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Thomas De Vries (Surrey, UK)

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DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cyprus
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Cyprus
by Grzegorz Micula
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Especially Suitable for the Sightseer, 24 Aug. 2014
Item reviewed: 2012 edition (minor revisions being made every two years)

This book is comprised of:

* Introducing Cyprus (incl history), 30 pp (i.e. of a suitable size to be read on the flight over)
* Cyprus Region by Region (West, South, Troodos Mountains, Central, South Nicosia, North), 120 pp
* Travellers' Needs (mostly hotels and restaurants), 34 pp
* Survival Guide (practical info and good index), 28 pp

This is more illustrated than conventional guidebooks such as Lonely Planet. With those guidebooks, when you arrive at a major sight, you have to read or reread an essay of say five hundred words, and at the end may still be confused as to where exactly things are. DK's brilliant innovation is that instead they provide a labelled diagram, a bit like an aerial photograph, that orients you immediately and shows you where to go for the most interesting items. Of course this takes a lot of space so it's only done for major attractions – Kato Paphos, Kourion, Limassol Castle, Kykkos monastery, Salamis, and Kyrenia Castle.

Another DK innovation is the illustrated diagrams of sightseeing walks, which make it much easier to locate the places of interest, and much harder to get lost, than with other guidebooks. Unfortunately in the Cyprus guidebook there is only one recommended walk, in South Nicosia.

The bottom line is this. If you want to spend your time at the poolside, then that is fine but this guide (or any guide) is useless to you. If you want to get out and see the place, without spending a lot of time reading, then this book is ideal.


The UFO Phenomena
The UFO Phenomena
by Edward Ashpole
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The Emphasis is on being Scientific, without being Technical, 24 Aug. 2014
This review is from: The UFO Phenomena (Paperback)
Item reviewed: Headline Publishing, 1995 (hardback)

OVERVIEW.

A highly readable contribution from someone who has tremendous admiration for science but doesn't parrot the party line. He argues that little truly scientific enquiry has been made on UFOs, and suggests what can be done to remedy this. All the necessary science is explained in the book.

DETAIL.

It is said that the only way to make money from a UFO work is to make it a "Gee Golly, there goes another saucer" type of book. The author, a science writer, eschews this approach and instead examines the current situation where alien visitations might be perfectly natural, yet are automatically and unscientifically denied by scientists. The latter refrain from investigating, because of sensationalist accounts of some cases in some newspapers and general crackpottery, which prevents the subject being taken seriously.

This is a sharp contrast with SETI, considered scientific even though the rationale for ETH (the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis for UFOs) is the same as that for SETI. But why would an alien civilization go to the trouble and expense of transmitting to unknown planets, potentially for billions of years, instead of sending interstellar probes? As Frank Tipler said, "virtually any motivation we can imagine that would lead ETs to engage in interstellar radio communication with us would also motivate them to engage in interstellar travel." Ashpole gives reasons why ET probes in the Solar System would not necessarily make contact, contrary to Tipler's views.

There is a "curious contradiction" - we are considering interstellar travel, yet cannot imagine that ETs massively more advanced than us might do the same. Ashpole points out the time problem: if ETs visit the Earth for the first time, it is highly unlikely (in a Galaxy over 10 billion years old) that they would be doing it now. So if UFOs do represent some kind of extraterrestrial monitoring, it has been going on for up to 350 million years (they would know not to come much too early, from an ozone line in the Earth's spectrum). Earth monitoring by ETs could persist over vast timescales if carried out by robots (Ashpole does not see much of a role for biological beings at the sharp end of interstellar exploration).

Emergence of a new technological civilization in the galaxy might occur on average every million years or so. The emergence of ours over the last few hundred years would therefore be of great interest to any ETs.

Proper investigation of UFO reports must centre on landing remains, because that is all that scientists can do at present. That needs teams of scientific specialists to be on call. In France, all UFO reports must be attended by the police, who then pass them on to SEPRA, part of CNES, the French space agency. About 96% of French reports collected since 1981 have been given a non-ET explanation.

