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Jonathan Gifford (Oxford, UK)

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Offered by WowDiscounts
Price: £3.10

3.0 out of 5 stars This does the job but its not the original part ..., 23 Feb. 2015
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This does the job but its not the original part: it's too long to fit in the onboard storage compartment of my Miele Solutions 5280

York Lube & Walk Treadmill Lubrication Kit
York Lube & Walk Treadmill Lubrication Kit
Offered by Fitness Superstore
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars But this does a better job., 23 Feb. 2015
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Clever way to spread the silicon evenly under the treadmill belt; does take up a bit of space to store. I used to use a bottle of gel and some greaseproof paper! But this does a better job.

Kidde 7COC Carbon Monoxide Alarm 10 Year Sensor & Warranty
Kidde 7COC Carbon Monoxide Alarm 10 Year Sensor & Warranty
Offered by Plumbing Supermarket
Price: £15.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 23 Feb. 2015
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Premium Leather Ipad Tan case Stand Wallet Smart Flip Case Cover for Ipad versions 2/3/4 with Full Sleep Auto Wake Compatibility (Blue)
Premium Leather Ipad Tan case Stand Wallet Smart Flip Case Cover for Ipad versions 2/3/4 with Full Sleep Auto Wake Compatibility (Blue)
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5.0 out of 5 stars Well-made and robust, 23 Feb. 2015
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Good solid well-made case; very pleased

Levi's Men's Truckee Western Regular Fit Classic Long Sleeve Casual Shirt, Blue (Rinse Denim), Large
Levi's Men's Truckee Western Regular Fit Classic Long Sleeve Casual Shirt, Blue (Rinse Denim), Large
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 23 Feb. 2015
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Good shirt, good price

Professional Camera Tripod Stand Mount Holder For Nokia Lumia 1020/1520/920/925/900/800
Professional Camera Tripod Stand Mount Holder For Nokia Lumia 1020/1520/920/925/900/800
Offered by Harry Gong
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 23 Feb. 2015
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Arrived ahead of promised delivery; good device, good value.

NETGEAR XAVNB2001-100UKS XAVNB2001 Wall Plugged Wireless-N Powerline AV 200 Extender Kit
NETGEAR XAVNB2001-100UKS XAVNB2001 Wall Plugged Wireless-N Powerline AV 200 Extender Kit

4.0 out of 5 stars Great product for easily extending wireless router cover, 3 Oct. 2014
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Great product. Easy to set up (I used the Netgear Genie: some slightly confusing instructions but i got there after a bit). I have the extender plugged in on the landing, which give me wireless coverage of both upstairs and the downstairs rooms furthest from the router. Mu only reservation is that this is my third set of Netgear extenders in: they do seem to stop working after a few years.

Business is Beautiful: The Hard Art of Standing Apart
Business is Beautiful: The Hard Art of Standing Apart
by Jean-Baptiste Danet
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Business as art rather than science, 18 Feb. 2014
The central argument of Business is Beautiful is the heretical idea that perhaps we have reached the end of the line with the approach to business dictated by the dreary methodology of management science. `We've dissected the subject of business to death with the cold, dispassionate scalpel of statistical analysis,' argue the authors.

Businesses seek to inspire emotions in us: joy, surprise and desire, for example. The businesses that fail to inspire us in this way will fail. Successful businesses engage us in an emotional, rather than in a rational, way. Apple never said that its computers were better than other computers because of any particular feature or benefit; they said `Think different' and, `The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do,' and they left it to us to decide if this was the kind of company that we would like to do business with.

Management scientists will no doubt attempt to analyse emotional intangibles, and are probably busy inventing measures that will help them to quantify `joy' and `desire'. We could continue to invest more money and to develop ever more complex technologies in the search for the elusive, scientifically-proven route to business success. Or, as Business is Beautiful refreshingly suggests, we could admit that there are `intangible drivers of commercial success that defy measurement.'

Just as art and science are not entirely incompatible, the authors argue, so neither are business and human interests. `If you don't take your business personally, then each day you come into work you will die a little. You must bring yourself into work.' Business, the book is arguing (and as you may well guess), is (or could be) beautiful.

The authors identify five qualities that they believe are exhibited by successful businesses, and argue that these are not `measurable' in the usual sense: Integrity, Curiosity, Elegance, Craft and Prosperity.

