Saturday, July 23, 2016

Weightman, Gavin. The Frozen Water Trade. New York: Hyperion, [2003] 2004. ISBN 978-0-7868-8640-1. In the summer of 1805, two brothers, Frederic and William Tudor, both living in the Boston area, came up with an idea for a new business which would surely make their fortune. Every winter, fresh water ponds in Massachusetts froze solid, often to a depth of a foot or more. Come spring, the ice would melt. This cycle had repeated endlessly since before humans came to North America, unremarked upon by anybody. But the Tudor brothers, in the best spirit of Yankee ingenuity, looked upon the ice...

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Army's Flying Saucer recounts the curious story of the Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar, an actual flying saucer developed for the U.S. Army in the late 1950s as a flying Jeep....

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

I've just posted Slide Rule, an introduction to this venerable computing tool, in which several simple physics problems are worked out in detail, ranging from loading a turnip truck to interstellar flight....

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Coppley, Jackson. Leaving Lisa. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5348-5971-5. Jason Chamberlain had it all. At age fifty, the company he had founded had prospered so that when he sold out, he'd never have to work again in his life. He and Lisa, his wife and the love of his life, lived in a mansion in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Lisa continued to work as a research scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), studying the psychology of grief, loss, and reconciliation. Their relationship with their grown daughter was strained, but whose isn't in these crazy times? All of...

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Adams, Scott. The Religion War. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2004 ISBN 978-0-7407-4788-5. This a sequel to the author's 2001 novel God's Debris. In that work, which I considered profound and made my hair stand on end on several occasions, a package delivery man happens to encounter the smartest man in the world and finds his own view of the universe and his place in it up-ended, and his destiny to be something he'd never imagined. I believe that it's only because Scott Adams is also the creator of Dilbert that he is not appreciated as one of the most original...

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Portree, David S. F. Humans to Mars. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2001. NASA SP-2001-4521. Ever since, in the years following World War II, people began to think seriously about the prospects for space travel, visionaries have looked beyond the near-term prospects for flights into Earth orbit, space stations, and even journeys to the Moon, toward the red planet: Mars. Unlike Venus, eternally shrouded by clouds, or the other planets which were too hot or cold to sustain life as we know it, Mars, about half the size of the Earth, had an atmosphere, a day just a little...

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Gott, J. Richard. The Cosmic Web. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-691-15726-9. Some works of popular science, trying to impress the reader with the scale of the universe and the insignificance of humans on the cosmic scale, argue that there's nothing special about our place in the universe: “an ordinary planet orbiting an ordinary star, in a typical orbit within an ordinary galaxy”, or something like that. But this is wrong! Surfaces of planets make up a vanishingly small fraction of the volume of the universe, and habitable planets, where beings like ourselves are neither frozen nor fried by...

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Holt, George, Jr. The B-58 Blunder. Randolph, VT: George Holt, 2015. ISBN 978-0-692-47881-3. The B-58 Hustler was a breakthrough aircraft. The first generation of U.S. Air Force jet-powered bombers—the B-47 medium and B-52 heavy bombers—were revolutionary for their time, but were becoming increasingly vulnerable to high-performance interceptor aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles on the deep penetration bombing missions within the communist bloc for which they were intended. In the 1950s, it was believed the best way to reduce the threat was to fly fast and at high altitude, with a small aircraft that would be more difficult to detect with radar....

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Steele, Allen. Arkwright. New York: Tor, 2016. ISBN 978-0-7653-8215-3. Nathan Arkwright was one of the “Big Four” science fiction writers of the twentieth century, along with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. Launching his career in the Golden Age of science fiction, he created the Galaxy Patrol space adventures, with 17 novels from 1950 to 1988, a radio drama, television series, and three movies. The royalties from his work made him a wealthy man. He lived quietly in his home in rural Massachusetts, dying in 2006. Arkwright was estranged from his daughter and granddaughter, Kate Morressy, a...

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Red Eagle, John and Vox Day [Theodore Beale]. Cuckservative. Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2015. ASIN B018ZHHA52. Yes, I have read it. So read me out of the polite genteel “conservative” movement. But then I am not a conservative. Further, I enjoyed it. The authors say things forthrightly that many people think and maybe express in confidence to their like-minded friends, but reflexively cringe upon even hearing in public. Even more damning, I found it enlightening on a number of topics, and I believe that anybody who reads it dispassionately is likely to find it the same. And finally, I am...

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Buckley, Christopher. The Relic Master. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. ISBN 978-1-5011-2575-1. The year is 1517. The Holy Roman Empire sprawls across central Europe, from the Mediterranean in the south to the North Sea and Baltic in the north, from the Kingdom of France in the west to the Kingdoms of Poland and Hungary in the east. In reality the structure of the empire is so loose and complicated it defies easy description: independent kings, nobility, and prelates all have their domains of authority, and occasionally go to war against one another. Although the Reformation is about to burst...

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Miller, Roland. Abandoned in Place. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8263-5625-3. Between 1945 and 1970 humanity expanded from the surface of Earth into the surrounding void, culminating in 1969 with the first landing on the Moon. Centuries from now, when humans and their descendents populate the solar system and exploit resources dwarfing those of the thin skin and atmosphere of the home planet, these first steps may be remembered as the most significant event of our age, with all of the trivialities that occupy our quotidian attention forgotten. Not only were great achievements made, but grand structures...

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eggers, Dave. The Circle. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. ISBN 978-0-345-80729-8. There have been a number of novels, many in recent years, which explore the possibility of human society being taken over by intelligent machines. Some depict the struggle between humans and machines, others envision a dystopian future in which the machines have triumphed, and a few explore the possibility that machines might create a “new operating system” for humanity which works better than the dysfunctional social and political systems extant today. This novel goes off in a different direction: what might happen, without artificial intelligence, but in an...

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Monday, May 9, 2016

I was clouded out for most of today's transit of Mercury, but in mid-afternoon the skies cleared briefly and I was able to observe the transit visually and capture the following picture through thin clouds. Mercury is the dark black dot at the left, along the 10 o'clock direction from the centre of the Sun. The shading on the Sun's surface is due to the thin clouds through which I took this picture. Note how much darker Mercury's disc is than the sunspot group (Active Region 12542). The photo was taken at 13:43 UTC from the Fourmilab driveway with a...

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Levin, Janna. Black Hole Blues. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. ISBN 978-0-307-95819-8. In Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity, gravitation does not propagate instantaneously as it did in Newton's theory, but at the speed of light. According to relativity, nothing can propagate faster than light. This has a consequence which was not originally appreciated when the theory was published: if you move an object here, its gravitational influence upon an object there cannot arrive any faster than a pulse of light travelling between the two objects. But how is that change in the gravitational field transmitted? For light,...

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