Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Notes: 12 Books that Changed the World - How Words and Widsom have Shaped our Lives, by Melvyn Bragg

Some notes and quotes from "12 Books That Changed The World" by Melvyn Bragg:

Magna Carta by Members of the English Ruling Classes (1215)

Given that my daily commute runs through Runnymede, birthplace of the Magna Carta, I thought it was about time I learned a little about this "great charter".

The document was signed in Runnymede by the church, the ruling-class barons (headquartered in Staines) and was sealed by the King John who resided at Windsor Castle. King John was one of our "less useful" kings, and the barons, who felt he was reaching well beyond his rightful powers, demanded agreement to the agreement under which all people of the land would be beholden, even the king. The many clauses included in the Magna Carta covered a variety of matters, including feudal rights, liberties of commerce for trading towns such as London, standard weights for trade and principals for debt collection. There was even a clause allowing the barons to seize royal property if the king broke the agreement. While most of the clauses are long extinct, this important one remains law:

- "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."

Although the Magna Carta may have been born out of the self-interest of the ruling classes, the laws which developed from its base the and influence it has had on constitutions around the world make it a cornerstone symbol of democracy. More useful background on the Magna Carta can be found on the British Library web-site.

The Rule Book of Association Football by a Group of Former English Public School Men (1863)

The game of football started off as a violent game using human heads and animal bladders as the ball. However, it migrated away from the lower classes when the Industrial Revolution and land enclosures squeezed it off the agenda for many. The English public schools, however, still had the time and resource to keep it alive.The game was sanitised by the public schools, with the introduction of greater discipline and a more fixed set of rules. In Rugby in the 1820 and 40s the game involved catching and running with the ball. In Uppingham School, the headmaster introduced rules requiring an equal number of players on either side and other schools introduced different rules. Then, in a pub in Lincoln Inn Fields in 1863, the Football Association was born (Assoc = "Soccer"), formed by a group of gentleman amateurs. A standard set of rules was written to enable everyone to play with each other. By the early 1900s the game had truly filtered down from the public schools to all classes.

Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton (1687)

- Newton made the most telling remark on the process of thought that I have ever encountered. It is also the simplest. When asked how he had come upon his theory of gravity, he said, "By thinking upon it continuously".

Married Love by Marie Stopes (1918)

- To those that point out that we have no right to interfere with the course of Nature, one must point out that the whole of civilisation, everything that separates man from the animals, is an interference with what people commonly call "Nature".

On the Abolition of the Slave Trade by William Wilberforce in Parliament (1789)

- The sums of money involved in the slave trade were staggeringly large. In present-day terms it generated the equivalent of the entire housing market or the IT industry. In one year alone, £17 million came into Liverpool - a massive sum for those times. Fine houses were built in the slave-trading cities, fine churches erected, along with public buildings and monuments which still remain. It is one measure of the strength of the arguments, the tenacity and the political skills of Wilberforce that he managed to persuade those who benefited so royally to give up the source of their wealth. It is difficult to beleive that one man, a man of no political office, could effect such a change for the better today.

Experimental Researches in Electricity by Michael Faraday (3 volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855)

- Soon after this (the theory of electromagnetism) the first electrical generator was made, and exactly the same principle is still used in every power station in the world today, whether it is fuelled by coal, gas or plutonium. Enormous quantities of coils of wire are set in motion between massive magnets, generating millions of volts. Beneath the elegance of Albermarle Street, like a sorcerer working under the skin of the earth, Faraday brought to an end the age of steam and the age of electricity was born. Within fifty years of what now seem like Neanderthal experiments under the privileged and wealthy canopy of Mayfair, London, entrepreneurs such as Marconi, Edison, Ferranti and Swan had electrically driven cookers, cleaners, heaters and light bulbs in the shops.

- Faraday never patented anything....Faraday saw his role as reading "the book of Nature .... written by the finger of God".

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)

- Of the rich investor he writes, "by pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done the those who affected trade for the public good."

- "The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals would not only load himself with most unnecessary attention but assume an authority which could safely be trusted to no council and senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of man who have folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."

- The Wealth of Nations greatness has never been disputed. Timing, though, played a part in its impact. It was read by men, especially Pitt the Younger, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer in his early twenties and prime-minister at twenty-five, who were intellectual, widely educated and about to be at the helm of a country lifted high on the oceans of prosperity by wave after wave of commerce .... They saw in Smith an explanation, a solution, and a philosophy. Set to become the workshop of the world, the first great capitalist state, Smith gave it its laws. Perhaps a book such as this needs only two or three readers in the beginning. Provided they are sufficiently potent, rather like disciples, the words will be turned into deeds. Pitt was Smith's St Peter.

