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William James, Brasenose "brasenose"

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Rama: The Omnibus: The Complete Rama Omnibus
Rama: The Omnibus: The Complete Rama Omnibus
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strikingly imaginative hard SF that becomes over-extended and strained in later books, 28 Sept. 2015
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This collection of books by Arthur C Clarke spans a large part of his writing career, and the divergence of style is very noticeable. In the first book, we are in classic “hard SF” territory, with a strong focus on technological speculation justified by a real grip of the principles of physics and engineering. Human astronauts of the not-too distant future engage an enormous cylindrical spacecraft that visits our Solar System from interstellar space. Clarke describes in loving, sometimes repetitive detail the way in which the rotation of the craft generates the effect of gravity for those who enter it and walk on its inner surface through a 1xg reactive force to its centripetal acceleration; the way this makes life relatively normal for inhabitants from earth-like planets, but how the visual and climatic effects are deeply disturbing. (He avoids tackling the rather trickier physics of the behaviour of the Rama “atmosphere” under artificial gravity, and this is left to later SF authors to attempt.) He also evokes the sense of wonder one would feel when brought face-to-face with artefacts of immeasurably more advanced cultures. However, the plot-line is relatively under-developed, and the characters barely fleshed out.
All this changes in the second volume, which is written with much greater expansiveness, and a voluminous description of the back-story of the characters who will go on to encounter the second “Rama” vehicle to enter the Solar System, many years later, some of whom will stay with the plot until the end of the fourth volume. The dramatic change in style is explained by Clarke’s explicit collaboration with co-authors in these later books, and there’s no doubt that the change was vital to carry any but the geekiest readers through the sequels. Nevertheless, the characters are resolutely two-dimensional caricatures. No sooner has Clarke introduced a character than they are pigeon-holed into a stereotype whose future development is entirely and depressingly predictable. The only slight exception to this is the character of Richard, who takes three books to develop from a stereotypical semi-aspergic scientist to caring family man, though he does so in the course of about a page, and as a result of adopting a pair of alien birdlings! The plots of books three and four elaborate the story in often stimulating ways, but to me fail satisfactorily to explain why all the long-distance inter-stellar travels are necessary for the higher purpose of Rama’s creators. In the end, the eschatology becomes increasingly implausible and unnecessarily faux-religious, and one feels he had difficulty knowing how to wrap things up.
The transfer to Kindle is pretty poor. It has clearly been scanned from hard copy, with insufficient proofing. There are mis-transcriptions of “1”s for “l”s in most chapters and multiple occasions on which half-paragraphs are repeated disconcertingly. For £13, I think buyers deserve better.


Debt - Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years
Debt - Updated and Expanded: The First 5,000 Years
Price: £13.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice analysis. Shame about the extrapolation, 28 Sept. 2015
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This is a book concerning the history of money that is written by an anthropologist rather than by an historian or an economist. The perspective brought by this disciplinary background is extremely illuminating, and a worthwhile corrective to accounts of the evolution of credit, exchange, markets, barter, capital and debt that emanate from either alternative discipline. In Graeber’s view, Historians are crippled by an unwillingness to speculate in the absence of concrete evidence about the use of, say, informal credit in a specific preliterate society. On the other hand, economists are all too willing to impose their all-encompassing world view in the absence of evidence, or even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The anthropologist, he argues, is uniquely placed to look for evidence about how a range of cultures use economic tools, and extrapolate from these to construct plausible scenarios concerning prehistorical societies. The evidence he amasses is relatively persuasive in a number of important respects, and renders commonly asserted economic narratives unconvincing. For example, he nails the coffin of the “barter preceded money” myth, reminds us of the importance of informal credit in our own lives amongst those we know and trust, and makes a plausible case that coinage as a means of exchange and taxation arose long after the historically documented use of formal credit systems, and did so to facilitate the military conquests of empires in the “Axial Age”. In my view, his extrapolations are much too wild in other areas, particularly when like Marxians and neo-liberals, he predicts the inevitability of the renaissance of a steady-state communitarianism. His firm belief that economic growth can never be sustainable is based, I believe, on the false premise that there is a fixed amount of value in the world because there is a limited amount of physical material and energy. That’s a little like saying to the Precambrian slime that its daughters cannot evolve into ever more complex and intelligent forms of life for the same reasons.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2016 9:58 AM BST


