Author: James Gleick
Title: The Information
Publication Info: New York : Books on Tape, 2011
The Information is a sweeping historical / scientific / technological account of information across time and disciplines. From talking drums, language, DNA, telegraphs, and bytes to Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and John Archibald Wheeler. It’s all very fascinating although it gets more complex for a lay reader (that is, me) to understand as it goes along.
Author: Marcelo Gleiser
Title: A Tear at the Edge of Creation
Publication Info: New York, NY : Free Press, 2010.
Gleiser’s work is an attempt to offer an alternate route to the scientific notions of Grand Unifying Theories and symmetry in nature with the idea that the truth may be found in an asymmetric universe. Gleiser sums up the history of cosmology (bringing me up to date since it’s been 20 years since my college course in cosmology) in easy-to-understand language. It’s a good accessible primer in physics (with some chemistry and biology as well) with an interesting central thesis on the manner in which humans will continue to learn about the universe.
“The loss of elegance is the gain of generality. Our cosmos does not need perfection to exist.”
“If we can never know all there is to know, we will always have an element of uncertainty about the natural world. There is no final unification to be attained, only better models to describe the physical reality we can measure. Even as we improve our tools and increase our knowledge, we also expand the base of our ignorance: the farther we can see the more there is to see. As a consequence, it is impossible to contemplate a point in history when we will know all there is to know.”
Recommended books: The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra, Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman, and 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks
A few photos from a visit to Boston’s Museum of Science with my son this weekend.
- Escalator innards.
There’s no app for that.
World’s largest collection of barf bags (many of which are politically-themed)
The ever so elusive Plastic Pink Lawn Flamingo (Pseudamingoflay plasticus)
Author: John F. Haught
Title: God After Darwin
Publication Info: Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 2000.
Summary/Review: This is a complicated book which I didn’t thoroughly comprehend so I may not be able to justice to it in a review. Nevertheless, it tackles an issue near and dear to me that is how to reconcile the theory of evolution with belief in God. I like the approach that puts aside the false dichotomy of science versus religion even if I don’t understand the science and biology behind it. There’s definitely a core idea that faith should be challenged to be deeper by the truth of evolution rather than denying the science or creating something like intelligent design. Definitely a work worth rereading.
Recommended books: Quarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science And Religion by John Polkinghorne and Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall.
Author: Geoff Nicholson
Title: The lost art of walking : the history, science, philosophy, and literature of pedestrianism
Publication Info: New York : Riverhead Books, 2008
Geoff Nicholson takes on the quotidian topic of walking, something just about everyone can do, although there who some who can who fail to exercise the ability regularly. At the heart of this work are Nicholson’s own walks. At the time of writing, Nicholson lived in Los Angeles a place generally seen to be hostile to walking although it is possible as I’ve experienced myself
. Nicholson walks in the various places he lives – London, New York, Los Angeles, and in a bittersweet final chapter he returns to walk through his childhood home of Sheffield. In between he explores the history of walking (particularly sport walkers who performed feats of endurance such as walking 1 mile an hour for 1000 consecutive hours), walks in music and movies, psychogeography, walks in the desert, and street photography. There are also walking tours, which are near and dear to my heart, including such oddities as walking tours of parking lots
. Nicholson seems to be a cranky person and that crankiness kind of sucks the joy out of his writing. Still this is an interesting book with some intriguing insights into the topic.
“Walking for peace may certainly strike you and me as futile and useless, but if a person believes it works, then it’s the most logical and rational thing in the world. To walk for a reason, any reason, however personal or obscure, is surely a mark of rationality. Money, art, self-knowledge, world peace, these are not eccentric motivations for walking; they’re damn good ones, regardless of whether or not they succeed. I find myself coming to the conclusion that perhaps the only truly eccentric walker is the one who walks for no reason whatsover. However, I’m no longer sure if that’s even possible.” – p. 85
“We walked on, not very far and not very fast. It gradually became obvious, and it was not exactly a surprise, that two hours standing around listening to stories, interspersed with rather short walks, of no more than a couple of hundred yards each, was actually very hard work, much harder than walking continuously for two hours. As the tour ended twenty people were rubbing their backs, complaining about their feet, and saying they needed to sit down. I checked my GPS: in those two hours we’d walked just under a mile.” – p. 90
Author: Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
Title: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
Publication Info: HighBridge Company (2011)
Summary/Review: This Library Thing Early Reviewers audiobook ask what the following things have in common: listening to someone else’s cell phone conversation, Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup Final, Huntington’s chorea, Joba Chamberlain & midges, chili peppers and skunks. They all involve annoyances, and what annoys is apparently something scientists are only beginning to study. There’s a basic 3-step process to annoyance: 1. something is unpleasant or distracting, 2. it’s hard to predict when it will end, and 3. it’s impossible to ignore. The stories illustrating annoying things and the scientific studies are entertaining. The authors make pleasant if not professional readers and I like that they alternate voices. The book reads like a long episode of Radiolab and is a good bit of popular science.
Recommended books: Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness, by Alva Noë.
Author: Mary Roach
Title: Packing for Mars
Publication Info: New York : W.W. Norton, c2010.
With plans for long-term space exploration afoot, Mary Roach explores the many challenges of putting human beings in space. This is less the physics of rocket propulsion and more the psychological and cultural problems of human space exploration. Roach is a good investigator in that she asks the questions we always wanted to ask and many more we never even thought to ask. She’s also an amusing writer in that she seems to challenge the mindset of a 12-year old boy. Issues explored in this book include the effects of isolation and working in close quarters with others for long duration, the physical and psychological effects of weightlessness, illness and vomiting in space, personal hygiene, sex in space, evacuating from space disasters, and everyone’s need to eat and thus need to poop. Roach draws upon astronaut memoirs, technical documents, and interviews with people around the world who are directly involved in the fascinating and often absurd work that goes into human space exploration.
Recommended books: The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, Moon Shot by Alan Shepard, A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, & Lost Moon by Jeffrey Kluger,