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Adam "Say something about yourself!" (Dunton, United Kingdom)

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Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking
Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking
by Susan Cain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars World, shut your mouth, 4 Jun. 2013
I have never been a fan of Myers Briggs personality indicators, with their basis on introvert/extrovert types. It always seemed too pat and simplistic. Surely, I thought, life and people are more complicated than this system allows. But then two things happened; I attended a training day at my work on Myers Briggs and started reading Susan Cain's "Quiet." Both of these delivered the same overall message; that Myers Briggs indicators give us a starting point with which then to understand ourselves, and use our knoweldge of our own types and others to help us adopt and use characteristics that will help us in our work and daily lives. And so an introvert can use out-going extrovert skills to master a presentation, and so on. What "Quiet" does is to focus on our cultural,historical and scientific understandings of intovert and extrovert types, with the sympathetic focus being on the introvert, hence the title. It is the author's contention that the introvert has been misunderstood and marginalised in favour of the extrovert, the "mighty likeable fellow" who in the early years of the 20th Century could win friends and influence people and sell loads of stuff. From then on, Cain argues, the exrtovert idea had been promulgated in Western society as the desired norm for childhood, school, work and social life. So children have been chastised for being and labelled as 'shy' or having an ' inferiority complex,' and these labels can persist to adulthood.
We move on to what Cain calls the 'myth' of charsimatic leadership, the force of personality inspiring with vision, steamrolling opposition and generally getting things done. Cain calls it a myth only so much as it is used as the desired norm of leadership styles. And she draws out how the workplace enccourages extroverted styles not only through recruitment bias but through structuring office space (open-plan) to encourage group-think and noisy collaboration over smaller groups and quieter reflection. Cain then explores the gifts an introverted starting point can bring, and how indeed a calmer, more thoughtful and reflective approach is necessary for human flourishing. She traces how introversion has been explored through evolutionary and biologcal science, and how psychology and modern reseach is determining just how these traits are apparent and develop from infancy onwards. She then looks at how both traits are necesary for human life, and attempts to correct the biases and imbalances as described above, desccribing how introverts can play to their strengths, harnesing quiet or soft power to win friends and influence people. Soft power in Asian cultures gets its own chapter, and the culture clash that arises when Asian students, brought up to believe that quietness and calm are indicators for wisdom, and that you should not contribute to discussions unless you have something solid to say, meets its US counterpart where the key thing is to be seen and heard to contribute in noisy group analysis.
In the closing section off the book, Cain explores how the two traits can learn from and inform each other, in the arenas of work and human relationships. There is a plea for schools to better understand their introverted students and to accomodate their learning styles through teaching methods and classroom design, e.g. Having smaller groups, more 1:1 explorations and down-time for students.
The book is cleary written, (quietly) passionate, and the science that informs it is interesting and accesssible (although at times weirdly contrived, as with intoverted fish avoiding capture through being cautious and avoiding nets). But for me, as an introvert, its most valuable contribution was the clear recognition and elucidation of what it means to have this at the core of one's personality. Literally, reading this I felt less alone, and could recognise myself in its pages from childhood on. The reassurance that I do not have to force myself to fit an extroverted template, and helpful guidance on how I could harness and use quiet power in my daily life, is very valuable. This then is a clear and readable, wise and felt exploration of the power of Quiet, and I am glad that its message is enjoying a wide readership, this book now being found on most book-shop shelves.

