Saturday, May 14, 2022

Insane Mode : How Elon Musk's Tesla sparked an Electric Revolution to end the age of Oil.

Book Name : Insane Mode: How Elon Musk's Tesla sparked an Electric Revolution to end the age of Oil.

Author: Hamish McKenzie

Genre : Non-Fiction/Transportation

Book Post : 29

What is it about?: This a breezy, casual and a general account of  electric car maker Tesla's story. Right from its beginning, to the challenges it faced and how it overcame all the hurdles to establish its presence in an industry which is notorious for its extremely high barriers to entry, this book traces it all. 

How I came to read it :
I randomly stumbled upon this book as I was casually checking out the books in the local library in downtown. EVs have always on my list to know more about so this seemed like a perfect introduction into the subject. 
Did I like it? : Its one of those books that you can finish reading quickly and it doesn't place too much demand on your mind. But that exactly makes it a breezy read. I read most of the book on my commute to work. Part 1 of the book starts off with the experience of the author and his father trying out a Tesla EV to check out how it feels. He then goes on to explain some of the issues or worries that people have with the concept of electric cars with range anxiety being one of them. Part 2 then shifts to Tesla's beginnings and how Elon Musk came into this industry. There is a lot of background on the work China was doing and continues to do in the area of EVs. Part 3 concludes with again a general outlook towards how Tesla survived when many of its competitors had written it off and also at the future of the EV industry and finally how the very competitors who had mocked Tesla had finally entered the EV market. 

Fun fact:

Of all the new American car companies started in the last 100 years only 2 have managed to survive in spite of the demanding challenges of the Auto industry : Chrysler and Tesla. 

Jerusalem: The Biography || Book post

Book Post : 28

Book Name : Jerusalem: The Biography

Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore

Genre : Non-Fiction/History

What is it about?: It is about the history of the city of Jerusalem. How it was settled originally and how it rose in prominence over the centuries. It is 544 pages long and goes over the different periods it went through: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Crusades, Mamluks, Ottomans and finally the modern era.   

How I came to read it :
A couple of years ago I became interested in Saladin so I read a book about him and that got me interested in the Crusades so again I read a book about it. The entire focus of the crusades was on Jerusalem and that made me ask myself: Why is Jerusalem so important to the Abrahamic religions? So I got this book.  
Did I like it? : Loved it. After reading it I now have a much better picture of the history of Jerusalem and the ongoing Israel Palestine situation. Since its a sensitive topic, I will limit my post to this section. If you have any interest in knowing the history of Jerusalem read this book. Its worth your time. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

After Cooling: On Freon, global warming, and the terrible cost of comfort || 10 things I learned from this book.

Book Post : 27

Book Name : After Cooling: On Freon, global warming, and the terrible cost of comfort

Author : Eric Dean Wilson

Genre : Non-Fiction/Environment

What is it about?: After Cooling, written by Eric Dean Wilson, is at its core about the history of Air conditioning and how life on earth was almost at the verge of destruction at one point due to the effects of refrigerants. It traces the journey of the refrigerants from its invention to their observed effects on the ozone layer and the reaction of humans to the crisis.  

How I came to read it :
I was in the library to pick up another book when I noticed this book. I picked it up because air conditioning always interests me. After reading a book on the same subject last year I wanted to see what this book will add to it. 
Did I like it? : Overall this was an average read for me. Maybe I didn't find what I expected from it. I was tempted to stop reading it in the middle because there was another book waiting for me but I continued and I am glad that I did that. It gets more interesting in the later half. A simple description of this book is to say that its a history of refrigerants esp. Freon but that would be only a partial truth. It is much more than that. This was the first book that I read which made a connection between air conditioning and people of color. The author, on numerous occasions, makes it a point to mention how people of color were affected or left out of all the progress in human comfort that was taking place. I did not find this perspective in any other book that I read on the same subject.

There are also a lot of meditative passages on how to live meaningfully and morally in a world where it is increasingly becoming difficult to live without ACs, which we know are not without their faults. In British Columbia, where I live, last summer temperatures were unusually high and sparked a wild rush for ACs. My friend wanted to buy a fan and we both went in search of one in the supermarkets and to my surprise everything was sold out. That incident was running in my mind while reading this book. This rumination by the author on human comfort and the human response to it reminded me of a line from a different book I was reading at the same time. In that book, the author describing another medieval age author says about him ''in his hands a history of walking sticks becomes an essay on aging''. This book starts off as a history of Freon but it is much more. 

10 things I learned from this book (of the many):

1.  Ill start off with a quote from the book; ''The closest we've come to the destruction of all life on Earth is not by nuclear holocaust. It's not by bombing. It's not by deliberate explosion, not by intention at all. It's not by natural forces, either, not by plague, not by famine, not by earthquake, eruption, or erosion-certainly not by meteorite, which long ago ended the nonavian dinosaurs.'' The close we've came to destruction of life was when, because of our rampant release of refrigerants (CFCs) used for Air Conditioning, created a huge hole the size of North America in the ozone layer. Without the ozone layer life on earth is not possible. We did manage to end the production of CFCs before the damage was irreversible thus saving ourselves. 

