Thursday, 30 December 2010

The must have accessory for iPhone owners

What does every iPhone owner need this time of year? No, not at iPhone cosy, or a dancing polar bear app, or an iPhone scraper to remove the ice from the screen of a morning. Something much more useful.

Picture the scene. I am taking the dog for a walk. The iPhone rings. I try to answer it - but it doesn't work. Another time, while out in London, I need to send a text. It doesn't work. Not because the gears inside have frozen up, but because the iPhone's touchscreen relies on something like a finger to get its screen working. Encase said finger in a glove and the capacitative effect is reduced - it doesn't work.

Yet the weather we have had recently really does require gloves.

Luckily, for Christmas (thanks Andy and Fiona) I have been given a pair of iPhone compatible gloves. No, really. With these gloves on the touch screen works just fine. So no more tossing up between frostbite and not communicating. Technology to the rescue!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Oh, no, I'm turning into Jeremy Clarkson

I've always found Jeremy Clarkson very amusing, but rather along 'man you love to hate' lines. However recently I have been saying to myself more and more 'I agree with Jeremy.'

I was kindly bought a copy of his latest musings for Christmas and have been reading these, all too often thinking 'Hmm, he's got a point.'

Not only do I seem to have almost identical tastes in popular beat combos (mostly of the prog rock variety), we share a sole superstition. Or to be precise we are both not superstitious, but both greet single magpies (he salutes them, I say 'Good morning/good afternoon.') I really don't know why I started - I think it's because I'm fond of the magpie augury - but once you have, as JC (as I like to call him) points out, it's very hard to stop. There's no point saying 'Surely a rational person like you doesn't believe in this rubbish.' I refer you to the great physicist Niels Bohr. When asked why he had a lucky horseshoe in his office, and 'surely he couldn't believe in this rubbish' he commented something along the lines of: 'Of course I don't believe in it. But I'm told you don't have to believe in it for it to work.'

Perhaps most surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with JC about environmental issues. When I say 'agree' I need to qualify this. I don't go along with a lot of the detail. I find patio heaters execrable, for instance. But I do agree that it is totally idiotic that people seem to think the subject is entirely black and white. So many pro- and anti- environmentalists believe that either you have to agree with every loony green scheme or think that everything that claims to 'help' the environment is a communist conspiracy. It's not like that. As JC points out, some green ideas are good (recycling and reusing, for example), while some are total rubbish (the opposition to nuclear power, for instance).

The fact is some green enthusiasts hold some pretty wacky ideas. If you doubt this, try reading the Ecologist magazine. There are perfectly sensible green ideas that will help reduce climate change or improve the environment, rubbing shoulders with articles about people who claim to be 'sensitive' to WiFi or pieces on how we ought to take healing by shamans seriously. Being green doesn't mean you have to be a hippy or throw rationality out of the window.

So there you have it. It appears I am becoming Jeremy Clarkson (thankfully without his hairstyle). And on that bombshell, it's time to sign off.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Should we boycott the Telegraph?

I have to confess I never read the Daily Telegraph - but if I did, I would stop immediately. At the best I'd suggest what they did in entrapment of Lib Dem ministers was tacky, at worst it was treasonous.

Let me draw a parallel. Imagine that you were on a ship that was going through very dangerous waters. The captain and the first officer are married, but there marriage is very fragile. Hands up all those who think it would be a sensible thing for a passenger to send attractive members of the opposite sex to record the first officer voicing his doubts about his partner, then broadcasting said doubts on the ship's tannoy? Hands up those who think it was sheer idiocy, and the person doing it should be thrown over the side?

What did the Telegraph editor think he was doing by using sleazy tactics to get comments out of Vince Cable and others that had the potential to damage this country? In what sense is this in the public interest? All too often the news media seem to have a suicidal urge to bring the country down, but never more so than with these silly stunts.

There has been far too much fuss in the media about what Vince and friends said, and far too little about what the Telegraph goons did. Whose side are these mediaistas on again? Obviously not this country's. So if you do buy the Telegraph please stop it. Now. Don't do it again. Ever. If I were Jeremy Clarkson I would suggest keelhauling the 'journalists', but it's better to hit them where it hurts.

You might think this is all very well, but Cable et al. shouldn't have said what they said. Of course they shouldn't. But I am fed up of the media trying to ruin the country. I'm not upset out of any sense of jingoism or patriotism. I just want to be able to get on with life without things being messed up, and having a stable government and country kind of helps. Is it too much to ask?