- "Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things."

The First Folio by William Shakespeare (1623)

- It is by his words and his characters that we know him. His vocabulary, four centuries ago, since when the English dictionary has grown in size almost incredibly, is still regarded as the fullest of any writer. He had a vocabulary of twenty-one thousand different words.... Most people who speak English today rub along on about two thousand words for their daily use.

- ...he paired "ill" with "tuned", "baby" with "eyes", "smooth" with "faced", "puppy" with "dog" and hundred more - well over two thousand of our words are first recorded in his plays, and these are very often words which have joined the bedrock.

Friday, August 30, 2013

SMBC - a neuroethical quandry for superheroes


Book: 12 Books that Changed the World - How Words and Widsom have Shaped our Lives, by Melvyn Bragg



I picked up "12 Books That Changed The World" from a charity book store, hoping to become a little more aware of how some of the famous words of the past have affected the world of the present. Alas, now I come to review this book, a few weeks after having read it, and I am angry with little grey cells for not being able to recall very much at all. It's like I didn't really read the book and yet I did, very much so, actively engaged and asking questions and all that. And yet it's gone.

Fortunately, I took some notes and did some highlighting along the way, which will help to bring some of the content to the fore. For now, I can at least recall enough to say that it was an enjoyable book and even if the reader doesn't fully agree with the choice of books, Bragg does a fine job of convinving the reader of their importance.

I will post my notes from the book in a separate entry over the weekend.

*** 1/2

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Coursera - A Brief History of Humankind Dr. Yuval Noah Harari

This course run by Dr Harari is one of the best learning experiences that I've had in a long time. It is already three weeks in to a seventeen week programme but you can easily catch up and can even download the videos for ease of viewing. See if the introduction below sparks your intellectual curiosity. : )

Book: Maus - A Survivor's Tale - My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman


Maus is a graphic novel that tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman (the author's father) and his first hand experience of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman cleverly uses mice to represent the Jews and cats to represent Nazis, which makes the tough, often heart-breaking story a little more bearable and without which it might just be too disheartening and miserable to see through. That said, there is an uplifting message in that as much as person's life may be thrown about by an unjust world that is fully outside of their control, through perseverance (and good luck one) can still come out on the other end.

***1/2

Some nice, broken-english phrases used by Vladek:

- ...then you could see what it is, friends!
- I was in textiles - buying and selling - buy always I could make a living
- then I saw Ilzecki walking, so I went hasty over to him.
- to go it was no good, but not to go - it was also no good. 


Monday, August 26, 2013

rubberisation

I have taken delivery of the Nook Simple Touch, an e-reader device that it is encased in a type of rubberized plastic polymer, a soft touch covering that is appearing in more and more places. It is a coating that used to be found on IBM Thinkpad lids - and maybe still is - but has now also made its way on to earphones, keyboard wrist pads, e-book readers, portable speakers and much else besides.

These applications are all to the good but it is also found on many paperbook books, or should I call them rubber backs? Either way, this is one develpment that is not welcome. These coated books feel awkward and alien and over time the surface coating wears away to reveal a shiny underlayer, making the book look and feel even worse. Apart from this gripe, I look forward to a rubberized world.

More or Less - a few facts

A few interesting facts from Tim Harford's "More or Less" podcast:

  • If people stood packed side by side, the area of London could hold a whopping 13 billion people.
  • Global life expectancy between 1990 and 2010  increased by 6 years on average (WHO), with substantial improvements in the developing world countries (Africa, Asia and in the Eastern Mediterranean) driven by improving living conditions and better health care (vaccinations had a big impact). Overall, African life expectancy has gone up with the average but there are a number of African countries where life expectancy has decreased largely due to the spread of HIV e.g. S.African life expectancy has decreased by 5 years. 
  • Texas is about the size of Germany and Italy put together. If people were willing to live as densely packed as they do in New York, then the world population could, give or take, live in Texas.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

Quotes from "Ancient Wisdom, Modern World" 5/5

- It is also true that I possess several valuable wrist watches. And while I sometimes feel that if I were to sell them I could perhaps build some huts for the poor, so far I have not. In the same way, I do feel that if I were to observe a strict vegetarian diet not only would I be setting a better example, but I would also be helping to save innocent animals' lives. Again, so far I have not and therefore must admit a discrepancy between my principles and my practice in certain areas. At the same time, I do not believe everyone can or should be like Mahatma Ghandi and live the life of a poor peasant. Such dedication is wonderful and greatly to be admired. But the watchword is "As much as we can" - without going to extremes.