The Nature of the Beast: The first genetic evidence on the survival of apemen, yeti, bigfoot and other mysterious creatures into modern times
The Nature of the Beast: The first genetic evidence on the survival of apemen, yeti, bigfoot and other mysterious creatures into modern times
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Where other scientists fear to tread., 13 Aug. 2015
Professor Sykes starts from the radical position that pinpointing the identity of the animals that have given rise to stories about Yetis, Bigfoots and the rest is an entirely proper scientific objective, and one that, moreover, is susceptible to unambiguous solution given the DNA technologies developed over the last decades by laboratories such as his own. To answer the question satisfactorily, he has to obtain as much physical evidence of each beast as possible and then subject it to the highest standards of analysis. To obtain the samples, he has first to take the stories seriously and treat the story-tellers with decent human respect, with as open a mind as possible about whether the stories are delusions, hoaxes, mistakes or the record of genuine encounters with beasts “unknown to science”. He treads the difficult path between cynicism and credulousness with great aplomb. In doing so, he retells the stories with great verve, and sketches the story-tellers with a masterly hand. Much of the book is in the form of a picaresque narrative of his travels to each faraway site and his encounters with the often eccentric characters who devote their life to the pursuit of fabulous beasts. He pauses from time to time to reflect on the duties of scientists to truth-telling and social responsibility, and the legitimacy of their role as entertainers within these bounds. Although lightly delivered, these reflections are rather deep. But the eye is always on the scientific prize: what is the nature of the beast? He very clearly describes for the lay reader the way in which geneticists can now isolate DNA from minute hair samples without risking contamination with extraneous sequences, either from the environment or themselves. He explains how he uses the fast-ticking molecular clock of the mitochondrial DNA’s control region to precisely calibrate the sample’s relationship within the human family, and the slow-ticking clock of the 12S sequence to identify non-human species. The stories gradually get drawn together towards an Agatha Christie-style dénouement during which the identity of each of the beasts is revealed by the DNA sequence analysis. Satisfyingly, although the great majority of the culprits are identified definitively, there remain a couple of tantalizing oddities that will repay further investigation. I’ll not spoil the readers’ enjoyment of the chase by revealing these outcomes, any more than one would give away the plot of a whodunit, but Sykes is to be congratulated on solving so many mysteries in one magnificent sweep and, for the first time, doing so in a way that satisfies the reviewers of a proper, peer-reviewed scientific journal. The nature of the beast is a great, pacey and entertaining read for the holidays, with some really serious science thrown in for good measure!


Dualit 2 Slice Toaster Stainless Steel 20245
Dualit 2 Slice Toaster Stainless Steel 20245
Price: £98.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Timer's out for Dualit!, 12 July 2014
Adequate toaster with appallingly cheap timer, which lasted a couple of years. Avoid


Dowland: Art Of Melancholy
Dowland: Art Of Melancholy
Price: £14.99

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive recording!, 21 April 2014
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I've recently had the chance to hear both Iestyn Davies and Thomas Dunford perform this set of songs with lute (and lute solos) at Wigmore Hall, and Ian Bostridge and Liz Kenny a very similar set at the Sheldonian. Both pairs were superb, of course, but Davies and Dunford had the edge in control, subtlety and emotional power. Now wonder this is #1 bestseller on cassette!


Brasenose: The Biography of an Oxford College
Brasenose: The Biography of an Oxford College
by Joseph Mordaunt Crook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £75.00

1.0 out of 5 stars Read Buchan instead, 17 April 2014
As a good read, and a reasonably good history of BNC's first 400 years, Buchan's work (£5 on Kindle) is much to be preferred. Crook's work is excellent if you want to find out more about the personalities of the dining and sporting clubs of the college.


Tiger A2 artists portfolio with rings for art presentations
Tiger A2 artists portfolio with rings for art presentations
Offered by G&N SUPPLIES / EDUCATIONLINE
Price: £27.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality and value, 3 Feb. 2014
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This portfolio is just the job for art and architecture students. It is light and robust enough for daily use


CR2032 Battery (2 pack) - Panasonic, Lithium Coin Cell, 3V
CR2032 Battery (2 pack) - Panasonic, Lithium Coin Cell, 3V
Offered by decolectrix2013
Price: £1.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing value and service, 3 Feb. 2014
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At this price, I don't know how they cover the costs of P&P, let alone the batteries! These would be several quid for the pack at your local shop.


Springyard "Classy" Mens High Quality Galosh, Size Small
Springyard "Classy" Mens High Quality Galosh, Size Small

5.0 out of 5 stars as worn by Jeremy Fisher, 30 Mar. 2013
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I tried to buy galoshes in the cold wet winter of 1978-9, but the department stores claimed they'd not stocked them for decades. Now, the power of the interweb means these invaluable items are available once a gain, than goodness. I cycle to work an need to protect my smart shoes from slush and flood. These slim overshoes mean I don't have to carry gumboots and change, and they are tidy enough not to be noticed.


ITTM Outlimits DSS Rugged Outdoor Mobile Phone - orange
ITTM Outlimits DSS Rugged Outdoor Mobile Phone - orange

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars does what it says, 30 Mar. 2013
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Excellent value compared with others, and survives abuse like bathtub immersion without complaint. Bi enough for texting with human fingers!


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