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Roger (Bedfordshire, UK)

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Am I Alone in Thinking... ?: Unpublished Letters to the Editor (Daily Telegraph)
Am I Alone in Thinking... ?: Unpublished Letters to the Editor (Daily Telegraph)
by Iain Hollingshead
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A good book to dip into in those spare moments, 21 Jan. 2014
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This book is full of unpublished letters to the editor of the Daily Telegraph, many of them very funny. My favourite was written in response to published letters concerning whether owners resembled their dogs. The correspondent wrote - "Sir - I resent being told that, as a dog owner, I look like my pets. We have a brown Labrador and Jack Russell. I do not resemble either of them. I look like an Alsatian."


Les Misérables: The Motion Picture Soundtrack (Deluxe Edition)
Les Misérables: The Motion Picture Soundtrack (Deluxe Edition)
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An unbeatable musical, 21 Jan. 2014
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This has to be one of my favourite musicals and this soundtrack from the movie is excellent. Perhaps the movie's not quite as good as the theatre production, but it's great all the same.


Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Price: £4.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to particle physics, 21 Jan. 2014
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This I found to be an excellent introduction to particle physics. The enthusiasm of the author for his subject comes across very strongly and Frank Close, who is a Professor of Physics at Oxford University, is obviously very knowledgeable about particle physics. In what is a short volume (part of the "A Very Short Introduction" series) he covers a lot of ground in a clear manner and without the need for any mathematics. Close was able to explain some concepts to me, a non-physicist, with much better clarity than other authors have achieved. Topics covered include the particles and forces of the Standard Model, anti-matter and the Big Bang. The chapter entitled "How big and small are big and small?" includes some fascinating comparisons which make one appreciate the dimensions, masses and energies of particles.

For my liking, Close devoted too much space, namely a whole chapter, to the different accelerators used to investigate particles, such as cyclotrons and synchrotrons, and explaining the advantages and disadvantages of linear versus circular accelerators. Likewise, the next chapter exclusively covered the detectors used to pick up evidence of particles and particle collisions. This was like a history lesson in the equipment used in particle physics, which to my mind detracted from the main theme of the book. Consequently, I merely skimmed through these two chapters. Of course, this is my personal opinion and other readers may find this sort of information more absorbing than I did.

The final chapter is entitled "Questions for the 21st Century" in which Close speculates on the nature of dark matter, supersymmetry, massive neutrinos, mass (Higgs boson), quark gluon plasmas and the possibility of multi-dimensional universes. As the book was published in 2004, and I have read it nine years later, I'm left wondering what progress there has been in those nine years in these areas, over and above the well-publicised, probable discovery of the Higgs boson.

As well as an index (which is not necessary in the Kindle version I read) the book usefully includes a glossary of terms.


The Brain: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
The Brain: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book on the workings of the human brain, 21 Jan. 2014
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I knew before starting this book that the human brain is often described as the most complex body in the known universe. What I hadn't fully appreciated is just how complex it is, and, as a consequence, just how little we really understand it. As revealed by the authors, for the most part our knowledge of how it works is very broad-brush. For the most part it is known which part of the brain is responsible for a particular function, and even the route that information takes as it moves from one region of the brain to another. And, of course, it has long been understood how neurons send electrical signals down their axons, and how neurotransmitters carry the signals across the synapses. But nothing is apparently known on how the brain decides, on a molecular level, which neurons should fire, and when they should fire.

As a chemist, I was hoping, perhaps a little optimistically, that the book might summarise the current understanding of how the brain functions at the molecular level. For example, how are memories stored and, more unfathomably, how are they recalled? Although I know that there has been some progress in these areas, they are not covered in the book, with the exception of a short discussion of a possible mechanism for consciousness. This is a theory of the physicist Roger Penrose, who has proposed that consciousness is a result of quantum gravity effects in the microtubules within the neurons, although this is a theory that has been heavily criticised and one for which there appears to be no experimental evidence.

