The Apollo years


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I was astonished to find out that yesterday, the 19th Dec, was the 40th anniversary of the splashdown of Apollo 17 at the end of the last manned mission to the moon. As someone who grew up studying Maths and Physics during the Apollo years, the events of those times formed indelible memories for me. Living in the UK meant my experiences were always second-hand, but as the communication satellite network was also growing alongside this, television started providing access to all these wonders. I think that this was the major factor in popularising the Apollo project world-wide, enabling us to feel much closer and involved with it. I just remember feeling awed and excited by it all.

Would this same level of excitement and involvement occur nowadays? I think not. We have become so blasé about communication and technology, and it has become so deeply embedded in our society and culture that it has lost all sense of wonder. You see it with coverage of current wars and events. People are bombarded with 24 hour rolling news programmes, multi-media coverage of often banal events, and so much information available that people just switch off, mentally if not physically.

Finally, it was an article in a newspaper last Sunday (now there’s a fading format!), that reminded me of the anniversary. The article also said that more than half of the world’s current population were not even born in 1972. How long will it be before nobody remembers that 12 men have stood on the moon?


VHS nostalgia


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I’ve been sorting out of my library of old VHS films, and as a result, my wife and I have been having a bit of a nostalgia fest. We’ve been re-watching some of them ( “Nobody puts baby in a corner!”), and looking at others and wondering what made us buy them in the first place. As the idea is to dispose of them afterwards because the VCR is on its last legs, I was horrified to find that I couldn’t recycle them. Nobody is buying on eBay, our local authority has no facility to recycle them. and even our local charity shops wont take them as they cannot move them, so it looks like it is having to be landfill. It seems such an ignominious end for them.

It did get me thinking about the technology though. I find it fascinating that a new technology can come along, rise to ubiquity, and then totally disappear, all in less than half a lifetime. I remember when it all started with the VHS versus Betamax wars when the best man lost. Then the machines themselves were so expensive that most people rented them at first. You didn’t buy feature films because they were so expensive ( I seem to recall something like £70 at first ), you rented them from your local video store which was always a stand alone business. Then the chains started growing, and finally Blockbusters moved in and took over the world. Gradually the prices got better, and people grew their home library and said how brilliant it all was. Nobody seemed to notice how poor the quality really was, and how rapidly it got worse after a few plays. And then there was that horrible noise as you rewound the tape. Having said that, it did open up the whole world of home entertainment, and therefore encouraged the R&D that lead us to the DVD.

So now the world of on-line streaming is beginning to affect the DVD, but will it ever replace it? There is always the pleasure of having your shelves of DVDs complete with cover art, but that hasn’t stopped CDs being hit hard by online services.

I will always have that soft spot for VHS because of the impact it had on people’s home usage of media. It may however turn out to have been a long-lived media if todays technologies continue to grow at the current rate.



Speed reading


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I caught the tail end of an article on speed reading on the radio last week. The woman advocating it was summarising by saying she used the key words to get a movie running in her brain. Having missed the bulk of the article, I did a bit of online research to find out more. Naturally, I knew of speed reading, but had not given it much thought as I enjoyed the way I read. I found myself in a world of sub-vocalisation, multiple conflicting theories, and the need to train yourself in the techniques.

I am a fairly slow reader, so was interested to see if this could help me. In the end I came to the conclusion that it is basically quantity over quality. The immediate problem was loss of comprehension when learning to get speed. The various systems seem to regain comprehension after plenty of practise, and this movie comparison takes over, with the key words providing the movie script. This is where I have a problem, as a lot of the “minor” words are disregarded, as is sentence structure. For me, part of the pleasure of reading is enjoying the author’s skill in word choice, use of grammar and all the other literary skills that contribute to making a strong platform to hang the plot on. If you are seeing only the plot, and not the beautiful support structure, where is the pleasure in reading?

In the end I decided I would rather continue with my slower reading technique and enjoy a book to the full. For me it is definitely quality over quantity any time.

goodreads widget


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I’ve just discovered the goodreads widget. I’d like to use it to show books that I have read recently in the side-bar, but at the moment it is just showing a selection of the books that I rated at goodreads when I set up the account. Therefore, please take the list with a pinch of salt at the moment until I fine tune it.

As an aside, goodreads obviously uses the US covers for its thumbnails etc. As a reader living in the UK, I have to say that I feel the UK cover art is far superior to the US versions in most cases. This is particularly obvious in the Science Fiction section, where the cover art seems to be stuck in a 1950’s pulp novel time warp for the US, while the UK has much more contemporary styling.

Another “not-a-novel” novel


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It’s been a little while since I last posted, but I’m back again with another whinge. A few weeks ago I read a book that has been niggling at me since. The book was “The Finkler Question” by Howard Jacobsen. I read it for a couple of reasons: I had read a book of his before, and this one had won the Man Booker prize in 2010.

Why has it been niggling at me?

Firstly, as the title of this post suggests, I don’t think it is a novel, despite being marketed as such. To me it is just a 350 page polemic on the nature of Jewishness, (very) loosely hung on a framework that could have been the basis of a plot for a novel.

