Saturday, February 21, 2009

USS Midway

Had to go to San Diego earlier this week for a conference. While there I went to a reception aboard the U.S.S. Midway, which is now permanently docked in San Diego. The Midway served from 1945 to 1992.

Lots of cool stuff on the ship, including a transparent plastic scale model used during the design of the ship. The model itself had to be about 20 feet long.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It's not easy being green

Today's Washington Post has two different views of the increasing importance of being "green": George Will's column on Dark Green Doomsayers discusses the exaggerations of those who predict an environmental catastrophe, while Can One Household Save the Planet? by Liza Mundy, describes one family's struggles to be green.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Planet Narnia

The May, 2008, issue of First Things had a review of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the ­Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Michael Ward. The review covers the book's argument that each of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia has an equivalent planet. As the reviewer Nathaniel Peters puts it:
Each of the seven planets of the ancient celestial hierarchy provides the atmospheric superstructure for each of the seven books in Lewis’ series of children’s books.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Is God a Mathematician?

Is God a Mathematician? is the title of a new book by Mario Livio. I was just reading a review of this book in the February issue of First Things when a student who works at NIST sent me a note that he had heard Livio give a talk there. He encouraged me to attend Livio's talk at the University of Maryland, which was held late on Friday afternoon, January 30, at one of the large physics lecture halls. There was someone there selling Livio's book.

So I did attend the first half of it (before I went home for dinner). Interestingly, the review that I had read gave me an excellent preview, for Livio started by stating that the title question is more important than the answer. Then he mentioned some highlights in the history of mathematics, including Kepler, Newton, Kelvin's knots, and Penrose's three worlds (physical, mental, and mathematical; described in Shadows of the Mind). He discussed the question of whether mathematics is invention or discovery, Plato, Archimedes (the world's first applied mathematician), Galileo, and Descartes.

Want to Engineer Real Change? Don't Ask a Scientist

Henry Petroski (who has made previous appearances here) had an opinion piece about the importance of engineers the other day. He aims to remind folks that science is great but not enough to make clean energy and other technologies economically feasible. Engineers are the ones designing the products and systems that make a difference.

How the States Got Their Shapes

Those who like maps and American history will like How the States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein. It covers the story of each state's boundaries, from Maine to Alaska. Every single straight line, river, and funny little corner (like the one at the top of Minnesota) is explained, and the reasons vary from natural geography to the mathematics of longitude and latitude to politics to surveying mistakes.