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Charles Ashbacher (Marion, Iowa United States)

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Star Trek #77: Savage Curtain
Star Trek #77: Savage Curtain
VHS
2 used & new from CDN$ 99.00

4.0 out of 5 stars An alien species exhibits intellectual curiosity, July 19 2004
The major premise of this episode is intellectual curiosity, although in this case the curiosity is exhibited by alien creatures made of liquid rock that live on a volcanic planet. They probe the minds of the Enterprise crew and from Kirk's they create a facsimile of Abraham Lincoln as an emissary to the Enterprise. Lincoln is beamed aboard and is treated as a visiting dignitary. He demonstrates all of Lincoln's charm, wisdom and humor and Kirk is taken with him. Lincoln then asks Kirk and Spock to beam down to the surface of the planet with him. After reflection, they agree and beam down to an area on the planet that has been made suitable for human habitation. Once there, they discover Surak, a Vulcan revered for his principles of nonviolence, the founder of the Vulcan way of logic, and a hero plucked from Spock's mind.
A rock creature called Yarnek appears and conjures up four people from history considered to be the epitome of evil. The four evil ones are then to battle against the four "good guys", in an experiment so that Yarnak's species can learn which is stronger, good or evil. To guarantee compliance, Yarnak vows to destroy the Enterprise if good is defeated. Surak and Lincoln are killed, but in the ensuing battle, the evil ones are defeated and the survivors flee. Yarnak returns and is puzzled and disappointed by the results. He feels that they have learned nothing of the difference, although he releases the Enterprise.
The choice of of the four evil ones puzzles me. They are Ghengis Khan, Khalis, the founder of the Klingon Empire, and two others that are unknown. My first choice would have been Adolf Hitler, and I will always wonder why they did not make that choice. Perhaps his time does not go back far enough into history for the producers to consider it appropriate. To the Klingons, Khalis is a hero, which may explain some of the ambiguity that Yarnek senses. Ghengis Khan is also a significant figure in the history of northern Asia, not necessarily considered to have been evil. Yes, he conquered a large part of Asia and Europe, but there are other figures from human history that were far worse.
The main premise of this episode is one that I believe has a higher probability of coming true than many others used in the Star Trek series. When humans encounter other intelligent beings, the two species could immediately go to war. Barring that, the other species could easily demonstrate an enormous curiosity about humans and our values. If they are a species that does not possess a moral sense equivalent to ours, then good and evil would be concepts that they would not understand. If they are capable of probing human minds, then experiments of this type could certainly be possible. Therefore, I enjoyed the episode, ranking it roughly in the middle of the list.

Genetic Code
Genetic Code
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
10 used & new from CDN$ 3.01

5.0 out of 5 stars The Genetic Code for Dummies!, July 18 2004
Once again Asimov is at his best, this time explaining DNA and the underlying genetic code in an easy to understand manner. He starts with the fundamentals of the language of chemistry, the symbols for the elements, diagrams of molecules and the basics of organic chemistry. Using this as the foundation, he then describes the structure of amino acids and how they combine to make proteins.
The next question is of course how cells "remember" the sequence of the amino acids in the proteins used to construct it. This requires a digression into the structure of DNA and the correspondence between the components of the DNA molecule and the protein molecule. Asimov also spends a great deal of time describing the historical record of the discoveries of how characteristics are transferred from a parent to their children. This is an excellent book for learning the fundamentals of these transfers.
The line that I found most interesting is the last paragraph of the introduction.
"This book is an attempt, then, to explain the background of the breakthrough; the full meaning of the breakthrough and its immediate consequences; and, finally, a forecast of what the breakthrough may bring about in the future - what the world of 2004 may be like, as seen through my own wishful eyes."
Now that the referenced year has arrived, how accurate was Asimov's vision? He is right on many things, accurately predicting the use of microorganisms to create proteins. However, he misses the single most significant event in genetics, the complete sequencing of the human genome.

Star Trek #53: Ultimate Comput
Star Trek #53: Ultimate Comput
VHS
3 used & new from CDN$ 15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A certain event, a computer with a survival instinct, July 18 2004
In this episode, a supercomputer called the M-5 is placed on board the Enterprise. It is so sophisticated that nearly all of the crew disembarks so that it can run the ship. However, it has been constructed using a human mind as a template. The creator of the computer, the brilliant Dr. Daystrom, used the patterns of his mind to build the circuits of the M-5. Unfortunately, Daystrom is mentally unstable, so the M-5 is also unstable.
When the M-5 is subjected to a war games exercise, it does not understand that it is a mock attack, so it treats it as a real one and destroys a star ship, killing everyone on board. The remaining ships then form an attack force, but Kirk is able to disable the computer and regain control of the Enterprise in the nick of time.
The most significant point in this episode is that a black man is portrayed as a very intelligent man who strongly defends his invention. He stands up to Kirk, interacting with the people in power as an equal, if not as a superior. Another point is that Dr. Daystrom has the most memorable reaction to the Vulcan neck pinch in the entire series.
I enjoyed the episode, it is often portrayed as anti-technology, but that is not true. I consider it an example of the reality of bleeding edge technology. Whenever a dramatic leap of technology has been attempted, there have been mishaps and deaths. Steam ships and locomotives blew up, ships sank, space shuttles exploded, planes crashed etc. Artificial intelligence (AI) remains an elusive goal with success being difficult to measure. However, one of the consequences of successfully implementing AI will be a computer behaving in a manner similar to that of the M-5, exhibiting a strong survival instinct. This is one of the episodes that is a safe prediction of a future event.

