Posted in audio book, book review, particle physics, science

Science Book Review-The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edge of A New World by Sean Carroll

Rating: 9.35 of 10

I have so much to say about this topic so I’ll keep it short. This audio book is almost eleven hours in duration and it took me two days to finish. I could have concluded it more quickly but I had to take a fair amount of notes, pause and rewind a few parts so I could decipher important material. This is a normal habit of mine; some books more than others.

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech: in this book he describes the formation and discovery of the standard model of particle physics in easy to understand terms, the formation and cost of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) and how this particle accelerator works. But the focus of the book is on the discovery of the higgs boson in 2012. Made possible by the collaboration of scientists from all over the world working at CERN (European Organization of Nuclear Research) in Geneva, Switzerland. This discovery was made by two independent teams: Atlas and CMS. The Higgs has a mass-energy of 125 GeV, no spin and exists in the lab for about a zeptosecond.


This is my personal favorite author on physics and I highly recommend this book. A superb intro into particle physics, this particular book was my first serious endeavor into elementary particles and I’ve been hooked ever since. I find his books easy to follow, easy to find, entertaining and scientifically stimulating. It’s quite fascinating that particles (including associated antimatter) have actually been observed and quantified in the lab with the exception of gravitons. I really enjoyed learning about the LHC and other particle accelerators in detail. These produce incredible amounts of data that need to be analyzed in detail and only a small fraction of this data is used.

The higgs boson is not your typical boson. The gauge bosons are the force carriers (photons, gluons, W and Z bosons). The Higgs is in a class all by itself (scalar boson). Think of the higgs as more of a field than a particle. This field is unique because it has uniform spatial density. All that means is the higgs has the same value everywhere in space. As opposed to gravity or electromagnetism where the force exerted obeys the inverse square law. Whether a million light years away or here on Earth the field is uniform. Named after Peter Higgs this elementary particle gives mass to subatomic particles via interactions with the higgs field. The higgs field has no effect on mass less particles (photons) and without said field all matter would travel at light speed. We wouldn’t even have the force of gravity.  Aren’t audio books magical.



peter Peter Higgs (Nobel Laureate 2013 in physics)

Some of what I learned:

  1. Mass is a form of energy. At high enough temperatures mass and energy are interchangeable. Matter is energy at rest.
  2. 95% of the universe is made of dark energy/matter.
  3. When an electron and positron (antimatter) annihilate they give off a pair of gamma rays, which is used in medical devices.
  4. The internet was invented by CERN.
  5. The LHC is powered by electromagnets that need to be kept at 1.9 degrees kelvin, which is colder than space!








Posted in audio book, Iraq War, Military, POW

I’m Still Standing: From Captive US Soldier to free Citizen- My Journey Home by Shoshana Johnson

This audio book was eight and a half hours in duration and took me a day. I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t help but take it to heart. I was in Iraq during the invasion in 2003 and ended up getting stationed in Mosul with the 101st Airborne Division. I had the same MOS ( military occupational specialty) as she did: food service specialist (92G). The author is the first and only black female in the history of the US to be taken prisoner of war. She was part of six soldiers to be taken prisoner, including Jessica Lynch. They were in the enemy hands for three weeks until being rescued by US Marines.


This book gives an intimate and personal account of the 507th Maintenance Company being ambushed in Nasiriya March 23, 2003 shortly after the invasion of Iraq began. Their convoy missed a turn, ended up getting lost and had to turn around in a bad part of town. They were attacked by Fedayeen paramilitary forces and Iraqi military in civilian clothes using RPG’s, mortars and small arms. They fought for as long as they could but ended up surrendering to their attackers due to weapons malfunctions among other issues.

The 507th was a maintenance company that works on Patriot missile systems at Ft. Bliss (note: they were disbanded). The 507th lost eleven soldiers in the attack. My mobilization site was also Ft. Bliss and I remember going through CIF ( central issue facility ) at the end of my deployment and seeing their pictures on the wall in memorial. I will never forget seeing that. I was with the 137th Quartermaster Company and we lost one soldier on our deployment to hostile fire. That was a big deal; I can’t imagine losing eleven.

Some of what I learned:

  1. There are no safe jobs in the military.
  2. Her captures did not search her. She had sensitive documents in her pocket that she flushed down a toilet at first opportunity.
  3. Lori Piestewa was the first female native-american born US citizen to die in combat and her nick name was “pie”. Note: everyone in the military has (or is given) a nick name by their buddies.
  4. March 23, 2003 was the deadliest day of the war for US forces due to this attack and a friendly fire incident involving aircraft and US Marines.

pics: thank you and

Posted in Uncategorized

Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry by Christie Wilcox

This audio book was six hours in duration and took me half a day.  This is a shorter  audio book than most. My average audio book is nine or ten hours in length. It’s nice getting through audio books in less than a day and starting a new one. I feel like I learned a great deal in less than day. Audio books are such a powerful medium!

