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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Just Finished Reading: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (FP: 2006)

There are, it appears, worse things than watching your mother die of cancer. 12 year old David is about to find out what those things are. First he has to watch his father become involved with one of his mother’s nurses. Then he has be watch as his father marries again. Then they move to an old rambling house at the edge of London and then, the worst thing of all, a younger brother is born. As David feels pushed more and more to the outside of his family and his father begins to spend more and more time at the office helping the war effort young David begins to hear and see things. The books on the shelves in his bedroom start whispering to him and each other and a dark shape watches the house from the nearby woods. Leaving the house unobserved during an air raid David feels pulled towards a sunken garden and squeezes through a crack in the wall just as an enemy bomber crashes nearby. Digging himself deeper into the crevice David emerges in a wood the like of which he has never seen before – where trees bleed red blood and creatures who only look like wolves howl in the night. Rescued by the woodsman before night falls David has to learn the rules of this new yet strangely familiar land and make his way to the only person who can possibly help him get back to his home – a King reputed to own a powerful book with all of the world’s secrets in its pages, the fabled Book of Lost things. But as the King grows old and his grip on the kingdom lapses the world that David has so recently entered begins to fall apart with the forces of chaos determined that they alone will shape its future.

This was one of those ‘oh, this looks a bit different’ choices that I sometimes make when browsing in bookshops. Although clearly Fantasy it had the feel of something above the run of the mill we’ve all be getting used to in the last 10 years. There was definitely a familiarity about the whole thing which isn’t really surprising. The author has quite deliberately (and admittedly cleverly) reinvented some of the classic fairy tales added some modern (OK 1940’s modern) twists and plonked an intelligent pre-teen into the middle of it all. The quest theme throughout the book adequately holds everything together. There’s pretty of blood and action – definitely nightmare material for younger children but teens will probably lap it up – thrills and tense moments. David grows before your eyes, never completely sure of himself but maturing page by page. As a YA role model he works pretty well I thought. The good guys are suitably good (if often flawed) and the bad guys are very bad although sometimes redeemable. You never lose sight of the fact that this is a tale of a modern boy living inside a real fantasy but that certainly works. There are thrills, times when you can’t breathe with the tension, other tender moments and laugh out loud bits too. Aimed, I think, at the Young Adult demographic this can be read with equal enjoyment by older adults. I would hesitate giving it to pre-teens though as it might easily disturb them a bit too much! A different and fun read. Recommended.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jumping Lions!

For my American readers who watching the London NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Detroit Lions it may amaze you to know that I was there - along with several of my friends. I discovered that work was organising a trip and decided on the spare of the moment to throw my name into the hat.

Accidentally I ended up supporting the winning team - not knowing anything about either of them - because the Lions wore blue (my favourite colour), they where from Detroit (so Northern like me) and where therefore (presumably) from a predominantly working class culture - like me. Of course at half time my friends decided that I deserved some serious ribbing for picking the wrong side (I wore a newly purchased Lions baseball cap throughout) but I had the last laugh with the final kick and the final score. Needless to say we'll be back at Wembley next year for another game (though we don't know who will be playing yet).

Kind of crying out for a caption really..............

Monday, October 27, 2014

Just Finished Reading: The Domesticated Brain by Bruce Hood (FP: 2014)

What is it that makes humans such social creatures? Why do we care what other people think? Why is shunning and being ostracised one of the worst things you can do to anyone? Why is solitary confinement a worse punishment than torture? Why are human brains so sophisticated for their size?

These are just a few of the questions that the author considers using brain physiology, the fossil record, evolutionary speculation coupled with primate studies, child development work and much else besides. With fascinating breadth, incisive in depth observations focusing on step-by-step physical development and a scattering of witty anecdotes the author shows what it is to be human, immersed in a social environment which forced our ancestors to put themselves in their neighbours paws and feel as they felt – to anticipate when an attack might come or when a sexual advance might be rejected (or accepted) by another males ‘partner’. Our brains became the powerhouse we know them to be by being required to cope with complex and overlapping social situations. When mistakes can get you killed – either in straight-up combat or being ejected from the group into a hostile environment without anyone literally watching your back – it most certainly paid to get along with the rest of the tribe and being able to do that, being able to learn and maintain that, effectively made us human. Consciousness, thinking, planning, identity, putting yourself in the minds of others, judging the moral content of actions, attributing agency to others – even other non-humans – ‘reading’ people and situations, memory, spatial awareness and a million other things (slightly exaggerating here) grew from that need – the need to domesticate ourselves to increase our chances of survival in a world where most other creatures appeared (at least on ‘paper’) to be far more dangerous than we were.