It's a good list. We may have other qualities that we would add; the core point is that these are not `metrics'. There is no system that can be followed that will deliver elegance, or craft or - by implication - prosperity, by which the authors mean a general prosperity of the whole community, rather than the enrichment of a few directors and shareholders.

The book goes on to illustrate this general philosophy and these specific business qualities via interviews with executives and founders from an impressive selection of businesses - many familiar: 3M; Conde Nast; Arup; BMW - and some less well known (at least to me): the Parisian electric car-sharing enterprise, Autolib'; the customer-obsessed Brazilian retail chain Pao de Azucar; Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospitals, who are developing a new business model for delivering affordable heart surgery in Asia and Africa.

Some of the quotes from the interviews with these companies' spokespersons could have used a little more editing, but it is never a bad thing to have verbatim quotes from successful businessmen and women, talking about why they believe their businesses are successful.

The book has the kind of production values that you would expect from a book that promotes elegance and craft.

A thoroughly enjoyable read and another step towards an intelligent, twenty-first century model for business.

Making Capitalism Fit For Society
Making Capitalism Fit For Society
by Colin Crouch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Making the case for social democracy, 14 Nov. 2013
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The central argument of Making Capitalism Fit for Society is that it is time for social democracy to promote its benefits more assertively in the face of what Crouch sees as the growing ascendancy of free-market neoliberalism.

Crouch has some interesting things to say about neoliberalism, the most interesting of which is that the reality of neoliberal politics (I think we can take it that Crouch has the USA particularly in mind) is not, actually, neo-liberalism.

Crouch identifies three kinds of neoliberalism. The first,'pure' neo-liberalism, seeks to establish perfect markets in all areas of life; the role of the state is limited but important, focussing on protecting property rights and ensuring that there is genuine competition in the markets which increasingly are relied on to deliver all of society's needs. The second form accepts that market forces in their pure form are not appropriate for delivering certain public goods or for dealing with 'externalities'(the unintended by-products of free market behaviour, such as pollution, for which the unregulated polluter may not pay the full 'social' cost). The third form is what, Crouch argues, currently passes for 'neoliberalism' in practice, but is in fact a kind of plutocracy, because huge amounts of wealth and power have been accrued by large corporations and a few individuals, the effect of which is to create 'a politicized economy very remote from what economists understand by a neoliberal economy.'

'Once it engages in politics,' Crouch argues a little later in the book, 'neoliberal economics loses its innocence.'

His argument against the ability of markets to run every aspect of our lives are, essentially and familiarly, that there is seldom sufficient competition or information to create the conditions necessary for a perfect market and, as mentioned earlier, that markets are bad at delivering public goods and at dealing with negative externalities.

Crouch is interesting on the subject of the growing tendency to outsource public services to private companies, by way of example. In fact, he argues, very few organisations are involved in tendering for these services, and the main field of expertise of the successful companies is their knowledge of how to win government contracts. Such contracts then typically run for a substantial period of time, since it would be disruptive to change providers too often. The result is an effective monopoly, and there is an inevitable tendency to re-appoint the established incumbent when the contract is up for renewal. Not very 'free market' at all, then. Private contractors are more able to pay very low wages than the state, for which this is politically difficult, allowing proponents to argue that the outsourcing has lowered costs to the benefit of the public. But the state often ends up subsidising these low wages through tax credits and other subsidies paid for by the tax payer. It is uncertain, argues Crouch, that such outsourced services are genuinely more cost-efficient than a state-run service.

Crouch is, of course, on especially strong ground when discussing the effects of limited or absent regulation on financial markets. We've all seen where that led, and we've all helped to pick up the tab for the bankers who made themselves extremely rich by taking excessive risks, threatening the global economy and requiring a publically funded bail-out. I also liked Crouch's highlighting of the fact that the conditions imposed by the European Union, the IMF and the OECD when bailing out failed economies - such as Greece - tend to insist on the kind of unregulated, free labour markets that do not actually exist in reality in other, non-failed economies.

Crouch suggests that neoliberalism is a 'one size fits all' solution, based in essence on the role of corporations and the maximisation of shareholder value, whereas social democracy can embrace and encourage a far healthier variety of solutions: mutualism, cooperatives and the funding of enterprises by (ideally small) banks rather than by the stock market, a form of funding that was common when the industrial revolution was catching hold in nineteenth-century Britain.

