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M. Weber "Marc Weber" (London, UK)
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The Principia (Great Minds)
The Principia (Great Minds)
Price: 7.37

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor quality of Kindle edition, 12 Jun 2011
There seems to be general carelessness in the production of Kindle books which Amazon should take note of, and this book is a good example - numerous typos, bad quality graphics, inappropriate mixing of graphics and text. If companies wish to charge decent amounts for the kindle editions, they could at least make the effort to proof read it first - something the publishers here have obviously failed to do.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 7, 2013 10:09 AM BST


The Grand Design
The Grand Design
Price: 3.99

42 of 74 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A damp squib, 26 Sep 2010
This review is from: The Grand Design (Kindle Edition)
It is difficult to understand the enthusiasm given by those in the rave reviews of this book. A lot of them seem to be motivated by the wish that this book represents some final blow in the battle of religion and science. I think this approach both fails to critically examine the book for what it is, and also follows the rather out of date 19th century stereotype of science and religion being somehow in permanent battle with each other.

The decline of positivism after the first half of the 20th century has generally revealed the fallacy in such simple interpretations of the past. The view has difficulty explaining the sheer importance of religion to so many of the 'founding fathers' of modern science, from Copernicus, Kepler, Newton to Priestley, Dalton, Faraday, Herschel, etc. The Galileo case which is so often presented as the crystallisation of this battle fails to see the use of religion by those who actually wished to defend Aristotelianism, and Galileo's own view of religion. The idea that religion and science are diametrically opposed really gains dominance from the 1870s and a dramatically new drive for materialistic explanation. The word 'scientist' had been invented only 30 years earlier, and was part of a cultural transition that was the anathema to the 300 years of scientific development before. It should be remembered that 'science' was until then called 'natural philosophy' and was but one of the many 'sciences'.

The authors of this book follow this same take on the history of science. The 'inexorable development of science over 3,000 years' is presented in all its unquestioned simplicity. There is no acknowledgement that the story is disjointed, disconnected, and above all, very much not 'inexorable'. Anyone studying even a basic course in History of Science would be shocked at the crudeness of the historical narrative presented in this book. Perhaps the authors feel that any doubt over the nature of scientific development may feed the arguments of fundamentalists, etc, but that is not a good reason for presenting what is effectively a whitewash of the past. One could sum up their historical approach as being 'because we know it now it must therefore be closer to the truth than the past, because of unquestionable progress.' It's a useful myth and a useful way to close down debate, but it's not very insightful.

In a way the presentation of the science in this book follows a similar pattern - and intriguingly is reflected in those who give the book rave reviews. Science, this work of genius well beyond the 'ordinary' man has been simplified for easy digestion. The true heart of it, mathematics, has been left out. Theirs is a kind of condescending worship of the 'mysteries' of science that veer to the religious.

Although the layman may appreciate the lack of mathematics, there is little to praise in the result of the simplification: it is not just in the removal of maths, it is in the removal of any intellectual thought above what one would find in a tabloid account of science. Unless one gets very impressed with really big/small numbers, there is little that is intellectually inspiring in the account. Again and again theories are presented as if 'fully verified'. There is no debate about the ongoing problems and issues, and the potential that even the theory of gravity may one day get thrown out. The authors condemn Aristotle for ad-hoc changes to theory so as to 'save the phenomena' but make no mention of the still ever present danger of this: dark matter/energy is a good example - 97-8% of our universe is supposedly made of a form of matter which we have, nearly a hundred years after its proposal, failed to find. Why do we keep hunting for it? Because the alternative is that we have to accept that the laws of gravity don't match observations at a galactic level. History of science shows us that there is no reason why even the law of gravity may not get rejected in the continued change of thought that has characterised scientific development. Future scientists may well mock our determination to save our current way of thinking no matter the cost.

The book also lacks in any interesting philosophical insights. The authors start by declaring that philosophy is dead, and unfortunately they confirm this through the sheer lack of interesting argument in the rest of the book. To those who love the book, this is called being 'lucid'. I'm afraid it seems rather to be the presentation of ideas without being willing to dig deeper and break them apart. Is this approach justified by its 'layman' readership? I don't think so. The questions could be phrased in a way that would be understood by most with an enthusiasm for science. The authors just don't go for debate - the whole book comes across as a bit of a polemic for the Hawking/Mlodinow view.

