My Dad The Nerd

My dad the nerd

My mother never understood the wave-particle duality of electromagnetic phenomena. She had no interest in the fact that objects traveling near the speed of light shortened in their direction of motion. And she never grasped how an airplane managed to stay up in the air at all, even though her husband flew planes for a living. Continue reading

Great science fiction and fantasy authors: Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett is the best-selling fantasy author many people have never heard of. By the time he died in 2015, he had sold over 85 million books (based mostly on his Discworld series), and until JK Rowling rolled around, he was the best-selling author in Britain. Including his last book, The Shepherd’s Crown, he published over 41 Discworld books. Not to mention dozens of others in different genres and subgenres.

So who was this guy?

First, he wrote fantasy books. With a comic twist.

Now before some of you start groaning, these fantasy characters aren’t like anything you’ve ever read. First of all, they’re funny. There are dwarfs six feet high, vampires who’ve taken a pledge not to drink blood, and a witch who hates riding brooms.

Secondly, they have real depth. They come alive. They have idiosyncrasies and flaws, but what makes them so endearing is that we can see ourselves in them. They’re us. Granted, they’re us if we lived on a flat world supported by four elephants standing on an enormous tortoise that soars through the cosmos.

And they’re likable, including Death, which became one of his most beloved characters.

Are you still with me?

It’s not just the characters that draw fans to his series. In each novel, he managed to slip in some wry social commentary, allowing us to see our world reflected in his.

In Thud!, he draws attention to racial prejudices, taking aim at those who fan the flames of hatred against particular groups. In Equal Rites, he makes a case for equal opportunities for women way back in 1978. And in Small Gods, he has something to say about the misuse of religion for political (or personal) gains.

Besides everything mentioned above, few authors could mix science and fantasy with such flair. Of course on Discworld, science became magic. Tiny ants build sugar pyramids to their dead queen under the flagstones of the Unseen University. Magic causes light to slow down and take its time crossing Discworld, sometimes piling up at the foot of mountain ranges. Tantric sex magic books have to be stored under cold water to keep them from bursting into flames and “scorching their severely plain covers.” And of course, few can coin a phrase like him. In the bad parts of town in Ankh-Morpork, he has “ladies of negotiable affection” working the street.

These are not just silly, harmless fantasy romps. They make us think. And wonder. And laugh. All at the same time.

That’s an amazing legacy to leave behind.

(Postscript: The author himself, in his biographic-essay collection A Slip of the Keyboard suggests beginning Discworld readers not start with his first two books, The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic. True, as time went on, Mr. Pratchett’s writing became more masterful and in some cases, darker, but his first two entries are awfully darn good. If you want to start a bit later in his series, I suggest Hogfather and Mort.)

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Great Podcasts: Studio 360

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I chanced on this great website while looking for, as usual, all things scientific. Besides great podcasts (the one that led me here was about parallel universes…a subject near and dear to a sci-fi writer’s heart), studio 360 has articles, videos and blogs about current music, books, movies, and other pop culture happenings with a good dose of comedy thrown in (another subject near and dear to my heart as a comedy writer). It’s kind of like an alter-ego to another podcast favorite, Radiolab. Best of all: it has a separate page for science and technology, containing for example, videos of Darth Trump, artists at CERN, and what dark matter would look like if you could draw it.

Enjoy.

Hey Dude, Your Use of Bernoulli’s Equation and Euler’s Equation for Streamline Curvature Effect is Really Rad

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Human ingenuity will never cease to amaze me. And neither will the way that science makes its way into nearly every facet of our daily lives.

Especially when it comes to extreme sports. In fact, from wingsuit base jumping to ice climbing, these unbelievable sports wouldn’t exist without making use of scientific principles.

Take what I’ve been seeing more and more off the coast of California in the last year.

Kite surfing is nothing new. You combine a huge inflatable, curved kite and a short surfboard and you go sailing across the top of the water.

At some point, someone must have said to themselves: “This is really great, but I want to go faster. And I want to take advantage of really windy days, but not put up with the choppy surf that high winds create.

Someone, somewhere, must have seen—or ridden—on a hydrofoil boat and noticed that it provides a smooth ride even on choppy seas, it cruises much faster, and turns quicker.

Some smart person attached a hydrofoil to a surfboard and a new sport was born. It makes you do a double take, watching a person sailing three or four feet above the water.

Amazing.

So what’s next?

Once we humans make traveling into space an everyday thing, it wouldn’t be out of the question  to see someone whizzing by at a million miles an hour on solar wind sail.

And after that? It’s anyone’s guess. Black hole base jumping? Pulsar catapults?

(If you’re really interesting in the principle of using foils to lift a boat, here’s what MIT says about it: hydrofoils