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Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada)

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Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us
Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us
by Donald K. Yeomans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 16.62
34 used & new from CDN$ 16.62

5.0 out of 5 stars "The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn't have a space program", April 20 2013

"During the morning of October 6, 2008, Eastern Standard Time...[the] director of the Minor Planet Center, couldn't believe what his computer was telling him. In less than twelve hours, a near-Earth asteroid would collide with the Earth."

The above extract is found in this informative and accessible book by Donald Yeomans. He is a fellow and senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he's manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Project Office. Yeomans joins such people as Einstein, Bach, and the Beatles in that he has an asteroid named after him.

According to this book, Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are "comets and asteroids that approach the Sun to within [about 120 million miles] so...they can approach the Earth's orbit to within [about 30 billion miles]." Comets & asteroids and thus NEOs are "the leftover bits and pieces from the early solar system formation process."

This book conveys the following with respect to NEOs:

(1) scientific importance
(2) the origin and development of life
(3) future space resources
(4) the defence of our planet from a sizeable and thus damaging impact

In terms of life, we humans may owe our very existence (and our dominance of planet Earth--remember the dinosaurs) to NEOs that struck the Earth!!

We need to find NEOs early and track them to ensure that none of them has the Earth's name on it. While they are critically important for our future, if we don't find them before they find us, we may not have a future!! (One impact has the capacity to wipe out an entire civilization.)

The last three chapters of this book deal respectively, with NEO threats to Earth, predictions of NEO impacts, and the deflection of a NEO. Remember, "the question is not whether an asteroid has Earth's name on it but rather which one and when?"

(Oh, by the way, the above extract in quotation marks that begins this review actually occurred. It was later determined by tracking and calculations that this asteroid would not pose a threat to Earth.)

All the illustrations (diagrams and black & white photographs) in this book are very instructive and add another dimension to the main narrative. There are forty illustrations peppered throughout. As well, almost every page has footnotes that provide interesting additional information.

The photo on the cover of this book (shown above by Amazon) is an artist's portrayal of near-Earth asteroid "Apophis." On April 13, 2029, it will pass close enough to the Earth so as to be observable with the naked eye in Europe and North Africa. (Mark your calendar.)

Finally, Yeomans, as mentioned above, states that asteroids and comets can only be NEOs. Then what are objects such as meteors, fireballs, human-made or artificial satellites, and artificial space junk called?

In conclusion, this is a well-written book. Donald Yeomans tells us at the very end that:

"Near-Earth objects are among the smallest members of the solar system, but their diminutive size is in no way proportional to their importance. When it comes to their role in the development and future of humankind, next to the Sun itself, theirs is the most important realm."

(first published 2013; illustrations; preface; acknowledgements; 10 chapters; main narrative 155 pages; references; appendix; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.43
15 used & new from CDN$ 7.92

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Theologian's Nightmare: "Thanks to the telescope and microscope, [religion] no longer offers an explanation of anything", April 13 2013

"If I cannot definitely prove that the usefulness of religion is in the past,

[1] and that its foundational books are transparent fables,
[2] and that it is a man-made imposition,
[3] and that it has been an enemy of science and inquiry,
[4] and that it has subsisted largely on lies and fears,
[5] and been the accomplice of ignorance and guilt as well as slavery, genocide...and tyranny...
[6] [and that there is a] connection between religion, racism, and [dictatorship or] totalitarianism [as found, for example, in the Hitler and Stalin regimes],

I can most certainly claim that religion is fully aware of these criticisms.

It is also fully aware of the ever-mounting evidence, concerning the origins of the cosmos and the origin of species, which consign it to marginality if not to irrelevance."

The above is found in this fascinating book by Christopher Hitchens (1949 to 2011). He was a British-American author and journalist whose career spanned more than four decades. Hitchens was named number five an a list of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals."

He supports his position that "religion poisons everything" with personal stories, documented historical evidence, and analysis of religious texts.

