The Manga Guide to Physics

What a fun book series this has been to read and review! I have been impressed by the book series so far and its treatment of the various topics. This may be my favorite of the series, although I will be reading The Manga Guide to Calculus later in the summer or early fall, so I won’t yet make that a definite statement.

As with the other books in the series, this book uses well drawn manga art to introduce and give a context for presenting the material–in this case, Newtonian physics.

The Manga Guide to Physics does not require knowledge of calculus for most of the book, although there are a few times in which knowledge of mathematics higher than algebra and geometry would either be useful, or in a couple of places necessary (such as during the discussions of springs and the conservation of energy).

I would not consider this book to be useful as a beginning physics textbook, but for anyone who has taken a high school course, it will be a useful way to review for a final exam and learn a bit more than would have been studied in the year long course. If you have completed a university basic course in physics that uses calculus (not the non-calculus version for non-science majors), this book will be below you. If you are reviewing for that non-science major course, you may find this book extremely useful and a fun way to help shore up and retain your studies.

Topics covered in the book include all the basics: Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, gravity, force and motion, inertia, momentum, impulse, energy, work, and so on. There is also a useful appendix titled Making Sense of Units, which helps the student do exactly that.

I haven’t taken a physics class since 1990. I’m sure I would have difficulty trying to pass the final exam for Physics 101 at the university based solely on my memory. After reading this book, paying careful attention to the examples and working through the problems in each along with the characters in the story, I believe I might be able to do it. That’s pretty good for someone so rusty. I think the book would be extremely useful to a student with less time between now and a careful study of the material in a class setting, especially someone preparing for exam time or who had or is having difficulty absorbing the topics and principles involved in basic physics.

There are a couple of weaknesses in the book. Some books in the series provide study questions for readers/students to answer on their own, with solutions in the back of the book. This one does not, so you have to pay careful attention and choose to work through the examples as they are discussed. The other weakness is that most basic physics courses will cover, at least in my memory, an introduction to electronics and electricity. This book does not, probably because there is a separate book in the series dedicated to that topic and because it really doesn’t fall under the precise topic of Newtonian physics, even though it is covered in those elementary physics courses. That’s it. Otherwise, I can recommend the book without reservation.

The Manga Guide to Databases

I have used relational databases for years. I’ve used them to store mailing lists, email account data for postfix, blog and forum data, and more. They are convenient and powerful time savers. Most of what I have learned has been indirectly learned while studying something else; documentation for a computer programming language like PHP or Python, a book on website design for commerce, or documentation and code for an open source project like WordPress or Drupal. As a result, my knowledge is adequate for simple tasks and queries, but I’m nowhere near ready to be a database admin. What I know is incomplete, adequate for my actual needs, but with gaping holes in my knowledge.

Until this week, I was comfortable with this fact.

Since I read and enjoyed the other manga guides in this series that I have read, I picked up a copy of The Manga Guide to Databases. I wanted to see whether the book made the subject interesting and whether it taught the subject well.

The short answer is that I found the systematic and foundational introduction to database design clear, interesting, and enjoyable–so much so that I have ordered a few more books on database theory and design and SQL for further study (stay tuned, I may review them later). Contrast that with the indirect introductions I have previously encountered that made me want to ignore the topic, except for the aspects vital to my task(s) at hand.

The Manga Guide to Databases uses a somewhat silly, but pleasant story with well drawn artwork to ease the reader into a complicated subject that requires paying a bit of attention to for comprehension. It begins with the assumption that the reader knows nothing about the topic, so it would be perfect as a base level introductory text, especially for high school aged readers (or those of us who are a bit older, but who still enjoy a bit of whimsy).

We start with the question “What is a database?” and a great description of how and why they are useful. We move into a basic definition of relational databases with a very brief mention of other types of databases that exist. The fun continues with a chance to design a database around the model of entities and relationships.

Once the foundation is laid with a conceptual understanding of databases and their design, structured query language (SQL) is introduced. I was thrilled to discover this wasn’t product specific language, but rather standard ANSI, at least as far as I can tell (okay, I know a little more than I let on earlier, but I still consider myself a database/SQL novice). That is great, because it means that whatever is learned here should apply anywhere, whether using MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle, Access, Microsoft SQL Server, or whatever, so long as the product conforms to the standard. This certainly isn’t a complete SQL introductory text, but it is enough to get a person started understanding the basic concepts and how to operate a database.

