Saturday, February 27, 2010

"The Surgeon" Review

  • Title:  "The Surgeon"
  • Author:  Tess Gerritsen
  • Finished:  April 5, 2009
  • Synopsis:  As with the previous reviews of Gerritsen books, the synopsis is probably best handled by linking to Gerritsen's webpage or the Amazon page for the book.
  • Impression of the book:  This was the kick-off novel for the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles series. The story provides a great start and some really good character development. I missed some of it by reading the books out of order and reading this book clarified some of the issues that both of them are dealing in later novels. After reading this one, I understood completely why Gerritsen was asked to continue writing about the characters that she introduced in "The Surgeon."
  • Read Again Scale:  5
    • Like the previous two Gerritsen novels, a definite maybe on the re-read scale.  It depends on what else is going on in the house.
  • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  10
    • Since I am reviewing a 3rd book by this author, you have a pretty good idea that I will read her work again.
For me, the tough part of recommending Gerritsen's books is the gory or brutal nature of the storylines. Rizzoli is a homicide detective and Isles is a medical examiner, so you might have some idea from shows like CSI that you are going to encounter the gruesome or macabre. Somehow, reading stories like this can be more disturbing because it requires building your own mental image of what the characters are experiencing. I liked "The Surgeon" a great deal, but I caution that the books in this series may cause some to have trouble sleeping after reading them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"The Last Templar" Review

  • Title:  "The Last Templar"
  • Author:  Raymond Khoury
  • Finished:  April 3, 2009
  • Synopsis:  Raymond Khoury's website has a pretty good description of the story.  The description treats the book fairly even though it is a promo site for Khoury and his books.
  • Impression of the book:  This book grabbed me from the beginning when four horsemen dressed as Knights Templar raid a Metropolitan Museum opening for a Roman Catholic artifact.  The first chapter made want to read further, but it kind of made me wonder if I wasn't reading a knock-off of "The DaVinci Code." I haven't read that book so I have no way of actually judging that impression.  The FBI anti-terrorism agent (Sean Reilly) is a solid, believable character, but Tess Chaykin leaves a lot to be desired.  In general, I was entertained.  This novel is another that attempts to challenge the foundations of Christianity in a very superficial way and doesn't succeed in my estimation.  I think that Khoury believes that the Templar conspiracy put forth in the book was more compelling than I found it.
  • Read Again Scale:  3 (On the minus side of maybe)
    • There would have to be a real dearth of reading material for me to go through this one again.
  • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  5 (Definite maybe)
    • I might pick up another Khoury novel.  This one was good enough to make me think about it.
You may remember that I said that my leaving reading material behind happens more often  than you would think.  Well, "The Last Templar" was another of those airport reading material purchases.  I have since learned that there is not a line on my Expense Report for "Reading Material," so I am becoming more diligent about securing my books before speeding away from the house.  This book was worth the $6.00 or so that I paid for it, especially if I can get my brother to sell it for me on eBay.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Why Not Nuclear?

    Several times (more than 3) in the last couple of months I have been asked either "why don't we have more nuclear power?" or "should we have more nuclear because the waste issue has not been solved?" or both.  While the exact phrasing of the questions is slightly different in each of the cases, I can't help but think that the entire nuclear power industry in the U.S. has failed to communicate on a host of issues.  Several years back, Cable and I both decided that the American Nuclear Society (ANS) was a failure as an organization because of this communication problem and stopped paying dues.  When it became clear that ANS didn't miss our $150/year, we had to figure out a way to change things from within the system.

    I think the following issues are the ones that ANS has failed to provide leadership in communicating to the general public.  I must admit that it does a good job communicating to engineers and physicists (and that is probably the problem).