I think this lack of philosophical engagement is reflected in the slightly bizarre humour ever present. It would be easy to read the humour as simply smug, a part of making things 'digestible' to the common man. Intriguingly Marx in Das Kapital uses the same kind of humour when dealing with opponents of his view of socialism which, of course, is the right and only view. However I'll accept that it was a genuine attempt to make the book interesting, it's just not very sophisticated.

History of science is littered with thinkers who thought that they were close to the 'final answer'. This desperate wish to gain certainty in our knowledge is probably a deeply ingrained human weakness. The strength of science has been its ability to withstand these claims, and to keep generating uncertainty. In his way the narrative in Grand Design does not live up to the science it discusses and does a disservice to the quality of the thinking and liveliness of debate.

And it's difficult to feel that if this M-Theory is truly the pinnacle of 3,000 years of 'inexorable scientific development', it's a bit of a let down.

The theory has 10^500 possible combinations of laws, any one of which could form a universe. This is a pretty huge number of alternatives - one would really hope that if our choice of possible universes is so large we should be able to find one that matches ours. But what does this tell us? That we have a theory that can produce so many combinations, that one of them must be right (or must it?), but at the same time we don't (and potentially can't) know which one? And the associated supposedly revolutionary way of reversing history? Does it not all boil down to saying that the universe is the way it is, because *it is*? It would seem that the grand outcome (like the notion of positive and negative energy) is a zero-sum game. We have simply returned to the point before the '3,000' years of scientific thinking started. Are we not left with a huge 'so what'?

In other ways the book is seriously problematic. Are we to accept the notion of positive and negative energy as somehow real without questioning what they refer too? Is this not an example of us elevating our imagination to the status of 'being' in the same way we create gods and God? How, in nothing, does the divide of positive and negative occur? How does the energy that encapsulates and permits this supposedly simple outcome retain this differentiation? Why does it not remain at zero? Remember gravity is negative energy, yet at the same time it's presented as a fundamental cause. We have the same problem as to who created God expressed in a different way.

Underlying all is the crude notion of 'model-dependency'. The notion of 'predictions in agreement with observation' is brushed over as if it were simple. Agreement with what observation? Their language is flippant here and they talk about confirmed observations which in fact are measurements - quite a different concept, and themselves fully dependent on prior acceptance of theories. We can only define a measure through theory, and we can only confirm a prediction of a theory through measure. This circularity is a truly interesting problem and brushing over it as if it were simple reveals a deeply anti-intellectual undertone of the book.

The book will probably be interesting historically. It represents a desire to grab a claim to certainty, whilst also reflects the dumbing down and closing of debate in the modern, consumerist world. Just as religion has seen the rise in anti-rational fundamentalism, popularist science seems too to be following this course: short-termism, sensationalism, slush puppy philosophy.

The authors would do well to remember the words of Isaac Newton: "I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

It was humility and awe which drove the development of science. If we lose that then no doubt mediocre explanations such as M-Theory will have to suffice.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 17, 2013 4:00 PM BST


Lexmark X4650 Wireless All In One Printer, Scanner, Copier
Lexmark X4650 Wireless All In One Printer, Scanner, Copier

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dodgy, unreliable and very expensive to run - this printer is a JOKE, 13 Jun 2010
After putting up with this printer for 6 months, I decided to buy a Brother Laser printer which is proving far superior.
This printer is a complete JOKE.
The problems are -

1) It constantly crashes with its wi-fi connection to the PC, the only route is to restart the PC to get it working again (average crash every 1.5 weeks)

2) Try and get it working with a Mac - forget it - Lexmark's support there is non-existent.

3) Its incredibly expensive to run - the ink hardly lasts 50 pages of text only. It keeps on printing test pages and other things, I think just to assist in causing you to buy new ink.

4) Try and use features such as scanning, etc, over the network - constant failure to initiate properly

5) Lexmark technical support have the will but not the knowledge - took 1 hour to remotely reinstall the drivers (to no effect) and it was clear that the guy had no more knowledge than that. I went off to get dinner whilst he did it, and could have done what he had done in 10 minutes.

This printer will cost you a fortune in ink, and will simply create grief.
I doubt if there's anything worse on the market, and I would never buy from Lexmark again.


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