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Archive for September 17th, 2014

Book Review:
Last night I completed the book: “Genius – The Life and Science of Richard Feynman“, (1992©) written by James Gleick.  As I had already read four of Dr. Feynman’s anecdotal books, most of the main content was already known to me.  What was “new” and interesting was the placing of Dr. Feynman’s work in context with the rest of the world (in general) and physics (in particular).  This is not a particularly “scientific” book.  There are no formulas and what nuclear physics which is discussed is not explained in any great detail.  Lots of things – quarks, spin, muans, top, tensor, scalar, photons, etc – are named, but very little is “explained”.  Probably because to do so would require math skills which so much of the general reading public lacks (myself included).  Or it could just be that the words naming things don’t translate into other words which explain them clearly.  I feel the latter is just as likely as the former.
Essentially, Feynman made his name by working on the creation of the “bomb” (the Manhattan Project), while he was in his early twenties.  He received his Nobel Prize (for physics) in 1965 and then achieved “popular” fame when he was on the commission to review the Challenger Shuttle disaster in the 1980’s.  There, he famously demonstrated how / why the “O-rings” failed by taking a piece of a ring and placing it in ice water during one of the televised sessions.  He then pressed on the chilled rubber and when it failed to return to “normal” shape, he explained this was the cause for the subsequent catastrophic failure (“explosion”) of the shuttle.
The good Dr. is “humanized” by repeatedly reporting on his sexual escapades and his other personal peccadilloes.  One is left with the impression that although brilliant, he was not necessarily a good / nice person.  Having said that, my experience is that focused and driven individuals rarely are – good or nice.  They rarely have the time or feel the need to make the effort to be “normal” in everyday society.
Anyone interested in seeing Dr. Feynman can look him up on YouTube and his world famous “red book” series are still widely available as references for Physics.  I’m told (actually I’ve read) you can practically hear the joy of science in Dr. Feynman’s lecture notes.  You can also find the books on-line for free, if you care to download them.
Final Recommendation:  Gleick is a very good writer and this is a fascinating (if deep) book.  If you are looking to try to understand the role of Physics in the 20th century, this is an excellent primer.  It is also an interesting biography of a true scientific iconoclast.  As mentioned, it is not for the faint of heart, but I’d say anyone with a deep (loving) curiosity of the world would get something out of this book.  Highly recommended.  And, of course, a good number of quotes will follow in the coming days…
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On This Day In:
2013 Serve The World
2012 Acquaintance, n.
2011 On Why His Father Was A Great Teacher
A Baker’s Dozen

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What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul: loses the appreciation of things worth while, of the value to which these things are relative; if he loses desire to apply what he has learned and, above all, loses the ability to extract meaning from his future experiences as they occur?
  —  John Dewey
from: “Education and Experience
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On This Day In:
2013 Serve The World
2012 Acquaintance, n.
2011 On Why His Father Was A Great Teacher
A Baker’s Dozen

Read Full Post »

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