Category Archives: Education

Astronomers in Action

Astronomers in Action – another science book by Anne Rooney – has brought the action much closer to home than what I’ve found in general astronomy books. I kept recognising concepts and words that have surrounded me for the last eight years, and I still found it fascinating. I hope the book will inspire many young people, either to read more books like this one, or to take things a step further and study astronomy.

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

The thing about writers like Anne is that they are good at explaining complicated stuff in a way that makes the reader understand. She is no astronomer, so perhaps that is why I suddenly ‘got’ the difference between Kepler and K2. Both have been mentioned almost daily in the Bookwitch household, but I was never entirely certain exactly what was what. (Sorry!) Or possibly I merely forgot.

This short, picture book-length volume shows us the people who work with astronomy. There are several ‘From the Field:’ pieces, telling us what normal people get up to when they work in this kind of area. There is the chap who turned up in Big Bang Theory, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I gather is famous. And there is, well, Daughter, who has chased exoplanets for some years now.

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

And others. Let’s just say I felt right at home with these people, their computers and their telescopes. I’d like to think that this good feeling will reach many readers. It’d be good for budding scientists, curious to discover more. They, too, might find an unknown planet rattling around in space one day. (The temporary working name for the ‘Bookwitch planet’ was Helen’s World. It has now been given a boring long-digit name instead. Now that it’s real.)

Anne Rooney, Astronomers in Action

You will know why I wanted to read Astronomers in Action, but I was surprised by quite how much fun it turned out to be. Short enough to be an easy read, and interesting enough to capture your attention.

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The nines, ten years later

By the third evening I wanted to be home, alone. But instead I sat down on the suitcase-unpacking surface in the hotel room and stared into space. It sort of worked.

Ten years on from this event, we were back in Oxford. And isn’t it amazing how similar we all are? OK, the people from Bangalore have bougainvillea in their garden. I do not, but wish I did. And it sounds like the Indian ID [card] system is far superior to the Swedish one.

It was also very English – and in this instance I don’t mean British – with college gardens, afternoon tea and chats about Roedean. The trees blossomed by the side of the streets and it was all I could do to not move to Oxford there and then.

Because it was ten years since the last celebration, our hosts – yet again – offered us a Ceilidh, although it was more English dancing than Scottish, and everyone made fools of themselves, except for me and Aunt Scarborough (because we sat it out). Only one guest needed to join in via Skype, from the top of some volcano, the other side of the world.

The 2019 Ceilidh

It was, as many of you will know, unseasonably warm. This was due mostly to the fact that I had brought my padded jacket, the same one I’ve worn all winter. I know that such a hot Easter is a bad sign, but it was actually quite nice, except for those who turned over-pink in the process.

But oh, the luxury of sitting outside like that, and the balmy evenings!

The day before, the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter accompanied me to, lightly, grill Linda Sargent and Mr ‘Sargent’ over Easter Sunday lunch. Well, roof terrace type of places are likely to do that. We had such a good time and sat for so long, that we had to be asked to leave as they were closing. But not before we had moved tables to achieve more shade.

Also discovered a place that serves enormous Kransekager, so I will just have to return. Or move to Oxford.

If all this sounds nice, let me tell you how nice it is to be home. Alone.

Mapping the Universe

You like art, don’t you? And you like space too? Then you’ll like this book by Anne Rooney.

Yes, it’s Anne again. She can do books on so many subjects, and subjects in so many ways. This is astronomy again, looking at countless old images – art – showing us space.

Anne Rooney, Mapping the Universe

You could easily just look at these pictures, treating them like so much art. You probably already have, in many cases.

In Mapping the Universe Anne tells us a bit about the old men of science. You know, old Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler. Yes, I’m afraid it is mainly men.

This fairly large book is full of old space art. It’s the kind of thing you can look at again and again. Cosmos for the coffee table.

Astronomy

This is the book I’d have wanted as my course book in Astronomy at school. That is, if I’d been able to take Astronomy, which I wasn’t. In my day this was the subject of the last chapter of the Physics book, and we never got to it.

Anne Rooney, Astronomy

I don’t actually know who the book is aimed at, except for the 14-year-old witch. How The World Works – Astronomy, From plotting the stars to pulsars and black holes, by Anne Rooney, is an excellent book. It seems to do what that front page description suggests, and according to the Resident IT Consultant it could well cover 80% of the GCSE Astronomy course.

That’s presumably why I am itching to read the book with a view to learning all of it, and then maybe sitting the exam.

It’s mostly words, so we get descriptions of everything astronomical, from historical backgrounds to what we know now. There is [mostly] none of those scary equations or difficult diagrams and things that would have turned the young witch off. Well, not off so much, as just making it incomprehensible.

