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James-philip Harries "none of the above" (france)
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Risk Savvy: How To Make Good Decisions
Risk Savvy: How To Make Good Decisions
by Gerd Gigerenzer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the other one, 22 Jun 2014
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But still good, This is an excellent introduction to risk but I'd advise giving the older and better "Reckoning with Risk" by the same author a go first.
If the thought of statistics makes your brain go numb but you really have to get a handle on what the doctor told you, this is the book for you.


The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life
by Paul Seabright
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How to trust strangers, 22 Jun 2014
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Professor Seabright's great work, first published in 2004, is beginning to show its age. Ten years is an age in evolutionary biology and the "update" doesn't update much.

Nevertheless this is a fascinating, if not particularly original, account of how human beings overcame the big problem: when you're not actually related to the person you're dealing with, how can you do the deal? Humans are by far the most violent creatures to their own species that have ever roamed the earth, so it's a puzzle how we learnt to cooperate.

The author is by training an economist, and though he sportingly spares us the differential equations (and any real maths at all) he can't quite get rid of the jargon. This makes for an occasionally difficult read, though at significant points he supplies an English translation. The book is longer than it might be, and based on the usual format of lecture notes: tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you've told them.

The central dilemma, trust, seems to me somewhat easier to solve, given recent research advances, than Seabright makes out. Scarcity is the basis of economics, but saving a surplus for a rainy day is impossible in hunter-gatherer society. Imagine two hunters. One is pretty useless, the other highly skilled. But even the good hunter has an off day and the bad hunter gets lucky. The bad hunter offers to share his kill (which will go off anyway) with the good hunter, thus creating an implied debt. The parent cares for the child, the child will return the favour (at least until the invention of pension schemes). This system of obligation over time is a foundation of trade that is pretty easy to conceptualise. Likewise the first barter. (Probably not barter, also framed by time.) The trade gives such enormous advantages to each side of the bargain that they must have thought each other idiots. What? He gave me this flint which I covet like my life, in exchange for this club for mashing roots, which I can literally pick off the trees back where I come from? And the guy with more flints than he can carry is thinking the same.

The book concludes with the usual stuff about how human society is inherently fragile because we are descended from murderous apes but have got nuclear weapons and global warming. This is becoming to seem more a trope than a prediction the more often I see it.

An influential book but maybe overpraised. Still worth a read, though.


Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
by Mary Roach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing Tract, 18 May 2014
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I wish I could say I devoured this book at one sitting, but it's quite long and the footnotes are set in microscopic type. It's an eye opening, sometimes eye watering, journey through the alimentary canal from discussion of the causes of bad breath, the history of diet fads, all the way to the other end. Our gondolier (singing a buttock clenching version of Ah sole mio, perhaps?) is Mary Roach, a writer who leaves no double entendre unused and very little to the imagination. Hilarious consequences ensue, as it says on some blurbs.

The first half concerns itself with taste, food choice, cultural shibboleths and so forth. The second discusses faeces, mostly. The longest part of the gut, the small intestine which does most of the grunt work, barely gets a look in on the guided tour. Blink and you'll fall straight through the ileocecal valve. This lock gate in the canal, Roach reports, proves that you can't get nutrition from enemas, though you can get vitamins. The Vatican explored this issue in 1600, with respect to fasting nuns during Lent. I am left wondering if you can absorb electrolytes through enemas, and whether some learned Imam is right now delivering a fatwa about what is permitted during Ramadan, when nothing must pass your lips in the day. The colon is also used for smuggling and consuming drugs. But while it's not capacious enough for a suicide bomb (only the bomber will die, even on a plane) it is capable of taking in an iphone, though maybe not a tablet.

Roach is an assiduous researcher and though her writing style is easy to parody I greatly enjoyed this book. I am extremely grateful for it in fact; I dread to think of what ads pop up on the Roach family computer, I'm just glad they don't appear on mine. Perhaps she has permanently disabled cookies.

A story she does not find in her research is that of the deep sea diver. Hyperbaric chambers need toilets, and divers need to go. There's a collection chamber on the outside of the "bin" (as we called it). Once some idiot Life Support Technician opened both valves on the dump at the same time, with predictable results. Miraculously the victim survived, at the price of a fore-shortened small intestine (even) and the need for forty squares a day and a colostomy bag. The design was subsequently changed so there was a valve on the inside as well. I always used to double check. The story may be an urban myth and I am encouraged by the diligence of the author to hope so.

