This is a fascinating book. The story of "love, life, and death" of Alexey Feodosievich Wangenheim (1881–1937) a Russian meteorologist who in 1929 became the director of Soviet Union's Hydro-Meteorological Service. Amongst other contributions, Wangenheim, together with his subordinate Sergei Petrovich Khromov, had helped introduce into the meteorological community from the Soviet Union the "Norwegian theory" (i.e., the Norwegian cyclone model) developed within the Bergen School of Meteorology. One of the early contributors to the Norwegian theory was the Swedish meteorologist Tor Bergeron (1891–1977) who has been invited to lecture Moscow in 1930 and 1932. Bergeron's lectures had a considerable impact on the progress of meteorology in the Soviet Union. Inspired by these lectures, Wangenheim translated some of Bergeron's papers and Khromov published a paper in a scientific journal (lead by Wangenheim) entitled "New ideas in meteorology and their philosophical implications". Khromov will also publish in 1934 the first textbook in Russian on the Norwegian cyclone model, largely based on Bergeron's lectures. Khromov's paper raised the attention of other members of the Hydro-Meteorological Service of the Soviet Union who pointed out that Lenin's works are not mentioned in the article. To aggravate the matter even further, Stalin's works were not, as recommended, cited by Khromov in his paper. As a consequence, Wangenheim ended up being accused of promoting a theory that was "the heap of rubbish deliberately spread by enemy hands" and also of organising and leading counterrevolutionary sabotage work in the Hydro-Meteorological Service. Interestingly, in the accusation (i.e., promoting the Norwegian cyclone model one of the cornerstones of weather forecasting) the sabotage appeared as aimed at depriving the Soviet Union agriculture of the means to forecast the weather in general and droughts, in particular. 

In 1934, after being hailed previously by Stalin as a national hero (for example, Wangenheim organised in 1932 the first conference on the influence on climate on humans, perhaps the first such conference in the world), Wangenheim was arrested and deported to a Soviet prison camp. He will spend the next three years on the Solovetsky Islands, the site of the first Gulag. In the Solovetsky Islands, Wangenheim worked in the library of the prison and even lectured on meteorological subjects, like "the conquest of the stratosphere." From Solovetsky, Wangenheim wrote letters to his daughter Eleonora (1930–2012). These letters containing puzzles, or detailed descriptions and drawings of the flora and fauna of the Solovetsky Islands, were intended to play a role in the education of Eleonora (who would later become a paleontologist). In 1937 the events took a sinister turn. Wangenheim was executed together with other prisoners in November 1937 and then buried in a mass grave. 

 Drawing from a letter of Alexey Wangenheim to his daughter Eleonora. [via  Wikipedia Commons ]

Drawing from a letter of Alexey Wangenheim to his daughter Eleonora. [via Wikipedia Commons]

To me, the book was a page-turner, part history, part reportage, part biography. I highly recommend this book about "a man, neither a scientific genius nor a great poet, who was interested in clouds and did drawings for his daughter, caught up in a history that was an orgy of blood [i.e., the Great Terror (1937–1938)]."

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AuthorBogdan Antonescu
CategoriesBook Review

Am publicat recent împreună cu Felicia Cărbunaru (Administrația Națională de Meteorologie) în "Weather, Climate, and Society" (una dintre revistele editate de Societatea Americană de Meteorologie) un studiu în care analizăm pentru prima dată decesele cauzate de trăsnete în România. Pentru acest studiu am folosit un set de date, furnizat de Institutul Național de Statistică, ce conține informații despre 724 decese provocate de trăsnete în România între 1999 și 2015 (i.e., 42.6 decese pe an).  

Numărul anual al deceselor cauzate de trăsnete a scazut de la 65 decese pe an între 1999 și 2003 la 23 decese între 2011 și 2015 (Figura 1a). O posibilă explicație pentru acestă scădere a numărului deceselor în ultimi ani este legată de dezvoltarea serviciilor de urgență (e.g., Serviciul Mobil de Urgență, Reanimare și Descarcerare - SMURD oficial operațional din 1996, Inspectoratul General pentru Situații de Urgență - IGSU înființat în 2004) care au împiedicat ca unele dintre accidentele produse de trăsnete să ducă la decese.

