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A User's Guide To the Universe 153

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
alfredw writes "Have you ever wanted to buttonhole a physicist at a cocktail party? Do you have the burning desire to sit down with a professor and ask a laundry list of 'physics' questions about time travel and black holes? Do you want to know more about modern physics, but want to do it with pop culture experiments instead of mathematics? If you answered 'yes' to any of those questions, then you're in the target audience for A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty." Keep reading for the rest of alfredw's review.
A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty
author Dave Goldberg, Jeff Blomquist
pages 304pp
publisher Wiley
rating 8
reviewer alfredw
ISBN 9780470496510
summary A fun, light read about interesting areas of modern physics that will entertain while it educates.
A User's Guide to the Universe (hereinafter "A User's Guide") is the physicist's answer to Phil Plait's Death from the Skies!: These Are the Ways the World Will End.... What Goldberg and Blomquist have created is a fun, light read about interesting areas of modern physics that will entertain while it educates. The book assumes very little scientific background on the part of the reader. Those with some knowledge (this is Slashdot, after all) will find the explanations of well-known concepts (the double slit experiment, for example) lucid, direct, brief and entertaining.

A User's Guide covers topics like relativity, time travel, the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and alien life. It does so with a very tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and footnotes that act as the authors' very own peanut gallery. While this humor lightens up what could otherwise be a few dry areas of discussion, the littering of the text with pop-culture references is bound to make the book feel a bit dated in years to come. For now (March 2010), though, A User's Guide is so fresh you might call it ripe.

Unlike Death from the Skies, this book is well illustrated. The pen-and-ink cartoons are omnipresent, and serve to both illustrate the text, and to take every opportunity for a joke (cheap or otherwise) that presents itself. Overall, I felt that the cartoons were a strong addition to the book, as they can provide a needed laugh in a serious section, or can eliminate the proverbial thousand words when describing an experiment or concept.

The chapter on time travel is a stand-out. It presents several "practical" designs for time machines, which use black holes, cosmic strings or wormholes as components. I am an avid reader of pop-sci books, and I found designs that were new to me. The discussion of the Grandfather Paradox (if you go back in time and kill your grandfather, then you were never born and could never have committed murder) and ways around it are very helpful and present a solid physical framework for thinking about these issues. When the Grandfather Paradox is reformulated using pool balls, instead of thinking humans, it becomes clear that the issues are physical and not metaphysical. Also, the authors helpfully include a chart ranking sci-fi shows and movies for their time travel savvy.

You'll also find a strong and entertaining treatment of inflationary cosmology, including discussions of the evidence behind the theory and a look at some consequences. This book avoids both a heavy technical treatment and a historical look at the development of the theory (see, for example, Alan Guth's The Inflationary Universe for that) and instead dives right in to the juiciest parts. This style is well-suited to the reader who wants the funs bits without all of the baggage.

If you're curious about quantum mechanics, the second chapter contains a one of the best introductions in the field. By asking questions like "can we build a Star Trek transporter?" the authors drive a quick and satisfying tour through the weirdness of the microscopic world. This "evil genius hands-on" approach is this book's most important contribution to pop sci literature, and its most endearing feature. You'll start by looking at Star Trek, but end with the mysteries of the double-slit experiment, wave-particle duality and the uncertainty principle.

Finally, at the end of the book, the authors helpfully include two sets of references: one to the pop sci literature, and one to the technical literature. Many of the best pop physics books of the past are listed, and the bibliography could serve as useful direction to more depth for the interested.

Overall, A User's Guide accomplishes what it sets out to do. It combines a hands-on, question-driven approach to physics with a tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture-based sense of humor. And then it throws on a layer of great cartoons to make the entire package something that most science books aren't: enjoyable. This book is fine, and you may well learn something in the process.

You can purchase A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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A User's Guide To the Universe

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Heh, trick question. There are no female physicists.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's never stopped me.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We can tell you are a narcissist, but just because females won't have sex with you does not mean they don't exist. Also, most men's penises will not fit in a buttonhole. If yours does, you might actually be a girl, and that might just be your clit.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Did anyone else read this as 'Surviving the penis of black holes?'