- Unlike the farmer who follows the seasons and does not hesitate to cultivate the land when the moments comes, we waste so much of our time in meaningless activity. We feel deep regret over trivial matters like losing money while keeping from doing what is genuinely important without feeling the slightest feeling of remorse. Instead of rejoicing in the opportunity we have to contribute to others' well-being, we merely take pleasures where we can. We shrink from considering others on the grounds that we are too busy. We run right and left, making calculations and telephone calls and thinking this would be better than that. We do one thing but worry that if something else comes along we have better do another. But in this, we engage only in the coarsest and most elementary levels of the human spirit. Moreover, by being inattentive to the needs of others, inevitably we end up harming them.

- With my two hands joined, I therefore appeal to you the reader to ensure that you make the rest of life as meaningful as possible. Do this by engaging in spiritual practice if you can. As I hope I have made clear, there is nothing mysterious about this. It consists in nothing more than acting out of concern for others. And provided you undertake this practice sincerely and with persistence, little by little, step by step you will gradually be able to reorder your habits and attitudes so that you think less about your narrow concerns and more of others'. In doing so, you will find that you enjoy peace and happiness yourself.

- Relinquish your envy, let go of your desire to triumph over others. Instead, try to benefit them. With kindness, with courage, and confident that in doing so you are sure to meet with success, welcome others with a smile. Be straightforward.

- To close with, I would like to share a short prayer which gives me great inspiration in my quest to benefit others:


May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A couple of one-liners from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

“I heard a rumour that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa.”

“I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying”

On-line courses - the new batch

After a positive experience with MOOCs (edX and Coursera) last year, I am having a stab at another run of modules:

Nutrition and Physical Activity for Health - University of Pittsburgh
A Brief History of Humankind - Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Social Psychology - Weslyan University

The nutrition course has just has a few weeks to run and was pitched just right for the beginner. The delivery has proven a little dry, however it will serve nicely as a foundation on which to base one's nutritional knowledge. Also, the course materials and discussion forum for this course are extremely helpful. The Social Psychology course is absolutely first rate but is very time consuming...this one will be a challenge to see through but it would most definitely be a worthwhile endeavour. Also, I've only just started to work through the Brief History of Mankind and Dr. Yuval Noah Harari is a really joy to listen to as he sits in his armchair delivering lively lectures with a slight hint of Borat about his accent. I'd love to also see this through but the reality of time availability means something will likely have to drop. Indeed, the time requirement for many MOOC modules is such that many people initially sign-up for each course but only relatively few hardy souls see them through. For example, when the widely respected Dan Ariely ran a thorough course on Behavioural Economics, over 140,000 students signed up to the module but less than half actually watched a video and just 6,000 sticklers saw it through to the end. I was one of those who eagerly signed up only to find that life was proving too busy. Nevertheless, 6,000 people is a hell of a lot of people compared to the headcount of a physical lecture series delivered at a university, and this number will grow over time.

Later this year I would like to complete courses in Model Thinking, How to Reason and Argue and  Microeconomics, but the shortest time requirement of one of these courses is 5 hours a week and longest is 10 hours per week so this is more of a wish list than anything else .... bah, not enough hours in the day, what!

Quotes from "Ancient Wisdom, Modern World" 4/5

- It is, therefore, essential to keep a proper perspective on our suffering. When we look at a particular problem from close up, it tends to fill our whole field of vision and look enormous. If, however, we look at the same problem from a distance, automatically we will start to see it in relation to other things. The simple act makes a tremendous difference.

-  ... to the extent that suffering reminds us of what all others endure, it serves as a powerful injunction to practise compassion and refrain from causing others pain.

- ... I have observed that religious belief is not a precondition either of ethical conduct or happiness itself. I have also suggested that whether a person practises religion or not, the spiritual qualities of love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, humility and so on are indispensable.

- It is also worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.

- As to the possibility that suffering has some actual purpose, we will not go into that here. But to the extent that our experience of suffering reminds us of what all others also endure, it serves as a powerful injunction to practise compassion and refrain from causing others pain.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Vaclav Smil

There is a nice interview with polymath Vaclav Smil here. I recently picked up one of Smil's books about energy from the library and never realised that he was a polymath genius with prodigious output covering a wide range of subjects.

