Often, when our family takes a road trip, I bring along something to read aloud to Mark -- usually a nonfiction book. I like books that spur conversation between us, particularly pop-science books that we can argue about and analyze. This is fun even when the book is really bad. On the way down from Minneapolis to Ohio last week, we read The Psychopath Test, which turned out to be perfect road-trip reading -- entertaining, not entirely convincing (meaning that we had a chance to argue about it) and also, in general, food for thought.
I didn't have a book for the way back up, so I made do by following trails of links in Wikipedia to articles about things we didn't know. We started from an article about the Mars robot that landed earlier, and from there to previous Mars lander missions, including the one that famously failed because somebody forgot to convert newtons to pounds-force -- a mistake roundly mocked by everyone EXCEPT former engineering students because deep down, we all know THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I. If my life had been only a little bit different, I too might have broken NASA.
Anyway, from there we went to a list of disasters caused by metrication errors, and that led us to what must be (since I love engineering failure stories) the most entertaining Wikipedia article I have ever read in my life: the story of the "Gimli Glider."
It is only entertaining if you know how the story ends, so let me give you the spoiler first. EVERYBODY SURVIVED, NO MAJOR INJURIES. There you go. Now the teaser: this is the story of an airliner that ran out of gas at 41,000 feet because Canadians had just started converting to the metric system. Now you can read and enjoy.
I read this aloud to Mark, and we agreed that it could never have been made into a true-life disaster movie because no one would believe the chain of events. The aircraft was nearly uncontrollable -- but by a remarkable coincidence, the captain was an experienced glider pilot. The first officer proposed landing at the nearest runway, which happened to be at a nearby closed air force base -- which he knew well because he had once served there as a Canadian air force pilot. But he didn't know that the air force base had been converted to a race track complex. Or that there was a race going on (think NASCAR, but Canadian) and the runway area was full of cars and campers. Also that there were cars racing on the runway.
Anyway, if you thought the "Sully in the river" story was gripping, I think you should try this one.