Crouch's philosophy is summed up by his call for 'widespread use of markets where possible and useful, but a willingness to check, regulate and offset their effects where they threaten to destroy some widely shared goals and values.' It hard to argue with that (unless, of course, you are a neoliberal of the first kind).

It is a little ironic that Crouch himself acknowledges that social democrats can be seen as fitting into the category of 'neoliberalism of the second kind', which leaves one wondering whether we are indeed 'all neoliberals now' after all, in which case Crouch's argument for the desperate need for `assertive social democracy' would seem a little Quixotic: social democracy is alive and well, and disguised as a form of neoliberalism. And I suspect, in fact, that many neoliberals (especially 'neoliberals of the third kind') would argue that we are, in fact (and unhappily so, as they would see it) actually 'all social democrats now.'

The book is not an easy read - not in the sense that the concepts are difficult to grasp, but in the sense that Crouch, perhaps inevitably, does tend to assume that the reader is just as enthralled by the detail of the argument as he himself is, and his writing style tends towards the academic. I did find my mind wandering on several occasions - to such interesting topics as `those windows are a bit dirty; I really should give them a good clean.'

Crouch is a heavyweight sociologist and political scientist, and this book will make an important contribution to the debate which will be mainly held, one imagines, between political scientists, economists, policy makers and people made of sterner political stuff than I.

One final comment: Crouch does tend to write about 'us' and 'them'; he implies that 'people' need to be defended, not just against unfettered market forces, but against business in general, which is implied to be rapacious, immoral and untrustworthy. It is not impossible to hope that corporations - which are led, managed and staffed by 'us' - will, as seems to be happening, become increasingly conscious of their social obligations and even a force for good. Crouch does talk about other, better forms of organisational structure, but it seems a little old-fashioned to argue that the classic shareholder-owned corporation is, in effect, inherently malicious. To give an example of Crouch's apparent stance: 'Of course general product advertising does much to give giant corporations a popular friendly image that they would not enjoy if the public saw them just as vast accumulations of wealth and power.'

Revolutions that Made the Earth
Revolutions that Made the Earth
by Tim Lenton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.54

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life, the universe and everything, 28 Sept. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If ever there was a book that addressed the big issues of our time (or, indeed of any time), this is it. How did life gain a sustainable foothold on our planet? What had to happen to make this possible, and how likely or unlikely were those things, on a cosmic scale? What does this tell us about the likelihood of life on other planets elsewhere in the universe? (Less likely, it seems, than I had unwittingly assumed). If there have been a number of key 'revolutions' that have made life on earth possible and sustainable, does the huge current impact of human life on our planet represent a new revolution? Will human activity, so demanding of natural resources and so damaging to the global environment, lead to disaster or, since we are the first life form to be conscious observers of the results of our own activities, will we take action to avoid this disaster?

Phew! This is an excellent book, painstakingly researched and written with both rigour and verve. It represents scientific debate at the highest level - it is absolutely not 'popular science' - but the authors have been careful to allow the interested layman to follow the plot. You may well (like me) have to skip some aspects of probability distribution with regard to the 'critical steps' needed for the evolution of advanced life forms or some of the details of electron transfer in photosynthesis (sadly, I used to be able to follow at least some of that stuff; no longer, clearly!) but you will never lose the general drift of the argument. I should add that Lenton and Watson believe that the 'critical steps' analysis of the evolution of life is too simplistic, and that the real `revolutions' that have driven the evolution of life (like 'The Oxygen Revolution') are complex series of events.

The authors argue that that every 'revolution' that has enabled the increasing complexity of life on earth has been based on an increase in energy processing and the recycling of essential materials (like carbon and water) within the biosphere. Coupled with this has been the ability to transfer increasing amounts of information (via genetic materials). If the Human Revolution is real, they argue, then we should take very careful note of these facts if we want our revolution to be successful: we are processing vastly more energy than ever before (through our use of fossil fuels) and we are transmitting more information across generations than ever before (through our development of language). We are not doing so well on the recycling front (I am being flippant: read on).

Each revolution has had dramatic consequences, some of which could have led to the destruction of the biosphere: we are where we are today because of a series of successful revolutions, some highly unlikely. Our own revolution will be (and clearly is) equally fraught with dangers.

