Posts tagged review

BOOK REVIEW: The Light Revolution

The Light Revolution

Health, Architecture, and the Sun

by Dr. Richard Hobday

In times past, we instinctively understood that our lives depended on the glowing warmth of the sun.  Without space heaters and microfleece, every winter was a stark reminder that the sun’s warmth can be all too fleeting on a winter’s day.  And in the spring, great rites and festivals celebrated the coming of longer, more fertile days.

Somehow, however, the sun’s importance in modern architecture has diminished over the course of the twentieth century, often even as firms attempt to “green” buildings by reducing airflow (and therefore, heat loss).  The Light Revolution is a beautifully researched book about the sun’s journey over time through our collective consciousness.  It is also a medical book, celebrating the healing power of sunshine, which has been known to cure a whole host of diseases and other maladies. Even as a solar enthusiast, I learned a lot about ways in which solar power and medicine has been utilized in the past, and also about why current architecture has strayed from its heliocentric past incarnations.  When you realize just how many things the sun can cure, and how many very respectable people have argued its merits over the years, it is almost hard to figure how the box factory/warehouse/office building came to be.

What I liked most about the book was its discussions of quality of light.  After all, sitting under a tree is hardly the same as sitting on a beach, though both can be considered daylight.  According to Dr. Hobday, our modern lighting systems are negatively affecting our health, and costing us billions of dollars in loss of health and productivity.  The quality of indoor light is most often below the luminant threshold necessary for internal vitamin D production.  As you’ll discover in the book, vitamin D is absolutely critical to our ability to prevent and heal infections and diseases.

Rounding out the interest to readers is an interesting look at how political considerations often eclipse design considerations in the planning and construction of buildings.  He showcases some nice attempts at solar building design from the past, and shows how each achieves or falls short of its goals.  In the end, the lessons from the past serve to greatly underline the future potential of light therapy and its applications in health and architecture.

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QUICKIE: Solar Powered Christmas Lights

Looking for an easy way to integrate a little alternative energy into your holiday festivities?  There are a lot of exciting solar products coming out of Asia these days, as several eastern countries have gotten the jump on the US in terms of R&D and product development.  Which isn’t so good for the US’ current energy market, but it is good for solar energy enthusiasts!  Why don’t you try a string of solar powered Christmas lights in your front yard?  They turn themselves on automatically at dusk (if you want them too), similar to existing solar lawn lamps, they have solid light or blinking options, and they can easily be strung around fences, eaves, railings and wreaths to create a cheerful effect that’s also effortlessly green.

I have a set of white fairy style lights of this type, and they are great.  Not having a yard, I simply place the receiver in the window each morning and come sunset, I have a 60-LED solar powered flashlight for late night reading that lasts several hours! They throw a surprising amount of light for their tiny size.  If you’re interested in these or any other solar power accessories such as solar powered flashlights for emergency or off-grid use, head to ebay today and search for solar lights.  Finally, sunshine you can hold in your hand!

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BOOK REVIEW: Mycelium Running

Mycelium Running: Paul Stamets, Google Books Listing

Mycelium Running

This book is very inspiring!  I can’t even remember how it ended up on my library list, but since starting it, I haven’t put it down.  I also haven’t stopped talking about the wonders of mushrooms, much to my friends’ chagrin.  Yesterday even found me stooping in a neighbor’s yard, trying to figure out how to extract a cool-looking mushroom from their lawn without damaging the manicured turf!  Did you know that a cubic inch of earth can contain about 8 miles of mycelium, the fungal thread that matures into familiar mushrooms?  Or that some species of mushroom can survive on crude oil, breaking down the hydrocarbons into fertile soil in a matter of a months?  Other species of mushroom have shown promise in destroying neuro toxins, absorbing heavy metals, even killing the HIV virus.  Whoa, Shitake!

