Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I see [the Icarus story] as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive

Do you know the xkcd comic series? Because if not, I recommend it. Even if there are many comics that are extra science/mathy and go over my head. And if your wondering, I started clicking around on that site and got distracted for like 10 minutes, so maybe go to that link after reading this review. Yes, that's it.

ANYWAY, Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd wrote a book! And instead of it being just a collection of webcomics, which still would have been pretty awesome, he takes ridiculous hypothetical questions and uses science to answer them. If you're wondering most of the answers are "We would die horribly" but it's OK because it's pretty fun to see in stick figure webcomics. And don't worry, he doesn't just end there but gives detailed answers for exactly what would happen.
Door busted WIDE open
What are these questions, you ask?

  • What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity? (Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting)
  • What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface? (Assuming you're a reasonably good swimmer, you could probably survive treading water anywhere from 10 to 40 hours. At that point, you would black out from fatigue and drown. This is also true for a pool without nuclear fuel in the bottom.)
  • What if everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world? (What a nightmare that would be.)
  • Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? (I was sort of surprised to find that the answer was yes!)
And of course, being an artist, there are the comics. I had been waiting to pick up a physical copy of the book but it was on sale for Kindle and sales win. Luckily, even on my old Kindle, the images formatted fine so I got to enjoy stuff like this:

See. Delightful. 

The book is funny AND informative.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 141, location 1873

Munroe, Randall. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Kindle