Book 245: The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll

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The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll

Finished reading on December 7th, 2017

Rating: 10/10

I couldn’t fall asleep after finishing this book. I wonder whether it’s because of the book itself, because it keeps me thinking and so unable to go to sleep, or possibly the more likely culprit was the coffee I drank a few hours back to make sure that I would get to the end of this book.

The Critical Thinker’s Dictionary presents – as the subtitle claims – biases, fallacies and illusions that you most likely encounter every day. They’re most easily noticed when someone else uses one of them to make an argument for or against something, but one might also come to realize that  it’s not just other people who use them.

In addition to explaining the nature of the fallacies, the possible reasons why we end up against them, Carroll also gives examples of them in case of politics, pseudoscience, medical research, etc.

I found it all quite interesting. And the different biases and fallacies made me think of times when I’ve tried to use one or another and gotten away with it 🙂 in addition to those times when I’ve heard the same used by someone else.

Carroll brings out the most common failures in critical thinking, even though you might not want to hear them. I feel like critical thinking and these fallacies should be taught to everyone, so they’d know when someone is not really making a good argument for something, or when someone’s just trying to voice their opinion that’s not really based on critical thinking or logic.

Actually my first idea, when reading this book, was about how kids on Vulcan probably would all know this by the time they’re done with kindergarten 🙂

So some of my “favourite” concepts from this book, that resonated with me for some reason more than others:

The halo effect – when you believe something to be good based on your previous experience, such as believing that all  products of one company are good, after having tried just one of them. Ever come up against it with reading a book by one author, really liking it and starting to read something else by the same author assuming it would be good as well? And then realizing that it’s not necessarily true. Same goes for people in general – if your first impression of them is good, you’d be more likely to associate positive traits or characteristics with them even though you have no reason to believe such things about them.

The Illusion of control – believing you’re somehow in control of a situation although you’re clearly not. Isn’t that pretty much every time that you’re given many options to choose from or “control” in a situation that you can’t get out of. I wonder whether that might be the reason so many people would take public transportation and listen to music on their headphones? It’s better if you can at least choose what you’re listening rather than having to just hear everything that’s going on around you. Compensating for loss of control of when and where and with whom you’re going… Maybe that’s why I prefer to ride a bicycle to work, because there’s real control over the situation..?

There were of-course many more important concepts in the book. At first my impression of this book was though, that instead of just a helpful guide to fallacies in critical thinking, it could actually be used to the exact opposite effect – you find out what are the most usual fallacies and biases that people fall for and don’t notice and use them in your argument. Sure, it might be just as easy to make good arguments, but if not everyone can tell the difference, then it’s only morally wrong. 🙂

Now the problem is how do I stop myself from pointing out these fallacies and biases when I encounter them?

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Book 244: Arduino Projects Book

PIMG_2569Arduino Projects Book,

Projects and text by Scott Fitzgerald and Michael Shiloh

Finished on December 5th, 2017

Rating: 8/10

This book comes with the Arduino Starter Kit and provides the reader with 15 projects to make with the electronic components in the kit that can be controlled with Arduino Uno (what’s that? A microcontroller) .

This kit is a perfect way to get acquainted with different varieties of electronic components, what they can be used for, how they fit into a circuit, how you shouldn’t put them in a circuit etc.

The projects include such things as turning LEDs on and off, using switches to do so, using a piezo (what is that? a piezoelectric sensor that uses the piezoelectric effect for measuring such things as change in acceleration or force etc) to make sounds or listen to knocks, making use of servo and DC motors etc. You can see some short videos of my projects here or at the end of this post.

This kit makes you build circuits and write code and do some other quite cool things as soon as you can start modifying the projects to your taste at the beginning already.

