Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Book review: Newton and the Counterfeiter


I really enjoyed this book- it was only about 250 pages long, so I whizzed through it. (Well, relatively- it took about a week). It describes the (relatively brief) conflict between Isaac Newton and William Chaloner.

I knew shamefully little about Newton before starting this book (other than the obvious 'scientist who thought up gravity when an apple landed on his head'.) The book describes his early life, and rise to fame as a scientist. (Apples are barely mentioned). Later in life, he was appointed Warden of the Royal Mint, at a time when England's coinage was debased and in need of re-minting. Part of his role as Warden was to chase down anyone who was counterfeiting coins- this was punishable by death, as it was considered treason against the monarch (whose face was on the coinage). Thus, Newton came into conflict with counterfeiter William Chaloner, who first came to London as a runaway apprentice, trying to make his fortune.
(One of my favourite parts of the book was the description of London- it reminded me of Terry Pratchett's description of Ankh Morpork in the Discworld books. I'd always assumed that he'd based that on London, but this is the first description of London that I have read which is as vivid as the description of Ankh Morpork).

Chaloner's character and motivations were less well fleshed out (and thus less interesting) than Newton's- for the simple reason that there is much less evidence of Chaloner's life- Newton seems to have left behind acres of writing.

Belated round-up

Having just re-read my 2014 aims post, and noticed that I intended to write a monthly round up of my progress, I thought it was about time for, err, a three-and-a-half monthly progress summary!

- C&G knitting course- I have made slow progress on this- although slow is better than none! I have at least written out a giant list of what I need to do to finish the module so that I can have the satisfaction of ticking things off said list. I've knitted a few more samples and written up the notes on them. I think I need to focus more on this aim, if I am to actually finish the module this year. I seem to have a bit of mental block about it though, and I am not sure why.

- donate 2% of earnings to charity. I have been doing this, although more by sponsoring people for the London Marathon and joining the National Trust than by picking a charity each month and donating to it, which is what I originally envisaged. I am wondering if donating less often, say every six months, would be more worthwhile as a charity would have a larger sum of money, which perhaps would be more efficient.

- read down the house. I have had another massive book clear out (all donated to a good cause!) and thus was left with 13 'real' books to read. I've signed up to the Goodreads challenge to read these 13 and a birthday present book by the end of the year. I've got quite good at making time for reading, so this aim is going well!

-reduce knitting yarn stash- this is going superbly in the 'buy no yarn' stakes (I did get some for my birthday, but obviously that doesn't count)...I am not sure that I am knitting quite fast enough, though. Ah well, it's supposed to be fun, after all! (Though I would like the space that the yarn takes up back).

- house inventory- I started this, but have let it fall by the wayside a bit. Maybe I should just declutter everything and then the inventory would be really easy! :D

As ever, some new things have come along since January which need to be added to the list:

-complete nutrition course. I'm doing a basic nutrition course through work, which isn't that hard (and actually quite interesting) but, as with the C&G course, I seem to have mental block about it...I am wondering how I ever managed to get GCSEs and A levels, let alone a degree! Clearly I am rebelling.

- establish a regular yoga practice. Or practise- the correct time to use these two words is another mental block..! Anyway, my usual yoga teacher is away on tour in her other life as a musician at the moment- before she left she ran a series of classes on establishing a regular yoga practice at home. (You'd think for something that is actually enjoyable, you'd not need to be taught how to do it, but there is a pattern of rebellion here...knitting course, nutrition course...yoga..) Yoga at home was going well until we adopted a DOG (exciting!) and yoga time is now dog walk time... hmm...

Dog, walking

Misty morning- worth getting up for!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Book reviews: Man's Search for Meaning and The God Delusion

 







I was leant 'Man's Search for Meaning'- it's a short book, written by a doctor who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. The point of the book is that we can all find meaning and purpose in life, even in the most terrible of circumstances, and this meaning will sustain us, even in Nazi death camps. The 'meaning' can vary from person to person, and can be anything from the desire to write an academic book to the desire to care for your children. Although this book should be uplifting, I didn't find it particularly so- what stuck with me the most was the author's descriptions of his memories of life in the camps.

Inspired by Dar's post (Dar's posts seem to be my inspiration for all things book related- I also had a clear out of books which I was no longer inspired to read) today I decided that, as I was feeling a bit under the weather, I would sit and read a book, rather than vegging out in front of the TV.
Assisted by two of the cats (Tinkerbell at the front, Merl at the back of the photo), I spent the afternoon finishing off the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, which I first bought soon after it first came out (I reckon about 7 years ago..). I read about half of it then, and I found it very useful, as I finally properly realised that not being religious was actually an option (duh!). I really enjoyed reading it all the way through this time, as I found it humourous.

The Douglas Adams quote that Dawkins uses in the book is fast becoming one of my favourites:

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Pretty much sums it up for me.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Admitting defeat

I've come to the conclusion that, as The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir has been sitting half read on my bookshelf for months, I am probably never going to finish it! It's a very dense, well researched book, focussing on a very short time period, and unless I read it in a fairly short space if time (a week, say) I'd never be able to keep a track of who all of the people discussed in it are.

Also, The Three Edwards by Michael Prestwich has been hanging about for a while- not as long as Anne Boleyn, but long enough!

These books were relevant/interesting/useful to me at one point, but now there are other things that I would rather be reading, so it's rehoming time for them...

Monday, 20 January 2014

Book review: A History of Bury St Edmunds by Frank Meeres

 


This is a book that I will be keeping, as I am sure that I have not absorbed all of the information in one reading! As this is my home town, I found that I often stopped reading to look on a map to find the places which the book was referring to.