2. Carbon dioxide(CO2) traps heat. This is part of the Greenhouse gas effect and is an essential part of Earth's process of maintaining a stable atmosphere. But CFCs which were/are refrigerants in Air Conditioning trap more than 10,000 times the heat trapped by CO2.  CFC-12 has a Global Warming potential of 10, 200. 

3. We owe our control of humidity to three people : Alfred Wolff, Willis Haviland Carrier and Stuart Cramer.

4. There was time when people opposed ventilation. There was a group called the Open Air Crusaders who believed that the whole ventilation industry is a scam. They believed that closed windows would lead to diseases and called for Fresh Air in buildings. 

5. Story time: Carrier designed a new AC system for a theatre in New York and planned to use a safe imported refrigerant, Dielene, from Germany in it. However the strict New York City building code did not have it listed as an approved refrigerant.  Carrier applied for a special permit but it was refused by the city's safety chief. The primary reason was that the safety chief was not convinced of its safety. Carrier's multiple attempts to get it approved failed. Now an angry Carrier simply walked into the office of the safety chief's office, poured a splash of liquid dielene into a jar, set it on the desk, lit a match and threw into the liquid. The match continued to burn in the liquid but there was no explosion. Carrier made his point but was shown out of the office immediately. After much back and forth negotiations later the safety chief finally gave the permit but with new safety precautions added.  

6. The person who invented Freon is also the person who invented leaded gasoline giving him the dubious reputation of inventing two of the things that had the most negative impact on the Atmosphere. This was Thomas Midgley Jr. To me his story sounds a tad bit sad. Here was a brilliant inventor who was creative and quite obviously was a genius. It was not his intention to destroy the atmosphere but who knew his inventions will turn out the way they did. His Wikipedia page makes for both inspiring and sad reading esp. the Legacy section.   

7. Story time: Early internal combustion engines commonly made loud sound which came to be called 'knocks'. Nobody knew what caused it and how to stop it. Then the problem was handed over to Thomas Midgley Jr to solve. He was just twenty something then. Working with his boss, he figured out that the fuel was not vaporizing quickly leading to knocks. They needed to figure out how could they get it to heat more quickly. They thought that maybe if they added the color red, which due to its wavelength, enabled absorption of more heat, to the fuel then the problem will be solved. This method sounds unscientific but they tried it anyway. They went to get some red dye only to see they were out of stock so they took the closest thing: a dark purple iodine. They added this iodine to the fuel and surprisingly the knock stopped. This was one of those one-in-a-million odds of history. 
8. The story of creation of CFC-12 is extremely interesting and again had one in a million odds of success. Its too long to recount here but is worth reading. In case you pick up this book go to page 140 and start from chapter 3. 

9. In another irony of life in a never ending list, Midgley contracted Polio in his 50s, the same disease which Midgely helped eliminate from United States by inventing Freon which would help keep the Vaccine cool and thus effective.  

10. It was F Sherwood Rowland and his student Mario Molina who first raised the alarm about the effect of CFCs on the atmosphere. Both of them along with Paul Crutzen won the 1995 Nobel for chemistry for explaining how the ozone layer is formed and decomposed through chemical processes in the atmosphere.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

10 things I learned from the book | Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world

Book Post : 26

Book Name : Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world

Author : Jack Weatherford

Genre : Non-Fiction/History

What is it about?: It is, as the name says, about Genghis Khan the founder of the Mongol Empire who lived from 1162 AD to 1227 AD. Mongol empire became the largest contiguous empire in history after his death. This book recounts the life story of the khan from his birth through his childhood and how he ultimately became the great khan. And it continues after his death to his descendants who became some of the most influential kings in their own right. And most importantly this book covers the contributions of the Mongols in the making of the modern world. They contributed a lot and the world would have been much different if their contributions are taken out. Read below to find out some of those. contributions. 

How I came to read it : 
I was reading another book on the crusades when there was a passing mention of the Mongols and the terror they created in the people then. This piqued my interest and I picked up this book from my local library branch.  
Did I like it? : Yes, this book is a good read. The author moves the narrative fluidly and quickly with interesting anecdotes thrown in now and then. There are no boring passages in this book. There is a lot of information about how the history of the Mongols was uncovered and the many sacrifices the scholars had to make to obtain the information and preserve the history. Genghis Khan was such an influential figure that hundreds of years later establishments were still fearful what free information about his life and times can do to people so the Soviets kept much of his info under wraps. The ending of the book is very poignant. 

For me this book was an eye opener. Fed by the memes and the false information floating around the internet I had very different views of the Mongols and Genghis Khan. This changed all of that. The Mongols were not what we view them today as savages and primitive people who knew only to fight. They were much more than that.  