I think the book is fun, and you learn a lot by doing all the projects in it. I did find however that in the case of one project I was hesitant to connect it to my computer and power it up. All because even though I had checked that my circuit looked like in the book, I was still slightly on edge with using an electrolyte capacitor in a circuit for the first time, especially with the book’s warning to make sure that it’s connected correctly as it might otherwise explode! It didn’t explode, and all my circuits worked at the end, didn’t electrocute myself or anything… I did have some things fly away (and/or at me) though in case of the projects that used the DC motor – the motorized pinwheel and the zoetrope.

I mostly did one project per evening – although the circuits aren’t that difficult I found the code slightly tedious and wouldn’t want to write several on one day, but I started to like it more in case of some projects.

Now there are a lot of electronic components in the starter kit that I didn’t get to use just yet, but I guess I’ll figure out how, when and where to use them later 🙂

I do find myself at a slight loss of what to do with Arduino next. Should it be something that moves and beeps and flashes lights? Any opinions?

Playing with my #arduino starter kit crystal ball project #electronics #diy

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Book 243: Geek Nation by Angela Saini

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Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over The World by Angela Saini

Finished reading on December 3rd, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Could India be considered a Geek Nation? If you’ve watched “3 Idiots”, maybe you already do. In “Geek Nation”, Saini brings out some aspects of Indian culture, history, educational system, etc looking at both sides of the argument for and against considering India a “Geek Nation”.

I’ll start out by writing why You might consider reading it:

  • To understand how few powerful educated people can lay the groundwork for massive change in a country’s literacy rate, adopting new technology in a variety of ways
  • To see why one can’t consider scientific and technological challenges in India and in other countries the same because of a difference in scale

There are more reasons, of course, but lets get to the specifics.

First we need to be on the same page when it comes to the definition of “Geek”. In Saini’s book she sees it so:

“[..] To me, at least, geekiness is all about passion. It’s about choosing science and technology or another intellectual pursuit […] and devoting your life to it. History’s ultimate geeks are the men and women who sacrificed their lives on the altar of science, risking failure to pursue an obsession.” Angela Saini

In Saini’s book the obsession is obvious in several cases, but not always in the pro-technology and science part. Quite a sizable part of the books shows how an unknown sizeed part of India really can’t be seen as “Geek Nation”.

Saini brings out for example the Indian Institutes of Technology, which came about at a time when Jawaharlal Nehru’s government took a straight route to increasing literacy, establishing schools of higher learning, and also educating the rural population using interesting technological solutions for it.

To a western reader – IIT-s are in a way the top engineering schools in India – you’d want to study there either because you’re really into science and engineering, or because you want to have a high-paying job after graduation, or because you want to continue your studies somewhere abroad. Although at first the popularity might seem like a sign of a immersive geek friendly education system in India, as Saini points out – it seems that mostly IIT is attended rather by people who might be slightly lacking in a certain type of passion and in Saini’s words are rather “drones” than “geeks”.

If we look further than the school system, we see that science and technology in India face very different problems due to large population, bureaucracy and influences from religion and tradition.

This book gives a glimpse into what kind of vision Nehru had for India, what some leading entrepreneurs and scientists have in mind and how their hard work is opposed at some level by activists and religious institutions.

It’s definitely worth reading.

Saini goes on to explore for example the Indian Space Program, the search for a cure for tuberculosis, research on bananas that would stay fresh longer, and how thorium might in the future be an important source for energy in India and elsewhere, but we also encounter and anti- GMO activist and researchers working on how the Vedas might have scientific information hidden in their metaphors.

There are definitely two sides to the story- one being the leading, young generation Y working on tech and science that could if implemented improve the lives of millions of people, but then there’s the other, more religious and traditional side, that puts value on small farms, traditional agricultural methods that might leave people without their livelihood due to harsh weather, and crop varieties  that have been traditionally cultivated, but would eventually leave the people to starve because of pests.

It is interesting how Saini brings out the fact that religion is on the rise among the better educated population and how it might be because of their education that there’s a lot of effort hoing into trying to show how ancient texts contain knowledge about science and technology that Western science is discovering only now.

