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A User's Guide To the Universe

samzenpus posted about 4 years ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

Books 153

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 (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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153 comments

Have you ever wanted to buttonhole a physicist? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31659960)

Heh, trick question. There are no female physicists.

Re:Have you ever wanted to buttonhole a physicist? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660010)

That's never stopped me.

Re:Have you ever wanted to buttonhole a physicist? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660046)

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.

There are wmone physicists and they're pretty! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31661242)

Yes they do. And one of them, Lisa Randall of Harvard [timeinc.net], is one I'd like to buttonhole a few times.

I read that as... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31659964)

..."have you ever wanted to butthole a physicist".

Well, brains ARE sexy.

I can't help it (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660030)

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

Does it come with a towel? (2, Funny)

Low Ranked Craig (1327799) | about 4 years ago | (#31660074)

I'd sure like to get out of here before the Vogons demolish the planet.

or, for the more erudite... (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 4 years ago | (#31660180)

try "The Road to Reality" by Roger Penrose. Highly recommended; it's more of a physicist's summary of physics. The first third is just introductory mathematics, required for understanding the physics outlined in the rest of its 1000+ pages.

Yeah, right (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | about 4 years ago | (#31660086)

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.

Re:Yeah, right (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | about 4 years ago | (#31660172)

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.

You missed one important point (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 4 years ago | (#31660960)

If you read carefully, you will see that while high the guy was trying to read up on how hard drives work. All those curled up dimensions and wormholes are just hard drive analogies.

Re:Yeah, right (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 4 years ago | (#31660210)

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.

Re:Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660482)

Holy crap that book wasn't that funny back in the day, and this joke is so tired.

Re:Yeah, right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660288)

You read the last page of a mystery novel first, don't you?

Re:Yeah, right (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | about 4 years ago | (#31660416)

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!

Good thing we have you! (1)

spun (1352) | about 4 years ago | (#31660646)

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.

Re:Good thing we have you! (5, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 4 years ago | (#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:Good thing we have you! (2, Informative)

spun (1352) | about 4 years ago | (#31662020)

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.

not an american... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660098)

does "buttonhole" mean what I think it means? (eg: something to do with your butt hole?)

Re:not an american... (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | about 4 years ago | (#31660658)

It's a saying that means, as was said above, "to detain someone in conversation against their wishes". It carries the imagery of forcing someone into a space the size of a buttonhole so you can have your conversational way with them, no butts required.

Cosmos! (5, Interesting)

Facegarden (967477) | about 4 years ago | (#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

Re:Cosmos! (1)

e2d2 (115622) | about 4 years ago | (#31660252)

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.

Re:Cosmos! (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | about 4 years ago | (#31660278)

>>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.

Re:Cosmos! (2, Insightful)

Facegarden (967477) | about 4 years ago | (#31660472)

>>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 and embedded programming, so I've got a really good core set of skills for robotics, which is my real passion. I prefer learning practical things mostly, which I do best hands-on. That means I don't read much, because normally I am just too busy working on things to sit down and read. And I do study a great deal of stuff online for these projects, so its not like I don't take in new info. Still, I find learning about astrophysics astonishing, and lately my brain has been on such overload from all my projects, its nice to be able to zone out and read a book - though even that is hard... while reading I'll find myself thinking about other things still, and not really processing what I'm reading!

So basically, reading is cool, and everyone who reads always tells me its better, and they're probably right, i wouldn't really argue against it, but I'm still perfectly happy not reading much. And i know you're not trying to be a dick, and I'm not either when I say "I know, I've heard it many times before".
-Taylor

Re:Cosmos! (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | about 4 years ago | (#31662100)

>>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]

Re:Cosmos! (1)

Facegarden (967477) | about 4 years ago | (#31662296)

>>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 few pages and then realize I don't even know what I read. That kind of defeats the purpose of reading.

Mostly I'm just working on so many things that I don't have much time to just sit down and read. I don't really watch TV much either - i put Cosmos on at work when I'm doing monotonous things mostly.

But I've hit a place where my brain is moving too quickly - to the point where I'm thinking about a million things at once, but not really getting anywhere - its just becoming a bunch of noise. So I'm taking a break from all my projects and figured it would be nice to read and relax.

I'm just not sure if I'll ever have the time it takes to really be a solid "reader" per se.

And I don't read PDFs of books, i read articled and datasheets on things. I'm learning about how MOSFETS work so I can build my own motor controller, and things like that. Its learning, but its not really "reading" in the normal sense.

Its not that I think I'm even right per se, I just haven't figured out when I would read normally. But hopefully this book will get me in the groove? Its hard to say with me.
-Taylor

Re:Cosmos! (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660292)

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.

Re:Cosmos! (3, Informative)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | about 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Cosmos! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660922)

"so inspiring its crazy"

It has gotten even better since.
You'll run into it.