 Figura 1. a) Numărul de decese asociate trăsnetelor din România între 1999-2015. În dreptul fiecărei coloane este indicată rata de mortalitate (i.e., decese per milion de locuitori pe an). b) Distribuția lunară a numărului de decese la trăsnete. (Figură reprodusă din  Antonescu and Carbunaru 2018 .) ©American Meteorological Society. 

Figura 1. a) Numărul de decese asociate trăsnetelor din România între 1999-2015. În dreptul fiecărei coloane este indicată rata de mortalitate (i.e., decese per milion de locuitori pe an). b) Distribuția lunară a numărului de decese la trăsnete. (Figură reprodusă din Antonescu and Carbunaru 2018.) ©American Meteorological Society. 

Majoritatea deceselor asociate trăsnetelor au avut loc în Mai-August (42% din totalul deceselor) cu un maxim în Iunie (31% ) și Iulie (28%) (Figura 1b). Cea mai mare rată a mortalității (>2,6 decese per milion de locuitori pe an) sa înregistrează în regiunea de sud-vest a României, o regiune caracterizată de valori mari ale densității trasnetelor (>2 trasnete pe kilometru pătrat pe an, Figura 2) și în care >40% din populație trăiește în zone rurale. Majoritatea deceselor (78%) au fost raportate în zonele rurale. Aproximativ 78% dintre victime au fost bărbați. Cel mai vulnerabil grup a fost cel al bărbaților cu vîrste cuprinse între 10-39 de ani care trăiesc în zonele rurale. 

 Figura 2. Densitatea medie anuală a trăsnetelor în România între 2003 și 2007. (Figură reprodusă din  Antonescu and Burcea 2010 .) ©American Meteorological Society. 

Figura 2. Densitatea medie anuală a trăsnetelor în România între 2003 și 2007. (Figură reprodusă din Antonescu and Burcea 2010.) ©American Meteorological Society. 

În concluzie, acest studiu arată că România are una dintre cele mai mari (daca nu chiar cea mai mare) rate a moratalității la trăsnete din Europa. Chiar dacă acestă rată a scăzut în ultimi ani, credem că numărul deceselor la trăsnete poate fi în continuare redus, de exemplu, prin campanii de informare privind riscurile asociate trăsnetelor și prin dezvoltarea unor resurse pentru protecția la trăsnete (de exemplu, www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov).

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AuthorBogdan Antonescu

This is a very interesting and atypical book in which the biography of the Italian Renaissance polymath Jerome Cardano (1501–1576) is mixed with discussions about quantum mechanics. Michael Brooks, the author of the book, is calling his approach "magical realist non-fiction". I really liked the magic realism aspect of the book, but I am not going give any details because I do not want to spoil the book. As for the non-fiction aspect, there are two main threads. The first one (and the main reason for which I decided to read this book) is about the life and works of Jerome Cardano. Cardano had an extraordinary life, he was a mathematician, physician, astronomer, inventor, writer, and philosopher, but also an astrologer, and gambler.  I remember learning at school about Cardano's contributions to mathematics, in particular to algebra, and I knew about the Cardan shaft (a mechanical component for transmitting torque and rotation), but I had no idea about his contributions to the probability theory (see Liber de Ludo Aleae/Book on Games of Chance, written around 1564 and published 1663) and imaginary numbers. Probability theory and the imaginary numbers are the connexions to the second thread of the book as they are the "twin pillars of quantum theory". The second thread of the book not only contains a description of the foundations of quantum mechanics but also descriptions of some of the main interpretation of quantum mechanics (e.g., the Copenhagen interpretation, the many worlds interpretation).

Decision: recommended.

[follow Jerome Cardon on Twitter at @JeromeCardano and Michael Brooks at @DrMichaelBrooks]

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The Quantum Astrologer's Handbook: a history of the Renaissance mathematics that birthed imaginary numbers, probability, and the new physics of the universe Hardcover by Michael Brooks [Amazon, and Audible].

