Saturday, 26 September 2015

More Book Reviews

I seem to have been having a good run with books recently.  Possibly because Frances has been finding goodies and passing them on.

The first is "The Longest Climb" by Dominic Faulkner.  This is the story of an expedition he led to travel by human power from the lowest point on the (dry bit of) Earth's Surface to the highest point.  This went on mountain bikes from the Dead Sea via Syria, Iran, Pakistan and India to Nepal and obviously to Everest.  I gritted my teeth on seeing the endorsement by Bear Grylls (since I reckon him to be an onanist of the first order) but thought the forward by Sir Ranulph Fiennes was more promising.

In fact it is very good.  He makes it clear that he has the training to do this (via service in the UK SAS - surprisingly, with Mr Grylls) unlike Eric Newby in A Sort Walk in the hindu Kush who pretends to be a wimp but actually has a very tough background.

The bike riding bit is very interesting with all sorts of problems to be solved - mainly dealing with officialdom in the various countries they pass through.  The obvious contrast for this is with "Off the Rails" by Tim Cope: but Faulkner seems able to avoid the interpersonal warfare that made reading Cope's book as much of a mental epic as the journey itself.  This is I presume an outcome of his SAS background.

The climbing stuff is very interesting with more folk joining the team and the interactions with other groups on the mountain.  From looking more widely at his site (linked above), Faulkner has kept up an interest in Nepal and seems to be doing his bit to assist with relief from the earthquake.

Book 2 is The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham.  This is ostensibly about Barkham's endeavour to see every species of butterfly in the UK in a single Summer.  It should be noted that the link is to a review in the Guardian, for whom Barkham writes.  But it is by Richard Mabey who has much cred!

As well as the travelogue there is a lot of information about the various species.of butterfly.  There are also a couple of subtexts.

One is relatively boring about his girlfriend, a party animal by the name of Lisa which fortunately doesn't take up too much space.

The second is about the need to manage habitats carefully to support a range of species.  Just fencing off an area and letter nature run rampant is not good enough when much of the environment has been completely changed so that the pre-technology ecology no longer works.  In particular he notes cases where controlled grazing keeps the pasture either the required length or the correct species mix to meet the butterfly's needs.  This calls to mind a few things:
  • The attempts to prevent kangaroos grazing the entire ACT down to bedrock (where it hasn't been covered with McMansions);
  • Comments made by a Leeton local about the benefits, for shorebirds, of cattle grazing the margins of Fivebough Swamp;
  • Control of gulls at Kennedy Airport in New York by managing the height of the grass ( they won't nest if it is too long as they can't see approaching predators).
Apart from subtext 1 (a trivial proportion of the book) I found it very interesting.  Despite him working for the Guardian there were very few typos!

However the book news isn't all good.  

From time to time I come across exhortations to follow some topic (for example sightings of unusual birds) on Facebook.  Every time I have thought about doing so I bump into some part of Mr Zuckerberg's plan to get rich at the expense of my privacy and bail out.   The success of his scheme is such that I feel guilty about this.  So when I came across a book in the ACT Library Service called "Facebook and Twitter for seniors for Dummies" I thought this might contain some some secrets that would let me join this world and borrowed it.

I'm glad I didn't buy it.  I have found some books in the Dummies series very helpful, especially where - like "Windows 8 for Dummies" the book tells you how to overcome the stupidities forced on you by (eg) Microsoft.  This one is a real fizzer.  The issues come in two groups: style and content.

With regard to style, I am pretty sure from some of the screenshots that the author, Marsha Collier, comes from California.  Now I like parts of California, but I do remember a comment that:
California is like muesli: take all the fruits and nuts out and all you have left is cracked corn.
She continually exhorts people to have "fun".  This is like talking to preschoolers not 'seniors' unless she is aiming at those in the 7th circle of dementia.  Rather than being appalled at the prospect of getting umpteen messages saying that people, you might remember from kindy, are eating donuts right now, she revels in this crap.

She also expresses a little concern about privacy (she says she won't put her address on Facebook - probably to avoid all the people coming round and asking for their $28.74 + postage back) and seems to cover this by showing grabs from her daughter's profile - at least this is why I assume that some shots are for "Claire Collier".

Getting to content she goes through what is needed to complete a Facebook profile suggesting that folk put up most of the stuff requested.  If I was going to let people know which school etc I went to, I'd follow the example of Damon Runyan (with an Australian twist) saying I had gone to Yatala College, the University of Pentridge and taken a post-doctoral position at Maconochie.  I'm not sure I want to reveal my age and gender: why make life easy for those marketing drugs?

I suppose the good thing I got out of this, before I flung it across the room (an honour previously only awarded to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand) was confirmation of my concerns about Facebook.

But what about Twitter you say?  The answer is in the first 4 letters of the name.

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