Annihilation

I’ve done it again. I’ve stumbled on to a book with a premise that really intrigues me and then leaves me floundering with more questions than answers. This drives me crazy. Other people love this book. I love answers. Fully committed though, I launched myself upon the movie when it turned up on Netflix.

More confusion as the writers took another turn with the story. My frustration now consumes me, but at least there was some resolution in the movie. But what is this story that managed to evoke such a range of emotions? Read on…

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Annihilation is the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s  Southern Reach trilogy. Southern Reach has control of Area X. This is an area of land that has apparently inexplicable changes happening to the environment, people and animals that live or have lived within it. Southern Reach has been sending teams into Area X for 30 years and up to this point, there has been a very high failure rate. One by one the teams either go crazy, kill themselves or return a shell of their former selves. Nothing stays untouched by the environment inside Area X. I say ‘inside’ but in reality there is no visible barrier that separates the real world and the one that is evolving inside Area X.

Southern Reach have decided that for their 12th mission it is time to send forth an all-female team consisting of an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor and a biologist. They remain nameless for the duration and the chasm that exists between each of them is palpable and one wonders if it is deliberate. The very experiences that should bring them together are ripping them further apart due to an underlying distrust. Encounters with the inexplicable and alien continues the downward spiral as they search for answers.

Then my mind wanders and I can’t help but wonder, “Only 12 expeditions in 30 years?” That doesn’t sound quite right to me. History dictates that in our desperate need to find reason where there is none, we would have bombarded the area with specialists and most of all, military. Certainly not fluffed around so that there was more than 2 years between missions while Area X steadily grows larger! And the questions continue.

Hopefully you do better than me in your search for answers. Maybe you don’t need any and are happy to just immerse yourself in the possibilities alone. More than likely I gave up far too easily and just need to get stuck into VanderMeer’s next two books in the Southern Reach series, Authority and Acceptance and keep searching for those elusive answers.

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Alternatively try something completely different, if you gave up like I did:

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Introducing Gale Interactive: Science – Make Science Come “Alive”

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure ‘science.’” – Edwin Powell Hubble

Famed astronomer Hubble articulated simply what great science teachers have always known:  science is based on exploration, interaction, and engagement. When students connect with concepts in a meaningful, tactile way, they learn in a more meaningful way.

That belief is the foundation of Gale Interactive: Science, a new resource with interactive 3-D models and authoritative, digital content that helps students experience science, not just study it.

Designed to supplement science course materials in a fresh, unprecedented way, the resource is brimming with relevant images that can be rotated, magnified, and closely examined to enhance experiential learning.  Students can explore on their own to assist with homework and research assignments, or teachers can use the online resource in the classroom to demonstrate concepts and expand discussion. Content supports the study of biology, chemistry, and earth sciences – making it an ideal resource for high school students.

For example, when studying insects, students can find images of specific insect types which can be manipulated to allow different views.  It’s like examining each bug in person – but possibly even more useful, as unique features can be explored by zooming in. And with different resources available, such imagery as cross-sections and other scientific views are available to support in-depth investigation.

Two other Gale Interactive products are available to extend you scientific knowledge further –

Gale Interactive: Human Anatomy

Gale Interactive: Chemistry

The Gale Interactive series all features special content and functionality that support learning, such as:

  • Self-quizzing capabilities at the end of every session to review key concepts.
  • Guided interactive lessons, as well as “anytime” student interaction with models.
  • Ease of use on computers, laptops, interactive whiteboards, or a projector.
  • Accessible through multiple browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and MS Edge. (not compatible with Internet Explorer)
  • Authoritative content from resources such as Gale’s Science In Context, Academic OneFileand more.
  • 3-D printing with installed driver and an optional 3-D printer to print teaching models for use directly in the classroom.
  • Interface and content available in multiple languages.

With eResources like these, science will become a fun, exciting subject. Gale Interactive takes the struggle out of science and it is at your fingertips 24/7. Take it for a test drive and see for yourself at: 

Find more information about these products:

Science and the city

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and this number is continuing to rise. As more and more of us are crammed into these cities at ever increasing densities, there is an urgent need for innovative ideas that enable us to live together happily in comfort and good health. To achieve this, city planners are increasingly turning to science and technology for what are sometimes called smart city solutions.

