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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Featured Again in the Dorking Advertiser

My library challenge gets a mention in this week's Dorking Advertiser on page 16. I'm also photographed on Page 23 as a Candidate for Boxhill and Headley - a rare double to appear twice in one paper in two different contexts. Should I become a councillor it might slow down the challenge it bit, but it will take as long as it takes: there is no deadline to complete the approximate 150 bookcases which comprise the challenge.

I am enjoying my current read The Everything Store about Amazon, a well written book about one of the defining companies of our time. I bought my first book on on July 16, 1998, before I even owned a computer, so have been using it before most people in the UK had even heard about it. I'll leave my full review of the book until I have finished it though!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Delete This At Your Peril by Bob Servant

I had high hopes for Delete This At Your Peril and was really looking forward to reading it but the book turned out to be a massive disappointment.

I have been critical of quite a few books so far but in most cases it's like being critical of a professional footballer on TV: I can barely kick a ball so have no right to have a go. Likewise with books, I once did manage to write a few short stories in my Sixth Form days, but can count by published oeuvre at precisely zero words.

However I can put by hand up and say I could write something better than Delete This At Your Peril. The idea is nothing new - you basically make a fool of someone by sending them spoof letters and respond to the puzzled messages you get back with increasingly bizarre ones of your own until they finally twig you are a joker. I loved reading Henry Root's and Robin Cooper's  efforts, and laughed out loud a lot at those books.

This book though wasn't funny at all - much (I did finally smile in the last couple of chapters). Henry Root and Robin Copper wrote to well-meaning people; Bob Servant writes to Internet spammers who just want you to send them money. So the dialogue is just not interesting. Bob sends a load of nonsense about him and his mates in Dundee and gets a reply back often ignoring most of the content and just asking for his bank details. It just doesn't have the depth of the other efforts.

Delete This At Your Peril is frankly boring. I got sick of reading Bob's monologues. They were not funny at all in the main and the idea was not original and I honestly think I could do better myself and at least come up with something I found funny. I did laugh a little bit at the end so Delete This At Your Peril gets 2 out of 10 instead of the 1 I was going to give it.

Delete This At Your Peril concludes the Computing section, and I now move on around the corner to a new wall (fanfare) which begins with the Business and Finance section. My first book continues the Computing theme though as it is about an Internet company, Amazon.

I've read similar books to The Everything Store about big companies coming from nowhere, one of which is on this very bookcase in the library (Tescopoly about Tescos - highly recommended). I am not sure at this stage whether the book is pro-Amazon or anti-Amazon. I don't really care. I don't know much about how Amazon started, but I have been using it for 15 years and first bought something from it before even existed, so I am interested because I have seen it come from nowhere from virtually its beginning. I can't say I'm exactly a fan of Amazon, but I do admire it's sheer success story and I'm looking forward to reading about it.

The Everything Store, at 550 pages, is the longest book yet, so I may be some time.....

Thursday, April 16, 2015

jQuery: A Beginner's Guide by John Pollock

jQuery: A Beginner's Guide may not be bedtime reading for everyone but I found it very interesting. As an IT professional who uses jQuery quite regularly I was surprised how much I didn't know.

The problem is with the way we work now is that we don't read enough books, even me! If I want to do something with a product like jQuery then I typically Google how to do it and copy and paste someone else's work, changing it if necessary to do what I want. This works fine so long as you know what you can do, the problem is you don't always know the full capabilities of what is out there. Not every problem can be solved by a Google search. That's why books like this which cover all the basics are so worthwhile as they at least let you know what is possible.

It's not just in IT that the problem lies, it is life generally today. Too often we type a question into Google, expecting a wholesome response. Not all problems are that simple and sometimes a more systematic approach works better - few of us have the patience to undertake such a review often enough. Unfortunately we live in a world which has been condensed down to 140 characters. Can you imagine Thomas Hardy or Charles Darwin writing a Tweet?

I'll really have to try and read more IT books as they keep me a little bit ahead of the curve, or less far behind anyway! I've a couple of more IT books from the library at the moment which I'll flick through but not read in full. But jQuery: A Beginner's Guide is a good book which covers the subject well, and I award it 9 out of 10.

Next up is Delete This At Your Peril by Bob Servant. This is another IT book but far more light-hearted than most of the books on the shelves.

