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Andrew Johnston "(www.andrewj.com/books)" (LEATHERHEAD United Kingdom)
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Resistance
Resistance
Price: £4.74

4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating but Disturbing Alternative History, 26 April 2014
This review is from: Resistance (Kindle Edition)
This is a fascinating book, although its title and blurb are rather misleading. I was expecting something along the lines of a Welsh Defiance (the story of the Belorussian Otriads which successfully battled the Nazis behind the Eastern Front), or Secret Army, but in reality the “Resistance” of this book’s title is most notable by its almost total absence. This is in many ways a much scarier story, about how a German invasion of Britain might have succeeded, but I understand totally why the author didn’t choose instead to call it Collaboration.

At one level, this is a masterful and almost believable re-telling of the progress of the Second World War with a completely different outcome, reminding us how many of the key points individually turned on the narrowest of margins provided either by blind fortune or inexplicably poor German decision-making, both of which could easily have been reversed. How, for example, D-Day could have been scuppered by poor weather, or a single effective German spy operating on the right part of Britain’s South Coast. With only a couple of such reversals the Britain of the story leaves itself open to a successful German invasion in 1944.

The bulk of the story is then a study of how war-weary British communities and German soldiers progress, as much through pragmatic accommodation and grudging acceptance as overt surrender or collaboration, to some form of settlement. As a study of human behaviours in hard times it’s excellent, but it’s empathically not a stirring tale of derring-do. The book also ends with the disposition of most of the central characters left open – I would have preferred a more definite outcome, but that would perhaps have closed things down where the book deliberately tries to portray sources of ambiguity.

The story focuses on a small farming community in the Brecon Beacons, between Abergavenny and Hereford, an area with which I have strong family connections, including a great Aunt and Uncle who farmed in a small valley in the Beacons, very like the central community. As such I very much enjoyed the portrayal of so many places I know. I have even drunk in the only pub which gets mentioned by name!

The author, Sheers, is primarily a poet, and his writing paints a very expressive verbal picture of the land, the events and the people of the story. My usual taste in fiction is more focused on action, but accept the style of the book and you will be fully absorbed by this story, even though it is not a comfortable one.


World War Z
World War Z
by Max Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The World At War" with Zombies!, 9 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: World War Z (Paperback)
Christopher Tookey's review of World War Z the movie made me decide two things simultaneously: I did not want to spend £20 on going to see the film, but I did want to read the book. Having done so, I'm very glad I did.

The book takes the simple concept of "a plague of zombies", and tries to tell the story of a modern, global human struggle to first survive and then fight back and retake the world. To do this the author, Max Brooks, adopts the unusual but highly effective device of a series of interviews with key witnesses: soldiers, survivors, leaders, administrators and political or social commentators.

The book is as much about the socio-economic upheaval of such a happening as it is about how zombies behave. Given the concept of "flesh eating zombie", the emerging story then reflects a very modern understanding of virology, military capabilities, human behaviour and geopolitics.

The interview-based structure really resonated with me, although initially I was slightly puzzled why. Then the penny dropped. This is "The World at War", adapted for science fiction. I am a great fan of that 1970s epic documentary, told largely through interviews with soldiers, survivors, leaders... The author doesn't explicitly acknowledge that influence, but once you see it, it's obvious.

I haven't seen the film yet, but based on the trailer and reviews it sounds like the screenwriters have thrown away this wonderful structure in favour of a much more simplistic linear narrative focused on a few central characters. If so, that's an enormous shame.

For an intelligent, inspiring tale which will keep you turning the pages you won't do much better.


El Dorado Blues (An Atticus Fish Novel Book 2)
El Dorado Blues (An Atticus Fish Novel Book 2)
Price: £3.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Another enjoyable romp, 1 May 2013
Like the predecessor novel, Wahoo Rhapsody, this is an enjoyable romp which charges on at an impressive pace. As a complete antidote to all the "Templar Treasure" novels of recent years, while this does feature a long-buried fabled treasure, it is located and dug up in the first few pages. That's when the trouble starts...

