For A Good Time In Cambridge…Tonight!

So it’s here — Publication Day!  The Hunt for Vulcan is now live.

There’s a bit of backstory on how the book came to be over at Gizmodo (thanks JeffreyW!). Spoiler alert: Ta-Nehisi Coates bears part of the blame.

More backstory on Einstein’s role in all this here.

And last, tonight (in an hour and a half actually) this:

Levenson_BkTlk_flyer.REVISED

If that doesn’t read too well:  I’ll be talking about the book with my colleague, the wonderful physicist and historian of science David Kaiser at 6 p.m.  We’ll be at the MIT Museum — free and open to the public.

If you can’t make it, there will be alternatives.

And with that:  shameless self promotion at least temporarily brought to a halt.








For A Good Time In Cambridge…Next Week!

Hey all,

 

Shameless self promotion coming up.  Leave now if you want…

A reminder: I’ll be talking Vulcan, gravity, Einstein, and General Relativity at 100 with my quite wonderful colleague, David Kaiser, one week from today.

The_Copernican_or_solar_system_(12325996445)

It will all happen on Tuesday, November 3, starting at 6 p.m. at the MIT Museum.  Free and open to the public of course.  We’ll be done by 7:30, and, yes, there will be books to buy (and have signed)>

The occasion, as you may have guessed, is the publication of my new book, The Hunt for Vulcan.  Early reviews have been kind.  Here’s Kirkus, and here are the results from the Amazon Vine program — new to me — in which prolific Amazon reviewers get a pre-publication crack at the book.

Shortest form, David and I will talk both about the story of the planet Vulcan, which really should have existed; how Einstein disposed of it when he invented his truly radical new conception of gravity; and what Vulcan’s repeated discovery tells us about the difference between how we think science works, and how it really does in the hands of the human beings who do the labor.  It should be fun.

If you want a little more background on the Einstein part, by the way, you can take a look at a piece I published in The Boston Globe on Sunday.  A taste:

Einstein’s gift for mental imagery showed itself when he tried to explain to his son how mere geometry could produce what we feel as the tug of gravity. Imagine, he said (at least so the story goes) a blind beetle. When it “crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn’t notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved.”

Or imagine living on a vast, seemingly featureless plain, so flat that you know only two dimensions, length and width. Out for a walk one day, you find that your steps are coming harder. You begin to puff and labor. You sense that you’re being pulled by something — a force you could call gravity. It tugs you back as you walk along what you’re sure is a straight line. To anyone able to perceive three dimensions, not two, there is a simpler explanation — or as Einstein told his son, “I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.”

I can promise you that the evening will beat rearranging your sock drawer.  By what margin?  Only time will tell.

PS:  If you’re interested by conflicted next week, I’ll be doing an event at Brookline Booksmith at 7 p.m. on November 12.  Much the same stuff to be discussed.  And support for a good local bookstore thrown in!

Image:  Benjamin Cole, The Copernican or Solar System, 1759








For A Good Time In Cambridge (This Thursday)

Yo! Local Juicers — if you’ve reserved Thursday evening for watching paint dry, I have an alternative.

I’m going to be moderating a really excellent iteration of the MIT Communications Forum — this time co-sponsored by our city-wide celebration Hub Week.

I’ll be very lightly riding herd on Annalee Newitz and Charles C. Mann as they wonder about how (and whether) study of the past can help us prepare for the future — with the possibility of apocalypse included.

Brueghel-tower-of-babel

Both are wonderful writers and thinkers.  Annalee was the founding editor of io9, and is now Gizmodo’s Grand Poobah.  She’s written Scatter, Adapt and Remember:  How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, which was, inter alia, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She’s at work now on a history of the city (and its possible future) — and more besides.

Charles  has been producing erudite and elegant science writing for yonks*. He’s perhaps best known for 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus which won the the National Academies of Sciences Keck award as best popular science book of the year.  He followed that up with 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Createdand is at work now on The Wizard and the Prophet, which he describes as a book about the future which makes no predictions. (Yogi Danish parliamentarians would approve.)

Time:  5-7 p.m., Thursday, October 8.

Place:  MIT Building 3, room 270.  Interactive map here.

PS:  If you’re into some long distance planning, I’ve got a couple of events coming up in support of my long-teased new book, The Hunt for Vulcan: and how Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe.  The book is timed to the centennial of Einstein’s discovery of the General Theory of Relativity, which he completed in November, 1915, and it gets to that striking moment through a marvelous oddity of a story from 19th century solar-system astronomy, the repeated discovery of a planet that should have existed, but didn’t.  The appearance and then vanishing of the planet Vulcan is not just a curiosity, (or so it seems to me), as its history reveals a great deal about what it takes for science really to change under the pressure of inconvenient fact.

Anyway — the book comes out on Tuesday, November 3, and we are in the midst of planning a launch event at the MIT Museum.  That will most likely run from 6-7:30, with details to come soon.

Then, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 12, I’ll be doing a reading and signing at my local:  Brookline Booksmith.  Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.

*Yonks being a unit of measure of time roughly equal to more than you thought.

Image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, 1563








Birth Certificate Watch: Day 1566

Why has Donald Trump not released his long form American birth certificate?

Rabid Pomeranian Hairpiece

On April 15, 2011, I mentioned, in passing, that Trump was not eligible to become President of the United States of America, by reason of:

(a) having been born in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to my friend Mary Anne ‘Bitsy’ MacLeod Trump – a single, unnaturalised Scottish immigrant mother engaged in a bigamous marriage with Donald’s father, an American man called Frederick Christ Trump; and

(b) therefore, being either British or Mexican-born.*

This lead to a flurry of correspondence with lawyers; the sending of a laxative-laced fruit cake which cleared out the entire litigation group of Jarndyce and Jarndyce for about a week and a half; a futile threatening visit from two large men with too many knuckles and Carhartt tattoos (seen off by two randy pugs, a limpy chihuahua and several madwomen with canes and dodgy colostomy bags); the jogging forth from my aged memory of an anecdote about Bitsy Trump’s Christmas party and a quite lovely story in which Donald gets chomped on his ample balls by a pissed off pekinese called Frou-Frou; and further and extensive legal correspondence, culminating in the execution of a Deed under which I promised not to tell you all about the time that Donald was trapped in a steam room in Aspen with Joan Collins and her flatulent Burmese hairless, and Donald made me a small payment of damages that I blew on three weeks in Bermuda, a parking lot attendant named Juan and a kilo of blow.

The subsequent quiet, if uneasy, truce has been sullied only by my bribery of Donald’s maids to slip a few blueberry and ipecac muffins into the breakfast buffet every couple of months.

Just the other week, however, I received a call from my lawyer. He just wanted to note that the deed which Donald and I signed contained strict terms under which neither of us were ever to discuss Mexico or anything that ever happened there, up to and including the very existence of Mexico itself. Interestingly, my lawyer added, the fact that Donald has spent the last few weeks suggesting that all Mexicans want to come here and steal our women and fuck our jobs means, under the old legal maxim feci coram eo feceris,, that I can talk about whatever I damn well want. Read more