Thursday, 12 July 2018

My First Book of Quantum Physics

We were sent a copy of this book to review recently. And although we were mighty impressed with it, we haven't yet got round to reviewing it. So this book trailer couldn't have come at a better time, allowing us to share with you what we think is a fantastic resource without having to wait a moment longer.

One of Einstein's famous successors famously claimed that 'if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics' and I'm not going to gainsay Richard Feynman.

But what I AM going to say is that it's a fairly widely held belief that children sometimes have an instinctive grasp of things that adults find incomprehensible.

So give them this. Let's learn from them!

Friday, 6 July 2018

Dear Mrs May, here's what you won't do today...

Like most people (I suspect) I'm heartily sick of Brexit.

I didn't vote for it (although I'm not an unqualified fan of the EU and can see some merit in leaving) but remain happy - in our so-called democracy - to go by the decision of the (tiny) majority (which, I know, is a minority of the electorate but, well, they really should've gone out to vote, shouldn't they?).

Anyway, I'm sure it's possible to negotiate a smooth transition from the EU. And I'm also certain that one reason it's not happening is... the EU itself with its intransigent negotiating position designed to make it as hard and as unattractive as possible to prevent other countries considering it too.

But by far the biggest reason is the bl**dy Conservative party, the same bickering, back-stabbing bores that the EU referendum was supposed to silence. Not that it would've done. But that was Cameron's gamble. And what a lose-lose throw of the dice that was.

Because whatever happens, those same anti-EU bores will be able to claim the moral (or political) high ground. Leave empty handed? Or leave, with our hands well-and-truly tied in an EU knot? Obviously (they'd say) the negotiations were badly handled, or the EU wasn't playing fair, or Theresa May gave far too much away.

There's no pleasing them. Nothing - I'm fairly sure of it - will satisfy them. We're leaving the EU but that's not enough. We've got to leave on their terms - no matter how bad - or they'll still be kicking up one hell of a fuss.

So, here's a solution (should Mrs May be looking for one).

Sack 'em. Sack the lot of them. Sack the Cabinet's Brexit Bullsh**ters; de-select the rebel MPs. And start again with a party in favour of a sensibly negotiated settlement. Or even a party in favour of abandoning Brexit altogether.

Yes, that'll mean no Tory or Labour, no Left or Right. Just an 'in' and maybe a couple of 'outs' (and who knows, perhaps a 'shake-it-all-about?).

Then we could have a General Election and the winner gets to set the EU Agenda.

It won't happen, of course. In spite of the fact that this is the biggest single crisis facing the country, the biggest decision in a generation the consequences of which are going to be felt for decades to come, they'll continue trying to play their political games, they'll continue their po-faced posturing and political back-biting.

Because that's just what they do.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Late to the party, as always, this is the first Tartt novel I’ve read. It’s the kind of book you have to read fast but want to read slow... especially as you realise the pages are running out. Slow up, slow down, take it easy, but no - keep going, keep reading, keep turning because you need to know what’s happening, need to know where this is leading. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Great plotting, yes; good storyline; characters. But then there’s the fact that - thanks to the above - there are times when you really want things to speed up, just a bit. That said, there’s also some subtle magic, some spell that sucks you in. You’re in this book almost more than you’re in your own life, it affects your mood, you find yourself using some of its phrases (‘not my bailiwick’). It’s a tremendous achievement. Part Dickens, part Dan Brown but for the most part - Dostoyevsky!

View all my reviews

Monday, 2 July 2018

Sennheiser Momentum Free Bluetooth Headphones

"Whatever wireless device you’re on," runs the blurb,  "show dodgy sound the red card and take the Sennheiser Momentum with you wherever you go!

The Red Card?

Ah! I get it - a certain sporting contest involving teams of eleven overpaid athletes and an inflated pig's bladder. Pah!

I'm not wasting my time listening to a mere football commentary on "the most compact Bluetooth headphones ever" and certainly don't want to squander "immaculate wireless hi-fi sound" (thanks to Qualcomm® apt-X™) on a lot of over-excited men with microphones.

The "high quality ergonomic design ensures an outstanding all-day listening experience" they go on to say, so that calls for some big, meaty, nourishing and demanding listening!

I've been trialling these for about two weeks now and quite honestly waiting for something to go wrong: some insurmountable challenge to the dynamic range; a catastrophic connectivity crash despite boasting Bluetooth 4.2; that moment when the "high quality ergonomic design" ear buds irritate me so much I'm forced to tear them out and cast them aside.

First, let's deal with the sound. I listen to a lot of classical music - and I mean a lot. It really is the best discriminator in terms of musical reproduction and has been the black spot for any number of headphones, ear-buds and speakers I've had over the years. And if these aren't the best - compared to top-of-the-range over-ear headphones inevitably boasting, among other things, a better bass response) then they are without doubt the best ear-buds I've ever tried - wireless or not. To be honest, they're as good as any but the most discriminating listener would ever need across the entire spectrum of sound and can pack a pretty hefty punch when the brass and percussion get going.