There are two questionable chapters. Chapter 15 is about a strange and unlikely (and so far, unvindicated) theory of UFO visit prediction. Chapter 10 is on SETI, not UFOs, and should be placed in Ashpole's Where Is Everybody?: Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence. However, the author does make the excellent point that some of the methods proposed for signalling to the Galaxy (e.g. dropping 10 billion tons of matter onto a neutron star) are insane - why would you not send out probes instead?

The book is easy to read and devoid of technicalities. Although nearly twenty years old, it has not dated. The author tries to be even-handed, but the reader might suspect that he thinks that a very small proportion of UFOs are in fact non-mundane. There is a weak index, and an even weaker section of references.


Where Is Everybody?: Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence
Where Is Everybody?: Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence
by Edward Ashpole
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars For Once, an Independent Viewpoint, 24 Aug. 2014
Item reviewed: Sigma Press, second edition 1997 (paperback)

OVERVIEW.

An independent viewpoint from a science writer who is able to say what he thinks. He is therefore able to be more constructive and free-ranging than the "usual suspects". His main contributions are the concept of technological ceilings and the serious consideration of UFOs. All the necessary science is explained in the book.

DETAIL.

Authors such as Paul Davies and John Gribbin are constrained to the conventional viewpoint in writing on extraterrestrial subjects, if they want to keep their day jobs. Ashpole was apparently beyond retirement age when he wrote this, so he could say what he thought. Consequently he has given strong consideration to the possibility that UFOs are extraterrestrial in origin, something that cannot normally be given credence in a book with this title (and there are several).

The title, of course, comes from Enrico Fermi's famous question: if there are lots of extraterrestrial civilizations, why don't we see them here? The author brings in the concept of technological ceilings: perhaps interstellar travel will always be extremely difficult, as it is for us today. In that case ET civilizations might be all over the place, but unable to go beyond their own solar systems and therefore not here. In that scenario, radio SETI makes some sense.

On the other hand, if technological ceilings are high enough to permit interstellar travel for a civilization at least 1000 years (say) more advanced than us, then the situation is very different. Would such a civilization elsewhere spend resources on transmitting to unknown planets? No, says Ashpole. It would find which planets had ozone layers such as Earth has (the forthcoming James Webb Telescope will apparently be able to do this for nearer Earth-size worlds) and send a space probe. It has taken Earth about 350 million years from the acquisition of an ozone layer, to a technological civilization; ET does not have to guess the exact time of arrival of the latter event, but can witness it taking place by coming here. This may be the origin of a very small proportion of our UFO reports.

Ashpole points out the time problem: if ETs visit the Earth for the first time, it is highly unlikely (in a Galaxy over 10 billion years old) that they would be doing it now. So if UFOs do represent some kind of extraterrestrial monitoring, it has been going on for perhaps hundreds of millions of years (they would know not to come much too early, from the Earth's spectrum). Earth monitoring by ETs could persist over vast timescales if carried out by artificial intelligence (Ashpole does not see much of a role for biological beings at the sharp end of interstellar exploration).

UFO reports have not really been scientifically investigated. The infamous Condon committee "was more like a judicial enquiry than a scientific investigation".

It has been suggested that, in the event that we receive a SETI signal, we should not answer for fear of invasion, etc. Ashpole gives an elegant answer: if the universal technological ceiling is low, then ET cannot come here anyway; and if it is high, then an expansionary ET would have come here a long time ago, so the threat is non-existent.

The author suggests at the end: maybe the answer to "Where Is Everybody?" is one that we haven't thought of yet.

The book is reasonably easy to read and devoid of technicalities. Unfortunately it contains a large number of minor errors that should have been spotted, such as rendering the name of Zdenek Kopal as "Zolenek Topal". There is a section of references, not tied in to the rest of the work; indeed, only one or two explicit references are made in the book. There is a small index.

