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Reviews Written by
Rolo "rolo211" (London, UK)

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by Steve Toltz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, 1 April 2015
This review is from: Quicksand (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's years since I've got so much pleasure out of a contemporary novel. I can't recommend it too highly.

Quicksand is about Liam, a failed novelist and Sydney policeman, who begins narrating this story about Aldo, his long-term best friend. Aldo is a catastrophically failing serial entrepreneur and amateur philosopher, a man so cursed with bad luck that even his suicide attempts are thwarted by apparent immortality. It is Aldo's constant stream of gnomic insights into the absurdity of life and his equally absurd attempts to start businesses that is one of the great pleasures of this book - brilliant simile follows hilarious observation as Liam attempts to make some sort of sense out of Aldo's obsessions.

The writing is razor sharp and just astonishing - it reminded a little of the best of early Martin Amis, but without the pomposity. There are wonderfully caustic meditations on the nature of art and artists and, at the heart of it all, a very serious examination of mortality, our unremitting and hopeless desire to make sense out of life and the human capacity for cruelty. Although extremely funny throughout, some of the later passages are genuinely terrifying.

If I wrote just one page of this book, I would be proud of myself for the rest of my life. Quicksand has 430 pages.

Sennheiser RS195 Personal Hearing Wireless Headphone
Sennheiser RS195 Personal Hearing Wireless Headphone
Price: £349.99

4.0 out of 5 stars great performers, 11 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I work in film and TV where Sennheiser one of the most established brands - their microphones, wireless mikes and headphones are industry standards. Their consumer products too, which tend to be manufactured in China rather than Germany, are very well respected, so expectations are high.

The RS195 are closed around-ear headphones - they fit over your ears and cut out most of the outside sounds - and are supplied on a stand which acts as a stand, transmitter and charging cradle. The base unit has balance and ‘listening’ mode controls while the headphones themselves have an on/off button and volume control. The base unit accepts either a minijack analogue input (which connects to any standard headphone output) or an optical (Toslink) digital input and is switchable between the two. The connection between the headphones and the base unit is, of course, wireless.

A previous reviewer was highly critical of the look and feel of these headphones - I can see what he means, they are hardly elegant, and although the design could be considered a bit clunky and plasticy, for me it’s not a deal breaker - I’m more interested in how they sound.

Setting them up is very straightforward and the wireless transmission faultless - on every room on all three floors of my (small) terraced house reception is perfect, no drop-out or interference at all and they are very comfortable to wear. Using the digital input to connect to my Mac (not everybody realises that the audio out minijack on all recent Mac computers is also a digital out - you just need a small adapter which costs about a pound to connect to the supplied optical cable) the sound was fantastic. The analogue input is also very clean and hiss-free.

There are presets on the base station for different ‘listening modes’ and ‘hearing presets’. I by-passed them all as I prefer to hear audio as neutrally as possible. There is also a balance control which I can only see of being of use if you have an inbalance between your left and right ears.

I then compared them, on analogue input, to my Sennheiser HD25 headphones - these are industry standard, wired, headphones popular with both sound recordists and DJ’s. Professional gear aims for accuracy and neutrality whereas consumer hi-fi gear aims to sound as good as possible - not necessarily the same thing. How do the RS195 match up? Extremely well. The RS195 sound more dramatic and detailed with a solid bass and a great ‘sound stage’. In comparison, the HD25 sounded slightly flatter and warmer. My only criticism of the RS195 is that, at the top end, vocals could sound a little rough and the bass on some tracks (surprisingly, on some orchestral tracks rather than rock or electronic music) a little over-extended. All in all, the RS195 sound great.

So not much to criticise in the performance of the RS195. So why 4 stars rather than 5? Well, at £349, they are not cheap. And, as previously mentioned, although the performance is great, the look and feel of them could be better. But if you want wireless headphones and your budget will stretch to this, they are highly recommended.