Friday, 24 December 2010

Too much saccharine?

Is Christmas getting just a bit too nauseatingly sweet? Then for all those working Christmas Eve, it's time for a bit of Christmas entertainment the Victorian way:

It is Christmas Day in the Workhouse,
And the cold bare walls are bright
With garlands of green and holly,
And the place is a pleasant sight:
For with clear-washed hands and faces
In a long and hungry line
The paupers sit at the tables,
For this is the hour they dine.

And the guardians and their ladies,
Although the wind is east,
Have come in their furs and wrappers,
To watch their charges feast:
To smile and be condescending,
Put puddings on pauper plates,
To be hosts at the workhouse banquet
They've paid for – with the rates.

Oh, the paupers are meek and lowly
With their 'Thank'ee kindly, mum's';
So long as they fill their stomachs
What matters it whence it comes?
But one of the old men mutters,
And pushes his plate aside:
'Great God!' he cries; 'but it chokes me!
For this is the day she died.'

The guardians gazed in horror
The master's face went white;
'Did a pauper refuse his pudding?'
'Could their ears believe aright?'
Then the ladies clutched their husbands,
Thinking the man might die
Struck by a bolt, or something,
By the outraged One on high.

But the pauper sat for a moment,
Then rose 'mid a silence grim,
For the others has ceased to chatter,
And trembled every limb.
He looked at the guardian's ladies,
Then. eyeing their lords, he said,
'I eat not the food of villains
Whose hands are foul and red:

'Whose victims cry for vengeance
From their dank, unhallowed graves.'
'He's drunk!' said the workhouse master.
'Or else he's mad, and raves.'
'Not drunk or mad,' cried the pauper,
'But only a hunted beast,
Who, torn by the hounds and mangled,
Declines the vulture's feast.

I care not a curse for the guardians,
And I won't be dragged away.
Just let me have the fit out,
It's only Christmas Day
That the black past comes to goad me,
And prey my burning brain;
I'll tell you the rest in a whisper, -
I swear I won't shout again.

'Keep your hands off me, curse you!
Hear me right out to the end.
You come here to see how the paupers
The season of Christmas spend.
You come here to watch us feeding,
As they watch the captured beast.
Hear why a penniless pauper
Spits on your paltry feast.

'Do you think I will take your bounty,
And let you smile and think
You're doing a noble action
With the parish's meat and drink?
Where is my wife, you traitors -
The poor old wife you slew?
Yes, by the God above us
My Nance was killed by you!

'Last winter my wife lay dying,
Starved in a filthy den;
I had never been to the parish, -
I came to the parish then.
I swallowed my pride in coming,
For, ere the ruin came,
I held up my head as a trader,
And I bore a spotless name.

'I came to the parish, craving
Bread for a starving wife,
Bread for a woman who'd loved me
Through fifty years of my life;
And what do you think they told me,
Mocking my awful grief?
That "the House" was open to us,
But they wouldn't give "out relief".

I slunk to the filthy alley -
'Twas a cold, raw Christmas eve -
And the bakers' shops were open
Tempting a man to thieve;
But I clenched my fists together
Holding my head awry,
So I came home empty-handed,
And mournfully told her why.

Then I told her "the House" was open;
She had heard of the ways of that,
For her bloodless cheeks went crimson,
And up in her rags she sat,
Crying, "Bide the Christmas here, John,
We've never had one apart;
I think I can bear the hunger, -
The other would break my heart."

'All through that ever I watched her,
Holding her hand in mine,
Praying the Lord, and weeping
Till my lips were salt as brine.
I asked her once if she hungered
And as she answered "No,"
The moon shone in at the wondow
Set in a wreath of snow

'Then the room was bathed in glory,
And I saw in my darling's eyes
The far-away look of wonder
That comes when the spirit flies;
And her lips were parched and parted,
And her reason came and went,
For she raved of her home in Devon,
Where her happiest days were spent.

'And the accents, long forgotten,
Came back to the tongue once more,
For she talked like the country lassie
I woo'd by the Devon shore.
Then she rose to her feet and trembled,
And fell on the rags and moaned,
And, "Give me a crust - I'm famished -
For the love of God!" she groaned.

I rushed from the room like a madman,
And flew to the workhouse gate,
Crying "Food for a dying woman!"
And came the answer, "Too late."
They drove me away with curses;
Then I fought with a dog in the street,
And tore from the mongrel's clutches
A crust he was trying to eat.