It is a very interestingly crafted book, and it doesn’t give s certain answer as to wether India really already is a Geek Nation or not, but there certainly seems to be activity in both directions- towards a more geek culture with e-governance, but also a more hesitant or even resentful part, that sees technology and science as a force that will split the population up even more than it is right now due to various reasons.

 

Book 242: The Upright Thinkers by Leonard Mlodinow

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The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey  from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos by Leonard Mlodinow

Finished reading on November 30th, 2017

Rating: 10/10

When I started out reading this book, I thought “Wow, I really should read more books about evolution.”

Then I continued reading for a few chapters.

Then I suddenly found myself thinking :”This is cool. How come I’ve never read much about the history of chemistry?”

And then finally I got all the way to the end with the thought, that it’s mostly still about the history of physics :).

It’s a great book. I found it really fascinating and informative in a way that made me mention something I had just read in this book in random conversations.

Mlodinow goes from the evolution of our species to how come you can read this post on a thing that would have been seen as magical just a hundred years ago. I have to say though, that I expected something slightly different, but I really shouldn’t have.

Although Mlodinow talks about several discoveries in chemistry and changes in society and people’s thinking, then most of it is about physics, and quite a lot of it is about modern physics to be precise.

In a way the book gives small glimpses of what science was like and about at different times, and it all comes together in a “quantum physics is the coolest” kind of way in the end.

I would want to say that I’d recommend this to anyone. But then I thought of if a scientist from a different field were to write a book like this, would there be so much physics? Maybe there’d be more geology and genetics and biology or medicine, and astronomy? I think so, but the book is still awesome!

Book 241: The Only Woman in the Room by Eileen Pollack

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„The Only Woman in the Room. Why Science Is Still A Boys’ Club“ by Eileen Pollack

Finished reading on November 15th, 2017

Rating: 10/10

I find it difficult to focus my thoughts on this book, because it made me relive a large part of my life. At first look even I had the thought, that why should it be relevant to me? The author studied physics at Yale in 1980s, surely it can’t be the same experience in a different country, ca 30 years later?

In this book you can get a glimpse of all the small things that add up to why there aren’t more women in STEM fields. In some ways Pollack gives the impression that it’s STEM itself and science culture that keep women away, but in others you can see that it’s more of a general environment and society and even pop culture that contributes to the problem. And everyone has biases one way or another whether they’re in a STEM field or not.

I feel like a lot of things I had thought about were present in the book, and I could see my thoughts reflected in either the author’s or in one of the interviewed persons’ answers.

Do women need to be encouraged more in STEM fields? Or maybe do women in general require more encouragement? I can think back on many occasions when I was encouraged to continue on with something even though I hadn’t done particularly well on a test. And then I think how I had actively sought the encouragement on those occasions and hadn’t on others (and wasn’t encouraged then). So I feel that the answer is „yes“. But why?

At one time I was certain, that physics is the most difficult subject to study, and worth studying even for that sole reason. I still feel that way. And I also think that (possibly) everyone can learn it as long as they’re interested in it. Which leads to the question, why do so many quit STEM when they’re not getting the top grades? Maybe that’s why there aren’t as many women in STEM? If you don’t have the highest grades in science, you wouldn’t even consider studying it? Isn’t it just giving up too early? I remember one occasion when someone told me to not give up so soon. ONE occasion.

And then I remember all the times when I’ve hear someone say „I give up“, when I know that just a little more effort would get the person to the goal. How about teaching everyone not to give up?

An interesting thing that was mentioned in the books, is how many physics (and possibly other science) students feel the need to be a „well-rounded person“. One might be just interested in science, but they have to make an effort to have something to talk about with non-science majors. I feel like the whole list of „fiction books I’ve read“ on this site attests to that, because it’s unlikely that a humanities major would meet me half-way and read about astrophysics or general relativity for fun. Why is that? You can be considered a well-educated person if you’ve read James Joyce, but haven’t heard of Robert J. Oppenheimer?