Ultimately, the book was a success. I wouldn’t kid anyone into thinking that reading and understanding this book would make a person capable of real database administration, but it does give a clear and solid foundation for further study, and in my case has whet my appetite for going back to fill in some personal knowledge gaps that I have been content to let exist for a very long time.

The Manga Guide to Statistics

I so enjoyed the last book in this short series that I decided to pick up all of the currently published titles. I’ll review each of them as time goes on. This time around, I will discuss The Manga Guide to Statistics.

Ahh, statistics. The subject that so many of us need to understand, too few grasp, and even fewer seem to enjoy. What better way is there to test the quality of the book than for me to read about something I don’t particularly enjoy and have never been terribly good with?

The book is designed to give an elementary understanding of basic statistical concepts and methods in a creative and approachable manner. I’ll skip to the bottom line and say that I think it succeeds in doing so. The art is very well done, the story line is a bit better than in the Electricity book I reviewed previously, although it bogs down near the end, and the information is presented in a clear and logical manner.

The Manga Guide to Statistics begins by defining various data types and how to determine in which category the data you have belong. Then it digs deeper into understanding numerical (quantitative) data and categorical (qualitative) data. Later, you are guided through normalization, scoring, deviations, probability, relationships between variables, and testing hypotheses. All the standard foundational aspects of statistics are covered in enough depth to give a valid and useful introduction.

One thing I really liked was the appendix, which shows very clearly how to do all of the major calculations using Microsoft Excel, with xls spreadsheets available for download from the publisher’s website. While it would certainly be my preference to not have this topic tied to a specific program from one vendor, I did test out many of the spreadsheets and instructions using OpenOffice.org‘s Calc spreadsheet. Good news! With the exception of menu locations for functions being different and requiring a little bit of not-too-difficult searching, I was able to follow all of the directions I attempted from the appendix using OpenOffice.org Calc. That freed me from an expensive and unnecessary expenditure (or at least from having to find a place and way to use software I don’t want to use).

If you already know statistics pretty well, this book wouldn’t be useful to you. If you are looking for an easy to understand and quality introduction that includes a bit of frivolity, you will find this book both useful and enjoyable. I did.

The Manga Guide to Electricity

I picked this book up for fun. I already know a lot about electricity. I have been known to read electron tube spec sheets and circuit designs for fun and amusement. I’ve been known to scrounge around at ham radio festivals and used book stores looking for old design manuals or tech books. You may remember my blog entry about one of my projects where I built a tube-powered guitar amplifier. So, I didn’t buy this book because I needed/wanted to learn the material. I already know it.

I picked up The Manga Guide to Electricity because it looked like a fun way to introduce the topic to a new generation. Guess what? I think it is. The book was originally drawn and written in Japan a few years ago and was only recently translated into English. The story line is okay, but it won’t rank up there with Watchmen and the like. This isn’t a graphic novel. However, it is interesting enough to make a subject that can sometimes be difficult to absorb for new learners more accessible.

The book begins with the assumption of no real background in electricity or electronics. It then builds up to a pretty solid foundation in basic theory and gives a clear understanding of how electricity works and can be created, influenced, and corralled by an engineer or circuit designer to do specific tasks. The book doesn’t teach actual circuit design, but it does give a very clear introduction to very important concepts and components including voltage, potential, current, resistance, Ohm’s Law, capacitance, batteries, magnetism, diodes, rectification, motors, both alternating and direct current, and even the main types of electricity generation in use.

Each chapter starts with a part of a graphic tale that introduces specific concepts for that chapter in a clear and fun manner. Then, to make sure the conceptual understanding can be made solid, each chapter has an additional and more traditional text and diagram section with a more detailed explanation of each concept.

If you know anyone, especially someone who enjoys manga, whether a teenager or a kid at heart, or just someone who appreciates art with their text, who also is interested in a solid and interesting basic introduction to electricity, this book is well worth the read. I recommend it highly and am going to take a closer look at the entire series of manga guides that is still growing.