As part of Techweek 2018, on Monday 21 May, Christchurch City Council’s Smart Cities programme will be hosting the 2018 Smart Cities Innovation Expo at Novotel Hotel, Cathedral Square Christchurch. Entry is free, and from 10am – 4pm visitors will be able to see a wide range of interactive exhibits showcasing local and national cutting-edge ideas for improving city life, from urban augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, and smart sensors, to rapid earthquake response systems, cycling innovations, and interactive apps. In anticipation of this event, I’ve put together a list of books that explore the many ways that science and technology can help us to understand cities and make them better places to live. Enjoy!

Science and the city

List created by robcruickshank

Books about how science and technology help us to understand cities and make them better places to live

Cover of AerotropolisAerotropolis – A look at one possible future for the world’s cities

Built – This fascinating history of structural engineering from ancient times to the modern day

Built on Bones – What happened when we started living together in cities? – the archaeological evidence

Christchurch: Our underground story – A brilliant locally produced “lift-the-flap” book for children about what lies underneath our feet here in our very own city.

Darwin Comes to Town – Why cities are the best places to study evolution

Cover of The endless cityThe Endless City – A look at the future of cities around the world from the Urban Age Project at the London School of Economics – also check out the sequel – Living in the Endless City

Feral Cities – A fascinating account of urban wildlife around the world and how animals are adjusting to city life

Happy City – A travelogue the looks at the psychology of urban life around the world and how we can make cities happier places to live

Cover of The history of future citiesA History of Future Cities – A fascinating look at how four global cities have each developed and embraced modernity in their own unique ways.

View more titles in the full list

Recreational non-fiction – a mid year review

I’m a pretty avid reader and mostly I love good fiction, but this year I have made a determined effort to read more non-fiction, but not just any old non-fiction – what I was after was “Recreational Non-Fiction”!

After a great deal of library exploration, and some very, VERY dry encounters with some non-fiction authors and their writing, I soon discovered that I’m particularly drawn towards non-fiction that is;

a) interesting / informative (gotta love what you’re reading about, right?)

b) conversational (this is very important to me!)

c) about an individual’s own explorations on a subject (it’s great to go along for the ride while someone makes discoveries!), and

d) based on the natural sciences (that’s just what floats my boat I guess!)

And I’ve been building a list this year to keep track of the “recreational non-fiction” titles that I have really loved, and here they are along with some notes on each;

2018 – The Best of Recreational Non-Fiction

List created by DevilStateDan

These are my best titles for the year under the banner of “recreational non-fiction”. Most of these titles are new releases, some are from decades ago, all are great! I do have a particular liking for the natural sciences so most of these books will be on this topic…

New Zealand Geographic – I love this magazine for championing and celebrating all the good things in New Zealand’s natural world. Every issue is packed full of interesting scientific projects being undertaken, updates on the status of various endangered species, and how humans are impacting on the environment and what we can do about it as individuals.

Cover of Smith journalSmith Journal – This is a great periodical, full of insight, information, and learning opportunities. Stories about potentially world-changing initiatives mix with current trends in sciences, and the revolution of traditional crafts, all from around the world. Very entertaining read!

The Secret Life of Flies – Do you like chocolate?!?! Then you’re relying on the humble and, misunderstood fly – they are the only pollinator of the cacao tree! Shocking hey!? Flies have so much more to offer the environment than we realise. Have a read of this entertaining and informative book, it may change the way you view these annoying pests for good!

Curious Encounters With the Natural World – This is a masterpiece of recreational non-fiction! Written conversationally (like you sitting with the author at the pub over a couple of pints discussing the natural world!), hugely informative, and hilarious, this book offers a very real access point for those who don’t read non-fiction or find in inaccessible. If you’re interested in the natural world, here’s one for you!

Cover of The truth about animalsThe Unexpected Truth About Animals – Another brilliant book about some of the lesser known creatures of the Earth and their own particular nuances. It’s very easy to read and pretty funny, making the science really attractive and easy to digest. Great dinner party fact fodder!

Blowfish’s Oceanopedia – The story of the seas from the coast to the deep. This book is divided up into quickfire digestible facts on all manner of issues and powers of the most abundant ecosystem on the planet. A great read for lovers of natural science.

Cover of SpinelessSpineless – Juli Berwald really likes jellyfish and this book proves it! Follow her story as she travels the globe learning about the state of jellies in our oceans, how they are coping with climate change, and what’s leading to the huge and unpredictable super-blooms of jellies. There’s so much information in this book about this underrated creature of the seas that it makes you wonder why we know so little about such a successful and abundant animal. A solid, insightful, and entertaining read and I look forward to seeing her future work.