  • I'd sure like to get out of here before the Vogons demolish the planet.
  • As if anybody really understands this stuff. Get back to me when you have a Grand Unified Theory that isn't as full of holes as a brick of Swiss cheese.
    • by eln (21727) on Monday March 29, 2010 @02:21PM (#31660172) Homepage
      The secret is to get really, really high and say a bunch of stuff that sounds really deep and science-y and then write a bunch of incomprehensible equations that supposedly illustrate the deep science-y stuff you said. You don't have to understand it, you just have to make it sound so impressive that everyone will just assume you're smarter than them because they don't understand it. This is how string theory was developed.
    • I've got a theory.

      Take every variable possible, make sure you include them all, and put them on one side of the equation. Now, on the other side, put 42. I guarantee either you find me correct or I'll find something you are missing.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      I'm sure that will happen just as soon as you stop being so full of yourself.

      Come on now, hurry up! The GUTOE (Grand Unified Theory Of Everything) is waiting!

    • Without your cogent and well referenced criticisms, we would all blindly trust whatever those stupid, stupid scientists tell us. Seriously, though, you DO know that our current theories are quite simply, the most accurate and comprehensive theories mankind has ever developed, right? Your knee-jerk dismissal illustrates nothing more than your own ignorance and prejudice.

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Monday March 29, 2010 @04:24PM (#31661724)

        Seriously, though, you DO know that our current theories are quite simply, the most accurate and comprehensive theories mankind has ever developed, right?

        Seriously, you DO know that the same was true at every point in history, right?

        30 years ago, the then current theories were quite simply, the most accurate and comprehensive theories mankind had ever developed. Ditto 60 years ago. And 100. And 1000. And....

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by spun (1352)

          I thought it was clear I was talking about physics theories, in relation to other theories. As in, our current physics theories are orders of magnitude more accurate and comprehensive than, say, our economic theories. Rereading my post, I guess I could have been clearer.

        • Ah, the classic "We're right because it took us a long time to think of it!" argument.

          Bonus points for swapping "We're" with "Mankind is".

        • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:26PM (#31663252) Homepage

          Seriously, you DO know that the same was true at every point in history, right?

          30 years ago, the then current theories were quite simply, the most accurate and comprehensive theories mankind had ever developed. Ditto 60 years ago. And 100. And 1000. And....

          And of course we all realize that for the past couple hundred years at least, these theories have been converging on greater and greater accuracy and precision, not 180 degree reversals, right?

          I don't need to link Asimov [tufts.edu] again do I? Oh snap too late.

          • by Locke2005 (849178)
            They did a complete reversal on the theory of the aether... now they seem to be leaning back towards something that sounds suspiciously like the aether to me (energy in a vacuum).
            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              They did a complete reversal on the theory of the aether...

              Really? So after concluding there was no aether, they realized that electric currents were really flowing the opposite way, the right-hand-rule should be the left-hand-rule? The predictions made by aether theory weren't just slightly inaccurate, they were astoundingly inaccurate and required going in the complete opposite direction of previous refinements?

              No. The Aether was simply a theory that was shown to be false and then subsequently replace

              • by Locke2005 (849178)
                Of course any current theory will be a better fit to what currently can be observed; if it wasn't, it would already have been discarded. The true test of a theory is how well it predicts phenomena we have not yet observed.

                I was referring to zero point energy, which isn't exactly the same as luminiferous aether. Dark energy I don't really have a problem with; just because we cannot observe it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We know (by observation) of 4 different forces that vary greatly in their area of ef
                • by Chris Burke (6130)

                  Of course any current theory will be a better fit to what currently can be observed; if it wasn't, it would already have been discarded. The true test of a theory is how well it predicts phenomena we have not yet observed.