Breakdown: A Love Story
Breakdown: A Love Story
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Post Pandemic Pastoral, 18 May 2013
In the year 2000 rock star Chris Price struggles to get back to his wife and daughter in New York as all Hell breaks loose. Computers systems crash worldwide as a flu pandemic decimates the world. Chris's wife and daughter are amongst the dead.
This story is Chris's attempt to locate the rest of his family, after a time spent numb with trauma, and exposed to the worst humanity can bring. He journeys back to the UK and finds a woman called Pauline and her family, who have subsisted in a rural area largely untouched by the horrors. Pauline is a therapist and she uses these skills to bring Chris back to himself so he can find the courage to look for the rest of his family.
There is much I found problematic with this novel. First, this is a pandemic that has left, strangely, most of Chris's friends and family alive. As well as Pauline's. If this rolled out comparatively to the rest of the humanity, it would seem to be a weirdly selective pandemic. Although, granted, we are told that there are follow on outbreaks.
Secondly, although it is a brave decision to leave a lot of the worst of what Chris has seen as back-story, so as to concentrate on the relationships between Chris and Pauline and her family, and his family, it guts the novel of a lot of action.
And what's left is a lot of awkward silences, averted eyes, angst conversations, and touchy-feely exchanges as these characters find each other, come to terms with hurts of the past, forge reconciliations and plan a future. Chief amongst these is the therapeutic relationship between Chris and Pauline, the core of the novel. To have such a relationship in a pandemic novel is odd and misplaced. Chris and Pauline and to an extent a lot of the rest of the cast live in an emotional feeding frenzy, and are weirdly sensitive in a newly brutalised world. It's like the pandemic has given everyone not the flu, but a counselling qualification.
The novel's setting cries out for dramatic tension and action that for the most part is kept to the sidelines. There is a bit of steel at the end, but nothing too challenging.
What works, then? Something kept me reading to the end. And partly this is because Katherine Amt Hanna has succeeded to an extent in her world building, whatever the implausibilities. What I particularly appreciated was the depiction of a world without gadgets and computers and national utilities, where coffee and tea are luxury goods, and where town markets and barter becomes once again the centre of interaction and business. It felt refreshing and rubbed off on me a sense of how blessed we are in our current abundant life here in the West, but also how fragile it all is.
Also, in a culture where often characters are driven by cynicism and self interest, this is a brave stab at creating an alternative pastoral idyll.
`Breakdown' is a very flawed, but interesting addition to the current end of civilisation mania filling our bookshelves.

House of Cards - Season 1 (DVD + UV Copy) [2013]
House of Cards - Season 1 (DVD + UV Copy) [2013]
Dvd ~ Kevin Spacey
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £25.99

24 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suffers in comparison, 14 May 2013
The original BBC drama with Ian Richardson was a tight as a drum piece of storytelling, and it's take on the dark side of political life was compelling. Ian Richardson was all steel and his Iago like asides pulled us in and made us complicit.

In comparison, this, in the tradition of US series, is more than twice the length, is ill disciplined, has a number of superfluous, redundant story-lines, and sprawls all over the place to a lame conclusion which is nothing of the sort as it has to pave the way for Series 2.

Spacey is the best thing about the show as Francis Underwood, and he shows a compelling mix of thwarted Machiavelli (initially) to sociopathic puppet-master. But even he struggles against the weight of filler episodes and undramatic stodge. Robin Wright is also good as his wife, but she is no Lady Macbeth, more a moral black hole, trying to find meaning but rejecting it when it impinges on her me centered universe.

Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) is the reporter who joins forces with Francis's drive for power to further her own career principally. Whereas the Susannah Harker character is a truly tragic figure in the BBC original, Zoe is an unlikable brat. I didn't care what happened to her. The plot line with Corey Stoll's Perry Russo provided, at last, compelling dramatic interest, with his study in human fallibility and addiction, helplessly tangled in Underwood's web. He also mirrors a counterpart in the BBC original.

And the product placement is gratuitous. Maybe because this is a Netflix production they had to raise advertising revenue somehow, but it is obvious and therefore obnoxious when a Blackberry or I -phone is waved in our faces, or Playstation 3 and Vista get honourable mentions.

David Fincher is involved,so the production has some of his characteristic mood of menace and darkness which lifts it above the realm of soap opera, but only just.

It shares vague narrative similarities,but this is an inferior House of Cards to the original.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 4, 2013 10:26 PM BST

by Simon Wood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Undeniably effective page turner, 21 April 2013
This review is from: Terminated (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Gwen Farris gives truculent and difficult employee, Stephen Tarbell a bad review, telling him he must improve if he wants to remain with the company, Pace Pharmaceuticals. To say that Stephen Tarbell does not take this well is the mother of all understatements. That day, he accosts Gwen in the parking lot and puts a knife to her throat, demanding that she changes the review to a more favourable outcome.
So, you would expect Gwen to go the Police. But she doesn't. After consulting with her employee, she allows them to get their private security firm, PSI, to handle the situation. Now this seems like a huge, soggy implausibility. But the back jacket assures us that this is based on true events. Nevertheless, I struggled to accept that after being molested in this fashion, someone would not go the cops.
And then, PSI is compromised when Tarbell is able to blackmail one of PSI's officers and therefore have an alibi when and where it is needed. Again, this seems awfully unlikely. And then, Tarbell's actions become increasingly heinous as his campaign against Gwen and her family intensifies. He seems remorseless and unstoppable as the Terminator, and as cunning and as manipulative as Satan. And yet, his backstory is of an abused child, emotionally stunted, at war with the world. It shouldn't work, it should all be laughable.
And yet, this is an incredible adrenaline inducing page turner. It's amazing how the pages melted away. Events are truly shocking, and there are many rug pull moments. You are never quite sure on whose side the denouement will fall. It is a thriller that delivers. To sum up, you'll shake your head at the apparent absurdities, and yet the pages blur by as you devour the novel, hooked.
Undeniably, very effective.

