Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bibliophile: The Ol' Bait and Switch At Dalhousie

“A book without words is like love without a kiss; it's empty.”
― Andrew Wolfe

I'm not sure why anyone would write a book without words, and if love requires a kiss in all places, a lot of pet owners are performing acts that probably aren't legal, but whatever, it's a metaphor.

This is Bibliophile.

If you're new here, the idea is that I browse through the weekly new book list at my local University library, and note the new entries. Sometimes, though, the phrase "weekly" is a bit of a misomer, and the list fails to be updated, in which case I usually skip the week, or take another Canadian university to browse. This is one of  those latter weeks. So this week, we're looking at the new books at Dalhousie University. Books available at my own local university, good ol' University of Waterloo, will be marked by a bolded H.

I was pretty sure I'd looked at Dalhousie before, but it doesn't seem to be showing up in  my search bar, so... so buttons, I guess. They've got a new book list with an RSS feed with an option of specializing in library and subject, which is quite thoughtful of them.As it explains, their list features all items with a publishing date of the last two years that have been entered into the catalog in the last month. The downside is that there doesn't seem to be any organizing options for the user. It's just a very long list, sorted alphabetically by title.

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt, Sept 2011, U of Georgia P.
 Ever since I read Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, I've had a soft spot for cultural study approaches to books; I am even, very very slowly, currently making my way through Cultures of Taste, an anthology of essays on Romanticism and eating habits. Engelhardt seems to share a lot with Pollan's approach in The Botany of Desire, in fact; as he focused on four specific foods, she's focusing on five specific moments: moonshine, biscuits vs. cornbread, tomato clubs, pellegra, and cookbooks as a means of communication. Her overall approach is rather different, though, as she's looking at what the food choices tells us about the sothern woman and issues of race, gender, class, and social power. She says that typically, modern concepts of southern foods are portrayed as untroubled nostalgia at times, but her approach is to take into account industrialization, environmental degradation, and a much broader swathe of economic classes. I can't say I ever see my research heading in a food direction--although I will point to this tumblr that looks at how videogames use food, and this one that makes up recipes based on food in video games. But regardless of the direction of my research, this is exactly the sort of nonfiction I'd choose for leisure reading.

 City Catalyst: Architecture in the Age of Extreme Urbanisation by Alexander Eisenschmidt, Oct 2012, Wiley.
That strikes me as a fairly depressing subtitle. Honestly, "Extreme Urbanisation" doesn't exactly fill me with glee. Maybe it's my rural upbringing at play? At any rate, it turns out that this is actually a journal's special issue, Architectural Design 82.5. Can't say we've seen a lot of journals in these pages before. It's basically a collection of essays, but that treatment doesn't quite work here, as the essay titles are a little too general to really indicate the arguments. ("Too Big Too Fail" doesn't really say a lot about anything, at this point.) Eisenschmidt's essential argument for the journal at large is that with the state of modern cities and constant expansion, there's nothing to be gained on using architecture based on idealized, standardized planning. Rather, your starting point needs to be that the city is something that changes over time, and it's a "realm of invention and a space for possibilities where new designs can be tested." My knowledge of architecture goes only so far that I can recognize that Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother is a fairly terrible one. But it seems like a perfectly workable approach--though the "realm of invention" almost suggests an "anything goes" approach if you take it extreme. And you *have* to take it to extreme! I mean, it's in the title.

 Color in Food: Technological and Psychological Aspects edited by Jose Luis Caivano and Maria del Pilar Buera.
Apr 2012, CRC Press.
We seem to have stumbled onto a theme here. A DELICIOUS theme. No, wait: a theme of DELICIOUSNESS. That's a much funnier word. As the subtitle might suggest, this book is less cultural studies and more design theory. It's a collection of the presentations held at the 2010 International Color Association Interim Meeting, AKA the most boring weekend in the world for the color-blind. The articles are fairly brief, but there are a lot of them--44 chapters in all. The book has five sections. First is food color and appearance, which includes colors seen through transparent objects, color as code in food packaging, and the effect of illuminance and correlated color temperature on visibility of food color in making meals. Riveting. Part II is Food Colorimetry (I'm calling made up word on that one) and Color Scales, and has essaays on Color Classification of Veal Carcasses: Past, Present, and Future; Color-Phenolic Composition Relationships of Grape Seeds; and the colors of honeys from southwestern Pamnas. Section 3 is Color Change as Quality Index of Food: color study at storage of lyophilized carrot systems; temperature abuses during lettuce postharvest: impact on color and chlorophyll; color of vacuum-packed squid mantle rings treated with gamma radiation. Part IV is color as an index of food composition and properties: control of animal stress and welfare with measurements of skin color variation; relationship between mineral content and color in honeys in Argentina; Color Characteristics of Raw Milk From Silage and Alfalfa-Fed Cows. Part V is Food Environment: Color in Packaging, Sensory, Evaluation, and  Prefences: Legal Value of Color and Form in the "Small Print"; Color Temperature Variation for Fresh Food Lighting; Orange Juice Color: Visual Evaluation and Consumer Preference. On the one hand, the whole thing sounds like a punchline for a joke about ridiculous fields of scientific study. But on the other hand, the economic value of these reports is a lot more than what Engelhardt is doing; I'm sure there's a demand somewhere for this. H.

  Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History/ Stephen Jay Gould. Dec 1996.
Popular Science writer Stephen Jay Gould collects several essays that all seem to have the general theme of evolution. Like the Color in Food book, the essays tend to be very short, though I imagine they're a bit more entertaining. There's thirty-four essays, divided into eight sections. In the introduction, Gould claims that evoilution is the most exciting truth science has ever discovered, which is an interesting statement. I'm going to take an anthropocentric view, and counter with electricity and penicillin. He also argues that there's a progression between this book and his previous six in the series. "Ever Since Darwin" covers the basic Darwinian theory; Panda's Thumb expands on this idea; Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes expands to social implications and creationism; The Flamingo's Smile stresses randomness; Bully for Brontosaurus expands on randomness to a "multifarious disquisition on the nature of history"; and Eight Little Piggies expands on the environmental effects. This volume, he maintains, is about evolutionary thought expanded into other areas: literature, astronomy, the value of museums, and eugenics.  The key, he says, is history, process, and pattern, and how they dictate our lives. Another easy yet entertaining nonfiction read. H.

I've found three more books by Gould, and one more architectural volume. Sounds like someone's general order(s) came in. 

Innovative Food Processing Technologies: Advances in Multiphysics Simulation / Karl Knoerzer, Pablo Juliano,Peter Roupas, Cornelis Versteeg. 2011, Wiley-Blackwell. 
Yeah, it's another food book. In for a penny, in for a pound. Or, more appropriately, in for the appetizer, in for the main course. This is a book in the Institute of Food technologists series, and it's all about the exciting field of emerging food processing technology, from High Pressure Thermal Sterilization to Ultraviolet Processings. Essay subjects include multiphysics modeling of ohmic heating, modeling for pulsed electric field food processing, computer simulations for microwave heating, and the simulation of ultraviolet processing of liquid foods using computational fluid dynamics. Yeah, this is why I tend to stay away from the science-based books; I don't have anything useful to add here. I will say from personal mathematic experience that modeling is one of the most complex disciplines; you need to simplify the model enough to work, but keep it specified enough that the results are valuable. Tough balancing act, and one that nobody notices unless you get it wrong. (See also: weather predictions.)

Many Faces of Love/ Kaarina Määttä and Satu Uusiautti. Jan 2013, Sense Publishers.
It's a book on the research of love. I actually came across a professor yesterday who researches videogames and love, Jessica Enevold. More specifically, she's looking at how love is portrayed in games, how players express love in games, how love appears in videogame discourse, and how people claim to love their games. You have to  be very careful in such research, I think; love is a tenuous concept at best, and forcing it into something quantitative sounds like a recipe for research results that can't be duplicated. (I have a great deal of respect for the social sciences, but I've noticed that most studies tend to replace the multiple testing component with larger sample sizes. Granted, there are logistical reasons for that, but it does seem like the results you get are specific to that moment, that cultural context. Anyway, the book is divided into four chapters. First is love among various points of life, love in adolescence, partner selection, couple interaction, working marriages, retirement and love. Second is love and education: learning to love, parental love, good teacherhood. Chapter 3 is love in relation to other things: friendship and love, love and creativity, and love for work. Chapter four is skewed love: narcissism, divorce, morbid love. Okay, a few thoughts: I would absolutely be interested in a whole book that expands on the last chapter. And the friendship/love section of chapter 3 seems to be edging us ever closer to discourse re: the "friend zone." And finally: I'm surprised sex didn't come up here. They're not necessarily the same thing, but you think you'd get to it before you got to, say, love for work. H.

Materials needs and R & D Strategy for future military aerospace propulsion systems
I totally thought this said  D & D strategy, and got really excited.

Minescape :re-envisioning the post-mine landscape of Yellowknife, NWT
Likewise, I'm very disappointed that this isn't about Minecraft.

Novel Bondage:  Slavery, Marriage, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century America. Tess Chakkalakal.  U of Illinois P, Jul 2011.
Chakkalakal examines the interconnection between marriage, slavery, and freedom through a reading of nineteeth century novels and short stories, alongside some archival material we have on actual marriages for the period. Her goal is to look at how the fiction established literary conventions for the domestic lives of American slaves and their aspirations for personal and civic freedom. And, as a result, the works created fictional models of the slave-marriage plot for reforming marriage laws. It's not even remotely in my interest area, focusing on both nineteenth century fiction and American literature, but you have to give props for that title.H.