NB The same author has written a book on UFOs which takes the subject further: The UFO Phenomena.


Science Was Wrong: Startling Truths About Cures, Theories, and Inventions 'They' Declared Impossible
Science Was Wrong: Startling Truths About Cures, Theories, and Inventions 'They' Declared Impossible
by Stanton T Friedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable, 6 Dec. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Item reviewed: New Page edn, 2010 (paperback)

OVERVIEW.

An interesting popular view of occasions where science was definitely or allegedly wrong. An entertaining read, with no previous knowledge of science needed. This is especially suitable reading matter for those who believe that science cannot be wrong.

DETAIL.

There are 14 chapters:

Chapter 1, Aviation. The story of how many prominent people including scientists and inventors said that manned flight was impossible and (when it was shown to be possible) of no practical value.

Chapter 2, Space. Similar to aviation. One scientist even wrote in 1941 that the launch weight of a moon rocket could not be less than one trillion tons (the figure for Saturn V was 3000 tons). And of course there was the Astronomer Royal's famous outburst 21 months before Sputnik that talk of space travel was "utter bilge". The experts are still at it: the authors show physicist Lawrence Krauss to make statements of impossibility when he doesn't even know what has been achieved with today's technology.

Chapter 3, Jupiter and Earth. Deals with the conservatism of astronomers, Velikovsky's successful predictions of a hot Venus and radio waves from Jupiter, academic censorship of Velikovsky, the effects of solar radiation on psychiatric patients, the Gauquelin/Mars effect and the ejection of Dennis Rawlins from CSICOP (now CSI) for running a fair trial. The Humanists in CSICOP refused to consider the evidence - their minds were already made up.

Velikovsky made a lot of statements founded on a totally unscientific methodology, only a few of which were found to be true, so this chapter (all in all) seems to be a case where science might be wrong (but probably isn't).

Chapter 4, Cosmos. This relates how many things have been declared by scientists to be impossible or impractical, including TV, communications satellites, home/small computers, and masers (the forerunner of lasers).

Chapter 5, Cold Fusion or Fraud? A review of the state of current research in cold fusion - still ongoing in several places - concludes that rejection by the majority of the scientific community was premature (although the original announcement by Pons & Fleischmann was highly premature and very poor practice). Another case where science could be wrong.

Chapter 6, Politics, Personalities and Childbed Fever. The career of Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, who saved many lives even though his ideas, being ahead of the times, were attacked with great fury. He was accused of pseudoscience.

Chapter 7, the Smallpox Wars. Jenner's vaccination procedure was opposed by the clergy at the time (although it should be noted that many of the opponents such as Rev Thomas Malthus were also scientists of their day). There was an outbreak of opposition by scientific supporters of the miasma theory in the 1870s and 1880s, leading to smallpox epidemics that killed thousands. Eventually Pasteur's germ theory triumphed.

Chapter 8, the Haemophilia Holocaust. This is about the rise of AIDS in the US. As with any paradigm-threatening idea, there were confusions and conflicts of interest early on. I don't think this can be counted as a case where science was wrong, because any suddenly emerging phenomenon is likely to give rise to these effects. Space and aviation were different - there was plenty of time to develop a mature view but the opportunities were squandered.

Chapter 9, the Eugenics Movement in America. An overview. This is a case of being morally wrong - the misuse of science. It is troublesome criticising things on these grounds because ethical views often change.

Chapter 10, Methyl Mercury in the Food Chain. Mercury pollutants in the food chain are liable to lead to Minamata Disease, disorientation, paralysis and then death. The scientists at the Chisso Corp at Minamata, Japan, spoke out about the pollution at some risk to their careers. On the evidence supplied, this must be a case where science was right.

Chapter 11, Global Warming: Man or Nature? The authors are sceptical of the official position on AGW, pointing out that water vapour is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, and the variability of the solar output over decades. A case where science may be wrong; we don't know.