    • Nuclear reactor safety
    • Cost of new nuclear reactors
    • Nuclear waste
    Nuclear Reactor Safety
    I believe the first thing that most members of the general public think about when they hear the word nuclear is either "Three Mile Island (TMI)" or "Chernobyl."  The two accidents, while wildly different in actual impact, are viewed through a prism that reflects only fear.  While ANS can't do much about the Chernobyl (other than to point out the design flaws of the RMBK-1000 -- such as a positive reactivity void coefficient), ANS needs to emphasize that the design would NEVER have been licensed to operate in the U.S. On the other hand, TMI was the worst case scenario for a reactor licensed to operate in the U.S.  The result of the accident was billions of dollars in damage to both the reactor and the nuclear industry, but there were no fatalities and minimal radiation exposure to the general public.

    The U.S. nuclear industry learned a ton from TMI including how to operate plants better and to share information among "competitors" in the nuclear business.  Some of this was led by Dr. Ron Knief (a co-worker of mine in Tech Area V at Sandia National Laboratories) who was part of the team that analyzed the events leading up to and following the reactor accident. Some of the experiments that attempted to better understand what happens when nuclear fuel melts and fission products are released were performed 300 yards from where I sit when I am in Albuquerque (in the same reactor that I perform experiments).  We KNOW how safe our current reactors are, but some of the "communicators" have decided to sell the next generation of reactors on improved safety or "inherent" safety.  This concept makes it sound like the 100+ reactors (generating ~20% of our electricity) are unsafe.

    The entire nuclear industry (led by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations [INPO]) has bought into the concept of continual improvement. I think that this is a good thing because we have shown steady and amazing improvement in occupational radiation exposure, refueling outage times, and overall operating efficiency in the last 25 years. This record of improvement should be put forward as justification for the opportunity to a have "Nuclear Renaissance." We shouldn't say, "We didn't do so well when we designed them the first or second time, but THIS time, we will do better." While it is true that the new generation (GEN3+ for you nukes out there) of reactors does have more inherent and designed safety features, those features are not the driving concepts behind the designs.

    Cost of New Nuclear Reactors
    Estimates of the cost to build a new reactor range from $5-10 BILLION and a time frame of about 7 years. WHY?  Well, I think that the industry has decided that the economy of scale works for it when it build large (1000+ MWe) plants rather than smaller units. I am uncertain whether the economics have shown that the cost curve to build the larger plants provides a cost break for the "extra" MW that you are designing into the process.  While the baseload plant idea probably is justified by each individual utility that makes this decision, the lack of a national energy policy has left orphaned the idea that smaller, modular (factory-built rather than custom built) plants could be made economical.

    One of my colleagues has envisioned a reactor concept that is known as the Multi-Module Reactor (MMR) that significantly reduces the capital cost for new reactor power. He has met significant resistance from the nuclear power proponents at the DOE and SNL because it doesn't meet the general consensus idea of what nuclear should be.  It doesn't need a "containment" building or other significant capital investment.  His idea is to use the "swimming pool" concept of the TRIGA reactor design (natural convection cooling and significant negative reactivity temperature coefficient) to meet the safety emphasis and to reduce the capital cost.  Basically, he changes the fuel and reactor design enough to produce electrical power from these well-known and studied reactors that were designed for teaching and training.

    In order to have a nuclear renaissance, new nuclear plants must compete economically instead of being an option to stave off global warming or climate change. Nuclear engineers need to be honest brokers in communicating the cost/benefit equation of nuclear power and environmental concerns. If we resort to climate change as the justification for increasing the proportion of nuclear electricity, then that can ONLY lead to mistrust of nukes as the whole house of cards surrounding the theory of anthropogenic global warming is in the process of collapse.

    Nuclear Wastes
    The main objection that I often hear is that we shouldn't build more reactors until we have solved the nuclear waste disposal issue. To most of my nuclear engineering colleagues, this is simply a political question.  In the U.S., we have defaulted to a once-through fuel.  This is very different from the approach of France, Russia, England, Japan, etc. where they have decided to re-process or recycle their reactor fuel. No utility or consortium of utilities has stepped forward to recycle the fuel in the U.S. since Jimmy Carter made the foolish executive order to prohibit the process in the U.S.  Even though Ronald Reagan rescinded the EO on fuel reprocessing, the risk to capital is so great in the political arena that no one has come forward to pay for such a recycling facility.