                  Exactly correct on both counts! Which is why the Aether was thrown out when experiment failed to verify its predictions. And which is why GR and the Standard Model's predictions are considered to be very likely to be true, because so many of their predictions have already been borne out

                  • by Locke2005 (849178)
                    Agreed, quantization only means that the universe might be a simulation, it doesn't prove that it is. If it is a simulation, I assert that wrap-around at the edges would be much easier to implement than infinite expanse, so there... you have a testable hypothesis. All you need to do is travel to the edge of the universe and see if it wraps around! (Actually, all you need to do is find a pattern in the microwave background radiation in one direction that exactly mimics a pattern in another direction, with ad
                    • by Chris Burke (6130)

                      I hope you're joking about infinite vs. finite calculation of pi making any difference.

                      Oh it would surely make a difference. Depending on how much precision, maybe even quite a noticeable difference.

                      A difference such that if you freed your mind from the limitations of "reality", you could jump from skyscraper to skyscraper, punch through walls, and dodge bullets?

                      I'd like to think so. ;)

      • by Locke2005 (849178)
        My dismissal was tongue-in-cheek. The point was, before one goes writing a "User's Guide to the Universe", perhaps one should wait until they actually figure out how the universe actually works. String theory is based on wild guesses and conjecture that just appears to make the math work out right. That could all change in a short time. Personally, I'm hoping Garrett Lisi [wikipedia.org] has the right idea, but there remains a huge amount of work to be done to prove or disprove his theories... has he made any predictions t
  • Cosmos! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Facegarden (967477) on Monday March 29, 2010 @02:18PM (#31660122)

    I just started watching Carl Sagan's Cosmos on Hulu. I'm 25 and was just a bit too young to watch it when it aired in the 80's, but damn if that isn't the *most* inspiring show about the universe I have ever seen! Immediately after watching it I couldn't stop thinking about space travel. I haven't read an actual book for about 8 years, and this weekend i bought "A Brief History of Time" to learn even more. I'm looking at getting a decent telescope too.

    If you have any interest in this stuff, go watch Cosmos! It's all on Hulu and its free (if your country is allowed access).

    Really, so inspiring its crazy!
    -Taylor

    • by e2d2 (115622)

      Those 13 episodes correspond to the book Cosmos, a great read. It gets more in-depth than the series could and it has his writing style, which inspires it's own inspiration. I don't agree with all of his politics, but I cannot deny the power of attraction that Sagan provides to this day. Even while disagreeing I can easily read his work. It's that good.

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>but damn if that isn't the *most* inspiring show about the universe I have ever seen! Immediately after watching it I couldn't stop thinking about space travel. I haven't read an actual book for about 8 years

      No offense, but I think these two things might be correlated. Books are so much better than TV... I tried watching Cosmos on Netflix, and it's just not that good. Poor video quality, content is Sagan's trademarked breathy high level wankery, etc. There's a lot of better stuff out there these day

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Facegarden (967477)

        >>but damn if that isn't the *most* inspiring show about the universe I have ever seen! Immediately after watching it I couldn't stop thinking about space travel. I haven't read an actual book for about 8 years

        No offense, but I think these two things might be correlated. Books are so much better than TV... I tried watching Cosmos on Netflix, and it's just not that good. Poor video quality, content is Sagan's trademarked breathy high level wankery, etc. There's a lot of better stuff out there these days. In books. I've been reading The Fabric of the Cosmos by Greene, Physics of the Impossible (by the same guy that does the show on Science, Kaiko), but I'd really recommend Physics for the Rest of Us by Jones. It sounds like a For Dummies book, but it actually digs pretty deep into the structure of reality and the philosophical implications of science.

        Again, not meaning to be a dick - I just think that Sagan is vastly overrated, and couldn't imagine going 8 years without reading a book.

