A Brief Look at Biographies of Tesla

A friend of mine on Instagram was inquiring about the various Tesla biographies I’ve read and which one would be a good one to start out with, if one wants to learn more about Nikola Tesla.

As I can be overly lengthy when talking about things I like (and really, anything relating to books will surely trigger such a reaction), I figured it would be easier to make a blog post than constantly run up against IG’s comment length limit.

The first book about Tesla I read was Margaret Cheney’s Tesla: Man out of Time. This is also a book that I did not finish (with 30 pages left) because I couldn’t handle the sudden turn of making Tesla seem to be this beyond human entity. There’s a lot of talk about ESP and Tesla and for me, that was a total turn off. It’s well-known that he had visions – flashes of light where he would see things -but to go from there to full blown ESP is a little much.

Still, there was a lot of good things in this biography, especially the whole “Edison vs Tesla” issue. It’s where I first read that Edison had neighborhood pets stolen so he could electrocute them in a scare campaign against Tesla (which shocked me so much because that was news to me and I always thought Edison is as this noble inventor…). She also did a really good job highlighting Tesla’s eccentricities (which honestly sounds like OCD but could just be how he was wired  and not actually a mental disorder).

[I promise that the amount of puns I’ve written in the above paragraph are completely unintentional.]

After I read Cheney’s biography, I went to the source himself and found a cheap copy of his autobiography on Amazon for $3. It’s a short, 92 pages and is titled “My Inventions” and is mostly about – surprise – his inventions. But he does talk a little bit about his family life. I always like to go back to the primary source whenever possible, especially when it comes to biographies.

I’m halfway through Richard Munson’s Tesla: Inventor of the Modern and am enjoying it greatly. There’s a lot of overlap between this book and the two other books – but this book does get more into his family life (including grandparents), includes little mini-bios of people like Edison and Westinghouse, and has quotes by Tesla sprinkled throughout. There’s also footnotes and a couple of appendices. The actual biography is about 260 pages, then the rest of the book are appendices and footnotes. And there are some pictures in the middle, which are always fun to look at.

Although I’m not finished with this book (and therefore can’t tell if Munson also veers towards the supernatural in a big way), I really enjoy it. Plus, Munson cites a biography of Tesla written by John O’Neill, which is something I’ll have to track down – Tesla actually talked to O’Neill while he was writing the biography.

If I had to rank the biographies in terms of their awesomeness/readability/objectiveness, the list would look like this:

  1. My Inventions by Nikola Tesla – short, cheap and is ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’, so to speak. I don’t have to worry if someone is trying to make Tesla someone he’s not.
  2. Tesla: Inventor of the Modern by Richard Munson – lengthier than Tesla’s autobiography but (as of halfway through the book) the approach to Tesla appears to be very balanced and objective. Yes, Tesla had eccentricities and visions but he was still human.
  3. Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney – mostly good, but the direction of making Tesla seem like this supernatural being was just too much for me. And I’m Catholic, so I’m quite comfortable with mysticism and the supernatural.

For everyone’s convenience, here are some COMPLETELY AFFILIATED Amazon links for the books that will give me a little commission that I use to buy more books, should you choose to use them. 🙂

And as I track down more biographies about Tesla (especially that O’Neill one!) I’ll be sure to update this list!

Ambleside Online End of Year Wrap-Up

WE MADE IT!! 😀 😀 😀

We finished up school today, and everyone is excited and ready for a summer break. We met all of our required school hours, we learned a plethora of new and interesting things; and I have seen a lot of growth in Peanut and Moose over the last school year.