'Back, through the filthy by-lanes!
Back, through the trampled slush!
Up to the crazy garret,
Wrapped in an awful hush.
My heart sank down at the threshold,
And I paused with a sudden thrill,
For there in the silv'ry moonlight
My Nancy lay, cold and still.

'Up to the blackened ceiling
The sunken eyes were cast -
I knew on those lips all bloodless
My name had been the last;
She'd called for her absent husband -
O God! had I but known! -
Had called in vain and in anguish
Had died in that den - alone.

'Yes, there in a land of plenty
Lay a loving woman dead,
Cruelly starved and murdered
For a loaf of parish bread.
At yonder gate, last Christmas
I craved for a human life.
You, who would feast us paupers,
What of my murdered wife!

'There, get ye gone to your dinners;
Don't mind me in the least;
Think of your happy paupers
Eating your Christmas feast;
And when you recount their blessings
In your smug parochial way,
Say what you did for me, too,
Only last Christmas Day.'

Seriously though - a happy Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Anyone fancy a Christmas date?

Christmas is a time for inexplicable traditions, and none more so than the box of dates.

When I was a lad (and rumour has it this was true in other homes), a box of dates was bought religiously each Christmas. It would then sit, glowering slightly, untouched. Rumour had it one of my grandmothers liked them - but I never saw one eaten with that strange plastic twig provided. Even the fact that the box has to give instructions as to what to do with them is a bit of a give away. It's as if there was a danger, if not told to eat them, of trying to use them as double sided adhesive pads.

I think the first Christmas with my own family we bought some dates, because we thought we had to. An old charter or something. But since then we never have.

Instead, we have migrated to mixed pickles. For me, Christmas has to have a whole host of different pickles for the cold meat. But sadly the mixed pickles are often still there unopened by June. But why not? After all, it's tradition, and that isn't a bad thing now and again.

Monday, 20 December 2010

It's that time again

Yes, it's that time of year when real men wear thermals and regular bloggers go to pieces. Over the next couple of weeks I'm afraid things will be pretty haphazard here at Now Appearing. After that normal service will be resumed.

In the meanwhile, have a great Christmas if you celebrate it (in fact, have a great one if you don't). And if you've got snow, try to enjoy it despite the inconvenience!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Memorable milestones in businessland

Some people claim to be able to remember the first time they smelled a honeysuckle or heard a nightingale sing. But many of my stand-out memories of 'first's are unashamedly commercial, and probably entirely alien to a younger generation that has been brought up with these institutions.

I remember my first visit to a supermarket. No, don't laugh. When I was young we did our food shopping in the evocatively titled Home and Colonial Stores. It smelled of spices, and you were served from behind a counter (sometimes by my auntie). Really. The first supermarket in Rochdale (as far as I'm aware) was a non-chain number by the name of Lennons. There was quite an excitement when it was opened. It made the news. It was probably no bigger than a Tesco Local, but it seemed immense, and the concept of helping yourself from shelves into a trolley was simply bizarre.

Moving on, I also remember my first encounter with McDonalds, I think at one of the first in the UK that had opened in London - my memory places it somewhere in the vicinity of Piccadilly Circus, but that could be iffy. When all we'd had before for fast(ish) food was table service Wimpy Bars and Fish and Chips, this was both alien and wonderful. Yes, McDonalds was exotic. Think on that and weep.

Perhaps the most surprising memory is a missing one. I can't remember my first visit to an Indian restaurant. Younger inhabitants of Rochdale might be surprised to learn that they just didn't exist there back in the 60s. We had a Chinese restaurant, but that was the height of exoticism when it came to eateries. (There were far fewer places to eat out, of course. The thought of a pub offering more than a curled up sandwich or a scotch egg would be laughable.) Some time between the age of 18 and 22 I had my first Indian meal, but I can't remember it, and that's irritating.

Am I uniquely business-minded in my 'first's memories, or do you have commercial reminiscences too? Do tell.

Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Would I lye to you?

In my latest podcast from the Royal Society of Chemistry's series on compounds, it's time to tell a lye. But we'll try not to be too caustic while you drink your soda. Yes, folks, roll up, roll up, and discover the wonders of sodium hydroxide. Who can fail to fall in love with a compound that can be used to dissolve a body?

