Most Secret War – R.V. Jones

The arguments in Whitehall concerning the weight of the rocket lasted throughout July and well into August. Herbert Morrison was near panic: on 27th July he was wanting the War Cabinet to plan immediately for the evacuation of a million people from London…

The book is a World World II memoir of Reginald V. Jones, responsible to anticipate and counter the German science applications in warfare, mainly air, and create new technical aids. Those weapons included radio navigation, radar, navigation for the Allied Bomber Offensive, and the V-1 and V-2 rockets.

R.V. Jones’ position in the British war effort, both in the Intelligence Section of Britain’s Air Ministry and in the MI-6, allowed him to be at the forefront of the technical war between NAZI Germany and the United Kingdom. He is now considered the father of technical and science intelligence and CIA has an award with his name.

The author’s account reveals much of the battles’ details fought with the technical minds in Germany, but also the experience of the war, the bureaucratic fights inside the various British ministries and his interactions with the British Prime Minister, of whom he was a great admirer.

British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945

The memoir is read as a wartime scientific detective story, with a strong espionage background. For example, he reveals how the V-1 (flying bomb) and V-2 rockets were assessed in terms of warhead capability and production. He fought with his own expert councils and with some ministers panicked of a possible mass attack over London. By looking at aerial photographs, the messages from the ultra secret decipher service at Bletchley Park; the spy reports; prisoners’ interrogations and others, he was able to correctly put together the puzzle of the V-1 and V-2 rockets and find counter-measures for them.

His battle was different than the ones with tanks and land offensives, but not less important. Without him and his counter-measures, the bombing of Britain in 1940 would have been a lot more accurate and the German air force would not have sustain the crippling losses.

This book is widely acclaimed as one of the best memoirs of the World World II, from one of the highest ranked positions in the British intelligence. I sincerely recommend it to all readers interested in history and science.

Pandore abusée – Peter F. Hamilton

Réveillez-vous, les gars. Ces étoiles sont à mille deux cents années-lumières de Tanyata. Tout ceci s’est produit quand l’Empire romain était à son apogée. L’astronomie, c’est de l’histoire mec.

Pandore abusée est le première tome de L’Étoile de Pandore saga (quatre volumes), part aussi-même de l’univers Commonwealth (huit volumes). Ce volume décrit une l’humanité prospère et expansive, qui a colonisé plus de 600 planètes jusqu’à en 2380, reliées entre elles par des trous de ver. L’humanité a découvert aussi la vie éternelle avec la réjuvénation.

Mais, dans une journée ordinaire, une astronome constate la disparition d’une étoile très distante, à un millier d’années-lumière. La seule explication est que l’étoile était emprisonnée dans un champ de force colossal 1 millier d’année avant. Pourquoi et qui a emprisonné une étoile entière ? Pour savoir qu’il se passe, l’humanité décide de construire le premier vaisseau interstellaire plus rapide que la vitesse de lumière. Qu’est ce que le vaisseau va découvrir ?

Peter F. Hamilton crée un univers complexe ou plusieurs histoires progressent, a cote de la trame principale : l’enquête de Paula Myo, une super détective, concernant les Gardiens de l’individualité ; la quête d’Ozzie Isaacs, le co-inventateur des trous de ver, sur les mystérieux, mais inoffensives extra-terrestres, les Silfens, sur leur planète ; l’histoire d’amour entre Justine Burnelli et Kazimir McFoster ; la tentative de sabotage des Gardiens contre le vaisseau interstellaire et autre.

Pourquoi et qui a emprisonné une étoile entière ?

L’entier saga est énorme, avec dizaine des petites histoires, qui parfois se mélangent entre eux.

L’imagination d’auteur est admirable et l’intrigue principale est fascinante, mais parfois c’est fatiguant de rappeler tous les personnages.

Un créatif and profond volume de science-fiction, mais qui a besoin de beaucoup d’attention.

Dance Dance Dance – Haruki Murakami

My peak? Would I even have one? I hardly had had anything you could call a life. A few ripples. some rises and falls. But that’s it. Almost nothing. Nothing born of nothing. I’d loved and been loved, but I had nothing to show. It was a singularly plain, featureless landscape. I felt like I was in a video game. A surrogate Pacman, crunching blindly through a labyrinth of dotted lines. The only certainty was my death.

This is one of the early books of the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, written in 1988. It is the fourth in a series, but can be read as a stand-alone story as well. The book follows the phantasmagorical adventures of the protagonist, a freelance journalist, trying to decipher the mysterious disappearance of a loved woman.

The entire story is surreal, with a magic hotel and parallel worlds, different realities, foretelling dreams, the Sheep Man, murder of a call-girl, a clairvoyant teenager girl and many other bizarre things. That Murakami can introduce all those in a single plot, making a captivating story, is absolute genius.