Maybe I'm being over indulgent to compare this book with the classic How Was It for You, Professor? or Sperm Wars, but this book has brought up my inner schoolboy and given me an appetite for the author's others.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2014 4:20 PM BST


How to Make a Human Being: A Body of Evidence
How to Make a Human Being: A Body of Evidence
by Christopher Potter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great Pseuds of Today, 10 May 2014
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I bought this book because I thought it might be about evolution, biology, history and stuff. In fact it's a self regarding and lazy conflation of quotes from physicists, philosophers, writers and the author himself, roughly arranged in the style of a renaissance commonplace book. There is no overarching argument which I could detect, so readers should perhaps regard it as a dictionary of the most embarrassing quotations.
Here's two:
If less is more, is nothing too much?
Human beings like to make things, but when the universe makes things, what are they? Being in the universe calls the thingness of things into doubt.
And so forth. Some but not most of the quotes or the author's aperçus are too long to fit in a fortune cookie.

Nearly all the great pretentious dead people appear: the Dalai Lama (well, OK he's not dead but not likely to sue for copyright infringement) Virginia Woolf, Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Freud, Jacques Derrida, Victor Hugo, D H Lawrence, J P Sartre... add a couple more and a few Guardian or NYRoB columnists and you'd have a few sets for happy families.
Of course scientists say stupid things from time to time. We all do, shame on us. It seems to be a bit harsh to quote them out of context, but in context of this tripe.
Avoid.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 13, 2014 9:59 PM BST


Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology
Alien Life Imagined: Communicating the Science and Culture of Astrobiology
by Professor Mark Brake
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £29.99

3.0 out of 5 stars They're out there somewhere, 27 April 2014
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As a history of how humans have thought about aliens this is a good read. For those who wonder what aliens might actually BE like, it's a little disappointing. Those who find science fiction badly written tripe will hate it.

Will aliens be built on the same framework of 20 amino acids as all life on earth, or will they use the 180 available others as well or instead? Is DNA a universal copying mechanism? Is it even the best? Such questions are not far from being answered (in the lab, not from spaceships) and I had hoped for some guidance on this but didn't get it.


The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch
The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch
by Lewis Dartnell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DIY tech, 27 April 2014
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Many books chart the history of science and technology. This one offers a new twist, imagining what can be done to rebuild civilisation after a cataclysm has wiped out most of the population.

As tech history, it's pretty good, though the illustrations could be better and more numerous. As post apocalypse manual it's less good. The author has little to say about staying alive, and nothing about how to reestablish functional law and order, trade and a medium of exchange. Social problems are not Dartnell's field, but they would surely loom large in the aftermath. These may be harder problems than building your own chemical plant, but for those who are interested in chemical plants, home made sextants and such like I'd recommend this book.


Where Do Camels Belong?: The story and science of invasive species
Where Do Camels Belong?: The story and science of invasive species
by Dr Ken Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why do naturalists hate foreigners so much?, 14 April 2014
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The Columbian Exchange, which brought potatoes, tomatoes and maize to Europe and peppers, wheat and sugar to America, was a great boon to mankind. It was also a boon for nature, which has never been more fecund and various as now.

Most introductions are neutral or positive. Sometimes the new species escapes its natural predator or parasite, only to succumb because it has no resistance to the new bugs it finds in its new habitat. As the author points out, only about 10% of introductions survive without help from gardeners, farmers or game keepers, and only about 10% of those flourish in the wild so well as to be considered a pest. US agriculture is worth about 800 billion dollars a year, feeds large parts of the non-US world as well, and depends 95% on introduced species. So putting up with Japanese knotweed or harlequin ladybirds seems a small price to pay.

However, we seem to be prepared to pay millions in our (usually failed) attempts at eradication. Thompson suggests that this is just a socially acceptable xenophobia. We're not allowed to be racist about humans, so we take it out on plants. In fact, invasive species seem to go through a life cycle of invasiveness. Wait long enough and the invader declines to an acceptable level without any human intervention whatsoever.

Thompson writes well and amusingly. This is an eye-opening book which should be of interest to anyone who loves nature, has a garden or wonders where their taxes go. Heartily recommended.


