Geek Speak

Yesterday I finished reading this book, that I bought two weeks ago just because of the word “geek” in the title and a little bit tempted by the funny cover. When I started reading, it reminded me of “Freakonomics”, but “Geekspeak” is more diverse in the choice of the topics.
The cover promises to learn you how life + mathematics = happiness. Maybe that’s true, but I was thinking of Rudy Ruckers’ axiom that mathematics is nothing more than an algorithm to transform given facts into new knowledge. That is exactly what Tattersall does in his book, and while doing it he shows how much better it is (and how much more fun it can be) to think about the world around us and use your brain instead of losing it while just watching television.
So, for example, in chapter 21 “Idiot Calculus – What can you work out while sitting in a deck chair” he calculates how many sand grains fit in a children’s sand bucket (16 million) and when the job is done he continues:

Well, that feels better. The sand bucket is now fully understood and presents no threat to your peace of mind. But there are many other things that can be calculated as you laze in your deck chair.

The next project is calculating the speed of an airplane and then, never a moment of dithering, what weight of electrons has been delivered from Britain’s power stations. All calculations done while sitting in your deck chair on the beach (there’s nothing wrong with that!) and without using your computer or WolframAlpha. At the end of the chapter he finishes with

It’s time to leave the beach for home. I do hope there’s nothing incalculable on the way.

That is Geek Speak! Not the would-be “g33ksp34k” but the real down-to-earth “according to my calculations…” approach to satisfy your curiosity, to find the answers, to explain the world, to know just for the satisfaction of knowing.
Of course there is more to explore.

I wish I’d had a teacher like Tattersall when I was @school and I wish every schoolboy (and -girl) to grow up with this great book.

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  • The Aesthetics and Beauty of Knowledge

    Shih was the opposite of facts and raw information; shih was the elegance of knowledge, the insight and skill to organize knowledge into meaningful patterns. As an artist chooses colours or light to make her pictures, a master of shih chooses textures of knowledge – various ideas, myths, abstractions, and theories – to create a way of seeing the world. The aesthetics and beauty of knowledge – this was shih.

    – David Zindell, The Broken God, 1993

  • Geek Attitude

    The attitude thing is about flexibility, portability, creativity, sociability and jamming (ran out of suitable “ity” words!). It’s about improvising – in the practical and musical senses of the word; not getting tangled in boundaries and the “right” way to do things.
    Definitely the only way to travel.
    Martin Delaney – “Laptop Music”.