Saturday 16 April 2022

Book review: Einstein

1650053946729-c3c0a19b-a10f-4c2c-9990-73444221f6b4 A book I've had around for ages, and may even have read before. It is quite decent. A reasonable intro to the life and work. Goodreads likes it. JB turns out to be a real physicist, which is always helpful when dealing with this kind of stuff. To quibble, some of his pre-modern-physics is wrong in minor ways (Copernicus's model was not "simpler" than the prior work, at least in terms of number of epicycles used) but if there are errors elsewhere, strangely enough I didn't spot them.

There are almost no equations in the book, so this is no place to learn the maths of relativity, and indeed it isn't a good place to learn the theory either, because that isn't the point. But it's good on Einstein's childhood and early intellectual development, which in some ways could be considered the most interesting bit, from the point of view perhaps of an aspiring physicist. Even in an earlier world where being stateless at age 16 wasn't too much of a problem, the casualness with which AE floated around surprises.

I think it is somewhat on the uncritical side. The refusal to accept QM is said, but not strongly explored. The end-of-life at Princeton is said, but the amount of space given to all those years is slight. Women are elided.

I preferred Subtile is the Laird, but that's harder work, if I recall correctly.

Friday 15 April 2022

Book review: the Enemy Stars

1650053994179-1683b6eb-5cb9-4de0-bf5d-6d9df832c7f9 Poul Anderson. Not Tau Zero (which you should read, if you haven't yet), but perhaps somewhat similar. Except, darker. Perhaps too dark: it gets rather knotted up in people striving for exploration - the stars - even in the face of tragedy and death, as though that was controversial. People die on mountains all the time and people don't get so tied up about it.

The beginning is kinda nice, reminiscent of "the planters" of Engine Summer; but he fumbles it; instead of a vista of time, we're just swept forwards a bit to another sort of society with no particularly interesting properties. So his spaceships have (somehow) been accelerated to half light speed - this is neither plausible nor necessary - and are not permanently crewed, but instead there's a "mattercaster" which allows people to show up for one-month-long tours of duty. This is convenient for the story but doesn't make much sense; you'd leave them uncrewed for most of their time, no? And if you have a "mattercaster" why have fuel tanks? Why not cast the fuel? Nevermind; this is only pretending to be hard sci-fi.

Also somewhat implausible is the idea that this ship's voyage is so long; there are plenty of much closer stars. Or that they would even see the "dead star" much less want to or be able to divert to it. Again, never mind.

After that we're in "human" terrain which - to be 'onest wiv yer guv - isn't the strong point of sci-fi and not what I want to read it for, either. But the connection to Kipling is well done, and mostly rescues that bit.

Thursday 14 April 2022

Back to the Old Place

Yesterday I took Miranda back to Magdalen, via Mother, slightly complicated by me testing positive for Covid. But we sat at the far end of her dining table and left the garden door open.

Magdalen featured a water meadow - the one by Addison's Walk - full of fritillaries, which must have been there in my time, but I never looked. The virtues of Instagram, which is where I found out about it.


After that, I decided to tootle back via Berkhamstead. And to get to Berkhamstead I went the cycle route I used to use, via Headington, the A-road, Tetsworth to the W edge of the Chilterns, up via Chinnor... I now see this is the Lower Icknield Way. Then through Wendover, with a little trouble finding the right way, and down Stablebridge Road to the hump-backed bridge I've driven over so often but never stopped to see before. But there's a little parking area, and path down, and it turns out to be the Wendover Arm of teh Grand Union Canal - and, should I ever go that was again by bike, it looks to be much better to cycle along the canal than heave up over the hill. See GPS trace, with pix.

Thence to Berkhamstead, which remains much as on my last visit; I parked past Dean Incent's and had a coffee - Nero, but it was 6 and the locals had shut - on the far side of the cross roads, watching life go by. Berko isn't prepossessing from that viewpoint; but it remains a nice place.

After, up onto the common, before going down to Great Gaddesden for the graves. And remarking, again, how lovely the countryside is. I shall record some names, so they may be found: Diana Vignoles Nash nee Proctor; Wilfred Henry Nash. And so, home.

See also

A piece of Olde Englande

Tuesday 12 April 2022

Book review: Around the World in Eighty Days

1649796254165-b8a198f1-755c-42c4-9633-4cb01c782ab5_ Wiki has an appropriate article; or you can try Goodreads. I dug this out because of our housemove, and partly motivated by having watched the BBC's eight-part adaption with M, which takes great liberties with the story (though it does copy some bits: the train-and-rickety bridge is in, though it is in the States, not Italy, for example; the burning-the-wood-bits-when-the-coal-runs-out, too). Unlike the Beeb's highly sexed-up storyline, in Verne very little happens for most of the book: Our Hero Really does just make most of his train and boat connections, with the excitement being supplied by Fogg remaining calm and unmoved by the tension. At some point this becomes too much even for Verne so he throws in Fix-the-detective to act as an "enemy".

However, the book is problematic, largely because it is flat; dull. And this is largely due to the central character of Fogg being dull. He begins as a totally opaque "high quality" "typical" Englishman and doesn't change much during the book. But Verne's prose is to blame too.

I presume part of the charm of the book of the time was as a travel book; nowadays, of course, all this is known. But the "travel guide" aspect is quite thin too, in part because Fogg himself is so uninterested in everywhere he goes. In other places the flatness of Verne shows through: for example, of a piece of railway line in the States we are told "There were few or no bridges or tunnels on the route". That's the sort of thing you might write of a typical piece of railway, but in this case, we're talking about a specific not a generic piece of railway, and it either has bridges or tunnels, or it hasn't. So Verne is being slack.

Since I'm here, I could make some brief notes about the Beeb version, starring Dr Who. This injects some pizazz into Verne, some of which is welcome: Fogg himself is no longer a blank slate. Some is too anachronistic and woke for my tastes: Passpartout becomes black, and there is a woman along. But worse (a-la Dr Who) is the tedious amounts of emotionalising, and the long-drawn out shots of Our Here's face as some new-but-dull emotion strikes home.