Posted
AuthorBogdan Antonescu
CategoriesBook Review

The Productive Researcher* by Mark S. Reed (Newcastle University, Fast Track Impact) is a book that aims not only to make researchers more productive, but also to "enable [them] to be happy working less, and being more." (p. 168). The book is based on the author's personal (and sometimes very personal) experiences, interviews with some of the most productive researchers in the world, and literature on psychology, organizational management, ecology, and international development. The first part of the book contains a series of principles (e. g., on motivation, retelling your story, prioritizing, find goals that inspire you) which are relevant both to early career researchers and to more experienced researchers.  The second part of the book contains practical ideas (mainly for more experienced researchers) about how to become significantly more productive (e.g., work planning, say "yes" to say "no", writing, do less to do more, how to spend less time on emails, meetings, and online). 

The book was inspiring (even if in few places I slightly disagreed with the author) and I will try to implement some of his ideas and strategies in my research activities and develop goals that are Stretching, Motivational,  Authentic, Relational, and Tailored (i. e., the new SMART proposed by the author). Furthermore, the book is beautifully done, I really like the cover and the design. 

Decision: Recommended. 

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*) See also this video Work less to achieve more - lessons from the world's most productive researchers.

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Posted
AuthorBogdan Antonescu
CategoriesBook Review

In the introduction to my coffee table book on tornadoes and waterspouts in Europe, I wrote that there are still more historical depictions of these meteorological phenomena in libraries and archives across Europe waiting to be re-discovered. A tweet posted recently by Warrington Museum showed that I was right. The tweet was companied by a beautiful depiction of the "singular phenomena" that occurred on 16 June 1798 in the neighbourhood of Warrington. Almost immediately I contacted Warrington Archives and Local History and they were very helpful in providing more details about the event, details published in an article in The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle in August 1799. A transcript of the article is shown below.

[...] A dark thick cloud of a considerable extent and forming almost a direct line parallel to the horizon lowered over part of the adjoining country, chiefly Cheshire, when towards the centre a water spout of immense magnitude appeared lengthening by degrees until it assumed a formidable appearance in the shape of a sugar loaf reversed and extending from base to point to the eye of the spectator nearly 1-16th of the whole hemisphere.  It moved in a curvilinear form the point inclining from the South, the cloud stretching out due North and South. It frequently varied its size sometimes extending within a few feet of the ground then seemingly drawn upwards. At one time it remained stationary in respect to form and situation for near ten minutes but never burst not meeting as supposed with attracting fluid which at sea serves to form that immense body of water which at last breaks from its own weight. After varying its length for some moments longer it entirely disappeared and was embodied in the cloud. Between the cloud and the horizon the sky appeared a dusky yellow which served to mark the dark edge of the cloud and the waterspout with a peculiar gloom. After the appearance of this phaenomenon there was scarce a day passed here for the continuance of nearly a month that it did not rain in perfect torrent. Its appearances were during the time of the Newton races to the no little dismay of the crowd assembled on that occasion and to the horror of the farmers who foreboded in consequence some most melancholy catastrophe to their harvest. I send you a drawing taken on the spot of the singular appearance it presented.
— The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle (1799)
 The "singular phenomena" observed on 16 June 1798 in the neighbourhood of Warrington (courtesy of Warrington Archives and Local History, Culture Warrington).

The "singular phenomena" observed on 16 June 1798 in the neighbourhood of Warrington (courtesy of Warrington Archives and Local History, Culture Warrington).

Form the description is not clear if this event was indeed a tornado, a waterspout, or a funnel cloud that extended very closed to the ground. Nevertheless, this is another great example of how detailed and beautiful are some of the historical descriptions and depictions of tornadoes, waterspouts, and funnel clouds in Europe. 

(Many thanks, to David Gelsthorpe (@paleomanchester) from the Manchester Museum for pointing to me the tweet from Warrington Museum (@warringtonmus), and to Warrington Archives and Local History, Culture Warrington for their help. #archivescience #explorearchives.)

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AuthorBogdan Antonescu