Wednesday, September 21, 2016

White, Rowland. Into the Black. New York: Touchstone, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5011-2362-7. On April 12, 1981, coincidentally exactly twenty years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth in Vostok 1, the United States launched one of the most ambitious and risky manned space flights ever attempted. The flight of Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia on its first mission, STS-1, would be the first time a manned spacecraft was launched with a crew on its first flight. (All earlier spacecraft were tested in unmanned flights before putting a crew at risk.) It would also be the first manned spacecraft...

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hanson, Robin. The Age of Em. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-19-875462-6. Many books, both fiction and nonfiction, have been devoted to the prospects for and consequences of the advent of artificial intelligence: machines with a general cognitive capacity which equals or exceeds that of humans. While machines have already surpassed the abilities of the best humans in certain narrow domains (for example, playing games such as chess or go), you can't take a chess playing machine and expect it to be even marginally competent at a task as different as driving a car or writing a short summary...

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Friday, August 26, 2016

Cole, Nick. Ctrl Alt Revolt! Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2016. ISBN 978-9-52706-584-6. Ninety-Nine Fishbein (“Fish”) had reached the peak of the pyramid. After spending five years creating his magnum opus multiplayer game, Island Pirates, it had been acquired outright for sixty-five million by gaming colossus WonderSoft, who included an option for his next project. By joining WonderSoft, he gained access to its legendary and secretive Design Core, which allowed building massively multiplayer virtual reality games at a higher level than the competition. He'd have a luxurious office, a staff of coders and graphic designers, and a cliffside villa in the...

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Just posted: GAU-8 Avenger. Cannon, cannon, in the air. Who's the most badass up there?...

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Jenne, Mike. Blue Darker than Black. New York: Yucca Publishing, 2016. ISBN 978-1-63158-066-6. This is the second novel in the series which began with Blue Gemini (April 2016). It continues the story of a covert U.S. Air Force manned space program in the late 1960s and early 1970s, using modified versions of NASA's two-man Gemini spacecraft and Titan II booster to secretly launch missions to rendezvous with, inspect, and, if necessary, destroy Soviet reconnaissance satellites and rumoured nuclear-armed orbital battle stations. As the story begins in 1969, the crew who flew the first successful missions in the previous novel, Drew Carson...

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

I have just posted Rocket Science, an exploration of the rocket equation. Learn why it's so difficult to get from the Earth's surface to orbit and why multistage rockets make sense....

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I have just posted a new article in UNIVAC Memories: “Heisenbug”. A few lines of code added to the idle loop of a massive UNIVAC multiprocessor mainframe seems to be provoking crashes. Sometimes it really is the hardware....

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hirshfeld, Alan W. Parallax. New York: Dover, [2001] 2013. ISBN 978-0-486-49093-9. “Eppur si muove.” As legend has it, these words were uttered (or muttered) by Galileo after being forced to recant his belief that the Earth revolves around the Sun: “And yet it moves.” The idea of a heliocentric model, as opposed to the Earth being at the center of the universe (geocentric model), was hardly new: Aristarchus of Samos had proposed it in the third century B.C., as a simplification of the prevailing view that the Earth was fixed and all other heavenly bodies revolved around it. This seemed...

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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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