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Science Books

February 9, 2006

Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut
Mike Mullane (2006)
ISBN: 0743276825

USAF Colonel Mike Mullane describes in candid, graphic detail what it takes to become one of a select few who have the "right-stuff" to blast into space. Riding Rockets details the long, arduous trials that Mullane had to endure to reserve his place in astro-history. He takes the reader on a no-holds-barred, first hand experience of people, places and experiences you'd have thought never existed among NASA's elite. In fact, Mullane takes you to places that you hoped you wouldn't have to go, but makes you enjoy your visit all the same. He has the ability to show you the highs and lows of his career in only a few short sentences. Reflecting on his chances of beating a vast field of talented competitors while at the NASA Flight Medicine Clinic, he writes: "Yes, the odds were long, but I was going to give it my best shot. At the moment that best shot was aimed squarely at where the sun didn't shine. I was in the process of preparing for my first proctosigmoidoscopy." But like people rubber-necking at a horrific multi-lane pile-up, you just can't tear your eyes away from the pages of Mullane's captivating book. Often verging on the hardboiled dialogue of a Mickey Spillane novel, Mullane conveys his disdain for "tree-huggers, dolphin friendly fish eaters, vegetarians, and subscribers to the New York Times," in addition to female astronauts. But what most will remember in this visceral tale of human experience is how the straight-talk'n Mullane manages to effortlessly describe the beauty and wonderment of places most of us will never see. Highly recommended.

Decoding the Universe: How the New Science of Information Is Explaining Everything in the Cosmos, from Our Brains to Black
Charles Seife (2006)
ISBN: 067003441X

Charles Seife, author of Alpha & Omega and Zero, is an accomplished and talented writer who works as a journalist for Science magazine, as well as having written for a number of other high profile science journals. He has also received an MS in probability theory and artificial intelligence from Yale. Seife's, latest installment on the workings of the cosmos will undoubtedly please both dedicated fans and those new to this remarkable writer's work. This time, Seife presents a new argument rregarding the cosmos in which information theory plays a central role. Seife argues, in his usual accessible manner, that information is not some ineffable, subjective product of isolated minds, but rather a fundamental, universal element of the physical world; everything that we know, and don't know of yet, is comprised of information. Seife follows the trail from World War II code breakers to physicists attempting to crack some of the most complex codes that make up the universe. How researchers define information has needed to undergo several shifts in order to arrive at their current understanding, but now researchers consider every new cosmic mystery just one more information puzzle to crack. Seife convincingly argues that many of the counterintuitive aspects of quantum theory in relation to classical mechanics can be readily explained using models of information theory. Indeed, the idea of instantaneous communication between particles separated by vast distances across the universe, or the theory of other dimensions associated with m-theory, can all be resolved using information theory. Decoding the Universe is a solid and intelligent piece of writing that makes many of today's seemingly far-fetched theories seem a little less mysterious.

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