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What If?

I wanted to let readers know of a fun new book that’s out this week. Randall Munroe, of webcomic XKCD fame, has written What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. There are a lot of truly odd ones in there, and he takes them on as best he can. I’m glad to say that I’m quoted in the chapter on “What would happen if you made a periodic table of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” (That should give you an idea of the sorts of questions that come in to him; it makes my mail look fairly sane by comparison). And no, you wouldn’t want to do that one – consider astatine and francium, for starters.

11 comments on “What If?”

  1. PJ Hansen says:

    The note from Amazon this morning that “What if?:…has shipped” was the best email I’ve received in weeks!

  2. Ian says:

    Mines been on pre-order for months – cannot wait!

  3. anon says:

    for example, the relativistic baseball (click on my name)
    Love this what if series.

  4. Rhenium says:

    What would happen?
    It’d likely explode in a nuclear fireball, assuming (with moderate confidence) that there is enough mass in the brick of Pu-239 and Pu-240 to at least set off a “nuclear fizzle”… Not to mention the stranger inhabitants of the actinides, Francium would be the least of your concerns at that point.

  5. oldnuke says:

    And from what I have seen of Polonium-210, you would be hard-pressed to have a brick of that stuff without it steadily shrinking.
    Put some in a balance pan and it will be all over the balance in short order. 🙂

  6. A NON E MUS says:

    What if…the INVIVO blog came back into existence again?

  7. cookingwithsolvents says:

    WOW this is a ‘can’t put it down’ book. Just awesome stuff. Up there with ‘ignition’ (another recommendation from this site…thanks!!).
    Also, Mr. Wheaton’s narration of Lock In (and Ms. Benson’s) is fantastic with wonderful source material. Though, in fairness, Scalzi’s work has risen to ‘amazing as I expected’ status for me.

  8. Andrew D. Royappa says:

    Daggum, this book is the #1 Best Seller in books on amazon. Wouldn’t have predicted that in a million years.

  9. Jeff says:

    What if there was no such thing as a hypothetical question?

  10. gippgig says:

    Pu would probably be Pu-242 or 244. Po could be Po-209. Much longer half-life.
    This question is impossible to answer without knowing the size of the bricks.
    (The system is still malfunctioning. I made this comment before and it vanished.)

  11. z says:

    Great book. One little issue I noticed in the introduction to the question about the periodic table: “Of the 118 elements, 30 of them–like helium, carbon, aluminum, iron, and ammonia–can be bought in pure form in local retail stores.” An honest mistake I’m sure (although an editor probably should have double-checked that list against the actual periodic table), which doesn’t really detract from the overall quality of the book, but things like that do detract a little from how well the voice of the author works for me. He writes in a very matter-of-fact and authoritative tone, while it’s not always clear how well he knows the subject matter and how accurate his conclusions are. Which is, of course, the kind of book it is, it’s not really about the answers as much as it is about the thought experiments that take you to the answers, so I’m not really complaining, even though maybe I am….

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