You can take a listen to the podcast here.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Two cheers for World Book Night

In March 2011, the UK is to see one of the strangest, and yet most appealing book events I've ever come across. March 5 has been declared World Book Night. On that evening 1 million (no, that's not a misprint) books will be given away.

Around 20,000 people will each be given 48 copies of a book they would like to champion in giving to other people. Given, as in for free. The idea is that these book ambassadors will give out these titles, encouraging others to read them and to start reading more. I don't know if it will work, but it's a brave initiative. If you live in the UK you can request to be one of the 20,000 by signing up at the World Book Night website.

Why only two cheers? I think non-fiction is unfairly under-represented (and not particular well covere by the selection available) - I would have liked to see it 50:50. And for that matter, I think restricting the books to 25 titles to choose between is even more restrictive. The person giving the books away should be passionate about the specific title, and the chances are most readers won't be passionate about most of these books. I really can't find any that I'd be happy to talk positively about. So it would have been much better to make it 48 copies of a title of your choice - though I appreciate that would make the logistics harder.

Despite those reservations, though, it remains a brilliant idea. If one of the titles does appeal to you, why not volunteer - it could be fun!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

More statistics to give authors ulcers - thanks, Amazon!

A while ago some pointed me to Novel Rank while emphasing that it was like a drug for authors. You can't help going back to find out how your sales at Amazon are going. Now Amazon itself has come up with another way for authors to become depressed (or joyful if they've written bestsellers). It's part of the facility Author Central.

I ought to briefly deviate here to berate Amazon on its inconsistancy. Author Central is a great feature that lets authors add lots of information about themselves - even links to their blogs - that can be easily accessed from their books' pages. But it's only on It's not available on This really isn't good enough - get your act together, Amazon!

Any road up, this Author Central thingy now features a tab labelled 'Sales info.' Click it and you get all sorts of interesting statistics about your book sales in the US. There are total sales, breakdowns by geographic area and sales breakdowns for your three biggest selling titles. Now getting this on Amazon sales would be good - but this is actually much better. They are Neilsen BookScan sales. BookScan collects sales data from 10,000 retailers, online and offline - it's real sales data for real shops. Admittedly it doesn't have 100% cover. They reckon they report around 75% of retail print sales (no ebooks). So it includes Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble, for instance, but not Wal-Mart or Sam's Club. Even so it's a powerful reflection of what's going on.

If you have books published in the US, can you resist? If you can take the rough with the smooth, take yourself off to Author Central and register. But don't say I didn't warn you.

In the image, don't ask me why Texas is yellow - it isn't on the original screen, it just happened in the screen capture process. You may like to know I'm most popular in New York, then LA - but that may well be true of most authors.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Now that's what I call technology

Just occasionally you come across a piece of technology that blows away pretty well everything you've seen before. I'd like to thank someone on one of the Litopia forums for pointing out the specific example below. The video describing it isn't in English, but it has subtitles and is easy to follow. Just to highlight some of the lead features:
  • You never have to replace the battery
  • It will last a lifetime and longer: it's not going to wear out
  • It can be dropped repeatedly and will remain useable
  • The file format used is guaranteed to remain compatible
  • It uses bio-optical technology and neural processing
  • Comes in a wonderful range of covers
  • Uses space saving compression technology to get twice the information in the same space
Enough of the build-up: feast your eyes on this:

Friday, 10 December 2010

Move over grandad

Purton Church, as I couldn't find a school photo
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I had an excellent day earlier this week at Bradon Forest School in Purton. (Here's a little factoid for you - the church in the Wiltshire village of Purton is one of only three in the country with both a tower and a spire. One of the others is only a few miles from Purton in Wanborough, while the third is at Ormskirk in Lancashire.) I was on the go pretty well all day, and, though satisfying, it was quite tiring.

It does make me really appreciate just what teachers manage to do, day in, day out. A visiting speaker like me is roughly in the same relationship to a teacher as a grandparent is to a parent. You generally cause a bit of excitement, because it's someone different, and you have a great time for a brief period, then you hand them back, and go back to your quiet life while the teacher has to get on with it.

Don't get me wrong, I've nothing against grandparents (or visiting speakers). But I think few would argue that parents have a hard but essential job, and the same goes for the teaching profession. Anyone who feels like moaning about teachers getting the long school holidays should consider that, not only do teachers have work to do over that period, not only are they limited to going on holiday during the school break, so have to pay more for their holiday, but also theirs is a job where you really do need some time to recover.