– semi-regular blogging the school year helped me to stay focused and helped to troubleshoot areas
– staying as close as we could to the Ambleside Online curriculum, and using great blogs and sites like Celeste’s Joyous Lessons and the Mater Amabilis website to make substitutions when needed
– Moose’s narrations blossomed beautifully, and he really started making connections all over the place at the end of the school year.
– Peanut is at a point where she can transition into written narrations next year, I’m really glad I gave her the extra term to finesse her oral narrating skills before moving into written narrations
– the amazingly supportive CM community on Instagram as well as the baby CM community that’s forming locally
– planning out all 36 weeks ahead of time, even if we didn’t stick to the schedule for the last six weeks of school. Just seeing it all laid out was enough to give me the “yes, we can get everything done and not lose our minds” feeling.
Phonetic Zoo is still a wonderful tool for Peanut — we are about halfway done with Level A and her spelling is right where it should be for her age and grade. I look forward to using it with Moose. Some of the best money I’ve spent on curriculum, to be honest.
– Moose’s copywork went from three-letter words to actual phrases, so next year he’ll be moving on to sentences. Handwriting has been so hard for him and I am exceedingly proud that he has done so well with it this year.
– Dropping Latin. We’ll try it again this fall but man did we ever feel good when we both realized that this wasn’t working and just dropped it.

– I need to be more organized for things like nature study and nature walks
– Our attention was destroyed after The Longest Winter Ever and I should have taken some time to recapture that vs letting us dig deeper ruts (guess what we’ll be working on this summer?)
– My three year old and toddler definitely will need busyboxes or something this fall, when I have three kids in school. Especially since my toddler moonlights as a tornado.
– Pre-reading. I need to make a system for it and stick with it.
– Notebooking. Also need to make a system and stick with it. I have been keeping notebooks this year so I can help the kids keep theirs. Right now I have my nature notebook, a commonplace book of quotes, and my learning notebook of notes from books and other sources.

That  being said, this year was very successful and I’m so proud of how hard everyone worked, even when books were boring or hard to comprehend they stuck at it. I think everyone is getting used to the school routine, there wasn’t much drama about “but I don’t want to do schooooooooool”, and the free time after lessons were done was a great natural reward for efficient time usage.

We are expected to start up the next school year towards the end of August. During the summer I will be getting ahead on prereading, especially as Peanut will have Montana History as a subject (which coincides nicely with the period of history she’ll be studying). I’m making a page of CMish Montana history, art, and music study resources, so watch for that throughout the summer.

I’ll also be sharing pictures from my notebooks, adventures in geology, what I’ve been reading, and how I’m planning out the next school year – books we’ll use, resources, etc.

I hope everyone has a great rest of the school year or a great start to the summer vacation! 😀

AO Year 4, Term 3, Weeks 5-6 | AO Year 2, Term 3, Weeks 7-8

I decided I would switch over to an “every two weeks” update as we close in on the end of the year. Honestly, things aren’t changing that dramatically anymore and a lot of the books are coming to a good stopping point (to be resumed next year) or wrapping up in general.

I’m really quite pleased that the Burgess Animal Book is moving into some of Moose’s favorite animals – deer, elk, bison and other animals that tend to live around where we are at. I know he desperately wants to just stop for the year, but the Burgess Animal Book has provided enough hook to keep him moving towards the end without hassle or drama.

Peanut is excited for fifth grade and also has pretty much had it with fourth grade. She doesn’t find the books she’s reading overly interesting (I think she’d rather read the Burgess book above), and is just ready to move on to a new time period. That will come with the next school year, so she just needs to hang in there for the rest of this year.

It’s really wonderful seeing all the connections rapidly appearing now. We went on a nature walk to a local lake yesterday because the weather was that nice, and Moose was constantly connecting the animals we saw to the animals in the Burgess Animal Book. We talked about observing the wildlife without disturbing them, and talking with the fishermen that we saw around the lake. It’s just a great way of life, now that we’re (hopefully) done with the perpetual winter.

I am looking forward to summer break, and have been working on the next school year’s schedule and plans.