"I’ve read about 80 books a year for the past 50 years. ...When you spend all your time checking your cellphone messages, or updating your Facebook (of course I don’t have a Facebook page) then you don’t have any time for reading."
 This comment reminds me of the importance of keeping the idea of opportunity cost mind, a notion that has surely become increasingly important now that we live in a world where distraction is more readily available. It's so easy these days to melt into an activity that bathes the brain in happiness in the here and now, versus doing something that may not deliver an immediate happiness hit that while you are doing it but brings a greater, deeper sense of satsifaction after the fact. 

Here's a corker on the most important invention in recent times:
If you ask “what has been the most important invention of the past 100, 150 years?” it’s been the synthesis of ammonia. If we could not synthesize ammonia by taking nitrogen from the air, hydrogen from natural gas and pressing them together in the Haber-Bosch cycle… if we could not do this to make nitrogen fertilizers, we could not grow enough food for about 40% of people. So you are talking about something like three billion people. In existential terms, that is the most important invention.  



Ron Burgundy will be appearing in print

Everybody's favourite San Diegan, Anchorman Ron Burgundy, is publishing an autobiogrpahy to coincide with the Anchorman sequel.

From the press release:

“I don’t know if it’s the greatest autobiography ever written. I’m too close to the work,” Burgundy said, adding, “I will tell you this much: the first time I sat down and read this thing . . . I cried like a goddamn baby, and you can take that to the bank!”


Quotes from "Ancient Wisdom, Modern World" 3/5

- Here again, we have terms which appear to have no ready equivalent in other languages, though the ideas it conveys are universal. Often so pa is translated simply as 'patience', though its literal meaning is 'able to bear' or 'able to withstand'. But the word also carries a notion of resolution. It this denotes a deliberate response (as opposed to an unreasoned reaction) to the strong negative thoughts and emotions that tend to arise when we encounter harm. As such so pa is what provides us with the strength to resist suffering and protects us from losing our compassion even for those who would harm us.

- So pa is thus the means by which we practise true non-violence. It is what enables is not only to refrain from physical reactions when we are provoked, but it enables us to let go of our negative thoughts and emotions too. We cannot talk of so pa if we give in to someone yet we do so grudgingly or resentfully. If, for example, a superior in the work place upsets us yet we are obliged to defer to them despite our feelings that is not so pa. The essence of so pa is resolute forbearance in the face of adversity. In other words, the one who practises forbearance is determined not to give in to negative emotion in the form of anger, hatred, desire for revenge and so on) but rather counters their sense of injury and does not return harm for harm.

- Nor does practising patience in the sense I have described it mean that we must accept whatever people would do to us and simply give in. Nor does it mean that we should never act at all when we meet with harm. So pa should not be confused with mere passivity. On the contrary, adopting vigorous countermeasures may be compatible with the practise of so pa. ... so pa means we are in a stronger position to judge an appropriately non-violent response than if we are overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions.

- We have a saying in Tibet that engaging in the practise of virtue is like driving a donkey uphill, whereas engaging in destructive activities is as easy as rolling boulders downhill.

- Making a habit of concern for others' well-being, and spending a few minutes on waking in the morning reflecting on the value of conducting our lives in an ethically disciplined manner, is a good way to start the day no matter what our beliefs or lack of them. The same is true of taking some time at the end of the each day to review how successful we have been. Such a discipline is very helpful in developing our determination not to behave self-indulgently.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Too many Americans are living behind bars

Some eye-opening statistics from the Economist:

"America has the world’s largest prison population. China, which has more than four times as many people and nobody’s idea of a lenient judiciary, comes a distant second. One in 107 American adults was behind bars in 2011—the highest rate in the world—and one in every 34 was under “correctional supervision” (either locked up or on probation or parole). A black man in America is 3.6 times more likely to be incarcerated than a black man in 1993 in South Africa, just before apartheid ended."

Whither the readership

Either Google is getting better at blocking or not counting the spam-bots, or there really are less real humans visiting these shores. In these trying times a man takes to questioning his life's work.

; )


Quotes from "Ancient Wisdom, Modern World" 2/5

 - ... our well-being is intimately connected with that of all others and with the environment in which we live. It also becomes apparent that our every action, our every deed, word and thought, matter how slight or inconsequential it may seem, has an implication not only for ourselves but for all others too.  ...such an understanding of reality as suggested by this concept of dependent origination also presents us with a significant challenge. It challenges us to see things and events less in terms of black and white and more in terms of a complex interlinking of relationships, which are hard to pin down.

