The God Particle pp. 96-117 and Ringworld pp. 1-21

I decided to re-read Ringworld, as it’s still somewhat in my mind from a reading a few months ago, and I know that there’s nothing too challenging in it. It’s also pretty entertaining. It suits speed-reading perfectly. Given my schedule plans, I’m 20 pages in now, and I’ll be 40 pages in tomorrow, then I’ll start reading 30 pages/day on Monday, which will take me to 250 by next Sunday, and at 40 pages/day after that, I’ll finish it on the following Tuesday. (I’ll read the extra 10 pages or so needed to finish it Tuesday night).

Hopefully at the end of it, I’ll be a much better speed reader than I am now! I suffered considerably lowered comprehension on that passage. Anyway, I’ve kept a friend waiting while I completed today’s readings — I look forward to more progress tomorrow!

The God Particle

We’ll see how well I can recall the things I read! We finished up with Newton, and discussed some of the great Chemists who helped search for the atom (some without knowing it). Notably, I can recall John Dalton, who proposed the “atomic theory” of chemistry, despite getting a lot of the details wrong. There’s also Boyle, who did experiments with pressures, and Lavois, who Lederman said was the chemists’ equivalent to Newton. He showed that there … I can’t remember. He was in France, and was killed by guillotine in the 1794.

I had to go look it up. Right. Lavoisier contributed the modern names of chemical elements, like “sulphur dioxide” instead of wacky stuff like “butter of arsenic”. He also is responsible for our knowledge that any substance can take fluid, liquid, or solid forms, and that combustion is a chemical reaction. He was an extremely accurate scientist.

Torricelli discovered air pressure and made the first barometer, and discovered that there must be vacuum, which was created inside of the barometers depending on the air pressure. We also briefly touched on William Prout, who believed that the indivisible a-tom was hydrogen, and from hydrogen, all other things were composed. The idea got thrown out because, for example, Chlorine has a weight of 35.5. It’s actually that there’s a Chlorine isotope that weighs 35 and another that weighs 37, and it just appears to be a uniform substance of weight 35.5. But at the time, a half-weight killed the idea that a bunch of Hydrogen could be arranged and shoved together to make Chlorine.

Then there’s Mendeleev, and this one is the coolest in my mind. I knew that he was the creator of the periodic table — it’s one of the most amazing things we’ve accomplished. Lederman notes that one hangs now in essentially every laboratory and classroom in existence, and that’s our tribute paid to Mendeleev. What I didn’t know was that Mendeleev figured it out by playing cards. He played a game similar to solitaire and had the elements with their qualities written out on cards, and he noticed that there was a spacing of 8 between several of them which exhibited similar properties. He tried arranging them such that there were 8 vertical columns, increasing by weight. He also decided not to try to fill in the gaps, allowing for unknown elements to sit there. The setup wasn’t widely regarded, until new elements discovered fit perfectly into the table, with the expected properties and at the expected weights.

In 1907 when he died, some of his students marched in his funeral procession behind him holding up a banner with his periodic table on it. It’s a mind-bogglingly amazing discovery.

The author notes though, that the periodic table slightly scared scientists of the time, because it showed that there were a lot of these “atoms”, and that made the idea of a simple, elegant organization to the universe with common building blocks a lot less likely. At least it showed that there may be an order within the apparent chaos!


First off, here’s a warning that this post will have Ringworld spoilers.

Right off the bat in Ringworld, Larry Niven starts dropping clues about the later plot. Doing a re-reading is neat, because I get to see some of the longer-term structure of the story get built. I’m impressed by the transporters, the revelation of the hyperdrive ship, discussion of the puppeteers and their analysis of human-kzin relations, and evolution right off the bat.

If you’re in need of definitions:

Puppeteer: A three-legged, two-headed cowardly vegetarian species that discovered that the galactic core was blowing up, and which began a mass migration out of known space roughly 200 years ago. Their name implies that they are wiley. They’re good businessmen, very clever.

Kzin (plural: kzin, adjective: kzinti) are giant supermuscular hyper-aggressive cats. We’ve been at war with them multiple times, and won multiple times. Now they have nothing to fight us with. Very high placement on concepts of honour. They like to eat hot, raw meat (like a fresh kill), and drink hot alcoholic beverages.

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