Chapter 12, Extraordinary Visual Feats: Psi Phenomena. This relates firstly the notorious Natasha Demkina case where self-called sceptics skewed the experiment to obtain a negative result. Then there is talk of telepathy in general, where a very large number of experiments have shown slightly better results than chance, but with a very high statistical significance. Curiously, this only works for information mediated visually, not auditorily. Scientists pride themselves on using the experimental method, but here the taboo is too strong for the mainstream.

Chapter 13, UFOs. Scientists claim there is no good evidence by ignoring the results of studies to the contrary. The military withhold much data, regardless of Freedom of Information Acts.

Chapter 14, The Conundrum of Alien Abduction. These cases, including the Betty and Barney Hill case, are much the most disturbing in the book, and many academics have tried to dismiss them on psychological grounds. The often-quoted Clancy-McNally research at Harvard was seriously flawed methodologically. Nevertheless, this chapter, and the previous one on UFOs, must be classified as "Science might be wrong".

So, in spite of the title, most of the science in the book is not necessarily wrong. Where it was wrong, the authors point out the dangers of prediction: "technological progress comes from doing things differently in an unpredictable way". The book does not mention Clarke's First Law: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

The authors do not mention paradigm theory, as related by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Science tends to fall into paradigms, with a dogma and set ways of doing things as in religion. You might think that consequently they would get things right ; but when dogma deviates from reality, there eventually ensues conflict amongst scientists, paradigm change and the emergence of a new dogma as described by Kuhn. This explains how some of the scientistical nonsense in the book arose. There were also individual scientific disciplines or individual loners (such as the Astronomer Royal above) who should have known better - their colleagues in other sciences mostly did.

Unfortunately the book contains a number of minor errors, e.g. on page 125: Spencer's book Developmental Hypothesis was actually published in 1852. There is an index and a good bibliography.


Flying Saucers And Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFO's
Flying Saucers And Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFO's
by Stanton T. Friedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.28

4.0 out of 5 stars Competent, but Not for Beginners, 11 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Item reviewed: New Page edn, 2008

OVERVIEW. This book is an interesting one from one of the most serious and well-qualified of ufologists. It is a collection of 11 topics written over the years, which ideally should have been rewritten. Prior knowledge of science is not a necessity, but a knowledge of UFOs is.

DETAIL.

This book is a collection of topics written over the years, which ideally should have been rewritten instead of assembled. Sometimes this is very obvious, as in references to the Soviet Union, dissolved 17 years before the book's publication. Some of the topics give the flavour of a man long used to the insults and misrepresentations spread by the opposition. There are too many verbs that are in the first person singular.

He is (or was, as he is now in his 70s) a nuclear physicist. He may be regarded as a heavy hitter for the more respectable side of ufology. Friedman prefers the term "Flying Saucer" to "UFO", to avoid the ambiguity of the latter, although both terms have ambiguities.

Friedman unfortunately uses the term "believer" for someone who takes the reality of UFOs to be extraterrestrial. So Friedman, a physicist whose views on UFOs were arrived at from a serious scientific examination of the evidence, is a "believer", whereas someone like the magician-philosopher Paul Kurtz, whose views on UFOs are based on his deep faith in humanism, is a "non-believer". This is both misleading and an unnecessary propaganda gift to Friedman's enemies.

There are a couple of good forewords by Bruce Maccabee and astronaut Edgar Mitchell.

Chapter 1 is very good once he gets on to the various scientific studies of UFOs and asks why so few of them are well-known.

Chapter 2 is to say that aliens could come to Earth, unfortunately made long-winded because he insists on including material on his past career researching nuclear aircraft, etc. With my technological background I found this quite interesting, but others may see his career as simply irrelevant.