        That's fine. I knew I'd get people scoffing at my lack of reading - plenty of people do. I'm a smart guy and it blows people away that I don't read books, but its just how I work. I read all kinds of other things - like learning about programming and electronics from the web. In the past year I've taught myself c# programming (yes, programmers, I'm sure you all know a better language and blah blah... it works for stuff i do with it - mainly GUIs for robot control) and PCB design. I already know machining an

        • by ShakaUVM (157947)

          >>That's fine. I knew I'd get people scoffing at my lack of reading - plenty of people do. I

          Sorry if it came out negative. There's just so much good stuff out there in books, I've gone without TV for the last 10 years. Actually, I have TV now, but only because getting 50mpbs service from AT&T requires a bundled TV service. :/

          Most people dislike books because they were forced to read them in school, and there's nothing worse than being made to read a book you hate (Wurthering Heights... eugh).

          >

          • >>That's fine. I knew I'd get people scoffing at my lack of reading - plenty of people do. I

            Sorry if it came out negative. There's just so much good stuff out there in books, I've gone without TV for the last 10 years. Actually, I have TV now, but only because getting 50mpbs service from AT&T requires a bundled TV service. :/

            Most people dislike books because they were forced to read them in school, and there's nothing worse than being made to read a book you hate (Wurthering Heights... eugh).

            >>while reading I'll find myself thinking about other things still, and not really processing what I'm reading!

            This is one of the best things! I keep a notepad handy and write down any random ideas I get while reading or listening to audiobooks in my car. Getting and processing new information is one of the best things to spur creativity, I've found.

            Anyhow, as someone who reads things online but not in books, you sound like the opposite of me (I can read books in PDF, but it annoys me). Perhaps you're the target audience for a Kindle or Nook?

            Anyhow, if you're interested in getting into fiction, you might be interested in reading Warbreaker online, by one of my favorite authors (he made the whole thing available online for free as he wrote it):
            http://www.brandonsanderson.com/library/catalog/Warbreaker_Full-Books/ [brandonsanderson.com]

            Its not that I dislike books - the biggest problem I have is knowing what books to read! I used to read a bit when I was younger - Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Hitchhikers Guide, Discworld, I've read all those and enjoyed them, but then I just wasn't sure what to read next, so I kind of just stopped.

            And I'm thinking about "other things" all the time, so when I'm reading, that just continues. It has nothing to do with what I'm reading though, and I'll find that I can read a fe

          • Most people dislike books because they were forced to read them in school, and there's nothing worse than being made to read a book you hate (Wurthering Heights... eugh).

            We read every horrible, depressing Jack London story. There was one about a guy trying to survive in some tundra wasteland, and he's draining ponds to just get at some fish, crawling for miles and then he loses all his fingers or toes or some appendage. The End. And all the rest... brutality, murder, suicide- whee! He must have been one of the most miserable SOBs to walk the Earth. No wonder everyone thought he committed suicide.

            From Wikipedia: His "simple grave is marked only by a mossy boulder."

            As it shou

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Cosmos was an amazing attempt at pop physics by an amazing guy.

      It was up to date in the 1980s. It's REALLY REALLY out of date now. Especially the cosmology. In the ensuing 30 years, there has been a several-orders-of-magnitude increase in the amount of data. Cosmology isn't data starved, as it was in the early 80s.

      • by syousef (465911)

        Yeah the Cosmology's out of date but it's amazing how much of the show still holds up.

    • Re:Cosmos! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Monday March 29, 2010 @02:52PM (#31660534)

      Cosmos is awesome, we watched some of it in physics in high school.

      He has the uncanny ability to explain very complicated and abstract ideas in a way that most anybody can understand. His explanation of why it's so hard to conceptualize in the 4th dimension (and beyond) was an eye opener.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSgiXGELjbc [youtube.com]

      I don't know why I like this video as much as I do...

    • Re:Cosmos! (Score:4, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday March 29, 2010 @03:54PM (#31661332) Homepage Journal

      I haven't read an actual book for about 8 years

      Damn kids, read a fucking book! At least it doesn't seem to have made you illiterate, like so many I see on the internet who don't know there from they're or lose from loose, or when and when not to use an apostrophe. Books, unlike the internet, have editors and proofreaders.

