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New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room We're taking Boston Skeptics to the next level by introducing a Slack chat room for Boston Skeptics to keep and touch, share ideas, and be skeptical in near-real time with each other! Don't have...

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New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room We're taking Boston Skeptics to the next level by introducing a Slack chat room for Boston Skeptics to keep and touch, share ideas, and be skeptical in near-real time with each other! Don't have...

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Boston Skeptics in the Theater & Pub | Bill Nye: Science... Come join the Boston Skeptics at the Brattle Theatre on December 3, where we’ll be attending a screening of a new film about Bill Nye, aptly named “Bill Nye: Science Guy.” We’ll go somewhere nearby...

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October 2017 Organizational Meeting Updates Thanks again to everyone who attended our October 2017 organizational meeting. There were a few items we had drafted and captured more ideas around that we would love to open up for comment and feedback...

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Book Club: “The Martian” by Andy Wier

Posted on : 01-06-2014 | By : John | In : Book Club

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Our June book is The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir.

It’s a science fiction story of Mark Watney, an astronaut abandoned on Mars by the rest of the crew (they were certain, for many good reasons, that he was dead, and if they had delayed their launch by even a few seconds, all the rest of the crew would have been marooned or killed as well.) Mark, who is also a botanist and engineer, takes stock of his situation, and discovers his most critical problem is he only has enough food to last about a year, but rescue isn’t possible for well over two years. That is, assuming he can somehow restore communications with Earth and tell NASA he is still alive.

He has other problems as well, but at least a vague idea how to solve them: not enough water; cold; not enough pressurized area to attempt to grow food (the potatoes intended for their Thanksgiving dinner are still viable); broken airlocks; cold; bad luck; and his own, almost fatal, mistakes.

As he struggles to survive, he (and we) learn a number of important lessons, principally:

  1. Duct tape can fix anything.
  2. Duct tape is magic
  3. Duct tape can fix anything.

I realize, technically, this is only one lesson, but it is such and important lesson I think it bears repeating.  (Bonus points for recognizing the reference.)


  1. Just when you think everything is going well, the worst might happen.
  2. Martian coffee is aweful.
  3. Rust never sleeps.

The book is written as a series of log entries that were obviously recovered later, so I’m not certain at this point if Mark survives, or what happens to the crew attempting to rescue him.  Interspersed are short chapters describing events and people on Earth, including the NASA administrator (whose initial CYA attempts are thwarted by Venkat Kapoor, the director of the Mars program), Venkat, who needs to know what really happened at the landing site (a dust storm far more intense than any they planned for precipitated the events) thus involving Mindy Park, the young rocket scientist who discovers Mark is still alive. The crew of Mark’s ship, the Hermes, volunteer to participate in a daring rescue attempt, delaying their own safe return to Earth by almost two years. Also there is the obsessive mathematician who invents a radical new scheme for rescuing Mark and the Chinese scientists who abandon their most ambitious scientific space mission to date in order to launch desperately needed supplies to the Hermes after NASA’s original attempt goes horribly pear-shaped.  (There’s a reason why space missions take so long to design, construct and test.)

We’ll be meeting in a week, but if you haven’t started it yet, it is a fairly quick read (unless you read it as an Orbital Mechanics text book and treat the various mission plans and rescue attempts as exercises left for the reader.) I started 3 days ago and I am about 3/4’s of the way through it.

Join us to discuss this book on Saturday, June 7 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page. Remember, the first gratuitous Star Trek reference always receives a complimentary phaser blast. (Set to stun if you’re lucky.) I’ll be bringing a supply of duct tape and a special surprise: something better than duct tape!

Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (June 8) at the Skepchick Book Club. Drop by and make all those insightful comments you forgot to make at the meeting, or if you live too far away to attend in person. (But it’s much more fun to be there!)

Book Club: “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov

Posted on : 07-09-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club

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Our next book is Isaac Asimov’s SF classic I, Robot. This book is famous for introducing the Three Laws of Robotics, and most of the plots of the stories it comprises are about what happens when the laws break down.

Bender from Futurama

Typical evil robot

The book consists of a series of connected short stories about robots, mostly published separately in the 1940s. They are tied together as a series of historical anecdotes told to a reporter by the brilliant roboticist and robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin.

Most of us at the last book club meeting had read it, but not recently. (Except for the first two chapters, I last read it in college, way too long ago. By sheer coincidence, my Kindle died while I was visiting my sister two weeks ago, and I picked it up off her book shelf as bed time reading, and read the first two stories, about Robbie the Robot, a lumbering companion of the child of a techno-geek, and a story about the mining colony on Mercury, set in the distant, barely imaginable future of the of about 5 years ago.)

Asimov was one of the most prolific writers, ever, and was one of the founders of the skeptical and humanist movements. In addition to his clever and imaginative robot stories, he wrote literally hundreds of books and essays explicating science, history and reasoning.

We will be meeting at our usual location, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford St in Cambridge, on Saturday, October 6, 2012 from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. Bring a snack to share, or just your appetite.

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page.

Mary will be hosting a discussion of the book the next day (Sunday, October 7) on-line at the Skepchick Book Club, in case you want to share your thoughts about the book with the world. And remember, as always, there will be a special, relevant recipe for a super duper yummy snack to munch on while discussing the book.