Top 10 things I learned from this book:

1.  The first and foremost point that I would like to get out of the way before we move onto other points is that Genghis Khan was not a Muslim. With a lot of Islamophobic sentiment around the world these days Genghis Khan is viewed as another savage king in a long list of brutal Muslim kings(which again is a subject of an entirely different and complex discussion so Ill skip that for now). But the great khan was not Muslim. The word 'Khan' is a common Muslim surname in the subcontinent but it actually is derived from the historic title 'Khan' meaning a military chief or ruler. It originated in central Asia/Europe. Genghis Khan was shamanist. 

2. Genghis Khan is considered to be the one of the greatest generals the world has ever seen and he is considered to have perfected the art of siege warfare to such an extent that he ended the era of walled cities. 

3. In 20 years, the Mongol army conquered more lands than the Romans had done in 400 years. This tells us the Mongol military tactics and the later administration of the conquered lands was very effective. 

4. One of Genghis Khan's greatest achievement was the creation of a new world order. Before him there were pockets of civilizations in the world and they knew nothing of each other. For example, there were no connections between China and Europe. By the time of his death, Genghis connected them with diplomatic and commercial contacts which survive till day. 

5. Mongols are known to have created the first International Postal system. 

6. He granted religious freedom to all people under his realms. In this Mongols were doing much better than Europe where people were butchering each other over religious differences. 

7. Mongols are considered Civilization's ''unrivaled cultural carriers''. As the author states, Mongols ''made no technological breakthroughs, founded no new religions, wrote few books or dramas, and gave the world no new crops or methods of agriculture. Their own craftsmen could not weave cloth, cast metal, make pottery, painted no pictures, and built no buildings. Yet, as their army conquered culture after culture, they collected and passed all of these skills from one civilization to the next. The Mongols deliberately opened the world to a new commerce not only in goods, but also in ideas and knowledge.''

8. The Mongols sponsored the most extensive maps ever assembled. 

9. Europe was heavily influenced by Mongol rule. ''In nearly every country touched by the Mongols, the initial destruction and shock of conquest by an unknown and barbaric tribe yielded quickly to an unprecedented rise in cultural communication, expanded trade, and improved civilization. In Europe, the Mongols slaughtered the aristocratic knighthood of the continent, but, disappointed with the general poverty of the area compared with the Chinese and Muslim countries, turned away and did not bother to conquer the cities, loot the countries or incorporate them into the expanding empire. In the end, Europe suffered the least yet acquired all the advantages of contact through merchants such as the Polo family of Venice and envoys exchanged between the Mongol khans and the popes and kings of Europe. Seemingly every aspect of European life—technology, warfare, clothing, commerce, food, art, literature, and music—changed during the Renaissance as a result of the Mongol influence. In addition to new forms of fighting, new machines, and new foods, even the most mundane aspects of daily life changed as the Europeans switched to Mongol fabrics, wearing pants and jackets instead of tunics and robes.''

10. The word ''hurray'' is derived from the Mongols. It was a Mongol exclamation for bravado and mutual encouragement.  

There is much more to be written but Ill limit myself to these 10 fascinating points. Read the book for more! 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Top 5 books I read in 2021

 These are the best books I read in 2021. 

Links to my posts about them below:

1. A Brief History of Creation

2. Simply Electrifying 

3. The Battery

4. Cool: How Air Conditioning changed everything

Phenomena (1985) : Another of Dario Argento's classics.

I recently watched Dario Argento's 1985 Italian horror movie 'Phenomena'. After watching 'Suspiria' by the same director, which became one of my favorite horror movies ever, I am slowly checking off all of his movies. Dario has a unique style of horror. Something about it reminds me of gothic horror short stories. Phenomena is a story of a girl who realises she possesses a sixth sense of communicating with insects and uses this ability to track down a serial killer on the loose. If Suspiria created a sense of dread with exquisite, claustrophobic set pieces then Phenomena does the same with wide open spaces. Set in Switzerland, the stunning locations and pretty towns are shown in an eerie light. Especially the bit about the ever blowing wind. And as always the soundtrack by Goblin is perfect for the theme. The combination of Dario Argento and Goblin has to be one of the best in the industry. This was my third movie of Dario Argento and I am now a 'pakka' fan.

Mary Shelley : One of the women in history that I admire the most

Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, is one of the women in history that I admire the most. She is often credited with creating the genre of science fiction as we know it today. The story of how this masterpiece came about is legendary.

In 1815, Lord Byron, PB Shelley, Mary Shelley and John Polidori gathered together to spend some days in a hotel in Geneva, Switzerland. How these famous got together for a trip is altogether another story. To spend their time, Lord Byron suggested a competition to see who can come up with the best ghost story. This simple weekend challenge resulted in the renaissance of two separate genres, science fiction and horror. Mary Shelley came out with the groundbreaking Frankenstein and John Polidori with The Vampyre, which strongly influence Bram Stoker's Dracula. This whole story itself has a gothic quality to it and ranks up there with all my other favorite horror stories.

To be in the company of such great people and then trump them all with a book that has cemented its place in human history is no mean achievement esp. for a girl who was just 19 at that time. She was largely overshadowed in her lifetime by her more famous husband PB Shelley but over the years she has been recognized as a major figure in the romantic movement of that era.