Beautifully illustrated, this is simply a very attractive book. In fact, it’s quite goldilocks-ey in that it’s neither too much, nor too little. I like authors who can introduce a subject for those of us who’ll never be specialists, and make it seem quite normal.

Towards the very end of its 200 pages there is a ‘recipe’ for how to find exoplanets. I discovered I sort of already knew most of that.

While this strikes me as being most suitable for the secondary school student, I imagine that it can be more than readable for the really keen, and much younger, space nerd. If they’re interested, try it early, and before you know it you could have a little astrophysicist on your hands.

Space on Earth

All right, I admit it! Even though I am very keen on space and astronomy and all that, I have entertained thoughts like maybe it’s a waste of money to send men to the Moon. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the Apollo programme, and I have a certain fondness for astrophysics. A witch can still be frugal and ask if it makes sense to spend quite so much money on this kind of science.

It seems it does. And I’m so glad to know why.

It seems the space industry doesn’t use up as much money as we believe. Also that the money spent on stuff to do with space returns to us here on Earth in the shape of lots of very important inventions and discoveries.

Sheila Kanani and Del Thorpe, Space on Earth

Sheila Kanani has written this short book called Space on Earth, and it wasn’t until I read it that I realised why it’s called that. Science for space has turned out to be very useful for normal life on Earth, too. Just think, we wouldn’t be able to take selfies without an invention originally intended for space.

The same goes for satnav and cordless drills. Obviously. Our speakers are a lot smaller nowadays, thanks to space. And let’s not forget solar panels. They are from space too.

Space blankets for premature babies, and baby foods (for that long journey to Mars), cochlear implants and cancer detection, all come from space technology. And for more lighthearted science, we have sunglasses and the right clothes for skiing. Swimsuits for swimming faster, and cycle helmets.

This is fascinating stuff, and it’s such a relief to know that space science hasn’t been just for the nerds among us. For each chapter Sheila also introduces the reader to the scientists who worked long and hard at finding the best solution to a problem. And I do like the illustrations by Del Thorpe. I want to believe that reading a book like this will tempt many more children to go into science, and especially girls. Sheila herself is an excellent role model. In fact, I’d like to think of her as a mentor.

Does it make you proud?

In my early teens I could manage quite passable volley ball serves. This may surprise you. As it still does me.

I was bad at PE, at most sport, and had very poor ball game skills. But I was able to give that volley ball quite a whack and send it where it was useful. I couldn’t then play the game. At all. But if they were awake, my team mates should be able to make some sensible volley ball moves from those serves.

It was the usual set-up, so when the teams were picked, I was chosen last. It was fine. I knew that was going to happen. But for some reason, I always ended up in the the less pleasant team. I remember this because those serves were quite good. But no one was pleased, nor did they ever say ‘well done.’

No, that task befell the opposing team. After enough powerful serves from me, which were not in their best interests, they called out ‘well done!’ Meaning it the nice way, not sarcastically, or anything. And after all these years, when I think of these girls, it’s the way they behaved in PE that comes back to me.

Although I am sure that my team mates grew up to be kind and pleasant people. Too.

The reason for this ancient sports report is that history repeats itself. Some people who should have shown pride over and been pleased about something, at least to the degree that they could have uttered some polite, if not heartfelt, praise for someone being successful at something. But they didn’t.

The people who showed pleasure were almost perfect strangers at the bus stop. They positively beamed with happiness on hearing the good news.

It’s not my story to tell, which is why I’m being cryptic. But it’s more of a disgrace than my volley ball team forgetting their manners. Or their kindness.

The 2019 Yay! YA+

It was time for another instalment of Kirkland Ciccone’s vendetta against the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday.

Yay! YA+

Only joking. (But if you at first don’t get invited, start your own book festival.) This was the last time at the old Cumbernauld theatre, with great plans for what it’ll be like in the new one. Bistro. With chips. Or so I gather.

After introducing all his authors, Alex Nye, L J MacWhirter, Moira McPartlin, Philip Caveney/Danny Weston, Paul Murdoch and Ross Sayers, Kirkie sent the others off to their respective bars and dressing rooms, while he and Alex stayed in the main theatre for their longer performances.

Kirkland Ciccone at Yay! YA+

Considering that many of the school children who came, are less used to reading and book festivals, it was good to hear Kirkie talk about his own humble background. We got the lot; the exploding council house, his mother’s ‘apple juice’ and his older brother, Scotland’s worst armed robber. Yes, he mentioned the lamp post incident, Kev. And going to collect the benefits Kirkie discovered the library in Cumbernauld and it changed his life, starting with Meg&Mog.

