Thursday, August 11, 2005


If there's something I loathe, it's vague wordings and great numbers. If I come across the like, I usually pose embarrassing questions like "But what does that mean?" or "What concrete consequences does it impose on my life?". If possible, I want it explained visually or as metaphores as I seem to think in an image mode. Some get uncomfortable when being asked to translate the abstract into the concrete, but I think it's essential.

Therefore, I absolutely love to read "A short history of nearly everything" by Bill Bryson as he exemplifies like there's no tomorrow. (I doubt he acually did all the calculations himself, but rather is he citing someone who's done it before him. But still). In the part where he discusses the vast universe, he states that astronoms today believe that there may be up til 140 billions of galaxies in the visible universe. It is pretty hard to imagine that figure. Therefore, Bryson illustrates it to the reader. If galaxies were deep frozen peas, there would be enough to fill a music hall, such as Royal Albert Hall in London. Spot on!

Bryson also illustrates the Avogrado's number that is 6,0221367 times 1023 (23 raised). This is also a figure, rather hard to fully grasp. Thus, Bryson lets us know that it equals the amount of soda cans it takes to cover the entire globe, the layer being 320 kilometers thick (i.e. hight). And it equals the amount of unpopped popcorn it takes to cover the US with a 15 kilometer thick layer.

See? It's much easier to grasp the width of the figures now!

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