Thereafter the story becomes a tale of rich and unscrupulous dealers and collectors trying to get control of the treasure, with a few reasonably honest characters caught in the middle. It's neither a very long story nor a very complicated one, but it's quite fun.

I liked the new unpleasant characters, and welcomed the return of the same "good guys" from Wahoo Rhapsody. I just hope Morey has done his legal homework creating a wealthy collector with an ill-fitting toupee called Ronald Stump!

My only complaint about the first book was that it felt a bit too obviously a copy of a Carl Hiaasen, and there's still some truth in that criticism. In particular Atticus Fish does feel like an echo of Hiassen's character Skink. However, that's a minor complaint, and I look forward to the next book in the series.


Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-2 Digital Compact Camera - Black (12MP, 4x Wide Optical Zoom) 3 inch OLED (discontinued by manufacturer)
Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-2 Digital Compact Camera - Black (12MP, 4x Wide Optical Zoom) 3 inch OLED (discontinued by manufacturer)

64 of 74 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Allegedly Tough Camera Is Nothing Like..., 29 April 2013
There's a salutory lesson here about not jumping to premature conclusions. Based on my first impressions of this camera I had mentally started drafting a review based on praising the hardware, but with some criticism of the software and firmware. I even had a great tag line: "A camera for adventurers who want a few pictures, rather than photographers who want adventures". That was before the snorkelling trip...

For many years now if there's been the prospect of either snorkelling or diving on holiday I've taken a Canon PowerShot S-series or G-series camera with its waterproof housing. I've had at least three generations of that solution, which have been utterly reliable and produced some good results. However they are a bulky solution in these days of reducing baggage allowances, and somewhat slow and clumsy in operation.

This year, therefore, I decided to try a different solution, and opted after some deliberation for one of the new "ultra tough compacts". While Canon and Panasonic both have a comparable solution, after some deliberation I went for the Olympus TG2, based on a combination of its looks and spec.

This is supposedly a very tough piece of kit - waterproof to 15m, drop-proof to 2m, crush-proof to 100kg and with a large operating temperature range. The downside is that this is a market where the competition is intense but based on point for point feature matching, with a focus on improving things like nominal depth protection rather than the photographic features.

That meant that even before use in anger there were some compromises: none of the cameras in this class do RAW, even though Canon, for example, support this fully on their smaller high-end compacts like the S95. to make things worse the TG2 also lacks many of the some other fundamental tools to control exposure such as automatic bracketing (despite a very high frame rate which would support it well), or shutter priority.

The lack of these features is a complete mystery to me, when these cameras are allegedly designed to be used in conditions where the lighting as well as the environment will be challenging...

Early trials did suggested that the camera does have accurate, fast autofocus (which was something I particularly wanted), and makes a decent job of auto exposure in most cases. Picture quality is OK, but the noise levels rise rapidly at ISO 800 and above, the JPEGs have a somewhat "overprocessed" look, and there's some noticeable pincushion distortion on underwater shots, even at medium zoom. These are presumably all the result of the tiny sensor, which is significantly smaller than in compacts like the Canon S95.

So, off to Barbados and into the water with the turtles. One immediate observation was that the display is very difficult to use at snorkelling depths (where there may be quite a lot of ambient light from above/behind you), and the tiny font becomes illegible for a user like me with ageing eyes. A "high contrast" option on the display, and a large-font "quick menu" option (like on all my Canon and Panasonic cameras) would be useful.

However, a few minutes into the snorkelling session I noticed a much more serious problem: the camera kept on switching itself off, and the battery level was dropping almost as I watched. I managed to snatch a couple of shots, but the camera was really misbehaving, and I had to give up.

