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Books + Ideas

annoying inaccuracies

Books + Ideas, , — February 2018

This is an portmanteau post for all the annoying inaccuracies I come across, in books or talks or displays, that are too small to warrant posts of their own. (more…)

books books books

Books + Ideas, — January 2018

Helen got 33 books for Christmas and her birthday: 8 from me, 9 from Camilla, and 16 from friends and family. Helen and I have also given everyone books for Christmas and birthdays (more…)

Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre - comments

Books + Ideas, Oxford — January 2018

Here are some comments on the options for transport surveyed in "Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre". (more…)

reading takeoff

Books + Ideas — December 2017

We have take-off with the reading! Helen was doing some of the words in the easier books I read her, but a couple of weeks ago there was quite an abrupt shift: now she's reading the books and I'm helping with the harder words, or when she gets stuck. The major constraint now is motivation, and how fast she gets tired - I can almost see her thinking as she puzzles out words. (more…)

books approaching five

Books + Ideas, — November 2017

This will probably be my last book update before Helen is reading herself, though I expect to be reading to her for a long time as well. (She's at the point where she can, if motivated, puzzle out pretty much anything with sensible orthography, and with the early reader books — Russell Hoban's Frances books are current favourites — I'm now helping her with the hard words rather than getting her to read one or two words.) Here are some of the books we've enjoyed since my last update. (more…)

learning to read at Larkrise

Helen's school is pretty keen on getting the children reading. (more…)

independence referenda

Books + Ideas — September 2017

The use of referenda decide questions of borders and sovereignty is not unreasonable - and I have no strong feelings about Scottish and Catalan independence, to take two topical examples - but the idea that fundamental changes can be made based on a bare majority of (say) a 70% turnout of voters seems insane to me. (more…)

English and Australian school governance

It's interesting comparing the governance of schools in the UK and Australia (or, more precisely, in England and New South Wales). The headline figures are that only 7% of children in England attend private schools whereas more than 30% of children in Australia do so. But examination of the details makes the difference much less: many state schools in England seem closer to me to Australian private schools than to Australian state schools.

walking versus cycling (in Oxford)

Last night I went to a talk by Eva Heinen titled "Why, where and how people travel" and that got me thinking about the balance between walking and cycling (more…)

Greek mythology for children

Books + Ideas, — June 2017

I started reading Greek mythology with Helen a few months before we visited Crete and the Cyclades, beginning with the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, which she picked after I read her one story from that and one from the D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths. (more…)

the EU can't save Britain

Books + Ideas — June 2017

The European Union can't save the United Kingdom from the effects of Brexit. Even if they give us everything we want — or the UK government accepts the ongoing payments, freedom of movement, and so forth necessary to maintain Common Market membership — leaving the EU will still be a huge shock for which we are completely unprepared. (more…)

downsizing the UK

Books + Ideas, , — May 2017

I think the UK needs to consider some serious downsizing.

We should let Shetland and Orkney secede, taking the UK's rights to the North Sea oil with them. That will show Scotland. They can then join Norway, reviving historical links and getting access to the infrastructure needed to manage that oil. (more…)

book update at four

Books + Ideas, — March 2017

We're into short novel and chapter book territory now, so I thought I'd give an update on what I've been reading with Helen. The first short novel Helen really got into was Otfried Preussler's The Robber Hotzenplotz, which we started on Boxing Day (it was the Christmas present of one of her cousins) but finished the next day, she was so excited by it. (more…)

Brexit and aviation

Books + Ideas, — March 2017

The trade situation seems complicated, but the real complexities and dangers of Brexit lie in its effects on services. The agreements here are domain-specific and range across a huge range of areas — nuclear energy, chemicals standards, and so forth — but I've been reading a bit about aviation, something I hadn't originally considered would be affected at all. Here as elsewhere, the Financial Times' coverage is much scarier than that of the Guardian... (more…)

book update, approaching four

Books + Ideas, — November 2016

An update on the books I've been reading with Helen. (more…)

Shimano Nexus 8 hub needs service? - SG-8R31 vs SG-8R36 redline

Books + Ideas, Technology, — September 2016

I've just had my rear wheel rebuilt — with a new rim as well since that was getting worn, but largely to replace the hub. And this post is mostly about hubs, about whether getting a Shimano Nexus hub serviced is a good idea, and whether a premium "redline" Nexus hub is actually any better. (more…)

books at three and a half

Somehow I missed doing a book round-up at three, so here's one at three and a half (more…)

knocking down the house

Books + Ideas — June 2016

We've started the wreckers knocking down our house - and done enough structural damage to it that it's not repairable - but we haven't got any kind of plan for the new house, let alone started building it. (more…)

