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Dr. Timothy Jones "physicus" (London)

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pixel Beginner's Songbook - 2nd Edition (Spiral Bound) Beginner's Songbook - 2nd Edition (Spiral Bound)
by Justin Sandercoe
Edition: Spiral-bound
Price: 11.87

5.0 out of 5 stars Songbook I've been waiting for, 28 Jun 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Alongside Justin's excellent on-line (and free) guitar course, this book has taken me further than any previous attempt at learning guitar. You'll get the best from it if you also plug into the course. The songs are all the sort of stuff you've always wanted to play; popular classics, and lots of them. Also, JS gives as much attention to the right hand as the left: correct strumming and timing makes or breaks a song, and I got my act together on both for the first time with JS's approach. He's not afraid to use the capo to transpose songs to keys that would otherwise be over-challenging for beginners. Likewise, the dreaded barre chords are absent at this stage, although some practice with 'F' is offered up in the later sections. Also, as JS is almost religious about accurate transcription, these are probably the most true-to-original versions of songs you'll find.

For all its ease of use, this isn't a quick and easy or 'cheating' way to learn guitar; you'll still need to put in the practice time!

Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles
Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles
by Paul Halpern
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 17.34

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles, 22 Oct 2010
Good luck I say to anyone setting out to write a popular science book on particle physics. The concepts are weird, the math is hard; and on publishing timescales there's not a whole lot of new stuff worth talking about.

Moreover, it's a tall order that's less about content and more about the way you tell it. Happily, in `Collider - the search for the world's smallest particles' - Paul Halpern tells it well.

Anchoring the core physics around a theme is helpful: whether it's Brian Greene on string theory or Paul Davies on the search for extra terrestrial life or, as in Halpern's case, the physics, technology and people that have advanced our understanding of the subatomic world.

Collider is a story of impressive people building big machines to smash small particles together to reveal big truths. With CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) limbering up under the Franco-Swiss countryside, the timing couldn't be better.

At 232 pages before the notes, Collider is manageable without being superficial, and has sufficient pace and variety to engage even those for whom memories of high-school science induce a cold sweat (and for whom leptons is just another brand of tea).

Tracts of quantum weirdness interspersed with biographical vignettes and discussions on collider engineering should ensure a broad spectrum of readers stay the distance. Those led out of their depth, however gently, will find delightful pangs of (at least partial) understanding along the way. Personally, the engineer in me found particular joy in the mix of ethereal concept and enabling technology that particle physics, perhaps more than any other field, embodies. Halpern as a physicist clearly enjoys and respects all aspects of the endeavour. Indeed, Collider stylistically is quite polymathic, even poetic in a Saganish sort of way:

"Alas, summer's heat sometimes shapes cruel mirages. After modifying its equipment and retesting its data, the HPWF team's findings vanished amid the desert sands of statistical insignificance. Skeptics wondered if electroweak unity was simply a beautiful illusion."

Poetry aside, the physics kicks in early with unification, theories of everything (TOE), and the limitations of an incomplete Standard Model.

The better known particles are introduced via their discoverers' stories: Thompson's electron, Roentgen's X-Rays, Becquerel and the decomposition products of uranium, Rutherford's proton, and Chadwick's neutron.

By describing relatively simple experiments from the early era, like the measurement of alpha and beta particle size, Halpern gives his subject a tangibility, a graspable air that prepares the mental ground for later complexities.

Following the evolution of particle sources, accelerators, and detectors, Collider takes us through a chronology starting with unaccelerated decay products striking stationary targets, to linear accelerators, to the various circular synchrotron variants like Ernest Lawrence's Bevatron and Cosmotron, ending with the contra-rotating particle streams and super-cooled magnets of the LHC.

As beam energies increased, detectors became more complex, sensitive, and selective, allowing the existence of myriad new particles to be confirmed or discovered. Cloud and bubble chambers joined hand-held scintillation detectors and Geiger counters in the particle physicists' armory, and as the forerunners of the giant counters, traps and calorimeters stacked up today in CERN's ATLAS and ALICE experiments.

Halpern devotes the last three chapters to a discussion of dark matter, dark energy and the possibility of higher dimensions in the context of string, brane and M-theory, where he underlines the mutuality of physics and cosmology in understanding the bang, whimper, crunch or (somewhat depressing) rip possibilities of an uncertain multiverse.

Looking to the future, Halpern suggests the fate of particle physics itself is less certain than current LHC excitement might lead us to believe. If the Higgs Boson, higher dimensions, or mini-blackholes show up, then fine; but if they don't - where do we go next?'. Larger machines might be an answer, but with costs that were never pocket money now truly enormous, stakeholders, including the physics community, will need to look to their priorities. And as if to say `don't say it will never happen', Halpern dedicates a whole chapter to the last, some would say terminal, back-step in American particle physics: the 1992 cancellation of the Reagan era Superconducting Super Collider (SSC).