Hitchens is mainly concerned with the Abrahamic religions (the largest being Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) although he touches on other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

I feel that the best way of conveying what this book has to offer is to list some of its chapter titles:

(1) Religion kills
(2) A note on health to which religion can be hazardous
(3) The metaphysical claims of religion are false
(4) Arguments from design
(5) Revelation: the nightmare of the "Old" Testament
(6) The 'New' Testament exceeds the evil of the "Old" one
(7) Does religion make people behave better?
(8) Is religion child abuse?
(9) A finer tradition: the resistance of the rational

One of my favourite chapters is the one where the author tells us that "there are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral." These are:

(1) Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and [to those that believe too easily especially with no proof]
(2) The doctrine of blood sacrifice
(3) The doctrine of atonement
(4) The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
(5) The imposition of impossible tasks and rules

Finally, the vocabulary used in this book is, in a word, impeccable. I, personally, appreciated this but some potential readers may have to resort to using a dictionary for some words.

In his book's acknowledgements section, Hitchens states,

"To all those...who live in...worlds where superstition and barbarism are still dominant...I hope this little book may fall [into their hands].

In conclusion, I fully agree with the endorsement on the book's back cover that states:

"an intellectual willing to show his teeth in the cause of righteousness."

Christopher Hitchens may be the best since Bertrand Russell's "Why I am not a Christian" (1927) to laying out essential arguments with both force and precision!!

(first published 2007; 18 chapters; conclusion; main narrative 285 pages; acknowledgements; references; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity
The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity
by Steven Strogatz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.05
11 used & new from CDN$ 22.05

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "X" in this book's title = an entertaining and clear mathematics book, April 6 2013

"[This book is] a guided tour through the elements of math, from preschool to grad school, for anyone out there who'd like to have a second chance at the subject--but this time from an adult perspective. It's not intended to be remedial. The goal is to give you a better feeling for what math is all about and why it's so enthralling to those who get it...

[This book] is an introduction to math's most compelling and far-reaching ideas. The chapters...are bite-sized and largely independent."

The above extract comes from the preface of this enthralling book by Steven Strogatz. He is a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. Strogatz is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for math communication.

For me, this book reminded me of just how mesmerizing and beautiful mathematics can be.

The chapters are arranged in six parts:

Part 1 entitled "Numbers" begins the tour with kindergarten and preschool arithmetic. Pretty basic stuff you might say. However, I was surprised how much I learned from this part. For example, most people have memorized that when you multiply two negative numbers together, you get a positive result. This part explains why.

The next part entitled "Relationships" goes from working with numbers to working with relationships between numbers. This is at the heart of algebra. (Question: What did the mermaid wear to math class? Hint: the answer is given in the previous sentence, sort of.) In this part, I especially enjoyed the discussions on complex numbers, word problems, and on the "unsightly" but important quadratic equation.

Part 3 is entitled "Shapes." In this part, the focus changes from numbers and symbols to shapes and space. Here we enter the realms of geometry and trigonometry. Included in this part are good discussions of proofs, parabolas, ellipses, and sine waves.

In part 4 entitled "Change," we come to the most fruitful branch of mathematics called calculus (not to be confused with the stuff that builds up on your teeth). Calculus made it possible to predict the motions of planets, the rhythm of the tides, and almost every other form of continuous change in the universe. Good discussions of differential & integral calculus as well as vector calculus are included in this part.

The fifth part entitled "Data" deals with the relatively young subjects of probability, statistics, networks, and data mining. All of these subjects were inspired by the messy part of life: chance & luck, risk, volatility, and randomness.

The last part entitled "Frontiers" goes more deeply into the topics of parts 1 to 5. In this part are discussions of prime numbers, group theory, differential geometry, and infinity.

There are only two prerequisites needed to understand this book: curiosity and common sense.

Finally, who is this book written for? As the above extract says, those "who'd like a second chance" at math. However, it's also good for those who want a good review of basic concepts of mathematics. Also, this book may provide an important starting point for pursuing the study of a particular topic in mathematics.

In conclusion, this book provides a good, basic, and fun exploration of mathematics. I leave you with this word problem found in this book:

Imagine a bathtub with two faucets, one for cold water and the other for hot water. If the cold-water faucet can fill the tub in a half-hour, and the hot-water faucet can fill it in an hour, how long will it take to fill the tub when they're running together? (Hint: the answer is not 45 minutes.)

