Another gift left languishing on my bookshelf – this time from my brother-in-law rather than my father – since 2006. I'd been putting it off for two r...moreAnother gift left languishing on my bookshelf – this time from my brother-in-law rather than my father – since 2006. I'd been putting it off for two reasons. Firstly, I have a lot of other books to read, and secondly, a biography of a cyclist that I didn't really know a lot about failing to break the hour record didn't exactly sound like a riveting read. However, I was assured that it was good, and as my brother-in-law had gone to the trouble of getting it personally signed to me for my birthday it seemed churlish to wait much longer than six years to read it.
Once they realised I was actually reading the book (finally), there was an admission that my brother-in-law features in the book (pages 44-52 in my edition if you wanted to check). The scene is set, Hutchinson has decided to attempt the hour record, but realises he doesn't have a suitable bike (due to various reasons of over-achieving administration only bikes that cyclists no longer use are deemed suitable for the hour record). Luckily, he remembers an old friend from university, a friend who won't ask too many questions – like why would a professional cyclist want to borrow my old track bike – our hero, Lemanski, who lends the author an old orange track bike for his early track tests.
It seems so uniquely British to write a book about failing to do something. Other people celebrate their successes, only we feel the need to proudly display our efforts and shortcomings. Although Hutchinson is from Northern Ireland he's obviously embraced this part of his personality, having decided to write a book about failing to beat the hour record. Twice.
Luckily, that's not all the book is. Yes, in part, it's the story of Hutchinson's idea to attempt the record, his preparation – the trials that befell him and the mistakes that he made – as well as the attempt itself at the Manchester Velodrome. But, it's also the story of the hour record as the blue riband event of cycling. The history, the previous winners, the rivalry between Boardman and Obree, the short-sightedness and ridiculous officiousness of the sport's governing body, the UCI. Interwoven with the story of Hutchinson's own attempt. Despite the fact that he's ultimately describing something that he failed to achieve, his passion for the record shines through. As does his humour, the book is amusingly written throughout, making it a book not just for cycling aficionados, but sports fans in general.(less)
After his 'autobiography', My Shit Life So Far, this is neither a straight autobiography, nor strictly non-fiction. Instead the book alternates, chap...moreAfter his 'autobiography', My Shit Life So Far, this is neither a straight autobiography, nor strictly non-fiction. Instead the book alternates, chapter by chapter, between a fictional account of Frankie Boyle living in a high-rise flat in Glasgow and a series of non-fictional diatribes against everything Boyle doesn't like about the world. There is a very tenuous Kevin-Bacon-style link between myself and Frankie; which means that this copy, which my parents bought for me, is personally inscribed with a Christmas message.
The fictional half of the book appears to be set after the period covered by My Shit Life So Far Boyle is living alone in a flat at the top of a Glasgow high-rise. A flat which he's extended with a secret annex containing his weird model of the people and places around him which he toys with in an almost voodoo way. The story mixes, presumably at least partially true, personal anecdotes of time with his children and attempts to get work post-Mock-the-Week. In the background is the story of a rapist who is targeting b-list celebrities who are no longer in the spotlight as much as they were – starting with Dom Joly. Contacted by the police, Boyle initially worries that he's a suspect, but in fact, more worryingly, they are treating him as a potential victim.
The non-fiction half of the book is a series of essays/diatribes/rants on everything that Boyle thinks is wrong with our society: war, comedy, Tories, Lib Dems, immigration, the news of the world, terrorism, the death of Osama bin Laden and homoeopathy (he actually manages to combine those two into a single joke which is pretty impressive) etc. But singled out the most is throwaway entertainment culture, as typified by our national obsession with programmes like the X-Factor, The Voice, Britain's Got Talent etc. All of these programmes come in for heavy ridicule, as do the judges on them. Unfortunately, the non-fiction section, which had potential, fails to live up to that. Each of Boyle's discussions never really goes anywhere. Instead of developing them, they are used only as a platform for more of his jokes. Obviously, as Boyle is a comedian, it's probably unfair to expect anything else. But it would have been interesting if he'd tried.
The jokes are the expected mixture of sharp insight and deeply offensive humour that he has become both loved and reviled for. No subject is every considered off-limits for Boyle's humour and if you aren't prepared to sit through some uncomfortable chapters where one, or more, of your own sacred cows are picked apart then this isn't the book for you.(less)
One of my two favourite British actors – Ian Holm the living one; Alec Guinness the dead one – since seeing him in Alien (obviously not when it came...moreOne of my two favourite British actors – Ian Holm the living one; Alec Guinness the dead one – since seeing him in Alien (obviously not when it came out, but once I was old enough – it was an 18 after all). As with Guinness's and Tom Baker's autobiographies it's amazing how little I knew about the lives of these actors. I bought this book back in 2004 as a nice signed-by-the-author hardback and it sat on my bookshelf from then (like so many other books on my to-read list) until now. Thanks to Goodreads allowing me to indulge my tendencies for lists and the like I was finally able to get around to reading it.
The book covers Holm's entire life to its publication. From his early years in Goodmayes (a mere 7 miles from where I grew up); his school days and actor training – each containing a disturbingly detached tale of what we would now clearly call child abuse – through military service and his acting career; his five wives and five children; finishing with presumably his most famous role, Bilbo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings films.
