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Parklands "wildwriter" (Cumbria, UK)

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The Beauty of Humanity Movement
The Beauty of Humanity Movement
by Camilla Gibb
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars So readable and so beautiful, 3 Aug 2014
I was not sure that this would fit holiday reading but it was perfect. A great page turner but so beautifully written and conjuring up the atmosphere of past and present Vietnam. Superb characters, a plot that Meeks you want to go on reading and I was sad to get to the end. I am now going to look for the author's other titles.

The Burning Answer: A User's Guide to the Solar Revolution
The Burning Answer: A User's Guide to the Solar Revolution
by Professor Keith Barnham
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.30

3.0 out of 5 stars The future could just get interesting and save the planet, 6 July 2014
This is a difficult one to review. Importance of the topic and information about our carbon-based civilisation could not be more important and this is honest and exceedingly scientifically we'll informed. The author knows his stuff. But I actually gave up on his Part 1 and skipped nearly half of the book. Partly because it was difficult science (I only have three science degrees, from the 1960s) but mostly because of his very individual style which wound around and about through metaphor, biography, autobiography and anecdote.

I was really looking forward to his section on artificial plants. Just about all our oil and gas and the whole energy game on planet Earth comes originally from the sun via photosynthesis. I still marvel at the greenery of my garden, sitting there apparently just passively vegetating when in fact the green bits are splitting water at 20 degrees C without a bang or flash in sight. From the water - H2O - the energy of sunlight produces streams of electrons and protons and the 'machinery' in the green cell adds the protons to carbon dioxide, giving stable carbohydrates. So if we burn recent plants, this is low carbon as the CO2 given out on combustion is only what the plant removed from the air in the first place. The book gives little detail on the myriad research projects exploring artificial leaves but moves on to the author's speciality, photovoltaic cells.
Here he elaborates on the comparison of PVC with the government's preferred solution of nuclear power. Living in Cumbria, I have always been interested in the inclusive cost of nuclear power - I mean including disposal of radioactive waste. Professor Barnham gives us evidence about renewables in Germany and Italy, the cost and efficiency compared with next generation nuclear. I always thought that 'renewables' meant more wind turbines than anyone would put up with in our wild countryside. But no - his evidence for PV plus hydro and wave etc where appropriate convinced me. The case for feed-in tariff photovoltaics at the original large subsidy actually works out economically. Nuclear is dead in the water when it comes to actual coatings, and he also casts doubt on it being very low carbon. And an interesting future idea: roof - top PV merged with artificial leaf systems that would produce a stream of methanol. Obviously a non-starter as such, but just maybe something along these lines? Who says that nuclear power will always be the only sexy game in town.

The Places In Between
The Places In Between
by Rory Stewart
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting account by an interesting man, 24 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Places In Between (Paperback)
This is not travel writing as usually understood. More a documentary of a journey through dangerous and rather barren lands.

It read rather differently from my usual travel and mountaineering books - or was it just the difference that is Afghanistan? I pulled some of the usual suspects off my bookshelf to see if it was just me having a senior moment or was it really an outlier of the genre. My suspicions were confirmed. This was all about the author's day by day progress (detailed and interesting) plus some historical and political facts of the area. But where was the natural history and geography? Or the explanation of village structures like a caravanserai? My pick of the usual suspects including Robert Byron, John Muir, Nick Crane, FS Smythe, carry detailed descriptions of the scenery, the layout of the areas and explanations of things unique to the inhabitants. And it seems to be a British requirement to weave humour around the worst moments.
Something I like to do after my own walks in remote places is to go back over the photos and feel a warm connect to the moments they represent. I can't tell from this book whether writing it generated warmth and happiness: I hope it did.

5 x 4m (20 metres) 100mm Black Hedgehog Gutter Brush - Leaf guard stops blocked gutters
5 x 4m (20 metres) 100mm Black Hedgehog Gutter Brush - Leaf guard stops blocked gutters
Offered by Red House Direct
Price: 67.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to install and did the trick, 24 Jun 2014
I bought this to solve the annoying habit of pigeons noisily skiing down the conservatory roof and flapping around in the gutter to drink. Problem solved. And it was easy - very lightweight - for an old lady to take it up the ladder and arrange it. And of course I'm looking forward to less time clearing out the leaves

Humax HDR-FOX T2 500GB Freeview + HD Digital TV Recorder (discontinued by manufacturer)
Humax HDR-FOX T2 500GB Freeview + HD Digital TV Recorder (discontinued by manufacturer)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars customer service: what customer service?, 21 Feb 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I got this to work relatively quickly and can use it for what it says it does, though it takes a long time to warm up and sometimes I have to experiment with which buttons on my (now)two remotes to use. But I've now got a recording facility - job done.

