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Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: Liquid Rules

Liquid Rules is that rare book: written by a material scientist, it uses a transatlantic flight to motivate the discussion of various liquids and their interesting properties. It starts off with a discussion of the kerosene used to power the jet engine, meanders into the properties of soap (as well as a fascinating history of how marketing and a bacteria scare causes us to abandon bar soap for liquid soaps and body washes --- including a discussion of what makes detergent different from soap!), and discusses how ink in a ballpoint pen differs from the ink in a fountain pen.

It is filled with observations such as this awesome tidbit about the pre-flight safety briefing:
If you think about it, the safety briefing is the one global ritual that we all share, whatever our ethnicity, nationality, sex, or religion; we all take part in it before the kerosene is ignited and the plane takes off. The dangers that the briefing warns us of, such as landing on water, are so rare that even if you flew every day for a whole lifetime, you would be unlikely to ever experience them. So that’s not really the point of it. As in all rituals, coded language, a series of actions, and special props play their part. In religious rituals these props are often candles, incense burners, and chalices; in the preflight safety ritual they are oxygen masks, life jackets, and seat belts. The message of the preflight ritual is this: you are about to do something that is extremely dangerous, but engineers have made it almost completely safe. The “almost” is emphasized by all the elaborate actions involving the previously mentioned props. The ritual draws a line between your normal life, where you are in charge of your own safety, and your current one, in which you are ceding control to a set of people and their engineering systems as they harness one of the most awesomely powerful liquids on the planet to shoot you through the atmosphere to a destination of your choosing. In other words, you need to trust them absolutely; your life is in their hands. And so this ritual, performed before every flight, is really a trust ceremony. (Kindle Loc 355)
 I highly recommend this book. You'll learn something on every page, and it's written well!

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