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October 28, 2009

Book reviews: End of the Universe

Filed under: books,science — Nick @ 11:46 pm

Death from the Skies!: The Science Behind the End of the World, by Philip Plait (Penguin Books, 2008)
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, by Neil deGrasse Tyson (W. W. Norton & Co, 2007)

A couple of weeks ago I had a 15%-off coupon from Barnes & Noble that was about to expire; with that and a gift card I had laying around an emergency trip to the bookstore was clearly in order. I was browsing the science section and noticed a book I had been intending to read: Death From The Skies, by astronomer (actually “Bad Astronomer”) and blogger Phil Plait. Since I frequent his blog, as well as the forum associated with it, I was aware the book had been out for some time. As a bonus, I also noticed a book by astrophysicist, Hayden Planetarium director, and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson with a very similar title, Death By Black Hole, nearby on the shelf. Oddly, even though Tyson’s book came out the year before Plait’s, I had somehow missed hearing any mention of it. Naturally, I bought them both.

As I mentioned, I was looking forward to reading Death From The Skies for some time. The paperback version seems to have three subtitles associated with it. The cover’s subtitle is “The Science Behind the End of the World,” whereas the title page states the subtitle is “The ways the World Will End…” Finally, a note states that the hardcover’s subtitle is “These Are the Ways the World Will End.” Regardless, the three subtitles will give one a general idea of the purpose of the book. Plait discusses the various ways the universe might cause the end of world, which run the gamut from fairly local phenomena (at least by astronomical standards) such as by impact with a large asteroid, through universe-wide catastrophe. Plait gives good explanations on the various odds and timescales by which these events may (or will) happen without sounding sensationalistic.

Readers who have only a modest background in science or mathematics will find find the book easy to understand. Plait keeps the mathematics and unexplained technical jargon to a minimum. I must confess that before I started reading it I had some fear I would dislike the book. Plait’s blog is written in a very informal style that is peppered with pop-culture references and neologisms that I find off-putting when overdone. However, the book is free from these, whether by author’s design, or by editorial handling. In either case, the book remains informal and breezy without becoming overly twee.

Death By Black Hole, by Neil deGrasse Tyson, has the single subtitle “and Other Cosmic Quandaries.” Despite the rather similar-sounding name, Tyson’s book is very different than Plait’s. Death By Black Hole is actually a collection of essays that were written for Natural History magazine, and were then collected and edited for updates and continuity. The essays are grouped in sections by subject material and range from a variety of topics such as the ways we understand science or how science interacts with culture, in addition to essays that might be thought of as pure science. Only one section, titled “When the Universe Turns Bad (which contains the eponymous essay),” deals with end of the end-of-world (or universe) scenarios that are similar to the subject matter of Plait’s book.

The style of this book reminded me very much of a series of books by Stephen Jay Gould that were also collections of essays written for Natural History (although in his case the subject matter was largely biological), except that Tyson has less of a tendency to wander than Gould, and tends to get right to the subject matter of each essay without too much diversion. If one enjoyed reading Gould’s books (as I did) then the reader will also probably like this one.

October 17, 2009

Updated page: comics links

Filed under: comics,fun,web authoring,what's new — Nick @ 12:04 am

I just updated the comics page to include a bunch of links to comic strips (mostly ones found in newspapers, although there may be a few webcomics in there if read them, and there are also a few strips that are retired but in reruns).

At first I started making the links using the TABLE element, which seemed logical at the time. I had the idea that could apply the CSS overflow property to the TBODY element to make a scrollable table, but that didn’t seem to work in most browsers. Moreover, after looking over the CSS spec, I’m not even sure that overflow can be applied to TBODY at all.

After that, I decide to use nested list element markup, which ended up saving a lot of lines of code, at least. To save browser space, I gave the list elements a fixed width and floated them so they would all line up. I had to use a few tweaks to get it to look right in several browsers (including some older ones), but eventually I think I got the bugs worked out.

October 12, 2009

New Page – Tzatziki recipe

Filed under: food,what's new — Tags: — Nick @ 10:29 pm

My sister sent me a recipe for the Greek dipping sauce tzatziki, which I added to my recipes page. The recipe calls for Greek yogurt, which is thicker than the kind one would normally see in a typical grocery store. I happened to find some in Kroger the other day, which reminded me that I need to bug my sister for the recipe.

Yesterday I decided to grill a marinated boneless leg of lamb I bought on sale awhile ago and was sitting in my freezer. I basically prepared it as I do on my roast lamb recipe and let it marinade for a few hours in the refrigerator. I fired up the Weber grill and banked the coals to cook the lamb on high indirect heat. Afterward I sliced it up and served it with pita bread accompanied by the aforementioned tzatziki sauce and some onions and tomatoes.

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