So as the Christmas break looms and teachers heave a sigh of relief at the thought of only another week or so to go, let's raise a virtual glass to the profession.

Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Is cosmology science or educated guesswork?

I've had one or two criticisms of the way I stress in Before the Big Bang that cosmology hasn't entirely thrown off its reputation of being speculative. Cosmologists like to think that they are now mainstream scientists, and the big bang theory is as straightforward as any other basic idea in physics, but it really isn't true. I'm not trying to knock cosmology - it's a subject I love - but I think we ought to be honest and recognize how much it is built on assumption, hope and tradition. All science is the pursuit of today's best guess - it can never be about absolute truth - and cosmology has a harder chase than any other discipline.

It's not surprising, really. We can't even go and take a close look at the nearest star other than the Sun - a mere 4 light years is currently a distance far beyond our capabilities to travel in order to examine and experiment. Instead we have to rely on light, passing through all kinds of spatial disruption, and passing through time. Looking into space is like looking through distorted window glass. The further you look, the further back in time you are seeing, so the whole vista we see is a mangled mess.

Most of our ideas about how the universe has developed depend on the application of general relativity to (rather crude) models of what the universe is like. And to make those models work, huge assumptions that really can't be tested are applied. For example, cosmologists assume that the universe is homogenous and isotropic. To be isotropic, it has to look the same whichever direction you look in. To be homogenous it should be the same wherever you do that looking from. These are stunningly brave assumptions.

The obvious criticism is that they clearly aren't true. If we look in the direction of the Milky Way, we see a totally different sight to looking in a different direction. If we image being at the centre of a galaxy, we will be in a totally different environment compared to sitting in the middle of one of the big gaps between galaxies. Most people would assume that the fact that the assumption isn't true rather spoils it. But not cosmologists.

'You are thinking too small,' they say. Okay, well the universe isn't homogenous at the level of galactic clusters, and that's pretty big. 'Still too small,' they say. But do we know about its overall homogeneity, bearing in mind we can only see most of it how it was billions of years ago, and have to guess what it's like now? Of course not. It's an assumption.

Similarly, on the whole we assume that various constants like the speed of light and the force of gravity are constant through space and time. Why? Because it becomes very difficult if they aren't. But that's not exactly a good scientific reason. Again, please remember, I'm not knocking cosmology, but it really should be treated quite differently in terms of degree of confidence to most science.

You may have wondered why I said that cosmology was built on assumption, hope and tradition. The assumption is pretty obvious, and the hope is basically hope that the assumptions are true - but why tradition? Because once cosmologists (and, to be fair, most scientists) settle on a theory, they like to stick with it. It's only reasonable - and unlike believers in woo, scientists do change their mind when there is enough contradictory evidence - but it does lead to a certain inertia.

In one of his last books, the great Fred Hoyle pointed out that the big bang theory had been modified several times to match new information that initially seemed to disprove it. Yet his own steady state theory had simply been thrown out as soon as there was contradictory evidence. Hoyle showed that his theory could also be modified to match the new information. But once cosmologists had settled on the big bang, tradition ensured it continued to dominate.

I'm not saying the big bang is wrong, but I do think we give it too much weight in such an uncertain discipline. With so many assumptions and unknowns, cosmology can't afford to be too hidebound by tradition.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

In search of mad scientists, and enjoying schools

I'm delighted to say that my latest book Armageddon Science is now available in the UK as well as the US. I won't repeat all the details - I gave the bumf about it here, and I cover it here on my website, but you can now rush along to and buy a copy in the UK, if you feel so inclined. To make matters even more thrilling (can they be more thrilling, I here you ask?), if you click on the 'n new' under 'More buying choices' on the right of the Amazon page, you can buy a signed copy. What's not to love? This is the Christmas present that says you mean more to me than the apocalypse.

As there is only so much self-promotion I can do without feeling faintly queasy, I ought also to say what a great time I had at Bradon Forest School yesterday. Situated in Purton, a village outside Swindon, this secondary school had a special day yesterday where all their Year 7s had four writing-oriented workshops through the day. There was me on non-fiction writing and books, plus a poet, a writer and artist and an ex-stand up comedian who now writes freelance for magazines.

It's great talking to this age because they are old enough to get the ideas, but haven't been in secondary school long enough to become cynical. They were great audiences (each of us gave the session four times to groups of around 55). My only worry is that I was doing a fairly unstructured session - I had notes on bits I wanted to put in it, but I let the structure flow. This is fine for a single workshop, but by the time you are doing your fourth I was thinking 'Oh, no, have I already talked to them about this, or was it the previous group?' So apologies if I repeated myself...

