Book Review: Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension by Matt Parker

81xpnk+4DXLI was expecting a funny read of math curiosities and indeed there was plenty of humor and curiosities in this book in the style of Matt Parker (Google him and watch his videos, he’s great); but this book had much more than that.

Some parts of the book were not easy at all. I’m glad things were not dumbed down too much for us plebes. Some parts I couldn’t understand a lot and I just skipped them. Mind you, this was bed-time reading for me, so, I didn’t put a huge effort into it.

Something that surprised me when reading this book is how much we don’t know. From studying math in school and college it feels like we have most of it figured out, but I like how often Matt points to corners of the math world that don’t look, but probably are, too complex and they are not know or resolved at all. Similarly, how much of the math that we know is rather young, as in 20th century or second half of the 20th century.

I’m happy to recommend this book to everybody that enjoy maths but for people that don’t, they should read this book, as it might change your mind.

★★★★☆

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Read this before watching Star Trek: Discovery

I just finished watching Star Trek: Discover and although I’m not blown away, I did enjoy it and I’m looking forward to how the story continues.

There were three points that felt wrong about the series but if you approach them with the right mind-frame you can minimize their impact on your enjoyment because they are more subjective that they look.

Star Trek Discovery

  1. The Star Trek universe: this TV show just doesn’t fit. The uniforms don’t fit, the look of the Klingons don’t fit, the level of technology doesn’t fit, the design of the Starfleet ships doesn’t fit. Just think of it as a reboot and stop trying to make it fit, it’ll hurt. This is what happens when you do a prequel and you are original.
  2. The bullshit: there’s plenty of space bullshit in Star Trek: Discovery and you might feel insulted by it, but if you try to be objective you’ll see that all of Star Trek had a lot of bullshit in it. This one smells slightly different but it’s neither better nor worse.
  3. It’s an exception in Starfleet: the events depicted in the TV show are exceptional in the Starfleet organization and thus it’s not the attempt and success at clean solutions that we come to love and respect with Captain Picard; but if you think about it, it’s not that different from some of the Deep Space 9 episodes.

If you can get past those three points, the TV show can be very enjoyable. It’s not full of politics and morality like Star Trek: The Next Generation; but this is only the first season (go and re-watch TNG season 1 again, it might not be what you remember) and there’s plenty of talk about what’s right and wrong and when the ends justify the means and whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

It’s a breath of fresh air to see clean-tech sci-fi produced with state of the art graphics. It looks astounding, even better than J.J. Abrams’ movies (mostly because, I believe, it tries to be even less canon than those). The design of the Klingons, their culture, their spaceships, their armor and space suits, their language and the fact that they speak it constantly is amazing and gives a deep experience of the difference in cultures. I just hope those sets and costumes are not too expensive, I want this TV show to go on.

Book Review: The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

psychopathtest_custom-9fb3036a713639d308b67686c1b07ba6358eae8b-s6-c30I went into this book with the wrong expectation. When it says “A Journey” in the title, it really means it. The book is a journal. It almost feels like the making-of of The Psychopath Test, instead of the book itself. The whole book is written in first person, with no other order than time passing. It’s like a story.

There are some good nuggets of content every now and then but for my taste, they are too far apart. For most of the book the treatment of psychopathy is very prejudicial, but it’s impossible to pin-point examples because everything is either something that happened (so and so said), something the author felt or thought (you can feel something, like, tall people are evil, without claiming it to be true), or an open question (should all psychopaths be locked up?)

I wish for a more descriptive book that was neutral as to morality. If you are after that, look elsewhere, this is not it.

★☆☆☆☆

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Book Review: The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley, Larry D. Rosen

41aipvZ90dLMy review of this book is going to sound a bit negative, but my regard for it is not, hence the four-stars.

The book is nicely divided in three sections. The first one is the brain, how it works, studies, it’s history and evolution. The second section is about the effect of the technological world on the mind and vice-versa. And the third is about how to deal with the world, techniques to be more productive, less distracted, more engaged. I don’t have much to say about the first part except that it’s fascinating and some of the studies were new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The second section is where my surprises begin. For example, it spent a lot of time explaining how you cannot text and drive. I have used my phone while in the car to change songs, podcasts or the route (I use it for navigation) and every time I can clearly see my driving quality going down and thus I only do it in low risk cases (empty highway with lanes on both sides of me, things like that). I can’t believe that there are people that believe they can text and drive.

The second part also spent a lot of time explaining that multitasking is not doing more than one thing at the same time, but doing one for a bit of time, then the other and coming back and that switching has a cost and thus, doing two tasks multitasking is less efficient than doing one task and then the other. Again, is this news? I do multitask but I know both tasks are suffering. Generally I do it for enjoyment or because there’s value in one task being in-progress (silly example: applying coats of paint while reading a book, you need to wait between each coat, so, multitasking has some value).

The third section is what really surprised me the most and made me feel like a very uncommon person. My phone is by my bedside at night in case of an emergency, but only calls from certain people get through; everything else is blocked. I don’t pick it in the middle of the night and I know that when I do, or when I look at it before going to sleep, it’ll affect my sleeping cycle negatively. There wasn’t much new about this in the book but it was a good reminder to improve my sleep hygiene, which I’m going to start doing.