Perlasca: The Courage Of A Just Man:English Sub-titled [DVD]
Perlasca: The Courage Of A Just Man:English Sub-titled [DVD]
Dvd ~ Luca Zingaretti
Price: £7.00

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hope in a world of hatred, 17 April 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This 2002 Italian companion piece to Schindlers List was released as a two part television film. It was very well received. Wikipedia tells me that when the second part was aired, it attracted 13 million viewers, 43% of the total Italian TV audience share.
It is based on a true story, that of Italian cattle dealer Giorgio Perlasca, here played solidly by Luca Zingaretti best known from BBC hit detective series Montalbano. His performance gives a real central gravity which the rest of the film grounds itself confidently on. His character begins the film trapped in Budapest in 1944. He witnesses the violent treatment of Jews, and gradually moves from an appalled bystander to someone who actively opposes the violence around him, in way that embodies the whole spirit of the non- violent resistance movement. He impersonates a Spanish consul at the end of 1944 and beginning of 45, and intervenes in the political and bureaucratic spheres, engineering the salvation of thousands of Jews. He also intervenes more physically and directly, literally snatching children from the jaws of death under the malevolent gaze of none other than Adolf Eichmann. The scene stands out and is particularly chilling. "Who was that monster?" Perlasco asks with us, before we are made aware of his identity. The Eichmann character has just contemptuously dismissed them with a remark that they can save a few, but he will massacre thousands. The encounter is said to be true.
The film captures well the urgent brutality of the Nazi regime in its death throes. Amongst the Nazi protagonists, there is an icy performance from György Cserhalmi as SS captain Bleiber, relentless in his persecution of the Jewish population of the city. The cold heart in his performance is that he has entirely rationalised this within himself as just following orders and doing his job, the ultimate cop out of evil.
There's an avoidance of the death camps themselves, which works to the films credit. We can look elsewhere for those. Instead we get the squalid, claustrophobic desperation of a brutalised city and of the ghetto, with people ripped from their homes and brutally marched through the streets to the death trains or to their new ghetto residence. Perlassca finds his world to be moving between safe houses and finding new ones as the SS grip tightens in its hatred and fear, as the Russians advance.
Other performances of note are Jérôme Anger as the lawyer Farkas, who become Perlasca's accomplice. His quiet integrity is stretched to cover the defiant actions of Perlasco, and by his own vulnerability as a Jew. He is a mirror to the Ben Kingsley character in Schindler's List. We also have Mathilda May as Contessa Eleonora, the lonely wife of a Hungarian high officer commissioned to the Soviet Union. Her role is more complex, as she has been complicit in the regime to an extent in moving in society circles and concealing her own Jewish identity. Her progress through the film lies in unlearning her surface role and re-finding her identity with her people. It is a fascinating performance that combines elegance and charm with a shattering vulnerability.
In terms of production values, it has the straightforward narrative drive of the TV mini-series. It does not sacrifice story telling for cinematic spectacle and is as much character as event driven. The score by Ennio Morricone does more than nod to John Williams in its use of strings at climactic moments, and at times does seem intrusive. We know how to feel, and silence or something more minimal may have served some of the atrocities conveyed better.
To its merit the film balances scenes of courage and hope and the triumph of goodness with terrible scenes that do not flinch away from the evil of the regime. The film has many good characters you may expect to see taking a train to freedom at the denouement. And indeed at one point, as Perlasca thinks of commandeering a train in an exodus of mass salvation, it looks like the film may lurch towards a studio directed happy ending. But the film does not cop out. Many characters you grow to care about do not see salvation at the end. But the film retains its message of hope, and you will not finish feeling desolate.
It is good to see a film bringing to light the actions of a historical character that did good and brave things and that you may have overlooked. Watch out for a brief excerpt from a TV interview with the real Perlasca just after the final credits, where he quickly sums up what he did and what he would want the young to grasp, as our duty to oppose violence.