Re:Cosmos! (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 4 years ago | (#31661322)

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! (3, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 years ago | (#31661332)

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.

Re:Cosmos! (1)

Facegarden (967477) | about 4 years ago | (#31661786)

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.

Re:Cosmos! (1)

SparkleMotion88 (1013083) | about 4 years ago | (#31661600)

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! (3, Informative)

syousef (465911) | about 4 years ago | (#31661696)

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

Re:Cosmos! (1)

Facegarden (967477) | about 4 years ago | (#31661820)

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

Wow (0, Flamebait)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 4 years ago | (#31660132)

This sounds more like a publisher's sales pitch than a review, and it is accompanied by an affiliate link. How did editors allow something like this? Please don't buy this book through the link provided. If you must buy it, go to amazon.com and search for it. At least don't encourage spam on slashdot since editors obviously don't care.

Re:Wow (5, Informative)

alfredw (318652) | about 4 years ago | (#31660204)

For the record, I submitted the review without any sort of link to the publisher (per the Slashdot book review policy). The /. editors add in those links.

And no, I don't work for the publisher. I genuinely read the book and enjoyed it.

Re:Wow (4, Informative)

corbettw (214229) | about 4 years ago | (#31660340)

Every book review on Slashdot has such a link; it's been like this for at least as long as Amazon has had an affiliate policy (though I seem to recall the links used to go to Barnes & Noble, though I could be mistaken).

Things I want to do... (2, Funny)

UninformedCoward (1738488) | about 4 years ago | (#31660176)

On the top of my list - buttonhole a physicist at a cocktail party!

Re:Things I want to do... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660362)

I'd like to "buttonhole" this physicist [universe-review.ca] once or twice.

Re:Things I want to do... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31662144)

Hey, don't you *dare* to masturbate thinking about my mother!

- Garrett Randall

Re:Things I want to do... (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 4 years ago | (#31660694)

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.

Re:Things I want to do... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 4 years ago | (#31660964)

Yes, but the true problem was that the hostess was Austrian and was really pissed about him omitting the dots from Schrödinger. :-)

You insensitive clod (2, Funny)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 4 years ago | (#31660998)

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.

Re:Things I want to do... (1)

styrotech (136124) | about 4 years ago | (#31661822)

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!

its interesting they need to write books like this (1)

peter303 (12292) | about 4 years ago | (#31660186)

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:its interesting they need to write books like t (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 years ago | (#31661522)

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

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

Physicists at cocktail party? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660264)

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

Re:Physicists at cocktail party? (1)

styrotech (136124) | about 4 years ago | (#31661974)

You better watch out in case they realize that the one thing they really can't stand is a smartass.

Random question about light: (0)

Absolut187 (816431) | about 4 years ago | (#31660370)

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?

Re:Random question about light: (0)

Absolut187 (816431) | about 4 years ago | (#31660382)

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??

Re:Random question about light: (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 4 years ago | (#31660902)

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??

Because photons have no mass. Anything without mass goes at the invariant speed, because that's the only speed where it can exist.

Re:Random question about light: (1)

toastar (573882) | about 4 years ago | (#31661422)

Because photons have no mass. Anything without mass goes at the invariant speed, because that's the only speed where it can exist.

So why can some gauge boson's be massless while others have mass?

Re:Random question about light: (5, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Random question about light: (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | about 4 years ago | (#31661576)

Oh, I get it. That's probably why fluorescent lights are slower to turn because they are made with fat photons!

Err I don't think that's correct (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | about 4 years ago | (#31660466)

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.)

Re:Err I don't think that's correct (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | about 4 years ago | (#31660554)

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:Err I don't think that's correct (2, Insightful)

HeckRuler (1369601) | about 4 years ago | (#31661460)

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) Accept that you don't know how this portion of the world works, for now.
b) Learn how it does work from people smarter then you.
c) Update your worldview to incorperate what you've learned.

Re:Random question about light: (2, Informative)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | about 4 years ago | (#31660556)

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.

Re:Random question about light: (1)

mhamel (314503) | about 4 years ago | (#31660692)

Photons have no mass. That's one of the things that define them. There is a nice article on wikipedia about it :-)

Re:Random question about light: (3, Informative)

maxwell demon (590494) | about 4 years ago | (#31660764)

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). The big question is: If we found a photon mass, would we still call the invariant speed the speed of light?
Anyway, out theories say the photon doesn't have any mass, and the experiments don't contradict this assumption.

and we know that the force required to accelerate to the speed of light approaches infinity.

That's not a problem for light, because it doesn't get accelerated to that speed, but as massless particle, it goes at speed of light right from its creation up to its destruction.