It was well-organized, detailed and easy to understand. It is the authors’ first published nonfiction book. She is a research scientist with a PhD in Molecular biology and lives in Hawaii. She is also a popular blogger for Discover Magazine.  She’s done some pretty fascinating research. She knows her science and it shows.

Venom is a modified saliva. She goes into exquisite detail about the personal lives of terrestrial and aquatic venomous animals from all over the world plus the mechanism of action behind their specified venom for their prey species. She tells the story of numerous compounds found in venom that have been turned into FDA approved drugs. I wonder how many other compounds there are in venom that can help people.

Another great part about this book was the section on SI (Self-Immunization). Venomous snake keepers inject themselves with venom in order to protect themselves. If a hot herper happens to get bit than their adaptive immune system will remember how to fight off the venom. There is actually an SI blog. I enjoyed reading this blog and watching the videos. I even started following the blog myself. Obviously I do not recommend this.

I enjoyed the ending. I like how she pushes for conservation of wildlife habitats. I happen to agree. She is intelligent but passionate and dedicated. My favorite parts were on the cone snail (conotoxin), blue ring octopus (tetrodotoxin) and the assassin caterpillar (hematoxic).

Some of what I learned:

  1. The first scientist to manufacturer anti-venom serum (anti-venin) was Dr. Albert Calmette of the Pastuer Institute in 1896 using horses to create antibodies which were purified and used to treat cobra envenomation victims in Asia.
  2. Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium practiced self immunization with snake venom and lived to be 101 years old.
  3. The bullet ant has the most painful bite in the world. Not the first time I’ve heard that.
  4. Mongooses are resistant to cobra venom because there is an amino acid replacement in the binding site of their nicotinic cholinergic receptor. This replacement is a positively charged amino acid where there is normally an uncharged one. This prevents the alpha neuro-toxin from binding and causing paralysis.

pic: courtesy

Posted in audio book, Bin laden raid, Military, Seal team

The Operator: Firing the Shots That Killed Osama Bin Laden and My Years as A Seal Team Warrior

I like it when audio books are read by the author. This is one of those. Maybe one in eight are read by the author and he did a stellar job. This book was captivating and totally sucked me in. The author seems like a pretty funny guy. I wouldn’t mind buying him a beer.

This book was nine hours in length and took me a day.  It was an especially good book. He talks about: growing up in Montana,  his decisions to join the military, Navy Seal training, something like four-hundred combat missions, his burning desire to avenge the WTC victims, killing the worlds most wanted terrorist and his reasons for not re-enlisting. He explains the formation of the Seal Teams and he even raised my low opinion of Richard Marcinko. One kinda sad thing about the book: the author was good friends with Neil Roberts. That was hard to hear.

He’s a talented writer: he is engaging, entertaining and hilarious. You know it’s a good audio book when you laugh out loud to yourself. I enjoyed the ending: He meets with some of the 9/11 families. Enough said.

I have read a fair number of books on the Bin Laden raid and it never gets old. This is one of the more intimate books on the subject. I’ve noticed that the higher ranking someone is in al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Third Reich (for that matter) the more of a coward they are. Bin Laden didn’t have the brains to surrender nor the courage to go down fighting.

note: some parts are redacted by the DoD. Actually the only part that is redacted is the beep in Seal Team beep.

Some of what I learned:

  1. Cairo (the Belgian Malinois used in the Bin Laden raid) had previously been shot twice by some asshole hiding in a tree with an AK-47.
  2. No matter how many times I read about hell week during BUDs training, it always seems like hell.
  3. All stress is self-induced.
  4. Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward C. Byers Jr. was the first Seal Team beep operator to win the Medal of Honor.


pic: thank you

Posted in Uncategorized

The Age of Voltaire (The Story of Civilization vol 9) by Will and Ariel Durant

Originally published in 1935 by a husband and wife writing team. This is one of eleven other books in the Story of Civilization series; which covers western history. There are definitely a few other books in the set I’m going to have to read now.

It was actually pretty good. It’s kinda hard to follow at times due to it being so comprehensive and detailed. One thing I’ve come to learn is some of the most important scientific discoveries and inventions took place during the age of Voltaire.

It was about forty-five hours in length (probably the longest book I’ve ever listened to). It took me five days to finish. I am pretty picky about books that are even thirty hours in duration. It has to be a very interesting topic to put that many hours in. You have to be dedicated. If you start a book you have to finish it, right?

