I've had the pleasure of using the Toronto Public Library quite a bit lately. I've been very impressed. The TPL has a wide selection of books, great online service and provides everything for free. Furthermore, the Toronto Reference Library is first-class as far as providing a broad base of academic reading and a quiet environment to study. For those who have not been there, it's a general reference collection about the size of the Cameron Library collection (although not as specialised). It's definitely in the same class as one would expect from a university library.
I have recently been quite sick, and I've had a lot of time to catch up on my reading. One of my current crusades is to go through one of my big undergrad astronomy / astrophysics books (Carroll and Ostlie's 1400 page magnum opus An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, for the curious) and doing all of the proofs. I don't get a chance to keep my mathematical skills up at work, and I'm still seriously considering a run at grad school sometime in the mid-future.
Perusing the introductory chapters reminded me of an old topic that has long amused me. Even if astrologers are entirely correct, and the position of the stars affects our lives, they are wrong. Why? Because their horoscopes and birth charts have no relation to the actual position of the stars in the sky.
Take, for example, your "sun sign." I was born on Aug 5, so mine is supposed to be Leo. I ran a plot of the sky at the time of my birth in Starry Night (a well known and very accurate all-sky simulator) and I noted something curious. Click on the image at right and have a look for yourself.
The Sun isn't in the constellation Leo at all. It's in Cancer. So I should be a Cancer, shouldn't I? Why on Earth does this happen?
As a few of my readers have pointed out, SixApart (the people who own TypePad and Movable Type, which run my blog) are a bunch of greedy little things. The links to the books at left on my list of recent reading contain a SixApart affiliate ID. Thus, if you buy one of those books (or a book that you found through that link), they'll get a small piece of the action. Sadly, my only way to disable this feature is to set up my own affiliate ID, and I'm not really interested in that.
I've bought from Amazon many times before. They're not the only bookseller in the game, though. I also recommend chapters.ca, as they have a few advantages over Amazon. First of all, I can use my 10% iRewards discount card there, as I can at their retail stores. This often leads to a lower overall price, as they actively compete with Amazon. Secondly, you can search the inventories of their stores. This often lets you get a book sooner, and saves you the shipping cost. Note that their sales online do not necessarily match their sales in-store, so pricing may be different.
My real favourite, though, is the Advanced Book Exchange. This is a network of small bookstores around the world, mostly in used books, that works together to provide an online catalogue and online purchasing. This is great, because you can track down rare, out-of-print, non-mainstream, used, signed and whatever other kind of books you want. I've found them to be quite reliable in the past, and they're always my first stop when looking for a book. One of their best features is the "Wants" list. You can specify a search, and the catalogue will email you when a book matching it is added.
So if you're going to buy a book I read, try ABE first!
"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary." -- James Nicoll