Saturday, December 13, 2014

Thorne, Kip. The Science of Interstellar. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014. ISBN 978-0-393-35137-8. Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar was eagerly awaited by science fiction enthusiasts who, having been sorely disappointed so many times by movies that crossed the line into fantasy by making up entirely implausible things to move the plot along, hoped that this effort would live up to its promise of getting the science (mostly) right and employing scientifically plausible speculation where our present knowledge is incomplete. The author of the present book is one of the most eminent physicists working in the field of general relativity...

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wade, Nicholas. A Troublesome Inheritance. New York: Penguin Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-59420-446-3. Geographically isolated populations of a species (unable to interbreed with others of their kind) will be subject to natural selection based upon their environment. If that environment differs from that of other members of the species, the isolated population will begin to diverge genetically, as genetic endowments which favour survival and more offspring are selected for. If the isolated population is sufficiently small, the mechanism of genetic drift may cause a specific genetic variant to become almost universal or absent in that population. If this process is repeated...

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weir, Andy. The Martian. New York: Broadway Books, [2011] 2014. ISBN 978-0-553-41802-6. Mark Watney was part of the six person crew of Ares 3 which landed on Mars to carry out an exploration mission in the vicinity of its landing site in Acidalia Planitia. The crew made a precision landing at the target where “presupply” cargo flights had already landed their habitation module, supplies for their stay on Mars, rovers and scientific instruments, and the ascent vehicle they would use to return to the Earth-Mars transit vehicle waiting for them in orbit. Just six days after landing, having set up...

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rawles, James Wesley. Liberators. New York: Dutton, 2014. ISBN 978-0-525-95391-3. This novel is the fifth in the series which began with Patriots (December 2008), then continued with Survivors (January 2012), Founders (October 2012), and Expatriates (October 2013), These books are not a conventional multi-volume narrative, in that all describe events in the lives of their characters in roughly the same time period surrounding “the Crunch”—a grid down societal collapse due to a debt crisis and hyperinflation. Taking place at the same time, you can read these books in any order, but if you haven't read the earlier novels you'll miss much of the back-story...

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Metzger, Th. Undercover Mormon. New York: Roadswell Editions, 2013. The author, whose spiritual journey had earlier led him to dabble with becoming a Mennonite, goes weekly to an acupuncturist named Rudy Kilowatt who believes in the power of crystals, attends neo-pagan fertility rituals in a friend's suburban back yard, had been oddly fascinated by Mormonism ever since, as a teenager, he attended the spectacular annual Mormon pageant at Hill Cumorah, near his home in upstate New York. He returned again and again for the spectacle of the pageant, and based upon his limited knowledge of Mormon doctrine, found himself...

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control. New York: Penguin, 2013. ISBN 978-0-14-312578-5. On the evening of September 18th, 1980 two U.S. Air Force airmen, members of a Propellant Transfer System (PTS) team, entered a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas to perform a routine maintenance procedure. Earlier in the day they had been called to the site because a warning signal had indicated that pressure in the missile's second stage oxidiser tank was low. This was not unusual, especially for a missile which had recently been refuelled, as this one had, and the procedure of adding nitrogen gas to the...

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

I have posted an update to my trigonometry-intense floating point benchmark which adds Rust to the list of languages in which the benchmark is implemented. A new release of the benchmark collection including Rust is now available for downloading. Rust is a systems programming language currently under development. It attempts to provide performance comparable to low-level programming languages such as C and C++ while avoiding common causes of crashes and security problems such as subscript and pointer errors, dangling pointers, memory leaks, and multi-thread race conditions. It is a compiled language with extensive compile-time checking which detects many errors which...

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Barry, John M. The Great Influenza. New York: Penguin, [2004] 2005. ISBN 978-0-14-303649-4. In the year 1800, the practice of medicine had changed little from that in antiquity. The rapid progress in other sciences in the 18th century had had little impact on medicine, which one historian called “the withered arm of science”. This began to change as the 19th century progressed. Researchers, mostly in Europe and especially in Germany, began to lay the foundations for a scientific approach to medicine and public health, understanding the causes of disease and searching for means of prevention and cure. The invention of...

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Levinson, Marc. The Box. Princeton: Princeton University Press, [2006] 2008. ISBN 978-0-691-13640-0. When we think of developments in science and technology which reshape the world economy, we often concentrate upon those which build on fundamental breakthroughs in our understanding of the world we live in, or technologies which employ them to do things never imagined. Examples of these are electricity and magnetism, which gave us the telegraph, electric power, the telephone, and wireless communication. Semiconductor technology, the foundation of the computer and Internet revolutions, is grounded in quantum mechanics, elaborated only in the early 20th century. The global positioning satellites...

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Byers, Bruce K. Destination Moon. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1977. NASA TM X-3487. In the mid 1960s, the U.S. Apollo lunar landing program was at the peak of its budget commitment and technical development. The mission mode had already been chosen and development of the flight hardware was well underway, along with the ground infrastructure required to test and launch it and the global network required to track missions in flight. One nettlesome problem remained. The design of the lunar module made assumptions about the properties of the lunar surface upon which it would alight. If the landing...

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cawdron, Peter. My Sweet Satan. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2014. ASIN B00NBA6Y1A. Here the author adds yet another imaginative tale of first contact to his growing list of novels in that genre, a puzzle story which the viewpoint character must figure out having lost memories of her entire adult life. After a botched attempt at reanimation from cryo-sleep, Jasmine Holden finds herself with no memories of her life after the age of nineteen. And yet, here she is, on board Copernicus, in the Saturn system, closing in on the distant retrograde moon Bestla which, when approached by a probe from...

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Bostrom, Nick. Superintelligence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-967811-2. Absent the emergence of some physical constraint which causes the exponential growth of computing power at constant cost to cease, some form of economic or societal collapse which brings an end to research and development of advanced computing hardware and software, or a decision, whether bottom-up or top-down, to deliberately relinquish such technologies, it is probable that within the 21st century there will emerge artificially-constructed systems which are more intelligent (measured in a variety of ways) than any human being who has ever lived and, given the superior ability of...

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Amundsen, Roald. The South Pole. New York: Cooper Square Press, [1913] 2001. ISBN 978-0-8154-1127-7. In modern warfare, it has been observed that “generals win battles, but logisticians win wars.” So it is with planning an exploration mission to a remote destination where no human has ever set foot, and the truths are as valid for polar exploration in the early 20th century as they will be for missions to Mars in the 21st. On December 14th, 1911, Roald Amundsen and his five-man southern party reached the South Pole after a trek from the camp on the Ross Ice Shelf where...

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Mahon, Basil. The Man Who Changed Everything. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. ISBN 978-0-470-86171-4. In the 19th century, science in general and physics in particular grew up, assuming their modern form which is still recognisable today. At the start of the century, the word “scientist” was not yet in use, and the natural philosophers of the time were often amateurs. University research in the sciences, particularly in Britain, was rare. Those working in the sciences were often occupied by cataloguing natural phenomena, and apart from Newton's monumental achievements, few people focussed on discovering mathematical laws to explain the...

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Lowe, Keith. Savage Continent. New York: Picador, [2012] 2013. ISBN 978-1-250-03356-7. On May 8th, 1945, World War II in Europe formally ended when the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Germany. In popular myth, especially among those too young to have lived through the war and its aftermath, the defeat of Italy and Germany ushered in, at least in Western Europe not occupied by Soviet troops, a period of rebuilding and rapid economic growth, spurred by the Marshall Plan. The French refer to the three decades from 1945 to 1975 as Les Trente Glorieuses. But that isn't what actually happened,...

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