      Look into Isaac Asimov. He didn't just write science fiction, he was called "the great educator" because of all the nonfiction books he wrote. Dr. Asimov was a real scientist, researching and teaching biochemistry at (iirc) Boston University. His writing is very readable, his explanations unconfusing. One of my favorite Asimov volumes is Asimov on Numbers, which is about mathematics, always my worst subject.

      You don't have to get off my lawn if you have a book in your hand.

      • I haven't read an actual book for about 8 years

        Damn kids, read a fucking book! At least it doesn't seem to have made you illiterate, like so many I see on the internet who don't know there from they're or lose from loose, or when and when not to use an apostrophe. Books, unlike the internet, have editors and proofreaders.

        Look into Isaac Asimov. He didn't just write science fiction, he was called "the great educator" because of all the nonfiction books he wrote. Dr. Asimov was a real scientist, researching and teaching biochemistry at (iirc) Boston University. His writing is very readable, his explanations unconfusing. One of my favorite Asimov volumes is Asimov on Numbers, which is about mathematics, always my worst subject.

        You don't have to get off my lawn if you have a book in your hand.

        Not to keep feeding this subject, but I've got plenty of friends who read books. Its not like all young people avoid reading, I just personally am not much of a reader.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Well, my daughters are readers but I figured it was because I instilled them with a love of books. From what I see on the internet with people using the verb "loose" when it's obvious they mean "lose", misusing apostrophes, mangling homophones (heres where they loose, there book's werent their) I figured reading books was out of fashion these days; everybody's on the internet reading crap other illiterates write.

          • Well, my daughters are readers but I figured it was because I instilled them with a love of books. From what I see on the internet with people using the verb "loose" when it's obvious they mean "lose", misusing apostrophes, mangling homophones (heres where they loose, there book's werent their) I figured reading books was out of fashion these days; everybody's on the internet reading crap other illiterates write.

            Well, I'm proof that your theory doesn't hold then - or at least, I'm an exception. I hate people that can't spell, or use the wrong they're/their/there or lose/loose or say "alot", and I am not a reader. I just paid attention in English class. I rocked English class in high school (college English was too boring for me to care though... the teachers have no spirit!). I'm sure I make mistakes typing, but not the kind of mistakes you're talking about.
            -Taylor

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              I make plenty of typing mistakes, too. Sometimes on purpose for comedic effect. But you were lucky to have good enough English teachers that you paid attention. I had a teacher flunk a paper because she thought I made up the word "Hierarchy".

              As bad as "alot" is, "noone" is worse. Then again, they could be typos too; I've had missing letters from not hitting a key hard enough, but you see both "alot" and "noone" enough that someone must have once made a typo, and illiterates thought it was correct and just c

      • I second the recommendation of Asimov. I've got most of his essay collections (from his Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction column), his guides to the Bible and Shakespeare, and recently I picked up the original version of his guide to science (that one's mostly good for the humor value; it's worth it for the chapter on the potential of atomic energy/weapons alone)

        He's an amazing non-fic writer. I don't even like his fiction--the ideas are often interesting, but the execution is usually on par with wh

    • If you have any interest in this stuff, go watch Cosmos! It's all on Hulu and its free (if your country is allowed access).

      If you are not allowed to access Hulu, you can still see episodes of Cosmos on the view screen of your space ship of the imagination.

    • Re:Cosmos! (Score:4, Informative)

      by syousef (465911) on Monday March 29, 2010 @04:23PM (#31661696) Journal

      Some of Sagan's books are quite inspiring too. Pale Blue Dot and Demon Haunted World are 2 of his best.

      • Some of Sagan's books are quite inspiring too. Pale Blue Dot and Demon Haunted World are 2 of his best.

        Yeah, i think I'd like to read pale blue dot next!
        -Taylor

    • Immediately after watching it I couldn't stop thinking about space travel.

      I saw Cosmos when it first aired. Don't worry. You'll get over it.

