Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2010

Every year I look forward to the release of The Best American Science and Nature Writing like a kid waiting for Christmas – well, actually, that and The Best American Medical Writing and The Best American Sports Writing. The only explanation I can give for this seemly incongruous attraction to science, medicine and sports is that I love to learn. The really ridiculous and pitiful thing is that because I retain almost zero of what I read, I am in a constant state of amazement.  Although I’m only on page 225 of The Best American Science and Nature Writing, I couldn’t wait to share with you the things that commanded my attention and stuff I’ve learned (and re-learned) so far.

“The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose,” John Burdon Sanderson Haldane, Geneticist, Oxford and Cambridge (and pretty dapper dude too - photo to right). I love this quote and think that it so elegantly states a fundamental of a Universe that never ceases to astound.

 “The fate of the planet, from an ecological point of view, is being decided by India and China and not by the United States,” Freeman Dyson, Professor Emeritus, Princeton. It is indeed a strange feeling to be raised in a country of “world dominance,” and then to wake up one day and realize that America has become just another country.

       Meet Elon Musk, raised in a rather average family in South Africa, but who by the age of 10 was reading 8-10 hours a day, and retaining everything he read. Elon dropped out of the Stanford Physics Ph.D. program at the age of 24 to start and then sell a software company for $307 million, then some weeks later started PayPal, which he eventually sold for $1.5 billion, so he could build rockets at his company, SpaceX. Elon wants to go to Mars because he’s fairly certain that humans are going to destroy earth, and he wants to be ready to hop off when necessary. It gets even better - Click on Read More Below...
But first, he invented the Telsa, that snazzy all-electric sports car ($109K each), and became the largest installer in the world of solar panels. At this point, he’s only 34-years old, has five sons, an X-wife (imagine the divorce settlement), and of course, a 23-year-old girlfriend. Oh yes, I almost forgot, he also produced Thank You for Smoking, which by the way, was written by Christopher Buckley who also wrote another of my favorite books, “Loosing Mum and Pup.”

      I have always been fascinated by sextants, but never really understood how they worked, until I read the following:
Measuring the angle between the horizon and the position of a given star with a sextant at a known chronometer time tells you that your ship must lie somewhere on a particular curve on the map of Earth. Doing the same with another star gives another curve, and where they intersect, there is your position. Doing the same with a third star and finding that the third curve intersects the first two at the same point tells you that you have not made a mistake.
Of course with the advent of global positioning satellites, sextants are obsolete. Whatever. 

 I found it amusing and quite interesting to learn that “most scientists,” according to Nobel Prize winning UT Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Steven Weinberg, loathe the whole “manned space flight” thing. Apparently astronauts just break things, sweat (causing damaging moisture), and are fussy and damned expensive. Robots, they say, are the way to go. Of course Elon Musk disagrees, but then I don’t think NASA or Elon really care a lot about if SueAnn and her fam and friends can blast off before the apocalypse. 

Words I Learned, Re-Learned and/or fell in like with:
Argot - A specialized vocabulary or set of idioms used by a particular group.
Odious - Arousing or deserving hatred or loathing; disgusting, offensive. OK, I know what odious means, but I find it odious that I don’t use really cool words like odious!
Caliph – Arabic for successor or representative. I just think this is a cool word. If I were ever going to have a title, I would want it to the Caliph – SueAnn, the Caliph of Crouse. Hmmm.
Trite – I’ve always know what trite means, but I never use it. I’m going to start using the word trite until it become trite.
Gnomon - The part of a sundial that casts the shadow. The Gnomon of Saint Sulpice inside the church of Saint Sulpice in Paris, France, built to assist in determining the date of Easter, was fictionalized as a "Rose Line" in the novel The Da Vinci Code.
Jeroboam - A large wine bottle having a capacity of about six ordinary bottles. Just in case you’re wondering – the name of wine bottles (small to huge), are Split, Bottle, Half-Bottle, Magnum, Double Magnum, Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Imperial, Methuselah, Salmanazar, Balthazar, and Nebuchadnezzar.

OK, I’m only to page 35, but happy hour approach-eth, so adios and later. 


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