A few things I learned:

  1. The word oxygen means “acid generator” in Greek. At the time it was mistakenly thought that all acids included oxygen in their composition. It was named by Antoine Lavoisier. Note: he was guillotined at the height of the French Revolution.
  2. Other notable enlightenment thinkers worth looking into: Frances Bacon, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Carl Linnaeus, Emmanuel Kant and Rene Descartes.
  3. Like most enlightenment thinkers Voltaire was a deist . He had a low opinion of the Abrahamic religions. Tolerance was his philosophy and is quoted as saying “are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God.”
  4. The attitude of the enlightenment was “Sapere aude.” Which is Latin for “dare to know.” Sound familiar?
  5. Some prominent inventions of the era: piano (Bartolomeo Cristofori), marine chronometer (John Harrison), steam engine (James Watt), flush toilet (Alexander Cumming), bi-focal glasses (Ben Franklin), vaccination (Edward Jenner) and the first battery (Alessandro Volta).
  6. John Locke is often credited with proposing the separation of church and state. This  thought was influential on Thomas Jefferson and the bill of rights.

pic: thank you

Posted in Uncategorized

Our Vulnerable System

I think Hurricane Harvey should serve to remind us of how vulnerable our economy and supply chain can be. We have to accept the fact that disasters (hurricanes, pandemics, tornadoes, asteroids) are out of our control. We’re at the mercy of nature and we just live in between the big geologic events, such as the eruption of Krakatoa. We were hunter/gatherers at one time. All cycles end up in their original state.  Were just another species to temporarily set up shop.

As far as the earth is concerned change is completely normal. Our planet has gone through so many changes in the last four billion years and it will continue to do so. Nothing in the universe is stationary; nothing is permanent. There are two billion stars in the Milky Way and they all have an effect on each other due to the inverse square law of gravity.

With the rising population of earth, life and sustainability seem to become more unpredictable every year. The lines for gas I saw a couple of days ago were scary. It was even worse today. Traffic was at disastrous levels this weekend; at least anywhere near a gas station that happens to still have gas. If a disaster in one region can impact our logistical support system statewide and cause serious fluctuations in prices throughout the country then it just goes to show how little room for error we truly have. The last time I saw gas lines of this magnitude were in Mosul, Iraq circa 2003 after we invaded and the country’s infrastructure collapsed.

Lets face it with all the other issues in the world right now it’s important to be ready for anything and take care of each other.


see article: panic at the pump

photo: San Antonio Express

Posted in Uncategorized

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

A Brief History of Human Kind

This is one of the best books I have ever read. It was fifteen hours and took two days. The author has a PhD in history. Starts with the big bang and ends in the present day. It makes mankind look good but also very bad. The author brings up a lot of  issues with our system and institutions. But also has viable solutions. It is highly recommended. I think if everyone were to read this book the world would be a better place.

What I learned:

  1. Homo erectus lived for two million years before Homo sapiens killed them all
  2. the cognitive revolution gave rise to language, story telling and religion
  3. LLC’s exist only in our imagination
  4. the greatest emperor of all time is money
  5. code of Hammurabi
  6. the ratio of farm animals to wild animals is at an all time low
  7. not to do business with Spanish kings
Posted in audio book, history

Big history

My current book is forty-five plus hours so it will take me at least three or four days total. Technically this would be my longest book ever. The Outline of History by HG Wells was forty-four hours followed by The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer at forty-one hours.

So we can talk about a book I finished recently. Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present by Cynthia Stokes Brown. This was eleven hours and took less than two days. I was surprised at how detailed this book was, especially regarding the big bang. It’s a great read.

What I learned:

  1. Matter and energy are interchangeable but only at temperatures approaching a trillion degrees. (E=mc²). So matter is energy at rest when not at those ungodly temperatures.
  2. The inverse square law gives rise to the elliptical movement of the planets. This was calculated by Sir Issac Newton and published in his paper Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in 1687.
  3. The Club of Rome commissioned an article entitled The Limits of Growth in 1972. This was a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth.
Posted in Uncategorized

Periodic tales

Just finished Periodic Tales by Hugh Aldersey Williams. If you like chemistry you will love this book. He gives you background and discovery on most of the elements. A lot of good info on elements atomic number 92 and up especially. Its well done and intriguing.

What did I learn:

1. Smoke alarms use Americium (which is a byproduct of nuclear reactors, 95 protons) to give off alpha particles. These radioactive particles are used to complete an electric circuit. When smoke passes through it breaks the circuit and the alarm is set off. Furthermore smoke alarms are the only consumer product dependent on a man-made element.

2. Uranium (92 protons) is named after the planet Uranus. When they discovered the elements with 93 and 94 protons they kept the planet nomenclature going. Neptunium (93 protons) is named for Neptune while Plutonium (94 protons) was named for Pluto.

3. Marie Curie (see pic) is the first female and part of the first married couple to win a Nobel prize (1903). She was the first woman to earn a PhD from a French university. She is the first person to win two Nobel prizes (physics and chemistry). She helped discover radium and polonium. Her daughter also was a physicist and is a Nobel laureate. Note: they both died of blood diseases related to their work.