      It's the amounts of energy and the sheer scales required that always unravels all the lofty plans. You hear about all these wild ideas, but when you start to look at the actual numbers involved (like 1000 kilometer lenses focusing city sized lasers on light sails bigger than the Earth), the hopelessness begins to settle in. That's why I always say if something out there *did* create the universe, it was a total asshole, and I'd love to punch

      • Immediately after watching it I couldn't stop thinking about space travel.

        I saw Cosmos when it first aired. Don't worry. You'll get over it.

        It's the amounts of energy and the sheer scales required that always unravels all the lofty plans. You hear about all these wild ideas, but when you start to look at the actual numbers involved (like 1000 kilometer lenses focusing city sized lasers on light sails bigger than the Earth), the hopelessness begins to settle in. That's why I always say if something out there *did* create the universe, it was a total asshole, and I'd love to punch it in the closest thing it has for a crotch.

        Oh, but I'm just being a big old curmudgeon many will say. That newfangled physics will be along any day now to upend our view of the cosmos, and we'll be tossing Alcubierre drive ships out into the galaxy left and right! You betcha!

        Sure, kids. Sure you will.

        Oh, I'm well aware of the hopelessness... But I think I can still make a difference. To me, the biggest problem is still getting things into space. We can build battleship sized vehicles on earth, but sending anything like that into space is basically impossible with current technology. I don't think I'll ever be spending my weekends surfing on europa, and I'm not going to change my life for space travel, but I just am interested now - so that if the opportunity ever comes up where I find myself very wealth

  • On the top of my list - buttonhole a physicist at a cocktail party!
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      You are of course never going to achieve your goal, largely because physicists aren't invited to cocktail parties. At least, not since one of them tried to sit down with the hostess and show her how to derive the Schrodinger Equation.

      • That was my girlfriend, and she went off with him. He promised her that once she understood the Schroedinger equation, she would really get into big bangs.
      • by styrotech (136124)

        What? Talking about physicists not being invited to parties on a Slashdot article titled "A Users Guide to the Universe" and (so far) there are no references to the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain?

        I'm shocked I tell you, shocked!

  • Cosmology is is changing rapidly and made several sharp turns during my lifetime. And the vast amount of new astronomical data pouring in thanks to Moore's Law suggests we'll see a few more sharp turns before its over.

    On the other hand particle physics appears to have stagnated the past couple decades after verifying the last couple quarks and the Standard Theory. Its now wallowing in untestable theories like Strings and Quantum Gravity.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      On the other hand particle physics appears to have stagnated the past couple decades

      Maybe that's why they built the Large Hadron Collider?

  • Frankly? (Score:1, Redundant)

    by Bearhouse (1034238)

    "Have you ever wanted to buttonhole a physicist at a cocktail party?"

    Only if she was hot...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @02:29PM (#31660264)

    You know that is highly improbable, otherwise someone would have invented the infinite improbability drive by now.

  • How does light travel at the speed of light?

    We know that photons have a small amount of mass, and we know that the force required to accelerate to the speed of light approaches infinity.

    Sooo.. WTF?
    Photons have mass but not inertia?

    How can a little AAA battery/LED combo produce a (tiny) mass that moves at the speed of light?

    • And another thing:

      My understanding is that all light (EM waves) travel at the speed of light c.

      (I know that it varies depending on the medium the light travels through, but assume a vacuum)

      Why? Why can't there be fast light and slow light? Why does it all have to be the same speed??

      • by SnarfQuest (469614) on Monday March 29, 2010 @03:36PM (#31661148)

        Batteries are charged up from the electric grid, and they are designed to provide only the lighter, faster electrons from the top of the generators. Periodically, then will connect to the bottom of the generators to clean out all the large, slow electrons that have accululated in the bottom. This is when you get the brownouts, as the fat, slow electrons generate slow photons, which shift the colors down to the slower, browner colors of the spectrum.

        The battery makers know about this secret, so on days when they are draining the generators, the battery makers switch to alternative power sources, such as solar power, so you don't have to worry about brown flashlights. Solar power doesn't have this problem, because the atmosphere filters out most of the fat electrons. This is what causes the Aurora Borealis, the fat photons hit the atmosphere, and explode. The smaller ones don't hit as hard because they are lighter, so they don't explode. When your battery is almost out of power, you will see that the fat electrons at the bottom of the battery start to come out, and your flashlight will dim.