Leave or Remain? a fundamental asymmetry

Books + Ideas, , — May 2016

I am not yet a British citizen, but as an Australian resident in the country I get to vote in the forthcoming referendum on EU membership. (Unlike European citizens resident in the UK, or British citizens who have been abroad for too long.) So I take the liberty of using "we" in what follows. (more…)

teaching mathematics

I was planning a rant about the dangers of formal assessment of mathematics in primary schools, the insanity of streaming maths classes based on knowledge of times tables at age nine, and suchlike. But there are more than enough depressing stories about the UK education system at the moment, so I've tried to make this a more positive piece, about some of the things I think children should learn about mathematics in primary school, along with a random collection of ideas for actual teaching. (more…)

early second language learning

Books + Ideas, Life, , — November 2015

I've tried speaking in German to Helen a few times in the last week and she's really fascinated by it. If I stop she says "say something" and wants me to keep going, and this morning she requested some German quite spontaneously. And Camilla and I have started thinking about the options for her to learn a second language. (more…)

cross-country: Oxford to Cambridge or Northampton

Books + Ideas — October 2015

Southern England's transport networks are radially focused on London, leaving poor public transport options for many trips that seem like they should be quite simple. (more…)

male carer "tend and befriend"?

Books + Ideas, Life, , — September 2015

There are many areas in which becoming a father has had surprisingly little effect on me, but caring for Helen has clearly changed my social behaviour and probably my neurochemistry (more…)

A tale of two schools

It's early days yet, even for the UK where children start formal schooling between 4 and 5 years old, but we've already started thinking about schooling for Helen, and as part of that we visited two primary schools. The first was our local state school, the one we're actually in the catchment for and (since it's just around the corner) could be relatively confident of getting a place in (due to a baby boom, there's such pressure on schools that even being in the catchment is now no longer a guarantee of a place). The second was the prep school for a prestigious private Oxford girls high school. (more…)

the default gender

Books + Ideas, — July 2015

I've noticed over the last few days that Helen is defaulting her pronouns to feminine. Even "daddy koala bear" is her/she. (more…)

fractal generations

Books + Ideas — July 2015

An illustration of how deeply the concept of fractals has entered into popular culture is that it makes an appearance in the song "Let it go" from the film Frozen, in the line "My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around". So Helen was trying to sing the word at two! (more…)

ten books that changed my life

A friend tagged me on Facebook with one of those "list ten books that had an impact on you" memes. This has turned into more of a "books that were influential in my life" list, ordered chronologically; it verges on being an intellectual history and probably has way too much detail for most people, if indeed it's of any interest at all.

Short list: The Lord of the Rings, Latin in Three Months, Life: Cells, Organisms, Populations, an unknown year 9 maths textbook, Tactics of Mistake, The Peloponnesian War, Shardik, Community, Anarchy and Liberty, Firewalls and Internet Security: Repelling the Wily Hacker, The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by Her Minstrel Laura. (more…)

toddler book update (two years old)

Books + Ideas, Life, , — March 2015

Following on from the previous post on baby/toddler books, some of Helen's favourite books - the ones that have been read dozens of times - at two years and two months (more…)

civil liberties, cycling, sinking lifeboats and the shoulders of giants

Books + Ideas, — February 2015

I was an active civil liberties campaigner in Australia: I led two protest marches through the streets of Sydney in the 1990s and was a board member of Electronic Frontiers Australia for twelve years. Here in Oxford I've become involved with cycling advocacy instead. (more…)

Herbert Gintis on general equilibrium and inclusive fitness

Oxford draws some great visiting speakers and last week I made it to two lectures by Herbert Gintis, who I knew from his recent book with Sam Bowles, A Cooperative Species. The first talk was a look at General Equilibrium in economics, arguing for an approach with private prices and adaptive expectations and presenting the results from some agent-based modelling. The second was a salvo in the debate about how all-embracing inclusive fitness theory is in explaining evolutionary adaptation. (more…)

walking and cycling: relative risks

Books + Ideas, — October 2014

In the UK, the averages suggest that you are slightly less likely to be killed cycling two miles to the shops than you are making the same trip on foot, but slightly more likely to be seriously injured. (more…)

a conference on the Great War

Books + Ideas, — September 2014

I spent the weekend at a conference "The Meaning of 1914", organised by the New York Review of Books to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, but held at St Antony's College here in Oxford. (more…)

reading German

Books + Ideas, — September 2014

I have just finished reading my first full-length book in German, a bundled pair of short crime novels (around 130 pages each) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Der Richter und sein Henker and Der Verdacht. (more…)

colours! shapes! phrases!