Almost every page turned resulted in a raised eyebrow or an exclamation of ‘so that’s why X happens’ and resulted in numerous conversations with some of my team members about their children’s development and those points where something has clearly ‘clicked’ into place and an ability suddenly manifests itself (the latest thing from a colleagues 1 year old daughter was suddenly understanding how pointing works – resulting in her pointing at everything!). This gem of a book is full to the brim with those sorts of things relating not only to cognitive development but experiments which show developmental stages in moral as well as ‘technical’ reasoning – from a surprisingly early age.

This book was a delight to read and I’m pleased to discover (yes, I really have so many books I don’t always realise that I have several books by the same author) that I have another book by this author to look forward too. This also reminded me that I really should be reading more up to date works of science (popular or otherwise) to keep up with things. I’ll certainly try to do more of this in future.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Soundtrack to My Life

It would be an impossible choice. Luckily it’s highly unlikely if I’d ever be called upon to make it – the choice between Music or Books. Those who know me, or read this Blog regularly, will know my passion for books. If you bump into me at any point you’ll probably find me in a book shop or sitting somewhere book in hand. If I’m stuck in traffic or waiting for someone or something to start I’ll be reaching into my back-pack for whatever I’m reading at the moment. Not only is my house groaning under the weight of the books I’ve accumulated to date but I keep accumulating more each week. I’m sure that a coroner someday will have to write an odd cause of death: buried under a pile of apparently unread books.

Fewer people know about my love of music – probably because I listen to most of it at home (a 70’s compilation double CD at the moment) or on headphones so they can’t hear what I hear, and although my CD stacks aren’t quite as high as my book stacks they are slowly getting there. I’ve said before that I’m interested in almost everything – hence my book mountains – but I’m also at least initially to listen to almost any kind of music. There is my tried and tested core favourites but I do try to listen to things outside my natural comfort zone – Jazz being a case very much in point. I’ve tried over the years to like Jazz but have failed to do so. I can listen to the odd CD but it doesn’t have anything like the appeal of my favourite genres.

Growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s in Liverpool means that, no matter what, I’ll always have a soft spot for the music of The Beatles and the lesser examples of Merseybeat. But I think my early love was Progressive Rock (I don’t know if it’s still called that) exemplified by bands such as Pink Floyd. I think this love stems from my older brother and his friends listening to such things and me hanging around and generally being annoying as younger brothers tend to be. I think my younger brother also introduced me to The Rolling Stones in the early to mid-70’s and the love of that band continues to this day. Of course the 70’s (the decade that style forgot) through up a whole host of music types some of which I still enjoy listening to: Disco, Motown, Glam-Rock, New Wave, Punk. I still remember who my brother’s musical tastes changed almost overnight from Sister Sledge to Souixie and The Banshees and The Boomtown Rats. Those where definitely exciting days for a late maturing teenager! It was the 80’s, as I’ve mentioned before, that turning out to be my favourite decade for music. I was introduced to U2 in 1983 when I went to University and my Punk friend Ron introduced me to the likes of Ian Curtis who I still think was fantastically talented. Those where the years of collecting cheap vinyl 45’s and becoming reacquainted with bands such as Tomita.

Of course having a job comparatively soon after leaving Uni and being in employment now for 26 consecutive years (gulp) has allowed me to accumulate a great deal of music over the years. I try to listen to as much of it as I can as often as I can. Since I reduced my TV watching to almost nothing I’ve listened to a great deal more and, with my TV presently ‘off-line’ I’m listening to even more. I do find that it’s a very pleasant way to wake up in the morning – if you pick your music carefully!

As to my favourites? That’s difficult. Although I do have preferred artists I’m more a fan of types or genres. If I had to plump for one favourite it’d probably have to be rock music (I do believe that the electric guitar is probably one of mankind’s greatest inventions) very closely followed by The Blues which I absolutely adore. You should already know of my love of the female voice in all its incarnations and that covers a very wide area. I still do love Punk for its energy and, to be honest, anger and although looking back it is crude and largely unformed it was symptomatic of the time and I can’t help but be fond of it still.

