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"What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" by Randall Munroe

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 15:52 -- Hal Harris

xkcd is a nerdy Internet daily cartoon that is written and drawn by a former NASA "roboticist". The subject matter is all over the map [yesterday's (11/4/14) is about TypographicChemistry], but tends to favor physics and computing. He encourages readers of the cartoon strip to send him outrageous questions, and he supplies outrageous but scientifically accurate responses. Some of the best of these have be come a surprising NYT Best Seller.

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"The Unpersuadables" by Will Storr

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 10:53 -- Hal Harris
The Unpersuadables, by Will Storr

Journalist Will Storr provides sixteen vignettes about people who hold decidedly minority views about scientific and historical topics. Rather than just saying, "This is what these people believe, and here is why they are wrong", Storr allows each of them to tell their own story, and lets their words speak largely for themselves.

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Soccernomics: Why Transfers Fail, Why Spain Rule the World and Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski

Wed, 07/24/2013 - 13:49 -- Hal Harris

Lots of us learned about percentages and statistics by studying batting averages, and many of our students are passionately choosing players for fantasy leagues in various sports. Is it possible to find methods for the evaluation of players in soccer using methods similar to those in "Moneyball"? This question and many others are addressed in "Soccernomics"

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Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

Sat, 06/15/2013 - 15:53 -- Hal Harris

One of the pioneers in digital media and networks is disquieted by the dominance of the digital landscape by a few Siren Servers, who capitalized not on their superior products or expertise, but solely on their ability to extract a profit from each of the bits that make up Big Data. He thinks we all should be paid for our contributions, or at least the system be changed so as to provide incentives real contributions.

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Life's Ratchet: How Molecular Machines Extract Order From Chaos

Tue, 04/30/2013 - 21:09 -- Hal Harris

Peter Hoffman is a physicist and materials scientist, and he brings those perspectives and sensibilities to the description of how life converts chemical energy into order and motion.  The "Ratchet" in the title is Feynman's Ratchet, a gedanken experiment described in Feynman's "Lectures on Physics" and reminiscent of Maxwell's Demon.

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The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know has an Expiration Date

Mon, 01/28/2013 - 17:26 -- Hal Harris

Samuel Arbesman, a mathematician and network scientist, uses the idea a half-life as an analogy for the changes in human knowledge that science brings. He discusses both the changing rate at which new science is done and the speed at which old results are replaced by newer ones. The analogy is far from perfect, but it emphasizes some critically important aspects of the processes of science.

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