    A once-through fuel cycle requires a large repository to store spent fuel for time spans longer than recorded history.  Recycling removes the long-lived radioactive material and burns it in reactors making the needed storage time on the order of hundreds of years (rather than hundreds of thousands).  In addition, some of the isotopes in the spent fuel are valuable, but we can't get to them because of the lack of reprocessing capability.

    I also find the reasoning that we should not reprocess so we can prevent a "plutonium economy" very underwhelming. The very act of saying no when everyone else is saying yes removes us from the decision/policy making processes in a plutonium economy that DOES exist. From the other nuclear nations point of view, we have no economic stake in the outcome, so they feel justified in ignoring our input.

    As a nuclear engineer, I feel a certain sadness that we have not done a better job in communicating our industry.  ANS and other nuclear advocacy groups need to focus on both the science and the communication of the science.  Enlisting non-geeks to let us know how to better talk with non-geeks is probably a good idea.  I am not suggesting that PR provides the answer to our problems, but I do feel like it would crack the door open on at least 2 of the issues I discussed.  The economics of nuclear power have to be put in realistic terms, and perhaps some non-conventional thinking such as the MMR could turn the economics quickly in our favor.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    "The Apprentice" Review

    • Title:  "The Apprentice"
    • Author:  Tess Gerritsen
    • Finished: March 13, 2009
    • Synopsis:  The synopsis is probably best handled by linking to Gerritsen's webpage or the Amazon page for the book.
    • Impression of the book: As I started doing these reviews, I realized that I read the Jane Rizzolli and Maura Isles series in a scrambled order. Gerritsen wrote them in this order: (1) The Surgeon, (2) The Apprentice, (3) The Sinner, (4) Body Double, and so on. In looking at my spreadsheet, I read them in this order: (4), (2), (1), and (3).  The really odd thing is that, because the stories are so self-contained, you never feel lost or missing key details. As I said in the "Body Double" review, that book is my favorite of the four that I have read so far.  However, I was ready to read more cases involving Isles and Rizzolli after I finished this one.
    • Read Again Scale:  5
      • A definite maybe on the re-read scale.  It depends on what else is going on in the house.
    • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  10
      • Since I am reviewing a 2nd book by this author, you have a pretty good idea that I will read her work again.
    This is another quick read. I am pretty sure that Gerritsen writes them that way. I enjoy these popular fiction novels for what they are:  a short escape that doesn't demand that I ponder deep issues.  If you like shows like CSI or Law & Order, you will probably enjoy these books by Gerritsen.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010

    Life's Not Fair

    Some of you know that an argument with me that gets anywhere close to the phrase, "Well, that's not fair!" is unlikely to sway me very much.  That's mainly because anytime I couldn't make my point to Mom without resorting to this saying, the debate was over.  Amanda, Adam, and Lee can back me up on this one, Mom is famous for the phrase, "Life's not fair." When she made it to this point, what else was there to talk about? We were better off heading to our room to get the sulking done.

    I always knew that Mom was really smart, but I didn't know that her pithy little observation on life would be the foundation of a 4-part series on fairness by one of the smartest people on the planet, Thomas Sowell (I don't know if Dr. Sowell asked her for input, but she could have written these columns).  Here are the links to his columns:

    It is an outstanding read.  One of the more intriguing points that Sowell writes about is the fact that the barbarians living east of the mountain ranges in Europe were spared invasion/conquer by the Romans because the Romans did not want to climb mountains do it.  The conquered barbarians probably didn't think that was fair, but the descendants of these groups have taken widely divergent paths mostly due to the "unfair" geography in Europe. The first column also discusses whether standardized testing creates differences or highlights differences that already exists.

