REVIEWS

1. And you thought that numbers could not be fun..., 23 May, 2000
Reviewer: (phorn@csir.co.za) from South Africa

This is a difficult-to-put-down book, a property which is normally rather reserved for and ascribed to a mystery novel, not a book covering the rather uninspiring field of SI units and measurement skills.

This book is a treasure chest of number – handling techniques and often-used scientific formulae, constants and SI units definitions, interspersed with anecdotes and fun facts which will take the reader on an exciting journey around the athletics track, around the earth and past Alpha Centauri into outer space at breathtaking speed. The author manages to almost seamlessly alternate the contents of the book between basic and more advanced concepts on the one hand, to interesting applications and examples on the other, that the reader can use to test his/her understanding of the subject material. Protocol with respect to number and SI nomenclature, the handling of uncertainties, significant figures, estimations, presentation of empirical data and a host of other topics are dealt with in an informative and practical, yet very entertaining manner.

Read this book and you will know a short-cut way to determine the value a 75 squared, how many tennis balls fit into a garage and how the circumference of Earth was determined in the 2nd century BC, to name but a few of the many surprises that will await the reader.

This book will be a great value to pre-university and first-year students taking number-rich courses such as physics, chemistry engineering and others, but even lecturers and those who have jobs related to scientific fields of study will benefit in that they, like myself, may discover facts they may have never known, used incorrectly of perhaps have forgotten down the years.

Inappropriate use of numbers or units can happen to anyone and any time, with perhaps disastrous effects, so do what I did - read the book, enjoy and learn.

2. Inspiring way of number and data handling techniques, 16 October, 2000
Reviewer: A reader from South Africa

For a student in the sciences, especially in the experimental sciences such as physics, chemistry, engineering and others, measurement of a bewildering range of properties is an essential part of the gathering of data. The understanding and correct use of the units of measurement of these properties are an important part of science. Thus in all science introductory courses the SI units are taught, usually as a necessary but dreary part of the course.

This book changes all that, with its inspiring way of combining the factual numbers and conversions, as well as the historical base where these units came from. The author manages to weave the historical information, the numbers and conversions and a variety of entertaining stories around units into a very informative book that reads like a novel. I found it very hard to put the book down before I read it from cover to cover.

The book also addresses data handling techniques, giving the reader very useful information on estimations, significant figures, uncertainties and other aspects that are so crucial when dealing with finite measurement techniques. A student would find an answer here to just about any question he or she may have on working with numbers and data.

After thirty years of teaching, from first year introductory courses through to honors and post graduated students, I have learned that if the foundation of measurement is not solidly laid, even doctoral students get mixed up in units and conversions. This book is addressing the very basic skills required when working with data in such a user-friendly fashion that it should become a standard reference of units and conversions. The author should be congratulated with producing a scientific reference work that will be useful and used in all sciences.

D. Knoesen, PhD (U.Stell) Department Chair and Professor in Physics University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa.

3. Experimental science, 3 November, 2000.
Reviewer: A reader from South Africa

Appropriate measurement technique and handling of experimental data is at the heart of the discipline of experimental science. Therefore a training in laboratory practice forms the part of most first year university science curricula. For students to learn scientific methods in the laboratory, they have to both master the tools and procedures of data collection and analysis the develop a commensurate understanding of the nature of scientific measurement.

Wacek Kijewski has tackled the difficult, often neglected, subject of measurement with a fresh approach. His book covers a wide range of topics including the use of units, understanding sources of uncertainties, estimation and scientific reporting. He has incorporated many thought-provoking exercises and discussion activities which allow unpacking of the concepts of the nature of measurement and the development of appropriate methods of scientific data collection at an elementary level. He has an entertaining style which is unusual to find associated with a topic which is often despised by students. He has managed to make all the topics covered in this book accessible to readers having only a basic scientific literacy. This book is therefore a valuable resource to both student and instructor at the pre-university and first year university level.

The author does not include the topics of the statistical analysis of data, the propagation of uncertainties and graphing. If these topics were included, then this excellent book might be prescribed as part of a first year physics university laboratory course.

Prof. Andy Buffler, Department of Physics, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

From the author: I have been advised by science editors to separate SI units and measurements from graphing. I am pleased to inform you that the book “Graphs in College Sciences” will soon be available.