Delete This At Your Peril is about a man who takes on e-mail spammers. It's a series of spoof messages in the tradition of Henry Root and Robin Cooper, but using e-mails rather than written letters. I've enjoyed both Henry Root and Robin Cooper in the past, so am very much looking forward to this one.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On the Slow Train by Michael Williams

Bookcase 22's On the Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys by Michael Williams is an interesting set of excursions on some of Britain's more obscure rail lines. It's more of a travelogue than a book about trains per se, although the author is clearing a "train man" judging by the enthusiasm he shows over things like the different locomotives (I hope that's the right word) pulling the carriages, and most of the content describes the journey rather than the destination.

I've actually been on quite a few of the lines mentioned, or at least bits of them. I must confess when on a train I rarely look out the window for long, I normally have my head in a book or some electronic device. So a lot of what Michael Williams describes on these journeys completely passed me by. On a few of them though, when I was in full holiday mode, I did admire at least some of the view: the Isle of Wight line, and the Cumbrian coastal line in particular.

Underpinning the whole book though is a deep felt sadness and nostalgia for the steam era when Britain's rail network was much more substantial than it is today. Most of the lines Michael Williams visits are ones which only just escaped Beeching's axe, quite a few of them thanks to campaigns by local residents. I've always felt we'd be much better off improving some of the lesser used branch lines like the ones in this book than spending tens of billions on building HS2, and this book simply reinforces that view. I award Slow Train 7 out of 10, it's been an improvement on the last couple of non-fiction books.

One line Michael Williams doesn't pick is the Reading to Gatwick service, passing through Dorking, which I use every weekday, and quite a few weekends. I suppose technically it's not a "slow" line but it certainly feels like it some days especially in the winter!

Slow Train completes my reading in the Transport section. Next up is Computing, and I have selected jQuery: A Beginner's Guide by John Pollock as book 23.

Computing is my profession, more specifically writing software of one sort or another. jQuery, for those who don't know, is a library of functions for use on web pages. It's at the heart of most modern sophisticated pages that we've all got used to over the last few years on our computers, tablets and phones. I'm not really a beginner, having used it professionally, but I'm certainly not an expert either as it's not something I use every day and I'm bound to benefit from reading books like this to fill in a few gaps. The IT section of the library is very useful to dip into and hone your skills in areas like this. I quite often get books out. It's rare that I read them from cover to cover, but certainly I've read chapters from many IT books in the library, as they aren't cheap to buy. Having said that on this bookcase there is yet again already a book I have read in full - Blogging for Dummies. I think the last five or six bookcases have already contained a book I have read before!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Titanic by Anton Gill

Bookcase 21's Titanic: Building the World's Most Famous Ship by Anton Gill was the third non-fiction book in a row I have read which proved to be a bit of a slog.

I wouldn't have chosen this book to read in the normal course of events, and my decision would have been a wise one. Being instinctively a theoretician only concerned with abstract things, I have no great interest in construction projects like building the Titanic (or painting my house!). I am interested, as the veteran of two modern day cruises, of what life was like aboard the early cruise ships - which also functioned as the primary long-haul transport mechanism until aircraft were capable of carrying passengers on flights over oceans. But to get to that part of the book I had to plough my way through several chapters about the construction of the Titanic, which in itself was not a noteworthy event with several similar ships being built around the same time.

What did I learn from the book? Quite a few people died constructing it, which was not unusual in the early 20th century, as health and safety is not the focus that it is today. The arrogance of the owners and designers was such that nobody thought it would ever sink and little or no thought was given to how to get people on board what life boats there were, and how to launch them. Likewise only lip service was given to looking out for obstacles like icebergs, and no real plan was in place for how to deal with such an eventuality or how to evacuate the vessel should it happen.

I suppose the equivalent today is aircraft and the recent case where a co-pilot with mental health problems was left in charge of a plane. The same assumption of the equipment's infallibility was made. In 1912 a simple measure like giving the people on watch binoculars would probably have saved the day; in 2015 not allowing a single person in the cabin would almost certainly have prevented 150 deaths.

The book though for me had too much detail about material I wasn't interested in and gets 4 out of 10. This is probably a little unfair on the author as its a good book if you have an interest in the subject matter - as I didn't I shouldn't really have been reading it. But the nature of this project is I read everything in my path and overcome my assumptions about what I will and won't like. There have been a few surprises so far when I've got something out of a book I thought I wouldn't.

My second and last transport book is On the Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys by Michael Williams.

I travel on trains lots being a non-driver. I've been all over the country on trains, watching football matches, on holiday, or occasionally with work, so I will be very interested in this book. The chances are I will have been on at least some of the train journeys mentioned in the book. In the last couple of years I have read two books by Tom Chesshyre about train journeys, the most recent book I read by him was called To Hull And Back. That book was more about the destinations rather than the journey, I think this book will focus on the travelling.