(first published 2012; preface; 6 parts or 30 chapters; main narrative 255 pages; acknowledgements; notes; credits; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars
The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars
by Jacob Berkowitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 17.87
44 used & new from CDN$ 5.82

5.0 out of 5 stars Singer Joni Mitchell was right when she sang "We are stardust", March 30 2013

"The Stardust Revolution is the story of the greatest genealogical search of all time. It's extreme genealogy. It's extreme in terms of time, connecting us back to the very beginnings of time and space in the Big Bang. It's extreme in what it tells us about the nature of our ancestors. They were stars...In extreme genealogy, the traits [of inheritance] we're talking about aren't recognizable in family photos with a glance in the mirror...The elements [of inheritance] are more fundamental: the types of atoms from which we're composed, the chemical bonds between them, the molecules that make up our cells."

The above is from the prologue of this extremely well-researched book by Jacob Berkowitz. He is a science author.

Berkowitz takes the reader step-by-step tour through scientific history where we learn among other things "the origins of the stardust revolution," that stars have "light fingerprints," and about "the astronomer's periodic table." From here, we take a tour of "the invisible universe" where the author discusses such things as "an elemental view of life." The book ends with a discussion of "the living cosmos" where the reader encounters "the men who first held stardust" and learn of "DNA from space." Included in this final part is excellent information on extrasolar planets or exoplanets--planets not of our solar system.

Today, we have new breeds of scientists called astrobiologists and astrochemists who are taking the study of life into the space age. (Astrobiologists study the origins, evolution, and distribution of life, not only on planet Earth, but in the universe.)

Stardust science itself is filling in the missing pieces in human evolutionary history, extending our family tree back to the...stars.

Finally, besides a few black-and-white diagrams throughout, there are two sets of colour photos found in this book. My favourite photo is of "the cosmic chemistry cycle."

In conclusion, once you read this book, I guarantee that you will never look at the night sky the same way again. I leave you with this profound paragraph (with my upper-case emphasis added) found in this interesting, well-written book:

"We are in the midst of the third in a series of scientific revolutions that have shaped our understanding of our origins and place in the universe. The first revolution was the COPERNICAN REVOLUTION, which in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries removed the Earth from the divine locus as the center of creation and joined our planet with the other planets orbiting the Sun. Three centuries later, the DARWINIAN REVOLUTION removed humanity's distinct, divine biological status to place [our] species in the ebb and flow of all life on Earth. We are now in the midst of a third seismic shift in our understanding of our place in the living cosmos--the STARDUST REVOLUTION. It is merging the Copernican and Darwinian Revolutions, placing life on Earth in a cosmic context."

(first published 2012; prologue; notes for the journey; 3 parts or 9 chapters; main narrative 310 pages; acknowledgements; a note on sources; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World
The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of a New World
by Sean Carroll
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.59
27 used & new from CDN$ 4.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning about what may be the greatest scientific achievement of our time!!!!, March 23 2013

"This is the story of the people who have devoted their lives to discovering the ultimate nature of reality, of which the Higgs [boson] is a crucial component. There are theorists, sitting with pencil and paper, fueled by expresso and heated disputes with colleagues, turning over abstract ideas in their minds. There are engineers, pushing machines and electronics well beyond the limits of existing technology. And most of all there are experimenters, bringing the machines and the ideas together to discover something new about nature. Modern physics at the cutting edge involves projects that cost billions of dollars and takes decades to complete, requiring extraordinary devotion and a willingness to bet high stakes in search of unique rewards. When it all comes together, the world changes."

The above extract comes from the prologue of this extraordinary book by Dr. Sean Carroll. He is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology and an author.

Note that in the above extract that a "boson" is a collective term for all particles that carry a force. For example, the photon (a particle of light) carries the electromagnetic force. The "Higgs" in Higgs boson is after British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs (born 1929).

This book deals with science and thus reality. The Higgs boson helps humanity with reality by answering this question:

Why do most particles have mass?

Personally, I read this book to learn about the Higgs boson but found that this book is so much more. (This book treats July 4, 2012 as the day the discovery of the Higgs boson was announced. Actually, it was tentatively announced on this day. As of March 14, 2013 there was tentative confirmation that the specific Higgs boson that was being searched for was actually found.)

Each chapter begins with a brief summary of what the chapter is about:

Chapter (1): "In which we ask why a group of talented and dedicated people would devote their lives to the pursuit of things too small to be seen."
(2) "In which we explore how the Higgs boson has really nothing to do with God but is nevertheless pretty important." (The Higgs boson has infamously been labelled "the God particle.")
(3) "In which we tear apart matter to reveal its ultimate constituents."

