Colonization: Second contact – Harry Turtledove

Atvar was glad to return to Australia. It was late summer in this hemisphere now, and the weather was fine by any standards, those of Home included. Even in Cairo, though, the weather has been better than bearable. What pleased him more was how far the colony has come since his last visit.

“Then, all we had were the starships,” he said to Pshing. “Now look! A whole thriving city! Streets, vehicles, shops, a power plant, a pipeline to the desalination center-a proper city for the Race.”

“Truth, Exalted Fleetlord,” his adjutant replied. “Before very much longer, it will be like any city back on Home.”

This is the first book that I review after an exchange of books with a friend.

The book presents an alternate fictional history on Earth in the 1960s, when the world, finally at peace, is divided between a species of lizard-like aliens and several human world powers. The World War II was interrupted by the alien invasion, leaving the Third Reich, the Soviet Union and the United States as the leading human powers on Earth. Instead of fighting each other, they had to fought the aliens, loosing all the South, including Australia, South America, all Africa and parts of Middle East.

The book is the first in a series (Colonization), that follows a very successful tetralogy (Wordwar) where the fights between human powers are the aliens are described, during the World War II.

In Second Contact, the alien colonisation ships arrive, in the hundred of millions, creating a huge challenge for humans. Some revolt, but only the United States seems to do something, in space, which will find out in the second book of the series.

Are we alone in the universe?

The author patiently develops the stories and the characters, which come from all the regions, races and powers. Here we can see the Fleet Lord Atvar, the alien traitor, the life of a Jew in Alien-occupied Poland, the struggle of the communist Chinese for liberty against the Aliens and many other interlinked stories. While the stories and characters are numerous, they are easy to follow and understand. Turtledove beautifully reconstructs life after war. The pace of the book is slow, with many dialogues and character development situations, and the plot moves accordingly, leaving the impression that not much is happening. It seems that the book mostly prepares the ground for the series, rather than presenting a story, because many of the plot lines remain open.

An entertaining book to read for the fans of alternative history; definitely not-action packed, but carefully written, with good historical research.

Autobiography – Alex Ferguson

I made an error at half-time. I was still focusing on winning the game and told Rooney he needed to keep running into those gaps behind the full-backs. “We’ll win the game if you keep doing that”, I urged him. I forgot the big issue with playing Barcelona. So many of their games were effectively won in the first 15 minutes of the second half. I should have mentioned that to my players. I might have been better asking Park to mark Messi for the first 15 minutes and pushing Rooney wide left. If we had employed those tactics, we might just have sneaked it. We would still be able to counter-attack.[…]

Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United, tells the story of his successes. He talks about his teams and players, Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Keane, Van Nistelrooy, Rooney and, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. He presents rival teams and coaches, such as Liverpool and Barcelona, Mourinho and Wenger.

Ferguson recalls with great clarity the big games and transfers he made over the years. The reader can see that he developed a plan for the long term, but it was not without mistakes.

An inspiration for long term planning

He presents, for example, the after-training of great players, like Ronaldo and Giggs, who took great care of their bodies, lengthening their football careers. He shows how players grow, perform and then have to leave the team. It is not always about tactics, but also human psychology, dealing with powerful personalities, young players in their teens, reliable players that had to go.

The United coach mentions “confidence” a lot , players with confidence will fight further, perform and recover after disasters.

While his successes, players and rivalries will fade over time, his advice, ranging from player scouting, politics and media handling to player psychology and long term team planning, remain a lesson for life.

Presentation Thinking and Design – Ed Gruwez

It is also important to remember the principles of the working memory:

  • Ask for, and hold, your audience’s attention.
  • Make your message easy to understand by limiting its cognitive load.
  • Fix your message in your audience’s mind through repetition, stories and the use of sensory detail. (Presentation thinking and design)

How many times you cursed your days and the speaker for the most insipid, unreadable and tedious presentation that has ever seen the light of a projector?

There are so many tips floating around, just at the fingertips of an Internet research. Why do people do not read them, even the top 5?

Presentation design
Book cover, the inside full of notes

Ed Gruwez shows the basics of creating interesting and memorable presentations. While nothing the author presents is totally new, he puts forward a clear structure, where indeed, the message and the inner logic of the presentation is more important than the fluffy part.