The story is so far from the present reality,  so mind-boggling, with so many concepts that are changed or reinterpreted, that the writing and the stories of Murakami are truly unique.

With this writer, the reader either likes it or drops it. However, Murakami enjoyed a global success with his novels, so I would recommend a try.

[Featured picture: Infinity Rooms by Yayoi Kusama]

The Game – Neil Strauss

In life, people tend to wait for good things to come to them. And by waiting, they miss out. Usually, what you wish for doesn’t fall in your lap; it falls somewhere nearby, and you have to recognize it, stand up, and put in the time and work it takes to get to it. This isn’t because the universe is cruel. It’s because the universe is smart. It has its own cat-string theory and knows we don’t appreciate things that fall into our laps.

This is not an average book. You either love it or leave it.

There are professionals for every service, and the one described in this book is professional seduction for average-looking guys. Neil Strauss writes his story of how he got involved into this world, gradually evolving from newbie to master, meeting celebrities and giving seminars, basically exposing it through his own experiences. The nice part is how he found at the end a lovely lady to stay with, leaving back all the one-night stands.

A rich man doesn’t need to tell you he’s rich.

Professional seducers are guys/girls who use psychological tricks to attract and allure women. While it sounds unethical and childish, there is a proven rate of success which is good food for thought. Those tricks are not lies or cheats, but studied methods tried and tested over many evenings, which sometimes work.

Of course, the method has several important limitations. First, it helps getting to talk with a lady and get her attention, but actually staying in a couple is a totally different matter. Secondly, those methods were developed for US women and because of cultural changes, they could backfire spectacularly in other countries. Thirdly, their vocabulary is kind of teenage-ish, with AFC (average frustrated chump), PUA (pick-up artist) and PUG (pick-up guru).

While all mysterious and Don Juan-esque, the advice given is quite common sense: attraction is not physical, but mainly psychological; look clean; social pressure matters (attract friends of the lady first, make her advice group like you); etc.

The book is, obviously, misogynist and offensive, but also a cautionary tale. Not all bling-bling is what it looks like. As always, do not confuse the presented ideas with the author’s system of beliefs. You can entertain an idea without agreeing with it. Also, this is not a book of how to sleep with women.

It is divided in three parts: first part, where he presents the nice part of this seduction world; second one, where biographies and stories of various seduction artists are presented; and third, where he shows that many professionals self-destruct, because chasing women without settling becomes a soulless, lonely existence.

There are many ways to interpret this book: a study of human mating rituals, a world of self-destructing late teenagers, a misogynist eulogy (but there are woman seducers as well), a way to better understand the traps of seduction world or just a help to get talking with a crush you have. It is for the reader to decide.

Night Soldiers – Alan Furst

Spying came to him as making love comes to other men. It is his belief, in fact, that his father may have had relations with the Okhrana, the czar’s intelligence service, though his murder by the Turks was haphazard—simply one act in a village slaughter. But Avram knew them, whether they were Turkish Aghas or British officers, he always understood how they worked, where their vulnerabilities lay.

Night Soldiers is the first book in a long series, 14 books, of espionage novels in Europe starting in the 1930s and through World War II. It is a fictional story following Khristo Stoianev, a Bulgarian, who is recruited by NKVD, sent to Spain during the civil war, then escaped to Paris. The action moves all around Europe, from Bulgaria to Moscow, from Madrid to Paris, to Switzerland.

Gritty spy story in World World Two.

Spying activities of Bolsheviks, Spanish civil war factions, underground activities of French patriots, Nazi Gestapo are all presented through the eyes of the protagonist, in a gritty, tense and grey atmosphere.

In 1934, Stoianev sees his brother beaten to death by local fascists, so takes refuge with the communists, being sent for training in Moscow. He is then sent to Spain during the civil war. The Soviet purges caught him there, where he escapes, fleeing to Paris, but he still cannot shake the long hand of NKVD. The action moves then briefly to the US where the OSS is formed, then back to Europe with the French resistance. The transition between stories is smooth and the reader can feel the tense atmosphere from each country caught in the war.

The writing is captivating, with an imaginative, but not overly complicated plot. Despite presenting sometimes the mundane of life, Alan Furst keeps the reader on the edge. You can feel the tension brought by war and spying, just waiting for the moment to be discovered or to make a mistake.

The decisions of the main characters are well explained, seem genuine and keep the story compact. The reader knows in every moment why a character decided to act in a certain way, what is their motivation, desires. The character creation and the atmosphere created is top notch.

A recommended read for long winter nights.

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Whenever I finished filming a movie, I felt my job was only half done. Every film had to be nurtured in the marketplace. You can have the greatest movie in the world, but if you don’t get it out there, if people don’t know about it, you have nothing.