(4) "In which we trace the colourful history of the unlikely pastime of smashing together particles at ever-higher energies."
(5) "In which we visit the Large Hadron Collider [LHC], the triumph of science and technology that has been searching for the Higgs boson." (The LHC is the nine billion dollar "particle smasher" or "atom smasher" that may have found the Higgs boson. The LHC's home is at CERN, the laboratory in the northwest suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland and the birthplace of the World Wide Web. A "hadron" is a particle that can be broken down into smaller particles. For example, a proton is a hadron.)

(6) "In which we learn how to discover new particles by colliding other particles at enormous speeds, and watching what happens."
(7) "In which we suggest that everything in the universe is made out of fields: force fields that push and pull, and matter fields whose vibrations are particles."
(8) "In which we scrutinize the Higgs boson and the field from which it springs, showing how it breaks symmetries and gives the universe character."
(9) "In which we figure out how to find the Higgs boson, and how we know we've found it."

(10) "In which we draw back the curtain on the process by which results are obtained and discoveries are communicated."

(11) "In which we relate the fascinating tale of how the "Higgs" mechanism was invented and think about how history
will remember it."
(12) "In which we consider what lies beyond the Higgs boson: worlds of new forces, symmetries, and dimensions?"

(13) "In which we ask ourselves why particle physics is worth pursuing, and wonder what comes next."

Notice that I divided the above chapters into six sections. The first section (composed of chapters 1, 2, 3) is an introductory section that details some elementary particle physics, gives explanations, etc. The next section (chapters 4, 5) explains particle or atom smashers in general and the LHC in particular. Section three (chapters 6,7,8,9) is more particle physics with explanation of the Higgs boson. The fourth and sixth sections are composed of one chapter each. Section five (chapters 11, 12) is an interesting section where the Higgs boson's past is explained with predictions of what the future of particle physics may bring.

For those readers who want to learn about particle physics and the Higgs boson, I would first read sections one and section three. After that, the other sections can be read in any order.

Throughout the book are peppered black and white illustrations that illustrate important concepts. Also included are two sets of colour photographs.

Finally. for those who think they may get lost in a "particle soup," there is an appendix that provides a brief "summary of the particles and their properties." Two other interesting appendices are also provided.

In conclusion, this book provides the exciting story of how the human desire for understanding led to the possible greatest scientific achievement of our time!! It is truly a glorious time to be a thinking person and to be able to appreciate this momentous achievement!!!

(first published 2012; prologue; 13 chapters; main narrative 280 pages; 3 appendices; further reading; references; acknowledgements; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
by Terence Dickinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.31
12 used & new from CDN$ 24.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One word describes this book: SPECTACULAR!!!!, March 16 2013

"In addition to being one of the greatest scientific instruments of all time, the Hubble Space Telescope's [HST] has given humanity a spectacular legacy of beautiful images of the universe. The best of these are displayed--and explained--in this book."

The above is found in the introduction of this mesmerizing and informative book by Terence Dickinson. He is the author of fifteen astronomy books. He was at one time staff astronomer at planetariums in Toronto and Rochester, New York. Dickinson has received numerous awards including the New York Academy of Sciences' Book of the Year Award. He has an asteroid named after him.

This book is divided into two intermingled parts: (1) images or photographs (2) text.

The images are fantastic. They are of the HST's greatest discoveries and latest images. This book contains more than 300 HST colour image. Note that a few images are not from the HST.

The text contains very comprehensive descriptions and explanations with supportive interpretive illustrations. All descriptions and explanations are grounded in science. I, personally, learned quite a bit from reading this text.

The quotation that begins this review is an example of a brief description that is located at the beginning of the introduction. Such a description is found at the beginning of each chapter:

(1) "The flagship of NASA's Great Observatory program, the [HST] is one of the most ambitious, legendary, and nail-biting science endeavours in human history. The payoff has been immeasurable: Hubble has given us the universe."

(2) "The universe was a different place in 1990, the year the [HST] was launched. The most powerful telescopes on Earth could see only halfway across the universe. Astronomers didn't know whether planets orbited other stars. Even the age of the universe was uncertain by a large margin."

(3) "Astronomy is a pre-eminently a visual science. Astronomers cannot collect rocks for analysis...or test chemical reactions in a lab. Everything must be deduced from the light that is emitted or reflected from far away in space."