02 Understanding Physics
02 Understanding Physics
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 2.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best place to begin the study of physics, July 17 2004
Although I took a full year of physics in college, I learned most of my physics from the three books in the Understanding Physics series by Isaac Asimov. As proof, I offer the fact that I scored a respectable 8 on the physics section of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) that I took before starting the college physics class. My study of physics in preparation for the test began when I purchased and read the three books in the series. When I was in the physics class, I understood all of the ideas; the only part that presented any difficulty was applying calculus to the problems.
Asimov has a knack for writing about science in a way that allows for the rapid and complete learning of the concepts. This book covers the basics of light, magnetism and electricity and how they are intimately interrelated. . Unlike many other authors, Asimov does not hesitate to use equations in his explanations. I commend him for this, as you cannot learn physics without equations and the temptation to avoid them was no doubt strong. If you want to learn the fundamentals of physics, the three-volume Understanding Physics series by Asimov is the best place to start.

01 Understanding Physics
01 Understanding Physics
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
15 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best place to begin the study of physics, July 17 2004
Although I took a full year of physics in college, I learned most of my physics from the three books in the Understanding Physics series by Isaac Asimov. As proof, I offer the fact that I scored a respectable 8 on the physics section of the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) that I took before starting the college physics class. My study of physics in preparation for the test began when I purchased and read the three books in the series. When I was in the physics class, I understood all of the ideas; the only part that presented any difficulty was applying calculus to the problems.
Asimov has a knack for writing about science in a way that allows for the rapid and complete learning of the concepts. This book covers the basics of classical physics, as relativity is only mentioned in footnotes. Unlike many other authors, Asimov does not hesitate to use equations in his explanations. I commend him for this, as you cannot learn physics without equations and the temptation to avoid them was no doubt strong. If you want to learn the fundamentals of physics, the three-volume Understanding Physics series by Asimov is the best place to start.

A Short History of Chemistry
A Short History of Chemistry
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Paperback
15 used & new from CDN$ 62.73

5.0 out of 5 stars After forty years, still the best short history, July 17 2004
Even though this book was written forty years ago and there have been many advances in chemistry since then, it remains the best introduction to chemistry available. Isaac Asimov is still the best explainer of science that has ever existed and he was never better than when writing this book. Although Asimov was capable of writing in all areas of science, he was trained as a chemist, so in this case he was writing about the subject that he knew the most about.
The understanding of the elements that led to the modern periodic table did not come easy. There were many false starts and partial truths that were presented, refuted and remodeled. Asimov takes you through all of this historical record, emphasizing that scientific "truth" is an evolutionary process. The "Aha!" moment is a very rare event in science. Most discoveries are the results of months or years of painstaking research and few are definitive. Some of the main advances started as intelligent suppositions that were not verified for decades.
Written at the level of the intelligent high school student, this is the best introduction to the intellectual struggles that forged (literally and figuratively) our current knowledge of chemistry.

A Wish for Wings That Work
A Wish for Wings That Work
by Berkeley Breathed
Edition: Library Binding
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A tale about Christmas, wishes and reality, July 17 2004
This is a delightful tale about Christmas, wishes and reality. Opus the penguin laments the fact that he cannot fly like the snow ducks. Therefore, he writes a letter to Santa Claus asking for wings that work. Before going to bed on the night before Christmas, he tells a snow duck that he will be flying on Christmas morning. However, as Santa is making his rounds, there is a malfunction of the sleigh connections and the sleigh is disconnected from the pulling reindeer. Santa's sleigh begins to sink in a cold, icy lake and Opus is awakened.
He dives into the lake and swims like he never swam before. Clutching a towrope in his beak, he pulls the sleigh to land. Santa then tells him "I see no penguins here, whose wings only sputter. Tonight it was courage that flew yours beyond others." The next morning a group of snow ducks arrives and carries Opus into the air.
The moral of the story is that when we are wishing for new skills or possessions, we should never lose sight of the value of that we already have. It is done very well and fits well into the general spirit of the Christmas season.

