Popular Posts

Friday, July 30, 2010

E=MC2 A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation

So this book is another loaner, this time from Doug Aldridge.  I guess the universe really wants me to be familiar with Einstein's theory.  David Bodanis explores the science that led up to the famous equation and explores each of the pieces that make the whole and gives a great scientific history of what led up to Einstein's discovery.

Energy is the first topic, the book goes over the story of Michael Faraday and how he discovered that energy is a universal phenomenon, how energy was discovered to be an immutable and unchangeable property, when you start a reaction you end up with the same amount of energy as you went in with.  Often it's a different type, such as kinetic energy being changed to heat energy, or if you have a generator you can change kinetic energy to electric energy.  Faraday was one of the first scientists who was able to show that energy is a universal property and explain that it can transform.  The M for mass chapter discusses the story of Antoine Lavoisier, the father of modern chemistry who proved that in a chemical reaction mass is conserves, specifically by weighing metal and then rusting it and weighing again, thus proving that the oxygen that was bonding with the metal was adding to it's mass.   The C is of course the speed of light, James Clerk Maxwell who while studying the older work of Cassini an Roemer, one of science's oldest rivalries, discovered that light works differently from most energy sources in that it makes jumps, as if it is sometimes mater and sometimes energy.  Mr. Bodanis even goes over the origin of the equal sign and why energy squared is such a powerful and universal physical property.

What I loved about this book wasn't only the greater understanding of the science, the author tells the stories of the scientists in a powerful narrative fashion that made me want to learn more about them.  For example Michael Faraday was a young scientist struggling to get cred. in a world where class mattered more than smarts.  Roemer battled the king's favorite astrologer Cassini about how light traveled across the universe, Roemer was right but Cassini has a space probe named after him and a Wikipedia page while Roemer has slipped into obscurity.  For the section on squaring the effects of energy, the tragic tale of Voltaire and Emilie du Chatelet was a heartbreaking tale of romance, science and love lost.  Seriously I'm surprised that there isn't a major motion picture based on the tale already.

The book also went beyond Einstein and into the application of the theory, it has the most visceral description of what happens when a nuclear bomb explodes that I've ever seen.  It's evil stuff and I hope that it's never leveled against human beings again.  If the burning of skin right off the body and the radiation sickness isn't enough, there's a moment of vacuum that happens when the superheated air contracts that rips flesh off bones.  It seriously called into question the decision to use the bombs in World War II and I can see why many of the scientists who understood exactly what these explosions did were ashamed in their roles in creating the weapons in later years.

So far I have to say this is one of the best reads this year.  It was that good.  Thanks so much for the loan Doug, I feel very enriched by the experience.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Te of Piglet

Te of Piglet is Benjamin Hoff's sequel addition to the Tao of Pooh.  Te is a concept of the virtue of the small and as in Tao of Pooh Hoff uses the stories of Pooh and his pals to show different Taoist concepts.  Te is about seeing how small things and small acts are just as important as the big acts, in fact the small and the large come from and define each other.

This book is one that I read years and years ago when a girlfriend had suggested the Tao of Pooh and last month I did a re-read.  The reviews that this book got originally were far less than stellar.  Hoff comes across as a bit bitter and didactic.  After forgetting about the content and reading the Amazon reviews I was going to give this a pass, but I'm glad I picked it up again.

Hoff rages against things like microwaves, sidewalks, fast food, and feminism and at first glance it looks like he's gotten out his laundry list of stuff to rail against.  Once I had read it though I see that Hoff is making the case for Taoism.  Would someone who follows the Tao really eat a microwave chimi-changa?  Don't Taoists walk just as much for the walk as to get anywhere?  Why do they need direct paved over paths?  If men are treating women with the respect they deserve why do we need feminism?  To clarify, yes the respect they deserve is to do whatever they want including work for equal pay, get just as educated and so forth.

OK we need all those things because we live out of harmony with Taoist principals, but still, wouldn't it be a nicer world if we didn't need them?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tuesdays With Morrie

I went into this book expecting to hate it.  No writer is more symbolic of the Oprahfication of our culture than Mitch Albom.  Oprahfication is the process of massaging your broken feelings with material goods and platitudes and the ultimate Oprahfied good is a book full of platitudes.  I decided to give this book a spin because it was free, and it was short.  I love low commitment levels when I'm trying something new.

Tuesdays with Morrie is the story of Mitch Albom visiting his old sociology professor as a grown up man and spending time with him as he dies of Lou Gehrig's disease.  It seems as if that might make for a sweet story but I don't really care to hear all the sunshine that dying people have to pass around.  Morrie goes through the predictable lectures about how you should spend time with family and friends, take care of your health and dance like no one is watching.

Someday I'd like to see the book from the guy who spends his dieing days getting revenge on those who deserve it while he still can, says mean things to people that have disappointed him so they can feel guilty for the rest of their lives, and spends all his cash on decadent pleasures .  Unfortunately that book hasn't come out, I guess because for some reason the normal bucket list is fairly benign.

I didn't quite hate it as much as I thought I would, Mitch does show some writing talent.  I just feel like Mitch lets us play the part of voyeur into the room of a dying man in exchange for a little money and fame.  The main life lesson this book taught me of is that our society is quick to sell privacy and cheap sentiment.