Daily Archives: March 9, 2010

Why Of Course I’ll Be Happy To Show You My Prom Picture

Seriously, I thought you’d never ask.

The picture itself is slightly distressed, a product of being a wallet-sized photo trapped in a wallet for a number of years, and then in box for all the years after that (it’s now being placed in another, smaller box). And I subtracted the color because let’s just say prom pictures are not known for being color stable. But, yup, that’s me, and my prom date Joy, whom I had a huge crush on all through high school in that “I’m a nerd and have no chance but will adore you anyway” manner that I suspect at least a few of you may remember. So naturally I was happy when she let me take her to the prom. We had a nice time, if I recall correctly. So if you are one of those people bitter about the prom, sorry, man. Not in your camp.

And now, back to clearing out the office.

Today’s Reminder of the Consistent Awesomeness of My Wife

I’m currently deconstructing my office, because we’re literally about to redo it from the floor up (no, really; we’re tearing up the carpet and putting down a wood floor, and by “we” I mean “actual professionals because I would screw it up”). In the process of going through various drawers full of 10-year-old operating system recovery discs and newspaper clippings, I came across this: An engraved pen my wife gave me on the occasion of my very first book tour for my very first book, in 2000. This would have been the book tour for a book on online finance that came out as the Internet bubble was collapsing, taking place the week after the 2000 election, so most of my appearances on news shows were canceled because the fight between Bush and Gore was kind of more newsworthy, and after two stops my tour was cut short because, honestly, what was the point. And then the book flopped. And then the CHUDs came at me.

So, basically, the one good thing out of that entire tour was this pen, from my wife, who loved me and was proud of me for having written my first book. And you know what: Looking back, that’s enough. This pen’s spent the last several years at the bottom of a drawer, but I think in the new office it will have a somewhat more prominent position. It’s nice to have a reminder of just who it is who has been cheering for me from the start of it all.

Amelia Beamer, Sex and Zombies, Serialized Fiction

By day, my pal Amelia Beamer is a writer and editor for Locus magazine, the magazine of record for the science fiction publishing industry. By night, she writes fiction! Note that these time divisions are arbitrary; for all I know she could write fiction during the day and spend her evenings editing. Or maybe a little of both. I don’t stalk her, you know. I don’t have a moment-to-moment rundown on her time. Nevertheless, she does both.

Amelia’s first novel is about sex and zombies and is called The Loving Dead and will be out in July from Night Shade Books. But in the run up to the print publication, Amelia is also serializing the novel on her Web site. Here are the first few chapters; more are on their way, and I expect will be posted here as they go live (Note: the excerpt linked to above is not the sort of thing you’d be reading out loud in a church or a kindergarten class, unless your church or kindergarten were very strange, and I think this is an accurate enough description to allow you to assess clicking through without spoiling the action therein).

If you enjoy what you read, go back for future installments, but also consider buying the book itself, because, hey, buying books from authors is a subtle yet telling way to let them know you enjoy their work. I’m just saying.

The Big Idea: Dave Goldberg and Jeff Blomquist

How does one write a user’s guide to the universe? After all, the universe is a pretty big place, and although we all use the universe on a daily basis, there’s a lot of stuff in it that we just don’t fiddle with (this is not necessarily a bad thing — most of us just aren’t equipped to handle an entire star, for example). Suffice to say there’s a lot going on in the universe, and even the people comfortable handling their corners of it have questions about the rest.

It’s “the rest of it” that Dave Goldberg and Jeff Blomquist want to explain in A User’s Guide to the Universe, and they came into the writing knowing one thing: when explaining the universe, it’s easy to get complicated, difficult to stay simple, and dangerous to be boring. Here’s how they got the most bang out of everything since the Big Bang.

DAVID GOLDBERG and JEFF BLOMQUIST:

There are a lot of books out there on physics and cosmology, and nearly every one of them touts as their chief virtue that they are “accessible.”  That said, we can’t tell you how many conversations we’ve had with our civilian friends about some science bestseller in which they say something along the lines of, “That book was amazing, though I’m sure I didn’t understand a tenth of it.”  There’s probably a bit of undue modesty here, but also a kernel of truth.  It’s our experience that most pop-sci books go for the “Wow” factor and as a result, they end up as beautifully written, almost poetic odes to the universe, but ones that are perhaps better at awing than illuminating.

A couple of years ago, we were teaching a freshman physics course at Drexel University, and frankly, we were bored with teaching students about pulleys and blocks on planes.  And the students were bored with those things, too.  We constantly got questions after class or in the hallways asking about things that they will most likely never get to see in a classroom: time travel, the time before the big bang, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.  But it wasn’t just them. At parties, on airplanes, while waiting at the DMV, we got questions from friends, from our editors, and sometimes from complete strangers.

And that’s where we came up with our big idea: answer the Big Questions.  But (and here’s the hard part) they had to be the sort of questions that people actually might — and do — ask, and not read like a FAQ for some freeware CD-burning program.

Can you break the light barrier?  Is there an exact duplicate of you somewhere else in time and space? What happens if you fall into a black hole? These are the kinds of questions complete strangers found so important. Our inaugural question, the one that really got us started, was, “I know the universe is expanding, but what is it expanding into?”  From Nova, the Discover Channel, or even other books, most people are pretty aware of the buzzwords and core concepts, but not what, say, it actually means for a universe to expand, let alone what’s on the other side.  And that’s where we come in.

Our goal is to explain not only what we know, but how we know it, and more importantly, what it means. We wanted to leave readers with the sort of gut understanding that physicists have, only without the math gumming up the works.  We wanted to make clear the distinction between what we really know, and what’s still on the fringe.  We wanted to focus on the science, and not the history; we give credit where credit is due, but don’t go in for the narrative description of “Eureka moments.”

Just as important, we didn’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We realize that every “irreverent guide to physics” tries to make physics fun and accessible, but we opted to throw propriety to wind entirely.  At the center of this are our cartoons.  During graduate school, Jeff papered his office with terrible puns, including (our favorites), “The Solar Neighborhood” (which showed Pluto passed out on his lawn), and ridiculously dorky “How physicists can cheat at tag,” which we put into the final book, and which appears below.

We figured that if we were having fun, readers would, too.  We put in (à la Dave Barry) silly footnotes.  We make fun of our readers (see if you can find the Easter egg in the index), and our mascot is an alien named Dr. Snuggles.  In short, we wanted to write the funniest and most useful physics book you’ll read all year.

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A User’s Guide to the Universe: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. See additional cartoons. Download the coloring book.