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Sarakani (Harrow United Kingdom)

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The Calendar: The 5000 Year Struggle To Align The Clock and the Heavens, and What Happened To The Missing Ten Days
The Calendar: The 5000 Year Struggle To Align The Clock and the Heavens, and What Happened To The Missing Ten Days
by David Ewing Duncan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Octavian's megalomania took over the world, 24 Jan 2011
This was a fantastic holiday read and compelling enough to be finished without delay. The author takes you by the hand to the invention of the modern calendar, starting from a complaints by a cleric called Bacon from the 13th century about problems in the Julian calendar, to an exploration of the origin of the calendar focussing on the Roman usage and set up of the calendar we still use to this day. The book deals with the golden age of Arab civilization, Indian mathematics and how they contributed their share to this calendar. The author defines the year, the types of calendar from solar, to lunar to luni-solar.

From Rome, (to backtrack) we go to the dark ages in Europe, venerable Bede and the Holy Roman Empire. The days of the week emerge partly from pagan roots and also some association with saints days.

In the last part, the book sows up how the rest of the world including the UK, the Americas and by extension various colonial countries took on board a universal Gregorian calendar that departs from the true year by a matter of about 25 seconds.

The author does not talk as much as I would have liked about why the British calendar started around the 25th of March, perhaps a Pagan tradition that echoes how most Northern Hemispheric civilizations traditionally started their calendars in spring rather than the Roman month of January. More could have been covered on this ground. He also has little time for the origin of the 24 hour clock. Other cultures such as in Sri Lanka had 32 hours, usually such numbers are divisible by four.

We end up with atomic clocks that keep us anchored to a global time where the Earth's rotation can actually be more variable. Written for the non-specialist, the author brings together histories, cultures and a huge amount of care to bear on one of the most indispensable tools of modern life throughout the world. There is a good bibliography and plenty of room for further research. Extremely interesting, important and revealing.

Tchaikovsky [DVD] [2007] [US Import]
Tchaikovsky [DVD] [2007] [US Import]
Dvd ~ Alice Glover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Largely unwatchable, listenable perhaps., 19 Nov 2010
As a Tchaikovsky fan who has studied his life, I found this film revolting. I think it makes too much of his private life and what it does reveal of it, does not do it justice. The way his private life is dealt with makes everything else in this rather intellectual film somewhat redundant. There is too much overinterpretation perhaps of his personality and his theoretical suicide that is now largely discredited. Tchaikovsky was a more joyful being than the brooding, rather silent male model employed here. You'll find The Music Lovers by Ken Russell and some rather stiff communists biopics of him available on YouTube more informative and entertaining. Perhaps Poliakov/f as a film producer could have done a better job.

Star Trek: Mr Scott's Guide to the Enterprise
Star Trek: Mr Scott's Guide to the Enterprise
by Shane Johnson
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars If you are real fan, 10 Oct 2010
This book primarily covers the refitted TOS Enterprise for the film Star Trek The Motion Picture and some of the sequels to this before the great ship was destroyed. Enjoyable reading. No colour pictures, just a blurb about the new warp engines with an insight into the decks and the botanical garden etc. I think that this one is OK but not necessarily a collector's item.

"Star Trek" Ships of the Line
"Star Trek" Ships of the Line
by Doug Drexler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Model makers reference, 10 Oct 2010
This book has a series of stunning plates depicting the evolution of Star Trek from the prequel, through TOS to TNG and beyond. There is one howler. On page 34, the scales of the figures standing next to the Enterprise, one of them supposed to be Captain Christopher Pike are incorrect. As the original TOS Enterprise was supposed (or should I say is or will be) 947feet long, these people look like they may be about 40 feet tall. Other than that, well captioned. As you open this book, it shows a plate with a caption on the adjoining page to indicate what the illustration is all about. This is sort of more like a Star Trek Calendar but without dates. Real coffee table material for real coffee drinkers. If you are an Enterprise model make, I'm sure you'll find this very useful or at least useful for reference given the quality of the illustrations are very good. I would have liked to have seen far more coverage of the TOS Enterprise that I at least grew up with, rather than Deep Space Nine but I think TOS does get a reasonable airing. Happy gawping!

