Posted in audio book, book review, history, math

Book Review-History

Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematicians

by Ian Stewart

Audiobooklife rating: 🤠🤠🤠🤠

This audio book was almost twelve hours in duration. Took me less than two days. The progression of math has been well studied and documented throughout history. It’s unbelievable we are able to follow it in such detail. Put me in a good mood. Quarantine has given me time to reflect and bulldoze digital audio books. What are you reading or listening to while being quarantined? Reading is therapeutic and helps make the state of affairs less painful and the sky more blue. 😀

Anyways the author is an acclaimed mathematician, a science fiction writer and Emeritus professor at Warwick in England. Math can be an intimidating and exigent subject. He makes the subject matter understandable and oh so enjoyable! It spans two-thousand years and touches on twenty five mathematicians through short biography. It’s a wonderful compendium of great minds that have discovered and created systems of math used today. None of which are alive. Shout out📢 to all living amateur and professional mathematicians! From the great geometer to the creation of algebra to the advent of super computers this book has it. There was even a chapter on Benoit Mandelbrot and fractal geometry. I love fractals! Nature is full of fractals. They are never ending patterns and you are free to get lost in them. ∛

I have a profound reverence for math myself. Everything in the universe obeys geometric rules and ratios. Through logic and deduction you can reduce all phenomenon in nature to mathematical axioms and laws. Also being a science major I had to reach at least the level of calculus. Why? Calculus was required for genetics. Genetics was required for cell biology. Cell biology was required for biochemistry. You get the idea. I spent many semesters in math class and we are well acquainted. ∞

My favorite mathematician would have to be Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. He is the father of algebra and the word algorithm derives from his manuscripts (see The Sieve of Eratosthenes). His work helped society get wages and inheritances properly and was one of the most famous scholars in The House of Wisdom. So much science and math were discovered in the ancient middle east. Pretty incredible! I guess that is one defining characteristic of people. The quest for knowledge, insight, understanding and awareness. Of course, Issac Newton (co-inventor of calculus) will always hold a special place in my heart. ∫

A little side joke. How would you define a significant figure? Google defines it as: each of the digits of a number that are used to express it to the required degree of accuracy, starting from the first nonzero digit. In a nutshell “Sig figs” are used in science and medicine to estimate how many decimal places are needed. 😆

Number is the ruler of all forms!

Michael 👊


Posted in audio book, book review, history, insurgency, Iraq War, Military

History Book Review-Knife Fights: A Memoir of Modern War in Theory and Practice by Lt. Col. John A Nagl

Rating: 9.1 of 10

This wonderful audio book is just shy of eight hours. It took me a day then I listened to it again, believe it or not. It is available through RB Digital. I really enjoyed this book because it covers one of my favorite topics: counterinsurgency. It was a great autobiography of the author and an intimate view inside two of the more recent American wars, both taking place in Iraq: Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. All in all he is one of my favorite authors.

John Nagl is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the US Army, is a graduate of West Point, earned a PhD from Oxford in Counterinsurgency (his thesis was turned into a book), the former president of CNAS (Center for New American Security) and is currently headmaster of the Haverford School in Pennsylvania. He is an excellent writer and has the ability to convey the harsh lessons of insurgency warfare (such as the Vietnam war). He makes the material enjoyable, intriguing and kind of makes you wonder what our top military brass was thinking at times when it came to their approach to military conflict.


LTC John Nagl and Gen David Petraeus

Being an Army tank commander in Desert Storm and an operations officer with the 1st Infantry Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) he offers an intimate view of two technologically different combat zones. I liked the story from Desert Storm when he was awoke by a rocket barrage and said he thought rockets were going off on his chest.

His experience while stationed near Khalidiyah in OIF demonstrated to him that the days of conventional warfare are virtually over or at least not the case in this conflict. Insurgency warfare is the future of combat, we need to address it and take a new approach to how we conduct our war maneuvers in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. So he was tasked co-authoring the book on counterinsurgency warfare while in the midst of these conflicts. This became FM 3-24: the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manuel, 2006.

I can attest to how poorly OIF was planned and executed. My Quarter Master Company was deployed to Iraq and after a couple months shuffling around country were stationed in Mosul. It felt like there was no plan after the three week long war was over. We were so amped up that we had just won a war in less than a month but nobody knew what the next step was so we just kinda hung out.

The situation was made worse due to the fact that the Iraqi Army, police and most civil servants were fired (termed de-Baathification) by Paul Bremer May 23rd, 2003 bringing chaos to the country over night. This event was the birth of the bloody insurgency that followed when disgruntled Iraqis began attacking coalition forces.


Some of what I learned:

  1. Desert storm was the first war of the big five: the Patriot missile system, the M270 MLRS (multiple launch rocket system), the M1 Abrams tank, the AH-64A Apache attack helicopter and the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle.
  2. Wars rarely turn out as envisioned by the ones who start them.
  3. The guerrilla wins by not losing.
  4. The word guerrilla is derived from the Spanish word Guerra for “war”.
  5. In 2003 the population of Baghdad alone was over six million. No wonder the military had issues establishing law and order.