(4) "Our Galaxy's industry is making stars. If we could view our Galaxy from high above [its]...stellar disk, it would resemble a sprawling city with a bright downtown hub, burgeoning suburbs of Sun-like stars, and avenues of young blue stars and nebulas. Interspersed are the raw materials for making stars: huge clouds of cold hydrogen gas laced with dust."

(5) "Stars are the universe's basic building blocks and, in many ways, are fundamental to the existence of planets and life in the universe. Over billions of years, they have collected themselves into a hierarchy of structures, star clusters, galaxies, and immense clusters of galaxies."

(6) "When [most stars'] nuclear fusion fuel is exhausted , they slowly fade to black. But...there are exceptions to this scenario. Some stars, particularly the most massive ones, end with a bang or a series of violent death throes. The death of a star occasionally produces a detonation so powerful, it can be seen halfway across the universe."

(7) "As spectacular as it looks in Hubble's views, the universe remains largely hidden from us. Its 10 billion trillion stars are the only truly luminous form of matter in the cosmos. They are essentially lights draped over an unseen structure. All the stars and galaxies represent only a fraction of the mass of the entire assembly. The rest of the scaffolding is made up of a mysterious substance called dark matter."

(8) "Galaxies are the majestic city-states of the universe. Astronomers estimate there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. Yet less than a century ago, astronomers knew of just one galaxy: our Milky Way."

(9) "Although the [HST] was designed to probe the most distant reaches of the universe, it also provides exquisitely sharp views of the Earth's companion worlds in the solar system."

(10) "Hubble's cosmic portfolio is full of grand views of familiar celestial objects: galaxies, nebulas, planets, and myriad stars. But some Hubble images are downright bizarre...Among the strangest pictures are those of events that come and go unexpectedly. Many of these we've never seen or not seen clearly, until Hubble's sharp vision was turned on them."

Finally, this book is like a one-volume library of Hubble's achievements and a complete record of the HST's enormous contribution to astronomy.

In conclusion, I can't say it enough. This book is SPECTACULAR! I cannot thank award-winning astronomy writer Terence Dickinson enough for providing to the citizens of planet Earth this informative, captivating, astonishing, and beautiful book of the Hubble Space Telescope's greatest discoveries and latest Images!!

(first published 2012; acknowledgements; introduction; 10 chapters; main narrative 295 pages; resources; index; photo credits; about the author)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Auroras: Fire in the Sky
Auroras: Fire in the Sky
by Dan Bortolotti
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.77
23 used & new from CDN$ 3.52

5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you wanted to know about "nature's light show", March 9 2013

"Of all nature's visual spectacles, none uses a larger canvas than the aurora. On dark, clear nights, its ribbons unfurl over the entire dome of the sky, painting it with brushstrokes of green, yellow, pink, and red."

The above begins this interesting and beautiful book by Dan Bortolotti and Yuichi Takasaka. Bortolotti, responsible for this book's text, is a non-fiction author and a contributor to several Canadian magazines. (Appropriately, he lives in Aurora, Ontario, Canada.) Takasaka was the principle photographer for this book. His ambition was to be a wildlife photographer but when he moved to northern Canada, he discovered the wonder of auroras. Besides his photography, he provides guided aurora-viewing tours through his company.

So, what is an aurora? It is "a complex interaction between charged particles from the Sun, the Earth's magnetic field, and the nitrogen & oxygen in the atmosphere." But those who are romantic describe auroras as "one of nature's most dynamic displays."

This book consists of (1) text and (2) photographs of auroras, both intermingled together.

The fact-filled yet accessible text describes the mythology, science, and beauty of the aurora. The writing is quite good and I learned a lot.

The photographs can be described in one word: magnificent. There are the gorgeous colour images by Takasaka but there are also some NASA photographs and even a few pictures by polar explorers and European artists.

One of my favourite photographs has the following caption:

"In this image [of an aurora], taken near Whitehorse, Yukon, [Canada, the planet] Jupiter is low on the horizon to the left of center and can be seen reflected in the lake, Above and to the right are the bright disk of [the planet] Saturn and the V-shaped portion of the constellation Taurus."

Finally, the photograph on this book's front cover (displayed above by Amazon) shows a ribbon-like aurora swirling over ship's masts in a northern British Columbia (a province of Canada) harbour.

In conclusion, if you've never seen the aurora (or even if you have), I recommend viewing and reading this book. You'll be amazed at how "science meets splendour!!"