- Thus is it in everybody's interest to do what leads to happiness and avoid that which leads to suffering. And because, as we have seen, our interests are inexplicably linked, we are compelled to accept ethics as the indispensable interface between my desire to be happy and yours.

- We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others' activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationship with others.

- We must be on the lookout for the slightest negativity and keep asking ourselves such questions as, "Am I happier when my thoughts and emotions are negative and destructive or when they are wholesome?", "What is the nature of consciousness? Does it exist in and of itself, or does it exist in dependence on other factors?" We need to think, think, think. We should be like a scientist who collects data, analyses it, and draws the appropriate conclusion. Gaining insight into our own negativity is a lifelong task, and one which is capable of almost infinite refinement. But unless we undertake it, we will be unable to make the necessary changes in our lives.

- We are not talking about Buddhahood here, we are not talking about achieving union with God. We are merely recognising that my interests and future happiness are closely connected with others' and learning to act accordingly.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Films


A quick review of the films I've watched over the past week:

Battle: Los Angeles
Okay, I was in the mood for a non-thinking, cheesy popcorn flick. Alas, while the effects were generally quite good, everything else sucked. I think it's one for the Transformers generation, not for this old hand. On the upside, I had a nice relaxing sit-down.

*

Kick Ass 2
We weren't expecting too much here - after all, KA2 follows in the wake of a genre-busting classic - yet we were pleasantly surprised. The action and humour is as before, top-notch, with lots of the same characters turning up for more mayhem and madness.

****

The Wolverine (i.e. Wolverine 3)
The first three quarters was great, and then Wolverine fought a CGI samurai equivalent of ED-209 in a final fight which went on for too long and sucked some of the energy out of the film. Overall though, it's still a good offering in the series.

***

Quotes from "Ancient Wisdom, Modern World" 1/5


- As for the rich, while a few know how to use their wealth intelligently - that is to say, not in luxurious living but sharing it with the needy - most do not. They are so caught up with the idea of acquiring still more that they make no room for anything else in their lives.

- In some parts of Southeast Asia, it is observable that, as prosperity has increased, traditional belief systems have begun to lose their influence over people.

- ... as the influence of religion declines, there is mounting confusion with respect to the problem of how best we are to conduct ourselves in life. In the past, ethics and religion were closely intertwined.

- ...I suggest that one of the things which determines whether an act is ethical or not is its effect on others' experience or expectation of happiness. An act which harms or does violence to this is potentially an unethical act.

- The aim of spiritual and, therefore, ethical practice is thus to transform and perfect the individual's kun long. This is how we become better human beings.

- ...the fact of life - that there is often a gap between the way in which we perceive phenomena and the reality of a given situation - is the source of much unhappiness.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book: Ancient Wisdom, Modern World - Ethics for the New Millenium by Tenzin Gyatso (the Dalai Lama)


Ancient Wisdom, Modern World is a worthy, plainly written book that engenders an overall sense of oneness and provides a strong motivating force to do good to our fellow man. While focused on the spiritual, the book is deliberately not religious and instead focuses on universal ethics and the importance of cultivating ethical behaviour through deliberate effort.

Reading the book is a calming and reflective exercise in itself but putting the words into practice will be more challenging, though well worth attempting.

There are a great many quotes from this book to post to this blog for posterity. Instead of posting a bucket-load in a single sitting, I will post a few quotes every day through next week or so. Something to look forward to.

****

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Idea: The Readlet (E-reader meets Tablet)

A great many people have tablets as well as e-readers these days. Tablets are ideal for casual surfing but for lengthy reading sessions e-ink seems to be the way forward. This begs the question why isn't there an offering that combines the two?

Imagine, if you will, a tablet case that opens to reveal a tablet screen on one side and an e-reader screen on the other. When the e-reader is not in use it could double up as a full size touch keyboard, thereby converting the tablet into a more versatile machine (achieving what the Windows tablets are trying to do and a lot more besides). On the flip side, you could have an e-read button on the tablet/internet browser, which flips long-form articles across to the e-reader screen. With tablets and e-readers almost paper thin these days (okay, not quite, but they are darn thin), doubling up wouldn't entail a significant weight burden, especially as most of the underlying hardware could be shared across the two screens.