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

Photons have no mass, but inertia. Indeed, in the direction it goes it has infinite inertia: You cannot slow it down, nor speed it up (you might object to this claim because of the lower speed of light in media, but that's the group velocity, which isn't the speed of photons). In the direction orthogonal to its direction of flight it has inertia proportional to its energy (you can change the direction in which the light flies, as every mirror proves; the light pressure shows that there's a force involved).

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

It can't.

Re:Random question about light: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660966)

Photons don't have mass, fucktard. GB2 physics class.

Re:Random question about light: (1)

sebaseba (1617571) | about 4 years ago | (#31661228)

The battery can produce photons as a single photon doesn't have much of energy: around 1 eV which is 1.602*10^-19 J. One battery has around 1.5 V and 1000 mAh, that would be 1,5 Wh or 5,4 kJ. A single AAA battery can generate 3,37*10^22 photons with 1 eV (implying 100% efficiency). E = mc^2 = h. being frequency, h being planck's constant, c being the speed of light, m being mass and E for energy. Moving photons do have a (virtual?) mass as in they are affected by gravity and they do affect others with their own gravity, albeit very weak one. They don't have any rest mass, which is mass at rest.

ewww (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660404)

i really hate skinny italic fonts. i read

Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty"

as Surviving the Penis of Black Holes...

Re:ewww (1)

SeNtM (965176) | about 4 years ago | (#31660700)

Surviving the Penis in a Black Hole is probobly the first things one must do when presented with such perils. Often, Black Holes will converge, creating Super Black Holes. It is important to note that you must now survive the perils of penii. If you can survive the penii, then you will likely live out the remainder of your life in relative safety, as from your perspective time will elongate or stretch as you approach the event horizon.

Re:ewww (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31661390)

What font are you using?

Jeff Goldblum (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660424)

Are we sure this book wasn't written by Jeff Goldblum?

XKCD - My Hobby... (2, Funny)

SeNtM (965176) | about 4 years ago | (#31660454)

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."

Surviving the WHAT? (0, Redundant)

GPLDAN (732269) | about 4 years ago | (#31660474)

In italics, it looks like it says "Surviving the Penis of Black Holes".


Gives it a new twist...

Ohhhh...it said "buttonhole"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31660508)

Glad I read that first sentence a second time...

Good as long as they don't ask Michio Kaku (1)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | about 4 years ago | (#31660706)

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 objects are moving through this space in basically straight lines and it's so much better and doesn't have that spooky action at a distance stuff. I guess he didn't notice one thing, how does space get warped? Oh yeah, matter magically reaches out with a mysterious force to pull on space itself. Then by pulling on space objects at a distance are moved indirectly. (I get that relativity works better. My problem with Kaku's explaination was he had a bug up his ass over that mysterious force acting over a distance when talking about Newton. Yet when he talked about Einstein it didn't seem to bother him that some how matter still needs to "grab" over a distance. I was thinking to myself, "Wait why should matter warp space at all?") Well that and when he tried to explain how we know E=MC^2 as pretty much "Well that's what Einstein said it was." (Ok, I looked that one up on Wikipedia. I actually understood their explaination and it made me understand relativity more. That was cool.)

Re:Good as long as they don't ask Michio Kaku (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about 4 years ago | (#31661370)

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.

Re:Good as long as they don't ask Michio Kaku (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 years ago | (#31661758)

Wait why should matter warp space at all

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

Brian Greene (1)

Dthief (1700318) | about 4 years ago | (#31660820)

I'm curious how much more one would get out of this versus reading Brian Greenes' books. Or is it more like a newer version of this with a bit more time behind it?

Dave Goldberg Rules (3, Funny)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | about 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Dave Goldberg Rules (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31661744)

Wait a minute, this just freaked me out. If Jupiter was the biggest god in their pantheon (he overthrew Saturn), how the hell did the Romans know it was the biggest planet? Even if they didn't know it was, it's one hell of a coincidence.

This freaks me out!!

Butthole-ing a physicist? (1, Funny)

AP31R0N (723649) | about 4 years ago | (#31660990)

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?

Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov (1)

bug (8519) | about 4 years ago | (#31661204)

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.

Re:Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | about 4 years ago | (#31661458)

Mod parent up for recommending Asimov's book! Isaac A. wrote a large number of popular science books covering a variety of topics. if anyone has the slightest curiousity about one of the topics he covered, they would be well served to seek out Asimov's book on the topic. My personal favorite: The Universe, where he not only explains what we know about astronomy, but how we learned what we know about astronomy.

On the subject of physics, I would also recommend the books by Heinz Pagels [wikipedia.org]. Heinz met an untimely death in a mountaneering accident, but he left behind three mind blowing books about physics. I have not seen the book referred to in the TFA, but I do hope that Heinz' books are part of the bibliography.

As Maggie Thatcher said (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 4 years ago | (#31662272)

"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?

No, no, and no.

dumbing it down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31662276)

Physics without math is like cooking without food...kind of misses the whole point

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