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The Notebook.

A bunch of possibly interesting things.

All the Light We Cannot See.

all_the_light

 

Price (as of writing): £6.29

Publisher Synopsis: 

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the invaluable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

In this magnificent, deeply moving novel, the stories of
Marie-Laure and Werner illuminate the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Thoughts:

This is a hauntingly beautiful book, showcasing a juxtaposition between the horrendous nature of war with the kind caring nature of both Marie-Laure and Werner. It also shows how different people do not necessarily act as would be expected in their situations. I initially bought this book without reading any synopsises or reviews, to avoid even the minutest spoiler, and I was blown away by what I found. I am going to read more of Anthony Doerr's books, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

The Shark and the Albatross.

the shark and the albatross jacket design i585

Price (as of writing): £8.99

Publisher Synopsis: 

For twenty years John Aitchison has been travelling the world to film wildlife for the BBC and other broadcasters, taking him to far-away places on every continent. The Shark and the Albatross is the story of these journeys of discovery, of his encounters with animals and occasional enterprising individuals in remote and sometimes dangerous places. His destinations include the far north and the far south, expeditions to film for Frozen Planet and other natural history series, in Svalbard, Alaska, the remote Atlantic island of South Georgia, and the Antarctic. They also encompass wild places in India, China and the United States. In all he finds and describes key moments in the lives of animals, among them polar bears and penguins, seals and whales, sharks and birds, and wolves and lynxes.

He reveals what happens behind the scenes and beyond the camera. He explains the practicalities and challenges of the filming process, and the problems of survival in perilous places. He records touching moments and dramatic incidents, some ending in success, others desperately sad. There are times when a hunted animal triumphs against the odds, and others when, in spite of preparation for every outcome, disaster strikes. And, as the author shows in several incidents that combine nail-biting tension with hair-raising hilarity, disaster can strike for film-makers too.

This is natural history writing at its absolute best, evocative, informative and gripping from first to last.

Thoughts

I read this book following on from reading the Great Soul of Siberia, and it is along a similar vein to it. Both books take you on journeys to places on the globe you may not normally be able to visit, and through extraordinary writing describe in extreme detail what is found there. The Shark and the Albatross is a lot more varied, in that it takes you further (through India, the Arctic, America and so many other places), but it covers these visits in less detail. You also don't get as deep of a story with each of them, but more a snapshot - which is surprisingly apt for a book about nature photography. I enjoyed the book, but I did find that by separating out the different locations into different chapters throughout the book it didn't follow on as easily - I found myself having to return back to a previous chapter to reread it. Regardless, it was a very beautiful book to read and I would recommend it greatly.

Ecosystems.

predator2

Recently I was reading the excellent Serengeti Rules by Sean B. Carroll, and then this happened.

A few months ago, I wrote the population simulator that I wrote about here, but this purely dealt with so called 'bottom up' regulation - the primarly limiting factor of the population was the amount of food, and an artificial carrying capacity. While reading the Serengeti Rules, it got me thinking about 'top down' regulation - ie, big fish eats little fish, so there are fewer little fish to eat seaweed and other fishy things. I felt that the artifical carrying capacity was just that - artificial - so I set about trying to write a new simulator, which attempts to create a very simple (really simple) model of an ecosystem (more a food web).

Essentially, the model has three numbers - the population of a producer, such as a plant, the population of a primary consumer, such as a rabbit, and the secondary consumer, such as a fox. Each 'cycle' each of these changes - depending on which model I use I can make the producer either increase linearly (which allows both consumers to increase rapidly), be constant (in which case I get a realistic carrying capacity), or change based on a wave pattern (which sort of simulates seasons). This causes changes in the producer. Then, using a ratio of the prey to producers and a random number generator, it is decided whether the prey either reproduce (producer -2, prey +1), stay alive (producer -1, prey +0), or die (producer +0, prey -1). A similar procedure is done on the predators (secondary consumer).

The output of this program being run under different situations is shown below.


No Pred, Const food.

Sim 1; No predators are present, and there is a constant amount of food. The prey population (green) increases and then is relatively stable.


 

file2

Sim 2; Same as Sim 1, only predators are introduced. While in Sim 1 there was only bottom up regulation, in this one there is top down regulation too - the presence of the predators keeps the prey population at a lower level.

file4

Sim 3; Limited amount of food, small population of prey. No predators. Prey consume all the food, and starve themselves to death.

interesting

Sim 4; Prey, predators and large amount of initial food. Small growth rate of food. Initial large amount of food supports a large population of prey, but eventually much food is used up so the prey population slumps. This means there is less pressure on the food so it returns to the original levels.

 

Sim 5; Initial high concentration of food, so prey peak. Food is regulated by seasons and so when there is lots of food available, more prey are alive so the predator population increases.

This program can be found on my github. It is probably the least taxing of all simulations I have written so far.

The Great Soul of Siberia.

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Price (as of writing): £8.99

Publisher Synopsis: 

There are five races of tiger on our planet and all but one live in tropical regions: the Siberian Tiger Panthera tigris altaica is the exception. Mysterious and elusive, and with only 350 remaining in the wild, the Siberian tiger remains a complete enigma. One man has set out to change this.

Sooyong Park has spent twenty years tracking and observing these elusive tigers. Each year he spends six months braving sub-zero temperatures, buried in grave-like underground bunkers, fearlessly immersing himself in the lives of Siberian tigers. As he watches the brutal, day-to-day struggle to survive the harsh landscape, threatened by poachers and the disappearance of the pristine habitat, Park becomes emotionally and spiritually attached to these beautiful and deadly predators. No one has ever been this close: as he comes face-to-face with one tiger, Bloody Mary, her fierce determination to protect her cubs nearly results in his own bloody demise.

Poignant, poetic and fiercely compassionate, The Great Soul of Siberia is the incredible story of Park’s unique obsession with these compelling creatures on the very brink of extinction, and his dangerous quest to seek them out to observe and study them. Eloquently told in Park’s distinctive voice, it is a personal account of one of the most extraordinary wildlife studies ever undertaken.

Thoughts

This is a beautiful book. Park's writing made it feel as though I was actually there, and makes it feel all the more real. Despite essentially telling the end of 'the story' at the beginning (which in some books could spoil it, in this one it only makes it feel even more special), it is a gripping read, and without ruining the ending it really provides an insight into the lives of these tigers, and the dangers and troubles they face. Through some extremely detailed prose Park takes you on a journey through the lives of these tigers, gripping you at every corner. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone, but be careful when reading the last few chapters!