Book 143: Spacefaring: The Human Dimension by Albert A. Harrison

6161817 Spacefaring: The Human Dimension by Albert A. Harrison

Finished reading on May 31st, 2014

Rating: 8/10

What can go wrong on a space-mission? How to choose a crew and why did the soviet space mission managers send their cosmonauts on month-long car-trips across the Soviet Union?

This book deals with some of the most fascinating aspects of spaceflight – everything that has to do with the human passengers. It was quite a fascinating read – finding out about some of the things that have gone wrong in the history of spaceflight, but also finding out more about life in space in general.

For me it was interesting to read that there had been a noise problem on a space station – in my imagination (fueled by videos of ISS astronauts talking about their life there) space station would be quiet, but apparently it hasn’t been like that always, or is it quiet even now, with all the computer buzzing and life support certainly makes noises too…

I’d say it is an illuminating book for space enthusiasts, though it is more than ten years old, from a time when ISS wasn’t yet finished nor continuously inhabited and space shuttles still flew, and Columbia hadn’t disintegrated, so while in this book a lot of examples come from the Russian Mir space station,  the conditions on ISS are somewhat different, and we’ve learned a lot more about life in space in the mean time.

 

 

Book 142: Sophie’s Diary by Dora Musielak

718869Sophie’s Diary by Dora Musielak

Finished reading on May 17th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

Sophie’s Diary is a work of fiction depicting a few years in the life of Sophie Germain, a female French mathematician, physicist and philosopher who lived from 1776 to 1831.

This book starts in 1789, when Sophie is thirteen years old and has decided that she will become a mathematician, as she has been fascinated by numbers since childhood. The diary shows how Sophie goes about studying mathematics, where she starts with it and where she ends up in five years despite everything that is going on in France.

A solid part of this work of fiction is Sophie’s education – we see how she’s finding her way around in mathematics and also physics (or natural philosophy at the time), studying books written by ancient and historic mathematicians (starting with Euclid and Archimedes and ending with Euler, Newton and Leibniz), and translating some of those to French from Latin despite not having learned Latin.

Another part is Sophie’s struggle in the beginning of the diary, to be allowed to study mathematics, as her mother doesn’t consider mathematics appropriate for a girl to study, but at the same time Sophie’s father is supportive and helps her find the necessary books etc.

In addition to Sophie’s life, there are descriptions of event that were afoot in France from 1789 to 1784 – the French revolution, imprisonment of Louis the XVI and queen Marie-Antoinette and their subsequent deaths, the violence on the streets, the changes in society, etc.

It is a great book, as it introduces a lot of mathematics and history in a simpler context, while being interesting and showing someone who is excited about learning algebra and geometry, which makes the book also motivational, as I think all books where the main character is working on self-improvement are.

Although the diary is fictional, it was a fascinating read, since the mathematics and history in it are real.

Book 141: The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio

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The Golden Ratio by Mario Livio

Finished reading on May 12th, 2014
Rating: 8/10

The Golden Ratio is a book about the irrational number phi, that is also called the Golden Ratio or the Golden Section and a lot of other names as well, as it has crept up in a lot of places.

Livio tells the story of Phi – about the first mathematicians who noticed it or estimated the value of Phi, but also about some others whose work has had something to do with Phi – for example Leonardo Fibonacci – who is best known for Fibonacci numbers (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,… etc). Apparently the Fibonacci series has quite a lot to do with Phi – for example 21/13=1.61538, 34/21=1.61904, 55/34=1.61764 – the further down the line of Fibonacci numbers you go, the closer you get to the value of Phi.

But that wasn’t the only awesome thing – there are lots of other connections between phi and other mathematical concepts, science and art.

Overall it’s a very illuminating read. Although it’s about mathematics, and numbers, it isn’t as scary as one might think – all in the levels of decency, it’s a highly readable book and should be of interest even if you’re not into science, but for example art – as you can also read about whether or not some artists have used Phi in their artwork, the same with poets and composers.

It was a truly fascinating read, as there are a lot of examples, if you’re that way inclined you can do some calculations while reading it, but you’ll definitely find out some interesting facts about the history of mathematics.

Book 140: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

41804 I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Finished reading on May 11th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

I, Robot tells a story of the rise of robotics from the point of view of Dr. Susan Calvin, a robot psychologist, who is being interviewed after a long and eventful life about her experiences with different kinds of robots throughout the late 20th century and first half of 21st century, as she is telling about the past in about the year 2050.

It is a science-fiction novel, with interesting characters and deep philosophical questions about artificial intelligence.

The book is a compilation of short stories about different robots, all of which have for some reason played a part in Susan’s life.