Cover of American WolfAmerican Wolf – Follow the committed souls who observe the wolf packs of Yellowstone National Park. Wolves have only recently been reintroduced to the wild in this region and careful monitoring has led to some quite simply amazing discoveries about the ecological balance of a region. But not everyone is so keen to have the wolves back and as we follow the pack that she-wolf O-Six we learn how hard it is to survive in the wild under diminishing environment and increasing threats. One of my books of the year, this one!

Cover of The soul of an octopusThe Soul of An Octopus – In this book we follow the author as she becomes increasingly enamoured with all things octopus! We get to share the experience of learning SCUBA and see first hand behind the scenes at the New England Aquarium – a facility dedicated to sea life and full of passionate and knowledgeable staff and volunteers. And throughout the narrative we think on the idea of consciousness and emotions in all life – did you know that fish dream?!?

View Full List

I’ll continue to add to this list as the year progresses and I have a feeling that this is only just the start of a beautiful relationship between myself and recreational non-fiction!

Be an Eco-Champ for Science Week

Start championing the environment. Become an Eco Champ –  here’s how:

This year’s Primary Science Week (14-18 May) is where the action is. Have a look to see how you can take part.

  • Find something that is important to your school
  • Record observations like the number of pieces of litter picked up on the beach, how many grams of soft plastic collected at school, the number of footprints on tunnel traps, chew marks on cards, observe number of birds at the local park or collect weed seeds off socks and count them.
  • Collect and record data over time and analyse it.
  • Discuss the changes you observed and suggest how you could find solutions.
  • Look at what happened after you made changes, what happened before and after.
  • Communicate what you did.

Take a look at our Science Fairs page and books for more information on getting scientrific!

Gardening

So why not pick a project you want to champion and get stuck in cleaning up the environment? Why not start a worm farm or compost heap at school for all those apple cores from your lunch boxes then use all that lovely compost to start a school vegetable garden? Be part of Sustainable Christchurch at home, in school or out in the community.

Become an environmentally friendly school with the help of Enviroschools and see what’s growing near you by visiting a community garden.

School Gardens

Learn how to grow your own food in school and start a school garden. There are lots of resources to help take a look at:

Recycling

Clean up rubbish at your school beach or local park or start a recycling scheme at your school or find out more about soft plastics recycling  Check out information on tackling litter and resources for school  from  Keep New Zealand beautiful. Check out how the Recycling plant (Material Recovery Facility) works and how to recycle right with these videos:

Find out all about recycling  and the 4R’s Reduce Reuse Recycle and Rebuy in these resources:

Eco-pests

Learn about what pests visit your school or park by making a tracking tunnel and chew cards. Find out how you can remove them from your school and community from Predator Free New Zealand. 

Become a weedbuster by cleaning up a local beach piece of bush or participate in the restoration of a local stream. Take a look at what to plant streamside in this handy booklet on what to plant produced by Christchurch City Council.

More information

Does your school already do a lot? Then share what you have done by making a poster, infographic, display or video.

Tell us what you are doing for National Primary Science Week. We’d love to hear.

Stephen Hawking 101

Stephen Hawking has been called the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein. FI loved his appearances on the Simpsons and the fact he had a fan club. I also love the fact that whenever I hear a computer generated voice I associate it with the astrophysicist. From what I have read, he was very witty and had a great sense of humour as well as a brilliant mind, so he wouldn’t mind my blog about him. So here is some information about Stephen Hawking and about his work — learn about Quantum Mechanics and cosmology and black holes from my selection of class readings for Stephen Hawking 101.

I started with eDS (eResource Discovery Search) eDS search Stephen Hawking and which covers articles and books in our eResources collection.

Books

CoverRead Stephen Hawking’s bestseller A Brief History of Time that has sold more than 10 million copies. It only contains one equation E=mc² as Hawking was told the readership would be halved with every equation included.

Or try an eAudiobook if you would prefer to listen.

Articles

First off start with the basics, learn about black holes with this article by Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy Hawking

What is a black hole? By: Lucy, Hawking, Stephen, Clark, Dave, Ask, 15354105, , Vol. 10, Issue 6

Then once you have your head around the basics of black hole you may want to delve a bit deeper with this article from our Scientific American Archive.