Finally I have to mention Classic music which I have a slightly odd relation with. Classical music as always had an elitist feel about it. I wasn’t exposed to it very much growing up on working-class housing estates and about the only time we heard it was on TV adverts and in movie soundtracks (one reason why I still love Rollerball – the original please!) for introducing me to Tomaso Albinoni. I still have no idea why it is so but Baroque music stirs something deep, deep down inside my ‘soul’ and I could listen to it all day turned all the way up to 11. Likewise I love piano music especially by composers such as Rachmaninov. Funnily I often feel inadequate when I think about Classical music being, as it where, self-taught. I don’t really know what it supposed to be good and what it considered kitsch but then another part of me says that as long as I like what I’m listening to then why should that matter. Apparently my Classical music collection would be considered to be ‘obvious’ and ‘uninformed’, you might even call it ‘working class’, which, of course, amuses me to death. But, no matter what, I love my music and would struggle a great deal if I ever had to live without it. It has helped me through the bad times, kept me sane and lifted my spirits when they needed lifting. Long may the soundtrack to my life continue rolling on.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

They Live!
Just Finished Reading: Robotics – A Very Short Introduction by Alan Winfield (FP: 2012)

Tis was the last of my ‘Christmas’ break VSI books I took to my Mum’s house to get me through the day. Although it certainly covered all (or most) of the bases found it to be rather….. bland. Maybe it was the fact that the author spent too much time with what is being produced in labs today rather than looking forward? It is, obviously, and understandable viewpoint. Given as assessment of the present state of robotics research is a good start but I think he spent too much time there. The two other themes explored in this admittedly short book (only 132 pages) was humanoid robots and swarm bots and their applications both on Earth and in space exploration. Again, interesting as far as they went but (again) lacked a certain something from my point of view – thinking about it, maybe this introduction was just too much of an introduction and I actually needed something a bit more in-depth. This book was definitely not badly written nor was it boring, too technical or too simplistic. It just didn’t, for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, float my boat.

A few things did intrigue me – a robot designed to generate power by ‘digesting’ slugs as an ideal self-running (and green!) garden assistant and the idea, which I’ve come across before, of the Uncanny Valley where humanoid robots become disturbingly human but not quite – sending shivers down peoples back whenever they encounter one. Obviously this could be a real problem in human-robot interaction when your mechanical partner literally gives you the creeps!

The book focused almost exclusively on civilian robots – in exploration, disaster recovery, medicine, construction, manufacturing and all those areas we are becoming familiar with – with hardly a mention of military applications (which I suppose have been done to death elsewhere) so I found it a little on-sided as things go. But my overall disappointment was, as you can probably tell, rather tenuous. A good start if you know little about robots but what you might have seen briefly in a handful of SF B-movies. But if you have a good idea of the technology I’d try something a bit more substantial.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Favourite Movies: Kick-Ass

I’d heard enough about this 2010 film to deliberately miss it at the movies. It sounded, so I thought, like just another of the teen, high-school, wannabe super-hero films that seemed to be everywhere at the time. Indeed I knew very few people who saw it on the big screen. Then one of my friends saw it on DVD and raved about it – so when it dropped into the cheap section I picked it up and gave it a try. Well, I freely admit that I watched it the first time with my chin mostly on the floor. For a 15 certificate I was astounded by the amount of swearing (including the C-word spoken at least once by a 13 year old Chloe Grace Moretez) and both the, admittedly cartoon-style, level of and amount of violence complete with buckets of blood. I quickly lost count of the number of deaths in this film but it much have easily topped at least 50 – most of them dispatch with glee by Ms Mortez as the urban super-hero Hit-Girl. But I get ahead of myself (as usual).

The story is pretty straight forward and is both a homage to and a not exactly subtle subversion of the super-hero genre. Basically it starts, pretty much, with a conversation in a comic book store between three high-school friends Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Todd (Evan Peters) and Marty (Clark Duke) about why no-one has ever tried to be a real super-hero. That’s the genesis of Kick-Ass AKA Dave who begins wandering the streets looking for people to help. Inevitably things go horribly wrong (after all he’s not really a super-hero or much of a hero really) and ends up in hospital. Released weeks later with enough metal holding him together to set off metal detectors just by walking near them and a condition where most of his nerve endings no longer function he goes back on the streets and finds exactly what he’s looking for – trouble. Filmed on mobile phones and uploaded to YouTube he becomes an Internet sensation. When he tries to help his wannabe girlfriend Katie Deauxma (Lyndsy Fonseca) get rid of her drug dealing boyfriend he gets in way over his head until Hit-girl saves his life and kills all of the bad guys. Mistaken for the killer Kick-Ass is targeted by the mob and needs to call on Hit-girls expertise along with her father Big Daddy (a rather over the top Nicolas Cage). Predictably lots of carnage follow the teaming together of the trio of crime fighters.