Nook Simple Touch

 
I have just ordered a Nook Touch from Asda for a mere £29 including delivery. The little reader is relatively well reviewed and can be rooted to run quite a few Android Apps as well as stacks of reading tools. I'm looking to benefit from a few features:
  • PDF reader: I have built up a decent library of pdfs but don't enjoy viewing them on my laptop.
  • Free texts: I'm a fan of lots of stuff that is out of copyright and often find myself paying for paper versions of books that are otherwise freely available!
  • Read It Later: I have a few hundred long-form articles bookmarked via Instapaper and will never get around to reading them unless I use a half decent reading tool 
  • Highlighting tool: If you read my blog, you'll see I'm a big fan of writing out quotes, something that should become a "touch" easier with the reader.
It's a bit of a low cost foray in the world of e-readers, although I imagine I'll get my money back in gained utility within the first 3-6 months. Nice.

Book: Dream On by John Richardson



Dream On is a story about a golfer (the author John Richardson) of reasonable 'hacker' calibre, who sets a challenge to go around his local course in par within a year.

This isn't one of those miracle 'against-all-odds' sporting stories because if any determined hacker kept practising and playing the same course with Richardson's level of dedication, then they too would likely be able to achieve the same thing. However, while some critics cite this as a negative, for this reader it was wholly positive because it emphasised just how much is within the grasp of the common man if he wants it badly enough, that is badly enough to put the time and effort in to get it, instead of just wishing he was better and stopping there.

The plain writing style isn't anything to shout about and I'm surprised the story has been commissioned to be turned into a film, but it's still a book that is just worth reading by the avid golfer, for it serves its purpose and can be readily consumed in a weekend.


***

A few quotes:

- (on practice) You work very hard at the sport and you get very good. Simple.

- (on the mind game and a pre-shot routine) If I could replace the nervous moments before I hit a shot with the feeling of euphoric invincibility, then surely it would benefit my golf.

- Keep it relatively simple and stick to the fundamentals.

- "It is not the critic who counts... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena." Theodore Roosevelt.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Arnie 2.0

Only just realised that the post-politics Arnie has updated his web-site in a big-way (with loads of cool health and fitness articles). He's even got a Youtube channel which includes a few fun videos like this voice message recording:

Book: Leave it to PSmith by P.G. Wodehouse


I merrily whizzed through the final PSmith novel only to realise the error of my ways some fifty pages from the end. From that point onward a careful, measured rationing allowed this reader to draw out and savour the final moments with one of the best fictional characters of all time. But now it is over and I will melt back into the harsh realities of modern living...

...until it all gets too much and I will once again reach to Wodehouse for more tonic.

***** (also reviewed back in 2008 when I first read the book)

quotes:

- you take me to deep waters
- you follow me (i.e. my thoughts) like a leopard
- I began to have a doubt or two as to whether I was equal to the contract
- The whisper flies round Shropshire and the adjoining counties, "PSmith is hide-bound. He is not attuned to up-to-date methods."

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Film: The Man From Nowhere


The Man From Nowhere is a Korean action/thriller/revenge movie that is on par with the classic "Oldboy". The momentum of the film is near to perfect as can be for a thriller/action movie and the action scenes are very well executed. Also, as is the case with so many Asian films, you really don't know which way it's going to land; something that contrasts pretty sharply with mainstream Hollywood productions.

***** (you can pick up a new copy of this movie from Amazon for £1.99 including postage).

Film: Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa


Alpha Papa came to our cinema screens this evening. We always knew it was going to deliver the goods and that it did. The jokes came thick and fast, with few quiet moments in between. If you're a fan of the character you will love this movie. If not, you will be converted. Go watch.

****

Monday, August 05, 2013

Film: The Adjustment Bureau


The Adjustment Bureau is an enjoyable movie that misses out on the opportunity to be an excellent movie. The central idea behind the story is that a powerful force of agents (who work for the 'Chairman') exist behind the scenes and spend their time intervening in our lives around the edges and tweaking our everyday decisions in order to twist the fates to match up to a grand plan.

The problem with the movie is that Matt Damon's character, David, finds out about the agency and how they shape reality, and yet his objectives never seem to run much past doing whatever it takes to stay together with Elise, played by Emily Blunt. This runs against the grain of the Adjustment Bureau because they need to be kept apart to stay on track per the Chairman's agenda.