Then I tried to register online for the 2 year warranty - the box looks robust enough but the free offer to upgrade to the two years seemed worth five minutes on their website. Alas - the quoted website does not exist. Found their main website, but no sign at all of anywhere to register, unless the page wholly in Korean script contained buried treasures. While the product may well be as good as it gets, the service inspires no confidence.

The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived
The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived
by Clive Finlayson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good to see some science raise its head in anthropology, 13 Sep 2012
How refreshing it was to me to read the story of Ice Age humans set against an ecological background. The dying of forests as the cold advanced, and the new provision of mammoth tusks and bones as building material, are just two parts of the everyday life of the humans surviving climate change.

As a professional in this field, I wish there had been more reference points about this: actual dates and locations where the temperature went up and down by 5-10 degrees during the main span of the last ice age, covering the critical period of human movements. Say 70000 to 20000 years ago.

He writes so eloquently about climate change that I could visualise the dying of the conifer forest and appearance of tundra. I wonder for how many years there was dead timber lying around that could have been used for fires. And the coming and going of woodland - I know from my own research that when the temperature climbed to that of the present day, trees didn't necessarily appear. Because they were too far away, and because the dispersal of fruits and seeds by birds would only be fast in landscapes with perches or reasons for the birds to venture outside the trees.

With good radiocarbon dating now available, I can see a detailed map of vegetation, human activity and climate over the planet is ready to be worked in detail. The book inspired me to think about this; about the Denisovan humans in Siberia; about the yeti (which I believe to be a very old folk memory of ice age humans, much as the myth of a great flood turned out to be real despite the thousands of years of the story being passed down generations).

I was also fascinated by the descriptions of major migrations of humans across Asia, and having myself wandered around much of the previously-glaciated Asian landscape and seen the effect of lack of iodine here: did cretinism have a significant effect on migrations and settlement and success?

Every book I have read on ice age humans on the steppe and tundra thinks they were just like us with added skills in crafts and construction, and unless they lived by a cliff over which to drive big game, they stalked their prey until they could get some arrows into it. OK, that was doubtless done. But archaeologists should spend time out in the steppe with people who still have skills not mentioned in any text book. They are not like us physically. They are more like our Olympian medallists, but stronger. It would not be a great effort to move around summer to winter, or to cover hundreds of miles on foot. Exercise was normal. I've seen people in Mongolia in small groups run down wild animals and even corner and restrain half-wild yaks bare-handed. Lassoos made of vegetable cord or animal sinews are used on big animals at a safer distance than spears, and cord traps and drop traps can be set. Marmots can be captured by putting on a white mask (deer face bones)and creeping right up to an animal.

Today, Mongolians use horses to carry them in order to save calories. I wonder whether 50000 years ago, before horses were tamed, if people deliberately took time out from physical activity when food was not abundant, perhaps in winter, and that arts and crafts were done by hunters and trackers, not just specialist individuals, because they needed to rest to stop using up calories. And mothers are not restricted by young babies even today in rural Asia - the baby is simply tied on to the mother's back and life goes on.

So - a verdict? Dunno, but I'm glad I read it and it inspired me, and was fairly easy to read. Like all such books it gets skewered by the next discovery, and it does go on a bit without pinning down dates and places - why keep digging a potential hole when you've covered what you wanted to say? Having said all that, I wish there were more books with a different slant on the past to counter the Out of Africa 'we-know-it-all' consensus.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2014 3:30 PM GMT

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea
Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 bath Toys Lost at Sea
by Donovan Hohn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant: an inspiration to all of us who ever wondered why..., 11 July 2012
Have you ever wondered why? Why green potatoes are poisonous or why crevasses in glaciers are blue, or why do swallows keep flying up to the Orkney Islands when they could stop in London .....

The world is full of curiosities and adventures to be found by unravelling the thread to reveal layer upon layer of marvels. Hohn tugs at the questions behind how did the plastic ducks destined for our children's bathtimes end up on arctic beaches. It's not always a light read - it's more for the holiday cottage than the plane journey. At times he gives so much information that I had to skip the details, but you can pick up the thread at the next chapter and carry on.

No, I didn't need to know all that about ocean currents, but I didn't know how much I didn't know about 'made in China' goods in containers travelling across the globe. The writing style is superb, and the quotes fascinating. Lots to follow up, and not just a second and later life reappraisal of Moby Dick. A terrific travel book and one I recommend even if you fast-forward on occasion.