    In keeping with the fairness theme, Andrew Klavan has observed recently, "Free people can treat each other justly, but they can't make life fair. To get rid of the unfairness among individuals, you have to exercise power over them. The more fairness you want, the more power you need. Thus, all dreams of fairness become dreams of tyranny in the end." In other words, when justice and fairness are confused and conflated, the result is something that does not resemble either concept.

    So, when I hear myself telling Sophie, "Life's not fair," I am affirming one of the undeniable truths of life. I am also saying, "Thanks, Mom!"  Hopefully, one of these days Sophie will pass on this wisdom with the same understanding that I now have.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    "Dark Hollow" Review

    • Title:  "Dark Hollow"
    • Author:  John Connolly
    • Finished:  February 27, 2009 
    • Synopsis:  The John Connolly website has an excellent synopsis of the book
    • Impression of the book:  The novel one is the second in a series of detective stories, and I felt like I missed something by not starting with first novel in the series ("Every Dead Thing").  Charlie Parker (main character) comes with a lot of baggage that is only partially explained during the narrative.  Of course, there was a whole novel that comes before this one that probably details the baggage extremely well.  Even with the confusion about Parker's problems (definitely my fault), the plot engages you so that you quickly become interested in trying to figure out how Parker is going to bring in a killer and not get killed at the same time.  I liked this book a great deal.
    • Read Again Scale:  6 
      • I might read this one again after I read "Every Dead Thing" (and possibly the other novels in the Charlie Parker detective series).
    • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  10
      • Now that this review is written, I remember how much I liked Connolly's writing style. I will look for his works in the Fayetteville Public Library (FPL).
    I picked this book up walking through the airport because I had left my original reading on the bench at home (this happens more often than you might guess). I had seen Connolly's name on several books over the years, so I gave it a try. This is the type of reading that is excellent for travel (airplane and hotel reading).  I think I will bump Connolly to the top of the list of books to find the next time I am in the FPL.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    "The X-Files: Ground Zero" Review

    • Title:  "The X-Files:  Ground Zero"
    • Author:  Kevin J. Anderson
    • Finished:  February 1, 2010
    • Synopsis:  Here is a link to a good synopsis provided by the paperback publisher, Harper Collins.
    • Impression of the book:  This book is what you would expect from a classic X-File. The "Bright Anvil" project (a nuclear weapon without signature radiation) is being pursued by nuclear scientists at a mythical sister laboratory to Sandia National Laboratories (my employer) and Los Alamos National Laboratory.  The death of the lead scientist on the project brings Mulder and Scully across the country to investigate.  I have stayed or been to several locations described in the book (e.g., White Sands Missile Range, the Trinity site, and Pleasanton, CA), so the book was fun from that prospective.  As a fan of the X-Files, I enjoyed the book and think that it would have made an excellent episode for the show.  An X-File fan that doesn't mind stories off the "arch" will really enjoy this quick read.
    • Read Again Scale: 4
      • I probably wouldn't read this book again, but I would have definitely watched it several times had it been made into an episode.
    • Read Another Book by the Same Author: 10
      • I have read several books (more than 10) by Kevin J. Anderson.  I can think of only one example of not feeling rewarded for reading his book.
    I was a "set the VCR" follower of The X-Files until about season 7 or 8 when Scully typed this message, "I yearn for you, Mulder."  That pretty much ended my avid fan status for the show.  This book avoided the messy stuff that ruined my interest in the show and was fun to read.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    "Daemon" Review