Back on the boat the problem was immediately apparent - the camera had sprung a leak presumably through the cover for the USB port, as that had evidence of water inside it. However, instead of being limited just to the port section, the water had spread rapidly through the camera with the result that the lens was misting up and the electrical problems were getting rapidly worse. Although I tried drying the camera out and recharging it, it's now completely dead. Fortunately I had invested in a waterproof SD card, so I managed to rescue a few decent shots, but otherwise it's a write-off.

This is an extremely poor design. As you have to charge the battery in camera (using the proprietary USB cable - another peeve), there's no option of just sealing the camera for a complete trip. You would also think that the camera would have some measure of "double sealing" so that in the event of a leak into the port or battery/card openings the water wouldn't permeate quickly into the rest of the electronics, but this is clearly not the case.

This camera is completely inadequate for its intended use. Fortunately my suppliers (the excellent Wex Photographic) have promised me a full refund. I will not be spending it on Olympus equipment.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2013 9:09 AM BST


Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-2 Digital Compact Camera - Red (12MP, 4x Wide Optical Zoom) 3 inch OLED
Olympus Stylus TOUGH TG-2 Digital Compact Camera - Red (12MP, 4x Wide Optical Zoom) 3 inch OLED

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Allegedly Tough Camera Is Nothing Like..., 29 April 2013
There's a salutory lesson here about not jumping to premature conclusions. Based on my first impressions of this camera I had mentally started drafting a review based on praising the hardware, but with some criticism of the software and firmware. I even had a great tag line: "A camera for adventurers who want a few pictures, rather than photographers who want adventures". That was before the snorkelling trip...

For many years now if there's been the prospect of either snorkelling or diving on holiday I've taken a Canon PowerShot S-series or G-series camera with its waterproof housing. I've had at least three generations of that solution, which have been utterly reliable and produced some good results. However they are a bulky solution in these days of reducing baggage allowances, and somewhat slow and clumsy in operation.

This year, therefore, I decided to try a different solution, and opted after some deliberation for one of the new "ultra tough compacts". While Canon and Panasonic both have a comparable solution, after some deliberation I went for the Olympus TG2, based on a combination of its looks and spec.

This is supposedly a very tough piece of kit - waterproof to 15m, drop-proof to 2m, crush-proof to 100kg and with a large operating temperature range. The downside is that this is a market where the competition is intense but based on point for point feature matching, with a focus on improving things like nominal depth protection rather than the photographic features.

That meant that even before use in anger there were some compromises: none of the cameras in this class do RAW, even though Canon, for example, support this fully on their smaller high-end compacts like the S95. to make things worse the TG2 also lacks many of the some other fundamental tools to control exposure such as automatic bracketing (despite a very high frame rate which would support it well), or shutter priority.

The lack of these features is a complete mystery to me, when these cameras are allegedly designed to be used in conditions where the lighting as well as the environment will be challenging...

Early trials did suggested that the camera does have accurate, fast autofocus (which was something I particularly wanted), and makes a decent job of auto exposure in most cases. Picture quality is OK, but the noise levels rise rapidly at ISO 800 and above, the JPEGs have a somewhat "overprocessed" look, and there's some noticeable pincushion distortion on underwater shots, even at medium zoom. These are presumably all the result of the tiny sensor, which is significantly smaller than in compacts like the Canon S95.

So, off to Barbados and into the water with the turtles. One immediate observation was that the display is very difficult to use at snorkelling depths (where there may be quite a lot of ambient light from above/behind you), and the tiny font becomes illegible for a user like me with ageing eyes. A "high contrast" option on the display, and a large-font "quick menu" option (like on all my Canon and Panasonic cameras) would be useful.

However, a few minutes into the snorkelling session I noticed a much more serious problem: the camera kept on switching itself off, and the battery level was dropping almost as I watched. I managed to snatch a couple of shots, but the camera was really misbehaving, and I had to give up.

Back on the boat the problem was immediately apparent - the camera had sprung a leak presumably through the cover for the USB port, as that had evidence of water inside it. However, instead of being limited just to the port section, the water had spread rapidly through the camera with the result that the lens was misting up and the electrical problems were getting rapidly worse. Although I tried drying the camera out and recharging it, it's now completely dead. Fortunately I had invested in a waterproof SD card, so I managed to rescue a few decent shots, but otherwise it's a write-off.