Sometimes a film wisely leaves a question unanswered but this time around not learning anything about the Adjustment Bureau or the Chairman unfortunately lends nothing but a hollow tone to the movie. It's a fun watch but it just doesn't quite fill out toward the end.

***

Film: Legend of the Fist - The Return of Chen Zhen (2011)


"Legend of the Fist  - The Return of Chen Zhen" is good modern day chop-socky featuring the martial arts master Donnie Yen. The best fight scene is the opener, some of which you will see in the trailer below. It's quite something to see Donnie Yen continuing to kick-ass in fine form as he ripens to the wise old age of 50. Also, despite the advent and onslaught of CGI and wire-fu, which together have made matrix-esque fight scenes into vanilla, run-of-the-mill yawn fests, it's always nice to be reminded that there are still a few true martial artists out there who continue to bring it to the table, blending eastern and western techniques reminiscent of the great Bruce Lee.

***

Book quotes: Golf is a Game of Confidence by Bob Rotella


 Here is a selection of my favourite quotes from Golf is a Game of Confidence, reviewed a few days ago:

-  Some golfers tell me it's too hard to stay positive and confident. They may try it for a while, but they give up when the run into adversity. I reply that it may seem to be easier to be negative in the short run. But in the long run you're going to waste a lot more energy being negative. You'll flail away at the game but you'll never find out how good you could have been. So the truth of the matter is, if you intend to invest time and energy in golf, it's a lot easier to be positive.

- ... a good game plan helps a player to swing confidently, because he knows he's already made the most rational, intelligent strategy choices.

- All a player can do is stay in the present, commit himself to the process of hitting good shots, and give himself the best possible chance.

- A golfer has to train his swing on the practice tee, then trust it on the course.

- Some swing thoughts are better than others. In general, the less mechanical, the better. Reminding yourself to have a nice, even tempo is a good swing thought. Thinking about keeping the club head behind the hands on the downswing is not.

- A player has to know himself. He has to know how much and what kinds of practice he needs to be at his best. And he has to put that into practice. But going past that point can be counterproductive. It's analagous to the twin pitfalls - being too tight or too sloppy.

- One of the ironies of the game is that bad players have a harder time accepting bad shots than good players do. ... If high handicappers learned nothing else about the mental side of golf, they could improve just by learning to accept the result of any shot with equanimity. And they'd be more pleasant company.

- He had to understand the paradox that in golf, to gain some control over what happens, a player has to abandon the notion that he can control everything.

- ... the optimal state of mind isn't an object that a golfer can acquire, own, put on a shelf, and take down for use whenever it's required.
Rather, it's a condition that can be fragile, ephemeral and maddeningly elusive. It emerges from the confluence of a lot of factors, some very subtle. And the factors vary from golfer to golfer. The best a golfer can do is ascertain as best he can the factors that work for him and strive to make certain they are present every time he competes. The optimal state of mind is something a player must work on patiently, every day.
  

SMBC comic - so true, so sad


Sunday, August 04, 2013

Book: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K.Jerome


Three Men in a Boat is a hilarious gentle comedy set along the stretch of the Thames River near where I live and work. The style is in the vein of Wodehouse, with much buffoonery and absurdity and many greats turns of phrase. It is so heavily quotable that I will stop reviewing here and instead provide a bucket load of quotes:


*****

… I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was.  I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally.  I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages.  I came to typhoid fever—read the symptoms—discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance—found, as I expected, that I had that too,—began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically—read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight.  Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years.  Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with.  I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight.  Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee?  Why this invidious reservation?  After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed.  I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee.  Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood.  There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

… I must have been very weak at the time; because I know, after the first half-hour or so, I seemed to take no interest whatever in my food—an unusual thing for me—and I didn’t want any cheese.
This duty done, we refilled our glasses, lit our pipes, and resumed the discussion upon our state of health.  What it was that was actually the matter with us, we none of us could be sure of; but the unanimous opinion was that it—whatever it was—had been brought on by overwork.
“What we want is rest,” said Harris.
“Rest and a complete change,” said George.  “The overstrain upon our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system.  Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.”