Chapter 3 is about where flying saucers might come from. Friedman introduces the Betty Hill/Marjorie Fish star-map centred on Zeta Reticuli. He does nothing to convince the reader that the map (obtained under hypnosis) is correct, or that Zeta Reticuli is the only possible interpretation of the map.

Chapter 4 is about how the military keeps secrets. Main good points: much U.S. government deception, most relevant info still kept above Secret level and not released, the media is generally unquestioning of what the government says, UFO data still held by many different agencies. Much of Bob Lazar's evidence on Area 51 is to be disbelieved.

Chapter 5 gives 16 reasons why SETI will not work, regardless of whether or not there are aliens out there. This is a chance for him to move onto the attack.

Chapter 6 answers a number of FAQ including the perennial Why Don't Aliens Land on the White House Lawn?

Chapter 7 concerns why 3 SciFi writers (Asimov, Bova, Clarke) have dissed the UFO subject and UFO witnesses.

Chapter 8 is about flying saucers and public opinion, which is much more pro-the reality of UFOs than is commonly supposed. Friedman makes the bull point that what deniers call a "conspiracy theory" is simply a case of classified materials being kept secret.

Chapter 9 is about Roswell, where Friedman was instrumental in demolishing the "weather balloon" explanation, still fondly believed by many deniers. I found myself lost in the detail.

Chapter 10 says persuasively that while the press may be sceptical of the government on political matters (e.g. Watergate), they ask too few questions over UFO "explanations".

Chapter 11 is about the Majestic-12 documents: Friedman says some are genuine and some are fakes. Again, a lot of detail.

There is a small index. The book is unsuitable for a beginner to the UFO scene. It is not essential to know any science before reading.

There was one thing that puzzled me, so I e-mailed the question to the author. He stated that the USAAF retrieved a crashed saucer in 1947, and could not immediately reverse-engineer it. That would be expected in such a circumstance. But surely there would have been a truly major effort at reverse engineering in the 1950s. Instead, the USAF spent hundreds of $millions on ultimately futile advanced research that had nothing to do with alien technology, as he knew very well because he worked on some of these programs. Did that not strike him as odd? He was kind enough to reply: the USAF research was not necessarily futile, such advanced technology as on the saucer would take a very long time to back-engineer, possibly samarium cobalt permanent magnets were developed as a result of examining the saucer wreckage, but in any case the exigencies of the Cold War required new weapons quickly. Let the reader decide.


Coming of Age in the Milky Way
Coming of Age in the Milky Way
by Timothy Ferris
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Definitely Still Worth Reading, 10 Sept. 2013
Item reviewed: Harper Perennial edn (paperback), 2003.

This book is in three unequal parts.

The first and largest part (entitled "Space") of nearly 200 pp is essentially a history of astronomy from ancient times to 1988, when the first edition was published. It ends with Einstein and the expansion of the Universe. This part is excellent. The author writes very well in good English, making much use of analogies to explain scientific concepts. Anyone should find this entertaining. Being a history, it has not aged.

The second part ("Time"), of nearly 70 pp, is on how we discovered the age of the Earth and the evolution of stars. The third part ("Creation"), about a hundred pp, is a hotch-potch of chapters on quantum physics, superstrings, the origin of the Universe, and SETI. These two parts are also good but perhaps feel slightly stale 25 years later. While there are no specific bits to deter an unscientific reader, one without some previous reading of science will definitely find these parts harder going than the first part. The very best exposition of science for the unscientific is probably Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything.

There is also a seven-page Addendum to bring the 1988 story up to 2003, a good glossary, a timeline starting at the Big Bang, bibliography, and a good index.


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Southwest USA & Las Vegas
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Southwest USA & Las Vegas
by Collectif
Edition: Flexibound

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Simply Not Big Enough, 31 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Item reviewed: 2012 edition

The book covers the following area:
* All of Arizona;
* All of New Mexico;
* Southern Utah, i.e. roughly south of the line of Interstate-70;
* Southwest Colorado, i.e. roughly SW of and including Ouray;
* The southern tip of Nevada, i.e. Las Vegas and environs.
Therefore this area is somewhat different from the region called Southwest USA in DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: USA (DK Eyewitness Travel Guides).

