Thursday, June 3, 2010

Once in a Lifetime . . .

. . . a book like this comes along. Okay--maybe five times. Whatever. The point is that when I brought this book with me on a visit to my sister's house in Massachusetts, my brother-in-law, The Dub, who is himself much more entertaining than must-see TV, went wild. The Dub, who will tell you that he's only read 5 books cover-to-cover in his entire life, was so excited at the prospect of this book that he snatched it from me (after asking politely, as is The Dub's wont) and took it with him on a road trip, willing to pay late fees if necessary and to mail it back to North Carolina so that I could return it to the library from whence I had borrowed it. What book, pray tell?

Physics For Future Presidents
by Richard A. Muller

I was introduced to the title by the wildly entertaining Steph/vens (Levitt and Dubner, who are worth a read themselves) and immediately picked it up; after The Dub eventually returned it, I've been thoroughly well-informed (not that I'm considering a run for POTUS) and also entertained. Some educational teasers:

  • How much more does a kilowatt hour of power from AAA batteries cost than a kilowatt hour of coal? Try $999.992. That's right; an hour of kilowatt power from AAA batteries is $1000 an hour and almost $1000 more expensive than your coal powered wall outlet, which runs you just .8 cents for one kilowatt hour. Yikes--no more battery powered toys for the Monk's kids! A laptop battery, just for comparison's sake, is way more efficient, and only costs $4 per kilowatt hour (but costs $100 to replace)
  • Did you know that "steak has almost four times the energy of TNT; chocolate chip cookies, eight times as much? No wonder we are addicted to food! If you find the high energy content implausible, watch a hummingbird. It uses enormous energy in the nectar must be more than enough to cover the work being done by those rapidly beating wings that hold the bird in front of the flower. It is. Food is almost as good as gasoline," which has four times the energy of steak. Mmmm . . . too much talk about steak. Time to fire up the grill!
  • Did you know that it's possible for humans to fly under their own power? Don't jump off a tall building flapping your arms just yet, but do check out this picture:

That man's been eating his chocolate chip cookies! The plane is called the Gossamer Condor, and it was designed by the late Paul McCready; holy cow! I don't know how it takes off, but it's incredible.
  • Finally, I have a friend, Sassparilla, who's been living up the antioxidant life recently (Wo, there girl! Seriously!). She's been wondering why it is that POM-Wonderful and dark chocolate have been touting the health benefits of antioxidants. I didn't know before I read the book--but Mr. Muller has informed me and, hopefully, our next president: Everyone "already [has] about a 20% chance of dying of cancer, even if exposed to no human-created radiation. Nobody knows why. The 20% doesn't come from any proven environmental effect. Environmental radioactivity isn't sufficient. We know of no pollutants whose effect should add up to 20%. Where does this come from? It is a scientific and medical mystery. Here is one possibility: as our cells grow older, some of their genes just fail from 'old age.' The eminent biochemist Bruce Ames has suggested that some of these cancers may arise from long-term exposure to oxygen, the same chemical that makes fats rancid. If all of the growth regulators fail, even if for just one cell in the body, that cell will then begin to divide out of control, and cancer results. It's not easy to give up oxygen [DUH!], but this theory has led some people to consume more antioxidants to minimize the damage." Pass the Hershey's Dark, Sassparilla.
OK--I didn't even touch the sections on Terrorism (Holy Shnikes!) and Global Warming (from the 1950s through the 1970s climate scientists thought we were entering another ice age! because the testing of nuclear bombs was cooling the earth! seriously!). If you have any aspirations to the job of POTUS--or even to voting for the next POTUS--this book is for you. It's a must read. I mean . . . if The Dub read it--Number 6 in his whole life!--shouldn't you?


Joseph Smidt said...

I'm glad you wrote about this. It sounds like a really interesting book.

Jo Jo said...

Cool! What's a POTUS? Cute to know that about Roger. This would seem like his kind of book. And I'm always about dark chocolate.

Jenny said...

Jo Jo makes me laugh. (I read Alana's post and didn't know what BP was)
POTUS=President of the United States.
Zach, my eyes have been opened. I just reserved this book from the library.