Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Homemade Lava!

When I was a kid, I used to love making volcanoes in the pathway to my house. There was something satisfying, and primal, about mounding up sand and dirt, pouring the baking soda and vinegar (and red food coloring, if you wanted to) into the volcano's maw, and watching the resulting eruption of fizz and foam. You could even put small, plastic dinosaurs on the volcano's flanks and wish them well before they met their doom. But the video below takes that fun to a whole new level. Some people at Syracuse University have built a furnace that melts basalt and are now creating their own lava flows. My small plastic dinosaurs wouldn't stand a chance.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Lives of the Cell -- A Book Review

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology WatcherThe Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher by Lewis Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me, and I'm definitely glad that I read it. It's a collection of brief essays about biology, the wonder of cells and their internal machinery, and human society. Thomas strikes me as the M.F.K. Fisher of biology writing, able to turn a striking phrase every page or so, using clear prose and occasional poetry to communicate his thoughts. Here's a great example: ""It is hard to imagine a solitary, independent, existentialist minnow, recognizable for himself alone." That's a great sentence. It's true that Thomas sprinkles in some jargon here and there, but on the whole he's excellent. Highly recommended.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Popular Mathematics Books

I recently put out an APB to other science writers on Twitter and LinkedIn, asking for recommendations for good books that explain math for the layman. I have been a math groupie for many years, enjoying books like The Man Who Knew Infinity and The Art of Mathematics. I knew, though, that there must be many more good reads out there in the world. I got some great tips, which I listed below. If you, dear reader, have any other recommendations, please leave a comment.

The World of Mathematics

The Number Devil

A Short Account of the History of Mathematics

Mathematics for the Million

The Music of the Primes

Fermat's Enigma

The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

Street-Fighting Mathematics: The Art of Educated Guessing and Opportunistic Problem Solving

Math Girls

The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World

Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos in the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life

The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, The World's Most Astonishing Number

The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene

A Tour of the Calculus

The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics

The Cartoon Guide to Calculus