This book is divided into the following sections:

- Introduction (38 pp)
- Sights in the area covered, divided into 7 regions (182 pp)
- Travellers' needs and Survival Guide (70 pp)
- Index (Good, but in small print) (10 pp).

Las Vegas is well-described at 38 pp. This leaves 144pp for sights in the rest of the area covered. The coverage per unit area is about one-third of that in DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: California, leaving out Los Angeles and San Francisco since the SW USA does not have a comparable megalopolis. In an unexciting region this might not matter, but the area in fact has a wealth of interesting places, including the Grand Canyon and a large number of other very well-visited national parks.

I had this book with me on a recent trip to the SW, and found that, apart from Las Vegas, it just wasn't detailed enough. Given that the far more detailed California book is only about a pound more, this book might even be regarded as a swiz.


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: California
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: California
by Collectif
Edition: Flexibound
Price: £11.48

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Informative, 31 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Item reviewed: 2012 edition

This book is divided into the following sections:

- Introducing California including History (50 pp)
- Los Angeles (136 pp)
- Southern California (100 pp)
- San Francisco and the Bay Area (138 pp)
- Northern California (86 pp)
- Travellers' needs and Survival Guide (114 pp)
- Index (Good, but in small print) (23 pp).

There is also the eastern (i.e. Nevada) side of Lake Tahoe, and a page on Las Vegas. It can be seen that there is good coverage of the whole state. There are street maps of LA and Frisco.

This is more illustrated than conventional guidebooks such as Lonely Planet. With those guidebooks, when you arrive at a major sight, you have to read or reread an essay of say five hundred words, and at the end may still be confused as to where exactly things are. DK's brilliant innovation is that instead they provide a labelled diagram, a bit like an aerial photograph, that orients you immediately and shows you where to go for the most interesting items.

Another innovation is the illustrated diagrams of sightseeing walks, which make it much easier to locate the places of interest, and much harder to get lost, than with other guidebooks.

It weighs about a kg, but is still recommended for taking with you on a trip to California.


DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: USA
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: USA
by Collectif
Edition: Flexibound
Price: £16.58

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for Planning, 8 April 2013
Item reviewed: 2012 edition

This book is divided into the following sections:

- Visiting the USA including Practical info (18 pp)
- USA at a Glance including history (36 pp)
- The different regions of the USA divided into 14 regions (Florida, Texas and California are regions unto themselves) (700 pp)
- Index (Good, but in small print) (30 pp).

The 51 states (counting Washington DC) are therefore allocated just under 14 pp each on average. This is sufficient to tell you what the important things to see are, to include some town maps and a few cut-away drawings such as of the White House; and even some recommendations for accommodation and restaurants. I have used it for the planning of a one-month trip. It is inadequate for any very detailed planning (if needed) or for the actual visit. The USA is a very large country and more specialised regional guides, e.g. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: California and DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Southwest USA & Las Vegas if applicable, should be taken. At 1 kg it is not an impossible burden, but it should have done its job before you set out and is thus now redundant.


Allen's Dictionary of English Phrases
Allen's Dictionary of English Phrases
by Robert Allen
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Compendium, 16 Mar. 2013
Edition reviewed: Hardback, 2006.

This is a great collection of commonly used phrases. Its range runs_the_gamut (17th century) of English expressions, and it is very rare not to find a phrase one is looking for. It gives the derivation and meaning in_a_nutshell (Shak.).

I like to play a game of opening a page at random, reading out the first phrase to meet_the_eye (17th c.), and asking the other person to guess the century when it first saw_the_light_of_day (17th c.).

Perhaps the book was a drug_on_the_market (18th c.) because it cost a_pretty_penny (18th c.).


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