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What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions

What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions

4.3 6
by Robert Wolke

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What makes ice cubes cloudy? How do shark attacks make airplanes safer? Can a person traveling in a car at the speed of sound still hear the radio? Moreover, would they want to...?

Do you often find yourself pondering life's little conundrums? Have you ever wondered why the ocean is blue? Or why birds don't get electrocuted when perching on high-voltage power


What makes ice cubes cloudy? How do shark attacks make airplanes safer? Can a person traveling in a car at the speed of sound still hear the radio? Moreover, would they want to...?

Do you often find yourself pondering life's little conundrums? Have you ever wondered why the ocean is blue? Or why birds don't get electrocuted when perching on high-voltage power lines? Robert L. Wolke, professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and acclaimed author of What Einstein Didn't Know, understands the need to...well, understand. Now he provides more amusing explanations of such everyday phenomena as gravity (If you're in a falling elevator, will jumping at the last instant save your life?) and acoustics (Why does a whip make such a loud cracking noise?), along with amazing facts, belly-up-to-the-bar bets, and mind-blowing reality bites all with his trademark wit and wisdom.

If you shoot a bullet into the air, can it kill somebody when it comes down?

You can find out about all this and more in an astonishing compendium of the proverbial mind-boggling mysteries of the physical world we inhabit.

Arranged in a question-and-answer format and grouped by subject for browsing ease, WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS BARBER is for anyone who ever pondered such things as why colors fade in sunlight, what happens to the rubber from worn-out tires, what makes red-hot objects glow red, and other scientific curiosities. Perfect for fans of Newton's Apple, Jeopardy!, and The Discovery Channel, WHAT EINSTEIN TOLD HIS BARBER also includes a glossary of important scientific buzz words and a comprehensive index. —>

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Robert L. Wolke's What Einstein Didn't Know:

"Wolke is a glib and entertaining writer....This is the book for anyone who claims to be overwhelmed by the science of everyday things....It's a fun read."
—The San Diego Tribune

"Fascinating....Will provide hours of fun and knowledge for kids of any age (and we mean up to 90) and offer helpful tips and satisfy the curiosity of the average householder."
—Baton Rouge Advocate

Written in a humorous style, this book addresses such questions as "what really keeps and airplane up?" and "why do wet things look darker?" Wolke (chemistry, U. of Pittsburgh) provides simple explanations to complex phenomena like gravity and acoustics, as well as simple experiments to do at home that prove his points. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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5.26(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.78(d)

Read an Excerpt

Movin' and Shakin'

Everything is moving.

You may be sitting quietly in your armchair, but you are far from motionless. I don't mean merely that your heart is beating, your blood is coursing through your veins and you are panting at the prospect of learning so many fascinating things from this book. In short, I don't mean simply that you are physically and mentally alive.

I mean that while you are sitting there so peacefully, Earth beneath your feet is spinning you around at about 1,000 miles per hour (1,600 kilometers per hour). (The exact speed depends on where you live; see p. 119). Mother Earth is simultaneously hauling you around the sun at 66,600 miles per hour (107,000 kilometers per hour). Not to mention the fact that the solar system and all the stars and galaxies in the universe are racing madly away from one another in all directions at incredible speeds.

Okay, you knew all that. Except maybe for the exact speeds. But we're still not done.

You are made of molecules. (Yes, even you.) And all your molecules are vibrating and jiggling around to beat the band, assuming that your body temperature is somewhere above absolute zero (see p. 82). In motion also are many of the atoms of which your molecules are made, and the electrons of which the atoms are made, and the electrons, atoms and molecules of everything else in the universe. They were all set into motion about 12 billion years ago (see p. 175) and have been quivering ever since.

So what is motion? In this chapter we'll see how everything from horses to speeding automobiles, sound waves, bullets, airplanes and orbiting satellites move from one place to another.

Horsing Around on the Highway

Why do they drive on the left in some countries and on the right in others?

It goes back to the fact that most humans are right-handed.

Long before we had modern weapons such as guns and automobiles, people had to do battle using swords and horses. Now if you are right-handed, you wear your sword on the left, so that you can draw it out rapidly with your right hand. But with that long, dangling scabbard encumbering your left side, the only way you can mount a horse is by throwing your free right leg over him. And unless you are in a Mel Brooks movie and want to wind up sitting backward on your steed, that means that the horse's head has to be pointing to your left. To this day we still train horses to be saddled and mounted from their left sides.

Now that you are mounted, you will want to stay on the left side as you start down the road, because anyone coming toward you will be on your right, and if that someone turns out to be an enemy, you can whip out your sword with your right hand and be in position to run the scoundrel through. Thus, prudent horsemen have always ridden on the left side of the road.

