Monthly Archives: February 2012

Running out of water


Running out of water: the looming crisis and solutions to conserve our most precious resource. Peter Rogers and Susan Leal (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

Here’s another great book for all you current and former civil engineering geeks out there. We know that water is a finite resource which is essential to life, and the world’s increasing population is using more and more of it, while climate change is altering its distribution. Unlike most books on this topic which either focus on persuading us that there is a problem, or focus on individual conservation efforts (like low-flow toilets), this book takes a large-scale approach. They talk about solutions to water shortages and sewer management issues that encompass entire cities and river basins. It was interesting to hear about marketing strategies being successfully applied to getting taxpayers to fund repairs to aging sewer systems. I didn’t realize that communities in California are already recycling their wastewater into drinking water, cities in Brazil are using “sweat equity” to build low-cost sewer systems, or farmers in Nebraska are using technology to monitor (and change) water usage on crops electronically. It’s not all positive though – they come down pretty hard on Americans’ reliance on bottled water as a waste of both fossil fuels and water, and sound discouraged about the chances of river basins in Africa and Asia that cross national boundaries ever being managed fairly.



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Urbanism in the age of climate change

Urbanism in the age of climate change. Peter Calthorpe (Island Press, 2011).

For a book promoting environmental conservation, it is surprising that there are so many glossy multi-color tables and graphs in this book. The chemicals used to make color dyes are a known source of pollution. Anyway, the thesis of this book is that green technologies will not be enough to keep our global carbon footprint down to an acceptable level in coming years unless we also embrace “urbanism.”  Living in more densely populated places saves a lot of energy, preserves open space, and is also better for our health (because we walk more). Not all of us will have to live in condos in cities – some of us can live in townhouses in close-in neighborhoods served by transit. How we will bring the crime rate down, improve the schools, and provide grocery stores, so people will actually be willing to live in urban areas, is conveniently left as a problem for the reader. Nevertheless Calthorpe does have a valid point about the energy savings.

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On the Grid

On the grid. Scott Huler (Rodale, 2010)

I thought this book was going to explain all about the great new “smart grid” for electric power distribution, but it was actually about our existing infrastructure. However, it did provide a good background for understanding the smart grid. Each chapter explained a different part of the infrastructure that we rely on in everyday life in the United States – water, sewer, electric, trash, roads, electricity, natural gas. It would have been better as a documentary television program than a book, so we could have seen the things he described. Still, I found it interesting and informative.

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Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Steven J. Dubner (William Morrow, 2005).

I had heard of this book, but never gotten around to reading it. When my daughter asked me to get it for her for a school assignment, I sat down and read it in an evening before giving it to her. I think she will appreciate the authors’ logical approach to understanding the economics of incentives in everyday life. Certainly it was more thoughtful (and more interesting) than the usual insistence of economists on blind allegiance to the so-called “laws” of the market. I was fascinated to see that her name appeared at the same ranking on both the lists of “lower income” baby names and “higher income” names, the only one that did. I guess she can go into politics and relate to everyone!

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Getting some of her own

Getting Some of Her Own by Gwynne Forster (Recorded Books, LLC, 2008).

I endured listening to this book through all 9 discs just to make sure the main character came to her senses in the end. She presented her problem to the reader right at the start (young, beautiful, but unable to have children) but for some unfathomable reason refused to explain it to the love of her life until disc 9. The book also featured several other characters who suffered from a stubborn unwillingness to do the obviously right thing, making the whole novel agonizing to listen to. Eventually they get a clue and learn about things like adoption and divorce (and communication). I think I confused Forster with another author whose recorded books I really liked and will have to track down.

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Everything I Need to Know

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons and Dragons by Shelly Mazzanoble (Wizards of the Coast LLC, 2011).

This was one of those jokey self-help books that twenty-something singles like to write (like The Preppy Handbook or Find Your Inner Ugly Betty), with the twist that the author not only plays D&D, but works for the company that publishes the game. This lightweight paperback takes a humorous yet down-to-earth attitude towards both Dungeons and Dragons and single life in Seattle, and even praised librarians for promoting the game. It reminded me of the Shopaholic series a bit (reading so light it practically floats away).

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Filed under Fantasy, Romance

Forgotten affairs of youth

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith (Recorded Books, LLC, 2011).

This latest installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series seemed much meatier than the previous one (“The Charming Quirks of Others”). I wonder if it made a difference that I listened to it, rather than reading the print? When you’re listening, you can’t skip over stuff. The moral conflicts that Isabel faces in this book seem more complex and less easily solved, and perhaps more personal. Now that Charlie is 2 years old, the meaning of family has become an important question in Isabel’s life. The good news is that she does, at long last, get married in the end. Now that she has her happy ending, will there be more books in the series? Only time will tell.

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Filed under Romance, United Kingdom