Books + Ideas, Life, , — September 2014

the pink magnet pair is "mummy",
the orange one "daddy",
and the blue one "helen"
(I don't know why)

It's just over two weeks since my last post on language development, but in that time Helen has:

  • produced her first two word phrases: "more cherry" and "daddy book". (more…)

the language explosion

Books + Ideas, Life, — August 2014

There's supposed to be a spurt in language acquisition around 18 months, and Helen is doing that pretty much right on schedule. (more…)

baby + toddler books

Books + Ideas, Life, , — August 2014

This is by no means comprehensive, but I thought I'd write a bit about some of the books we and Helen have enjoyed most over the last year or so. Some of these have been given to us or recommended to us by friends and family, some of them I found reading online reviews and lists. (more…)

teaching small cardinal numbers to a toddler

I occasionally play at teaching Helen the cardinal numbers one to five, not in any organised fashion but every so often when she seems alert and curious and there are no more obviously interesting things for her to play with (more…)

climate science in the Andrew Wiles building

On Friday I made my first visit to the Mathematical Institute's shiny new Andrew Wiles building (on the old Radcliffe Infirmary site). The occasion was a talk by Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the IPCC AR5 Working Group 1, presenting an overview of their recently published report (that's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's The Physical Science Basis). (more…)

The Wheels on the Walrus go Round and Round

Books + Ideas, , — November 2013

The lyrics of any children's song can be improved by changing a key word to "walrus". (more…)

Anklung + Anna Bolena

Books + Ideas — October 2013

Due to flooding in the music faculty, my (Javanese) gamelan group wasn't able to rehearse last week. So we met at our leader Pete's place instead, where it turns out he keeps an entire Balinese gamelan anklung in the loft. And this week my sister took me to the opera as a birthday present, to a production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena by the Welsh National Opera. (more…)

the National Childbirth Trust and the class system

Books + Ideas, , , — June 2013

The National Childbirth Trust runs ante-natal classes for prospective parents, which midwives and friends all recommended to us, and we dutifully signed up for one. The classes themselves were vaguely useful, though I only made it to two of the five since Helen arrived early, but the big attraction is not the formal instruction but the chance to get to know a group of new parents with babies of the same age, living in the same area. (more…)

a pregnancy with the National Health Service

Books + Ideas — April 2013

When you spend five hours in A+E (Accident and Emergency) to get something looked at, or have to wait two hours after a scheduled appointment for an ultrasound, it's easy to get frustrated with the National Health Service (NHS). But one of the other sides of that is having access to an obstetrician and assistants, an anaesthetist, paediatricians, and assorted midwives for the delivery of a premature baby. (more…)

Gary Kasparov on innovation

Books + Ideas — March 2013

Three weeks ago I went to a lecture by Gary Kasparov, one-time world chess champion, on "Reviving the Spirit of Innovation". (more…)

gender imbalance in the translated canon?

Books + Ideas, — February 2013

A decade ago, M.A. Orthofer at the Complete Review found that only 13% of his reviews were of books by women. Some sampling of my reviews suggests that my fraction is a bit better than that, but not much - still under 20%. (more…)

are parents happier?

Books + Ideas, — January 2013

If you ask parents they almost universally say they're much happier being parents, that children are the best thing that happened to them, and so forth, but there's clearly some reporting bias here. At least among my friends, the ones who understand retrospective and sunk cost biases and base rate neglect are the least gushing about the wonders of parenthood... (more…)

Pirandello's The Mountain Giants - Hartley, Ionian Productions, the O'Reilly Theatre 2012

Books + Ideas — November 2012

The Mountain Giants is a complex play, further complicated by having been left unfinished by Luigi Pirandello. (more…)

theatre: the Odyssey + the Story of the Four Minute Mile

Books + Ideas, , — May 2012

We saw two plays last week, both of them rather non-traditional. The Odyssey was an aleatoric reworking of The Odyssey, while The Story of the Four Minute Mile was told as the audience walked around the racetrack where Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile in 1954. (more…)

drive-by regression

Books + Ideas, — March 2012

"Drive-by regression" is my phrase - I think an original coinage - for describing what economists (or statisticians or physicists) do when they pick some other field, grab some convenient data, take it out of its context and perform some statistical analysis on it, preferably finding some kind of counter-intuitive result, and then depart, leaving the locals to deal with the resulting mess. (more…)

learning German

Books + Ideas — March 2012

I've taken up learning German, again. (more…)

stupid investments

Books + Ideas, — February 2012

I had a brief conversation the other day with an investment advisor from my bank here in the UK. As soon as he found out that I knew what an index fund was and owned shares directly, he told me bluntly he didn't think he could help me. (more…)