(first published 2011; foreword; 6 chapters; main narrative 140 pages; resources; index)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


Angels and Demons (Bilingual)
Angels and Demons (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Ayelet Zurer
Offered by wantthat99
Price: CDN$ 47.80
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Religion is flawed but only because man is flawed", March 2 2013

"We will destroy your four pillars. We will brand your preferiti and sacrifice them on the altars of science then bring your Church down upon you. Vatican City will be consumed by light. A shining star at the end of the Path of Illumination."

The above comes from this thrilling movie that was directed (and co-produced) by Ron Howard. This movie is based on Dan Brown's novel of the same name. (Brown was also co-executive producer of this movie.)

This film is a sequel to the movie "The Da Vinci Code" (2006). (Note that Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) was actually written after Brown's novel "Angels & Demons" (2000)).

The quotation that opens this review is actually a message sent to the Vatican from a secret and ancient scientific organization called the "Illuminati." This organization wants to kill the four favourite cardinals (or senior priests) considered to be Pope (the "preferiti"). As well, the Illuminati want to destroy Vatican City in a blaze of light using a bomb--not just an ordinary bomb but an "antimatter" bomb. Note that:

(ordinary matter) + (antimatter) = (annihilation)

At his point, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks reprising his role) is summoned by the Vatican. His along with a woman scientist's (Ayelet Zurer) mission is to save the four preferiti and locate the antimatter bomb.

I liked this movie because I found it to be an interesting blend of the ancient with cutting-edge science. This movie is also beautifully filmed with equally beautiful background music.

One word of caution: you have to pay careful attention when watching this movie. If you don't, you will likely get lost, and the rest of the movie will not make sense.

There is no stand-out performance in this movie. However, Tom Hanks effectively advances the plot and Ewan McGregor gives a decent performance as an ambitious priest.

This movie was filmed in Rome, the U.K., and in studios in California.

So far, this movie has grossed about four hundred and eighty-five million dollars. (This is pretty good considering that it cost one hundred and fifty million to make.)

"The Da Vinci Code" was banned in many countries but this movie was banned in only one country--Samoa.

Finally, the DVD itself (the "theatrical edition" released in 2009) has five extras. The most interesting extra, at least for me, is entitled "CERN: Pushing the frontiers of knowledge" (15 minutes). This looks at one of the world's largest and most respected scientific research centers. (CERN stands for the "European Organization of Nuclear Research.")

CERN is especially important for two reasons:

(1) It is the birthplace of the World Wide Web.
(2) In 2012, its "Large Hadron Collider," an "atom smasher," is thought to have discovered what the media calls "the God particle." (This particle is mentioned in this movie.)

In conclusion, this is a thrilling movie that definitely entertains!!

(2009; 2 hr, 10 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 28 scenes)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Universe Within
The Universe Within
by Neil Turok
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.40
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science is important--VERY important--to society, Feb. 23 2013
This review is from: The Universe Within (Paperback)

"In this book, I try to connect our progress towards discovering the physical basis of reality with our own character as human beings...

My goal is to celebrate our ability to understand the universe, to recognize it as something that can draw us together, and to contemplate what it might mean for our future."

The above comes from this interesting book by Neil Turok. Turok, born in South Africa, is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. He is now Director of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. (Located at the Perimeter Institute are the Distinguished Research Chair of respected theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and the Stephen Hawking Centre.)

This book is actually the transcript of a lecture entitled "The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos." broadcast in November 2012 as part of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation Radio's "Ideas" series. The lecture itself is actually a "Massey Lecture," named after former Canadian Governor General, Vincent Massey. These Massey Lectures provide a forum on radio where major contemporary thinkers can address important issues of our time.

In this book, Turok explores those major scientific discoveries of the past three centuries--from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the strange world of the quantum, and the evolution of the cosmos. He notes that each new discovery has gradually over time resulted in new technologies that have deeply influenced society.

He continues to argue that we are about to enter the "quantum revolution" that will replace our current digital age. (For example, we will eventually have "quantum computers.") In order to face this new future world of the quantum, Turok calls for reinventing the way advanced knowledge is both developed and shared as well as utilizing the untapped intellectual talent in places such as Africa.