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science
Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science
by Carol Kaesuk Yoon
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chomsky meets Linnaeus and the taxonomic disaster, 4 Sep 2010
Taxonomy as science, has been covered in grandiose books such as The species problem, a philosophical analysis by Richards. But do ordinary folk have any stake in it, as biodiversity disappears? The subtitle of Yoon's rambunctious exploration better reveals Yoon's exposure of the weak underbelly of much of biodiversity work today.

We are ever reliant on best selling field guides to showcase biodiversity and its representative species although the species concept has proven elusive "as each [biologist] tried endlessly to patch his ... deflating definition [of a species], to what ... has been absolutely no good end." Darwin's reiteration from a private letter still stands: "the opinion of naturalists having sound judgement and wide experience seems the only guide to follow ... this may not be a cheering prospect, but we shall at least be freed from the vain search for the undiscovered and undiscoverable essence of the term species." (Schilthuizen M., frogs flies & dandelions, the making of species) As child naturalists, we probably recognized species guided by our primeval umwelt, a perceived sense of the natural world, but have ended up deferring to science to explain it. Yoon begins by broaching the consequences of taxonomic systems that have eliminated "fish" and zebras as real categories while three species disappear per hour, "1,000 times the rate ... they were disappearing before humanity" often eliciting a collective yawn. Why? Yoon wants her fish back.

In 1735, Linnaeus' fourteen page Systema Naturae was an almost instant hit and Darwin's evolution explained its underpinning. Darwin cut his taxonomic teeth over "eight gruelling years" on barnacles but the eventual "revelation of evolution was no clarifying gift to taxonomy" as Darwin had assumed.

Taxonomic work couched within Darwinism remained relatively unchanged though "[20th century evolutionary] Taxonomy had undergone one dramatic change however. It was now entirely the territory, the sole property of the professional taxonomists. ... No longer did the ordering of any particular living thing seem to capture the interest of anyone outside the confines of an increasingly limited group of specialists." Headed by giants like Mayr, taxonomic vindication retained a certain subjectivity as quoted from Mayr and Amadon: "No one believes any longer that the pipits or `tit-larks' are related to the true larks." There were always the debates between lumpers and splitters, but Mayr realised species were real, when his identification of 137 species of New Guinean birds of paradise was corroborated by Arfak tribesmen who recognized 136.

Perhaps both Mayr and the Arfak people relied on an instinct that even animals share. Yoon gives taxonomy a Chomskyan slant, taxonomy is hardwired into us and perhaps other animals, not just a scientific ritual. Classifying nature is a multifarious survival trait such as differentiating between food and non-food. Yoon expands upon a wealth of evidence such as cases of brain damage where people have lost the ability to name organisms but retain the capacity to name inanimate objects. She indicates how we can correctly differentiate between birds or fish just by listening to novel pairings of unfamiliar names from obscure tribal sources, e.g., which of the following is a bird, a yawarach or tuikcha? Indeed, there seems to be a limit to how many genera trained naturalists can easily recall to around 600 that influences our nomenclatural systems.

Traditional, authoritative if subjective taxonomy as practiced by Mayr did not amount to experimental science. The separation between taxonomy and science "went much deeper than a mere two centuries of tradition. [They] were devoted to a tradition as ancient as humanity ... the vision of their umwelt."

The objectification of taxonomy into science took the routes of numerical, molecular and cladistic approaches, each parcelled within separate chapters. Increasingly, taxonomy was an exercise in selecting branches off phylogenies of growing abstraction. The cladists in particular had divorced us from the umwelt. Whereas a child will sense the pairing between a salmon and a lungfish against a cow, the cladist will disagree.