I’ll be making some tweaks:

  • all three kids will start at the same time as opposed to the staggering approach I did this year. While it was really good for me at the beginning of the year; now that we’re at the end I’d rather everyone finish together. I suppose it’s easier in the long run to front-load the amount of chaos vs dragging something out (for me it feels like we’ve been doing this school year for yearrrrrrrrrs now).
  • adding and dropping some things to and from AmblesideOnline. I want to focus more on science this next year, as well as typing classes for Peanut and coding for all three kids.  Peanut also needs to do our state’s history, so I’m working on finding books, artists, and music for that.
  • habit training or bust during the summer vacation
  • working more with each kids’ strengths and weaknesses and making sure we aren’t neglecting anything in terms of character and development

And there are some things that will stay the same:

  • the six-weeks on/one-week off model works really well for us; it provides enough regular breaks that there isn’t too much burnout, and it’s a good to know that the next break is just around the bend. I’ve sat down with a calendar and massaged the schedule enough so that we have breaks when we need them (like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, New Year’s etc). This means we aren’t exactly following 6 on/1 off but close enough.
  • sticking with AmblesideOnline whenever possible. I don’t know how much modifying I’ll be doing but the brunt of what we’ll be doing will definitely be AO.
  • continuing documenting what we’re doing and general life here and over on Instagram.

AO Year 4, Term 3, Week 3-4 | AO Year 2, Term 3, Week 6

Holy Week really threw me off on recording how our weeks have progressed. We are nearing the end of our school year, which is exciting for everyone. Moose has six weeks left and Peanut eight; so we’re beginning to do the final push for Moose and start thinking towards his last batch of exams. Peanut still has a break week left and then her final six, so I don’t have to think of her exams quite yet.

Right now we are on schedule to finish all thirty-six weeks of each kid’s Ambleside years and satisfy the state’s hours requirements. It’s a nice feeling to be able to start wrapping things up, soon books will be finished and our workload will gradually lighten up.

Hopefully the snow will leave and we can go outside way more than we have been lately. Everything is either snow-covered or muddy; and so while we take any and all opportunities to go outside and play; they’re hard to come by.

Some things I want to focus on for the kids as we end the year are more of the keeping aspect of things. Nature notebooks, commonplaces, timelines, and ensuring mapwork gets done. Those haven’t happened as much as I would have liked, and I’ll have to figure out how to make sure they get more emphasized in the next year.

This week I will be putting Moose into the Scrum-esque style of homeschooling. I am not quite sure if he’ll enjoy it as much as Peanut, or if he’ll see it as “another boring thing to do”. The goal of making things Scrum-esque is to help everyone get on the same page, see what they have left to do for the week, and make sure that I am receiving all narrations that need to be done (mainly from Peanut, who likes to just move on to the next subject without stopping to give me a narration).

So, we’ll see what the week brings and maybe we can get outside more – or even get a nature walk in!

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I had to do some rearranging of my books, as reading Annals of the Former World along with Superintelligence was really proving to be a bit too much. I figured it would make more sense to read through Superintelligence as I hadn’t gotten too far into Annals.

I finished The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and enjoyed it, although not as much as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Still, it was a great “zone out” book and one I’ll probably revisit in the future. On to the third book, once I can get my hands on a copy.

I actually made really good progress on Superintelligence and now I’m about halfway through the book. The first 3 chapters are really jargony and somewhat dense, and it was hard for me to orient myself and keep track of all the details. But after all that it gets drastically easier and I find myself not making as many notes in my notebook (right under the book in the picture) as I did with the first few chapters. I should be wrapping this book up sometime in the next couple of weeks. Go me!

The Physics of Everyday Things is a new arrival to the library and one that intrigued me. I took physics classes in undergrad for my degree, but I was really, really bad at it (extra ironic given that I somehow ended up as the secretary for my school’s Society of Physics Students chapter for some reason…). I do want to have a better grasp of physics, and I figured this book would be a good book to do that (or at least, explain the concepts that eluded me in university). This is a good book to do that, in simple and non-threatening language. Bonus: the diagrams in the book look hand-drawn and definitely have that “Physics 101 lecture” quality to them. I’ll probably be putting this book in to the kids’ school, probably around middle or early high school.

Underneath that is Tesla’s autobiography which is short but 100% better than Margaret Cheney’s biography. Unsurprisingly it talks mostly about his inventions but does give a little more information about his life. I definitely should have started with his autobiography first. There are some other Tesla biographies out there that I’ll give a whirl to, because it would be really nice to find a really well-written biography of him.

