Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Book Review: What If? by Randall Munroe

Author: Randall Munroe
Title:What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

This book contains the sentence: “Aroldis Chapman could probably throw a golf ball about sixteen giraffes high.” That alone makes it worth reading. The creator of the webcomic xkcd, Randall Munroe uses math and science to investigate cornball questions from his readers.  If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if a baseball were pitched at the speed of light, what would happen if every person in the world jumped at the same place at the same time (say, Rhode Island), or what place on earth would allow for the longest free fall, this book is for you.  In addition to Munroe’s humorous, but mathematically explicit, explanations there are plenty of whimsical illustrations.  There are also a series of questions too weird and worrying for even Munroe to answer.
Favorite Passages:

Our plastic will become shredded and buried, and perhaps some microbes will learn to digest it, but in all likelihood, a million years from now, an out-of-place layer of processed hydrocarbons—transformed fragments of our shampoo bottles and shopping bags—will serve as a chemical monument to civilization.


If humans escape the solar system and outlive the Sun, our descendants may someday live on one of these planets. Atoms from Times Square, cycled through the heart of the Sun, will form our new bodies. One day, either we will all be dead, or we will all be New Yorkers.


So we shouldn’t worry too much about when computers will catch up with us in complexity. After all, we’ve caught up to ants, and they don’t seem too concerned. Sure, we seem like we’ve taken over the planet, but if I had to bet on which one of us would still be around in a million years—primates, computers, or ants—I know who I’d pick.


if an astronaut on the ISS listens to “I’m Gonna Be,” in the time between the first beat of the song and the final lines . . .  . . . they will have traveled just about exactly 1000 miles.


Rule of thumb: One person per square meter is a light crowd, four people per square meter is a mosh pit.


Al Worden, the Apollo 15 command module pilot, even enjoyed the experience. There’s a thing about being alone and there’s a thing about being lonely, and they’re two different things. I was alone but I was not lonely. My background was as a fighter pilot in the air force, then as a test pilot—and that was mostly in fighter airplanes—so I was very used to being by myself. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t have to talk to Dave and Jim any more . . . On the backside of the Moon, I didn’t even have to talk to Houston and that was the best part of the flight. Introverts understand; the loneliest human in history was just happy to have a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Recommended books: 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks, What’s next? : dispatches on the future of science : original essays from a new generation of scientists by Max Brockman, and Feynman by Jim Ottiavani
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage (1999)

Title: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage
Release Date: 1999
Director: David Clark, Al Giddings
Production Co: IMAX, Mandalay Media Arts, National Science Foundation
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Nature | IMAX
Rating: *** 1/2

Another great IMAX film experience at the Boston Museum of Science.  The film immerses one in the lunar landscape of the Galapagos Islands with it’s many uniquely-evolved creatures and plants.  Then it takes you deep beneath the sea to explore newly-discovered aquatic creatures.  The star of the film is zoologist Carol Baldwin (and fellow William & Mary alum) who among other things takes a submersible into the deep ocean and sucks up specimens of sea life with a nifty vacuum tube.  My 7-year-old son gave the movie a thumbs up as well.

Book Review: The Information by James Gleick

AuthorJames Gleick
TitleThe 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.

Rating: ***

Book Review: A Tear at the Edge of Creation by Marcelo Gleiser

Author: Marcelo Gleiser
TitleA Tear at the Edge of Creation
Publication Info: New York, NY : Free Press, 2010.
ISBN: 1439108323

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.
Favorite Passages:

“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
Rating: ***

Photopost: Museum of Science

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.


Freshly-hatched chick.

World’s largest collection of barf bags (many of which are politically-themed)


The ever so elusive Plastic Pink Lawn Flamingo (Pseudamingoflay plasticus)

Book Review: God After Darwin by John F. Haught

Author: John F. Haught
Title: God After Darwin
Publication Info: Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 2000.
ISBN: 0813367239
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 booksQuarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science And Religion by John Polkinghorne and Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey by Jane Goodall.
Rating: **

Book Review: The lost art of walking by Geoff Nicholson

Author: Geoff  Nicholson
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.

Favorite Passages:
“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

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