The authors are, in effect, proponents of James Lovelock's 'Gaia' theory (the theory that the organic and inorganic systems on planet earth are a self-regulating system). The Gaia theory is, however, dangerously self-confirming: our planetary system sustains life by means of an astoundingly complex set of interactions, but is this the almost inevitable outcome of the evolution of life ('Probable Gaia') or does planet earth just happen to have allowed the right conditions to arise by a series of fortuitous events ('Lucky Gaia')?

Lenton and Watson argue that, at a relatively low level of complexity of life - the microbial level - 'life will inadvertently (but inevitably) get entangled in environmental feedback loops' most of which will be benign, with the occasional possibility of self-induced extinction. Further up the evolutionary chain, things get dicier. The authors suggest that the development of photosynthesis by cyanobacteria is the most significant (and most unlikely) event in the development of life on earth, one that allowed significant further complexity to develop.

This has great consequences for the likelihood of life on other planets. There are, apparently, 250 star systems within 30 light years of our own, We can hope to find basic life forms on a very few planets in these star systems - those that exist in a habitable zone around their own star - but the authors would expect to find oxygenic photosynthesis in perhaps one in ten, or fewer, of those planets that have rudimentary life forms. Ergo: probably no advanced life forms within 30 light years' radius of the solar system. Less chance, it seems, of an alien spacecraft landing in my back yard than I might have hoped.

The sheer number of factors that have to come into play to enable complex life forms to evolve are daunting: planets need to be in the habitable zone around their sun, which changes over time (our sun's habitable zone will move past us in a few more billion years, ending life on earth) and it takes billions of years for complex life forms to evolve. The authors reckon that the earth has a 5-6 billion year window in which life could potentially be sustained, and we are about 4.5 billion years into this phase. So we have 'only' 0.5 to 1.5 billion years left. Our earth has other things in its favour: a magnetic field (thanks to its iron core) that deflects the Solar Wind; a 'cold trap' that keeps water in the atmosphere; an enduring internal heat source caused by radiation; a tectonic plate system that recycles carbon and water as rocks are melted down in the earth's core and their life-supporting ingredients are returned to the atmosphere thorough volcanic eruptions.

Our number will eventually be up, when the suns' habitable zone leaves us behind as it drifts further towards the edge of the solar system and we frazzle in its increasing heat, but Lenton and Watson think that we might survive for a reasonable portion of this aeon, rather than quickly bring about our own demise through our greed and recklessness. Energy, they argue, is the only problem. Our current reliance on fossil fuels is both highly polluting and ultimately, of course unsustainable; fossil fuels will very soon run out. We do indeed run the risk of 'runaway' climactic changes, where increases in global temperature trigger other results that create a positive feedback loop that result in a hostile environment in which most or even all life forms could not exist. Reassuringly, they remind us that most foreseeable consequences of our current activities do not result in a 'runaway': a runaway results only when a consequence is triggered that causes an event of greater magnitude than the initial cause, whereas, for example, the release of methane from the Arctic tundra caused by the melting of the permafrost will result in further global warming, but on a smaller scale than the warming that caused it in the first place: we would be heading towards a convergence, not a runaway - a 1.01% increase in temperature as opposed to a 1% increase in temperature, to use their hypothetical illustration.

The authors are reassuringly pragmatic: most alternative thinking suggests that we should retrench, or as they put it, 'retreat', and concludes that there must be less humans on the planet, making less of an impact on the environment and gobbling up less resources. This, they argue refreshingly, is both unlikely and boring. There is little chance that people in developed economies will give up their new luxuries and excitements, or that emerging economies will not also seek these things. To do so also feels like an abandonment of progress: a deliberate retreat to a less advanced form of civilisation.

But if we have the sustainable energy source - the authors consider nuclear fission, fusion and renewables - then a very large number of human beings could sustain a very high quality of life on this planet, using that energy source to recycle our essential materials (just as the biosphere had always needed to recycle its essential materials) and reducing our harmful waste products (like CO2 and the run-off of fertilisers into the ocean, which really might switch the oceans into an anoxic state in the not too distant future).

But I must not end on a negative note, since the book does not: it offers the very real hope that our ingenuity and our awareness of our potential predicament will enable a solution, provided we can find the necessary energy source. And they remind us never to assume that any one individual is unable to make an impact on problems that seem so daunting. Every major development in the evolution of life begins with an individual: there is always the first individual that sparks a revolution, like the first cyanobacterium to achieve photosynthesis.

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