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illegitimi non carborundum has commented on (3) products.

Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-Made Material by Robert Courland
Concrete Planet: The Strange and Fascinating Story of the World's Most Common Man-Made Material

illegitimi non carborundum, October 27, 2012

Concrete Planet is a thorough retelling of the history of the modern world's most common building material. Courland tears down our preconceptions and culturally sanctioned beliefs about concrete one after another, most frighteningly discrediting its strength and longevity. As a construction contractor I remember my early experiences with steel reinforced concrete, and finding it odd that we seal rusted rebar inside of a fairly water-permeable substance. Doesn't the steel continue to rust, and what good is it after it does? This book lays out the case that rebar inside of concrete does, in fact, continue to rust. Rebar does not simply disintegrate but expands and cracks the concrete around it until failure occurs at most at about 100 years after the structure was built. The ramifications for this are massive as we speed toward the century mark for most of the initial highway infrastructure in the United States. Concrete bridges and freeway overpasses will never appear the same to you after reading this book. You'll find yourself scanning for cracks in the undersides of your city's freeway inter-changes as you wonder how much longer they have. Why have we collectively accepted concrete as an earthquake and fireproof permanent building material? Concrete Planet describes the potential conspiracy in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco quake in which concrete advocates may have overstated its resilience. There is far more to this tome than just a chicken little scenario come true, Courland enticingly describes some of history's most amazing and daring engineering projects involving concrete, including the first tunnel dug under the Thames River in London. He also describes the highly successful use of concrete's compressive strength without the use of steel in brilliant constructions such as the Pantheon in Rome, the longest lived concrete structure in the world. He follows the story from the discovery of lime in the earliest days within the cradle of civilization, to the perfection of concrete by the ancient Romans. Courland skips over concrete's subsequent disappearance for several centuries and then picks up its cautious and slow re-emergence in 18th century Western Europe. Part documentary, part lesson, and part warning, this book informs and inspires readers to examine the world around them that they may have taken for granted and realize it's not all as solid as they might think.
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Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World by Michael Lewis
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

illegitimi non carborundum, October 9, 2012

I picked up this book on a whim while waiting for a 6 AM flight to Berkeley, and when you've read all the Malcolm Gladwell you can stomach you do the next best thing and read a best seller for which he wrote a sterling recommendation. This quick read did not disappoint. Lewis describes the back story of the global financial meltdown, which as we now know was easy come, not so easy go. We see the world awash with cheap credit determined to follow it's myriad fantasies and indebt itself to the future with a sum not so easily repaid. Lord of flies meets Wallstreet. How and why could all of this happen? Boomerang is a deftly and humorously written account of Lewis' behind the scenes investigations and interviews with major players as well as prophetic doomsayers that called this mess for what it is, avoidable human folly. He takes us to bankrupt Iceland, to the freshly built ghost towns of Ireland and even to a monastery on the sparsely populated rocky shores of Greece where the abbots are rumored to have been the epicenter of that country's financial collapse. He travels to Texas to interview billionaire Kyle Bass, one of the very few who has profited by betting on financial collapse. Then proceeds to hang out with Mr. Bass, who enjoys blowing up beaver dams while driving around his thousands of remote acres in a machine gun equipped army jeep. He interviews German bankers and even a neuroscientist as he searches for clues and answers to weave into a well built and colorful narrative for us. Lewis finally drops us off at the end of the book in Vallejo, CA where the recently bankrupt municipal government struggles to survive, find answers and move on. As the baby boomers retire, becoming the immensely top heavy geriatric demographic of our society, is Vallejo the blueprint for our immanent collapse?
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Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister
Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land

illegitimi non carborundum, October 6, 2012

A fascinating read about a man inspired by old picture books to escape the unsatisfying travails of ordinary urban life by stumbling into an attempt at being a farmer. Written as a forthright and entertaining, sometimes humorous, account of his experiences, Mr. Timmermeister openly shares how he learned pretty much everything he knows and continues to learn about farming the hard way and on his own. I thoroughly enjoyed this book although object to the subtitle. Mr. Timmermeister never learns to live off the land as he struggles to firmly cross over the line between hobby farmer and someone who sustains himself entirely. At the point of the book's completion he was supporting himself throwing farm dinner parties selling his food in as much as he sells nostalgia for a life style slowly draining from collective memory. He also has to supply huge inputs to his farm in the form of lots of imported hay, purchasing piglets rather than raising them himself, and yearly mail ordered hives of bees. Which brings me to the part about this book that made me sad, Mr. Timmermeister fails to fully research why he is having problems with one project or another and instead gives up. He kills entire hives of bees yearly from over harvesting their honey, blames the weather and purchases more bees to kill yearly rather than searching for the reason why or even having an awareness that what he is doing is the problem. Nature seems to be able to support bees in the Northwest quite well. He excuses his evacuation from his first and only attempt at breeding hogs by finding only two unacceptable extremes of raising them; allowing sows to crush their piglets or inhumanely restraining sows to prevent them from doing so. Eventually seeing a proper method and still not returning to raising his own pigs, the problem in this case is doing sufficient research on the back end of a project rather than on the front. Mr. Timmermeister does do an incredible job of portraying the massive responsibility of land stewardship and the epic time commitment that must be afforded to farm projects such as rehabilitating the land, growing fruit trees, and relearning lost arts. This is an incredibly valuable book under the current "back to the farm" movement and an absolute must read for anyone considering doing so, it shares invaluable lessons to be learned as well mistakes to be avoided.
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(4 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)

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