Notwithstanding these comments, the authors have done a magnificent job of explaining the current state of knowledge of the brain in a way that can be understood by non-specialists in the area. Each chapter looks at a different aspect, such as the structure of the brain, its development, consciousness, memory, sleep, movement, eye sight, hearing, etc. It really is amazing to read of the complexity of operations that the brain faces in the running of the human body. In terms of multi-tasking, it is beyond comparison, in that we can breath, pump blood, see, hear, taste, move, think, and do many other tasks, all at the same time. Lifting a leg, for example, requires not only a semi-conscious decision to do so, but also umpteen unconscious decisions to adjust muscles elsewhere in the body to compensate for the leg movement and to maintain balance. The eye per se, we learn, is not such a good camera as we would like to believe and a piece of film exposed at the back of the retina would not produce a very good picture. The marvel of eyesight comes from the way the brain manipulates the signals from the eye and produces the virtual reality that we see when we look around.

Interestingly, the authors also make frequent references to various neurological diseases, some very rare and others more common, pointing out the part of the brain that is affected and, where possible, explaining the mechanism.

All in all, this is an entertaining book that I would thoroughly recommend to others.


Anatomies: The Human Body, Its Parts and The Stories They Tell
Anatomies: The Human Body, Its Parts and The Stories They Tell
Price: £5.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing book, 21 Jan. 2014
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This book was a big disappointment for me. I was expecting more scientific and medical information on the function of the tissues and organs that make up the human body. Instead, most of each chapter was concerned with historical perspectives and trivia, which I personally found uninteresting. So much so that I gave up reading the book part way through the chapter on the head. I regret that I found it too boring to continue.

Obviously, others may find this treatment of anatomy of remarkable interest, but it wasn't my cup of tea. Nevertheless, as I should have researched the book more thoroughly before buying it (Kindle version), I've still rated it three stars because for its intended audience it is most likely a good read - it just wasn't for me.


How Many Socks Make a Pair?: Surprisingly Interesting Maths
How Many Socks Make a Pair?: Surprisingly Interesting Maths
Price: £6.02

4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read containing some interesting facts, 21 Jan. 2014
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This is a well written and very entertaining book, full of interesting facts and observations, and with some challenging puzzles thrown in. It's a great book to dip into and it contains some tricks that you could try out on family or friends. It won't turn you into a mathematician but it might make you think.


Kärcher Wheel Rim Brush - Pressure Washer Accessory
Kärcher Wheel Rim Brush - Pressure Washer Accessory
Price: £24.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Rather big for the job, 21 Jan. 2014
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Like all Karcher equipment this is well made but I feel it is too big to tackle the tricky corners in the wheel rim. If it were half the size (or perhaps I should say half the diameter) it would do a much better job of getting into the vertices. As it is, it is necessary to resort to a sponge to remove the stubborn bits of dirt and grime that the brush is too large to touch.


Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer
Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer
Price: £5.74

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent biography of one of our greatest scientists, providing interesting insights into his character, 21 Jan. 2014
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In my opinion, Michael White has written an excellent, well researched biography of one of our greatest scientists. He explains in detail how Isaac Newton had a troubled childhood and how this may have adversely affected his personality in later life, leading him to be very secretive, trusting few people and disliking criticism, and resulting in him being reticent to publish his theories. His Principia, for example, was twenty years in the making and when it was published it was in Latin and deliberately written in a way to ensure very few people would be able to understand it.

White also does a good job of explaining the bleak atmosphere at Cambridge University in the 17th century, and the workings and politics of the Royal Society, then in its infancy. Both institutions were very different then to how they are in the 21st century.

