caltech-bookclub

Black Hole Blues

Book Notes

When I joined the Caltech Alumni Book Club, I didn't realize what the theme of the book club would be. After this book and the last one, I can say with a good level of confidence that the theme is "has to do with Caltech." And really, that's expected and probably in the book club description that I didn't read when I joined ("A book club? SQUEEEEE! Join!"). The book club reads more slowly than I read, which is to say, more slowly than the maximum library checkout time, so I've been finishing these books faster than the book club. Not a great thing when I want to be participating in the book club.

Phew. That all said...

This book is, unsurprisingly, about the gravitational wave experiments, the people involved in it from the beginning, the stumbling blocks, the successes, and the failures. It's a great scientific tale that I enjoyed reading about.

That some of it occurred while I was AT Caltech reminds me of just how f---ing oblivious I was when I was at Tech, as well as how oblivious I must still be about my world. I want to believe I'm more aware, and more appeciative, of things around me. NO IDEA IF I AM.

That this book was published before LIGO succeeded is delightful. That LIGO succeeded is even more delighful. I enjoyed this book, enjoyed reading about people who love science as much as I do, and had the courage to pursue that love.

I recommend this book to anyone who has a slight interest in the biographical information about the LIGO project, black holes in particular, or science in general. Fun read.

Rise of the Rocket Girls

Book Notes

I started reading this book because Caltech had a new alumni book club starting up, and this was the first book to be discussed. My timing in the reading, however, wasn't so great. I was all SQUEEEEEEEE about reading this book, and placed a hold on the book from the library. The book club started on February 22nd, my loan was due on February 24th. Which is to say, I read the book on the 23rd. As I do.

This book is about the math women at what would become, and is, Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. The people who computed. The computers.

Of this story, of their tales, I have mixed feelings.

The strongest feeling I have is of anger that smart, well-educated, ambitious women can't be engineers because, and only because, they are women. "Let me do all these amazing calculations, but I'm not allowed to design these things, or if I can contribute, my contributions aren't even a footnote in history." Every part of the book about this, about the history of this, is rage-inducing.

A close second to this feeling is appreciation. That I would go to college was never a question, of course I would. The question was always, "Which one?" That I was able to go to Caltech is to me these days, somewhat stunning. At the time, my thought was "of course," but that's the arrogance of youth and my ignorance of the world. Probably a good thing on the latter, not so much on the former, because it leads to the third feeling.

Sadness. Sadness that this rich history was there, that these women had blazed the path I so obliviously walked. I wish this book had existed when I was at Tech. I might have appreciated where I was an the opportunities in front of me more.

Or maybe not. Arrogance of youth and all.