Aussie Shower Gel Body Wash Shower Smoothie 250 ml
Aussie Shower Gel Body Wash Shower Smoothie 250 ml
Price: £15.41

3.0 out of 5 stars It's ok, 9 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
With a bottle loaded with jolly Aussie phrases ("You're going to go nuts for this variant, with macadamia nut oil - nuts, geddit!") that's actually embossed with small images of kangaroos, it may be a surprise to find this Aussie Shower Gel is made in France by an American multinational (Procter and Gamble). I'm also not really sure what the advantages are of macadamia nuts in a body wash product and, looking at the ingredients printed on the label, the nut oil element is out flanked by over 20 chemicals anyway.

Anyway, what is it like to use? Well, it is ok, but nothing special. I found the smell actually cheap and detergenty and a little unpleasant, and, in terms of function, although it does feel pleasantly smooth, overall this product is no better or worse than other shower gels.

Oster Delighter Blender, 1.75 Litre, 450 W, White
Oster Delighter Blender, 1.75 Litre, 450 W, White
Price: £59.60

2.0 out of 5 stars Not up to the job, 1 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Although not so well-known here, the Oster brand has a proud heritage in the USA - the 'Osterizer' was the first mainstream blender and, like KItchen Aid, is one of the American kitchen classics. This blender however, made in Mexico, bears little similarity to the iconic 'beehive' Osterizer.

First impressions of the Oster Delighter Blender were not good - the base, which is a rather cheap-looking shiny plastic moulding (turn it upside down and it looks more like a children's toy than a kitchen appliance) would not sit flat on my worktop. Worse still, the machine itself refused to work. Thankfully Amazon quickly supplied a replacement.

The machine proudly declares its 'all metal drive' but not much else appears to be metal. The tough-looking glass jug is oval rather than round in cross section to enable it to sit in a fridge door - rather like a Brita water jug, but, unlike the Brita jug, it is slightly too fat to fit in my fridge door (a regular Beko built-in fridge/freezer). The bottom of the jug, which looks on first sight like chrome, is actually plastic.

I usually use a stick blender (a Kenwood triblade) in my kitchen but thought a jug blender might offer some advantages. To be blunt, it doesn't.
My first task, grinding up some soften lentils just distributed the lentils to the edges of the jug. My second task, grinding chickpeas to make hummus, had a similar results. Both jobs were finished quickly and successfully with the stick blender (and with less resulting washing up). The Oster blender also has a tendency to switch off when the load becomes too much for it, meaning you have to switch on and off again.
This blender maybe OK for smoothies but I don't make those, nor have I tried it out for ice. However for day-to-day blending I really can not recommend this device.

(As a point of comparison, the Kenwood HDP406 hand blender with a full set of accessories is £20 cheaper and has a 800 watt as opposed to 450 watt motor).

KANEX KTU10 Thunderbolt to eSATA + USB 3.0 Adapter - ( Other Cables & Adapters)
KANEX KTU10 Thunderbolt to eSATA + USB 3.0 Adapter - ( Other Cables & Adapters)
Offered by At-Memory
Price: £81.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Needs Mac OS 10.8.4 or above, 18 Feb. 2015
Be warned - this needs Mac OS 10.8.4 or above if you want the USB port to work. This is not made clear in the ad. I have an iMac running Lion, eSATA works fine but USB does not (and, for various reasons, I don't want to upgrade to 10.8). Otherwise it seems like a very useful bit of kit (apart from the Thunderbolt cable being ridiculously short).

10m Flat Network Cable - Premium Grade Lead - 30AWG - Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSOH) - Moulded - RJ45 - Ethernet - LAN - Patch - Ideal for under floor & carpet
10m Flat Network Cable - Premium Grade Lead - 30AWG - Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSOH) - Moulded - RJ45 - Ethernet - LAN - Patch - Ideal for under floor & carpet
Offered by World of Data Ltd
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent cure to wi-fi problems, 16 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Used this to connect my girlfriend's iMac to her wireless router after continuing wi-fi problems (possibly due to wi-fi interference) - makes life a whole lot easier and this thin, flat cable easily slips under the carpet.

