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Book Review: Geekspeak: A Guide to Answering the Unanswerable, Making Sense of the Nonsensical, and Solving the Unsolvable by Dr. Graham Tattersall

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Dr. Graham's book, Geekspeak, is a fun read if you like mental gymnastics. Some of the issues it investigates are rather nonsensical such as  charting your relationships with other people to find out "that a pal of a pal of a pal of a pal" can ultimately link you to three fourths of the earth's inhabitants. In effect, this means that if you overlap the circle of acquaintances of your friends and relatives, you are connected to 4.1 billion of the earth"s 6.6 billion people.

Now, if you are interested in how many dumpsters are needed to hold all of America's trash for one year, Geekspeak mathematically takes you through simple calculations to find out. The result is staggering because if placed bow-to-stern, the needed containers would make a line close to 750 million feet in length, a distance of 142,045 miles. Since the circumference of earth is 24,902 miles at the equator, a simple division of these two numbers shows that America's trash in dumpsters would circle the earth 5.7 times.

But then the book takes up more meaningful issues. Traveling along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I've seen large energy producing windmills. Throughout the mountains of Tucker County in West Virginia, I've seen probably hundreds of them. On one visit there, I stood about 30 yards from the bottom of such a wind turbine as the three enormous blades turned over my head. Now, Geekspeak has given me an answer I've often wondered about: a wind turbine can generate 300,000 watts of power if the wind is blowing.

Equally interesting are other facts. Dr. Graham shows that more than 60% of the energy from an automobile combustion engine is wasted. It is released to the atmosphere through the exhaust system and through the car's radiator to keep the engine from overheating and destroying itself.

Then too, it is interesting to learn there is a time delay when using satellites for wireless communication on earth. Undersea cable phone links suffer only three one-hundredths (.03) of a second. Since this delay does not disrupt the flow of a normal telephone conversation, even today, most telephone conversations now go by cable.

Geekspeak is pure enjoyment. While some of its questions appear trite, still, they provide information and a bit of mental gymnastics which are both informative and rewarding. It is a relaxing break from thrillers, romances, who-done-its, alien creatures, tension and drama.

You need not start at the beginning because each chapter is a well written explanation of some issue. This is a great book to read while traveling because you don't have to follow a plot or remember the names of characters, yet you are given great, self-contained blocks of food for thought — often somewhat paradoxical.

As a former educator, I would highly recommend Geekspeak to high school teachers who are hunting some way to inject real fascination into an ordinary physics or math class. The math used in the book is very simple and easy to follow. I can just imagine the discussion that would result if a teacher asked a class: would you weigh more at the North Pole or the equator? Their reasoning would be quite interesting. 

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