    • From what I remember photons are massless but carry momentum. (Admittedly I only took up to physics 102 so my understanding of modern physics is definitely limited.)
      • From what I remember photons are massless but carry momentum.

        Well how the fuck do you do that?!?!?

        Who do these photons think they are?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by HeckRuler (1369601)
          Alright, this is important right here. You've got this worldview that defines things like mass, momentum, inertia, speed, all that crap. And it all interacts and you know, works.
          Ok, that worldview, yeah, it isn't perfect. It's not complete bullshit because the sun will rise tomorrow and a thrown rock still comes back down to earth. But it's not perfect. This little bit here with photons, yeah, you're getting it wrong.

          So you're going to have to do a few things to avoid being a hard-headed imbecile:
          a) A
      • A quick visit to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] shows that you are correct.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      Photons do not have mass. You may be thinking of neutrinos, which were once thought to be massless, but have been found to have a very small mass. Only massless particles can travel at the speed.

    • by spun (1352)

      Here, this may help clear up your misunderstanding: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photon [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by maxwell demon (590494)

      How does light travel at the speed of light?

      That one is easy: Because it is light, whatever speed it goes is the speed of light. :-)

      We know that photons have a small amount of mass,

      No, photons have exactly zero mass (well, actually all we can say for sure is that their mass is far below anything we can measure, but if they had any mass, they would not travel at the invariant speed (c), but slightly below (but still so fast that any light we have yet measured is so close to c that we can't see the difference

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pclminion (145572)

      We know that photons have a small amount of mass, and we know that the force required to accelerate to the speed of light approaches infinity.

      Photons don't have any mass. Not sure where you get that idea. They have energy due to their frequency, and energy and mass are equivalent as far as general relativity is concerned, but the photon doesn't literally have a rest mass. This is because the photon is never at rest.

      Your confusion arises because you aren't using the correct definitions of energy and momen

  • The author of this article must have used the insights on time-travel to build a time-machine, travel to Wednesday and return with the XKCD comic from that day...

    To be entitled: "My Hobby: Buttonholing physicists at cocktail parties."
  • I guess maybe it's just the Science and History channel but some of the answers he gives on those shows I just thought were useless. I mean first he prattles on about how weird gravity is in Newtonian mechanics because matter magically reaches out with a mysterious force to pull on objects at a distance directly. Nobody knows what that force is and this always bothered physicists. No that's not what happens we have to listen to Einstein and how he explained that really what happens is space is warped and ob
    • by rolfwind (528248)

      I don't like his show Sci Fi Science, it has some cool concepts and stuff, but the way he presents what he builds at the end is complete self-aggrandizement.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Wait why should matter warp space at all

      The universe is warped. The reason things pull together is that the universe sucks.

  • wow (Score:3, Informative)

    by AndersOSU (873247) on Monday March 29, 2010 @03:04PM (#31660708)

    Judging by the comments, this review serves as an excellent Rorschach test.

  • by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Monday March 29, 2010 @03:11PM (#31660824)

    About a dozen times during the astro observing class he taught at Yale he pointed skyward and said, "Behold: Jove, king of the planets!" He also wrote a nifty image stacking applet for students.

  • Sounds like an odd thing to do, but if she's cute i'll be a gentleman and offer to push in her stool.

    Are there any cute female phycisists?

  • Another great book on physics for the uninitiated is Isaac Asimov's non-fiction book, Understanding Physics [amazon.com]. Even after all these decades, it's still a fantastic book, and a surprisingly easy read.
  • I used to BE a physicist you ignorant clod!

  • by noidentity (188756) on Monday March 29, 2010 @05:26PM (#31662574)
    I'm hoping page 42 is something like "This page intentionally left blank" or something.
  • Real men start with QED [wikipedia.org] as a light bedside reading! And then switch to the real challenging stuff! ^^

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