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Archive for October 2010

Quantum Physics: A Beginner’s Guide

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I should have seen the risks when I bought a copy of Alastair I.M. Rae’s book Quantum Physics. The cover says that the book belongs to a series called Beginners Guides. That missing apostrophe says it all though, admittedly, it could have been annihilated in a collision with an anti-apostrophe.

I am only up to page 36 and I have to stop to write this. I didn’t realise I was buying a proof copy of the book. It’s been reprinted every year for the last five years and I’ve found two mistakes, one of them serious. You can’t hide behind the fact that beginners don’t understand what you’re trying to say. I’m not criticising the author – well I am because some of the sentences try to say too much – rather I’m saying the publisher should have done a better job.

Example 1.

On page 20 you will find the following sentence:

Up and down quarks carry positive charges of value -2/3 and -1/3 respectively of the total charge on a proton, which contains two up quarks and one down quark.

What? Positive charges of minus two thirds and minus one third? This is awkward and wrong. How about:

The up quark carries a charge of +2/3 and the down quark carries a charge of -1/3. The proton comprises two up quarks and one down quark giving the observed total charge of +1.

Isn’t that better? I’m not a physicist – that’s why I’m reading the book – but to me the second version makes sense. The mental arithmetic is within everyone’s grasp: 4/3 minus 1/3 equals 1.

Example 2.

On page 36, in a presentation of Young’s classic interference experiment, we are told:

It follows from the discussion in the previous paragraph that at some points on S the weaves will reinforce each other, while at others they will cancel;

This simply isn’t good enough. Are we to believe in the wave-weave-particle triple nature of light?  I have a central retinal vein occlusion in one eye and I was able to see these errors. Come on OneWorld Publications of Oxford, put down that Proof Reading for Dummies and get it fixed.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2010

Written by netkingcol

October 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

So I says to Fay I says

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On Thursday, 07Oct2010, I attended a prize-giving lunch in Kensington in the company of the three judges: Fay Weldon, James Buchan, and Deborah Moggach. My entry to the Mail on Sunday novel competition had come third. This earned me £200 in book tokens or £1.37 for each of the 146 words I submitted. Also present were the other five winners and a handful of literary agents and commissioning editors.

Talk about dance of the the trolls in the hall of the mountain king. In this literary landscape we winners were the foothills sitting between mighty peaks of writing achievement – small fish in a big pond. The lunch was excellent, as was the generosity of the judges all of whom gave their advice and encouragement freely. All my illusions about my ability to write were reinforced.

Since hearing of this success in August, I’ve stretched those 146 words to 79,000 which is only 1000 short of the minimal entry length for submission to the Terry Pratchett Prize. The writing was described by the judges as: ‘a quite grand idea, an alternative universe, done most elegantly’.  Here it is:

The Gates-Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side of New Manhattan, Antarctica was a faithful copy of the building that had once stood at the southern end of Museum Mile in New York City. Frank Lloyd Wright would have appreciated its unexpected harmony with the new setting. It was a small step from his Prairie Style to this building which stood in the bleak landscape like a great slab of ice at the nose of a glacier, seemingly about to topple into the sea. Its pale, outward sloping exterior, emitting a bluish pearlescent light, evoked memories of building-sized floes breaking away from the ice-shelf that many New Manhattanites had seen and feared towards the end of their difficult journey south. In the imaginations of some, the curved lines brought to mind a trapped cruise ship with decks tilted, crushed and creaking in the grip of the freezing winter.

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