Cladistics triumphed in the 1980s, as biodiversity loss hit the headlines. "How could it be, [asked biologists] ... in soul-searching seminars ... that people cared so little about the living world?" Yoon's explanation is somewhat startling: "science has slowly but surely distanced itself from the view of the living world that all ... share and understand" leaving us blind to our own view of it. Not surprisingly there is little funding for taxonomy. Curatorial staff are eliminated as they become as endangered as some of the species they studied. University departments dedicated to the living world become absorbed into biomedicine.

Equally real taxonomists such as the Tzeltal Maya of Mexico however do remain where toddlers can name thirty plant species. Ironically, many such tribal communities and their practical knowledge of medicines and food are also threatened whereas our general umwelt is spent on consumer brands and childhood intimacies with dinosaurs and Pokemon.

Yoon stresses that we have to reclaim all our taxonomies given that nature is a collective and priceless property: "the sooner we get back our original vision the better." Whereas not all may agree that Whales are fish and should be treated as such, the fact is, that peer reviewed papers will never reveal the taxonomic know how of several tribal communities, many of whom have now become extinct and their knowledge is certainly on its way out.

Her conclusions are evidenced for example in noting the current, relatively specialised volumes of periodicals such as the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society that towards the first half of the twentieth century burgeoned with information from amateurs and specialists including "sportsmen", soldiers, civil servants and paid naturalists. Confined as many of these journals now are to strictly peer reviewed output, it can take up to a year to publish one species description during which time 50,000 may have disappeared. The available manpower and interest is less than scarce. Most laymen get very little say and forums for their observations to make a difference remain limited. Naming Nature could be the vehicle of a revolution or at least a revival in understanding and reclaiming traditional and folk taxonomies for wider appreciation in contrast to a highly expensive, abstruse science based methodology that has arguably succeeded in putting itself out of business.

Fishes of the Open Ocean: A Natural History and Illustrated Guide
Fishes of the Open Ocean: A Natural History and Illustrated Guide
by Julian Pepperell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing coverage of Tuna and Swordfish (and sharks), 4 Sep 2010
Four chapters that introduce the book and cover the presentation and our relationship with fish, lead the reader to survey about 160 selected species of open ocean fish, of no fixed abode, engaged in journeys between the continental shelves or dispersed over a significant area of sea. The author takes care in explaining how and why he has chosen the fish he has, and roughly in what order they appear in the book. Each fish is typically depicted in colour by artist Harvey, with maps, photographs and full-page artwork resulting in a lavish reference. We see side profiles for most of the fish though others such as the basking shark are depicted less flatly. The side of views for hammerhead sharks does them a disservice though Tuna and Billfish get some superb illustrations. Seven chapters partition the fish into groups such as billfish, tuna, jacks and sharks with a miscellaneous assortment at the end that includes remoras, oilfish, sunfish and fanfish that may be unfamiliar.

A more consistent taxonomic treatment would have been preferable with a summary of facts for each of the main fish covering their body length and weight. For example, the butterfly tuna is probably a basal group to other tunafish, but appears in the middle of the section dealing with the true tuna the thunini and other forms such as bonitos. To place the sharks as a group between a spectrum of bony fish is also questionable - the taxonomic series does not follow a particularly logical pattern. We do have to wade through quite a bit of text for each fish to find out its size and weight, when a short summary besides each distribution map could have helped. Overall, some kind of fish classification with all the cast of fish shown as an appendix could have helped tremendously.

Most billfish and the fourteen true tuna fish are covered with a fifth of the selection representing the Scombridae and its subgroups in a spectrum that encompasses some thirty-nine families of fish across fourteen orders. Sizes of fish, especially from sport fishing records are given with more attention to weight rather than length. The length of the Bluefin tuna does not seem to be stated categorically given a record for one individual which was apparently 30 feet long. The descriptions highlight key species aspects rather than being encyclopaedic. Conservation issues are dealt with relatively impartially and Pepperell dwells on recent studies (such as tagging) indicating our levels of scientific and aesthetic ignorance of what often amounts to anonymous sources of food. E.g., Annual catches of Skipjack tuna along with "bycatch" have risen to c.2.4 million tonnes, "a trend which is of considerable concern" and several species like Rainbow runners are not just strikingly colourful, but change colour rapidly when alive, which is not how we are likely to encounter them.