… You know we are on a wrong track altogether.  We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.”
George comes out really quite sensible at times.  You’d be surprised.  I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally.  How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care two pence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with—oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all!—the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man—all lumber!  Throw it overboard.  It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars.  It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness—no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchids, or the blue forget-me-nots.
Throw the lumber over, man!  Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

… It is the same when you go to the sea-side.  I always determine—when thinking over the matter in London—that I’ll get up early every morning, and go and have a dip before breakfast, and I religiously pack up a pair of drawers and a bath towel.  I always get red bathing drawers.  I rather fancy myself in red drawers.  They suit my complexion so.  But when I get to the sea I don’t feel somehow that I want that early morning bathe nearly so much as I did when I was in town.
On the contrary, I feel more that I want to stop in bed till the last moment, and then come down and have my breakfast.  Once or twice virtue has triumphed, and I have got out at six and half-dressed myself, and have taken my drawers and towel, and stumbled dismally off.  But I haven’t enjoyed it.  They seem to keep a specially cutting east wind, waiting for me, when I go to bathe in the early morning; and they pick out all the three-cornered stones, and put them on the top, and they sharpen up the rocks and cover the points over with a bit of sand so that I can’t see them, and they take the sea and put it two miles out, so that I have to huddle myself up in my arms and hop, shivering, through six inches of water.  And when I do get to the sea, it is rough and quite insulting.

… It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do.  It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me.  I can sit and look at it for hours.  I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.
You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an inch of room for any more.  I shall have to throw out a wing soon.

And I am careful of my work, too.  Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it.  I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it.  No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.
But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair.  I do not ask for more than my proper share.
But I get it without asking for it—at least, so it appears to me—and this worries me.

... Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for breakfast.  He said he would cook them.  It seemed, from his account, that he was very good at doing scrambled eggs.  He often did them at picnics and when out on yachts.  He was quite famous for them.  People who had once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get them.

...It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs.  We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so.  It dictates to us our emotions, our passions.  After eggs and bacon, it says, “Work!”  After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!”  After a cup of tea (two spoonsful for each cup, and don’t let it stand more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now, rise, and show your strength.  Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!”

After hot muffins, it says, “Be dull and soulless, like a beast of the field—a brainless animal, with listless eye, unlit by any ray of fancy, or of hope, or fear, or love, or life.”  And after brandy, taken in sufficient quantity, it says, “Now, come, fool, grin and tumble, that your fellow-men may laugh—drivel in folly, and splutter in senseless sounds, and show what a helpless ninny is poor man whose wit and will are drowned, like kittens, side by side, in half an inch of alcohol.”

...We had knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs into a general heap at the bottom of the boat, and they were now slowly and painfully sorting themselves out from each other, and picking fish off themselves; and as they worked, they cursed us—not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included all our relations, and covered everything connected with us—good, substantial curses.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Film: Rampart (2011)


Woody Harrelson is superb in Rampart but the film is not at all likable and nor is Harrelson's character, Dave Brown. Brown knows nothing but corrupt practice and a corrupt way of life, and when he ends up going a step too far he has no choice but to dig himself deeper into a hole of misery because here is a man who cannot exit a mode of existence that defines him.

What we have here is the story of a bad man who knows he gone too far one time too many. It's a tough watch.

***1/2

Friday, August 02, 2013

Book: Golf is a Game of Confidence by Bob Rotella - Rotella's Rules


Golf is a Game of Confidence by Bob Rotella is a very popular book and it does have some very useful reminder messages as well as a few new ones. However, the adopted format of dedicating each chapter to a golfing "patient" didn't quite do it for me and I thought the narratives could have been much tighter. That said, I did score my best ever 9-hole score after trying to apply some of the lessons contained in this text, so I may be being a little unnappreciative!

I'll provide a summary of my favourite quotes from the book in a separate post.

***1/2


Rotella's Rules (a summary of the key lessons provided at the end of the book)





Thursday, August 01, 2013

Film: 13 Assassins


13 Assassins is an extremely well made and well acted mainstream samurai action film in which a group of determined samurai warriors are tasked with a mission to do away with a barbaric, psychotic stepbrother to the Shogun.

I found the first half of the movie to be particularly good (although several scenes are difficult to stomach), but thereafter it didn't quite live up to expectations simply because it was so similar to Kurosawa's classic Seven Samurai. It even included a village idiot character who was strongly reminiscent of the comic character played by Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai.

*** 1/2 (I would have given it either four or four and a half stars had I not seen Seven Samurai)


Lovefilm Instant - £10 for 6 months

There's nothing quite like a juicy bargain to lift the mid-week spirits. The deal expires on 5 August and is a bit convoluted as you have to buy a voucher from a Groupon type site, but the value is pretty spiffing. I have signed up and have already "favourited" about ten films to watch, including Senna, Rust and Bone, Rampart and Searching for the Sugarman. Good times.