Seriously though, this book is excellently written with plenty of nice pictures for visual reference and a decidedly scientific style.  The author really knows his stuff, too, and he has the patents to prove it.  Everything is covered here from using mushrooms to repopulate logged forests to starting your own backyard mushroom garden or mycelial water filtration system.  The types of fungii and the environments in which they operate are also eloquently discussed.  There are charts galore showing which species can be used for different applications such as removing certain toxins or digesting certain wood species, even how to battle parasitic fungii with other species which are more environmentally benign.  Bottom line is that our oft mistreated fungal friends may hold the key to saving our planet more efficiently than we humans ever could.  Also, their unique medicinal properties, which though known in the Far East for centuries have only recently entered exploration by Western scientists, may be the key to the cancer and viral cures of the future because many fungii protect their hosts from infection and disease in a microscopic act of “you scratch my back…”.  Now that’s a pretty good reason to eat a heaping plate of fungii!  Five big shroomy stars.

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BOOK REVIEW: How to Survive Anywhere

How to Survive Anywhere

I read this book after arriving home from hiking last week, and came away from it feeling like I’d learned some useful tips for future trips.  The most interesting sections I found were the discussions of edible foods, which contained several commonly found entries I’d not heard of being foodstuff, and the discussion of making ropes, which I was able to put into practice immediately using dried palm leaves from the neighborhood and other shreds of string around the house.  It’s kind of addictive, like meditation.

In fact, putting things into practice before you need them could have been the unstated theme of the book.  After all, do you want to be figuring out how to coax fire from a magnifying glass AFTER the disaster when you’re already tired and hungry?  The main focus is on preparing a site, making utensils, tools, and weapons for your later survival. Places to find potable water are discussed, as well as how to purify water that isn’t so palatable.  But once you’re settled in, you’re on your own. There isn’t a lot of discussion about HOW to use things once you make them, but if you follow Mr Nyerges’ experienced advice (he’s a respected teacher who has lived in MANY different improvised and off-grid places) and practice, then you should be all right when the disaster hits.

Recommended especially for people who want to more closely examine the potential for survival in an urban setting, as he covers this topic very well.

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BOOK REVIEW: Coming Out of the Woods

Coming out of the Woods, Wallace Kaufman

Wallace Kaufman’s website

Coming Out of the Woods - Wallace Kaufman

I first picked up this book because Mr. Kaufman is an alumnus of the same university I attended, and was a self-proclaimed naturalist. Well, I thought, at least we have something in common. The forest he describes in his tale border the ones I spent several weeks in on my college no-impact wilderness trip, so I felt immediately familiar with the place names and general environment he described on each page. But even if I hadn’t been there before, the way in which this story is written literally walks you through the forest, seeing everything with the trained eye of someone who not only observes, but understands the awesome forces which shape natural (and not-so-natural) history. I learned a lot about ways to detect past human presence in an area simply by observing the trees and bushes around you.

But this book is more than a tale about the woods themselves. It’s about living in the woods, humankind’s constant struggle to understand, adapt, and coexist with nature and her varied forms. As such, and as a tale of fatherhood, this book really shines. I found myself wanting to visit Morgan Branch and sit myself in the cool waters running downhill to join the larger stream. To sit alone and listen to the squirrels and birds and bats fly overhead while old-growth trees wave gently overhead. To help break ancient rocks and lift them into place for a self-built house’s foundation. Truly scenery so lovely deserves the loving documentation it receives in Coming Out of the Woods.

Of course, if you see the title, you’ll understand that all tenures have their end, and this is no exception. What would possess a man who has escaped society by the first Earth Day to rejoin it by the end of the millennium? For the answer to that, you’ll have to read the book!

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BOOK REVIEW: Peak Oil Survival

Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life After Grid-Crash

Peak Oil Survival

Just the name alone drew me to the book. Of course I want to know how to live after the bottom inevitably drops out from under us. The book was really a quick read. It looked much more dense textually than it turned out to be. But there was a lot of good information here, centered mostly upon three areas of expertise: Finding and preserving clean water, finding and making light, and heating and cooling of both environment and food.

The chapters are very short, and each show a few different ways to achieve the stated goal, depending upon your location and particular circumstance. Neither bending toward warm or cold weathers in bias, the book has something to offer for everyone. The one thing this book ISN’T is a handbook for surviving in the wilderness. Most of the projects use salvaged materials from a more populated locale than the wilderness affords. No, this is just what it says. How to make soda can shingles and dig an outhouse when Home Depot goes under and you no longer have city water running through the pipes.