The Negotiator: My life at the heart of the hostage trade
The Negotiator: My life at the heart of the hostage trade
by Ben Lopez
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.04

2.0 out of 5 stars Sam Spade meets Walter Mitty, 12 Jan 2014
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Do you think ransoms should never be paid to kidnappers? Then don't read this book.
But in the real world there are some s***ty places where kidnaps happen, and you need to do a deal.
"Ben Lopez" has written a book about the negotiations involved. Some of it is sensible, some of it is just juicing up his qualification as a psychologist, and some of it is tripe.
Lopez is constantly taking flights to Karachi, Mexico City, Bogota, etc. He takes the red eye so often you'd think it was infectious. Why not just get a telephone forwarding service and sit in a nice office near the insurance company in London?
K&R (or K4R), kidnap and ransom, is good business, both for insurers and kidnappers. Less so for the kidnapped, of course, but the industry is seriously screwed if they rely on guys like this 6 foot 5 jock to do their negotiation. The red eye, the 22 hour days, the coffee and red bull, problem divorce, the drink problem...
My first response to a kidnap would probably be like anyone else's: get my child out of there as soon as possible, at any price!
But mature reflection leads me to some advice contrary to Lopez. So if I'm kidnapped:
1. It's a business transaction
2. There's only one seller, and only one buyer.
3. Keeping hostages is expensive, you need to pay guards, rent (or gasoline if it's a remote cave), etc.
4. Ideally there are multiple kidnapper negotiators, only one guy deciding about the ransom.
5. While I'm being held captive, others can't be. There's a limit to kidnapper resources.
6. Keep a clear head. Taking planes to Karachi is pointless. If you can, get your kidnappers to contact you only in office hours.
7. I will not be at my best at 3 a.m. when I'm hauled out of the cave to give a proof of life photo shoot.
8. Keep the per diem lower than the kidnappers'.
9. Don't pretend you've got a mercenary army on stand by.
10: Only one payer, the family. (Even if the company pays.)
11. Make it real. He's James, never the hostage, never the package. e.g. "James is worried about the effect on his family. Can you tell James that his family is Ok and that they are looking forward to seeing James again?"
12. Most kidnappers are amateurs compared to negotiators. (exception made for "ben lopez")
13. Be patient. I'm kidnapped. A safe house is by definition safe.
14. Practise the drop offs. Books or meds for the victim, messages (proof of life) from the victim.
Most kidnaps in s***ty places end up OK. The trick is to reduce the take for the kidnapper. With these simple rules you should be able to reduce the fee considerably. See rules 2 & 3 above.


1000 Years of Annoying the French
1000 Years of Annoying the French
by Stephen Clarke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars not annoying, ,mildly irritating, 24 Nov 2013
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The relentless jocularity grates. The history is pitched for anyone who knows no history, the humour is schoolboyish, and few schoolboys want to plough through a 650 page history book.
So who is this book designed to annoy? The French won't read it and would give a gallic shrug if they did. I hoped (as a resident in the country) to get some extra tips beyond mowing the lawn on a Sunday and taking my wheelie bin out really late in the evening but the book didn't help.


Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist's Journey to Climate Skepticism
Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist's Journey to Climate Skepticism
by Jim Steele
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.38

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars climate changes, and..., 20 Oct 2013
Climate, as even climate alarmists agree, changes all the time. It changes locally. Creatures die individually, extinctions happen when all the creatures die or when all the climate changes.
This book follows some famous extinctions or population declines and goes through the science and the way in which it is presented to us plebs. It's not a pretty picture.
Jim Steele, now retired as a conservation academic, shows through examples the way that publicly funded researchers have systematically hacked the climate debate to push a CO2 culprit. But according to Steele, the cause of die-offs are various: a virus for frogs, El Nino for droughts, and so forth. Some claims by environmentalists are simply not true: emperor penguins and polar bears are at population maximum. The major cause is decades long variation of ocean currents or sunspots.
The chapter and verse in this book is hair raising. How so called scientists can fix the data, ignore conflicting evidence, collude to exclude counter arguments, all the while collecting public money is a scandal. There are plenty of "peer reviewed" journals (no doubt the UFOTimes is also peer reviewed by other nutters) but to find prestige outfits like Science and Nature doing it too is sobering.
The debate has become excessively polarised and politicised. Who is responsible? Not Big Oil, but Big Science, which is driving itself into a cul-de-sac in defence of a hypothesis which doesn't fit the facts.
Alas, this book will be read more by sceptics to confirm their views than by warmists who wish to challenge their own views. And as it seems to be a print-on-demand product the graphics are sort of out of focus. But despite the high detail of how warmist science changes its spots to fix the data from one academic paper to the next, it's an easy and enlightening, and alarming read.


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