These are the voyages of Voyager 1 and 2

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise...

Probably, most of you can recall these opening lines from the Star Trek sci-fi franchise. But in this post I want to write about real space voyagers which are Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 that where launched in 1977.

Not long ago friends visited us at home and while having a lovely conversation we talked about space exploration. Eventually, we mentioned the Voyager 1 and 2 robotic spacecrafts. When our friends left I was curious to check what YouTube had with regard to interesting documentaries about Voyagers space mission. As you might guess, there were a lot on the YouTube, but one particular documentary called The Farthest produced by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios I liked the most. This documentary has a reasonable coverage of Voyagers mission from its inception until present and it features interviews with key scientists who were responsible for making Voyagers a successful endeavor.

As usually happens to me, while watching this documentary I’ve noticed that one of the people who was interviewed for this documentary was Jim Bell, a professor of Astronomy who wrote a book called The Interstellar Age : Inside the Forty-Year Voyager Mission which was the basis for the documentary. Again, as usual, I bought that same book and, boy, wasn’t I disappointed. The book was also very interesting and it covered robotic space program including early Mariner missions, but mostly focused on Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 journeys beginning in 1977 and until these days when they plow interstellar space continuing ad infinitum and, some may say, beyond. The books mentions interesting discoveries that where made by each Voyager in their encounters with giant planets following on a Grand Tour of Planets. It also covers what will be the fait of the Voyagers when we as a civilization will be long gone. I particularly, liked when Jim Bell described how the Golden Record was prepared to be carried by the Voyagers and also it was interesting to know that some moons of Jupiter and Saturn could be potential harbors of life besides Earth.

All in all, I recommend you to check out the documentary and if you like it you also may consider reading the book. The next book that I have in queue is The Right Kind Of Crazy by Adam Steltzner, the chief engineer of Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers, but this and more in my next post.

Rendezvous with Rama… sorry ʻOumuamua interstellar object. Are We Alone?

It all started when I, as usual, was skimming through the Google digest on a mobile phone before I went to sleep. There was this article about Avi Loeb a theoretical physicist and Professor of Science at Harvard University who hypothesized that an interstellar object that zipped through the Solar System in December 2017 could have been an artifact or a spaceship from an alien civilization.

This is how I ended up reading unexpectedly Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth book written by Avi Loeb about possible origins of ʻOumuamua. The book itself is not that long and it has a mix of factual information about interstellar object ʻOumuamua and Avi’s thoughts on Scientific Method, philosophy and his childhood in Israel. The book felt too repetitive at times and could have been much shorter. It also could have had more than Drake equation. In a number of places it could have benefited from using math notations instead of describing numbers in words.

What I liked

Avi’s thoughts on science where he suggested that science should be preoccupied with practical theories that try to explain existing evidence sounds similar to the thoughts expressed in Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math book. But this view is not shared by David Deutsch which he expressed in The Beginning of Infinity book and with which I tend to agree more. David Deutsch supports

Karl Popper’s epistemology, especially its anti-inductivism and requiring a realist (non-instrumental) interpretation of scientific theories. (a quote from Wikipedia)

The hypothesis that ʻOumuamua could be an alien interstellar visitor, based on its anomalies is an interesting one. Since Avi was participating in the Breakthrough Starshot project, which proposed to use a solar sail to travel to nearest star, he suggested that ʻOumuamua could have been similar object. Then he described how an advanced civilization could surround a star, about to explode, with such solar sails that would be blasted away in all directions, serving as a probes, into space. The only issue with this approach is that somehow it assumes that an advanced civilization, that is capable of surrounding a star with millions of solar sails, would use such technology, can’t we assume that such a civilization could have discovered laws of physics that we cannot imagine yet and could use other means to traverse space.

An advanced ancient civilization here on Earth

There are ample evidence, here on Earth, that shows that in ancient Egypt, and in South America (namely Machu Picchu and other locations) we find hundreds of granite blocks that have marks of being cut by machining tools, like large diameter disk saws and wire saws, that required a power supply and an infrastructure similar to what we have in the factories that use CNC machines to produce granite blocks. The 7 great pyramids and Osirion in Egypt are the best examples of the machining tools applied to granite and limestone blocks.
More details can be found in a good documentary produced by the Laboratory of Alternative History (LAH)

The Film “Mysteries Of Ancient Egypt (2005)

The filmmakers decided not to rely on a particular theory, but on real facts, logic and common sense. This approach leads inexorably to the conclusion that in the land of Egypt for thousands of years before the first pharaohs a highly developed civilization existed that was superior in their knowledge and technology not only primitive society of the ancient Egyptians, but modern humanity.