This is the autobiography of Arnold Schwarzenegger, starting with his childhood in Austria, his first bodybuilding contests, going to the United States, becoming best bodybuilder, then becoming actor, one of the best paid in Hollywood, then businessman, owing city blocks and airplanes, then governor of California. An impressive story by all accounts.

By what Arnold does best is being inspirational, with many, many good quotes in the book. Some readers might know his speech, the 6 rules for success.

1. Trust yourself

2. Break some rules (not the law)

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

4. Ignore the naysayers

5. Work like hell

6. Give something back

Here is an inspirational video, the original speech and the transcript of the speech.

A giant among men

What is impressive about him is the tenacity, the discipline, the ambition and the cold calculations done to succeed. Arnold went well beyond what was necessary to win.

For example, he went to public bodybuilding demonstrations, in parks and prisons, growing the field. Of course, he gained the titles, he was the one growing the bodybuilding business, bringing money and fame for all involved, including referees and competitors. For movies, I quoted him, saying that making the movie is only half the job, the other job being promoting it. Being Governor of California was not a fluke, Arnold going to the Republic Party conferences years ahead his bid to be elected.

He started his first business when he was still competing as bodybuilder, renting apartments. He gradually expanded his real estate, earning millions from his business.

He really left no stone unturned when fighting for a goal he set for himself. His great breakthrough was the acting career and he talks most about coming to the United States and trying to succeed. Bodybuilding was not enough for this man.

He read books, took English classes, business classes, acting classes, everything in his power to become an actor. And like Sylvester Stallone, he never accepted anything less than the main role. He believed in his star and pulled others to do the same.

Arnold was a social butterfly, knowing all the main Hollywood starts BEFORE his first movie. He names dozens of famous people as friends, so his social reach must have been exceptional.

Of course, his book, like any autobiography, shows only his best part, leaving aside failures. The first part of the book talks about his childhood, forming years, coming to America and his first years. The second part is as governor of California and it is mostly on politics, unattractive for some readers.

Overall, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man of contrasts: he has high discipline for himself, but he cannot be faithful to his wife; he is a bodybuilder, but smokes cigars; he is an environmentalist, but drives a Hummer.

His book is widely considered one of the best inspirational stories that one can read and I fully recommend it.

[Featured picture by Gage Skidmore]

Regulation of the Power Sector – Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga (ed.)

Grids limit the operation of the electricity system in many ways. The most typical limitation is congestion, which occurs when the maximum current that can be handled by a line or other facility is reached, thus determining the amount of electric power that can flow through the element in question. The underlying cause for the limitation may be thermal, and therefore dependent upon the physical characteristics of the facility. It may also be related to the characteristics of system operation as a whole; for instance, provisions to guarantee security in the system’s dynamic response to disturbances or to stability-related problems that usually increase with line length.

Another typical grid constraint is the need to maintain voltages within certain limits at all nodes, which may call for connecting generating units near the node experiencing problems. The maximum allowable short-circuit power established may also limit grid configuration. Generally speaking,
the main effect of grid constraints is to condition system operation and in so doing to cause deviations from economically optimum operation. The most common constraints in distribution grids are related to voltage and maximum line capacity.

“Regulation of the Power Sector” is a comprehensive technical book on the electricity sector, aimed at specialists and advanced students. It encompasses several scholarly fields, including law, economics, regulation, physics and political science.

It is divided into 14 chapters, as follows: I. Technology and Operation of Electric Power Systems; II. Power System Economics; III. Electricity Regulation: Principles and Institutions; IV. Monopoly Regulation; V. Electricity Distribution; VI. Electricity Transmission; VII. Electricity Generation and Wholesale Markets; VIII. Electricity Tariffs; IX. Electricity Retailing; X. Regional Markets; XI. Environmental Regulation; XII. Security of Generation Supply in Electricity Markets; XIII. Electricity and Gas; XIV. Challenges in Power Sector Regulation.

The first electromagnetic generator, invented by Michael Faraday in 1831.

The authors cover pretty much everything in terms of background in energy regulation, with a focus, but not exclusive, to European regulation and market design. The book reads as a manual and goes into detail in explaining why some regulatory decisions were taken. However, it does not push a message or contributes to the scholarly debate, it is more a stocktaking exercise.

The book makes the basis for the Regulation of the Power Sector course at the Florence School of Regulation, a 6-months intensive training for professionals in the area.

The authors are mostly academics and former regulators with plenty of practical examples. What is impressive is that they managed to have a very balanced approach in a highly divisive area.

The volume is not an easy read, some diagrams and formulas taking some time to digest, even for specialists. This is because the book encompasses a very wide range of fields, from formulas taken from the field physics to economic calculations.

For energy professionals, I commend the book, as a very comprehensive summary of energy regulation, theories and basics of the power system. It refreshes knowledge and fills some gaps, in a balanced way.