Thursday, October 20, 2005

Feynman's Rainbow

Feynman's Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow might have been called Tuesdays with Dick as on one level you have a similar story to Tuesdays with Morrie. A young physicist (Mlodinow) goes to Nobel-prize winner Richard Feynman for wisdom and direction. On the way he determines a few things about life and careers and the like. Some amusing stuff, some good stuff about physics, some great stuff about Feynman.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Roving Mars

So there's this guy Steve Squyres who has been exploring Mars and now he's written a book...

Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet: The bad news is that this is only part of a book. The good news is that it is only part of a book because the story is still unfolding. Squyres is the Principal Investigator on the Mars Exploration Rover project, the effort that (successfully) landed two rovers on Mars (Spirit and Opportunity). Designed to operate for 90 "sols", these rovers are still going several quantum increments past their original "expiration date". A good chunk of the book is spent on previous efforts that Squyres was involved in to get something to Mars as well as the process of building and testing the two rovers. Even though you know that those rovers are there, operating well, he writes a gripping story. Hopefully they will operate for a long period and he can write two or more additional books. I was reminded strongly of Oliver Morton's Mapping Mars in many ways. Morton takes the big picture view and is a fine writer (but not a Real Scientist); Squyres is somebody who is a Real Scientist and doing the Real Thing and he is very enthusiastic about it all. So I'll give a slight edge to Roving Mars over Mapping Mars despite the fact that you are getting a smaller (and still developing) tale.

I breezed through this book in a few days as the tale unfolded. It was interesting to contrast this book with another one that I've been struggling with: Alan Binder's overly massive and over-written Lunar Prospector: Against All Odds. Why the difficulty? Squyres spends a lot of the book talking about other people and their (positive) contributions to the project. Even if they were in competition with him to begin with, he finds a way of praising them. Binder spends his book putting people down. He wrote his book to show people how the Lunar Prospector was the "right way" to do a space project, but his management style seems to resemble that alleged of a recent apointee to the ambassador corps. I keep slogging through the book (after all, it is a subject that interests me). Hopefully I'll finish it.