Cole & Mason 140 mm Stainless Steel and Glass Kingsley Herb and Spice Mill, Silver
Cole & Mason 140 mm Stainless Steel and Glass Kingsley Herb and Spice Mill, Silver
Offered by Red House Direct
Price: £9.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Does the job, 10 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Cole & Mason grinder stands about five and half inches high. A glass jar occupies the bottom three inches that screws on to the grinder section above it; the grinder is inverted to grind on to your food (unlike many salt and pepper grinders which release their grinds from their base it doesn't leave particles on the table). A lid push-fits onto the top of the grinder (the lid doesn't fit that well but sort of works). Although described as 'stainless steel and glass' most of the top half is made of plastic covered with a thin layer of stainless steel (the grinder burrs themselves I believe are steel). The coarseness of the grind can be adjusted by turning a knod in the top of the grinder. All in all, it is reasonably well made and attractive and it works.
So what do you actually used if for? Well, it was supplied with a selection of mixed spices (including coriander, pepper chilli and fennel) which was actually quite tasty. There is no obvious use for it in traditional British cuisine but it would be good for grinding, say, garam masala. You could also use it just for pepper (it is not recommended for salt as this could corrode the metal grinding burrs).
Overall quality is OK rather than great at this price point, but it does the job.
Incidentally, although Cole & Mason presents itself as a classic British brand the grinder (unsurprisingly) is made in China and Cole and Mason themselves are part of a German group .

The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing Up to a False Belief
The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing Up to a False Belief
by Richard Oerton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but I beg to differ, 6 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Richard Oerton has written a remarkable book; he is not a philosopher, a psychologist or a neurologist but a lawyer: a highly intelligent one who has obviously read widely in this field. His insights are therefore more direct and accessible than those locked into the traditional academic debates. 'The Nonsense of Free Will' is also humane, lively, well argued and beautifully written; unfortunately, I do not agree with it - he has not convinced me that Free Will is a nonsense.

My point of view is, I guess, is that of the 'compatiblist'; I accept we live in a determined universe but I also accept the existence of free will. Let me explain; we make choices every day, choices we believe are free, whether it a question of using a semi-colon or a colon at the end of a phrase to whether I am going to phone up an old girlfriend when my wife is away and cheat on her - I weigh the choices and make a decision. Ultimately these choices may indeed by the end result of a long causal chain, but, as far as I am concerned, I am exercising my free will to make a choice.

Crucially, I also know the difference between making a free choice, being forced to choose one way or acting under diminished responsibility. What is more my wife, if she found out (or if I decided to tell her - another moral choice and exercise of free will) the excuse that 'we live in a determined universe' will not carry much weight (and nor would it for me if the circumstances were reversed). Even if free will is ultimately an illusion (it probably is) the notion of free choice, as I have described above, is perfectly coherent and my interactions with others also assume that I have the ability to chose. The hypothetical notion that my decision was predictable and thus not free is exactly that - hypothetical (but not false).

Oerton's introspective analysis of exercise of free will claims that such moments of decision making are not really 'free' - I would argue they are exactly what we mean by making a 'free choice'; free will is no more and no less than that.

Having said that, I totally respect and agree with Oerton's arguments against the idea of retributive justice that make up the latter part of his book and applaud his suggestions for a rational penal system. Overall I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in this field.

The Book of Strange New Things
The Book of Strange New Things
by Michel Faber
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, enthralling, profound, 5 Jan. 2015
I received this book as a Christmas present and I knew nothing about it before I read it - the cover gives no clues to its sci-fi elements so turning each page was journey of discovery. I found the book absolutely gripping, not through clever plotting but because of how the mysteries and uncertainties at the heart of the story unfold.

It is, as you would have gathered from other reviews, a story of Peter, a Christian missionary and reformed drug addict, sent to spread the gospel on another planet. To say much more about the planet and its peculiar inhabitants would spoil the experience of the book.

As the story develops, the reader questions more while Peter questions rather less. This means not only are you increasingly intrigued as to the nature of corporation that has brought him to this planet and just what he and his co-workers are doing there, but exactly what is the basis of Peter's faith and his love for his wife, who he has left behind on a crisis-torn earth.

Since we see this alien world through the eyes of a missionary, passages from the bible abound, but the story is rich and ambiguous enough to appeal to those who are believers and to atheists like myself (you could say the bible offers him insights into one reality but shields him from another). This is an enquiry into faith, love, loss, hope, humanity and self-delusion - it challenges our assumptions about all those things.

