Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Learning From The Best Teacher In Modern Times

Richard Feynman American Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner
Richard Feynman American Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner

When the introduction to a computer course is like this ...

Computers can do lots of things. They can add millions of numbers in the twinkling of an eye. They can outwit chess grandmasters. They can guide weapons to their targets. They can book you onto a plane between a guitar strumming num and a non-smoking physics professor. Some can even play the bongoes. ...

Physics professor? Bongoes? ... you immediately know that this has to be Richard Feynman's lecture.

And you know that you will enjoy the book - Feynman Lectures on Computation - even if you are not a computer science student.

I chanced upon this book in my neighbourhood library. We have just joined a new library near our house - more of that at the end of this post - and I was just browsing books in the general section, as my kids went hyper with the complete set of Goosebumps (why do they read this stuff when they regularly get up in the middle of the night and disturb me with "bad dreams"?). Now, Feynman is associated with Physics. Checkout any book shop and all you will get is Feynman's Lectures on Physics, Surely You Are Joking Mr. Feynman, Six Easy Pieces, but not this one. It seems Feynman lectured on computation from 1983 to 1986. This is one is a compilation of the same.

So I have borrowed it to my kids' dismay - as they can borrow only 3 books instead of 4.

Ok here is a question for you - how many (popular) books, not papers - including Feynman Lectures on Physics - do you think Feynman wrote in his life time? Go on! Google it! I will tell you the answer. Exactly ZERO. Not one has been written by him though all of them carry his name in big, bold letters. They were all compiled by someone else. This includes QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.

If there is one book you must read on Physics I would recommend QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter. There cannot be a more ideal introduction to Quantum Electrodynamics. You come to know that Feynman was a genius when you read it. He has explained his Nobel Award winning work in 4 lectures without using any equation. Now that is an achievement!

Give QED to your teenager. I guarantee you that your kid will be hooked to Physics for life. Better still, you read it. Even if you hate Physics. You would have learned the art of explaining concepts to lay person without sacrificing the essence.

And why did I join this library (It is called Just Books) when I am already a member of the British Library? Answer: Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID for short. The library card and every book in the library is (passive) RFID tagged. And at the entry is a touch screen computer. You need to place your card and the books on the tray in front of the computer and voila! you can now either borrow or return your books. Just like that! I just could not resist this opportunity to try out RFID.

Call me a sucker for technology!

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