Quirky is … I’m kind of disappointed, actually. The writing is really quite good but it’s not in the format I was expecting. There’s been a run on Edison biographies at the library, which is who I wanted to read about right after reading Tesla to see how Edison thought about Tesla. This book talks about eight different people who are all inventors, entrepreneurs, geniuses, and just outside the norm; including Edison and Tesla. What I was hoping is that each chapter was devoted to one person, so I could just read the stuff about Tesla and Edison. What it actually is that the author points out common traits and shows how it appears in each person’s life. It flows really well. It can start with Tesla, segue into Steve Jobs, talk about Marie Curie, and end up with an example from Elon Musk. Which is great and a really good way of illustrating the “quirky” characteristics of each. But it isn’t what I’m looking for at the moment. The index is really in-depth and I can pull out some information about Edison, but I think I’ll have to wait until all the Edison biographies are back.

I’ll probably come back to this book because I do want to read it all the way through; but probably later on in the year.

Not pictured, because it’s a Kindle book:This book actually does double-duty for me. I want to learn about Scrum because it’s part of my long-term plan and I think that it can be beneficial to include in my homeschool. I’ve done a little bit with Peanut based on what I’ve read from this book as well as the official Scrum guide available online. The results have been OK – a little mixed which I think is due to the fact that I need to do some tweaking and more reading. I’ll write a post later once I (think) I have it understood to the point where I can use it in homeschooling, I’m not trying to become a Scrum master or anything at this point in my life.

AO Year 4, Term 3, Week 2 | AO Year 2, Term 3, Week 5

This past week was a rough week, in that we had a lot of people around here getting sick (including myself). I think we made it to Tuesday on the “regular” schedule and then switched to the “for emergency use only” schedule.

The Emergency Use Only schedule reflects what the emergency is. Since I was sick some of the time, the schedule was focused on 1) things the kids could independently do and 2) taking advantage of pockets of time. We grab readings as the time becomes available, we work through the entire week’s schedule, we stop abruptly, and we just keep chugging.

Some things are left undone and that’s just how life works sometimes. I’m not too concerned by that, as we’ve been progressing very well all year and I’m not going to lose sleep over something that in the long run is rather inconsequential.

This coming week should also be an interesting week. I have a doctor appointment (time to check on how my iron is doing – I have been tapering off thanks to appropriate levels; so maybe at this appointment I’ll be cleared to stop taking the iron supplements), we have a therapy appointment for my autistic kid, a playdate, choir rehearsal, the local Charlotte Mason group meets, and Greg’s parents come home after their time in a warmer climate. Plus it’s the Triduum, and Easter is right around the corner (thank God, because this Lent has been rough). We won’t need to break out the Emergency schedule but we’ll definitely need to make sure we are all staying focused. 🙂

What I’m Reading This Week

Happy Spring! There is still way too much snow on the ground, but happily it’s melting with our warmer, springier temperatures. This really has been a long winter, and I can’t wait to resume nature walks, wear short sleeves, and sleep with the windows open soon.

This week was a meh book week, in that the girls all had some random illness which spread to me. I haven’t really felt like reading just from being so sick. But I appear to be much healthier now, and only one kid has a random fever (but normal behavior, so I don’t even know what that’s about), so here’s to getting back into this stack of books.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – I am entirely thrilled that book two of the five-book Hitchhiker’s ‘trilogy’ is exactly like book one. I really enjoyed book one (probably a little too much) and therefore was a little nervous about book two not being as good as the first. This book is definitely my “escape from reality” book, which is always appreciated at the end of a long day when I all I want to do is zone out.

Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney – I picked this book up after finishing the Einstein biography. I figured I would stay on the “scientists and inventors” rabbit hole and went with Tesla next.

Tesla is pretty much one of the most eccentric people I’ve learned about lately, and I’m entirely impressed by him. I’m finding him so different from Einstein, who wasn’t all into publicity and just wanted to work on his theories; whereas Tesla was definitely more comfortable with “being seen”. He also was devoted to research but he seemed to be more out and about than Einstein. Einstein married twice and had kids, Tesla never did (although he had plenty of ladies who wouldn’t have minded being Mrs. Tesla).

