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...

Read more...

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....

Read more...

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...

Read more...

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...

Read more...

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...

Read more...

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...

Read more...

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...

Read more...

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...

Read more...

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,...

Read more...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Launius, Roger D. and Dennis R. Jenkins. Coming Home. Washington: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 2012. ISBN 978-0-16-091064-7. NASA SP-2011-593. In the early decades of the twentieth century, when visionaries such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Hermann Oberth, and Robert H. Goddard started to think seriously about how space travel might be accomplished, most of the focus was on how rockets might be designed and built which would enable their payloads to be accelerated to reach the extreme altitude and velocity required for long-distance ballistic or orbital flight. This is a daunting problem. The Earth has a deep gravity well: so deep that...

Read more...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Goldsmith, Barbara. Obsessive Genius. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 978-0-393-32748-9. Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. She was the fifth and last child born to her parents, Władysław and Bronisława Skłodowski, both teachers. Both parents were members of a lower class of the aristocracy called the Szlachta, but had lost their wealth through involvement in the Polish nationalist movement opposed to Russian rule. They retained the love of learning characteristic of their class, and had independently obtained teaching appointments before meeting and marrying. Their children were raised in...

Read more...

Monday, April 11, 2016

Jenne, Mike. Blue Gemini. New York: Yucca Publishing, 2015. ISBN 978-1-63158-047-5. It is the late 1960s, and the Apollo project is racing toward the Moon. The U.S. Air Force has not abandoned its manned space flight ambitions, and is proceeding with its Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, nominally to explore the missions military astronauts can perform in an orbiting space station, but in reality a large manned reconnaissance satellite. Behind the curtain of secrecy and under the cover of the blandly named “Aerospace Support Project”, the Air Force was simultaneously proceeding with a much more provocative project: Blue Gemini. Using the...

Read more...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Munroe, Randall. Thing Explainer. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-66825-6. What a great idea! The person who wrote this book explains not simple things like red world sky cars, tiny water bags we are made of, and the shared space house, with only the ten hundred words people use most. There are many pictures with words explaining each thing. The idea came from the Up Goer Five picture he drew earlier. Drawing by Randall Munroe / xkcd used under right to share but not to sell (CC BY-NC 2.5). (The words in the above picture are drawn. In the...

Read more...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Flint, Eric. 1632. Riverdale, NY: Baen Publishing, 2000. ISBN 978-0-671-31972-4. Nobody knows how it happened, nor remotely why. Was it a bizarre physics phenomenon, an act of God, intervention by aliens, or “just one of those things”? One day, with a flash and a bang which came to be called the Ring of Fire, the town of Grantville, West Virginia and its environs in the present day was interchanged with an equally large area of Thuringia, in what is now Germany, in the year 1632. The residents of Grantville discover a sharp boundary where the town they know so well...

Read more...

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Carlson, W. Bernard. Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-691-16561-5. Nicola Tesla was born in 1858 in a village in what is now Croatia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father and grandfather were both priests in the Orthodox church. The family was of Serbian descent, but had lived in Croatia since the 1690s among a community of other Serbs. His parents wanted him to enter the priesthood and enrolled him in school to that end. He excelled in mathematics and, building on a boyhood fascination with machines and tinkering, wanted to pursue...

Read more...


Powered by MovableType 4.23-en