This left-side convention was also honored by horse-drawn carriages in order to avoid annoying collisions with horsemen. When horseless carriages made their appearance, some countries continued the habit, especially during the overlap period when both kinds of carriages were competing for road space.

So why do people drive on the right in the U.S. and many other countries?

When swords went the way of bows and arrows, the need for defending one's right flank disappeared and traffic rules were suddenly up for grabs. Younger or less tradition-bound countries migrated to the right, apparently because the right-handed majority feels more comfortable hugging the right side of the road. It quickly occurred to left-handed people that it was unhealthy to argue with them.

Some countries that I've been in must have large populations of ambidextrous people, because they seem to prefer the middle of the road.

Four-Grief Clovers

Why do highway and freeway intersections have to be so complicated, with all those loops and ramps?

They enhance the traffic flow—from construction companies to politicians' campaign chests.


They allow us to make left turns without getting killed by oncoming traffic. It's a matter of simple geometry.

When freeways and superhighways began to be built, engineers had to figure out how to allow traffic to make turns from one highway to an intersecting one without stopping for red lights. Because we drive on the right-hand side of the road in the U.S., right turns are no problem; you just veer off onto an exit ramp. But a left turn involves crossing over the lanes of opposing traffic, and that can cause conflicts that are better imagined than expressed.

Enter the cloverleaf. It allows you to turn 90 degrees to the left by turning 270 degrees to the right.

Think about it. A full circle is 360 degrees; a 360-degree turn would take you right back to your original direction. If two highways intersect at right angles, a left turn means turning 90 degrees to the left. But you'd get the same result by making three right turns of 90 degrees each. It's the same as when you want to turn left in the city and encounter a "No Left Turn" sign. What do you do? You make three right turns around the next block. That's what the loop of a cloverleaf does; it takes you 270 degrees around three-quarters of a circle, guiding you either over or under the opposing lanes of traffic as necessary.

The highway interchange is a four-leaf clover, rather than a two- or three-, because there are four different directions of traffic—going, for example, north, east, south and west—and each of them needs a way to make a left turn.

For readers in Britain, Japan and other countries where they drive on the left, just interchange the words "left" and "right" in the preceding paragraphs, and everything will come out all right. That is, all left. You know what I mean.

Meet the Author

Robert L. Wolke is professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and researcher in both chemistry and physics. As an educator and lecturer, he enjoys a national reputation for his ability to make science understandable and enjoyable. He is the author of What Einstein Didn't Know: Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions; Impact: Science on Society; and Chemistry Explained, as well as dozens of scientific research papers. His bi-weekly column, "Food 101," in which he answers scientific questions about food, appears in The Washington Post. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simply put, he gives concise, funny answers to questions we should all know the answer to but don't.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was skeptical about buying this book but the author is a genius he puts into a perspective for both the scientific and non scientific minds
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoy Doctor Wolke's writing style and wit, but I couldn't help noticing some errors of fact that I find very surprising coming from a man with his scientific credentials. He is undoubtedly a very competent chemist, but he seems a little weak in the physics department. Specifically, his explanation of orbital and celestial mechanics are not quite on the mark. He apparently confused escape velocity with orbital velocity. On page 27 he correctly states that escape velocity near the earth's surface is 25,000 miles per hour, but erroneously concludes that this is the velocity at which a near earth satellite orbits the earth and that anything moving at less than this velocity must eventually fall to the earth before it has gone clear around the earth. Orbital velocity for a near earth orbit is closer to 18,000 miles per hour (which he gets right on page 121). Anything moving at velocity between orbital velocity and escape velocity will remain in orbit around the earth indefinitely (provided that it is not aimed such that it is on a collision course with the earth's surface and far enough up so that atmospheric braking is negligible). Also, contrary to what Dr. Wolke stated, Anything moving at escape velocity or above (which is the square root of two times the minimum orbital velocity at any given altitude) will never go into orbit around the earth, but will continually recede from it forever, though it will decelerate at a diminishing rate the farther it gets away from earth (unless, of course, something other than the earth's gravitational pull slowed the object in question down and reversed its direction). He also should have checked his figures on the orbital speed of the earth around the sun. On page 103 he gives this speed as 10,000 miles per hour, and on page 120 he stated that it is 10,600 miles per hour. A simple calculation taking into account the earth's distance from the sun of 93 million miles and the length of the year as 365.24 days will yield a result of approximately 66,700 miles per hour. I am still reading his book, but I would not be surprised at this point to discover other obvious errors as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book makes science facts easy to understand. I've read and reread it several times! It encourages your curiosity.