Something Collider really brought home for me is how the nature of particle physics as a discipline and a career has changed. Individual pioneers have been replaced by research groups working on projects staffed by thousands. As Halpern says, if the Higgs were discovered, they'd be no obvious single candidate for the inevitable Nobel prize (except Higgs himself of course). Data filtration and computation as disciplines have become as important as the collider itself: the LHC is served by a global network of computers. That creates the opportunity for remote distributed working and facilitates multi-national involvement, but also means young researchers need to think about the kind of experience, and resume, they're building. At PhD level already, Halpern says the slow pace of fundamental revelations has required a force-put change in the definition of what qualifies for the degree in particle physics [we can't all split the atom for the first time, right?].

I've one critical note on the history, and maybe I've just been reading too many Cold War biographies of late, but I felt Halpern's analysis underplayed the military motivation and sponsorship behind the adolescent years of particle physics. Given that the topic's already well covered in works like Gregg Herken's Brotherhood of the Bomb, and that I walked away from Collider feeling inspired rather than cynical, it's a choice of emphasis I'm inclined to forgive.

So quibbles aside, Collider is a bit of a page turner - which by the timbre of my opening statements isn't a bad endorsement. By presenting the unfamiliar realities of particle physics in the context of the machines and people that revealed them, Halpern has for sure made an unfamiliar pill easier to swallow.

The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?
The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?
by Paul Davies
Edition: Hardcover

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Review: The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe?, 28 May 2010
The search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, or SETI, is in a rut. That is Paul Davies's message in `The Eerie Silence - Are we alone in the Universe' - a thorough taking stock of the programme started by Frank Drake in 1959 to search for alien radio messages from outer space.

Davies wants a rethink from scratch, where we shake off the blinkers of anthropocentric thinking and question exactly what we should be looking for. Listening out for a direct radio message is fine, but lets extend the search to include more subtle evidence of alien legacy and the very origin of life.

ET has indeed been strangely quiet, and for Davies two rather extreme explanations for that are providing signposts to a `New SETI'.

Under the first option, we have to accept that life on Earth was born of a series of events so incredibly flukey they will never be repeated. Under the second, we face the chilling prospect that intelligent life pops up quite frequently, only to develop a propensity for technology fueled self-destruction.

Holding out hope for a middle way, and putting speculation over self-destructing aliens aside, Davies argues there is a raft of solid science we could be getting on with to better understand the scarcity of life. Those up for the task (and skilled enough to secure funding) will enter a field of polarised opinions and a paucity of hard evidence. The prize? - possibly the final word on the question of whether life is ubiquitous in the universe - a `cosmic imperative' - or that you and I here on Earth are a one-off, somewhat lonesome, rarity.

We should still listen for radio messages, says Davies, enthusing over SETI's groundbreaking Allen Telescope Array (ATA) of radio telescopes; but the emphasis should be on searching for new types of evidence of intelligence, both in space and closer to home - on Earth in fact.

If we can show life on Earth started independently more than once - a second genesis if you like - the fluke theory is destroyed and the prospect of life existing on the billion or so Earth-like planets in our galaxy increases immensely. Once life has started, there is pretty much universal agreement among scientists that Darwinian style evolution will, environmental factors willing, take over to produce complex life forms and probably intelligence and consciousness. Second (and third and fourth..) genesis life forms could be living alongside us today, unrecognised as a microbial 'shadow biosphere' - the holy grail for researchers now culturing candidate samples from Mono Lake in California. Or we might find tell-tale markers of an extinct second genesis in geological records that we have seen but incorrectly interpreted. With so many work areas highlighted as candidates for inclusion in New SETI, a problem for potential researchers could be deciding where to focus their application. Presumably Davies is taking calls.

Moving from Petri dish to telescope dish, Davies believes our pre-conceptions of ET in space are causing us to define too narrow a target there also. Any intelligent biological life, he says, will quickly transition to an intellectually superior machine form having nothing in common with Homo sapiens and little to gain from interstellar chit-chat.

Or the aliens may have launched beacons that ping data packets only once a year. Or they may have sent probes - monolith fashion - to lurk around our solar system, programmed to spring to life when we learn to think up to their level. The point is we will only detect this kind of activity if we specifically look for it.

In his most futuristic speculation, Davies envisions life evolving into a quantum computer - an extended network of energy floating through space, amusing itself solving complex mathematical doodles. The implication of course, if such `beings' exist, is that we are headed in the exact same direction. How do you fancy being a node in a pan-galactic thought matrix?

Among other thought-provoking revelations, we learn the Earth has for billions of years been happily swapping rocks, possibly with primitive life aboard, with other planets in the solar system - including Mars. That makes the potential discovery of life on that planet important, but not necessarily a game-changer for SETI, as Martian and Earth life could share the same unique origin.