Tom Swift and His Triphibian Atomicar
Tom Swift and His Triphibian Atomicar
by Victor Appleton
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 62.67

5.0 out of 5 stars It took less than ten pages to hook me on the series, July 16 2004
When I was in elementary school, you could easily identify the kids interested in science. They were the ones who read the books in the Tom Swift Jr. series. We traded books with each other and passed information about what books were in which library. This one is the first in the series that I read and it hooked me in the first few pages. After I finished it, I went out and scrounged for every Tom Swift Jr. book that I could find, begging my friends to allow me to read their copies.
Tom Swift Jr. is a teenage inventor and in this story, he is in the process of inventing a car that can fly and also serve as a boat. It is made possible by two of his inventions chronicled in previous books in the series, the repelatron and a miniature nuclear reactor. The repelatron is a device that forces matter away from it; hence it can be used for propulsion. Several other inventions described in previous books are also used, so if you read this one first, some of the references will be confusing. Of course, my reaction was to seek out and read all of the previous books.
In this story, Tom and his usual group are off to the country of Kabulistan. The Shah of Kabulistan has invited them over, hoping that they will help the economic development of the country. There are of course an evil group whose goal is to find the lost ruby mine before the Swifts discover it. The episode is quite formulaic, with a mini cliffhanger at the end of most chapters, but youngsters with an interest in science will love it.
What has kept the Tom Swift Jr. series topical is the fact that you learn very little science form the books, the main point is a love of science, technology and adventure. This is not restricted to any single generation, so modern children can enjoy them just as much as the earlier ones have.

Cartoon History of the Universe 2
Cartoon History of the Universe 2
by Larry Gonick
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.80
53 used & new from CDN$ 1.64

5.0 out of 5 stars The bloody history of early China and early Europe, July 16 2004
Even though this is a collection of cartoons and the text in the dialog balloons is generally meant to be frivolous, it is possible to learn a lot of history from the book. Unlike so many history books that concentrate on Western Europe and derivatives, this one deals extensively with India and China. Volume 8 deals with the early history of India and how the great religions that we associate with India arose. From it, you also learn the origins of the great early works of Indian civilization such as Bhagavad Gita.
The origins of the ancient Chinese civilization are covered in volumes 9 and 10. Most of the points deal with the battles for supremacy and feature court intrigue, deception and a lot of killing. We tend to think of massive deaths in war as being a modern invention, but that is a misconception. Well before the year 0, the army of Chin was ambushed and massacred, over 200,000 men were killed in one day.
Chapter 11 begins with the last days of Alexander the Great. It correctly points out that while Alexander was married to a Persian, that union was largely political. The great love of Alexander's life was Hephaestion, his male grand vizier. When Hephaestion died, Alexander grieved over the body for two days. The next sections chronicle the origin and rise of Rome as a great power. Once again, it is largely a tale of murder, intrigue and war. As the power of Rome grew, it was no longer possible to maintain the republican form of government. At first the supreme position was called the consulship, where the holder was powerful, but not yet a dictator. All this changed when Julius Caesar marched off to conquer Gaul and then returned to march on Rome. This began several decades of near constant warfare in the Empire, some of which was civil.
The numbers of people that were killed in these wars are amazing to consider. Some history books estimate that Julius Caesar killed over a million while in Gaul. Descriptions of Western history describe the carnage of World Wars I and II as unprecedented in human history. In fact, the concept of total war with deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands or millions is an old theme of history. The wars that took place between the Europeans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were comparatively limited in consequence.
After a few pages, the discerning reader will understand that the text in the captions is generally designed to impart the history while the balloon dialog is reserved for the humor. I enjoyed this book immensely, learning many things about Chinese history. I also learned some additional details about western history. If there is a theme to the history presented here, it is how many people were killed in acts of the powerful fighting for control. We tend to think of the twentieth century as being the bloodiest on record. That is probably not the case. Given the carnage that occurred in China and the Mediterranean even before the birth of Christ, there might be centuries before the A. D. label that were bloodier. That fact is disturbing, whether learned by text or by cartoon.

The Case of the Willing Parrot
The Case of the Willing Parrot
by David D. Connell
Edition: Hardcover
4 used & new from CDN$ 5.41

5.0 out of 5 stars Math and humor in combination, July 16 2004
In this book, the Mathnet detectives are called to investigate a report of a haunted house. Movie star and comedienne Roscoe (Fatty) Tissue, who recently passed away and left the house to his parrot, Little Louie, owned the house. Fatty's thirteen-year-old neighbor Walter now takes care of Little Louie, who delivers the punch lines to jokes. Lately, Walter has been hearing noises in the upper levels of the house, so he is looking for some help. Fatty was also interested in mathematics, so he left a significant inheritance where the clues to finding it are mathematical in nature. The clues involve the Fibonacci numbers, and the Mathnet team successfully decodes them, finding the inheritance and a recorded message from Fatty.
This book is charming; the jokes are oldies, but still goodies. Most of them will be new to the middle school children that the book is targeted to. A small number of problems are given at the end of the book and solutions are included. It is an excellent book for late elementary or middle school children. It combines humor with the learning of mathematics, and that is a rare and enjoyable combination.

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