4. Invaluable source of handling data, 13 November, 2000
Reviewer: A reader from Botswana

I have been teaching university year-1 physics students for the last 19+ years in Southern Africa, and have experienced that students seriously lack the skills in handling of units and measurement of data. The topic, an essential skill for scientific students, is somehow lost in transition from school to the university system, and does not receive attention at either level of education. This is due to the lack of a suitable book or resource material in this area.

This interestingly written book is an invaluable source in this field for the students and teachers.

P.K. Jain Professor, Physics Co-ordinator: Year-1 Physics Course University of Botswana

5.Understanding units of measurements used in science, 23 November, 2000
Reviewer: A reader from Hungary

Engineers and scientist are skilled in using very small and very big numbers; they know that a big numerical value indicates a big amount of something if and only if the appropriate unit is given.

At the turn of the millennium, however, each citizen has to understand that 
10 000 mm is less than 0.1 km. The challenge is even greater when we have to compare common picturesque anglo - Saxon units (foot, inch, barrel, etc.) used in everyday life to the SI metric units (mm, nanometre, pascal, etc.) used in international technology (not only on the European mainland). People of the 21st century can make responsible and economically viable decisions only, if they are able to understand each other and they use rational argumentation. Even journalists and TV reporters have to get used to such argumentation at discussing the benefits and risks of high tech. This is why the units of science and technology have become part of modern literacy.

The conversion of units was considered to be boring school stuff in the past. The author has made an attempt to bring the skill alive and to instill the familiarity with the units and understanding of orders of magnitudes in the thinking of the youth. Quantitative thinking of decision makers - and voting citizens - is going to become a necessary condition for a working democracy.

The topics: measurement and estimation are well presented.

It was a pleasure to read this book.

Prof. George Marx President, Eötvös Physical Society, Budapest, Hungary

6.Impressive clarity, 25 January, 2001
Reviewer: Qwen Pilling (gmp3york.ac.uk) from York – England

I am impressed by the book’s clarity and feel that the author has succeeded in making a complex subject much more accessible and “friendly” to students. I think it would be a welcome addition to the libraries of schools and colleges teaching the Salters Advanced Chemistry Course.Qwen Pilling Director, Salters Advanced Chemistry Project, University of York, United Kingdom.

7. A useful resource material, 26 February, 2001
Reviewer: Orlando Hall Rose (o.hall-rose@unesco.org) from France

Despite the fact that the SI system appears to be a typical mathematics concern, it is recognized as on of the most widely used systems by scientist, engineers and technicians around the world. Even for a journalist, businessman or a common citizen, measurement of certain elements, variables or properties is an essential part of his daily activities related to collection or analysis of informational data. In all cases, basic knowledge or skills on the use of units of measurements are essential.

Basic knowledge and skills for good understanding and appropriate application of certain units of measurements should thus be appropriately developed throughout education systems. However, it is quite notable that in many countries this fundamental topic is somehow weak. As a consequence, students leaving secondary schools, for example, are lacking basic knowledge and skills in the application of the SI system.

The author of this interesting book has thus provided a practical tool which could serve to help solve this problem and at the same time bridge the gap between secondary schools and higher levels of education in this domain. It is written in an interesting entertaining manner and I strongly believe that it will appeal to secondary or high schools/students in developed and developing countries as a useful resource material in this field.

Orlando Hall Rose, Chief Science and Technology Education, UNESCO, Paris

8.Strongly recommended as a supplementary text, 1 January, 2002
Reviewer: A reader from USA

I am always quite surprised at the number of college students who are unfamiliar with SI units, not able to convert from one system of units to another, or know how to read a meter stick. The amount of time that can be spent in the classroom “catching up” is quite limited, so having a good reference to recommend that the student can use on his or her own, could be quite valuable. Here we have a text described as “student friendly” that is truly student friendly. The title is long, but the book delivers even more.Besides what you would expect (history and characteristics of the SI system, power of ten notation, symbols and prefixes, measurement accuracy and precision, significant figures and uncertainties), there is also material on types of errors, how to deal with compound errors, estimation, and guidelines for carrying out and reporting an experiment.There are puzzles, tests, problems, interesting vignettes, and jokes scattered throughout. Did you know that confusing litres and imperial gallons led to a movie? There are answers given at the back for the test questions and the puzzles. Strongly recommended as a supplementary text for the student who needs a review.Prof. John L. Hubisz, Book Review, “The Physics Teacher” journal, President North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-8202 USA