I enjoyed reading the book, and found I came out with a fair understanding of most of the topics covered, especially the importance of water in a person’s chances for long-term survival. If you’re smart, you’ll put many of the ideas in here to practice long before the arrival of grid-crash. The only thing I felt missing was a solid discussion of making shelters, as I suppose it flew too far toward the wilderness for their intended audience. If they eventually write a companion guide to cover that enormous topic, I’ll gladly be in line to buy it.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fast Food Nation

If you’ve never read the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, get to the bookstore right now.  You’ll never feel the same about fast food again.  Or most other food, for that matter.  But I’m not here to review the book (which is wonderful), I’m here about the movie.  I was interested to see this film, because the book is written in an expose journalistic style, and the movie sells itself as a fictional account.  How do the two work together?

 Fast Food Nation

So, I put some food in my new solar cooker (more about this in my next post!) and settled in to watch.  While there are gruesome scenes that leave you depressed, the movie is not nearly so hard-hitting as the book.  It starts with a coyote leading several migrants over the border to seek a new life in America.  Predictably, one doesn’t make it (or so you assume… this is something you will have to do a lot in this film if you want any questions “answered” in your head), illustrating the risks that these hopeful workers face even before reaching their grueling factory life.  Across the country, a new VP of Marketing for the fictional Mickeys fast food chain gets an assignment to chase down rumors that there are high levels of eColi in the beef.  Basically, there’s shit in the meat, and management wants to know either why, or how that info got out there in the first place.  So he travels to small-town Cody to investigate, meeting Amber, a Mickey’s employee, when he gets into town.  She’s in high school at that coming-out-of-her-shell age, working lots of hours at the restaurant to help her mother make ends meet.  The rest of the story follows, at various points, Amber, the VP (Greg Kinnear, but I can’t remember his fictional name), and the migrant workers who are dropped off at the meat packing plant that supplies all the meat for Mickey’s burgers. 

While the information presented was factually interesting, and visually disturbing at times, I had trouble feeling like a coherent story emerged from the separate narratives.  The workers, portrayed primarily by Fez from the 70s show, his wife, and her sister, go to the factory, are disgusted by the job, but amazed by the pay, and each follow a separate path toward destruction.  The guy gets hurt and subsequently fired, the wife can’t take it and quits to go to a low-pay hotel maid job but eventually has to come back and beg for a job when her husband is fired, and the sister gets involved with the supervisor at the plant and gets hooked on speed.  All the while, Amber is learning about what it means to be a corporate cog, like her mother (Patricia Arquette) while her coworkers plan a robbery that never goes down, and her uncle (Ethan Hawke) tries valiantly to get her to follow her dreams.  She meets college students who are activists, and they plan a way to try and get back at the meat packing plants for their brutal practices.  Greg Kinnear, however, is also having an eye-opening week, talking with ranchers, factory workers, and Mickey’s employees about the rumored horrors at the plant.   Suddenly, his burgers aren’t tasting so sweet anymore.  In the end, we see a new crop of future workers making that dusty trek across the desert to replace the ones we’ve seen get used up by the system, completing the ugly circle.

It was enjoyable to watch (especially Amber’s performance), save the prolific amounts of raw meat and dead and dying animals.  Totally gross to see them get killed and chopped up, to see people mushing up pieces of bad meat to become your ground beef patties.  Like the worker’s wife, upon seeing the kill room, I cried a few tears.  And knowing that whatever was shown was likely sanitized a bit for the screen made it all the more uncomfortable.  But I never felt the same angry call to action that I felt upon reading the book.  I almost felt I’d rather have watched a documentary than a fictional account that tried to cover so much territory, albeit pretty well.  That being said, even my cooked zucchini lunch looked kind of unappetizing after all that carnage!

If you haven’t read the book, then this movie will be interesting to watch without preconceived ideas.  Watch it first, then head for the bookstore to back up the story with facts you can pull out at a cocktail party or activist meeting.  If you’ve read the book already… well, read it again!  =)  You can never know too much about the harm the fast food industry in particular but all franchise commerical low-wage industries in general do to our society

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