years of age, with only half a life’s worth of genius lived.

Today, Ada Lovelace Day is an opportunity to honour and celebrate the scientific achievements of women and to encourage the women technologists, mathematicians and scientists of the future.

If you know an inquisitive, tech/maths/science-obsessed girl, why not introduce her to one of the following titles?

Cover of Amazing applications and perfect programs Cover of Awesome algorithms and creative coding Cover of computer networks Cover of The science of computers Cover of Cool biology activities for girls Cover of Cool chemistry activities for girls Cover of Cool engineering activities for girls Cover of Cool physics activities for girls

Or consider nudging someone you know along to our Minecraft Club for Girls or Girl Zone computing and tech skills course.

More recommended reading

Our previous Ada Lovelace Day posts

It all adds up to Britannica SmartMaths Practice

Go to Britannica SmartmathsI struggle to love maths. Distant memories of being made to stand in front of class and recite my times tables as a child still haunt me. Of course my maths learning took place in the dark old days when the most fun you could have was putting in certain numbers on your calculator and turning it upside down so it would spell  “BOOB”. We have moved on from there so  let me introduce you to something much more fun. Britannica SmartMaths Practice  aims to improve confidence in all areas of maths using a game like interface with six different levels depending on age and skill.  It covers topics such as:

  • Numbers: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and percentages;
  • Shape and Space: curves, angles, quadrilaterals, triangles, circles and symmetry;
  • Algebra: elementary and complex equations;
  • Measures: length and distance, time, money, perimeter, area, volume and speed;
  • Data Handling: pictograms, block graphs, charts, statistics, probability, coordinate geometry.

It is aimed at those aged 6-14 years of age with activities and quizzes, but I can tell you as a grown up of a certain age it was a revelation to me too!  You can even earn badges and points that can be used to choose a different character to cheer you on. I don’t think maths would have been half as traumatic if I could have worked my way through a bright happy place such as this! Get those kids learning with this – and have a look yourself. You would be amazed at what you have forgotten!

Love and prime numbers

Mathematics and fiction have long been uncomfortable bed partners. In fact, you may be hard-pressed to think of any novels that successfully combine the two. But they do exist, and here’s the proof.

Cover of The Housekeeper and the ProfessorMy lovely new Book Discussion Scheme book club has just had its third meeting. The first book that we were allocated was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This is a great starter read for any group and we wallowed in it. But the gods looked down and thought: “well, they’re getting mighty pleased with themselves, let’s send them some maths”.

As a result our second read was The Housekeeper and the Professor and this is so not the Mills and Boon bodice ripper that you might have expected from the title.

Instead this is a restrained piece of writing translated from Japanese about love and family and mathematics and memory loss. I can honestly say that had I picked this book up in a library, I would never have taken it home. Why not? I hear you ask. It has actual algebraic formulae in it, is why. This is not a book about maths in the abstract, these characters actually do maths.

But this time we all knuckled under and read it, because we’d taken a vow at the start of our new book club to read outside our comfort zones. OK, so some of us skipped over the maths bits and some of us read the baseball sections with glazed pre-frontal lobes and a few of us did both those things. And given that it is only 180 pages long, you would be forgiven for thinking that didn’t leave much to get through. But we did it. And if you fancy being in a group that reads and talks and grows and has fun, maybe you’d be interested in joining one of the library reading groups.

And in case you actually are a maths/arts person, here are a couple of other reads to try:

  • Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco (not for the faint-hearted, a hellishly difficult read)
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano (I’m betting it’s not going to be a barrel of laughs)
  • Addition – Toni Jordan (maths and the obsessive compulsive, in addition – sorry, couldn’t resist – it is funny!)

Seems like numbers are very much on my mind: this is my centennial blog, in the Year of the Snake on my Beatles Birthday. Or 26. Go do the maths!

Get ya geek on: Really useful resources for NCEA Maths

Cover image of "Gamma mathematics"NCEA Maths not your strong point? Don’t worry, become a mathematical genius with help from the library! As well as checking out any of the fantastic websites listed below, you can borrow NCEA math textbooks and study guides from one of the community libraries that are now open.

Maths help on the Web

So where did we find these great resources? On The Pulse, the library’s website for teens.