Davies puts SETI into historical context on a quirkier note, recounting how the mathematician Karl Gauss, as early as the turn of the 19th century, planned to signal the Martians using huge shapes cut out of trees in the Siberian forest.

There is an implicit appeal in The Eerie Silence for scientists from different disciplines to work together on SETI and astrobiology - maybe a guiding principle for New SETI? Astronomers, biologists, geologists, engineers, astro-physicists and cosmologists all have a role in the search - as do non-scientists.

That also holds true for the post-detection task-group Davies leads, set up to advise an appropriate response in the event ET finally calls. In a chapter devoted to the implications of `first contact', he asks how various groups: from the media, through politicians, the military, and religious believers might react. If we receive a targeted message, we should certainly think carefully about the reply. But that we already send the occasional burst of blindly targeted radio messages into space is a positive in Davies's book; at least it makes people think about science, humanity, and what in our culture we value. Religion, and particularly Christianity, Davies believes, will struggle to reconcile dogma with the existence of intelligent aliens.

In his wind-up, Davies keeps all options open as to the chances of a positive outcome for SETI. But on balance, hardcore enthusiasts of radio SETI in particular may well find the The Eerie Silence a bit of a downer. Likewise, those looking for evidence to support more philosophical ideas around nature favouring life, or the existence of a life principle buried in the physics and chemistry of the universe - themes Davies has arguably been more sympathetic to in previous works - will be disappointed as he rejects each in turn.

To its credit, The Eerie Silence is as much about human motivations and psychology as it is about research and radio antennae. A chatty narrative with frequent episodes of self-examination strikes chords with thoughts and feelings most of us will have had: like the need for a sense of self, and a yearning for meaning. The search for ET is very much the search for what we are, what we may become, and what `it' all means. A cliched theme maybe, but well supported here with relevant facts and reasoned speculation. Davies's talent for projecting rock-solid scientific rationalism while not (entirely) closing the door on other perspectives has produced an absorbing read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2014 1:14 AM GMT

Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science)
Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals (Macmillan Science)
by Jonathan Balcombe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 22.99

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Invite to a New Humanity, 28 May 2010
I remember as a child eating meat products with names like `jellied veal', `liver-sausage', `corned beef', `hazlet', `ox-tail soup' and `tongue'. They were just labels at the time, for things I put in my mouth. Only much later would I associate them with animals.

Now, reading Jonathan Balcombe's new book `Second Nature - The Inner Lives of Animals' I'm asking myself why it took so long to make that rather obvious connection. In fact, it's got me thinking about a whole host of issues related to how we as a species perceive and treat other animals - nonhuman beings as Balcombe prefers to call them. For the issues Second Nature addresses have as much to do with human morality and ethics as they do with animal behaviour.

Balcombe wants to open our eyes to the possibility of accepting animals as fellow sentient beings, with feelings and emotions as real to them as ours are to us; beings with lives that are pleasurable and worth living for their own sake; lives worthy of sensitivity and respect. As Balcombe puts it: "My chief aim in this book is to close the gap between human beings and animals - by helping us understand the animal experience, and by elevating animals from their lowly status."

He begins by setting out the evidence for animal sentience, emotion and feeling, then discusses the implications this has for human attitudes and actions.

Part I summarises the findings of numerous field and laboratory studies that demonstrate a range of animal capabilities, experiences and sensitivities we usually associate more with people. Part II is a description of how animals use these qualities to interact and communicate between themselves and with other species, including man. Part III focuses on the relationship between humans and animals, and includes a discussion on popular perceptions and how they are changing with what Balcombe sees as an emerging new paradigm in attitudes and awareness.

Central to Balcombe's plea is the assertion that humans and animals differ in degree rather than kind. Each type of animal, Balcombe says, including man, has evolved to operate in its own world, or `umwelt', equipped with an appropriate package of sensory experience and feelings suited to that world. We shouldn't assume life experience in one umwelt is inherently superior to that in another. Humans can never directly experience another animal's umwelt (who can say what personal echo-location or magnetic navigation feels like? - to use Balcombe's examples) but we accept that animals have complex sensory capabilities. Which begs the question why, when emotions and feelings are at least as real and necessary to us as senses in explaining our lives and behaviours, would we deny them in animals? Second Nature is certainly thought provoking on these questions.

Many readers will I expect, from watching natural history on TV or casual reading, recognise something of the better known case studies about Washoe the chimp, grieving elephants, and intelligent ravens. That said, the number and diversity of cited studies is impressive, and most of the content is new to me.

Take Kelly the dolphin for example, who was taught to trade paper litter found in her pool for fish, but discovered the fish flow could be maximised by trading smaller pieces of paper torn from a larger sheet she had stashed away at the bottom of the pool. And tests for empathy, where increased stress reactions were measured in animals who witnessed the suffering of another animal - not necessarily of the same species.