The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New
The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New
by Peter Watson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.83

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject, flawed account, 19 Jun 2012
Had Darwin written his Origin of Species entirely within his study walls, never venturing out into the garden to observe earthworms and pigeons, nor to travel the world to fill his head with the wonders of nature and distill the why's and wherefores of nature, he might have written a book like The Great Divide.
It's a great subject, and the second half of the book that tackles history rather than prehistory, makes some progress. The horrors of the Mayan and Aztec civilisations are linked to the saturation of these cultures in hallucinogenic drugs (100 used kinds compared with 20 in Eurasia), a claustrophobic and limited geographical territory plus earthquakes and volcanoes and unquiet weather. Compared with this, the Old World had more scope in area and habitats, the gods sent down less catastophes and universal drug-taking was not embedded in everyday life.

I found the style rather wordy and repetitive - a bit like trying to put a relational database in a linear format, and I missed some personal input or a glimpse of the author in all this. He isn't always accurate - as just one example he says the watermill was invented in the 6th century AD when the Greeks and Romans had it 600 years earlier.

However, by and large, so far, so good. But the first half of the book - which would have been much better as the second part - lets him down. He's way out of his comfort zone, and no wonder where he hops from stone age ecology, climate, geology, human migrations and archaeology and more. Here it goes pear-shaped. He plays fast and loose with dates: on page 8 he says the genetic individuality of native Americans 'clustering around the 16000-15000-year mark ...when the vast glaciers of the Last Ice Age reached their greatest extent' and then on page 123 'as the ice age came to en end, between 40000 and 20000BC, say, when the glaciers and permafrost retreated'.

He also confuses the greatest-extending ice age with the last ice age, whose glaciers didn't get as far. Unfortunately his vegetation and climate knowledge of the Pleistocene are equally sketchy. The rainfall over north Africa hasn't declined in a straight line for 10,000 years: for starters there was the 8200 BP great jolt to rainfall and everything else (from the release of the melted north American ice into the oceans) that killed off the 'Green Sahara' And much more.

This first half is a lot of facts and authors and opinions (these often not those I would have chosen, but that's his choice). It's not writing that pours out of the head from being out there, walking the walk, living in and with nomads and prehistoric cultures, comparing seaside routes with straight lines inland, thinking about food 24 hours a day.... It's an indoor exercise about the outdoor history of our species with a scope that very few scientists are qualified to tackle. A great pity one of these scientists didn't step in to negotiate reducing the scope.

Hitch-22: A Memoir
Hitch-22: A Memoir
by Christopher Hitchens
Edition: Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars great humour, entertainment and history, 10 April 2012
This review is from: Hitch-22: A Memoir (Audio CD)
Hitchens never came into my field of view until this year and I'm so thankful I discovered him, though sad it took his death to get this to happen. I thought this was going to be a bit of a dry read, and the chapter on 1960s politics tended that way, but the rest a definite page-turner. A life paralleling my own time span and education. So entertaining, funny and informing as he analyses what I went through and took for granted. A brilliant set of quotes from his friends illuminate those years. For example the one about public school kids: the cream of the cream, thick and rich. Lots of witty quotes on religion that would bother religious people if they shared his ability to reason. Did he get Bill Clinton wrong when he says he found him a serial liar? I'm shaken by this, but tend to accept his observations and maybe he just discovered him (BC)to be a born politician.

A great holiday read and I'm definitely going to read his other books.

Talk Now Learn Nepali: Essential Words and Phrases for Absolute Beginners (PC/Mac)
Talk Now Learn Nepali: Essential Words and Phrases for Absolute Beginners (PC/Mac)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars not for adults visiting Nepal, 14 Aug 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was looking to build on 20-year old pidgin Nepali gained in that country, to converse on trek and in villages. What I got was a heap of words the same as English, like hotel and pizza and cola. Plus English foods rather than what you get in Nepal - where are the kinds of sag and momos and so on? And the phrases very quickly included 'where is the train station' and 'where can I park my car'. I can tell you with my experience over many visits there that you won't be looking for a train anywhere in Nepal and nor are you likely to be driving a car unless you are resident there with an official body, in which case you'll have your own tuition and advice. And several of the Nepalese translations of words like 'bathroom' and 'thank you' needed comment, as is so very well supplied in the brilliant Lonely Planet phrasebook.

And I was seriously annoyed to have grinning Caucasian Americans reading out the words instead of Nepalese. So terribly disappointing, a waste of the considerable time it took to 'optimise' itself for my MAC

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