Additionally, in Israel (Western Wall Tunnel) and in Lebanon (Temples of Baalbek) there are building blocks of some 100 tons that cannot be extracted and moved easily taking into consideration what we know about the level of human technology in ancient times.

Here on Earth and there in space

So not only we should start looking more carefully at what is in the space, we have the evidence of an advanced ancient civilization (interstellar or not) here on Earth.

Why random reading could be useful

Random thoughts on a reading process

I have to confess I am an obsessive reader. I like books, I like to read them a lot, I like to read them daily. It seems like the most efficient way of reading books or doing other tasks is doing it in a sequential way, where each book completed before the next one is read. The issue is that I cannot help, but defy this approach. I can read a number of books in parallel, jumping from one to another and returning back again. I also can be distracted by a reference to a different book, and so it goes.

Now, we may ask is there any point is such haphazard reading, where the focus is constantly lost, things and thoughts are getting mixed? Personally, I do not find this confusing or disorganizing, but actually, I see some merit in this approach. First, you do not get bored and have some fresh point of view when you return to a book (if you remember where you’ve left last time). Second, since good books are just like candies, it’s difficult to decide where to start, what have next and when to finish.

Stack overflow of the books

Having described my non-linear approach to reading I should mention that nevertheless, on average, I usually able to read 1.5 books a month. This is nice, but there are a couple of books that are still in the stack and they tend to overflow it. There is this book What’s Math Got Do With It by Jo Boaler, then there is The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch, underneath is the Unknown Quantity by John Derbyshire. Further below is All Things Being Equal by John Mighton, traveling by US post is a Number-Crunching: Taming Unruly Computational Problems from Mathematical Physics to Science Fiction by Paul Nahin, and last but not least is infinite powers by Steven Strogatz.

Speaking of Steven Strogatz book. Last year I was looking for a good book on applied mathematics and stumbled upon Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos: With Applications to Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Engineering which is very good. Then I checked other books Steven wrote and found that in addition to textbooks he also wrote a number of popular science books. One of them was infinite powers. It is enough to read just a few pages of this book to understand that it’s a pure gem in the world of popular science books and if you’d like to really get a good understanding of what differentiation and integration is without going directly to a calculus course then this book may be of interest to you. When I finish reading it, I’ll write a more extensive review of the book.

Random walking

For now, keep reading and try reading sequentially, otherwise start a random walk. Who knows what you stumble upon and where it take you.

Good books come in tuples

This post continues a number of post were I kind of reviewed books that I read and thought it would be helpful to share them with other readers. All Things Being Equal: Why Math Is the Key to a Better World by John Mighton is such a book that deserves to be shared and read by people who care about math education, their children’s math education and math in general. The title of this post is not a mere gimmick, but it means that good books always mention or reference other authors or books that worth reading. This is what exactly happened when I read the book by Anders Ericsson that I mentioned in the previous post. In the Peak Ericsson mentioned John Mighton a Canadian mathematician that incorporated elements of deliberate practice with clear goals and problems that had increasing level of difficulty to teach math to children. This approach is now known as JUMP Math and it is taught to thousands of kids helping them master mathematics while enjoying the subject, unlike in the usual way math is taught in schools.

What is so interesting about this book?

I am past 1/3 of the book, and so far I wasn’t disappointed. The book itself is not only about teaching math to kids. John Mighton discussed also psychological approaches, such as a research into Expertise that plays important role in education in general and in math in particular. He also provides us with an interesting observation that usual math education results in the same distribution of grades among pupils of public schools and among pupils in private schools. It worth mentioning, intellectual poverty a term he coined to emphasize that even though there is a research in to expertise that resulted in clear guidance on how to effectively approach teaching, we as a society still do not incorporate this approach, and what we get is a suboptimal outcome, where kids dislike math, since they think they are not good at it, they have no innate ability or inclination towards it.