Once you get over the shock value of the language and violence this is actually a quite clever film. It plays with the super-hero genre in interesting ways without alienating its target audience. Though I’ve never really understood the fascination with comic books – or super-heroes for that matter – I think I got a fair few of the in-jokes and references to various comic-book heroes. No doubt if you’re a fan of the genre you’ll get a lot more. Despite all being in their mid to late 20’s IRL Dave, Todd and Marty came across as believable teenagers and would probably have been my friends if I’d been in their school. Chloe Mortez was a revelation as Hit-girl as she dispatched baddies with seemingly effortless efficiency (to pop music!) and casual fashion. I haven’t seen her in much else since this (the very disappointing sequel has fortunately been erased from my memory) but so far I have yet to be impressed. Let’s hope that she didn’t peak at 13. Most of the rest of the cast – especially the seemingly endless number of bad guys (for Hit-girl to dispatch later) seemed to be from central casting. Even the head bad guy Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) could have been anyone. His son Chris AKA Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) was likewise unremarkable.

If the controversy over the film – partially well earned – has put you off seeing this before and you have a fairly strong stomach I’d give it a shot. If you can get beyond the first 20-30 minutes you should be able to make it all the way through – although you’ll probably have a sore jaw for a while from the number of times it’ll hit the floor. You have been warned.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Blair calls for global lessons in religious respect 

By Sean Coughlan for BBC News

15 October 2014

A global drive is needed to tackle the roots of extremism by making education systems in all countries teach respect for other religions, Tony Blair says. The former UK prime minister said it was "foolish" to spend billions on a military fight with Islamic extremism if intolerance is left "undisturbed". As a matter of "urgent global importance", he wants schools to teach "the virtue of religious respect". This should be made a "common global obligation", said Mr Blair. In an article written for the BBC News Knowledge Economy series, Mr Blair said the struggle against the Islamic State and the threat of terrorism needed to engage in the battle of ideas. "All the security measures and all the fighting will count for nothing," he said, unless the intolerant ideas that feed into extremist violence were challenged.

Mr Blair, who has set up a foundation promoting a greater understanding of religions, said it was necessary to "uproot the thinking of the extremists, not simply disrupt their actions. Especially foolish is the idea that we leave this process of the generational deformation of the mind undisturbed, at the same time as we spend billions on security relationships to counter the very threat we allow to be created." He argued that a forum such as the G20 should adopt plans for "a common charter to be accepted by all nations, and endorsed by the UN, which makes it a common obligation to ensure that throughout our education systems, we're committed to teaching the virtue of religious respect. Muslim countries will continue to teach their children the value of being Muslim. But we should all teach that people who have a different faith are to be treated equally and respected as such.” Mr Blair said it was "perplexing and alarming" that the debate about radical Islamism too often failed to engage with education and the shaping of ideas. The "incubators of radicalism" need to be confronted, he argued, to prevent the spread of ideas that "warp young and unformed minds. The challenge we face is to show young people who are vulnerable to appeals from terrorists that there is a better path to having their voice heard."

Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), has previously warned that neglecting education had become a "security issue". The head of the UN agency said that poor quality education was creating a volatile mix in many developing countries of illiteracy, unemployment and the rise of extremism. Despite a global millennium pledge for all children to have access to primary school by 2015, Unesco says this target is almost certain to be missed. International agencies have also highlighted a pattern in which students, teachers and places of education have been deliberately targeted. A report published earlier this year showed there had been 10,000 violent attacks on education, including the abduction of students in Nigeria by Boko Haram.

[Despite the fact that I have absolutely no respect for the man, he might have actually hit on something here. OK, it’s completely the wrong way of looking at things but you can’t expect all that much from someone who lies for a living. So what about this idea: Instead of teaching religious tolerance we concentrate on teaching Secularism and confining religion to the private sphere and removing it from the public one? It would mean that States across the world would be indifferent to religion just so long as it stayed out of the public sphere. If it did stray into the public sphere than action would be taken to put it back where it belonged. With luck, and some effort, it might even come to pass that future generations would have no idea what you were talking about when you mentioned God (in the many forms that we are familiar with) and would be even more confused when you tried to explain things to them. If you want a world without fundamentalist religions try to imagine a world without any religions.]