Secondly, it is publicized as a comic novel. I like to think of myself as having a very broad sense of humour, but this was just not funny to me, apart from a few times when it encouraged a wry smile.

Have I missed something? I like to read widely, so have read lots of “literary” novels like this, so I don’t think I’m being confused by the style. However, all the reviews seem to rate it highly, so who’s right?

After writing that last paragraph I had a (rather obvious) brainwave and checked the reader reviews on . The readers on Amazon gave it an average of 2.2 stars, with 121 out of 252 only giving it 1 star. Maybe I’m not alone!

I wish I didn’t have to read in translation.


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I’ve just read “1222” by Anne Holt. I read very little crime fiction, but I had seen good reviews for this, so I gave it a go. I don’t think it was a masterpiece, but it was an entertaining read. The reason for mentioning it is because it was an english translation from the original Norwegian. Whenever I read a book in translation, I always wonder how much I am missing.

To explain my thinking: when an author writes in their native language, they have a whole range of “tools” such as idiom, alliteration, the rhythm of a sentence, puns and grammatical tweaks to help convey their thoughts. All these are at risk when translated into another language, to the extent that with novels in particular, a good translator will not make a literal translation, but will attempt to convey the feel of the book in their own words. This makes me wonder how many of these nuances from the original are lost in translation, despite the translators best efforts, and therefore make the book less interesting.

I have even seen reviews of more classical works that analyse the translation, comparing it to earlier versions.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could read any book in the original language to fully appreciate it?

Dream on, John.

Why is it a novel and not an autobiography?



I’ ve just finished reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.  This is marketed as a novel, based on his experiences as a member of the Bombay “mafia” in the early 80s after escaping from an Australian prison. I’m not going to review the book, other to say that it is a massive read (930 pages in paperback) that I had to read in two parts, reading another book in between.


My reason for writing this post is to ask why it is a novel and not an autobiography? I’ve come across this before, and it still confuses and annoys me. What made the author (or publisher) decide it should be a novel? Is it because the reality wasn’t actually interesting enough? Did he have to exagarate his part in the proceedings, did he have to invent incidents to make the story more interesting. Or were there legal implications? If the book ends up being very distant from reality, just call it a novel and make no mention of “based upon”.

I know I said I wasn’t going to review it, but if you treat it as a novel it is actually a very good book. I just find it irritating not knowing the fact from the fiction.

My favourite bands



In response to a friend’s posting on Facebook a few days ago, I glibly stated that Talking Heads were one of my top 3 bands of all time. When I stopped to think about this, I realised that in fact I did not actually have a top 3 or a top 10 that I had rationally thought about. I therefore sat down and thought about it, and surprisingly Talking Heads actually were in my top 3. However, the top 10 consisted of about 15 different artists and bands, and I began to think that it was a pretty futile exercise. What does it matter who I think rate high enough in my opinion, and would the list be the same if I repeated the exercise in 6 months time?

This got me thinking again about a posting I made on the 19th June, in which I talked about what I called the “teenage hotspot”, that is the period in your teens and early twenties that are your most defining years in the music that you like. A good proportion of my top 10 (/15) were from the late sixties and seventies, my intense musical years, although I am happy to say there were some entries from subsequent decades. One thing I did realise was that all my favourites had produced a substantial body of work, and because of this they had maintained my interest over the subsequent years. I wonder if people from later generations of music lovers will maintain a stable top 10, or if it will be much more subject to change. I say this because careers in popular music tend to be much shorter nowadays, and so there can often be a much narrower band of work, making the appeal more transitory.

You will notice that I have not actually included a list of my favourites because I feel it is unimportant. Mentally compiling a list helps you understand what you like and why, but the contents of it are actually irrelevant to other people.

A change of style



I was getting a bit fed up with the original style theme for this blog, the default Titan. After checking and testing the available themes, which took forever as I can never make up my mind when I have too big a choice, I plumped for this one, Chateau. The header photo is a cropped version of one I took in the North Yorkshire Moors last year.

The Olympic Mystery


It’s that time again, when the great Olympic mystery rears its head. Why is it that once every 4 years, normally sane people become obsessed with sports that they haven’t watched since the last Olympics. And also, they suddenly become experts, thinking they fully understand the rules and nuances and are quite prepared to pontificate at length on who they think will win, and why.

Confession 1:  I am that person. Between Olympics, I rarely watch any sport as most of it doesn’t interest me. Apart from F1 which I follow avidly from the comfort of my armchair with a beer in hand.

As for Opening Ceremonies, where do I start? What started as a parade of athletes has become a huge extravaganza, each host city trying to out perform and outspend its predecessors in a display of nationalistic pride. London 2012 was a pleasant change, Danny Boyle took a totally different approach which was wonderful.

Confession 2: I was born in London and spent most of my life there before moving out 6 years ago, so this is my “Home” Olympics. Naturally I think it is the best. I was annoyed to read that NBC cut a section of the opening ceremony in their broadcast because they thought it was too “downbeat”.

Talking of nationalistic pride, why is it that people who normally don’t give nationalism a second thought, are there waving their flags, painting their faces and rooting for athletes that they have never heard of before, but happen to come from their country.

Confession 3: Go Team GB