As the title of the book suggests, White places much emphasis on Newton's alchemy endeavours, and how Newton saw alchemy as a way of explaining nature and the universe, and providing an insight into the mind of God. To Newton, and to many others of the period, alchemy meant a lot more than transmuting base metals into gold, or finding the elixir of life. Newton was not alone in believing that ancient civilisations had a much fuller understanding of nature, the universe and God and that these revelations had been lost in the mists of time but could be re-discovered through the ancient art of alchemy and by studying the bible. White explains all of this very clearly. Newton carried out an enormous number of alchemical investigations to try to unlock the meaning of life, as well as undertaking detailed analyses of the bible for similar purposes. Whilst I could accept that someone in that era, even someone like Newton, could see good reasons for carrying out alchemy and re-interpreting the bible, unfortunately White didn't convince me that Newton's research in these areas had been crucial to leading him to his conclusions on gravitation. To me that really didn't make sense and in a way this is a pity because it seemed to be an important objective of the book.

Another theme through much of the book was the personal antagonism between Newton and others. A prime example was Newton's abhorrence of Robert Hooke, and vice-versa. This mutual loathing is documented elsewhere but I did feel that White painted Hooke to be blacker than he really was. Other accounts refer to Hooke's popularity and his honesty. I can't help feeling that both scientists were equally to blame for the detestation that existed between them. Likewise, Newton held a grudge against the Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed, who he felt was hindering his work on the second edition of the Principia by dallying over the provision of astronomical observations. Newton used Machiavellian methods to undermine Flamsteed, even using Prince George as a way of getting at the data. Another victim of Newton's malevolence was the polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who had independently invented calculus, but who found himself being accused of stealing Newton's (then unpublished) work. Newton was unforgiving of those who he believed had crossed him and he bore grudges against these individuals for ever more.

But from the book we learn that whatever Newton did, he invested all of his efforts into that undertaking, be it carrying out investigations into alchemy, optics and gravitation, running the Royal Mint, or being President of the Royal Society. Over his lifetime he acquired many enemies and seems to have made few friends. And those friends he did make did not always get the loyalty from Newton they may have expected in times of adversity.

Overall, Michael White paints a vivid picture of a genius who was a workaholic but also a vindictive misanthrope who sought to destroy those he fell out with. On the whole a thoroughly nasty individual but one who was nevertheless widely respected for his abilities, if not for his personality. I look forward to reading more biographies by White.


Fact or Fiction: Science Tackles 58 Popular Myths
Fact or Fiction: Science Tackles 58 Popular Myths
Price: £3.21

4.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining book to dip into, 21 Jan. 2014
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This is a good book to dip into. Fifty eight myths are objectively examined to determine whether they carry some truth, starting with the toxic effects of chocolate on dogs (it is, depending on the weight of the dog and the amount and the type of the chocolate) and finishing with whether a spoon can keep champagne bubbly (it's not necessary - just keep it cold). The myths are a mixture of the trivial and the serious and whilst it refers to them as "popular myths" there are some I'd never heard of, such as that males can lactate (it can happen under some exceptional circumstances, such as if there is a pituitary tumour produces prolactin).

All of the information in the book has been previously published in Scientific American, in many cases in 2007 or 2008, but, whilst it doesn't say so, in at least one instance the information has been updated because an article on the necessity or otherwise for a big toe, originally published in 2007, makes reference to Oscar Pistorius competing in the 2012 Olympics.

Overall, this is an entertaining collection of articles which lays some ghosts to rest.


The Particle at the End of the Universe
The Particle at the End of the Universe

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenging but rewarding read, 21 Jan. 2014
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If the definition of understanding a subject is being able to summarise it in your own words for the benefit of someone else then I admit failure. Whilst I learnt a lot from this book there was still much that I couldn't fully comprehend. Nevertheless, I doubt that any other author could explain the concept of the Higgs field and Higgs boson in a better way than Sean Carroll. He has a talent for putting across difficult ideas in a way that non-specialists can follow. Yet even he, at least as far as I was concerned, couldn't fully gets the Higgs concept across to the extent that I could fully understand it. But the despite the challenges presented by the book, I still very much enjoyed reading it and I'm undoubtedly better informed than I was before I started, especially on the concept of symmetry which is so important for an understanding of the Higgs theory.


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