In fact, detached seems like quite an appropriate word for the whole book: from the Holm parents relationship to their son; Holm's attitude to his abuse; his attitude to his career; even his attitude to his wives and children. Not that he seems unaware of this either. There's a tone in the book that he thinks he aught to feel more about his life, that the people around him are all responding to things correctly, it's just him that isn't. And he blatantly does care about his career in the sense that he's professional and wants to do the best job he can, but he doesn't seem worried about the path of his career. And, as his serial-monogamy seems to show, he doesn't seem to plan for long-term relationships either. In spite of his detachment from his own life, what he presents the reader with is a thorough, frank and honest story of his life (at least I assume so, I guess you never really know for sure). It's an interesting, well-paced, and above all witty account.(less)
My sister's first photobook. A very raw documentary of a year in her life as part of the flickr 365 project - a self-portrait a day for a year. The en...moreMy sister's first photobook. A very raw documentary of a year in her life as part of the flickr 365 project - a self-portrait a day for a year. The end of her five years living and working with the street children of Brasil, while the final section is acclimatising back in not-so-sunny England again.
As her brother, and the one that put her up to it, I got a dedicated copy as a birthday present... :)(less)
Bruce Schneier is, according to the quote from the Register on the inside sleeve notes, "The closest thing the security industry has to a Rock Star."...moreBruce Schneier is, according to the quote from the Register on the inside sleeve notes, "The closest thing the security industry has to a Rock Star." And, like the actor Chuck Norris, Schneier is the only other person I'm aware of who has his own 'facts' website. Listing page after page of dubious, but sometimes amusing, facts about Bruce's encryption super-powers. Although jokes about encryption probably have a fairly narrow audience Bruce Schneier Facts gives us my personal favourite: "Bruce Schneier's mail server only sends him the emails' hashes, just to make things a little more interesting for him."
Initially the book appears to be quite a weighty tome, but the tone is light and conversational and the type is certainly not small. As soon as you get started you realise that the last third of the book is just notes and references. I would have preferred to see the notes spread more throughout the book. If the text is so unimportant that it was removed from the original manuscript, why did it need to be in the book at all. If it was important, or interesting, better to have it at the bottom of the page as a footnote. Having to flip back and forwards is annoying – and requires two bookmarks (which luckily I had).
The book is broken down into four parts, across which Schneier breaks down his theory of trust. Each part digs a little deeper than the one before. In the first, he explains what he means by trust and defines his terms. The second expands on this and Schneier explains how his trust works and doesn't within society. The third is the largest and uses uses examples to see how the trust models he's already given us behave. The last is where Schneier places his conclusions and predictions.
The premise is that society consists of people who comply with society's rules, and people who don't – hardly ground-breaking stuff so far. Societies survive by having more people who comply than not. That people comply for a number of reasons (which Schneier explains in part two); however, many of these reasons are becoming less effective as the size and technological levels of our societies change. As our communities increase in size we know the community less well, therefore we are less able to trust individuals and our ability to pressure them to comply decreases as well. As our use of technology increases, many non-complying behaviours become easier or more beneficial at the same time as our ability to secure those systems decreases.
While I did really like the book, and Schneier makes his case persuasively, the book can get a little repetitive at times. There are probably a few too many examples worked through, and too many repetition of Schneier's clarification that not all defectors are necessarily always doing the wrong thing – sometimes people can defect against society's rules because they are bad rules. That said, I was particularly intrigued by the example of professional cyclist Alex Zulle (the eternal second placer). He has since admitted doping, but the quotes in the book describe how he believed that he had to dope just to keep up with the other riders. Schneier gives us a high-level description of the arms-race between the dopers and the testers. All particularly interesting in light of the more recent charges against Lance Armstrong. He does touch upon the interesting point that in sport where the rules are don't have drugs in your system rather than don't take the drugs deliberately, athletes can end up serving bans either as a result of accidents or even deliberate attempts to 'nobble' an athlete.
Ultimately, while fascinating, the book felt like it lacked an ending. It may be more that Schneier had already laid out his conclusions during the book anyway, but it didn't feel like it really offered any solutions or real predictions for where the problems with trust either are now, or are going next.
I did pay for this book with my own good money, but it's only fair to point out that I did receive a very generous discount from the author in exchange for my fairly vague promise to write a review of it somewhere. It would seem perverse to cheat the author of a book on how trust works in society out of that promise. So, some months later, this is that review.(less)
40 cameras, 40 articles and a whole bunch of example photographs. Lomokev is back again with his third book of photography. This time he's concentrati...more40 cameras, 40 articles and a whole bunch of example photographs. Lomokev is back again with his third book of photography. This time he's concentrating on explaining the possibilities that each of the different 'toy' cameras offers the photographer.
Covering the Holga, Diana, most of the Lomography canon, as well as some other oddities and even a digital toy camera. Each article provides a good overview of the camera, its specifications, strengths and weaknesses. But the majority of each article is really the selection of photographs that Kevin has selected to represent each camera. Mostly they are photographs by the author, but he's not shy of using the work of others when he thinks they provide better examples of the camera's capabilities. Sadly, although I bumped into Kevin in Barcelona when he was shooting the photographs for the book, his presumably dreadful photo of Louise and I with the split cam didn't make it into the final book.
As with all Lomokev books, I made sure to get a nice signed copy direct from the author.(less)
A photographic project for every week in the year - 52 Photographic Projects challenges you to try something new, several somethings new with your pho...moreA photographic project for every week in the year - 52 Photographic Projects challenges you to try something new, several somethings new with your photography. From the flickr-famous Kevin Meredith (lomokev) and some of his friends.
My copy is signed which might prejudice my views... :)(less)
The original Kevin Meredith book, Hot Shots was a series of short articles with suggestions for changes, tweaks or new ways of approaching your photog...moreThe original Kevin Meredith book, Hot Shots was a series of short articles with suggestions for changes, tweaks or new ways of approaching your photography for photographers in a rut to try something new.
My signed copy may introduce some bias... :)(less)