Apart from this, John Mighton incorporates a number of examples from math lessons at schools, where he shed light on some of the arithmetic operations that are usually taught as a mere algorithms, without explaining how they work and why. For example, he provides a neat explanation why one could substitute a division of a number by a fraction, by a multiplication of the inverse of that fraction.

Overall

The book is worth reading, since it provides a fresh approach to teaching math to kids and adults alike, in an engaging and exciting way, where kids are gently guided by discovering math step by step, building on the knowledge they gain at a previous step, facing gradually increasing challenges along the way.

Main points from Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise

It could have been much shorter

Having finished, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise book by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool I want to provide my thoughts about it and summarize main points of the book.

Overall, I liked the book and found it very interesting if repetitive at times. The book can be distilled down to a couple of main points and, frankly speaking, it could have been presented as a short article with a number of pages. A large part of the book is dedicated to examples that Anders Ericsson drew from his or others’ research papers.

Main points

  • The brain is more flexible than it was previously thought, which means that even adults can acquire expertise in new fields.
  • Any regular person can potentially become and expert, conditioned on following advice below
  • The research into what makes people experts shows that the innate characteristics play almost no role in becoming an expert, except for sports where height and body size plays certain role.
  • People who become experts in the end, used to practice deliberately, having a clear plan consisting of clearly outlined goals, where each step is a little bit more challenging than a previous one, causing a person to get out of the comfort zone.
  • This deliberate practice when exercised develops “mental representations” in a person, helping him or her to see patterns in a field of that person’s expertise.

Let’s it. As I mentioned, most of the book is dedicated to providing supporting examples from research papers.

Well, don’t wait and deliberately practice to become one

It turns out, that becoming an expert could be achieved by anyone determined to deliberately practicing and willing to put thousands of hours of focused effort while constantly expanding one’s comfort zone.

Critical Thinking and Scientific Approach

Critical Thinking is more important than ever before

Due to the January 6th, 2021 events in the USA where the was an attempt to overthrow the democratic process I decided that there is an urgent need to take a hard stand and defend democratic values. To this end this blog from now on will be focused on promoting Critical and Skeptical Thinking and Scientific Approach for people to use in their lives. People who do not want to use Critical Thinking are easily manipulated and can be used by others to achieve their goals.

To start on the right foot I advise people who read this post to check The Deamon-Haunted World a book by Carl Sagan from 1995 about Critical Thinking and Scientific approach.

There are other books on Critical Thinking and Scientific Approach in general that I will recommend and start reviewing and discussing in future posts.

Remember

Equipped with critical thinking the probability of someone taking advantage of you by manipulating you becomes very low.

Unknown Quantity is a math book to work through

This post is similar to my other posts on books I read or am in the process of reading. This time it is second book by John Derbyshire I read on mathematics. The previous book Prime Obsession was an inspiring, interesting and a pleasure to read, since it was all about the Riemann hypothesis. It took me though a little effort to not only read it, but also work through author’s explanations.

So this second book is called Unknown Quantity and it is as captivating as the Prime Obsession was. What is different about the Unknown Quantity that it has more of a historical context on how algebra developed from ancient Mesopotamia to our days.

What I like the most about how John explains mathematical topics in his books is the way he is capable of explaining mathematics the way I never experienced in a school or later in a college. Most of the time math was taught as a given, without trying to convey the essence of the subject, why this formula such and such, how it was conceived and developed. In my opinion, these are very important questions, if not the most important in mathematics. Questioning and curiosity are crucial in mathematical research.

For example, in the Unknown Quantity John shows with enough details how general solutions to second, third and forth degree equations were developed. Why determinant is useful in solving systems of linear equations and why it is important in matrices. These are only some examples, since I haven’t yet finished reading the book.

In short, if you are curious about algebra, and want to know how it evolved historically, and also get some new insight about math you were taught, but never really understood, then the Unknown Quantity is the book for you.

An exceptional book. A quick update

This post is a super quick and short. From time to time I stumble upon an exceptional subject to study or an insightful book. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is just like that. This book is exceptional in its usefulness and practical advise that can help you become an expert or at least progress in that direction.