Consciousness is a key theme in Second Nature, with Balcombe describing how chimpanzees have demonstrated a `theory of mind' by showing they are consciously aware of consciousness in other chimps.

Other studies support the proposition that animals, elephants for example, follow individual lives that are the product of their unique experience. And that animals, like us, deal with feelings over the short and long term; they remember experiences, their memories shaping what they become. There are even indications that elephants have a sense of the future and their own mortality. Further examples illustrate conditions ranging from depression in starlings, to post traumatic stress disorder in elephants, to anxiety in mice - including their remarkable ability to self-medicate.

Exploring the relevance of instinct, intelligence and language, Balcombe rejects simplistic models that associate instinct with animals and intelligence with humans. Instinct does not preclude conscious experience, and intelligence is not a good measure for moral standing. As Balcombe puts it: "Animals are as intelligent as they need to be". The evidence shows that many animals, far from following some kind of invariant program, are capable of learned behaviour and can adapt flexibly to new challenges. And as regards language, as it's not linked to sensory activity, animals are able to suffer with or without it.

Balcombe closes the animal-human gap from both directions, elevating our opinion of animal capabilities while questioning the superiority of our own. We are reminded that animal senses and capabilities - physical, and on occasion mental - can be superior to ours. Balcombe points to our penchant for industrial scale cruelty and destruction, questioning our right to label other species as uncivilized. Our culture, Balcombe says, particularly through the media, overplays the negative aspects of animals' lives, pushing the `red in tooth in and claw' image of a natural world where animals permanently struggle at the edge of survival, flailing at the smallest injury.

Part III sees Balcolme getting into his narrative stride, explaining where he thinks our relationship with animals might be heading. Under the heading `A New Humanity' he describes a shift from a traditional attitude of `might makes right' towards a more informed and caring paradigm - a transition he likens to the changes of mind-set that accompanied the end of slavery and the winning of womens' rights. The process has already started, with impacts most tangibly captured in animal related legislation for the protection of species, improvements in the treatment of animals we eat, and tighter controls on laboratory animal experimentation.

Interestingly, with Second Nature appealing mostly to our moral sense, Part III includes some purely practical, well stated, arguments for reduced meat consumption based on health, resource conservation and sustainability. This leads to a brief politico-economic discussion on the compatibility of the capitalist/growth model with sustainable environments; inflammatory territory which Balcombe handles with a welcome non-emotive sense of balance.

The somewhat uneasy relationship science seems to have with the idea of animal feelings is one I find interesting in it's own right. Balcolme, a scientist himself, criticises science's tendency to favour the simplest of plausible theories. It's one reason, he says, why we have the dogmatic starting assumption that animals don't have thoughts and feelings, rather than the other way around. Conversely, Second Nature and other works on a connected theme (Masson's and McCarthy's `When Elephants Weep' comes to mind) are particularly open to criticism when authors use language outside the scientific lexicon. There may be concensus on what sentience means, consciousness less so; but what to make of words like goodness, compassion, and selflessness? Personally, I don't have a problem with Balcombe's style because I don't see the issues being wholly resolvable with today's science; we'd need a workable scientific model of moral behaviour for that. A scientific proof isn't going to pop up and tell us to treat animals better, no matter how many books we read. However, and I suspect this is where Balcombe is coming from, I do think science is the best tool for revealing true animal states that might then be judged logically incompatible with, or at least challenge, established moral and ethical standards. Of course, how established those standards ever are is a discussion for another day.

On a critical note, and it's probably the scientist in me kicking up, there were times when I wanted more detail from the case studies, more counter-argument, and deeper discussion of skeptical views. That the early chapters are crammed with properly referenced case studies is a good thing but, in a work of this length, that means trade-offs in content. The shear volume of examples also gives the early chapters something of a `listy' feel, although that corrects in the later, more analytical material. Also, I thought the singling out of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett for criticism was unnecessary and unhelpful, particularly so when Dawkins has discussed the positive implications for animal rights that discovery (or creation) of a hypothetical man-ape hybrid would have. Examples of the darker side of nature, like the apparently cruel egg-laying behaviour of parasitic wasps, are perhaps over-quoted by the atheist camp, but only as arguments against the existence of a benevolent god, not a celebration. Moreover, Balcombe might want to keep the secularists on his team.

Despite these minor niggles, I have to confess Second Nature has caused me to think more deeply than I otherwise would about a topic I'd mentally parked. Commendably, it brings all the relevant issues up to date in one concise volume, and has plenty of references for those who want to dig deeper.

Will Second Nature change readers' attitudes towards animals? I think in some cases it will. What it won't do is resolve any consequential moral dilemma we might have around that next burger purchase. That's something each of us must think about quietly on our own.

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