The Quantum Mechanics of Black Holes pp34-41 by Stephen Hawking

More articles from Scientific American Archive

Science Reference Center has a selection of excellent scholarly articles –

Biographies

Find out more about Mr Hawking with these great biographical sources:

Biography in context has excellent information and even has ReadSpeaker text to speech technology so you can hear the biography been read in computer generated voice similar to the technology that Stephen Hawking used himself.
Biography Reference Center has a selection biographies from different sources.

CoverOr check out this eBook Introducing Stephen Hawking

If quantum mechanics is getting a bit much for you try this kids book written by Lucy Hawking and Stephen Hawking which is a great introduction to cosmology: George’s Secret Key to the Universe.

What I have learnt from reading about Stephen Hawking and his work is that I need to know more about astrophysics and not be scared of science.

The future is just around the corner…

Yesterday I happened to be in Cathedral Square, walking past An Origin Story‘s lovely hoardings around the convention centre site. As you can see in the image, from one angle the panel which states that ‘the future is just around the corner’ points right to Tūranga – the future of Ōtautahi is appearing right in front of our eyes. We cannot wait to share our new facility with you!

And yet, I’ve been thinking, the future is so terribly fragile, quickly becoming the present – for a flash – and then the past. The present of Tūranga still feels a long way off, but how long before it becomes a familiar, comforting and challenging place that we know and love and feel as if it has always been there?

9781847921888Everything becomes superseded. This point has been brought home to me recently, when reading Ben Shephard‘s Headhunters: the search for a science of the mind. It looks at the lives and careers of four men (quelle surprise) who worked across the fields of medicine, psychology, psychiatry, anthropology and neurology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At that time, many of these scientific disciplines were new and emerging with exciting ideas being developed, tested and sometimes lauded. Looking back, we can see that some of those ideas were offensively racist.

They championed field work in anthropology and lead the way in defining and treating shell shocked and mentally wounded service personnel in the First World War. And yet and generation or two – or even less – of their deaths many of their theories and work was disproved or supplanted. What was once cutting edge is now old hat.

But that’s what happens, doesn’t it? We are all part of a continuing development and dialogue, and improved theories and ideas grow out of older ones. That’s one of the many exciting things about Tūranga – how many ideas and thoughts etc etc will be developed and created there using exciting collections, programmes and other resources, before it too is superseded?

Producer Christine Dann talks about No ordinary Sheila, a documentary about an inspiring woman and the power of wonder

“I’ve got books instead of babies” — these were the words of Sheila Natusch, whose cinematic portrayal is coming to the big screens in Christchurch today and tomorrow (Friday 11 and Saturday 12 August).

As the movie proves, it isn’t just books that inhabit Sheila’s world. It’s also wonder and passion for the natural world — plants, animals and rocks. This translates into writing and beautiful illustrations.  The documentary shows so much — her love for the sea and sailing, honeymoon spent in the hut under Mt. Aoraki, the fun of learning Icelandic and swimming with seals, her close and dear friendship with Janet Frame in their formative days as young writers. Got the feeling? Who needs a TV and a car if you can enjoy a night camping under the stars and a bicycle tour from Picton to Bluff?

Sheila
Sheila Natusch. Image supplied.

Sheila Natusch greatly contributed to the understanding of nature by writing and illustrating Animals of New Zealand, the first comprehensive reference guide on this subject. She carried on writing all her life, on nature and history. Sheila has her artistic talent (inherited from her mother and grandmother) to accompany her words with convincing yet soft illustrations. In 2007 she was awarded New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to writing and illustration.

Watching the movie, it is not hard to see what compelled producer Christine Dann and filmmaker Hugh MacDonald (Sheila’s cousin) to capture Sheila on film. With premieres rolling out in cinemas from Auckland all the way to Gore, they are both fully occupied these days, but Christine still found some time to reveal the backstory of this inspiring project.

When did the idea to make a documentary about Sheila become obvious and where did it come from?

Director Hugh Macdonald has known Sheila all his life and always wanted to make a film about her, as she is such a fascinating character, as well as a woman of great achievements. I knew about her achievements before Hugh introduced me to Sheila, and as soon as I met her knew she’d be a great film subject.

Sheila is such a cinematic character, her enthusiasm and love for life in all its forms is beaming from the screen. Her story and persona are perfect for a form of a film storytelling. What was your intention in making this documentary, besides portraying Sheila and telling her story (because it also is a film about nature, New Zealand, wonder, curiosity and passion)?