It’s interesting how many times Pollack mentions falling in love with a teacher, TA etc. Someone older and smarter who shares your interest in a STEM field and appreciates a smart woman sounds like the ideal….

But then we get to all the small things – feeling isolated in a group where you’re in a minority. The general feeling of not belonging. Being the only person who’s not wearing black, gray or dark blue in a class. Abstract art that obviously is of nude women on a department’s walls (that’s from my life). Inappropriate jokes and examples by lecturers in class…

I did like the book for several reasons – I could relate to the author and the book made me realize a few things that I hadn’t seen or understood before:

The first thing was how it disturbs me whenever I hear a name of a scientist in a lecture in relation to a law or effect that the scientist discovered, and how there’s rarely ever any mention on who the scientist was. It’s fine in case of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, but otherwise it bothers me. I discovered how it bothered me because several scientists are mentioned in Pollacks books, and I liked how I could put the names together with a few facts I knew about them already or that Pollack provided. To me it makes physics more interesting to know who were behind the discoveries and definitions and it makes it easier to remember the science too 🙂

The second thing was that I feel I generated a sort of imaginary bubble around me for at least a while during my studies, where all I cared about and read about was physics, because I didn’t have any time for anything else, nor any interest either. Which seems to be an important part of studying a STEM subject.

I feel like this book should be read by everyone, not just women in STEM, who might have had the same experience. It should be read by primary school and kindergarten teachers, by anyone who in their work or life encounters children or young adults. All for the sake that the students wouldn’t be getting ideas about how some area of study is more appropriate for one gender than another one.


On a different note: this book reminded me of Wil Wheaton’s book „Just A Geek“, in a slightly odd way. In „Just A Geek“ Wheaton acknowledges his need to prove to everyone that he hadn’t made a bad or wrong decision in his youth. I felt like in some way Pollack was doing the same.


I’m still thinking about the topics discussed in the book. And I still wonder, whether maybe it’s rather a question of shouldn’t men be encouraged more to study humanities and social sciences? And with that approach you immediately hit the fact that traditionally those lead to less well paid jobs….

Book 240: Chandra’s Cosmos by Wallace H.Tucker

PIMG_2291Chandra’s Cosmos: Dark Matter, Black Holes, and Other Wonders Revealed by NASA’s Premier X-Ray Observatory by Wallace H. Tucker

Finished reading on November 14th, 2017

Rating: 10/10

NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory was launched in 1999. Since that time it has been used to study the Universe at wavelengths 0.12nm to 12nm that don’t get through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Chandra’s Cosmos” introduces the types of objects and cosmic events that can be seen in X-rays such as supernova remnants, pulsar wind nebulae, very hot gas in galaxy clusters, quasars etc.

It is a beautiful and informative book and certainly talks about dark matter and black holes as is mentioned in the book’s subtitle. It is full of beautiful color images that combine data from Chandra and occasionally also data from Hubble Space Telescope or some other telescope.

I think Tucker really achieved what he was out to do with this book – show the coolest objects that have been observed with Chandra, but in a well-integrated way so that you don’t have a list of objects and images, that aren’t connected. Instead you have very detailed information on who was doing the research, why it’s interesting, what we still don’t know and it even mixes in a little bit of history of astronomy etc.

Although at first look it might seem as just a picture book or more of a coffee-table-book, it’s not, but it would function as a slightly more informative kind 🙂

The book is awesome.

You can go and find out more about Chandra here.


There’re also several details that I really liked about my edition of the book (Smithsonian Books, 2017) is first the little silver Chandra telescope on the hardcover and secondly the fact that the paper isn’t glossy. I feel it’s important to have well illustrated books about science that could be given to children without having fingerprints all over the photos after just a short while.

Book 239: Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton

Just a Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise by Wil Wheaton

Finished reading on November 10th, 2017

Rating: 9/10

I picked this book up rather randomly. I did know who Wil Wheaton is, but I didn’t really know anything besides the fact that he was in Star Trek The Next Generation and also appears on The Big Bang Theory occasionally.

