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Showing posts from December, 2014

The Calendar - David Ewing Duncan ***

Update from early review which had been lostThe 5,000 year struggle to align the clock with reality - and what happened to the missing ten days. Struggle is the word. It wasn't until 1949 that China joined the rest of the world on the Gregorian calendar - and the rest of us still suffered many hundreds of years on calendars that were hopelessly adrift with respect reality.

There is a good opportunity for a mix of exploring historical characters and the very arbitrary formation of the 'human' side of the calendar - why is February the short month? Why is the tenth month called the eighth? - alongside the gradual astronomical developments that would pin the calendar the motion of the earth.

Like many of the very tightly focused popular science books, this can be a little samey in places, but it is a fascinating story and rewards the reader throughout with delightful insights. What it lacks in narrative flow, it makes up with information that is well worth the effort.

Paperback…

The Quantum Moment - Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber ***

This is a book that is trying to be two very different things at the same time, which I suppose, given the subject, is apt. But that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea. On the one hand we find a really quite in-depth exploration of the development of quantum theory. There are some genuinely valuable insights and explanations, with significantly more use of equations than is common in popular science book, but rarely in a way that is scary. On the other hand, it churns out all the hackneyed attempts to base art on science that inevitably are either amateurish or cringemaking - plus presenting some of the more outrageous history of science ideas that emerged from the 1960s when everything had to break the mould and be provocative, however far fetched their ideas seemed.

I can imagine this was done to try to broaden the audience of the book. I can just see the marketing people thinking 'Popular science readers will love it, and so will arty types, so we'll sell lots more …

When Computing Got Personal - Matt Nicholson *****

It's easy to underestimate just how much personal computing (including access to the internet) has done for us. Yet so many jobs have been transformed - mine as writer certainly has - as has everything from the sheer access to information to the ability to play immersive games in the personal sphere. Matt Nicholson, a long time IT journalist, takes us on the fascinating journey of the development of the desktop personal computer, from the earliest kit computers, through Sinclair Spectrums and BBC Bs to the IBM PC (with its many descendants) and the Apple Mac.

Nicholson tells the story at just the right level, bringing in all the key players and technologies and giving a real in-depth feel to his discussion of the technology, business and politics of the many decisions that left us with the personal computing landscape we have today. From the rise of Microsoft to Apple teetering on the knife-edge of disappearance before it found its way with a new generation of machines, if you are …

Drunk Tank Pink - Adam Alter ****

Going on the subtitle, which I had to because the title meant nothing to me, I was concerned this would seem to be yet another of the long string of books we've had looking at particular emotions and how the brain produces them. Instead it is far more fascinating because it's observational rather than theoretical. About, for instance, the way that bright pink decor seems to calm people (hence the title - this effect seems not to have reached the UK where I suspect prison governors might resist painting their cells pink), or the way that names influence our perception of people.

This is a genuinely fascinating book, exploring the many psychological experiments that demonstrate how human behaviour is influenced by factors beyond our control and often beyond our awareness. Adam Alter includes more obvious inputs, like Maslow's hierarchy of need, or the tendency to prefer those who are like ourselves, but also many factors that influence us in subtle and unexpected ways. Whethe…