Hugh and I share Sheila’s love of nature and the wild places of New Zealand. We agree with her that they are a source of much joy and inspiration. In making a film about her we wanted to share some of that joy and inspiration via someone who embodies it.

sheila2
Love for the nature shines through the warmth of Sheila’s illustrations.

You produced the documentary but also contributed as a researcher and writer. How long did your research take, what were the main resources you used?

The research for the film took about nine months, but that was spread over 18 months in time as it involved going to Dunedin twice, down the West Coast, and to Southland  and Stewart Island. My written sources included Sheila’s letters to her parents in the 1940s, and to Professor Ramsey in the 1950s and 60s, plus all her published work, both books and articles. Of course I talked to Sheila a lot to check things out as needed.

Is there a funny story from behind the scenes, something that happened during filming that you could share with our readers?

There always seemed to be lots of surprises happening, mostly good ones – such as the completely unexpected delivery of a box of chilled mutton birds to Sheila’s place when we just happened to be there with the camera for other reasons  – and that enabled us to shoot the scene in the Bach Cafe where Sheila takes them to her friend Maraea to cook up for them all.

The visit of the Ecuadorian navy sailing ship the Guayas to Wellington in January 2016 was another such good surprise, even though we had to scramble hard to get the filming organised

Sheila made nature and science accessible to New Zealanders in a user-friendly and encouraging way, especially with the Animals of New Zealand. However, she was to an extent criticized by scientists due to a lack of scientific language in her works. Why do you think that happened?

She was writing at a time when the scientific community (especially the Royal Society) was trying to raise the status of science as a profession of experts who communicated largely with each other, rather than the general public. Sheila has always believed that knowledge about nature needs to be shared as widely as possible, and that means writing in non-technical, jargon-free and also lyrical ways.

Sheila is extraordinarily talented in so many different ways: she is an amazing self-taught illustrator as well as a writer, she has a great passion, understanding and an eye for the natural world, she is a researcher and an “outdoor pioneer-ess”. And she managed – it seems like all throughout her life – to nurture and develop all those talents, which must have been quite hard in those days.

Sheila is not only very intelligent, she’s also very determined, so although she was certainly knocked back and excluded from some things she wanted to do, or ways she wanted to do them, she just kept on pushing until she found a way around the obstacle.

sheila3
The film focuses on creation of two integral works: Animals of New Zealand and The Cruise of the Acheron.

Which is your favourite motto or a thought from Sheila’s wise yet witty repertoire of thoughts?

Too hard to choose! But in the film you’ll hear her say several times that you have to ‘keep on keeping on’ when challenges arise, and that’s a good advice.

I was very delighted, when I realised that Sheila quotes Walt Whitman in her introduction to Animals of New Zealand (his poem The beasts, which talks about the animals). I wonder if she ever in your conversations revealed her fondness for any other authors and who were they?

She has a big library of books on ships and sailing, and likes novels and poems about the sea and life on it. She can remember a lot of songs and poems from her early years with a sea theme, such as John Masefield’s Cargoes. She’s pretty good on Shakespeare as well.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about Sheila and your movie?

It has been very rewarding for Hugh and me to share our enjoyment of Sheila, and her enjoyment of life, through this film, and find that is (as we hoped) resonating deeply with other people.

Sheila’s story told through the camera lens is full of curiosity and wonder for nature and great outdoors that surround us. It proves that those who observe and see, will be rewarded greatly – with life-long beauty and content. Make sure you see it!

Find out more

Primary science week : Stay safe on our roads with science

This year, Primary Science Week will be on 15th to 19th May. The theme is ‘Stay safe on our roads with science’.

The New Zealand Association of Science Educators is asking our young scientists to participate in this year’s national experiment. The aim this year is for classes to carry out road safety related experiments and share their experiments and results with other classes around the country. The students will see how the science community work together to find solutions to problems.

Are you a primary school teacher or a keen young scientist? Then check out NZASE’s Primary Science Week website. You will find some great road safety experiments. Some are suitable for younger children, others are more suitable for older primary children. You never know, you might just be the one that makes an interesting discovery or observation that makes our roads a wee bit safer.

The Gig Guide: April 2017

Planning on attending a concert, show, or gig in Christchurch? Then why not take a look at what we’ve got of that artist’s back catalogue?

Comedy

Kids

Music

What gigs are you looking forward to in the near future? Anything we’ve missed? Do let us know in the comments.

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