I especially enjoyed the second half of this book's penultimate chapter where he explains the terms of a formula that summarizes all the known laws of physics. Why is this formula important? Turok tells us:

"The formula tells us that the world [and the universe] operates according to simple, powerful principles that we [humans] can understand. And in this, it tells us who we are: creators of explanatory knowledge. It is this ability that has brought us to where we are and will determine our future."

In the last chapter, Turok discusses "the future of this world of ours."

Near the book's center are fourteen mostly colour photographs.

Finally, I did find a few problems. Here are three of them:

(1) I mentioned that this book has colour photographs. These photographs are not mentioned in the main narrative. I'm saying this because one of these photographs contains the actual formula of physics I mentioned above. If you're reading the main narrative about this formula and are unaware of what the actual formula looks like, you may get frustrated. (I actually read a major review of this book where the reviewer was angry that he did not know what the actual formula looked like because he was unaware that it was with the colour photographs.)

The reader should be told when to refer to these colour photographs at the appropriate time in the main narrative.

(2) Turok tells us that in string theory, particles are "little quantum pieces of string." Strings of what? We're never told. (A "string" in string theory is actually an one-dimensional vibrating thread of energy.)

(3) Turok tells us that "I see the idea of a "multiverse"...representing a loss of confidence in the prospects for basic science." This is a strange statement. The idea of a multiverse has nothing to do with a "loss of confidence" but comes from the mathematics.

In conclusion, if you take anything away from this book, it should be:

"Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come."

(first published 2012; author's note; 5 chapters; main narrative 255 pages; notes; further reading; permissions; acknowledgements; index; the CBC Massey lectures series)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


The Da Vinci Code (2-Disc Widescreen Special Edition) (Bilingual)
The Da Vinci Code (2-Disc Widescreen Special Edition) (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Tom Hanks
Offered by torontomediadvd_com
Price: CDN$ 10.88
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Why does it have to be human or divine? Maybe human is divine", Feb. 16 2013

Some of the negative reactions for this movie (and the book it's based on) came from The Vatican, American Catholic Bishops, Peru, People's Republic of China (which eventually banned it), Pakistan (banned), Philippines (called for a ban), Thailand (called for a ban), Singapore (called for a ban), Samoa (banned), India (called for a ban), Sri Lanka (banned), Lebanon (banned).

Most critics hated this movie.

Therefore, this is just one bad movie, right? Well, not so fast.

Consider this:

This movie earned two hundred and thirty million dollars in its opening weekend. So far, it has brought in over seven hundred and fifty million (well over its budget costs of one hundred and twenty five million).

This is a mystery movie directed by Ron Howard (who also co-produced). It was adapted from the international bestselling novel "The Da Vinci Code" (2003) by Dan Brown (who also was co-executive producer of this movie).

Both Harvard religious symbolist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) become accidentally involved in a quest for the legendary Holy Grail (cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper). Both, as well, are pursued by French police Captain Fache (Jean Reno).

Also searching for the Grail is a secret group within the Opus Dei (an institution of the Roman Catholic Church that teaches that everyone is called to holiness), who wish to keep the true Grail a secret since the revelation of this secret would probably destroy Christianity. One person (actually enforcer) who especially wants the true secret to be kept is an albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany).

On their quest for the Grail, both Langdon and Neveu have to consult with noted British Grail historian Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen). Also, along the way they encounter anagrams (rearranging the letters of a word or phrase), puzzles, mathematical numbers, paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, etc.

All actors do descent jobs in their roles but I have to give special kudos to Paul Bettany as the albino monk Silas.

This movie has it all: mystery, action, good background music, and suspense.

One of the few critics who gave this movie a good rating was Roger Ebert. He said, "This movie works, it's involving, intriguing, and constantly seems on the edge of startling revelations." I enthusiastically agree with this statement.

Finally, the DVD set (special edition released in 2006) has ten behind-the-scenes featurettes on the second disc. (I found on the back of the DVD case that Tom Hanks name is excluded from the credits!!)

Oh, I almost forgot. Dan Brown walked away with a cool six million dollars when the film rights for this movie were purchased from him!!!

In conclusion, this is actually quite a good movie. If you don't want to read the novel it's based on, I strongly recommend viewing this movie. I leave you with one of the key anagrams found in this movie for you to decipher:

"O, Draconian devil. Oh, lame saint."

(2006; 2hr, 20 min excluding end credits; wide screen; 24 scenes; 2 discs)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>


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