One thing about this biography that grinds my gears though is that the author weaves in strands of “woo” occasionally. Tesla had premonitions that the author hints at being ESP, there’s some acupuncture talk thrown in (trying to suggest that acupuncture works on electrical fields in the human body??) and I just can’t wrap my mind around that kind of stuff. In my opinion it doesn’t really add anything to Tesla’s life and could be removed without being detrimental. Additionally, the book doesn’t move chronologically through Tesla’s life but seems to be more focused on his discoveries and inventions, so sometimes we’re in 1897 and then in the next chapter we’re in 1893. Somewhat annoying.

The information about Tesla is interesting but overall the writing is pretty lackluster. There are some footnotes, although some things are left un-cited that I wish were cited (such as talking about how Edison had neighborhood pets stolen so he could electrocute them as a scare campaign against Tesla’s AC discovery). Overall, this biography is pretty “meh”. Don’t pick this biography if you’re just trying to get into biographies.

I do have a copy of Tesla’s autobiography, which is what I’ll be reading next (and honestly that’s where I should have started from).

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee – I started this book yesterday morning so I don’t have much to write about regarding it yet. One thing that struck me is that in addition to a standard table of contents; it has a narrative table of contents. Things are discussed and mentioned in such a poetic way that it makes me excited to read the entire set of books (my copy is all five books in one giant book, so this one will be sticking around for a while). It’s a geology book, written about American geology; so I’m really excited to get into it and see how it is.

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom – oh, this book. It still reigns as the undisputed “most complicated book of 2018” for me but is endlessly fascinating. I read a lot about AI when I was in college, so it’s fun to get back thinking about all that. I’m still clocking in at around half a chapter a week, including time to write things in my “things I’m learning” notebook, looking up things that are unclear and just generally thinking about what Bostrom is writing about.

AO Year 4, Term 3, Week 1 | AO Year 2, Term 3, Week 4

Peanut was back to school this week, after a very good break and exams week. One thing I learned that I needed to focus more on with Peanut was ensuring that she is filling out her timeline and plotting things out on maps. I made sure to print off plenty of blank maps for the geographic areas we’re reading about and constantly remind her to use them.

I’ve also been working on honing my discussion questions for after narrations. These questions aren’t the standard ones you’d get in a brick and mortar school (no questions like “when was Paul Revere’s ride?”) but more open-ended, thinking questions. Some questions I asked Peanut was about why women being educated was considered “unladylike” during Abigail Adams’ time and how did Abigail become so passionate about women’s education? What was John Adams’ reaction to his wife’s concerns? Anything to draw her into a conversation that involves her thinking – really thinking – about what she’s reading and not just dumping information.

In the biography of Albert Einstein that I’m reading, I came across a quote that I want to put on my wall. It sums up practically every reason why I’m homeschooling in the first place. The context is that the news media was trying to give Einstein “the Edison questionnaire” and one reporter asked him what the speed of sound was. He reported that he didn’t keep information like that in his head. He then criticized Edison’s educational views with this quote:

“The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”

I don’t think that training a mind to think is reserved solely for the college years. In this day and age where we have a plethora of information available to us in our phones and other devices, training minds to think is of a much higher importance than memorizing facts and events. One needs some level of familiarity, of course; but the standard view of “drill and kill” just doesn’t work.

For Moose, I decided to remove the biography of St. Ignatius and move it into the free reads pile. Having the biography of St. Joan of Arc and Robin Hood going – both books are very much “stretching” books for Moose – I felt that having the St. Ignatius biography was just overloading us all. I think this coming week will be much less intense for Moose and will be at a pace that he can handle without feeling like nothing is making sense to him.

We continued to make good progress in math this week, which is wonderful. I’m noticing less of a need for IXL supplementation, so we’ll probably drop that entirely in the next few weeks. It was great that it gave him a much needed confidence boost.

Both kids also were assessed for reading, both kids are comprehending well beyond their grades. Moose is reading at a 4th grade level, Peanut a 6th grade level.