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just Finished Reading: The Gothic – A Very Short Introduction by Nick Groom (FP: 2012)

What do you think of when you hear the word – Gothic? Music? Dress Style? A dark foreboding? A semi-ruined castle complete with the rustle of bats and a full Moon? Or do you think of ancient proud peoples trading with and occasionally fighting the Romans at the edge of their Empire? Or do you think of medieval architecture and its revival in the 19th century that was responsible for so much monumental (and arguably hideous) buildings in major cities across the globe?

All of these aspects of ‘the Gothic’ are covered in this delightfully entertaining and informative little volume. The Gothic spirit (pun intended) seems to have been around for millennia and has embedded itself into the very bones of western culture from buildings, books, movies, music, fashion and art. It invades our lives through the love of things that go bump in the night, to the frisson of ersatz terror and the almost visceral feeling that there might be something sitting there, waiting and watching just beyond the edge of the light.

The Goth, in all its form, represents the dark side of the human psyche, the non-rational, superstitious, animalistic side of our nature. As science and rationalism progressed throughout the west the Gothic progressed too by using the latest technology – printing, film, sound recording – to keep itself alive and ever present in the shadows of the flickering candle, the gas light and even the electric bulb. It is not surprising that some of the first novels and the earliest examples of cinematography had explicit Gothic themes as both media seemed to be the natural home for this richly complex idea.

Shining muted lighting into the dark corners of this wide ranging cluster of genres this book is indeed an excellent introduction to the idea of the Gothic. More importantly maybe it has an excellent bibliography that I shall, no doubt, be digging real future gems from – though only during a full Moon of course!  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Just Finished Reading: The Mongols – A Very Short Introduction by Morris Rossabi (FP: 2012)

Seemingly appearing from nowhere in the 13th and 14th centuries the Mongols carved out the largest contiguous empire the world has ever seen covering the whole of China and stretching from Korea to Russia in the north and Syria in the south. For a time they washed up on the edges of Western Europe and even threatened Christendom itself. All the more surprising considering their humble beginnings and their ultimate demise.

In this fascinating and detailed short book (a mere 124 pages) the author unearths the Mongols origins as a wild, disconnected and unorganised disparate group of warring tribes eking out a subsistence existence on the wild open spaces of Asia. Reliant on their horses for almost everything they needed they supplied the rest by occasional raiding of the more settled farming areas and with trading any surpluses they had in times of plenty. This is likely to have been their entire (largely unrecorded) history if it wasn’t for the emergence of a leader of one small band of nomads who had much greater ambitions – Chinggis (or Ghenkis) Khan. Slowly accumulating power by defeating tribe after tribe in combat or absorbing them into his super-tribe through marriage or treaty the great Khan eventually became a regional power to be reckoned with. With increased wealth and the power that came with it even walled cities could not stand against him – initially safe behind their fortifications they failed to account for the Mongols hiring mercenaries adept in siege craft. As their power increased so did their wealth, as their wealth increased so did their power. Whole provinces fell before them or paid tribute. Local tax collectors made sure that the money kept rolling in and the Mongols themselves kept their empire expanding ever outward. Of course things couldn’t last. No empire expands forever and no statesman, no matter how gifted, lives forever. When Chinggis died the infighting began over a successor and the great empire descended in to a period of civil war.

When a strong leader finally appeared it was already too late. The empire had become a federation of tribes made up of traditional nomads, new city dwellers, Muslims, and much else besides. Periodic warfare between the various Khanate's became endemic and the Mongols disappeared from history.

One of the many interesting asides in this intriguing little book is the idea, floated by several European powers, that sections of the Mongol Horde could be persuaded to attack the largely Muslim Middle East either in co-ordination with the Western Crusade or on their own in the pay of the West thereby eliminating an enemy of both. Obviously the plans, possibly naïve, came to nothing as the Western Kingdoms squabbled amongst themselves and no real consensus appeared. It is however interesting to speculate what the world might have looked like after Islam had been destroyed by the Mongol invasion of the Middle East. I’m sure there’s an Alternate History novel/series in there somewhere! Detailed, with a wide scope and a decent bibliography this is definitely a good place to start if you want to find out more of this enigmatic, violent and surprisingly cultured group of peoples who have a huge influence on Eastern and Far Eastern cultures – and luckily not on Western Europe.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thinking About: Growing Old