This is an extremely poor design. As you have to charge the battery in camera (using the proprietary USB cable - another peeve), there's no option of just sealing the camera for a complete trip. You would also think that the camera would have some measure of "double sealing" so that in the event of a leak into the port or battery/card openings the water wouldn't permeate quickly into the rest of the electronics, but this is clearly not the case.

This camera is completely inadequate for its intended use. Fortunately my suppliers (the excellent Wex Photographic) have promised me a full refund. I will not be spending it on Olympus equipment.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 3, 2013 3:14 PM BST


Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq
Occupational Hazards: My Time Governing in Iraq
by Rory Stewart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing and insightful account of important recent history, 27 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Rory Stewart is almost unique as a commentator on the post-war development of Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. Following an early military career and extensive travel in the Muslim world, he then spent over a year trying to run the civilian administration in two Iraqi provinces as the coalition tried to prepare the country for post-Saddam self government. This book is a memoir of that period, plus what followed.

Following in the best tradition of Winston Churchill and T E Lawrence, Stewart is evidently not just a administrator, but also both a leader and do-er, an entertaining writer, and an insightful analyst. His memoir is, by turns:

* Inspiring, describing those who strove to improve and reform Iraq, in many cases risking and even losing their lives in the process,
* Shocking, describing acts of repression and violence, and also when describing the atrocious incompetence and cowardice of the Italian military,
* Intriguing, as Stewart describes scheming Iraqi politicians who could have given lessons to Nicolo Machiavelli,
* Thought-provoking, particularly in the final reflections about which interventions succeeded, and how many failed,
* Exciting, for example when describing the protracted siege of their office in Nasiriyah,
* Highly amusing. My favourite was the Islamist militant who publicly compared Stewart to Hitler, and then immediately asked him for help with an injury to the militant's penis. Stewart's descriptions of his interactions with the Bhagdad bureaucracy, with their management consultancy and PowerPoint "solutions", also made me laugh out loud.

This is a strong analysis of an important piece of the world's recent history, the latter acts of which are still playing out. It's also an insightful study into the reality of politics in an environment as complex as post-invasion Iraq, which may genuinely have no peers. The book is eminently readable, and I strongly recommend it.


How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog
How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog
Price: £7.12

4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and very funny introduction to relativity, 26 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Professor Chad Orzel and his mad mutt Emmy are back, this time to explain the concepts of relativity. I enjoyed enormously the companion book on quantum physics last year, and was very much looking forward to seeing the other great area of modern physics receive the same treatment.

As before, Orzel sets out a clear account of the field, working in many cases from first principles, but continuously framed by very funny exchanges between him and his dog, who, like any of her kind, is constantly looking for ways to increase her food intake, and her success in hunting bunnies and squirrels.

The quantum physics volume introduced me to a lot of relatively new thinking and experimental evidence, and I was hoping for the same this time, but relativity is obviously a more mature field, and there was less that was new to me in this book. That said, the teaching of this field has obviously moved on since my student days, and I was surprised to find, for example, the concept of relativistic mass increase referred to as an "old" model, with the book focusing much more on momentum calculations. Similarly the basics of special relativity are presented using a range of geometrical models, with a heavy emphasis on the spacetime diagram, which is a different approach to some previous books I've read.

I had some complaints about the Kindle edition of the quantum physics volume separating diagrams and footnotes too far from the relevant text. On this occasion I received a physical copy of the book and was looking forward to that being less of an issue. The physical book layout is definitely better, but could still be improved, as diagrams are often a page or more away from the descriptive text.

However, that's a minor niggle, and really my only one. If you want to learn more about relativity and also have a good laugh, this is a strong recommendation.


