Tag Archives: The Invention of Air

2009 in Review

This is late but we all need to deal with disappointment in our lives.

Memorable events for 2009:

Favorite books I read in 2009:

Favorite TV Shows I watched in 2009:

Favorite movies I watched in 2009:

  • Cue tumbleweed.  I never watched a single movie in 2009.  I bought a lot of movies but just never watched any of them. 

Favorite food for 2009:

  • I rediscovered my love of Shreddies.

Best Sporting Moments of 2009:

  • Denver starts the season 6-0.

Worst Sporting Moments of 2009:

  • Toronto Blue Jays stunk, Calgary Flames lost in the playoffs again, Saskatchewan Roughriders can’t count to 12 without going over, Denver firing Mike Shanahan and then alienated most of their talented players.

Christmas Gift Guide: Gifts for Really Smart People | 2009 Edition

You need a gift for someone smart, someone who wants to know about everything – what happened, how it works, why it all got started. Fortunately, the globally curious have a lot of hobbies which makes them kind of easy to shop for, even if you don’t always remember to sleep and eat.  Below are some ideas for the smart people in your life.  If you are looking for something not so elitist, check out my other Christmas Gift Guides.

Sangean WR-11 AM/FM Table Top Radio :: CBC Radio and NPR sounds so much more profound coming from a wooden radio.  Speaking from personal experience, there is something about sitting around a radio on a hot summer day, sipping iced tea, while reading a good magazine.

Lomographic Holga Starter Kit :: You could get them a DSLR but they already have a digital camera they like.  You could try and get them something a little different and get them a Lomo camera.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson :: I blogged about it before and this is a great book out the life and work of Joseph Priestley, the Yorkshire dissenting theologian and chemist, who then went on to emigrate to America and advised the creators of the new republic—Thomas Jefferson, most notably—on how best to run their country.

This is an intelligent retelling of a rather well-known story, that of Joseph Priestley, the Yorkshire dissenting theologian and chemist, and then went on to emigrate to America and advised the creators of the new republic—Thomas Jefferson, most notably—on how best to run their country.

The Long Emergency by Howard Kunstler :: Kunstler has a remarkable look at what peak oil will mean for western society.  Don’t take my word for it, check out this interview in The Morning News and this article over at Rolling Stone before you buy a couple of copies of this book, one for the person you are shopping for, one for yourself, and one to lend to your friends.

Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization by Jeff Rubin :: This is another fascinating look at what the future will look like with higher oil prices.  Globalization is powered by cheap oil and without cheap oil, our world, economy, and the way we live is going to go through a massive transition.  While a lot of books about economics can be dry and hard to get through.  Both the Long Emergency and Why Your World are both very accessible, interesting, and very well written.  They will also make for some fascinating discussion over the breakfast table on Boxing Day.

The BLDGBLOG Book by Geoff Manaugh :: What a wonderful book.  It’s not just a book about architecture, it’s a book that reimagines what urban spaces can become.  The book is more than just text, it is full of fantastic diagrams, graphics, draws, and unbelievable photographs.  I read it once for the content and then read it again and just soaked in the photos and graphics – they are that good.

The Lost Massey Lectures: Recovered Classics from Five Great Thinkers by Martin Luther King Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Jane Jacobs, and Paul Goodman.  In case the person you are shopping for has read those, check out, More Lost Massey Lectures: Recovered Classics from Five Great Thinkers

Speaking of great thinkers, if your loved one hasn’t read A Heretics Guide to Eternity by Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor yet, they really need to.  Spencer and Barry received a lot of criticism from some people who were threatened by their ideas but the book offers up an important voice to the conversation about salvation, eternity, and the church.  Plus if the person you are shopping for is really that smart, they can handle new ideas.

While I am a fan of paper, have you thought of giving the gift of ebooks with a Amazon Kindle?  It’s only 10.2 ounces, lighter than a typical paperback.  It downloads books in Under 60 Seconds over the 3G Wireless network.  Despite that, you have no annual contracts, no monthly fees, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots.  It’s battery can run for one week.  You still have to pay per download in Canada but at least we can get it here now.

If you don’t think they want a Kindle, how about Sony’s Digital Touch Reader? By supporting both industry standard formats, ePub and PDF, you can access books at Sony’s eBookstore, check out books from public libraries, access over 500,000 free public domain titles from Google, as well as sharing sites, online aggregators and personal publishers (Internet access is required).

Chess for Three? You heard me right, a three person chess game.  This unique hexagon shaped board is designed for three players putting a new twist on a beloved classic. No new rules; still the same chess you know and love! Set includes board and 3 different colored chess pieces.