Kindle acquired

Books + Ideas, Technology — February 2012

I got a Kindle for my birthday. (more…)

'medieval' outside Europe

Books + Ideas — December 2011

For a long time, possibly over a decade, I have had a disclaimer at the bottom of the "medieval history" category of my book reviews which says:

"I realise the inclusion of works on areas outside Europe and West Asia in a 'medieval history' category is problematic."


open access to research

For me, one of the big benefits of working at a university was access to its library and in particular to its online journal subscriptions. I had hoped that by the time I retired everything I might want would be open access. But then we moved to the UK and I gave up my job... (more…)

further Bodleian Library adventures

Books + Ideas, Oxford — November 2011

Further adventures with the Bodleian Library system have gone well. (more…)

Clytemnestra - the Oxford Greek Play

Books + Ideas, , — November 2011

On Friday Camilla and I went to see the "Oxford Greek Play" Clytemnestra (actually Aeschylus' The Libation-bearers, or Choephoroi). (more…)

Keynes on Marx and Das Kapital

Books + Ideas — October 2011

Some friends have been debating what Keynes thought of Marx and wanted to get hold of a letter he wrote to Bernard Shaw about this. (more…)


Books + Ideas, Oxford — October 2011

I joined the Oxford Council library soon after arrival in Oxford, but never found much to get excited by in their holdings, since they have neither academic books nor much in the way of world literature.

It wasn't till recently that I got around to getting a Bodleian readers card. This was very easy - I just turned up with the forms and paid my money - with the only unusual feature being that they made me speak the oath out loud! (more…)

Hans Rosling and the John Snow Society

Books + Ideas, — September 2011

Last week Camilla and I went into London with two of her colleagues, to listen to Hans Rosling deliver the 2011 Pumphandle talk of the John Snow Society, "Epidemiology for the Bottom Billion - where there is not even a pump handle to remove!". (more…)

wolves and dogs at skeptics in the pub

Books + Ideas, — September 2011

I went along last Wednesday to an Oxford Skeptics in the Pub meeting, held in the COPA bar on George St. John Bradshaw gave a talk "A sheep in wolf's clothing?", which basically summarised his book In Defense of Dogs (published in the US as Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet). (more…)

Charles Darwin's home - Down House

Camilla and I, joined by Camilla's colleagues Rosalind and Madeleine, drove to Kent to visit Charles Darwin's home, Down House. (more…)

Google no longer likes my book reviews :-(

Books + Ideas, Technology — June 2011

My web site dannyreviews.com has ranked well in Google searches for more than a decade, but in the last few months Google has taken a dislike to it. This appears to be a result of the search algorithm change called "Panda". (more…)

insanely eclectic

Books + Ideas — May 2011

Following a decision to take more advantage of living in a university town, in May I went to thirty odd lectures and seminars. (more…)

Israel, Palestine and the Mahabharata

Books + Ideas — May 2011

Today's talks were by James Hegarty - "Telling the World: Exploring the Cultural and Intellectual Agenda of the Sanskrit Mahabharata " (blurb) - and Benny Morris - "Israel and Palestine - Is it too late for the Two States Solution?". (more…)

9 Thermidor and the Origins of Life

I went to two talks today, one a small Earth Sciences seminar and the other a big "annual special lecture" of the Faculty of History. (more…)

The Governor-General, Inspector Morse + Jesuit didactic poetry

Books + Ideas — April 2011

At lunch yesterday I went to a reception at Rhodes House for the Australian Governor-General, Quentin Bryce (presumably in the UK for some minor ceremony or other). This was quite fun once some people I knew turned up, though as always I felt like an impostor when wearing a suit and tie. (more…)

Neanderthals, Aurignacians and carbon dating

Books + Ideas — April 2011

On Saturday Camilla and I went a series of five lectures on "Neanderthals and Modern Humans". This was hosted by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and after the lectures we were given a tour of their lab and got to see the accelerator. (more…)

Oxford seminars + lectures

Books + Ideas, Oxford, — April 2011

Between Oxford University, the museums, and an assortment of other research institutions, there's an excellent range of talks, lectures and seminars on in Oxford. (more…)

Inside Job (film)

Books + Ideas, — March 2011

This documentary about the global financial crisis fitted a surprising amount in - it was high on information and low on dramatisation and special effects - while maintaining some kind of a story line and narrative drive. (more…)

Race to Nowhere (film)

Books + Ideas, — March 2011

A few weeks ago Camilla and I went to a screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary about the United States school system and the insane pressure it places on students to get into college. (more…)

Alternative Vote for the UK?

