Sunday, August 14, 2016

Back to work tomorrow

As was the case last week, I did a lot of resting and reading this past week. This time, I finished (and will write a review of) Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. I've always felt my knowledge of evolution was pretty robust, and generally I found a lot of the book was a review for me, but there were several gems and interesting facts I didn't know before. Overall, it's a very accessible (and very well researched) book for anyone who has gaps to fill in their understanding (at a laymen level) of evolution. I will also post the review for this book on my other website sometime soon, as I feel that there's hardly any discussion of many issues that I think are important, or that merely seem interesting to me, in Spanish. As soon as that review is done, I'm probably going to be unable to read much for pleasure for some time, but I want to get to Coyne's other book, Faith Versus Fact, which I have on my shelf as well.

I also downloaded and installed the free, open-source software Inkscape. The idea behind this is I want to produce physics posts that include good-looking graphics, plus I want to avoid stealing images from other people: I'd sleep better making my own. From what I see at the gallery at the Inkspace website, the tool may be overkill for drawing pulleys and incline planes, but I want to try it out anyway. Another option that I have on the table is learning how to use the tikz and pgfplots pakages in LaTeX, which I'm familiar with. I feel that software like Inkscape could achieve many of the same results with a friendlier learning curve, though of course it would be suicide to use it for plotting mathematical functions. (I used good ol' Paint for some graphics in earlier posts, and was not too happy with the result. What I want is something that's easily usable like Paint, but with prettier results.)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A week of reading and rest

I'm finally working up the will to actually use my break from University to do some academic work, after a full week of rest and reading. If there's something I miss from the time I wasn't a PhD student, it's the time I had for literature of all kinds. Last Spring break I used the time to catch up on reading as well, and found it rewarding. So far, I've completed Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel, and I'm looking at my bookshelves already to pick my next book.

Storm is a fascinating document, basically a polished diary of one German soldier's experience in World War I. I've encountered another version of this kind of literature before in All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque. I read that more than a year ago, and might re-read it soon, but I remember that that book is a much more "novelized" account of many of the same events. Unlike Remarque, Jünger passes no judgement of the causes of the war, nor does he mention any of the politics of the era at all. He simply tells what things happened to him, without much in the way of what he thought about them.

Both books left me amazed at the sheer amount of shelling that the war unleashed; it seems hardly a page goes by without "we came under heavy artillery fire". After a couple hundred pages of being under artillery fire (representing more than four years for Jünger) you wonder how it could be that anyone could survive the conflict and not be traumatized: just search YouTube for "world war 1 shell shock" and brace yourself.

I want to write a proper review of Storm of Steel, but I'm doing it in Spanish at my other site. For now, it is enough to state that it is a must-read for anyone interested in WWI, 20th Century history, or the combat experience in general. Accounts by historians are always useful, and I've read some myself, but Storm is a very polished primary source.

UPDATE 08/09/2016: the review is here (en español).