Your own personal card cataloging system :: It seems like book thieves are everywhere these days. Even your closest friends will try to keep your rare, out-of-print novels if you don’t keep an eye on them. And no one really wants to pay $60 for another one. Thankfully, there now is a solution to your book-losing woes. The Personal Library Kit provides everything you need for keeping track of books, and an eye on those shameful book thieves.  Of course card cataloging your books is only half the battle, keeping them organized is the second half.  Sure you could use LibraryThing but check out this old school way of keeping your cards organized.

The Complete Collection of National Geographic :: Sure Wikipedia is great but there are things covered in old National Geographics that Wikipedia has never even heard of.  While you are at it, have you considered getting a subscription to magazines like The Walrus, The Atlantic, or the New Yorker?  How about Architectural Digest, New York Times weekend edition, or something else that will feed their mind and inspire great discussions over coffee?

Mark was given a copy of Planet Earth: The Complete Series by the Reimers for Christmas and he loves it.  Not only does Mark love it but so do Wendy and I.  Its a series we will watch again and again and harkens back to the days of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom where the entire family gathered around the television to take in the sites and sounds of animals we came to learn a lot about.

I know the commute would be horrible unless you lived in New York City but a membership at Paragraph would be a lot of fun.

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson

I finally finished The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson last weekend.  I was 20 pages into it when it got left up at the cabin for a couple of weeks.

The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson The book is centered on the life of Joseph Priestley, the 18th-century British natural philosopher (or amateur scientist) who most people know as the discoverer of oxygen.  Back in 1771, he was the first person to realize that plants were creating oxygen. This places Priestley at the centre of the understanding about ecosystems: the air we breathe is not some inevitable fact of life on earth, but something manufactured as part of a wider system by other organisms on the planet.   Priestly wasn’t just a scientist but is a connecter.  He connects and build friendships with the American Founding Fathers in all sorts of ways: he was best friends with Franklin for the last ten years or so that Benjamin Franklin lived in London, and his writings on religion had the single most dramatic impact on Thomas Jefferson’s Christianity.

Priestley’s radicalism ends up provoking the Birmingham Riots of 1791, which ultimately drive him to emigrate to America, where he becomes a central figure in the Alien and Sedition Acts, and the falling out — and ultimate reconciliation — between John Adams and Jefferson.

To give you some sense of his role: in the final correspondence between Adams and Jefferson, starting in 1812, Priestley is mentioned 52 times, while Franklin is mentioned five times, and Washington only three.

I was also fascinated by the idea of leisure time in the book.  The people mentioned in it were able to dedicate time to science, writing, and big ideas because they had the time to do it.  Priestly was a pastor, Franklin was a deputy postmaster, and all of the Club of Honest Whigs had enough free time to experiment, read, and debate into the night at least one week at a local pub.

The results were spectacular.  Not only did Priestly, Franklin and others bring in the inventions and technology that helped fuel the industrial revolution in England, they shared that knowledge with the world.   Priestly was a searcher who shared his discoveries openly and willingly, crossed disciplinary boundaries with impunity and insight, who conceived of the world as a large laboratory.

He had time to do so because of the freedom his church gave him and later he was supported by a wealthy benefactor who supported his experiments.  Later in his life he set up a network of private donors to pay small sums to support his work, an idea that was used by Ben Saunders as he raised money for his Scott Antarctic Expedition.

I think of my pastor/theologian/contemplative/activist friends and wonder what they could come up with if they had 50 hours a week to dedicate to study and learning rather than meetings, marking papers, and fielding complaints and instead dedicate that time to figuring out the problems of our time.

Now in the late 1700s, Priestly’s sermon was his only distraction from his research but I wonder what the impact would be if churches followed Google’s lead and offered a 80/20 solution where 20% of ones time could be spent pursuing other projects approved by the church. Is it going to lead to a scientific revolution?  I doubt it but it could lead to a revolution in film making, a new understanding about urban communities, an engagement with the contemplative life, or maybe the launch of a sports league or team for inner city youth.  Years ago I listened to Dr. Charles Nienkirchen give a talk about clergy and the spiritual journey in which he suggested taking once a month for pastors to take a “spiritual day” and retreat from the office and go find some silence in which to listen.  This is kind of similar but the difference would be the idea to go and create.  Not for your own good but the good of the greater community.

There are a lot of great ideas in the book, too many to explore here.  For those of you who are from south of the border, you will be interested in his influence on the Founding Fathers and there are some great stories on the spread of ideas long before copyright ruled the earth.  It also offers some insight into the early debates about the American experiment and those that were carrying it out.

Johnson paints Priestley as the sort of figure the world needs more than ever: A searcher who shared his discoveries openly and willingly, crossed disciplinary boundaries with impunity and insight, who conceived of the world as a large laboratory.  Priestley, who survived riots, threats of prosecution and other hardships and yet never doubted that "the world was headed naturally toward an increase in liberty and understanding."  I am not sure some days if we are headed towards an increase of liberty and understanding or as Jane Jacobs suggests, a coming dark age but the book articulates the importance in striving towards something better.