The book comes also with a sum of examples and tips that help create better presentations, quicker. For example, would you delete a slide you worked for2 hours, despite the fact that brings only unrelated information? This is why is better to put the outline of the presentation first on paper, rather than jumping on creating the slides.

Ed (Edouard) Gruwez specializes in presentation thinking and design, and works as Managing Director of “Ogilvy Internal Communications”.

If you know you will do presentations in your lifetime, where you have to deliver a message, this book is helpful. It is easy to read and follow, and you can learn something useful after browsing it for only two minutes.

Duty – Robert Gates

I concluded by saying that the SEALs in the room truly gave meaning to George Orwell’s observation that “people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

[…]Lessons learned from the disaster in Iran in 1980 led to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command and development of the training and equipment that undergirded the success at Abbottabad. In 1986, as deputy director in charge of analysis at CIA, I agreed to provide more than a dozen analysts to the new Counterterrorism Center in the clandestine service, an unprecedented and controversial assignment of analysts to help inform and plan counterterrorist operations. […] (Duty)

In a surprisingly open and detailed memoirs book, Robert Gates, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense, unveils his struggles and challenges while leading the U.S. Military in two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates, on the left, during Operation Neptune Spear, that killed bin Laden.

The ex CIA Director reveals the strings between the Pentagon, the Congress, the White House and the Joint Chiefs, within two administrations, Bush 43 and Obama. A lengthy volume that hides candid comments and many gems of wisdom. A great read.

The Chimp Paradox – Steve Peters

Whenever you want to stop the Chimp, always actively slow your thinking down. This will work in ALL situations. It is another excellent way to manage the Chimp (The Chimp Paradox).

The book cover of a thoroughly read book

The Chimp Paradox is a great book on human psychology, written with the intent to explain how the mind and the psychological processes work.

Dr. Steve Peters is a psychiatrist, particularly involved in sports. He worked with the British cycling team (14 medals at the Beijing Olympics, while Peters was mental coach), with the snooker champion Ronnie O’Sullivan (helping him win his 4th and 5th World Snooker titles), with the football club Liverpool F.C and with the England National Football Team.

The author talks about self-motivation, happiness, understanding and dealing with others. But most of all, the book is about patience. We all have a chimp inside, strong and taking childish decisions. The book teaches how to deal with our and others’ chimp, in a fascinating journey through human psychology.

Sources of electricity – solar

Solar energy is a plentiful energy source, radiance energy coming from sun is at the order of 85,000 to 120,000 TW, while current world energy consumption is around 18 TW (IEA, Key Energy Statistics, 2014; Coimbra, Photovoltaic and Photothermal Energy Production: Future of Energy, 2014).

For electricity, solar energy technologies are broadly divided into photovoltaic cells (direct PVs) (direct conversion to electricity: photons to electrons); solar thermal power (using heat, also known as concentrated solar power) and other technologies (solar Stirling engines etc.).

Conventional PV cells have a very low efficiency, only 20%, but multi-junction cells, which absorb photons from different parts of the solar spectrum have efficiencies around 40% (however, they are 100 times more expensive than conventional PV cells).

Solar thermal power has an intermediary step, where solar energy is transformed first into thermal energy than into electrical energy. Mirrors can heat either a central liquid transforming it into steam or a working fluid, usually a high-temperature oil, in small tubes.

The biggest problem with solar energy is its variation, season to season, day to day, morning to evening. Daily variations can be somewhat balanced because daily electricity consumption roughly coincides with higher solar radiance, however storage is a must for long term development of the technology (Coimbra, Photovoltaic and Photothermal Energy Production: Future of Energy, 2014).

The Uncharted Path – Lee Myung-Bak

The Uncharted Path is the autobiography of the former CEO of Hyundai, mayor of Seoul and president of Korea, Lee Myung-Bak.

The Uncharted Path
An amazing from rag to riches story

It is seems an almost unbelievable life trajectory, but he actually achieved all that. His career mirrors in a way the values and the success of South Korea.

A rag to riches story, a story of gratitude, optimism and self-sacrifice that shows the power of perseverance and hard work. A truly life inspiration and brilliant read.