Books + Ideas, Moving — March 2011

On May 5th the UK will be voting on (among other things) a referendum to use "Alternative Vote" instead of "First Past the Post" in electing members of Parliament. (more…)

my first ebook (on a Kindle)

Books + Ideas, Technology — February 2011

I've just read my first ever ebook, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, using a borrowed Kindle 3 (thanks Sophia!). (more…)

The Red and the Black, dramatised

Books + Ideas — February 2011

On Thursday Camilla and Jenny and I went to a performance of a theatre adaptation of Stendhal's The Red and the Black, in Mansfield College chapel. This was an amateur production - the actors, director and production team are all students - but I thought it was rather good. (more…)

random seminars

Books + Ideas — February 2011

On Tuesday I went to two seminars. The first was on microsimulation of traffic flows, in the e-Research centre. This was interesting, but pretty superficial - it felt more like a sales pitch than any kind of academic presentation. (more…)

most obscure book review?

Books + Ideas — January 2011

I ran a poll on what my most obscure book review was. The results were: (more…)

tectonicists, warmists, evolutionists

Books + Ideas — January 2011
tectonicist - someone who doesn't reject modern geology
warmist - someone who doesn't reject modern climate science
evolutionist - someone who doesn't reject modern biology


Oxfordshire bookshops

Books + Ideas, Oxford — January 2011

Following my survey of Oxford bookshops, I'm starting a survey of bookshops outside Oxford but nearby. (more…)

magazine subscriptions

Books + Ideas — December 2010

Most of the magazines and journals I've subscribed to have been general science publications. (more…)

reading highlights of 2010

Books + Ideas — December 2010

Here's a list of some of my reading highlights from the last year. (more…)

first adult books

Books + Ideas — December 2010

What were the first adult books you read? (more…)

Cosma Shalizi and the Babbage Engine

Books + Ideas, , — October 2010

My friend Cosma came to Oxford to give a talk, so I spent Sunday afternoon showing him around town. (more…)


Books + Ideas — October 2010

Despite doing three years of mathematics at university, as well as most of the course work for an honours year and a few graduate courses, I never did a single statistics course. (more…)

Hay-on-Wye + Blaenavon

Books + Ideas, Travel, — October 2010

We spent a weekend on the Welsh border, staying two nights in Ewyas Harold (pronounced "Yewass") in the Old Rectory B&B. (more…)

UK and Australian housing bubbles

Books + Ideas, , — September 2010

The Economist's global house price comparison suggests that UK residential property is 34% overpriced and Australian property 61% overpriced. (more…)

the road not taken

Books + Ideas, Moving — September 2010

Being in Oxford has made me think about one of the turning points in my life, which came when I finished my undergraduate degree. (more…)

the Anglo-Saxon chain of being

Books + Ideas — August 2010

The British media really only cover Australia when there are major political events, disasters, or "man bites kangaroo" stories. (more…)

Wellcome Collection + The Habit of Art

Books + Ideas, , — July 2010

On Saturday our friends Val and Paul took us to see Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art, at the National Theatre in London. (more…)

Disease Eradication + Hebrew Manuscripts

Books + Ideas, — April 2010

I went to two very different but fascinating events today. (more…)

Oxford Bookshops

Books + Ideas, Oxford — March 2010

Oxford has some great bookshops, not surprisingly for a university town. Here is my survey of them. (more…)

First Books

Books + Ideas — March 2010

I waited 4 days before buying my first book, but have since run a little amok, acquiring 49 books in my first 21 days in the UK. These fall into several categories: (more…)

Strange Books

Books + Ideas, Moving — December 2009

Books I have read are unthreatening, placing no pressure on me and offering the comfort of a familiar experience. In contrast, unread books are not so relaxing - some bring back memories of unwise purchases or over-eager review copy requests, some have remained unread because they seem difficult or daunting, and even the most docile of them whisper an insistent "read me! read ME!". (more…)

Book Prices

Books + Ideas — December 2009

Books are cheaper in the UK. This was true even before the pound crashed and the Australian dollar boomed, but the price difference is now striking.

So I've been deferring book purchases ever since C got the job and we decided we were moving to the UK. I might start with the entire Archipelago Books back list...

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