The only reason Roald Dahl didn’t adopt him, despite his repeated entreaties, was that Dahl was already dead. After Dahl and Matilda we quickly covered Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Point Horror, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Robert Cormier, Harry Potter and Twilight and Stephen King. All these were somehow responsible for Kirkland’s own books that have since been released into the wild.

Alex Nye’s turn next, where she took us back to the morning of the roof of Cumbernauld Castle falling down and how Mary Queen of Scots helped tidy up afterwards. Then we were in the snow on Sheriffmuir, in the ghostly tales of Chill and Shiver, before moving on to Glen Coe and Darker Ends.

Alex Nye at Yay! YA+

She bemoaned the fact that not enough Scottish history is taught in Scottish schools, and that it’s more British history. Mentioning the new film about Mary she said it was good, but featured a fake meeting between Mary and Elizabeth I and some laundry. This year Alex has two new books out, one about Mary Shelley and another about children from Syria.

When Kirkie turned up again to tell me that lunch was ready, I ordered him to assist Alex in coming to an end, so that the entire lunch break wasn’t taken up with questions from the audience.

Moira McPartlin and Alex Nye at Yay! YA+

Over lunch I was struck by the fact that out of the eight of us sitting round the table, three had a past in Stockport. Bit of a coincidence. Four if Danny Weston counts as a person… We ate fruit, and discussed the latest phenomenon of how to eat a pineapple. And when the children came with books to sign, the authors were surprisingly badly equipped with pens!

Alex Nye and LJ McWhirter at Yay! YA+

Photos and selfies were taken and books got bought, before everyone was herded back to their bars and dressing rooms for the afternoon. Having sworn never to return to the nether regions of the theatre, I’m afraid I missed Paul Murdoch and Ross Sayers, which was a double shame as they were the ones new to me.

L J McWhirter at Yay! YA+

I began in the bar where L J MacWhirter had music and candles and string lights to help her talk about her book featuring dreams back in the 1500s. She talked about the characters in the novel that took her 15 years to write. L J read to us, until the bell went and it was time to up and change to another author in another bar.

I went to hear Moira in ‘the Fireplace’ where she had bluetacked photos of her inspirations for her characters; Nicole Kidman and Sheila Hancock among them. Moira had purple badges with Celtic knots to hand out, and she told us how she got started writing, being bored when travelling on business. Then she was a runner up in a story competition, where Gillian Philip was a judge, and she told her this was material for a full novel. So she wrote a book.

Moira McPartlin at Yay! YA+

Moira read a piece from the first book in her trilogy, and it sounded pretty good, I have to say. With time for just one question, it was lucky it was an excellent one, about technology in her future. Good children, who paid attention.

Moving to the next bar where Philip/Danny was, I stayed for two talks, seeing as he alternated between his two personalities, and I didn’t want to miss one of them. Danny was born out of necessity, when Philip wanted to go darker in his writing, and the publisher wished to avoid upsetting his fans. And is there anything scarier than a ventriloquist’s dummy? Hence Mr Sparks, which he read in a variety of accents.

Danny Weston at Yay! YA+

By the time Danny became Philip again, he complained his voice was going, but ‘I don’t know where.’ He read from The Slithers, and it was no less disgusting than when I read the book. He reckons that writing fiction is ‘one time in your life you have autonomy.’ There were good questions, and Philip also had a great technique for dealing with the not so good ones, not to mention a way to force unwilling children to come up with questions. This was clearly not his first time out.

Yay! YA+ bookshop

At this point I discovered the bookshop was closed, which was a slight disappointment. I went back into the main theatre and listened to the end of Alex’s talk again, before all the authors congregated down ‘in the pit’ to answer the odd question – very odd, in fact – from Kirkie and the children. Someone wanted to know why they were all so ‘dark.’ It seems it’s what makes writing interesting, so I suspect the time for happily ever after is long gone.

Alex Nye, Ross Sayers, Philip Caveney, L J McWhirter, Paul Murdoch, Moira McPartlin and Kirkland Ciccone at Yay! YA+

The seven/eight signed books and exercise books and bits of paper, and were photographed with ever bolder fans. I saw at least one boy clutching three books, and it gladdened my heart. I will now imagine him sitting at home reading.

Yay! YA+

Carrot topping was discussed at least twice, and I for one am glad Alex still has all her fingers. And then L J went and mentioned Macbeth. In a theatre.

To be on the safe side, Moira drove L J and Philip/Danny to their train and then she gave me a lift home. Let’s hope for the best.