Monday, November 21, 2005

Quasar, Shmasar; Flat Earth, Shmflat Earth

Well, after a long and thouroughly enjoyable detour into Final Fantasy X, I finally finished Isaac Asimov's The Universe. I'm sorry to say, it was not a page-turner. Also, fair warning: equal time is not given for Pastafarianism (or Flat Earthism).

You might know Issac Asmiov from the recent Will Smith movie about robots, which stole the name from one of his books in an ironic fashion, or from watching the Star Wars movies, which stole their entire universe from his Foundation series, only in a shameless fashion. Well, now he is back, with a popular science book about astronomy, subtitled with "from flat earth to quasar." No one, to date, has stolen this book to make a movie (email me if this is wrong).

It starts out well enough, with a section on the Ancient Greeks and all their crazy ideas about the universe. This is pretty interesting, and reading about how these guys measured the circumference of the earth using 2 pointy sticks is like watching someone build a computer out of Legos (WARNING: link is not as interesting as it sounds). The book then moves on through the years and on through the cosmos as mankind discovered more and more of the universe and all the crazy stuff that resides therein.

Unfortunately for the narrative, something like 95% of the history of astronomy as a hard science has happened in the last 50 or so years (from the publishing of the book, 1960 or so). So it is heavily weighted away from high-minded men struggling to overcome the limitations of their time, and heavily weighted toward high-minded men completing tasks successfully and meeting deadlines. It's not snobby, those are my words, but it just gets a bit dry after a while.

One thing that is more interesting than those boring things that I just spoke to is the crazy links of observations and extrapolations that allowed us to divine all that we know about our universe. For instance, have you ever wondered how in the world we know that the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy? You know, we are in it, and it's not like there is a giant mirror out there for us to look at ourselves in. Well, if you read this book, you will find out (if you care to know).

This book would be an excellent book to read if you are a science teacher, wanting to bone up on your material before the one week where you teach the kids astronomy - it covers just about everything you learn in school about the universe, and it explains everything in an adequately acessible fashion. Likewise, if you are a person who wants to remember how galaxies are formed, or if you are a person who wants to know why they are called "galaxies" in the first place, this might be a good book for you.

If, however, you are looking for an entertaining bedside read, or a book where you will learn lots of new and interesting things (assuming you paid attention in science class the first time around), you can probably skip this one and never regret it for the rest of your life.

Anyways, the best part about the book for me, was that it reminded me of this picture:

So there, I just saved you 300 pages. You're welcome.


At 11/22/2005 08:02:00 AM, Anonymous nic said...

Dude FFX is amazing.

At 11/22/2005 09:11:00 AM, Blogger Ross said...

Dude deep field is more amazing.

At 11/22/2005 06:22:00 PM, Blogger mbs said...

yeah it was funny cuz maura after watching for 10 minutes was like, "do you even play this game? or is it just cutscenes?" and i was like, "youve just summarized every review of this game ever written." but seriously, tears in my eyes at the end. even maura admitted that it was touching.

deep field, it's like the face of god.

At 11/23/2005 08:10:00 AM, Anonymous nic said...

my second time through my wife watched me play the whole thing. Why can't other games have story lines that are that good?


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