I'm not sure that this book would be highly interesting to anyone with no connection to Bury; and I did notice that the author was amusingly defensive of the town (which was described as 'dull' in the nineteenth century) and also mildly disapproving of some modern development. The writing style was fairly engaging- although I might not be the best person to judge this, as my idea of 'readable' has probably been heavily skewed by some incredibly unreadable books during my history degree! One of my favourite books so far, as I will be able to wander around Bury feeling much more well informed about its history, and perhaps actually understand the origins of some of the place and road names.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2014 aims and review of 2013 aims

After all of the Christmas feasting (the fridge is still full of cheese, and sprouts that didn't get cooked), and despite the first cold of the winter, I am feeling the urge to get cracking with some projects, and finish up all of those little lingering jobs that I've been putting off. One of those is to work out what I am aiming to achieve this year...and this is what I have come up with:

- complete first module of C&G knitting course and start second. Save enough money to pay the course fees for the whole course.
- donate 2% (minimum) of earnings to charity. I am planning to donate at the end of each month, and to donate to a variety of causes, local, international, animals, people, conservation- hopefully a wide variety.
- read down the house- I'd like to read 12 books this year, which would leave quite a few books unread. But it'd be nice to establish the habit of reading again.
- reduce stash of knitting yarn from just under 40,000 metres to under 30,000 metres. If I buy no yarn during the year, I would need to knit 27 metres per day to so this, which is manageable. There is one knitting kit that I am going to ask for for my birthday, but other than that I am going to try and go 'cold sheep'.
- house inventory- this is a latecomer to the aims list- when I saw Dar's post about her complete home inventory, I decided it would be a good idea- partly for insurance purposes, but also just to see what we have!

A much shorter list than last year- but it does have the advantage that I might actually be able to remember and focus on my aims! To keep the momentum up, I will do an end of the month round up of how I am getting on.

Now, last year's aims/resolutions:

1. No alcohol- I didn't totally stick to this, but I didn't drink much either. It's quite easy to give up something that makes you feel ill.

2. Riding- I passed Equitation 5, but no progress on the Stable Management as we are no longer having lessons.

3. Exercise- I have been quite sporadic with this, although since June when Parkrun started in Bury St Edmunds, I have been most weeks. Also, before I started my new job I walked a neighbour's dog most weekdays. The most consistent exercise, though, has been from walking to my new job- it's about 25-30 mins of fast walking each way. I'm always better at exercising for a purpose!
As a result, I am fitter and have knocked about 2 mins off my parkrun (5k) time.

4. Save money. I was bad at this. Maybe saving with a purpose will work better for me.

5. Plan meals- this has definitely got better. There has been much less grazing and more proper meals.

6. Sleep- more work to do here!

7. Less stuff- I have definitely got rid of some excess stuff this year (mostly clothes). Not sure there is much more major decluttering to do.

8. Read more- October and November were good, the rest of the year not so much...

9.  Garden- also a bit hit and miss. Didn't get a lot of food from it, did harvest some lavender which is drying at the moment.

10. Knitting course- progress has been made- I just need to actually finish the module!

11. Knitting- I have finished some projects which have been hanging around for a while, but still have four things on the go, and still bought yarn this year...hmmm...

12. Sewing- I made a needle case for knitting needles- that was about it. Fail!

13. Make bread from scratch- I do this all the time now. Bread is a bit dense, but good.

14. No poo- fail! My hair was more disgusting than I was prepared to put up with. Luckily I now work for a company which makes organic, cruelty free products, including shampoo and conditioner, which I am happy to use.

What are your aims/resolutions/key words for the year?

(If I had to pick a key word, it'd be FOCUS...I need to get better at doing one thing at a time!)

Monday, 11 November 2013

Book review: Bad Science and I Used to Know That- History

Product Details
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.
I whizzed through this book, which was actually quite entertaining, as well as thought-provoking. Essentially, he explains the 'bad science' behind alternative remedies/medicine, the dubious credentials of some famous providers of health and nutritional advice, and discusses the media storm around healthcare stories, such as the MMR vaccine's link (or not, as it turned out) to autism.

I felt like I was already vaguely familiar with a lot of the information on how scientific research is conducted (although the last time I did anything even close a scientific experiment was about 10 years ago, at A-Level) but there was a lot that I have forgotten, or was not familiar with in such depth. This was a very accessible book, which didn't treat the reader as stupid. It has given me a healthy suspicion of health/science stories as reported in the media...I suppose I always thought there were a lot of dubious/exaggerated stories which may have misunderstood the science, but now I will be reading Ben Goldacre's website and this website, mentioned in the book, to have a look at the research myself and hopefully make up my own mind. I am looking forward to being more informed about these topics!

 Product Details
I Used to Know That- History by Emma Marriott
Despite having a history degree, I sometimes feel that I have large gaps in my historical knowledge, particularly when it comes to modern history. This book aimed to give an overview of history (albeit from a British/European perspective). Due to my patchy knowledge, it became more useful the further into it I read, and I think it was quite good at showing how the 'headlines' of history fitted together.
One issue that I had with this book in Kindle format was that what were probably well laid out information boxes in the print version became jumbled up in the Kindle version, so I found that I was jumping between the main paragraph and the 'detail' box- annoying!

I seem to be getting through the Kindle books quite speedily (and making slow progress on the print books- if only the print books would hold themselves open whilst I knit!). Next up is 'A Brief History of the Third Reich'- bought in an attempt to fill in my knowledge gaps, I think!