Monday, September 22, 2003

Finally, Some Non-Fiction

Well, my boss lent me 4 non-fiction books after I lent him the Wolfram, and I've felt compelled to read them so I can get them back into his book collection.

The 1st was a pretty astonomy picture book -- but no pictures I hadn't seen already.

I read the 2nd, "The Universe in a Nutshell", by Stephen Hawking in a couple of hours. Pretty pictures, more stuff on brane cosmological theories. The Theory of Everything (TOE) will have to involve multiple universes cause ours just doesn't balance by itself. Two interesting non-physics ideas:

  1. People like Star Trek because the people are so much like us -- not very likely for 400 years in the future.
  2. When we can grow infinks in artifical wombs, we can give them great big heads with great big brains. All the sci-fi I have read, I don't remember this one. I guess Hawking definitely values mind over body more than most, who I think would find this somewhat gross.
3nd book I really enjoyed: "Genome" by Matt Ridley, 1999. The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters (one per chromosome). He picks a gene or two off of each chromosome and uses it to explore many aspects of current genetic and evolutionary theory. Dozens of FFTKAT. Examples:
  • Continous evolutionary war in the genome itself. Junk DNA full of deprecated sequences, sequences inserted by viruses, sequences designed to fight specific diseases.
  • Only a few percent of the genome actually codes proteins. Large percent of junk DNA.
  • Warfare between X and Y chromosome. 3 times as many X's as Y's, they're winning: Y chromosome has only 1 gene.
  • Genome can change rapidly. All infinks loose their ability to digest lactose when weaned, i.e., lactose intolerance is the default condition in adults. Herding milk-producing domestic animals in the last 10,000 years has provided 70% of some human populations with the ability to digest lactose as adults.
  • Nature vs nurture: heredity is 50%, peer groups 50%, parents 0% ?!?!?
  • AB blood type provides immunity against cholera.
  • Imprinted genes in which the mother or father dominates: maternal genes grow the cortex, paternal genes grow the limbic region. The placenta comes mostly from paternal genes -- it helps the baby successfully invade the mother's body, suppresses her immune system, moderates her hormone levels.
  • Prions seem to be non-digital -- basically different from the rest of life.
and many, may others. I was only sorry when I read this that it is 4 years old. A 2e published more recently would probably have lots of things corrected and lots of new things right. My wife the pharmacist was actively disagreeing with lots of these, she's supposed to read and give me the overall FOS (full of shit) rating. Still, a really fun book to read.

Also read the 2nd Dan Simmons hard-boiled detective novel "Hard Freeze". I liked it a lot better than the 1st ("Hardcase"). The 1st had this annoying return to a minor subplot after the main plot had concluded -- kind of like the trite "no the monster isn't dead" at the end of a scary movie.

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