Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind

I saw a book recommendation list by Bill Gates the other day in my internet travels. I glanced at his suggestions and the only one that sounded interesting was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. So like any good reader I ordered it and I’m now deeply engrossed in it. The topic alone will no doubt turn you away if you are at all religious and that would be a shame. This book posses some very interesting questions about the origin of our species. It is a topic I’ve read extensively throughout my life and I still found new and interesting angles in Harari’s book. If you’re interested in why we are the way we are and how we got to be the dominate species of this planet, this book is a great read.

I’d love to tell you about some of the revelations I learned in the first section of this book, but I’d probably offend you in doing so. But as a writer, I take comfort in knowing that Homo Sapiens are known for being the story telling animal.

An Airplane Story

The other day I was at Target, picking up my copy of True Grit with a friend from work. We came upon a WW2 documentary about fighter planes. There was a Japanese plane on the cover with a six bladed propeller. I told my friend that it was odd that a documentary would feature a fake plane on the front. I knew my WW2 planes pretty good, and I was sure there was no Japanese fighter that looked like that.

The next day the incident got my curiosity and so I googled for information on it. Turns out I was only partially correct. There was a six bladed propeller driven Japanese fighter in WWII. But it never flew. It was designed by Tatsuo Hasegawa for the Tachikawa aircraft company. The Ki-94-II was originally intended to be a B-29 bomber intercepter with two, engines in a push pull configuration. But the design was deemed too complicated. So Tatsuo designed a more conventional version and it retained the same model number. This one was approved and construction began in 1944. There was to be a six bladed propeller version, but the first one built had a four blade prop.

The Ki-94-II was supposed to fly the day the war ended with Japan. It never took off that day and was later confiscated by allied forces and sent to the states where is was examined and destroyed. Hasegawa went to work for Toyota after the war and helped to design one of the most successful cars ever made – the Toyota Corolla.

One last footnote about Tatsuo Hasegawa. He designed a new type of airfoil for airplane wings which he used on the Ki-94-II. He patented the design and years later, NASA reinvented the airfoil and found that someone had already patented it back in 1942!

And that, as the man used to say, is the Rest of the Story.


Skunk Works

“Skunk Works” by Ben R. Rich & Leo Janos

During the night before the Air War began in 1991, crew members found dead bats lying around the Steath Fighter’s in their  hangers.  The bats could not “see” the planes and were crashing into them and killing themselves.   This gave the pilots some confidence in the technology they were taking into combat.  No Stealth Fighter was ever hit in the Gulf War.

This is a very entertaining look at what went on at the Skunk Works in the 1950’s through the Gulf War period.  If you like aviation history, you’ll love the stories told by the man in charge.

Unlocking The Sky

“Unlocking The Sky” by Seth Shulman

If you think the Wright Brothers were American heros, you’ll hate this book.  If you think Microsoft is an unjust monopoly, you’ll like this book.  I like this book.  Glenn Hammond Curtis was the true American hero of early aviation and his accomplishments dwarf the Wrights and every other early pioneer.  In fact its unlikely that any single person could match his achievements in aviation.  With the possible exception of Kelly Johnson.

The Demon-Haunted World

“The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan

Anyone who knows me very well, knows that I’m a big fan of Carl Sagan. I’ve read all his non-fiction books, most of them while I was still in high school. If you never read any other book by Sagan, this one should be it. There is a disturbing trend these days to slight science and science education. Fundamentalism is again raising it’s ugly head in the world and we could very easily loose everything and plunge the world back into darkness. This book explains why ID is insane, even if it was written long before Creationists thought of the title.

Life as We Do Not Know It

“Life as We Do Not Know It” by Peter Ward.
Ward’s writing sytle is approachable if not a tad bit too self absorbed. He has some valid ideas on classifying non-Earth related life, should it ever be found or created in the lab. I’d like to come back and read his other more well known work “Rare Earth” in which he takes the unpopular view that life may in deed be rare in the cosmos. I’m sticking with the Biology thread and delving into “The Beak of the Finch” next.