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Going grumpy on technology

The wreck of a footpath near home At the moment, the streets near our house are a mess as noisy drills are heard all day and large swathes of the pavement are closed off with blue plastic fencing. This is because they are laying a new fibre optic cable. Surely, you may think, this is a good thing. And if we hadn't got fibre optic connections already, it surely would have been and I would have been all in favour. But we already have two fibre providers in our road: Openreach, which is used by a wide range of telecoms companies, and Virgin. So why the need for more disruption? According to the banner for the new provider, City Fibre, their USP is gigabit connectivity (though I could swear Virgin's vans also mention this). Here's were I go into grumpy old man mode. We already have 100 Mbps guaranteed, typically running at around 130-150 Mbps. That's more than enough for our requirements. Interestingly, our provider recently gave us a free month on 300 Mbps to try out the b
Recent posts

Marks and Spencer Scan and Shop review

I've recently tried out the Marks and Spencer 'Scan and Shop' app and I haven't had so much fun in ages shopping for a couple of food items. You might think I live in the dark ages. Most of the major supermarkets give you the ability to scan your shopping as you go around the store, while Amazon even has a handful of stores where you simply pick the stuff off the shelves and go. However, here in the Wild West we don't have those Amazon shops, and there is one huge difference between the M&S experience and the scanners in conventional supermarkets. Go round Waitrose or Asda, say, with a self-scanner and you end up with a trolley load which you take to a till and pay for under the watchful eye of staff. But the M&S app lets you walk around the shop (food section only) scanning stuff and sticking it straight into your shopping bag. At the end you pay on the app, then walk out of the shop, never going near a till. This is especially useful in our local Marks and

Review: Aberystwyth Mon Amour - Malcolm Pryce *****

There is now a genre of TV show known as Cymru Noir, modelled on Scandi Noir but with more drizzle - however, Malcolm Pryce, with his Louie Knight mysteries, brought the original American noir genre to Wales in a series of books starting with the 2001  Aberystwyth Mon Amour , that are sheer genius.  Pryce could have simply transported a Sam Spade-alike to the Welsh seaside - and that's certainly part of the attraction of these books, but the deadpan humour derives from the fantastical development of what might be considered Welsh stereotypes of old into the key elements of a noir detective novel. So, for example, the druids replace the mafia as the local gangsters, good time girls wear stovepipe hats, the friendly bartender becomes an ice-cream salesman and the tea cosy takes on a much darker meaning. This is a setting beautifully brought alive in Pryce's lyrical description of Aberystwyth and its surroundings that will be be evocative to anyone who spent a wet week in a Welsh

The delights of scientific misunderstandings

I've just had published a fun little book of 50 misunderstandings and misconceptions in science. Lightning Often Strikes Twice  looks beyond this tip of the iceberg when it comes to what may of us wrongly believe about the world around us. Whether it's word of mouth, myths you've read about online, or misremembered facts from school, we're bombarded by misconceptions about science all the time. In a light way, the book explains the real science and theory that debunks these popular myths. From fears about the exponential growth of the human population to the misapprehension that we are all descended from chimpanzees or gorillas, the book separates science fact from fiction. For your delectation here's one of the 50 articles in the book: A coin dropped from the top of the Empire State Building can kill you The Empire State Building doesn’t even make it into the fifty tallest buildings in the world any more. At the time of writing, it’s only the seventh tallest in New

Can Magical Thinking Improve Teamwork?

Usually, 'magical thinking' is a reference to fooling yourself into believing something that isn't possible,  but Mark Mason suggests that solving the mystery of how magic tricks work can help you think more effectively.  He's running team building sessions where he performs tricks, then helps those present work together to uncover how the trick was performed. Mark says that he reveals mental techniques that will let you solve pretty well any trick you’ll see in the future - and that these techniques can be applied to problems you’ll encounter at work and in life more generally. As I know there are a lot of blog posts out there that are really paid adverts, I ought to stress I'm not being paid to publicise this, and I only know Mark as a reader who contacted me previously about my book Inflight Science .  What interested me here was that in the period between working in Operational Research and computing in British Airways and becoming a full time writer, I ran crea

The best theoretical physics from the last 30 years?

Image by Thomas T from Unsplash I recently reviewed a book called Fantastic Numbers and Where to Find Them by Antonio Padilla. In my review, I was dubious about the way that Dr Padillia referred to the highly speculative holographic principle as 'the holographic truth'. Something many publishers drum into their authors is that it is not a good idea to respond to reviews. If anything, it can reinforce any negative comments in the review. But Dr Padilla replied on Twitter 'thanks for your thoughts. You may be interested to see this perspective on importance of the holographic principle, which obviously I share.’ He then quotes Caltech physicist John Preskill, who had tweeted: ‘Someone asked: What are the most important ideas in physics over the past 30 years? Three immediately came to mind: The holographic principle, topological order, quantum error correction.’ Now, this seemed to me to be a depressing statement if true. What we've got with those three is firstly a pri

Review: How to be a Writer - Marcus Beckman ****

There seem to be three obvious markets for this book - people who are interested in what writers do, people who would like to be professional writers but aren't, and writers themselves. That last category may seem an unlikely one - if you are already a writer, why would you need a book called 'How to be a writer'? But the reality is I spent some of my cash, hard-earned from writing, on this book. The reason the book appealed, I think, is the familiar concept of readers liking to identify with a book. This has led to much more diversity, for example, in fictional characters - but it is also engaging to read about someone who does a similar job and their experiences, especially when the narrative is handled in such a light and entertaining way as Marcus Berkmann does here. I can certainly identify with much of Berkmann's working life - both the highs and lows of being a freelance writer. What's particularly fun is that Berkmann has written a whole range of columns an