AmazonBasics Wired Keyboard Black US QWERTY Layout
AmazonBasics Wired Keyboard Black US QWERTY Layout
Price: £10.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Faulty, 6 April 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Have given this the only low rating on the product page so far as it is faulty. Simply, three keys are cross wired, giving the wrong symbol when pressed.
This is a shame, as I guess that the Amazons Basics range seeks to give sleek and attractively designed products at a budget price. And this keyboard is sleek and polished, a shiny and attractive product with well spaced and responsive keys. If it worked well it would be my replacement keyboard. But it doesn't, so it isn't.
I considered notfying Amazon and asking for a replacement to rate, but I believe you have to rate your first experience of a product as given. It could be that mine is a one off fault, but I would ask other reviewers to test the £, # and \ keys as it could be a while before you stumble across this fault.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 22, 2014 10:58 PM GMT

Politics and the English Language
Politics and the English Language
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Careless writing; the deceiver's cloak, 16 Mar. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Just as the war-time slogan "careless talk costs lives" highlighted the potential fatal consequences of careless gossip, so this essay underlines the power of lazy writing to deaden thought, to "make lies sound respectable and murder truthful, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."
Here Orwell is actually talking about 'political' writing, which he sees as synonymous with lazy and careless writing.
He lists the characteristics of such writing as composed of worn out metaphors, recycled images and phrases, overused Latin and scientific words, and 'not un-' constructions, e.g. lazy writing not unlike political writing. These are often cobbled together, Orwell claims, to construct sentences and paragraphs that have no original thought and that do the work of the writer, doing away with the effort of finding clear images or words that actually state what the writer means. The writer is often left with something that is mendacious nonsense, or just plain nonsense.
Amusingly, Orwell gives some passages at the start of his essay culled from various sources including prominent thinkers, pamphleteers and letter writers. They are indeed examples of pretentious hot air, and we have fun as Orwell deconstructs them. But the more sinister underlying message is that truth is often the victim when such writing is penned by the Political classes, as Orwell claims it often is, to prevent either them or us thinking too clearly, and making acceptable and palatable that which is monstrous and evil. He gives examples we will be familiar with today; 'pacification' for the firebombing of civilian targets, 'relocation' for the brutal exile of civilian populations, and so on.
These themes developed in the distortion of language in the Newspeak of 1984, and the deceptive political sloganeering and deceptions in Animal Farm. And how Orwell would have loathed and gone to town on the language of the Blair government in its justification of war, and the anesthetizing mush of the centre ground of current politics, and the language of austerity.
See? With the use of 'gone to town' I've done it myself, employing a lazy overused phrase to save me coming up with a more accurate one.
The argument does seem a bit overstretched, and there is a place for metaphor, and I think it is possible to use familiar metaphors and phrases in a way that serves good writing. But this remains a timely and bracing clarion call indeed.
This edition also includes Orwell's review of an unabridged translation of Mein Kampf in 1940. It is good to have it included, a gem. His argument that Hitler held power over the masses because, as well as starved and unemployed, they were also fed up with a consumer ethos that preached fulfilment through consumption, comfort and enjoyment, and craved something more instinctual and challenging, a creed of sacrifice for a greater cause, blood, and glory on the battlefield. In an age where the consumer culture is failing, leading to riots, and the rise of far right factions in Europe, this is chillingly relevant.

Doctor Who: Shadow of Death (Destiny of the Doctor 2)
Doctor Who: Shadow of Death (Destiny of the Doctor 2)
by Simon Guerrier
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £8.54

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid outing for Second Doctor, 9 Mar. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
`Destiny of the Doctor' is the second in a story arc that progresses through the Doctors. Brand new adventures, there are tantalising links to Matt Smith's Doctor, who seems, unless I have got this completely wrong, to be guiding his predecessors to some end that one presumes will be revealed in the last instalment.