As some other reviews have revealed, if you are expecting a conventional sci-fi tale or evangelical tract you are likely to be disappointed; if you are open to a certain kind of subtle, speculative literary fiction written in deceptively lucid prose (Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go comes to mind as a parallel work) I can't recommend this too highly.

Free Will
Free Will
by Sam Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Witty, engaging, wonderfully short but very unsatisfactory, 3 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
`Free Will' is a beautifully written, witty, engaging and wonderfully short book. Unfortunately, philosophically speaking, it is not a very good book. You might ask how a complex topic can be dealt with satisfactorily in 66 pages? The answer is, it can't.

The issue of free will and determinism is a classic philosophical problem, but one which, untypically, has direct implications in terms of our day to day life (particularly in relation to moral responsibility). It is an issue that has also preoccupied psychologists, neuroscientists, physicists lawyers and ethicists - all of whom approach the subject in rather different ways. Harris is neuroscientist but my background is in philosophy (only to degree level and a long time ago) so I defer to Harris' 'friend' Daniel Dennett (a philosopher who I do not always agree with) for his incisive and thorough review that carefully exposes the weaknesses and contradictions in this book. Harris, to his credit, actually features (and replies to) this review on his blog: but he is far from happy with it: 'a strange document--avuncular in places, but more generally sneering. I think it fair to say that one could watch an entire season of Downton Abbey on Ritalin and not detect a finer note of condescension than you manage for twenty pages running' (Harris' reaction to Dennett's review). I won't attempt to repeat the arguments here but they make a great read.

Unlike Harris (but like most philosophers) I'm on the side of the 'compatibilist' - I accept the determinist view that events in the world are chains of cause and effect but that this does not rule out free will. We make decisions every day; I stopped to consider whether that last punctuation should have been a colon, a semi-colon, dash or a comma. Like everybody else, I don't stop and consider after ever word I write but in this case I thought about what 'looked' or 'felt' right, I considered what I remembered of the rules of grammar, I might even have consulted a guide to good grammar. Now I accept that my decision could, in principle, have been predicted on a physical level of cause and effect or simply by someone familiar with how I write, I accept that 'choice' was determined. Nevertheless, on a subjective level I had freedom of choice, I was responsible for my action. Harris would say however much you weigh up the pros and cons there is still something indescribable about which side you come down on and, on examination, the illusion of the illusion of free will breaks down. I disagree - illusory or not, this is what we mean by making decisions, and we do it all the time.

The implications for the existence or non-existence of free will for moral responsibility are complex and messy. To take an example from Harris, we regard a brutal murderer who has a brain tumour as less morally responsible than a brutal murderer who is a psychopath but has a physically sound brain. Or we may not - we draw a line, as we do in so many moral judgements, through grey areas that may never be logically clear, but a logical inconsistency does not mean these judgements are invalid.

To take a less lurid example, imagine your partner has been unfaithful and had a one night stand; `I couldn't help myself' is seldom going to be a satisfactory answer. Or your partner forgets to collect your child from school, `I forgot - circumstances got in the way' needs a lot more explanation. Now we can probably imagine situations where we do accept our partner could not help him or herself (though 'I was drunk and didn't know what I was doing' is probably not going to work), but those stories have to be told and considered. I know nothing about Sam Harris' domestic circumstances but I don't believe if he was in one of these situations either party waving his book around and saying `but we don't really have free will!' is going to help very much. This is how we use the concept of free will, this is the stuff of moral judgements in everyday life, whether or not we believe in a determined universe and irrespective of advancements in neuroscience.

In our day to day interactions with other humans we behave as if they can make free choices and expect them to treat us as if we can make them too - in fact, our lives would not make sense if we acted otherwise. Ultimately those 'free choices' might be illusions, but they are neccessary illusions.

Harris believes he has laid this illusion to rest but it just won't go away - Dennett's review shows that this is a ghost that Harris himself can't give up either. Nevertheless, this book is a easy and stimulating read and short enough to enjoy even if you take issue with it.

(Incidentally, a couple of reviewers have criticised the production quality of this small book; I would disagree - it is rather well produced and the rough edges of the pages are, I believe, entirely intentional [a style more common in the US than the UK] and a nice touch).

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