The Wall Street Journal: 3 Must-Read Books for Geeks

The Wall Street Journal: 3 Must-Read Books for Geeks

These new spring titles explore the virtual world’s most elaborate Minecraft creations, the age-old connections between music and physics, and the hackability of cars

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Block Wonders: How To Build Super Structures in Minecraft

By Kirsten Kearney

Elevator pitch: If you’re still thinking of Minecraft as a game, you’re missing the infinitely big picture. Microsoft’s virtual-world-building experience boasts 100 million player/creators, on a virtual playing field eight times as large as Earth. This book showcases dozens of impressive structures created by professional teams around the world that collaborate remotely. Included are replicas of real-world buildings, like St. Peter’s Basilica, and fanciful stuff like an impossibly immense ship-wasting Kraken sea monster. With the provided tutorials, building details and profiles of each work’s artist/builder, you’ll have everything you need to join the fun (except the endurance of a 12-year-old).

Very brief excerpt: “Facades and walls are rarely just flat in real life, so adding depth to them will guarantee you a boost in detail…. Stairs under and over windows create a window-frame look.”

Surprising factoid: Toronto’s CN Tower has the world’s tallest glass-floor elevator andthe world’s highest bar.

 

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The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

By Stephon Alexander

Elevator pitch: Music lovers are at high risk of being inspired by this exploration of the connections between music and physics. Music is perhaps the most persistent metaphor in science, from Pythagoras’ “harmony of the spheres” to the prevalent modern theory that all the world is composed of infinitesimal vibrating strings. Mr. Alexander elegantly charts the progress of science from the ancients through Copernicus and Kepler to Einstein (a piano-player) and beyond, making it clear that what we call genius has a lot to do with convention-challenging courage, a trait shared by each age’s great musicians as well.

Very brief excerpt: “…the millions of stars within galaxies organize themselves into self-similar, fractal structures, like the fractal structure found in Bach’s and Ligetti’s compositions.”

Surprising factoid: Black holes can emit a musical tone; it’s a B-flat about 50 octaves below middle C on your piano.

bookThe Car Hacker’s Handbook

By Craig Smith

Elevator pitch: It sure is nice to remotely start your car from inside your warm house. But thanks to such digital and wireless conveniences, thieves are fast learning how to wreak all sorts of havoc: remotely unlocking your vehicle, draining its battery or starting its engine, surreptitiously tracking your car or taking over your steering to drive you into a wall. Enter “The Car Hacker’s Handbook,” which describes, in meticulous detail, how your car’s components talk both to one another and to diagnosticians—outlining all the ways good and bad guys can modify or attack the systems.

Very brief excerpt: “Consider ransomware, a malicious software that can encrypt or lock you out of your computer or phone until you pay money to someone controlling the software remotely. Could this be used on vehicles? The answer is yes.”

Surprising factoid: For about $15, you can cobble together a tool that scans your car’s fault system for Diagnostic Trouble Codes, so you don’t have to rely entirely on your mechanic.

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