It's a fast paced tale written by Simon Guerrier, at 1 hour and 25 minutes, which speeds by in a straightforward who by numbers story involving a mysterious planet, a scientific expedition, and a mysterious creature that is picking off these scientists one by one. There is running down corridors, misunderstood aliens, all the things that tick the boxes in Who's well loved tales. To say it is Who by numbers is not to write it off as unoriginal. There are good twists, chiefly in the way time is used as a weapon by the monster and distorted by the scientists. The monster is a shadow creature that can distort and shatter metal and age people to death with a touch, through the use of time. The scientists distort time with a temporal field on their base as time slows to a crawl outside the base through the excessive gravitational effects of the pulsar start the planet orbits (I think). Shadow creatures of course are not new to Who but this adventure is not looking to score points with originality. Instead we have a claustrophobic, contained, fleet footed yarn that classic who fans will appreciate. There's a hint of the over complexity of new Who's story arcs with the brief cameo of the latest Doctor, but this does not intrude over much, the tale itself takes precedence.
It is well performed by both Frazer Hines who takes on his old role of Jamie and also, superbly, Patrick Troughton's Doctor, as well as the linking narration and other male characters, and Evie Dawnay does Zoe and the chief female scientist.

Petit Nicolas [DVD]
Petit Nicolas [DVD]
Dvd ~ Maxime Godart
Price: £6.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A boy's life, 5 Mar. 2013
This review is from: Petit Nicolas [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Drawing from a series of books by Asterix creator Rene Goscinny first published around 50 years ago, this is a timeless, charming and funny depiction of childhood. It has the zest, innocence and humour of Anthony Buckeridge's 'Jennings' and Richmal Crompton's 'William' books. In all of these we have a child's eye view of the world, with a gang of friends, and a range of adult characters variously helpful, benign, bemused and irate.

In all of these school and family life and the times of friendship and exploration in-between are the pivots on which the adventures turn. Here, Nicholas becomes convinced, through a series of misunderstandings that he will soon have a brother, and his parents will abandon him in the woods to make room for the new arrival. He and his friends devise a plan to ensure Nicholas survives. Meanwhile, Nicholas's parents strive to entertain Dad's boss with the hope of securing a promotion.

It all comes together in a series of comic set pieces, arriving at a very sweet and warming conclusion. Watch out for the nod to Goscinny's Asterix heritage as the boys make a version of Asterix's strength potion.

This is never cloying or sentimental. It is very funny, affecting and inventive, and it took me back to those serial comic misadventures of the child's world I used to love with the Jennings and William books. The film looks gorgeous, the cast play it straight from the heart, and there are no knowing winks to the 'adult' audience that Hollywood children's films love so much these days. It is fantastic family entertainment. Look out for it.

Al Murray: the Only Way is Epic
Al Murray: the Only Way is Epic
by Al Murray
Edition: Audio CD

4.0 out of 5 stars Hail to the ale, 22 Feb. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the Brighton leg of Murray's 2012 "The Only Way is Epic" tour. As a recording of a live act there are visual gags and moments that you will miss. Namely, the introduction, presumably played on a big screen, where Murray casts around for the venue, to the "riddle" gag of packing a tent away at the end.
But there is more than enough to make this a brilliant standalone audio. The Pub Landlord is a brilliant piece of character comedy. His trademark is of course a strain of British identity that out Mails the Daily Mail, that, and incredible verbal set pieces that build in pitch and scope to epic rants that end with a punch line cried out as an appeal to sanity. An example of this on this cd is the discourse on entry to the EU, and an examination of Greek fiscal history, ending with the cry "why did nobody f@#%ing check?!" Then there's the countdown of all governments to Churchill, listing their huge non achievements and loudly declaiming each one as "the worst Government of all time."
The cd opens with a prolonged piece of audience engagement and improvisation that is brilliant and very funny. That established, Murray launches on his self-improvement seminar of what it means to be Epic. He tackles the EU, "kids today," political disenfranchisement, national identity, the debate on Scottish independence, and more. In this respect he differs from Peter Kay, who keeps his focus largely on the domestic, appealing to those everyday quirks of family life we all recognise. Murray is more about the corporate, national and societal. Yes he is a character who is a grotesque stereotype. But he does it so well as to imbue it with an incredible pathos, and like the best comedy, his outrageous gags throw up the occasional truth.
I listened to this on a run, and it had me guffawing in the street. It works, it is very funny, give it a go.

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