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Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox

This audio book was six hours in duration and took me half a day.  This is a shorter  audio book than most. My average audio book is nine or ten hours in length. It’s nice getting through audio books in less than a day and starting a new one. I feel like I learned a great deal in less than day. Audio books are such a powerful medium!

It was well-organized, detailed and easy to understand. It is the authors’ first published nonfiction book. She is a research scientist with a PhD in Molecular biology and lives in Hawaii. She is also a popular blogger for Discover Magazine.  She’s done some pretty fascinating research. She knows her science and it shows.

Venom is a modified saliva. She goes into exquisite detail about the personal lives of terrestrial and aquatic venomous animals from all over the world plus the mechanism of action behind their specified venom for their prey species. She tells the story of numerous compounds found in venom that have been turned into FDA approved drugs. I wonder how many other compounds there are in venom that can help people.

Another great part about this book was the section on SI (Self-Immunization). Venomous snake keepers inject themselves with venom in order to protect themselves. If a hot herper happens to get bit than their adaptive immune system will remember how to fight off the venom. There is actually an SI blog. I enjoyed reading this blog and watching the videos. I even started following the blog myself. Obviously I do not recommend this.

I enjoyed the ending. I like how she pushes for conservation of wildlife habitats. I happen to agree. She is intelligent but passionate and dedicated. My favorite parts were on the cone snail (conotoxin), blue ring octopus (tetrodotoxin) and the assassin caterpillar (hematoxic).

Some of what I learned:

  1. The first scientist to manufacturer anti-venom serum (anti-venin) was Dr. Albert Calmette of the Pastuer Institute in 1896 using horses to create antibodies which were purified and used to treat cobra envenomation victims in Asia.
  2. Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium practiced self immunization with snake venom and lived to be 101 years old.
  3. The bullet ant has the most painful bite in the world. Not the first time I’ve heard that.
  4. Mongooses are resistant to cobra venom because there is an amino acid replacement in the binding site of their nicotinic cholinergic receptor. This replacement is a positively charged amino acid where there is normally an uncharged one. This prevents the alpha neuro-toxin from binding and causing paralysis.

pic: courtesy

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The Age of Voltaire (The Story of Civilization vol 9) by Will and Ariel Durant

Originally published in 1935 by a husband and wife writing team. This is one of eleven other books in the Story of Civilization series; which covers western history. There are definitely a few other books in the set I’m going to have to read now.

It was actually pretty good. It’s kinda hard to follow at times due to it being so comprehensive and detailed. One thing I’ve come to learn is some of the most important scientific discoveries and inventions took place during the age of Voltaire.

It was about forty-five hours in length (probably the longest book I’ve ever listened to). It took me five days to finish. I am pretty picky about books that are even thirty hours in duration. It has to be a very interesting topic to put that many hours in. You have to be dedicated. If you start a book you have to finish it, right?

A few things I learned:

  1. The word oxygen means “acid generator” in Greek. At the time it was mistakenly thought that all acids included oxygen in their composition. It was named by Antoine Lavoisier. Note: he was guillotined at the height of the French Revolution.
  2. Other notable enlightenment thinkers worth looking into: Frances Bacon, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Carl Linnaeus, Emmanuel Kant and Rene Descartes.
  3. Like most enlightenment thinkers Voltaire was a deist . He had a low opinion of the Abrahamic religions. Tolerance was his philosophy and is quoted as saying “are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God.”
  4. The attitude of the enlightenment was “Sapere aude.” Which is Latin for “dare to know.” Sound familiar?
  5. Some prominent inventions of the era: piano (Bartolomeo Cristofori), marine chronometer (John Harrison), steam engine (James Watt), flush toilet (Alexander Cumming), bi-focal glasses (Ben Franklin), vaccination (Edward Jenner) and the first battery (Alessandro Volta).
  6. John Locke is often credited with proposing the separation of church and state. This  thought was influential on Thomas Jefferson and the bill of rights.

pic: thank you

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Our Vulnerable System

I think Hurricane Harvey should serve to remind us of how vulnerable our economy and supply chain can be. We have to accept the fact that disasters (hurricanes, pandemics, tornadoes, asteroids) are out of our control. We’re at the mercy of nature and we just live in between the big geologic events, such as the eruption of Krakatoa. We were hunter/gatherers at one time. All cycles end up in their original state.  Were just another species to temporarily set up shop.

As far as the earth is concerned change is completely normal. Our planet has gone through so many changes in the last four billion years and it will continue to do so. Nothing in the universe is stationary; nothing is permanent. There are two billion stars in the Milky Way and they all have an effect on each other due to the inverse square law of gravity.

With the rising population of earth, life and sustainability seem to become more unpredictable every year. The lines for gas I saw a couple of days ago were scary. It was even worse today. Traffic was at disastrous levels this weekend; at least anywhere near a gas station that happens to still have gas. If a disaster in one region can impact our logistical support system statewide and cause serious fluctuations in prices throughout the country then it just goes to show how little room for error we truly have. The last time I saw gas lines of this magnitude were in Mosul, Iraq circa 2003 after we invaded and the country’s infrastructure collapsed.

Lets face it with all the other issues in the world right now it’s important to be ready for anything and take care of each other.


see article: panic at the pump

photo: San Antonio Express

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Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

A Brief History of Human Kind

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It was fifteen hours and took two days. The author has a PhD in history. Starts with the big bang and ends in the present day. It makes mankind look good but also very bad. The author brings up a lot of  issues with our system and institutions. But also has viable solutions. It is highly recommended. I think if everyone were to read this book the world would be a better place.

What I learned:

  1. Homo erectus lived for two million years before Homo sapiens killed them all
  2. the cognitive revolution gave rise to language, story telling and religion
  3. LLC’s exist only in our imagination
  4. the greatest emperor of all time is money
  5. code of Hammurabi
  6. the ratio of farm animals to wild animals is at an all time low
  7. not to do business with Spanish kings
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Periodic tales

Just finished Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey Williams. If you like chemistry you will love this book. He gives you background and discovery on most of the elements. A lot of good info on elements atomic number 92 and up especially. Its well done and intriguing.

What did I learn:

1. Smoke alarms use Americium (which is a byproduct of nuclear reactors, 95 protons) to give off alpha particles. These radioactive particles are used to complete an electric circuit. When smoke passes through it breaks the circuit and the alarm is set off. Furthermore smoke alarms are the only consumer product dependent on a man-made element.

2. Uranium (92 protons) is named after the planet Uranus. When they discovered the elements with 93 and 94 protons they kept the planet nomenclature going. Neptunium (93 protons) is named for Neptune while Plutonium (94 protons) was named for Pluto.

3. Marie Curie (see pic) is the first female and part of the first married couple to win a Nobel prize (1903). She was the first woman to earn a PhD from a French university. She is the first person to win two Nobel prizes (physics and chemistry). She helped discover radium and polonium. Her daughter also was a physicist and is a Nobel laureate. Note: they both died of blood diseases related to their work.

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Finished KL: A history of the Nazi concentration camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann. It was over thirty hours. Took me about three days. Its the most modern version of this subject I know of. It was very well researched and detailed. World War two was messed up. Lets not make that mistake again.

What did I learn:

  1. in Nazi Germany the camps were refereed to as KL (from the German Konzentrationslager). 
  2. the Sobibor, Treblinka and Warsaw uprisings.
  3. Sausenhausen British pound forging operations so they could be dropped over the UK to destabilize the pound.

Similar good book: The theory and practice of hell by Eugen Kogen