Archive for the ‘Bill Bryson’ Category

A Walk In the Woods

June 18, 2009


Author Bill Bryson hikes the Appalachian Trail with his ridiculously out of shape buddy, Stephen Katz.  In between the story of their hike are interesting facts about the trail and its people.  A hysterical read, Bryson actually made me laugh at 7:30 in the morning, and that is quite a feat.  

One of the most interesting parts of the story was when Bryson traveled through the uninhabited mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.  In 1962, a dump fire spread underground and ignited the vast network of coal mines underneath the town.  The thing about mine fires is that they cannot be extinguished, they just have to burn out.  Many people didn’t realize there was fire burning underneath their feet until the 1970’s.  As the fire spread through the underground mines, the ground on the surface started caving in.  Smoke poured through people’s basements, through cracks on the sidewalks and highways.  Soon the town became unlivable – the fire caused carbon monoxide poising, decreased oxygen levels in the air, created sink holes that swallowed homes and stores, and destroying the interstate and roads.  

In 1984, Congress offered financial incentives for residents to move out of Centralia and into neighboring towns.  In 1992, the state of Pennsylvania declared eminent domain over Centralia and condemned every building in the town.  In 2002, the Postal Service revoked its zip code.  As of 2007, the town had a population of 9.  The fire is still burning and no knows when it will stop.

How crazy is that?  A ghost town in Pennsylvania?  A fire that has been burning for over 40 years?  I kind of want to drive out there and check it out for myself.  Actually, when I drive out to Michigan, I will have to drive through the entire state of Pennsylvania, perhaps I could take a detour. . .

A Short History of Nearly Everything

August 8, 2008

So I have finally finished A Short History of Nearly Everything.  It took me over a month to finish this book, not because it wasn’t good, but because a week and a half ago, I moved out of my parents house into my own apartment in Brooklyn.  I have been wanting to move out for a long time, and of course it happened when I was not even looking for apartments.  It is true what they say that once you stop looking, you find what you need.  Anyway, it was a crazy time.  A saw an apartment and 2 days later I signed a lease and now here I am, all grown up and living by myself.  Aside from going away to college, I have never moved before.  I have learned that moving is stressful and hard and I hope I don’t have to do it often.  I’ve also never lived by myself, without another person or any pets.  I am very aware that I’m the only soul in my apartment and that freaks me out sometimes.  My coworker rescued some newborn kittens outside the prison where she works part time, so she’s raising them and in a few more weeks they will be old enough to be adopted and I might just take one.  So things are crazy and there’s a lot of emotions going through me all at once, but overall I am happy, except for the fact that I miss my dog like crazy.  I think I’ll be happier when I get a kitten.  But only if it doesn’t turn out evil like all the cats I had when I was growing up.

So through all this turmoil I’ve been chugging through Bryson’s book.  It is a really enjoyable read but I’m happy that its finally over.  Bryson is not the most thorough science writer, this book is definitely not supposed to be scholarly or academic, but its really freaking funny and it taught me a lot.  I don’t know what I’m going to read next but it is definitely going to be fiction.  I want to post some of my favorite quotes but I don’t have the internet at my apartment yet.

Speaking of things I don’t have, I don’t have cable.  This would be fine except for the fact that I will be missing my most favorite TV program in the entire world, the Olympics.  I cannot even begin to express how much I love the Olympics and all of the wonderful melodrama that comes with it.  All of those personal stories of triumph and tragedy, the world record breakers, the photo finishes, the upset victories, I am a total sucker for all of it.  But cable TV is expensive in the city, and because there’s only one cable provider in my neighborhood, they are apparently free to jack up the prices as much as they want because we consumers don’t have a choice.  Sounds fair, right?  So because I had buy furniture and food and other necessities, cable won’t be arriving at my house for a few months.  The Olympics start today I’m totally crying on the inside.

On Why Science Is Fun

July 17, 2008

It’s been slow going over here at the Book Mill.  I’m reading A Short History of Nearly Everything, which is enjoyable, but it is taking a long time to read.  I do almost all of my reading on the train, and let me tell you, reading about the theory of relativity and the history of quantum physics at 8am is a challenge.  Read about superstring theory, or take a nap?  Lately I’ve been choosing napping instead of reading. 

But, this is some great writing.  The idea of the book just came from Bill Bryon’s natural curiosity on how things work and his dissatisfaction with boring old science textbooks and how they suck all of the fun out of science.  Anyway, I love this book.  Everyday I learn something new.  I get to work and I tell Sashana what I’ve learned and we talk about quantum leaps and how electrons can be nowhere and everywhere at the same time.  Here’s something interesting I learned:

It isn’t possible, in any practical terms, to draw the solar system to scale.  Even if you added lots of fold-out pages to your textbooks or used a really long sheet of poster paper, you wouldn’t come close.  On a diagram of the solar system to scale, with Earth reduced to about the diameter of a pea, Jupiter would be over a thousand feet away and Pluto would be a mile and half distant (and about the size of a bacterium, so you woudn’t be able to see it anyway).

Also, when a baseball is thrown at 100mph from the pitchers mound, it gains about 0.000000000002 grams by the time it reaches home plate.  Isn’t science awesome?