    • Title:  "Daemon"
    • Author: Daniel Suarez
    • Finished:  February 7, 2010
    • Synopsis:  The obituary of a billionaire online computer game designer (Matthew Sobol) triggers a series of events (launched by daemons) that lead to the deaths of a computer programmer and a network system administrator.  The subsequent news stories about their deaths and (news stories about) law enforcement actions trigger other daemons.  The FBI, NSA, and many other alphabet soup government agencies are drawn into the hunt to destroy the "Daemon" that was released by the death of Sobol.  The "Daemon" uses cold, unfeeling logic in an effort to bring about the next "age of reason" organized on principals that Sobol believed. 
    • Impression of the book:  The "Daemon" contained elements of Clancy and Crichton with possibly a little Ludlum thrown in for fun.  I was thoroughly entertained by the book. The descriptions of the technical and scientific aspects of the linked "daemons" and their keyword scanning of news sites were both understandable and complete in the explanation of how they work.  This aspect of the novel does not seem outside the realm of possibility. The references to the massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) and their sub-cultures are realistic and frightening at the same time.  The book may cause network system administrators nightmares because the type of small program running in the background (daemon) described would be almost impossible to find until it had already performed its preset task. 
    • Read Again Scale: 9
      • The only reason the book doesn't get a 10 is because I checked it out from the library.  If it was in my personal library, it would make it into my "5 year rotation".
    • Read Another Book by the Same Author: 10
      • This was Suarez's first novel.  I am hoping that he has more in the hopper.
    I stumbled onto this book while looking at one of the "New Fiction" displays in the lobby of the Fayetteville Public Library. Unlike some of my other stabs in the dark from these displays, it turned out to be worth my time to read.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    "Body Double" Review

    • Title:  "Body Double"
    • Author:  Tess Gerritsen
    • Finished:  February 22, 2009
    • Synopsis:  The synopsis is probably best handled by linking to the Gerritsen's webpage or the Amazon page for the book.
    • Impression of the book:  I really liked this book, but I am a fan of Gerritsen's other works that follow Dr. Isles and Detective Rizzolli (e.g., "The Surgeon" and "The Sinner").  I wouldn't read the books in this series if you are faint of heart because the narrative and story lines are kind of grizzly. Of the 3 books in this series that I have read, this one is probably my favorite.  "Body Double" has a great twist and kept me interested in the story through the final page.
    • Read Again Scale:  7
      • I would probably read this book again in a couple of years if I didn't have a chance to drop by the library.  Most of these "thrillers" don't entice me to re-read.  This one is an exception.
    • Read Another Book by the Same Author:  7
      • I don't typically go to the "G" section of the Fayetteville Public Library to see if they have new books by Gerritsen, but I will pick one up if it catches my eye strolling through the library.
    In hardback, this novel is about 350 pages (pretty standard length for most popular fiction these days).  It doesn't take me long (a couple of days to a week) to plow through novels of this length.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010

    New Feature: Book Reviews

    If you have read the "101 Things About Me," you know that (1) there are not 101 things about me, and (2) I love to read. So, I have decided to add a list of the books I complete (see "What Has Russ Been Reading?" in the sidebar).  I will also review books as I finish them along with going back a while to review books I have finished in the past year.

    If you follow the list, you will quickly see that I don't stay in one genre very long. Currently on the list, you will see fiction, Christian apologetics, historical fiction, popular science, spy novels, science fiction, classic literature, and science fiction. I also read fantasy and science history. Just about the only type of books that I don't read are romance novels. I should probably add that one of my dream jobs (along with what I do now and professional baseball) would be to review books for a publisher or newspaper. [Actually, now that I think about it, I am adding that to my list of things about me.]

    In any case, here is what you will find in my book reviews:

    • Title
    • Author
    • Date I Finished Reading
    • Short Summary
    • Impression of the book
    • Read Again Scale:  
      • 0 --> Not without a gun to my head
      • :
      • 5 --> Maybe
      • :
      • 10 --> I plan to read again OR this is a re-read.
    • Read Another Book by the Same Author?
      • 0 --> Not without a gun to my head
      • :
      • 5 --> Maybe
      • :
      • 10 --> I will look for his/her books.
    I either really miss doing book reports, or I am looking for something that will keep me posting on a regular basis. Maybe, it's a little of both. If you have a book that you have been trying to decide if it is worth reading, pass the title along, and I will give it a shot.

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