Monday, 6 December 2010

It's Radio 1, but not as we know it

These days, as I drive the daughters around in taxi mode (6 hours in the car last Friday), I tend to hear quite a lot of Radio 1. As I've commented before, they have unfortunately stocked the channel with DJs who think that they are the reason people listen, rather than the music, so said daughters are always flipping away from Radio 1 to find music, rather than be bored by inane chatter.

So, in the spirit of the Big Society, I would like to offer my re-designed Radio 1. The BBC are welcome to follow my grand plan, and I give it freely to them. I believe it will make the station much better for its target audience, and will fulfil the BBC's requirement to not just be another broadcaster, but to be a unique public service broadcaster. It will also save them a lot of money - millions of pounds per year.
  1. Get rid of all DJs who don't play at least 15 records an hour. Replace with new, cheap, hungry DJs.
  2. Don't play any music from bands who are already signed to a record label. The commercial stations can give them all the airplay they need.
  3. Put a lot of person time into going through CDs that have been sent in by new bands. Play all of these that are good.
  4. Don't play anything that has been anywhere near Simon Cowell.
But, you cry, won't Radio 1 lose listeners? Yes, it probably will lose some. But it will be serving its target audience much better, and it will save millions. I'm not saying they should play any old rubbish - only the good records they get sent - but I believe there would be plenty there to keep them going, and the effect on the music scene would be transformative.

What about it BBC? Have you got the bottle?

Friday, 3 December 2010

Memes and urban legends

I've always been fond of urban legends. When I worked at BA, one of my colleagues, who was a fabled story teller, made up a tall story at a dinner party once (involving a dog being tied to a level crossing gate in Sunningdale), only to find a few months later he went to another party where he was told this as fact.

The interweb is particularly good at generating urban legends, because of the speed with which they can be passed around as so-called 'memes'. (I don't like the meme concept, but that's another post.) All too often, people pass on something without bothering to check the facts. Recently on Facebook a number of my friends have started a post that says: Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. The list, which you'll see below consists of fairly popular/classic titles, so that statistic was quite surprising.

After doing a bit of searching around, I couldn't find any evidence that the BBC had ever said this (it's a fairly unlikely way for the BBC to make an assertion, apart from anything else). What it instead seems to be is a list of favourite/should read books someone put in the Guardian newspaper, modified by someone with US sensibilities.

Any road up, the idea is that you highlight those you have read in bold, and those you've read but given up on/not read all of in italics. So in the unlikely event anyone is interested in my reading experience (and bearing in mind there aren't many SF/fantasy/non-fiction books in this list), I've done this:

 1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (all)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
16 The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger (see 22)
19 The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (I read either this or Catcher in the Rye or both at school, but can't remember a thing)
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina –Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34 Emma – Jane Austen
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - William Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
47 Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martell
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66 On the Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson
74 Notes from a Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal – Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince _ Antoine de Saint Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare
99 Charlie & the Chocolate factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The stuff of cow farts? Think again

In this podcast from the Royal Society of Chemistry's series on compounds, I take a look at methane. It's a compound that could do with a trip to the image consultant, what with those images of cows' bottoms and its contribution to global warming. But, like many others, I would be waking to a freezing house this morning without it.

You can take a listen to the podcast here.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

So there, QI!

I am a great fan of QI. There's nothing better to liven up a boring evening on TV. I have even been known to search it out on Dave when all else fails. But it's hard not to get irritated sometimes by the smug inevitability (and who can do smug better than Stephen Fry?) of some of their 'general ignorance' answers - and hard also not to be rather pleased when they get it wrong.

The most glaring QI error I know is they've twice (in my hearing) called Galileo the inventor of the telescope, which is indisputably factually incorrect. But another example demonstrates the meanness of some of their answers. I can't remember the exact wording, but someone (probably poor old Alan Davies) got the dreaded noise when suggesting that UK secret service field operatives are called agents. The QI team came up with some guff that agents were office-bound workers, not field people.

However in the last fortnight, both the head of MI6 and several people from MI5 have very clearly called field operatives 'agents'. Now it may well be that according to some jobsworth job title they aren't agents, but this is obviously what they are called. So, sorry QI, you got it wrong again - and Alan D. deserves his points back.

Image from Wikipedia