Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blatant Free Advertising

Okay, they can't all be about science, my cats and kittens. Today I'm going to tell you why BookMooch is pretty much the best things to happen to books since Gutenberg (and LibraryThing). I'll get back to the science next time (thinking about a discourse on Saturn's moon Titan, maybe? Or the Voyager deep space article I was working on?)

For those of you who don't know, this is the quick answer to how BookMooch works:

1. List books you would not mind giving away (this is the hardest part... I had to buy used ones I had no interest in)
2. Get 1/10th of a point for every one you list.
3. When you have more than 1 point, browse the site for a book you want. They have a ton of stuff. 3000+ books a day being mooched.
4. Request the book from the owner, thereby giving them one of your points, allowing them to grab a book from someone else.
5. They owner then mails it to you for free.
6. When someone else wants one of your books they give you a point and you mail them the book, choosing the cheapest postal service thereby keeping your costs to a minimum.
7. Read, repeat & enjoy.

Now, this is why it's been so much fun for me. I've received these books for free (so far):

Moonseed, Transcendent and Exultant, three by Stephen Baxter (pretty much the best SF author working today) - Oracle Night by Paul Auster (a very cool and diverse "literary" author I love) - River Of Blue Fire and City Of Golden Shadow, two by Tad Williams Books 1 & 2 of 4 book epic techno/fantasy called Otherland) - The Eyes of the Dragon, Different Seasons and Storm Of The Century, three by Stephen King (anyone who knows me knows my King obsession) - Complete & Unabridged by George Orwell (about the most important writer ever) - Dreamside by Graham Joyce (very unusual, but very decent, British fantasy/horror author) - 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (as if he needs an explanation... "Big Three") - The Panda's Thumb and The Flamingo's Smile, two by Stephen Jay Gould (preeminent natural historian and essayist) - Adam's Curse by Bryan Sykes (renowned geneticist) - Me Talk Pretty One Day and Holidays On Ice, two by David Sedaris (autobiographical humorist and essayist featured frequently on This American Life on NPR... hilarious) - Life Of Pi by Yann Martel (my favorite book written in the last couple years, Booker Prize, brilliant) - A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking (the next Einstein: physicist, genius) - Foundation, The Gods Themselves, Prelude To Foundation, I, Robot, Pebble In The Sky, Caves Of Steel, Foundation & Empire, and Second Foundation, eight by Isaac Asimov (another with no explanation needed... "Big Three" again) - Across The Sea Of Suns by Gregory Benford (nifty sf) - Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties, three by William Gibson (founder of the Cyberpunk movement) - Venus and Moonrise, two by Ben Bova (Bova wrote the epic "grand tour" series of novels exploring humanity's growth through the Solar System) - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (probably one of the most famous SF books of all time) - The Postman by David Brin (remember that Kostner movie? this is way better, apocalyptic) - Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman (two of the most talented British fantasy authors alive) - & Watership Down by Richard Adams (the famous book about... well... rabbits.)

On top of those I also got about a half dozen books for J (baking & mystery, mostly). Very flipin' cool. That's about 42 absolutely free books by my count. That I would, for any one of them, have paid at least $5 for. A few of them, even more. The coolest part about this whole business is that almost all of these books are hardcover first eds. Those 8 Asimov books I mooched? Special collector editions, absolutely beautiful! And they go for $30-60 a piece on Amazon.

So what did I have to give up all together to get this great bounty, you might ask? How about 28 used books that I did not want anyway and that I bought for a dollar or less each (most about $0.20) and about $45-$50 in postage. Packaging I re-use from books sent to me AND I still have 15 unused point in my account (There are other ways to get points such as "charity" and over-seas mooching).

The point is, is that BookMooch is... phenomenal. I don't know how else to say it. It's like book porn, like a free all you can eat book buffet, drowning in a sea of book delight. It's booklicious. So go sign up and lets trade something.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul." -Cicero 100BC/43BC

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When I was your age, Pluto was a planet

Monday marked the one year anniversary of our tiny friends demotion from planet-hood.

While this was a sad day I understand and agree with the decision completley. I even bought this --> shirt from my friends at Threadless to commemorate the occasion.

See, the major problem is that Pluto's orbit is too eccentric. While other planets orbit the sun pretty close to the ecliptic, Pluto is almost 17 degrees off. If you would imagine an cantaloupe, for instance, lying in small depression on the ground. This is the sun. The other eight planets are from the size of pebbles to maybe, say, a small tomato (for Jupiter) in various places on the ground around the "sun." Now imagine you are lying down on your stomach looking at our playground solar system. Pluto would be largish dust mote somewhere above your head, spinning about the sun once every 247.9 Terran years. It's way out of line with regards to the rest of the planets.

Another problem is with Pluto's largest "moon," Charon. Technically Charon and Pluto make up what is known as a binary system due to the fact that they rotate each other. Their barycentre (center of gravity) is actually above either body's surface (although quite a bit closer to Pluto) and they are tidally locked. So, if you were to hang out in spaceship between the two, it would appear that both Pluto and Charon would spin around your ship always with the same surface always facing you.

Anyway, with these reasons and others; including what kicked off this whole debate in the first place, the discovery of many other Pluto sized objects outwards of the Neptunian orbit; scientists, in 2006, from the International Astronomical Union redefined what it means to be a planet and kicked the old boy out. It was a pretty good run, I think, for being such an odd-ball to begin with and everyone should be satisfied by the decision. Our solar system is now a happy and uniform family with (currently) 8 planets and 3 "dwarf planets"; Pluto not even being the largest of these.

While Pluto was still a planet, NASA launched the New Horizons mission to what, at the time, was the only unexplored planet in the Solar System.Voyager 1 had a shot at a Pluto flyby but the mission controllers opted at that time to have it explore the Saturian moon Titan. Not a bad plan overall, since Voyager's trip partially lead to the more recent mission of Cassini–Huygens which proved Titan to be the only other body in the Solar System to have stable bodies of surface liquid (very cool, but off topic). Anyway... New Horizons was launched (as the fastest vehicle to date) in early 2006 to examine Pluto, it's three moons, and possibly other Kuiper Belt objects in the vicinity. It should arrive at Pluto on July 14, 2015; coming within approximately 6,200 miles of the surface and travelling roughly 30,000 miles per hour.

It was also confirmed by NASA, that the launch contained a portion of Pluto's discoverer's ashes. Yup, that is right. Enjoy your flight Mr. Tombaugh. We can all only dream of our ashes making the journey home to the stars.

"It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars". - Arthur C. Clarke

The only question that then remains is one of mnemonics: Now that My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas no more, just what is she going to do?