There was a category of recommendations that I found really interesting. Apparently, the presence of a phone, on someone’s hand or on the table, even if it never rings and it’s never touched, even if it’s off, reduces the quality of human interaction. I’m highly skeptical but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and maybe start avoiding having my phone present during these sort of interaction.

If you are struggling with messages, Facebook, mails, and so on, overriding your life, then, this book might have some good information for you. For me, it didn’t feel very applicably as I’m a work-at-home-entrepreneur, so, Facebook, email, IM tend to be much needed human interaction for me.

Aside from my experience of the book, I think the book is good, and if things are as bad as they are painted in it, more people should read it.

★★★★☆

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Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

zz48df98ecDo not expect the book to be serious or high brow. It’s silly, predictable and satisfying. Very satisfying if you are a geek that enjoys pop sci fi and fantasy culture. If you enjoyed that aspect of Ready Player One, then you are likely to enjoy Armada too. If that’s you, go ahead and read it, you’ll enjoy it and it’s short.

I feel the book could have spent much more time world building. Maybe Ernest Cline didn’t do that because, unlike Ready Player One, the world is supposed to be our own regular world; but there are a few technological changes that left me wondering how much more advanced it was. I feel that later on, when more information is revealed, a flashback with a lot of world building would have helped me getting more into it.

The audio version read by Will Wheaton is great. Most of the book is read in a more or less neutral voice but every now and then he makes appropriate voices (such as Yoda) which I find suit the book rather well.

★★★☆☆

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Book Review: Small Giants by Bo Burlingham

519jtUnq-eL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_I’m glad I read the 10th Anniversary Edition of the book because I think the extra chapters or modifications make for a much different book. Throughout the book, as he was describing what the small giants do to be giants, without disparaging what they do, I was thinking: “that only works if your profit margins are big, very big”. The new chapters follows up on some companies and what happened to them when those margins become smaller. Long story short: it’s not pretty.

The range of covered companies surprised me. I knew this was not about big companies, so, no Apples, Googles, Microsofts or Facebooks. But still, the range of employee size was from 1, yes, 1, a single person company, to a over-1000 employee company. It’s clear that towards the extreme of the scale, many of the ideas and principles don’t work as well and it might be a stretch to call them small giants but it is exactly that that makes them interesting on this book as it shows the boundaries you could expect if you try to create a small giant.

Reading this book made me think that maybe I don’t want my own companies to be small giants. Maybe I want one of my companies to be one but not the others, I’m not sure yet. I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with or without being a small giant but if you expect your company to behave like one when it’s not, you’ll be thoroughly disappointing; and for me, that’s the big lesson.

★★★☆☆

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Book Review: General Class by Gordon West

I bought this book after watching a series of videos on YouTube that mentioned it:

61i+nE392VLThe book has a short introduction and then jumps straight into the question pool for the general class amateur radio exam. For each question, you have the four potential answers, followed by an explanation of the subject and the correct answer. Because the questions and the answer are so close, you might need to use a piece of paper to cover the answer while you think about the question without spoiling it.

I did my study mostly by watching the video and using https://hamstudy.org but the explanations on that website, sometimes, leave a lot to be desire. For quite a few questions, reading the explanations in this book helped a lot. It also has extra snippets of information spread throughout the book that are very nice.

Another positive thing about this book is that it’s full color. It has pictures but most importantly, diagrams and chart making use of the color range to make the information more accessible. Even though I know by heart some of that information, I find myself hopping they would make posters of these charts so I can hang them on my shack: they are beautiful and informative.

Oh… one more thing, I passed the test. Well, I passed the three tests in one sitting.

★★★☆☆

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Book Review: Amateur Radio Exam Secrets by Alan Betts

91lYFNMRVVLDisclaimer: I haven’t read it all, as I’m only going for the foundation level license so I only read the relevant sections and I’ll come back to it when I upgrade to other levels.

I bought this book without knowing anything about it and I’m so glad I did. The book covers all levels of amateur licences in the UK. The way it does it is that each chapter is divided in subsections for each of the levels, so, you can read each chapter up to level you are interested and move on to the next.

Each chapter contains a brief introduction to the subject followed by a set of sample questions like the ones you’d get in the exam. Unlike the American counterpart, the question pool in the UK is not public because you should learn the subject and not memorize answers. Having said that, having some mock tests really helps understand how well prepared you are. There’s even an extra set of questions towards the end.

The answers to all the questions are in an appendix almost at the very end of the book, so, it’s very convenient to avoid accidentally seeing the answer and losing the value of that question. I found thought that going back and forth was annoying and prone to seeing more answers than intended, so, I’d recommend for each section, to do all the questions by writing down the answers on a piece of paper and then checking them against the references.

At the very end of the book you also have the tables, band plan and references that you are allowed during the exam.

I highly recommend this book if you are going to take the exams.

★★★★☆

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