Picks

The Book on the Bookshelf

Henry Petroski, Professor of Engineering and Professor of History at Duke University, is a master at "humanizing" engineering by writing about the history and development of familiar objects such as paperclips and pencils. He seems to relish the challenges involved in writing engagingly to non-engineers about some of the most mundane objects in everyday life - things that we take for granted.

High Stakes are for Tomatoes

We all, and both candidates for President, agree that that our educational systems need to adhere to the highest standards of excellence, that "social promotion" in schools is a bad thing, that students should have to demonstrate basic competences before they receive high school diplomas, and that schools, teachers, and students ought to be rewarded or punished on the basis of judgements render

Apocalypse Pretty Soon: Travels in End-Time America

Some Americans believe that the history of the earth is about to end, and they have been making ultimate preparations. Alex Heard has gained the confidence of quite a variety of these sometimes amusing, sometimes pathetic, sometimes scary people and organizations.

Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution

A year or so ago, I greatly enjoyed reading another book by Lisa Jardine, "Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance", but I couldn't justify it for "Hal's Picks" because it didn't have much scientific content. When I heard about "Ingenious Pursuits", I bought it from a book club and read it right away.

The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist

In 1963, Richard Feynmann gave three lectures at the University of Washington. This short book (only 133 pages) is a transcript of those talks. The lectures were not really physics, but were a very informal (virtually extemporaneous) view of what the results of modern physics means to everyman.

A Fresh Look at Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Lieb and Yngvason describe in this article how the concept of entropy can be explained without resorting to heat engines or statistical mechanics, and without even the a priori imposition of temperature.

Sport: Extreme Stargazing

For anyone who has tried unsuccessfully (like me) to find familiar stars in well-known constellations through a telescope, the competition that David Freedman describes sounds impossible. The "sport" is to see how many of the 110 celestial objects in the Messier catalog you can locate and identify during a single night of observation.

Medicine on Mars

I'm not a big fan of science fiction. I find "real" science to be generally more interesting; the fictionalized kind usually requires me to pretend that the universe is far different than what I believe to be the case. In fiction, travel between planets (or even solar systems) is accomplished quite easily, by suspension of the speed limit imposed by relativity.