This book is sort of like a small diary/journal kind of thing about Wil’s life in the early 2000s.

I enjoyed reading it, because it was funny in some parts, but mostly it was just a look into his mind and ideas about Star Trek, why he felt he had to prove to everyone that leaving the show wasn’t a mistake, and how he changed his attitude towards it.

I think maybe the reason I likes it, is the fact that it is about trying to prove to everyone, including yourself, that something you did wasn’t a mistake. I feel like that is very relatable, even though that something wouldn’t have been quitting Star Trek :).

It leaves me wondering though – is it ever a good idea to try to prove that you did the right decision? Isn’t it already a bad decision when you need to explain doing it?

But getting back to Wil Wheaton – he sounds awesome! The book is good and well written. It has a sort of casual style, which makes it easy to read, but (I feel like it) doesn’t reflect how deeply some events changed his mind…


And finally just a cool talk by Wil Wheaton:

Also, why not go and visit his website?

Book 237: Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

Finished reading on 4th of November, 2017

Rating: 8/10

Yesterday evening I happened across a quote by Christopher Hitchens on Goodreads which is from “Letters to a Young Contrarian”:

Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

And after reading this quote I thought I have to read this book, and I did. I was probably struck most by the last three sentences of this quote (which comes from the very end of the book) .

First – “Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake” is pretty much the basis for a good entertainment in social situations in my view… as long as the other person sees it in the same way.

Second “Suspect your own motives, and all excuses.” is something I’ve noticed recently (whenever I think of an excuse for doing/not doing something, I imagine the voice of a character from the movie “Carrie Pilby” saying “Excuse!”, which stops me from saying excuses out loud at least 🙂

And the third part leads me finally to the book as well “Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.” that just sounds like Nietzsche….in the sense that you should be living for yourself and finding out what your own values and ideas are instead of following someone else (the public /a mentor etc).

This book is written as letters, so it’s really easy to read, and I liked what I read for several reasons. First I liked the clear points, then the references to characters in literature and historic figures, his contemporaries and others and how he mentioned the reasons for bringing them into the discussion. And ultimately I was drawn to a realization that was fostered by this book.

There were two main points that drew me in, the first one is to not look at what a person thinks, but rather how they think. That makes sense and it goes well with the argument and disputation which brings out how people think. It made me think of how maybe sometimes I just miss exactly that – a certain way of thinking being demonstrated by an author/ speaker/ anyone. (On a different and totally irrelevant note – don’t we all just want to hear someone say “I like how you think”?)

Back to the book – the idea is that it’s in a way advice for people who are in some way going against the grain of something… ideas on religion, politics, morale, anything.  And as far as I gathered, the main advice is to think and if at all possible try to have a sense of humor and when thinking one should think for themselves and you shouldn’t accept others’ ideas and principles or policies without thinking about them first or maybe not at all. And also that the masses and public opinion can be wrong and to finish with the words of J.R.R. Tolkien and Gandalf: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future”.

In general I found it interesting and something that would be useful for any intelligent being to read at least once.

So don’t be afraid to disagree 🙂

One thing I found interesting – I am really disturbed by the fact that most editions of the book show a cigarette on the cover of this book either on its own or between the fingers of Hitchens.

Oh and I don’t think I’m a contrarian. Just opinionated.
The second thing that drew me in was Hitchens’ mention of humor.I like random and at times odd connections or links that come into my mind when talking or reading etc, and when they’re humorous then that’s even better.

And in all honesty: I liked Hitchens’ thinking.
However not everyone needs to or even can be a contrarian on such a large scale, but even small opposition to injustice or simply bad ideas can get noticed.

I have to read it again some time, because I’ve sort of swallowed the book whole, so I need to digest it some more….