For example there’s a robot, who is a nursemaid for a small girl. The girl doesn’t want to play with other children, but rather prefers to spend time with one of the most advanced household robots of the time, but troubles arise when the girls mother decides that in order for her to grow up normal, they have to get rid of the robot, which leads to questions such as can a robot or artificial intelligence (AI) be someone’s friend, should or could it be treated as a person or as a household appliance?

As time passes, there are more advanced robots developed – one who can read minds for example,  or an AI that can build a spaceship for interstellar travel. They aren’t random characters in the book, but rather every incident and robot raises questions, as they all have to obey the three laws of robotics, which Asimov constructed. That aspect makes the book a thrilling psychological piece, as the reader is following the robot psychologist’s thoughts and actions, and we see what kind of problems might arise.

Certainly an enjoyable book, especially as one of the main human characters is a strong and smart female figure, who is in a lot of cases the one who comes up with a valid reasoning or solution for a situation.

Although the collection was first published in 1950, and the stories themselves separately between 1940 and 1950, it doesn’t read as too implausible, although that level of technological achievement doesn’t seem to have been achieved just yet.

I found it interesting, as some of the “robots” are in fact really powerful computers, but they still obey Asimov’s laws of robotics, most importantly the robots seem able of individual thought. Having just last week seen the movie Transcendence, I find myself thinking whether or not there will ever be such level of technology that could actually follow Asimov’s laws of robotics, and in case of the singularity (not the physical kind, but the technological where AI becomes smarter than a human brain) in the movie – is that an AI and could be considered a robot, or is it still a human and more like a cyborg although stuck in a computer?

To get back to the book – it’s an excellent read, I’d highly recommend reading it.

Apparently the 2004 movie “I, Robot” was inspired by this book, I haven’t seen it myself, but from what I’ve read of it, there are some of the characters who make an appearance in the book, but otherwise isn’t anything like the book.

Book 139: Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

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Out of Thin Air by Peter D. Ward

Finished reading on May 7th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

What if one of the main driving forces for evolution has been the changing level of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere? How could we find out? That is the fascinating way forward in this book.

In the beginning of the book we get acquainted with different respiratory systems – different types of gills and lungs, that will naturally have an important part to play in this book as the author traces changes in the atmosphere’s oxygen content from about 540 million years ago to the present and even a little bit further while looking at how evolution has shaped life to be sustainable under different conditions.

Out of Thin Air comprises of chapters that trace the changes in certain lifeforms with some hypotheses how it might have a connection to atmospheric oxygen content. For example one of Ward’s hypotheses is:

“Reduced levels of oxygen stimulate higher rates of disparity (the diversity of body plans) than do high levels of oxygen” (p.47 Hypothesis 2.1)

The reasoning behind it being that it is easier for animals to survive at high levels of oxygen and they wouldn’t develop any coping mechanisms or ways of using even more oxygen than they already use, but during low levels of oxygen animals have to evolve to adapt to the conditions.

It is certainly a fascinating book (if me rating it 10/10 didn’t give a hint before), as it deals with different lifeforms that have had gills to lungs, from mollusks and fish to dinosaurs and birds.

Very interesting, I’ll be reading it again at some point, it definitely makes one look differently at what might be some of the driving forces of evolution, and maybe even think of how it might end up totally different on a far-away Goldilocks planet….

And the book has dinosaurs, what else can you want?

 

Book 138: Digital SLR Astrophotography by Michael A. Covington

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Digital SLR Astrophotography by Michael A. Covington

Finished reading on May 7th, 2014

Rating: 8/10

If you’re just getting interested in astrophotography and you have a DSLR camera, then this book is an excellent starting point. It introduces the necessary equipment for starting out, but it also introduces the reader to some of the parts of the camera.

In addition to equipment this book also teaches image processing – how to edit them – what to do with flat frames, dark frames and bias frames and how to take them. Also how to stack images and what are some of the most needed functions in Photoshop (although their  almost the same in GIMP).

In general I found it interesting although I’ve been using my DSLR for astrophotography for a couple of years now, I still got some new information that I didn’t know before.

It focuses mostly on the technical side of astrophotography – what and how to use and why.

 

Comic Book 2: Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls

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Batman, Vol. 2: The City of Owls, writer Scott Snyder, penciller Greg Capullo

Rating: 6/10

Finished reading on May 4th, 2014

In The City of Owls we find out what happens from where the previous volume left off – Batman having to deal with… spoilers (continue below if you don’t mind spoilers) . As the story progresses and finds a surprising solution and the solution ends with a twist, we go a bit further away from Batman and get to know a little bit more about the family of Alfred – the Waynes’ butler.

The illustrations are cool and since Batman has  a stubble for the whole volume, you wouldn’t even notice his non-existent cheeks 🙂

In general not quite as interesting as the first volume.

Spoilers start here…

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