Graphene [Book Review]

I love my couch. And guess what I just finished doing on my couch………wait, that doesn’t sound right at all! Let’s start again.

I love cuddling on my couch with a good book. It’s a rainy day, and I was finally able to finish the last chapter (and possibly one of the most interesting ones) in my latest read Graphene.

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Graphene is an up-and-coming, possibly over-exaggerated, material in the scientific and high-tech industries. It’s a material that has interesting characteristics in conductivity, durability, and optical properties (just to name a few). Carbon fiber technology is a very rough, dirty version of the technology that still possesses some of the high strength-to-weight properties that graphene promises to improve on.

The book starts out by discussing a little bit of chemistry. Actually….. it talks a bit too much about chemistry for my taste. If you picked up this book because you are interested in graphene, you probably have had taken chemistry in college by now and will skip the first ~12 pages.

Graphene is another form of crystalline carbon. It’s a common fact that diamond is just pure carbon and is the hardest (“common”) material on earth due to its 3D atomic structure. Graphene, however, is a 2D (flat) crystalline layout made from a repeating pattern of carbon-based hexagons bound by alternating single and double bonds. This delocalizes the electrons that make up the double bonds that can freely flow through the 2D structure and result in the material’s high conductivity. See the right-most graphic in the image below:

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Graphene is more-or-less an academic curiosity in this generation, so don’t expect to see many uses for this material anytime soon. And here’s why! Most of the applications for graphene require the controlled growth of a single layer of the 2D structure or the manufacturing of very long lengths of the “film,” even if it’s a few layers high (at most).

Currently, we can mine graphene, but it comes out in a mess of tiny crystals that are meshed together in random orientations like straw in a haystack. This form is called graphite, the same stuff used in everyday pencils. It’s roughly shiny, breaks down easily, and kind-of conductive. The first experimental form of graphene evaluated was literally peeled off a piece of graphite using Scotch tape. And most of the producers of graphene just grind down “high-quality” graphite and suspend it in a liquid solution to keep these minuscule flakes separated.

It’s an interesting topic, but the layout of the book really bothered me.¬† The book talks about graphene and how amazing it is, but it doesn’t go into the details of these capabilities until well over halfway into the book. It talks about how to make it BEFORE the applications of the material. This irritated me more after I realized that these production processes don’t come close to what we need for these specified applications, make it mostly irrelevant. For example: tiny flakes aren’t useful for much if you have to glue them all together; the adhesive become the weakest link in the system.

There is also an entire chapter that talks about how graphene replaces most materials and just makes them better with no strong depth into HOW graphene can deliver these promises; it just lists where we can stick it. Solar panels, water filters, heaters, batteries, bandages, socks, car oil?…..you name it.

Oh….they only start using graphene symbols in the last third of the book to separate chapter sections. They just come out of nowhere.

The last few chapters actually go more into the technical details about applications and how they could be technically designed for practical uses. For example, there are 6 pages just on the topic of solar sails. It’s like a whole different author wrote that chapter. Additional topics of interest include the materials controlled conductivity (chapter 6), bio-enhanced applications (chapter 10), and nano-machines (chapter 11).

Thus, filtering through the disorganization and side rants (supply-demand, unrelated technology, patent trends?), I did obtain some interesting knowledge on the topic but still found myself still having this unsatisfied fill of info. I can’t help but feel that the authors just wanted to briefly write a book to put “book author” on their resume, and the editors received it and were like……”meh, good enough. Let’s just make some money. SOMEONE will buy it.”

Oh, don’t forget to feed your pets graphene…..this book essentially boasts the promises of the material in EVERYTHING!

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The Laws of Simplicity [Book Review]

It’s been a weird couple months for me mentally. I wasted a lot of time trying out a paid dating site. I’ve been personally obsessed with the idea of someday owning a rock climbing gym (I’m reading a book on starting a business). And of course, it’s summer time in Michigan, which means I have to enjoy the beautiful weather!

But we’re not here to listen to my life’s problems, right? We’re here to listen to me talk about a book. And it’s a relatively simple one….hence the title, The Laws of Simplicity.

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While it says “design, technology, business, life” on the front cover, the books focuses more on the human interface for the first two sections. For example, how a button layout on a remote can be rearranged to make it look less daunting. What learning curve should a user expect before mastering a “reinvented wheel” Thus, this simple book is broken down into 10 guidelines to follow with a total page count of 100 pages…..

Yes, it was designed that way. He literally ends the book with “I promise the keep it simple.”

The following ten guidelines are as follows:

  1. Reduce – Remove the clutter, or possibly hide it from view.
  2. Organize – Place like items near each other to create sub groups for easy access.
  3. Time – Reduction in waiting time, or filling dead time, invokes simplicity.
  4. Learn – If necessary, make it intuitive and rewarding for full use of the project.
  5. Difference – Some complexity is needed to give character to simple objects.
  6. Context – The background, or unused space, helps emphasize the main content.
  7. Emotion – Personalized designs can lead to an emotional connection.
  8. Trust – The device takes responsibility while freeing the user of mental burdens.
  9. Failure – We must embrace the limitations of the previous rules (1-8).
  10. The One – “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” I’m not really sure what this one truly means, but I believe it’s the over-arching mentality about designing around simplicity as a whole.

Throughout the book, there are a few illustrations to help the audience understand some of the more visual concepts that are discussed the book. For example, the image below illustrates the evolution of buttons on a typical iPod and how they have moved to an organized, intuitive appeal with less discrete parts to complete the simplicity of the final design.

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[If you want a laugh on the trackpad topic, check out The Onion’s video:¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BnLbv6QYcA]

In the end, I’m not sure that the book was truly worth reading. There was a lot of stuff that made sense, but it felt more like …… common sense. It would make a good “check list” if you are actually designing a product interface. However, I didn’t take away any large “life-altering” lessons that were worth remembering off the top of my head.

 

Side note:

What’s with MIT graduate/professors shamelessly advertising their Alma mater? This isn’t the first book I’ve read where this happened. The author could just say “when I was a professor……” but they don’t. They have to utilize those three letters whenever possible! Seriously, they are probably paid for this hidden advertising!

Here are some examples that I found in a couple minutes:

“….but I began my career originally as an MIT-trained engineer.” (page 38-39)

“I’ve been emailing since 1984 when I arrived at MIT as a freshmen.” (page 64)

“As an MIT undergraduate, I had managed to slip past the swimming requirement……..The return experience of learning how to swim at MIT was more successful. I admit that as a professor…..” (page 74)

“Every day some of the smartest young people in the world come to see me in my office at MIT.” (page 100)

“I used to see an older fellow at the MIT pool almost every day.” (Afterword)