More could have been said about overfishing and solutions apart from game fishing and tagging research. As a tribute to oceanic predatory behemoths and food fish, this book augers well for education, research, and conservation incorporating recreational aspects such as (increasingly) non lethal sport fishing, fish watching and diving. Encore.

The Road Home
The Road Home
by Rose Tremain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nuanced narrative, 4 Sep 2010
This review is from: The Road Home (Paperback)
I enjoyed reading this book as recommended by my mother. Lev has moved to the UK from an unidentified Eastern European country in search of work so he can support his friends and family abroad. The book is very true to life, charged and optimistic.

The author characterizes the average English woman as a creature who cannot be trusted. Most of the English women characters are lampooned, starting from an introduction to them out of the mouth of Lev's London landlord an Irishman, who warns Lev about getting mixed up with English ladies. This landlord has lost his daughter and property to an estranged wife who is doing everything in her power to estrange him from his daughter even more. Lev does start a relationship with an English girl, but like some of them, they seem to be interested in drink, sex and short term fun with no desire for commitment except perhaps with someone with money and power. When Lev finds work with a vegetable farmer, it transpires that his English wife has left him and had threatened to legally take over the farm, once more, the question mark over relationships with English women. Lev's landlord ends up happily with an Indian lady.

Lev on the other hand is a well grounded man with a vision, not to be ruffled easily by the problems that beset him like cleaning up pots and pans. Not only does he lose a significant job but hears about how his community back home and the life he remembers will be completely flooded over by a hydroelectric project. This inheritance of loss theme is a perennial thread through the book in the context of dealing with loss, rejection and poverty, especially in Lev's Eastern European homeland where people seem to have little culture or quality of life compared to London given the shadow of "industrial" communism.

Several interesting characters abound from Ahmed the Kebab shopkeeper, in trouble after Islamic terror attacks in London as customers boycott Muslim shops like his. The book is staged very well in London laced with food, sex and the resilience of the human spirit.

Well worth reading and a real page turner without being like a thriller or a romance, just a saga of life.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2011 11:50 PM GMT

Natural Selection
Natural Selection
by Dave Freedman
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Every taxonomists dream, 4 Sep 2010
There are at least two fantasy plots in this book. One of them is a flying, monster that may or may not be a fish. The other is the kudos attached to being at the vanguard of a new species discovery. The first story is somewhat lamentable. Here is a blind ray like fish monster, so why does it have eyes, and why does it seem to be able to see towards the end? Many of the sentences are very badly edited from "shined a light" to other garbled facts that are not internally consistent. For example, in one sentence we hear that there were very few plants including, followed by two animals that the author knows are animals. Well then why call them plants? The beginning of the monster tale is very very slow and pseudo scientific though vaguely plausible if very obscure (I'm not bothered about fiction, but fiction has to work and be believable within limits), but the fantasy attack scenarios much later on represent a level of fictitious escalation that just don't sound authentic. It's like a Star Trek episode that turns from a film with actors into a more childish animation at the end, perhaps like Scooby-Doo.

What did make me carry on reading this yarn was the excitement it proposes for the discovery of a fantastic new species. This to me is a more worthy fantasy, and I should know as a taxonomist, just what a fantasy it is. Here is a multi millionaire who wants to actually fund the discovery of a single species, no expenses spared. Well, having discovered seven new species of squirrel, I can't see anyone queuing up to give me any money. Then there is a species committee of 12 in Washington DC who authorize the discovery of a new species. In reality, there is no such body, but it may be good if there were, given what a hard time amateur taxonomists have getting some dumb peers to allow their work to be published. Finally, new species discoveries are seen as stunning and grand. Unfortunately, there are hardly many people to do this job as it is so badly paid, and most published species discoveries happen with very little if any comment.

