Book Review: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

leonardo-da-vinci-9781501139154_hrThis book was fascinating. I always thought of Leonardo Da Vinci as an artist who did other things aside from painting. This book changed my mind. Leonardo saw himself as a philosopher/scientist/engineer (those were sort of one and the same back then) who also paints; and after reading this book, I have to agree.

I think if it wasn’t for the fact that he didn’t publish his findings, he would be the father of modern science. His science/engineering was strongly empirical. He even disregarded religious explanations for things. I am in awe at many of his findings and discoveries. I’m also amaze at his acceptance of his sexuality, even when part of the world was claiming it was evil (to be fair, Florence in that time was sort-of like the liberal capital of the world).

I’m also glad he wasn’t a tortured soul. Yeah, he had his problems, but he seemed to have lived a long good life and that’s rare for people as exceptional as him. Another rare ocurence is that he seemed to have been appreciated in his time (not as much as later, but at least he was no Van Gohg).

I’m listening to the audio book and there’s a PDF companion that you can use to look at the paintings and drawings being described. I rarely find myself in a position to look at them as I listen to audio books while doing chores, driving, running, etc. Nevertheless the descriptions are good enough to appreciate the techniques but not the art obviously.

In the explanations of why Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings were so good I find myself in awe of the techniques he developed for his art. Specially if we consider that just perspective was something not understood very well long before his lifetime. I guess the renaissance was an important time for the development of art (I know, doh!). Something that annoys me is when the author makes subjective comparisons of the art as if they were objective (best painting, best technique, etc). Thankfully, this is not very common in the book.


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Book Review: Advance! The Full Licence Book by Alan Betts, Steve Hartley

51Go0CzjPlL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_This book felt of much lower quality than the previous two. There are many typos and editing errors and I noticed a few technical errors as well. I guess it makes sense the advanced saw less scrutiny than the beginner one as fewer people will ever get to this point. Or maybe it’s my bias because this is the first time I really need to learn from the book (the previous two were, mostly, revision of stuff I already knew).

What really annoyed me is that there were many explanations that felt it was missing definitions of terms of explanations of the most basic parts so, aside from memorizing the concepts, it was hard to learn from it.

I’m obviously still grateful that there’s a book that covers the syllabus of the test for the Full License. At the same time, I wish we, in the UK, had more and better material like in the US, where you have the Extra Class License Manual, a thick 496-pages long nice book, and the excellent Gordon West’s Extra Class 2012-2016, as well as one or two video courses on YouTube covering all the material.

Giving the the physics is the same for the US and the UK, and that the ham radio hobby is having trouble with not having enough people and resources, it would be nice to share more things across countries. I understand the regulations are different and complex, but still, the actual radio stuff could be exactly the same in the US, UK and many other countries.


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The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

omnivores_dilemma_by_michael_pollan1So far the tone of this book is disgustingly hippish. I think it presents some interesting data, but the way it presents it is so annoying:

– everything modern is bad
– everything mainstream is bad
– the only good alternative is primitive farms
– food and nature is a mystery that we cannot grasp so all efforts to synthesize fertilizers, pesticides, etc are doom to fail
– the natural cycle of chickens, cows, pigs, etc is perfect and shouldn’t be tampered with (mind you, these animals are almost as artificial as computers these days).

The part that annoys me the most is how it attributes negative connotations to the term agrobusiness. The definition of that word is “the businesses collectively associated with the production, processing, and distribution of agricultural products”, so, his idyllic small farms are as much agrobusinesses as the Monsatos he criticizes.

Another example I found ridiculous is when a farmer would refuse to ship him some food because burning fossil fuels to deliver his product was against his principles and instead told him: “If you want to try it, you’ll have to drive here”. Guess what! Driving to a location burns more fossil fuels than shipping a small package through highly efficient delivery companies (unless you drive an electric car and even then, I’m not sure).

I understand if the recommendations of the author were for an individual but he often talks about society as a whole without exploring the economic implications of using much more manual labor to produce food: can we actually feed the world with traditional farms? I don’t know and I have an inkling that the answer is probably very complex and not explored a lot in this book that advocates everybody to eat from those traditional farms.


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Book Review: Intermediate Licence – Building On The Foundation by Steve Hartley

s-l640I’m not a good person to judge this book because I not only have a technical background in electronics, I also got my American Extra-level license (AC1DM) before this one, so, I had to study all this material a few months ago. This feel like a revision.

Something that really surprises me about the book is that it says the ionosphere reflects radio waves. I understand we use that word in casual speech but I believe a book on ham radio should be more strict and use the correct term: refraction.

For whatever it matters, I passed the exam with a 43 out of 45 questions answered correctly.


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Book Review: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin

80571For this review I’m considering, without any fact checking or cross referencing, that this biography is factual and true to the events although clearly some of the statements in the book would be hard to evaluate as they describe the feelings of large groups of people.

I knew a bit about The Manhattan Project and it was fun to have another take on those years of science, innovation and destruction. What I didn’t know is what happened before and after in the life of Oppenheimer.

During the earlier years, I was surprised by how active Oppenheimer and other people were in the projects of the communist party. It sounds as during those days, for many Americans, it wasn’t the enemy’s ideology but a potential solution to their ongoing socioeconomic problems. Some glorified the Soviet Union before they knew and understood how tyrannical it was. I can’t begin to fathom at the absurdity of the witch hunt that was McCarthyism and what a negative force it excreted on the American scientific society. I can’t help but notice the parallel with the trial against Alan Turing.

What surprised me the most about what I read in this book was Oppenheimer’s transformation. You could never guess that the boy and young man described in the early chapters could ever become a leader of scientists, a pragmatic that could put a practical goal above the intrinsic curiosity that pushes people into science and achieve so much. I guess the fear of a Nazi world was a great motivator.


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