This term seems to be flying by; with a couple weeks before Moose goes on break week again. Hopefully it’ll stop snowing at some point and they can have a proper vacation before we move on to the next school year!

What I’m Reading This Week

Look at all that glorious sunlight! It’s been absolutely wonderful lately, with lots of snowmelt and playing outside. Naturally it’s supposed to rain/snow/sleet/have freezing rain tomorrow so we’ll have to last through another bout of dreariness.

I’ve been working through the books above this week, none of them are really ones that you could fly through in a short amount of time. But they’re all wonderfully thought-provoking and my brain is quite thrilled.

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom: When I originally commented about this book, I lamented about the jargon that was completely foreign to me. I had anticipated that it would take a year to read, which I was content with. While I’m not even close to finishing; it did get suddenly easier to read and understand. I find it harder for me to find time to read this book because I prefer not to be interrupted a million times. Naturally interruptions are a dime a dozen around here so if it does take me a year to read; it’ll probably be due to that.

Boundaries with Kids by Cloud and Townsend: recommended by a friend, highly enjoying it. It reads just like the original Boundaries book, except the focus is for parents and their kids. Cloud and Townsend are working on the assumption that kids are taught poor boundaries (or at the very least have them demonstrated). The goal of this book is to have good boundaries with your kids but also to help them have good boundaries so they can be constructive adults.

Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey: Slightly eye-rolly title, but absolutely jam-packed with every possible thing you’d ever want to know about personalities. This works off of Myers-Briggs 16 personality types and unpacks each one in gory detail. I had my personality typed in college and came back INFP. Greg (who was professionally typed at work) informed me that when one does that personality typing you have to answer it honestly, almost off of a gut reaction (as opposed to what one thinks the answer “should” be, which is exactly what I did in college). So, I retyped recently and it came back INTJ and I swear my entire life now makes more sense. Ever since I was a young kid, I always felt like the square peg in a round hole and now I have a better understanding why I felt that way. Even Greg is shocked by how much more “sunny” I am simply by discovering that little bit of information. I’ve been on a giant personality typing/learning kick since and have probably upped the page views significantly at Mystie’s blog on all of her personality typing posts.

(Greg’s an ENFP, if you’re curious.)

Einstein by Walter Isaacson: appropriate reading today, as not only is it Pi Day and Greg’s birthday but Einstein’s as well. I grossly underestimated how giant this book was until it came in the mail and I was honestly a little shocked. But I’m halfway through it and it’s absolutely fascinating. I have been narrating to Greg what I read and we’re learning all sorts of things about Einstein. I’m already looking for my next biography to read so biographies is definitely a genre I can get into.

AO Year 2, Term 3, Week 3

This week was quite a fun week! The weather is finally taking a turn towards SPRING and therefore everyone is getting excited.

Peanut was on break/exams week, of which she did quite well. I made some notes on my exam questions list of what to focus on for term 3, so when we get going on Monday I will be well-prepared to make some adjustments.

Moose had a hard week, which was probably due to Peanut being on break week. We ended up scrapping Wednesday and will finish up everything that we missed tomorrow. Sometimes it’s better to take a break and regroup ourselves than force getting something done so we can stay “on schedule”.

We tried an audiobook of Robin Hood but Moose didn’t like it, and wanted me to read it. So we’re just going reallllly slow and taking as much time as we need.

His narrations for other books are on the upswing, especially the books I mentioned last week. He is getting quite good at discussing the virtues and vices of the people we read about. I’m quite happy with that, although he still tries to have me do a Q&A session (as in “what year did the Battle of Agincourt take place?”). When that happens I’ll give him a narration, or try and give him some prompts so he feels less overwhelmed (“Did we read about King Tut? Moses? Henry V?”). He’s the kind of kid where too much open-endedness can really disorient him, so I try to give him some extra scaffolding.

He is coming along really well in copywork, and in math. Science is a favorite, and he especially likes hearing all the calls and screams on Youtube of the Big Cats that we are reading about. I think we’re getting into a new Term 3 rhythm, which means we should do pretty well for the remainder of the term (and the school year!).