Here, the fantasy of new species discoveries being hailed as significant and being well funded is a true fantasy scenario to warm the cockles of any real taxonomist, who knows just how poorly recognized these people and their work is/are. I applaud the author, for writing a cracking fantasy around the theme of a taxonomic discovery that certainly does not mirror what happens in the real world, but would be worth celebrating at least in this fictitious scenario. At least to this extent, this book will win readers among the science community. I believe the book also highlights a dearth of real research concerning the oceans as we as species plunder its life forms to oblivion.

Canon Pixma iP100 Portable Inkjet Printer with Battery
Canon Pixma iP100 Portable Inkjet Printer with Battery
Price: £256.73

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware! battery not under warranty, 10 Jun 2010
This is an OK printer and you may see my full review under the Pixma ip100 main page. Having had this printer for about 2 months under warranty the battery stopped working. I told Canon that it could be a printer problem or a battery problem. Given Canon supplied on site repairs, they said that the battery was not under warranty and if an onsite repairperson came and found it was a battery issue rather than a printer issue, I'd have to pay for the visit. Instead, I opted to visit a Canon repair agent just outside the M25 so I would not have to pay for any visit. They diagnosed a battery issue. The replacement battery could be purchased there at around £70 but non refundable. This battery is not covered by the warranty and is thus irreplaceable free during the warranty period so you are probably better off not getting it with the battery that in any case adds weight to the printer. Unless you are in a coffee shop or out to impress friends, the loss of this mobile feature should not be too significant until Canon warranties the battery as well.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 29, 2013 4:10 PM BST

Agora [DVD] [2009]
Agora [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Rachel Weisz
Price: £4.00

19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The light of Alexandria, 3 Jun 2010
This review is from: Agora [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Alexandria was one of the most glorious cities of Eurasia, a hybrid of three sets of cultures, European, Nubian and Asian created by Alexander and the Ptolemy dynasty around 320BCE. Its heyday was probably around 200BCE and it lasted well over a millennium. Alexandria was eclipsed by the dark ages around 415 when the whole of Egyptian history in the classical mould came to an end as Theodosius, the Emperor of a dying Rome imposed Christianity on Egypt. Most temples, their gods and writings were destroyed or defaced, from Zeus in Olympia to the temple of Artemis at Ephesus in modern Turkey. In Egypt the Seraphium was destroyed, a daughter library to the famous library of Alexandria that was probably largely destroyed around 50BCE when Julius Caesar took over Alexandria and Egypt fell under Roman sway. This film is very much an encapsulation of the Christianisation of Alexandria and the destruction of its ancient ways, making it ripe for ruin and decay. The one structure that did survive that forms a backdrop to this film is the Pharos lighthouse, created in 250BCE that survived all the way into around 1280 by which time Alexandria was part of the Islamic Empire.

As a satellite city of Rome, Alexandria still enjoyed a cultural and educational reputation at the time of Hypatia, a neoplatonist philosopher who had studied in Athens and Italy. She taught at the Seraphaeum representing a sort of University/Library scholastic complex dedicated to learning. Hypatia was part scientist and mathematician but also and no less importantly a philosopher. She probably believed in transcendental modes of consciousness as taught by Plotinus. She worked with her farther Theon and together they edited several works, clarified various mathematical books added their own contributions, none of which have survived (though some of Hypatias editing may be present in Greek mathematics that she helped transmit). Hypatia invented or devised several scientific instruments. She was obviously a person of importance, not merely a noted academic. Towards 415AD there was a power struggle between the Roman prefect Orestes and the Roman Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria. Orestes was allied with Hypatia and Cyril probably engineered her elimination as a symbol of paganism and witchcraft.

