Tag Archives: math

Book: Information

Information: The New Language of Science
Info about info. That’s all there is.

Never really takes off.
272 pages, ★

Information lacks relevance throughout. I was asking, “What’s the point of this book?” somewhere around the middle. I only finished this book because I was in a hospital waiting room and found it slightly more entertaining than watching kindergarten programmes on the overhead TV.

I lost interest completely at this point:

“Imagine twisting the beads on your team’s necklace and watching the corresponding beads on the other team’s necklace twist in the opposite direction. Now imagine shattering that necklace and asking them what order the beads were in by asking them to re-twist them. Of course, the only beads whose directions can’t be communicated are the ones attached to the clasp. That’s basically Quantum Theory.”

Paraphrased from page two-hundred-and-something

This drivel disappoints me. I expect PopSci (that’s Popular Science) to bridge the gap between theory and application, thus bringing researchers closer to the public. Unfortunately, this book pushes them further apart.

This is a shame, because there’s some fascinating research being done in the field of Information Theory:

  • Enigma machines (WW2)
  • earthquake prediction
  • election fraud
  • stock market fluctuations
  • gambling cheats
  • evolution of religion
  • music analysis
  • and more…

This book fails to communicate all of this amazing stuff.

Information needs to be edited by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki to make it relevant and fun. I sincerely hope that this book isn’t the “new language of science” as its subtitle claims. ★

Book: The Book of Nothing

It's hard to depict 'nothing'.
It’s hard to depict ‘nothing’ on a book cover.

Journey from Elementary Maths to Advanced Physics.
380 pages, ★★★★

The Book of Nothing begins with ancient civilisations’ interpretations of numbers. All cultures experimented with different number bases, almost all of which were based on body parts. Evidence of number base 20 (fingers on two hands), 10 (fingers on one hand), 8 (gaps between fingers) and 2 (hands) have been found worldwide. We now use base 10.

“Zero” is discussed for a hundred pages. Zero emerged when the Arabs, the Indians and the Greeks all a need to distinguish hundreds, tens and unit digits with clarity. Leaving spaces is ambiguous (for instance, 7 2 and 7  2 are difficult to distinguish), so these civilisations started using a dot to signify the absence of a digit: 7..2.

The Arabic “dot” became “٠”, while the Indian dot started with a resemblance to the lower-case alpha: “∝”. Both of these later evolved into the “0” we use today.

In the Elizabethan era, the zero (and indeed anything else that implied zero, nothing, nil, nada, etc) connoted female sexual undertones. Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, first printed in 1600, may have been interpreted as a sexual pun—as would this book.

The Book of Nothing then steps slowly, but deeply, into physics. We learn why water can only be pumped to a height of 18 cubits. We learn about casimir plates, Curie temperatures, about the amazing properties of α & e (page 231), Michaelson’s experiment, and the mind-boggling properties of seemingly empty space.

Best of all, this book is full of human history and interesting stories. It’s serious and informative yet easy to read. I recommend The Book of Nothing for high-school students and prospective university applicants. ★★★★