Archive for November, 2007

Nov 22 2007

Kindle or Paper: retro?

Published by under Books,retro

Amazon has announced an electronic book reader with the silly sounding name of “Kindle”. Kindle flames? Burn books? Hmmm. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of electronic paper ever since I first heard of it. A semi static display that can be changed sort of like the old ‘clacking’ departure signs in train stations (they are retro). Sony sells an ebook reader that sounds interesting and now kindle is the second such product supported by a company with deep pockets.

Kindle comes with some nice features. Primarily a wirelessly to Amazon that apparently uses some cell phone network (but it is not a phone). I believe it only connects to Amazon so you’re locked into them for material, and it has pretty serious restrictions on use of the content one might buy from them (such restrictions are euphemistically called DRM or Digital Rights Management as if they were a good thing for consumers). “diveintomark.org” has a clever and pointed summary of Amazon and DRM in the form of a play at “The Future of Reading”. Give it a read.

I still read books in there paper form, but occasionally listen to them on my iPod. I’ve thought about electronic book readers and have been intrigued by the Sony Reader as a possible way of carrying lots of material, but have not bought one yet. Kindle’s wireless update and access to newspaper, magazine and blogs add to the appeal. But the DRM is ugly and encourages the out of control expansion of copyright.

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Nov 10 2007

The Canon (A Whirlygig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science)

Published by under Books

by Natalie Angier

An enthusiastic and well written overview of the current state of scientific knowledge without any equations or math. Only words and describing science with only words is not easy to do. The contents are necessarily selective and, per the subtitle, stick to basic concepts in various fields. Anyone could read this book and get some useful information out of its descriptions and a better understanding of the scope and methods of science.

The bulk of the book consists of Chapters on major scientific disciples: Physics, Chemistry, Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Biology, Geology, and Astronomy. Each makes an interesting read for a non specialist. Each provides some historical perspective on the field then moves a few main idea forward to current understanding.

The first three chapters are probably the best, or most in need of wider dissemination, They address what is science all about (i.e. “Scientific Method”), dealing with probabilities, and understanding ‘the scale of things’. All fit in well. I only wish the information in these chapters were more widely disseminated in our culture of simplified sound bytes and black and white opinions. Evolution is a theory, but a theory with a whole lot of evidence to support it. So it is highly likely, but not certain to be true, and any better theory would have to incorporate and explain the same evidence. On the hand, Something like the “String Theory” that physicists are developing is much more speculative with essentially no experimental evidence to support
it.

Update from an email:

…..the word ‘theory has many meanings. People who say evolution is just a theory usually mean that it conflicts with their scripture, which they read as literally as they would read a scientific article. But in science, theory is the absolute best explanation you have of all of the data. For atomic theory, which I understand better than I do anything in physics, the data starts at Lavoisier and continues at least through Schroedinger. As always, theory is tentative and falsifiable, and it often needs be modified as our understanding grows. IMHO, evolutionary theory has the same sort of experimental validity as atomic theory, and is also tentative, falsifiable, and is growing rapidly as we understand genetics better. ……..

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