I had my first Flu shot yesterday. After two winters of being very ill I really didn’t want to put up with a third. I couldn’t help thinking last year that this is how old people die – luckily I’m not there yet. Although I am starting to relate to some of the older people I see each day, hobbling about as best they can. Of course I’m only 54 so have got some way to go before I need my walking stick or motorised wheelchair but I can feel it in my bones sometimes – especially as winter approaches.
Statistically I’ve got another 20-25 years left though it seems these days that you longer you live the longer you might live. It’s difficult to know what medical advances will emerge and trickle down in the next two decades or so. What I don’t intend to do is spend too many of my remaining years in work. I’d like to retire at 60 if I can so that I can spend some time doing a PhD – something that I’ve wanted to do for some time now. Also I really can’t see myself dragging my flagging body out of bed in the early hours in my 60’s to be stuck in traffic on the way to the office. Personally I’d rather be poor at home and eating cold beans out of a tin – but we’ll have to see if that’s a practical possibility or not. What I’m not looking forward to (understatement of the year) is being ill in my advancing years. Inevitably you hear horror stories both in the press and from people you know about relatives being ill and being in and out of hospitals and homes for years or even decades progressively slipping away. It is not something I can think about with complete equanimity. My other concern is the possibly decline in my mental faculties. I like thinking and debating too much to view such things with indifference. Hopefully my questioning, to so nothing of my belligerent, nature will keep that prospect at bay as long as possible. Luckily I have known several people who were in their 80’s and beyond who could still argue and think with the best of them so it does happen.

Of course there is an upside to aging – enhanced personal freedom. I have never been one who enjoys being told what to do. With each passing year I become less and less controllable – much, no doubt, to the frustration of those at work who are tasked with ‘managing’ me. I don’t see this changing as my age advances – quite the contrary. After I retire I’ll have no one to answer to – except myself. I suppose the trick at that point is not to completely ‘let go’. It’ll be an interesting challenge I think. Certainly from this perspective I can’t see myself becoming more responsible. I don’t know though. Is my old age an opportunity to become less responsible (or more irresponsible) or simply more of an opportunity to find out who I really am (if I don’t know already)? I should certainly have enough time on my hands to sit and ponder the ‘meaning’ of my life as well as thinking about the Universe and Everything (again hoping that my mental faculties are up to the challenge!)

I certainly intend to keep up my ‘studies’ for as long as I am able, both informally with my reading (much more time to do this without having to work 5 days a week) and hopefully formally with a PhD (if only I could think of something to do it on!), since I doubt that my drive to know will diminish as long as my mind is capable enough to still seek out answers to all of the questions still buzzing through my brain. It’s when I think about all of the stuff I don’t know that I wish the hardest to be able to extend my lifespan indefinitely into the future. Purely science-fiction at this point I know but I can still dream. I know several of my friends are actually horrified by the thought of living for hundreds of years (or longer) but I’d embrace it as long as I was reasonably OK physically and mentally. What I couldn’t stand (presumably only in lucid moments) is indefinitely extended senility. That’s my horror story! I expect, however, that such things are still decades in my future. For now I feel little different than I did 20, 30 even 40 years ago – in my head anyway. More experienced, more knowledgeable, less naïve, less optimistic but still essentially me. The plan is to spin this feeling out until I shuffle off this mortal coil…. At least that’s the plan.    

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Just Finished Reading: Engineering – A Very Short Introduction by David Blockley (FP: 2012)

The great thing about the whole VSI series of books is that it allows me to ‘dip my toe’ into new subject areas (or to reacquaint myself with topics I may have studied decades ago) in order to expand my knowledge base – rather than ‘simply’ deepening it. Engineering, along with related fields such as architecture and materials science, is one of those areas I have recently developed an interest in (as you would have seen in some of my recent reviews) and this is another foray into that largely undiscovered country. Unfortunately, despite covering a huge area of potentially interesting subjects – everything from jet engines to electromagnets and silicon chips to vast information networks – this slim volume proved to be rather dull and uninspiring. Rightly, I suppose, the author assumed minimal knowledge of the subject from his readership and proceeded to either dumb the subject down so low it became tedious and frankly insulting or wax esoterically and lose me completely. He may have been aiming for a happy medium but didn’t hit anywhere near that balance as far as I could tell.

Fortunately I am not the kind of person, or have reached that level of maturity (heaven forbid!), where a single disappointing book will not put me off a topic or subject of interest. So, more engineering type stuff in the future – maybe something a little more focused, something with a little more depth and, hopefully, something with a whole lot more zing. As always watch this space.