News from Gardenia
News from Gardenia
by Robert Llewellyn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good ideas, but ultimately disappointing, 26 April 2013
This review is from: News from Gardenia (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
William Morris' 1890 novel News from Nowhere describes a utopian vision of the late 20th century. In News from Gardenia Robert Llewellyn brings the story up to date, with a visitor from 2011 ending up in 2211.

Like Morris, Llewellyn's vision is deliberately utopian: mankind has not had to experience near destruction at the hands of asteroids, mechanical warriors, zombies, plagues, intelligent apes and/or aliens (delete as applicable), and has averted the worst effects of more gradually acting causes, such as overpopulation, pollution, global warming, corporate greed and rabid bankers.

Llewellyn has cleverly constructed a composite Utopia, with different regions of the world finding different solutions and being at different points in the cycle of economic, political and population development. Overall the message is positive, as the author openly intends, although there is the suggestion that communities such as the Gardenians (British) who have reverted to a largely rural "non-economy" may be sowing the seeds of their own decay, with limited ability to maintain older technology and innovate new solutions. It is not impossible to see them becoming the Eloi of The Time Machine - pretty, charming, but useless.

Unfortunately as a modern novel the book does have several weaknesses. Few short-term problems mean there's almost no drama in the story. There are tantalising glimpses of some things, such as a new communal game, but no real description, and some of the text is in danger of dating rapidly, such as references to Apple and their current products. The ending comes suddenly and the story just stops. The author's intention may be to use this as a springboard for another tale in the series, but that's not clear.

There are also numerous "schoolboy errors", such as a space elevator system which is not equatorial and somehow manages to complete a rotation in less than 24 hours, or a solar power system with output many thousands of time greater than it could possibly have. Given Llewellyn's credentials as a technical presenter, I found these disappointing.

This is a relatively short book, and worth a quick read for some of the ideas, but ultimately a more complete development might have worked better.


Utter Folly
Utter Folly
Price: £2.90

5.0 out of 5 stars As good as Tom Sharpe at his best, 18 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Utter Folly (Kindle Edition)
I can praise this book no more highly than to say that it's reminiscent of the best work of Tom Sharpe. A cheerfully anarchic tale of country folk, of dark passions, of sex, drugs and rock & roll, of windmills and traction engines.

To reveal much more would risk spoiling the story, but rest assured this will keep you turning the pages and frequently laughing out loud.

If you mourn the passing of Sharpe's best work, and are frustrated by the way so many purported "comedies" import of this genre fail to amuse, then you will enjoy this.


TP-LINK TL-WR842ND - 300Mbps Multi-function Wireless N Router Atheros 2T2R 2.4GHz 802.11n/g/b
TP-LINK TL-WR842ND - 300Mbps Multi-function Wireless N Router Atheros 2T2R 2.4GHz 802.11n/g/b

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Reliable Enough, 26 Oct. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I got this product through Amazon Vine and it had been on my "to review" pile for a couple of months. Then last week I returned from holiday to a dead network. I couldn't decide whether the problem was my existing WiFi router, my existing switch, or something in-between. Out came the TP-Link router, which was able to do both jobs together for the four most critical wired devices, and most of the wireless ones, and got us up and running.

Set-up was very straightforward. However checking status once it is running is tricky since you are supposed to remember how to understand different patterns of blinking lights, whereas in my existing router the large multi-coloured LEDs are much clearer. The other ergonomic disaster is the tiny switches on the back to turn wifi on and off, or reboot the router, which are far too easy to press incorrectly.

However the big problem is that the device just isn't reliable enough. After a couple of days the network went down, and I had to reboot this device. A couple of days later it happened again. I also noticed that it was running very hot for a static and allegedly "low power" networking device. By this time I had replaced my faulty switch, so I just went back to the old WiFi router and took this one out of service.

It's a shame, because I was looking forward to experimenting with this device's ability to support VPN and other advanced features, but there's no way I would trust it as the primary internet gateway for my network. I'm grateful that it got me out of a hole, but I won't be keeping it.


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