December 09, 2003

I've taken to reading books about science lately. Science, especially astrophysics, has been fascinating to me since I was around 10 years old. At that time, I was still convinced that I was going to be an astronaut, so I figured that I needed to study up, this stuff would probably be on the Astronaut Competency Test (ACT).

I signed up for all the science classes in high school, and through hard work an dillegence, I made a quite astonishing discovery: I absolutely sucked in science. REALLY bad. I'm talking about "Couldn't find the atomic weight of Hydrogen" bad. I just couldn't tell my Mendel from my Mendeleev.

During my stint as a future astrophysicist, I did, however, develop a well proven theory: "The coolness level of any scientific area is proportional to the level of menial number-crunching involved to explain it." So while I could figure out how table salt is equal parts NA and CL (boring), I could not even comprehend the class notes on black holes (cool).

At the base of this problem was an underlying lack of math skills. Math was a prerequisite for any scientific discipline, but math class by itself had very little in the way of learning incentive. Yeah, teachers spoke time and again about how useful it was, but after basic algebra and geometry, it was only useful to later math classes. In college, a whole course of Calculus was devoted to doing the complete OPPOSITE of what the previous class had done. My professor chided me for stating that I'd never be asked by my boss to factor a polynomial, but I can safely say, after a few years in the real world, that the topic has never even come up.

Now back to the books. A favorite travel author of mine, Bill Bryson, spent two years researching for that most unusual of texts: The READABLE book on science (*gasp*) called "A Short History on Nearly Everything". I finished that last month, and I found myself hungry for more. Presently, "The Science of Discworld" by Terry Pratchett et al is being slowly consumed on my lunch breaks. I'd highly recommend them to others who, like myself, are fascinated by science but have no chance at understanding the inner workings of it by themselves.

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