What facts we have come from the letters of her students among other works, including clergymen and the historian Socrates Scholasticus. We know very little about whether the Serapheum had a large book collection and how much of the library of Alexandria had survived there into the time of Hypatia.

This film encapsulates the facts available in the context of a triangle of rivalry between Judaism, Christianity and Paganism and also a struggle between the Church and State. It objectifies Alexandria seen from space. The restoration of the city is very good but perhaps does not do justice to the glories of the city that once was that probably possessed more colour, rather than the dusty restoration the film presents. I was disappointed that there were so many candles shown. They did not use candles. They used lamps of olive oil and we know much about these lamps from surviving examples. So much more could have been shown about Hypatia herself, even as a semi fictitious character. Maybe a vignette of her writing with a quill pen in lamp light, and how she travelled around in a carriage rather than on foot. Here we do get glimpses of her with her students and a famous incident of her rebuffing one of them who declared his love for her. This incident did take place. More is shown of Hypatia the astronomer and scientist and less of her as a spiritual being, a philosopher though some indication is given. My favourite line is concerns Hypatia stating that her father would have celebrated a conjunction between Mars and perhaps Jupiter in Aquarius. Hypatia was no atheist secularist though she would have been a rational thinker who questioned dogma as the film tries to show.

I believe that given the limited resources the film commanded they have done the best they could. Indeed certain details of the script reveal a depth of reading and research that is new to me to deserve exploration. They concentrate on Hypatia formulating a heliocentric view of the Earth's rotation as stated by Aristarchus from one of his books. We hear about this book from the "mother library" that once was in Alexandria of which the Serapheum, associated with Hypatia was a satellite.

In this film they indicate bloody conflicts arising between the pagans and the Christians. I think that most of the aggression came from the Christians given they were supported by Rome and there isn't much evidence for the pagans attacking Christians in cold blood as indicated (though blood was probably spilt one way or another). We are aware that the Serapheum was destroyed and the film recreates this incident on the basis of a precedent which is questionable. Later we see another scene where the Jews rouse the ire of the Christians. What is clear from history is that the Jews of Alexandria were attacked and dispersed, again rendered in unholy detail in this film. The ancient anti semitism is portrayed very realistically and may arouse emotion.

The conflict between Orestes and St Cyril is dramatized extremely well leading to a rather tragic climax. Rachel Weisz gives a good performance where Hypatia stands out like an English heroine. The real Hypatia may have been a bit more tanned (and theoretically a lot older when she died) but Weisz is believable. If only the props were a bit better, with lamps and a carriage for her. Her face looks pained and haunted as she is lead to her death, dealt with rather sensitively if a touch unconvincingly given Hypatia's slave who softens the blow.

Dramatic license is acceptable and much of the context is very powerfully served up. I could have watched a film an hour longer if necessary if more history was introduced. We see the theatre and overall the city comes alive, about as close as a film could ever take you to classical Alexandria. The fanaticism of emergent Christianity is I believe faithful enough though this film is not an attack on religion per se. Indeed, it always tries to create a precedent to indicate why the Christians became hostile, precedents not always contained in history though the hostility was clear. Overall, the film does a good job.

The greatest tragedy of this film is that despite covering its costs it has had a poor audience in the USA and the UK. As far as I'm aware the film was only largely shown in London in two cinemas and rather tentatively at that. I get the impression there is a conspiracy to suppress this film that mirrors the conspiracy to suppress Hypatia. Far more deserves to be shown of Alexandria as a centre of learning and humanity at its finest. Egypt was far more glorious then than it even aspires to today. However the glories of Alexandria continue to emerge from the sea. Above all the Egyptians could learn from this film, though the bulk of them will probably remain unconvinced.

The flavor and power of this film is sufficiently strong and convincing for it to be considered very significant. At least as significant as the old Cleopatra film (with Elizabeth Taylor) that happened to be a cinematic flop. I just hope this film helps to keep the lamps and the light alive for civilisation to continue without getting bogged down in dogma.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2011 3:43 PM BST

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