The book has a solid foundation in psychology of expertise and is based on the research results achieved in that field. A more detailed information about psychology of expertise can be found in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance.

I’ll write a more detailed post as I’ll near the end of the book.

Good books on aviation to read

There are lots of books on aviation that are written by historians or journalists. The most valuable in my opinion are books written by engineers, who designed and developed aircraft, and described how things happened first hand. Below follow a number of books written by engineers with exception of one written by a non engineer.

F/A-18 Hornet

For a long period of time I had a conviction that F/A-18 Hornet wasn’t that good a plane and aesthetically it didn’t look good to me. But a book on F/A-18 development has changed my mind. It was written by a non-engineer, nevertheless this book is worth reading since it’s full of valuable information on F/A-18 design and development and subsequent service.

The Hornet: The Inside Story of the F/A-18 by Orr Kelly is a very interesting since it provides ample information starting from Hornet inception to it usage by US Marine and US Navy.

The Power To Fly

Is a book by Brian H. Rowe who started as an engineer at General Electric Aviation Engines and grew up to be a CEO of GE Aviation and was responsible among other things for the development of GE90 high-bypass turbofan engine that powers Boeing 777 plane. What I liked about this book was that Brian described a number of engineering and managerial challenges that he faced throughout his career in GE and how he and his team overcame them. This book could keep you up at night reading.

Adventures of an engineer

Next book is called Herman the German: Just Lucky I Guess by Gerhard Neumann.

In The Power To Fly book Brian Rowe has mentioned his manager Gerhard Neumann, who Brian later succeeded. It turns out that Gerhard Nouman was an incredible person who had a life packed with such many adventures that all Indiana Jones franchise pale in comparison to it. Started as an apprentice of a German car mechanic before World War II, Gerhard ended up being a CEO of GE Aviation Engines. Most of the book is dedicated to Gerhards adventures as an aircraft mechanic in China during the WWII and his 10,000 miles trip in 1947 from Hong Kong to Jerusalem in a Willys Jeep with his wife and a dog. The adventures he described at times felt like unbelievable, yet they happened. Read the book to find out more.

Boeing 747

747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation by Joe Sutter is not only an interesting book about the development of Boeing 747, but it also describes the history of Boeing aircrafts from early 20’s of twentieth century as witnessed by a boy growing up in Seattle until the latest version of Boeing 747-8 family of jets. What I liked the most about this book was a detailed description Joe provided on how the Boeing 747 was designed and developed, despite being a secondary project that was thought as unimportant by Boeing upper management at the time. Joe Sutter mentioned not once how safety of airplanes at Boeing was the utmost priority what seems like no longer the case in today’s Boeing.

Prime Obsession with Math

Meet the math book you’re were craving for so long

If you are interested in math and like to have your hands dirty in nitty gritty calculations then the Prime Obsession book by John Derbyshire is just for you. Unlike other popular books on mathematics it provides a gentle and powerful introduction to all math you need to know to understand the Riemann Hypothesis (RH). Reading, I should say, working through the book you’ll learn about interesting properties of Prime Numbers, meet the Prime Number Theorem (PNT) and really understand what the Riemann Hypothesis is all about. In this book you’ll meet Gauss, Euler, Riemann, Hilbert and other renowned mathematicians that influenced the development of mathematics.

What I find most useful about this book

There are books that require a discipline to read through, there are books that are plain boring, and there are books that excite you and your imagination, books that you can’t help, but continue reading more and more. The Prime Obsession is of the latter kind.

What I most like about the book is the historical context John Derbyshire provides throughout the book in addition to his sense of humor and his ability to explain required math in a way that each mathematically inclined person can get fast. I should mention, that having an engineering degree could speed up you understanding significantly, but strictly speaking, it is not required.

In addition, the references to other books on mathematics that John provides are very useful and may provide you with additional materials to digest, like the Hardy’s A Course of Pure Mathematics.

Where to get the book?

Surely, the easiest way to get the book is to buy a copy of it in a Kindle format or a print one. I bought a used one quite cheaply, for less than a Kindle book, which generally cheaper than a hard copy. An old fashion way would be to go to a nearest library and fish for the book their.