Book 236: The Origin of Stars by Michael D. Smith

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The Orion Nebula – closest place to the Solar System where massive stars form

The Origin of Stars by Michael D. Smith

Finished reading on November 1st, 2017

Rating: 10/10

How are stars born? What processes lead to the birth of a star? And what conditions are necessary for star formation? Those might be some of the questions that lead you to read Professor Michael D. Smith’s book “The Origin of Stars”, which was first published in 2004 by Imperial College Press.

This book is aimed for any reader, who is interested in how stars form,and although it gets into the equations governing star formation in a lot of detail, that shouldn’t scare off even say a determined high-school student.

I found the book and the topic fascinating, and more so than I first thought it would be. As far as I knew or remembered from astronomy lectures from a few years ago – matter collapses, temperature on the inside rises, thermonuclear reactions start and poof – you’ve got yourself a brand new star! Or that’s at least how I’d have described it. Now I know better.
In “The Origin of Stars” you find out more about the environment in which stars are born, what prompts the formation of stars and what will eventually stop star formation in a molecular cloud. You also find out about the different stages that a protostar goes through in it’s collapse to in the end accrete matter from its surrounding disk to eventually become a star. And what happens to the environment in which it’s located? What kind of objects that have been observed are related to star formation?

There’s a lot of fascinating details from how come newborn stars don’t rotate so fast as to lose their matter because of its envelope achieving escape speed.  And how do different kinds of stars form and what can form if certain conditions aren’t met. The book is packed with information.

Now to get away from my excitement about star formation, I’ll leave you with one last important bit of information, that I’m sure everyone will eventually need in their life. If you happen across Lithium in an objects hot atmosphere, you can be pretty sure that you’ve either happened across a really young star, or a brown dwarf. And if you wait astronomically long enough, you’ll find out which it is – if it loses the Lithium after a while, then it’s a young star, if it keeps its Lithium – brown dwarf! If it keeps its precious stones – it’s Thráin.

Book 235: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Finished reading on October 27th, 2017
Rating: 9/10

Why is it that a lot of women with higher education after some years don’t work or haven’t advanced in their careers as much as men with the same education? Why don’t men opt for being work-at-home fathers as often as women make the choice to stay at home with their children? Why shouldn’t one ask how to “have it all”?

This is another one of those books that I wouldn’t normally read, just because the content seems logical anyway, so why spend the time reading it? It’s still how I  feel, that’s why I only rated it with 9 points out of 10.

However I did find some points in it interesting. And I do feel that high-school and undergraduate students should read it, so that more women would stay in the workforce and also so that men would also see more options….

There’s a lot of good advice. For example to make your partner a real partner – don’t just do all the chores yourself, but share them and don’t require the other person to do them your way, but rather their own way, even if you consider it wrong.

Another one would be to not judge people on their choices when it comes to career and family – it might seem as if everyone has the same choices but in reality that might not be the case.

An interesting point Sandberg made in the book is that a man and a woman with the same skill-sets would be perceived differently and that there are different expectations to women in professional situations, and not just from men, but from women as well – you’d expect a woman to be nicer in any given situation than a man with the same kind of job. But at the same time successful women are seen as less nice and not liked as much as successful men.

While reading this book, I had one successful woman in the back of my mind, whose decisions have influenced me a lot and that probably is the reason why I felt that Sandberg’s book is just purely logical, and there’s not much new to me information in there. And I consider it obvious that it isn’t  “a woman’s” job to cook and clean – the person who can and wants to do those things will, but there’re no expectations for any one person to do it.

Another interesting thing was the part about mentors – asking someone to mentor you, or having a mentor without even realizing it. I think the main point there was to not ask someone to mentor you in those words, ask for specific advice rather than “be my mentor” – a sneaky way to get a mentor without the mentor even realizing it :).

I’m glad that I read it, and I think that everyone might benefit from reading it – to lean in to what ever it is you want to do with your life, be more confident and reach for the opportunities even when you don’t feel particularly ready for them.