Pay For Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform by Ronald A. Smith, 2010.
The listing had only the main title, and I thought I'd be getting a book examining microtransactions in online games. (And incidentally, I found a game scholar who seems to specialize in that too--shout-out to Suen de Andrade e Silva, a Masters student at Utrecht University.) But no, the subtitle is the accurate indicator.The book considers the history of college athletic reform, an issue Smith argues is more relevant now than ever, given that college football coaches command higher salaries than university presidents. It promises to consider eligibility, compensation, recruiting, sponsorship, and rules enforcement as well. This is a subject where my prejudices--and childhood failures--really start to show. A part of me is, frankly, utterly contemptuous of organized sport, especially massive commercial sport. Yes, I can see how it fits in the mandate of the university general goal toward developing excellence. Yes, I can certainly see how it makes good economic sense to pursue a good sports team. And yes, it's hypocritical to be against one kind of game when I'm trying to build a career studying another. But... there's a part of me that will fundamentally never be convinced that the skill required to propel a ball through a net or stop a puck or catch a weirdly shaped ball is worth millions of dollars a year. Yes, I get that there's a supply and demand economic thing going on. And yes,  I get that the proper metric here is the enjoyment of society, not the skill of individual players. But every time there's another sports college scandal, where people's lives get destroyed because no one was willing to compromise their place in the games... ugh. It just seems like we'd be better off devoting our attention to other things. Again, yes, I get the irony of a game scholar making this claim. Let's move on. H.

The Future of Computing Performance: Game Over or Next Level?   / Samuel H. Fuller and Lynette I Millett
This is a book on the development of parallel processing in computers. Okay, with a subtitle like that, it's not even me misreading titles anymore. The universe is clearly screwing with me.

 That's our eight new books; as per our new methodology, I'm going to finish up the post with four books from previous weeks that didn't get the attention they deserved the first time around. Remember, these four are from the UW vaults.
From June 3rd: 

Technologies of empire : writing, imagination, and the making of imperial networks, 1750-1820 / Dermot Ryan.
 While I have no interest in 19th century USA, I could read about 18th century British Imperialism all day long. It's the commonwealt in me, I'm afraid. Ryan's operating idea here is that these writers aren't just performing static orientalist roles when they write about far-off lands, but organizing subjects and transforming spaces, using writing as technologies to produce empire. As such, he's looking at Adam Smith, William Wordsworth, Burke's Reflections of the Revolution in France, Maria Edgeworth's Irish fiction, and  so forth. Granted, my knowledge of history from this period isn't great, but, thanks to W. J. T. Mitchell, I know about Burke's book. And indeed, it's less about a history of France's revolution, and more about Burke using his response on the period to advance and modify his own agendas and arguments for Britain. I guess what I'm saying is that Ryan's idea, from my limited perspective, has merits.

Raiders! : the story of the greatest fan film ever made / Alan Eisenstock.  1st ed.   New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2012.
It's funny; I picked out this reading almost a month ago, but fan fiction is on my mind right now because I just had an extensive discussion with a friend over it. Again, we're in an area where my own knowledge is rather lacking, but fan fiction fascinates me; it means modifying your own writing style to fit someone else's characters, but also modifying the characters to fit your vision for them. I like that balance. The story here is that, in 1982, Chris strompolos, 11 years old, asked Eric Zala, 12, to help him remake Raiders of the Lost Ark, shot for shot. It took them seven years. Honestly, I don't know how you get a whole book out of that. It strikes me that a short article and a youtube link would be enough. But on the other hand, the potential is there. And Eisenstock's focus--how the pair overcame all technical problems, and how their friendship and lives evolved as a result--really demonstrates how fan fiction works, how it's not just a process of copying what's already been created rather than making something your own. Rather, it's about taking something that you value and using it as a guiding principle, channeling your creative energies through it, and making something bigger than yourself. And that's pretty cool.

From June 23rd

Cigarette wars  : the triumph of "the little white slaver" / Cassandra Tate.   New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Now, cigarette companies have something of an image problem, an image problem caused by the fact that their product tends to kill people. And they're facing tougher and tougher restriction. But this isn't the first time they've passed through hardship. Tate uncovers the fight against tobacco between 1890 and 1930, drawing on archives and histories to weave together the feints and attacks in this story. Progressive reformers and religious fundamentalists actually united to fight smoking--and there's an alliance you don't see a lot today. I was immediately curious about what led to the collapse of this effort: it was World War I, where millions of soldiers took up the habit, and cigarettes became associated with freedom, modernity, and sophistication. So really, all Big Tobacco needs to get back on top is one good war. It sounds interesting, though if I was given a choice of nonfiction to read for my own amusement, I'd probably gravitate towards Gould or the food book.
In the life of cities / edited by Mohsen Mostafavi, Harvard University, Graduate School of Design.
It feels like we've come full circle, with a book on, if not architecture, then certainly city design. I can't find anything as useful as a table of contents, but the general conceit here is that Mostafavi asked two dozen architects and designers what the relationship is between the design of a city and the life engendered by that design. Whatever the answers are, I can at least say that Sao Paulo, Houston, Paris, Jakarta, and Mumbai are involved. Obviously, there is a connection; in Saskatoon, the distance between places and the way the transport system is optimized for driving calls for a particular way of life. Likewise, Toronto has so many battles over bikes and cars because its sheer population density requires a design that optimizes that density. So the question isn't whether there is a connection, but what sort of connections can exist. Sounds interesting. Too bad no one seems to be particularly interested in answering that in the online material.

That's it for this week. See you next time.

Later Days.

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