The Bluetooth connectivity is pretty good, too. Not flawless. (What is?) But reliable, stable and - for the most part - secure and with a whopping range. I've sometimes forgotten my phone and wandered about (even out of the house) until I'm suddenly surprised to have reached the limit of its impressively extensive (bottom of the garden, several rooms away) range. The only thing that seemed to interfere - inevitably - were other electrical fields and devices.

Finally, they're so comfortable I've been forgetting - completely - I'm wearing them. And although they're not strictly 'noise-cancelling' (there's no NC technology) the snug fit and the quality sound do pretty much block out all but the most intrusive extraneous noise.

With an integrated microphone, a six-hour battery life and a luxurious leather case, the MOMENTUM Free really is the perfect companion for the mobile lifestyle.

And far too good for the football!

Thursday, 28 June 2018

When this lousy war is over...

Yesterday, I wrote about why The Glorious Dead was written as a novel, rather than a history.

Today - again in answer to questions I'm getting asked - I'm going to briefly explain why I believe this three year post-war period should, in fact, be better known and further studied.

In wars from Korea to Afghanistan - 'modern' war,s to be precise - there is no such thing as a post-bellum period where the army remains mobilised, clears the battlefields and soldiers - rather than civilian contractors - dig graves and bury the dead by the thousand.

There may never have been, in any other war.

Furthermore, in the past, the nature of travel and the distance involved often meant that armies took weeks, months (ten years, in the case of Odysseus on his return from Troy!) to return home.

So this three-year post-Great War interlude is possibly unique in the history of conflict. And there might be much we can learn from it.

First, whereas today's injured service personnel can be whisked home on an aircraft within hours of being injured and combat troops can be home on leave after a couple of flights, it took time for the men of the Great War to come home.

More time was spent in travel, obviously. But aside from geographical and physical necessity, there were military and political reasons keeping these men in France and Flanders for a period weeks, months and - in some cases, years.

Following the Armistice in 1918 the British and Imperial Armies remained on a war footing - at least until the outcome of the Paris Peace Conference. There may have been no fighting. But the war - officially - wasn't over.

And when the guns fell silent in November 1918 there were still over 150,000 bodies unburied on the Western Front. Three years later 918 British War Cemeteries containing 580,000 named and 180,000 unnamed graves had been created, largely by British Army.

Today, of course, that job would almost certainly be farmed out to civilian contractors. Soldiers fight, and when there's no war, they no longer need to be there. But in 1918 the Army Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries was to remain responsible - for the next three years - for finding and burying its own.

Civilian workers were involved, of course. The Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission had been established by Royal Charter in 1917, building memorials and establishing a permanent resting place for the dead - a job it continues to do to this day.

But this three year period following the end of the fighting undoubtedly contributed to the way the war was seen, to how those who had fought it dealt with their experience, to their adjustment to civilian life. I believe some of the men who chose to stay on did so as a way of assuaging their own guilt (survivors guilt), dealing with the ghosts of their own past, finishing a job they couldn't leave to others, all sorts of reasons that simply don't occur to the modern soldier, if only through lack of opportunity.

And I feel passionately that it's a period in our history that needs remembering, celebrating, commemorating... a job I hope I've done, in a modest way, in The Glorious Dead.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why fiction?

If you read yesterday's post you'll be aware of the amount of historical research that's gone in to writing The Glorious Dead - the story of the men who served King and Country first with a rifle, then a shovel.

Several people have asked me why I didn't simply write the book as an historical record - pulling together the facts I'd uncovered and telling the 'real' story.

The answer is simple. First, and most remarkably, so much of what happened - in spite of happening just 100 years ago - is unclear. Even the facts of the Unknown Warrior are disputed. Some sources say six, some say four bodies were exhumed and transferred to St Pol for Brigadier General Wyatt to choose from. (You can read more about what happened here.)

Second, I wanted to really try to understand the lives of the men - the ordinary men, not the decision makers - who did this work, the work of finding and burying the dead, tending the graves, building the iconic war cemeteries. I wanted to explore their reasons, speculate on their emotions and get under their skin.

I also wanted to present these 'ordinary' men (doing an extraordinary thing) with all the psychological depth and insight traditionally given (in fiction) to the officer class. There are precious few examples of that in Great War literature. Plenty of Officers (Stephen Wraysford in Birdsong; George Sherston in Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man; even Billy Prior in Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy is - though working class - an officer). Not so many men.

There’s an awful lot about the past we simply don’t know. There are an awful lot of stories - histories - hidden. So if we want to fully understand what happened, part of that understanding has to come from fiction. To engage with what these men did, we must use our imagination.

That's what I hope I have done in The Glorious Dead. To the memory of the men who served their King and Country first with a rifle, then a shovel...

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