Posted in High powered rifle, Mass Shooting, Opinion, Solution

A Viable Solution to Mass Shootings

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time and I need to get it off my chest. As far as I am concerned there is nothing more selfish than intentionally taking someones life away from them.  There is nothing more cowardly than shooting a bunch of unarmed and defenseless people. If you truly have a death wish slash your wrists, put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, take on the police or travel abroad and take on ISIS. Engage someone who has half chance of fighting back. It’s a different world when there are rounds flying back at you.

My solution to this ever-increasing problem is to have the president (even if it is Trump) announce “if you go on a mass shooting you will forever be known as a fucking asshole dick less pussy that couldn’t get laid”. Cause that’s all you are in my book. Who wants to be forever known as a fucking asshole dick less pussy that couldn’t get laid? I sure wouldn’t. If the next mass shooter is aware that they will go down in history as such just maybe they will think twice.

This can’t keep happening but it will. More and more safe havens are becoming a target: movie theaters, music concerts, dance clubs, high schools, softball games, elementary schools, college campuses, etc. It is a fact that no country in the world can guarantee your safety. That is a fact we have to accept however freedom of speech is guaranteed in the United States. Our freedoms are what make this country great. Mankind is inherently a violent and unpredictable species. The United States has always been and will continue to be a violent and racist country.


The First Continental Army was formed during the American Revolution by the Second Continental Congress and commanded by General George Washington. There was no US Army after the American Revolution. Everyone just went home to their farm or factory; many without pay. The second amendment was put in place by the founding fathers to protect their nascent country from outside threats. A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state is just that: only when a there’s a threat do we need a heavily armed militia. I don’t think the second amendment necessarily guarantees the right of anyone not convicted of a felony to buy a high-powered semi automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines. In some ways mankind has proven itself not responsible enough for military grade rifle ownership.

Gun violence is a leading cause of death in the US (albeit half are suicides) and the vast majority of gun related deaths are from handguns. High powered rifles account for very few deaths overall. Restricting the sale of guns is not a realistic approach, but common sense gun laws are an appropriate response. I believe in self-preservation and home defense. If buying a high-powered semi automatic rifle you need to prove yourself responsible and worthy prior. This can be accomplished through service in the armed forces, working as a law enforcement officer or passing a comprehensive firearms class as a civilian. The few gun shows I have been to in recent years I’ve seen some tricked out rifles that I do not think just anyone should be allowed to buy. That makes no sense and I own guns as well.

In my opinion we will never completely get rid of this sad chicken shit occurrence but we do have the power to reduce the number of gun deaths in this country. I think a reduction in gun related death is best case scenario and worth the uphill fight.


Posted in audio book, Bin Laden, book review, history, terrorism

History Book Review-The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and War Against al-Qaeda by Ali H. Soufan

Rating: 8.86 of 10

This audio book is about twenty hours in duration. It took me two and a half days to finish. By far one of my favorite books on the subject of terrorism investigations and the attacks on the World Trade Center. This book is replete with info on the build-up to the attacks of that fateful Tuesday morning and the origin of al-Qaeda. It’s edge of your seat entertaining, well written and overtly insightful.

Ali H. Soufan is a Lebanese born former FBI special agent that is fluent in Arabic. He was the lead investigator into the 2000 USS Cole attack. He is mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (refereed to as Al S). He successfully interviewed some very high value targets (HVT’s) such as Abu Zubaydah and Abu Jindal. He discusses their interrogation and confessions in great detail. These interrogations lead to the identification and arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed (KSM), the mastermind of 9/11. He retired from the FBI in 2005 and is CEO of The Soufan Group. 

skm.jpgKSM on the night of his arrest. Doesn’t look very happy!

He makes it clear he was opposed to the EIT’s (enhanced interrogation techniques a.k.a. sleep deprivation and waterboarding) of detainees that the CIA insisted would break even hard-core fanatics. He is more than critical of the CIA and their mishandling of valuable information regarding the growing and serious threat of Bin Laden. He insists if there was more cooperation between governmental agencies at a minimum two of the nineteen hijackers would not have been allowed into the US and the attacks could have been prevented all together. (I have heard this from a few different sources). We cannot blame anyone for the attacks on the WTC other than bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

I loved his cogent and pragmatic interrogation style especially being a fellow Muslim; he gets right into their head with offerings of tea and politics. He seemingly makes them feel a bit of guilt for their crimes against innocents and fellow Muslims.

Some of what I learned:

  1. Talib (of Taliban) is Arabic for “student” or “one who seeks knowledge”.
  2. The US government uses the Barney song (purple dinosaur) on a loop to deprive detainees of sleep.
  3.  Ali H. Soufan worked with special agent John P. O’Neill. Look him up.
  4. Before 9/11 the FBI had all of eight agents that were fluent in Arabic.
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