Tag Archives: 2015 posts

Books and authors in 2015

2015 has been something of a record year for reading for me. I’ve completed 40 books; mainly of the fiction genre, but I’ve included 1 non-fiction book at the end of the list. My discovery of 2015 was Patrick Gale, thanks to a magazine that my wife Angela purchased to read on a train journey to London in April. It had an article on his latest book, A Place Called Winter, and once I had read that I was addicted, as you can see from the list below! Another author I discovered was Sibel Hodge, who appears three times. I enjoyed Robert Goddards’s Wide World trilogy, which I saw advertised at the NEC on a visit there. John Lyman features twice on the list, as does James Craig and Sophie McKenzie. I was saddened by the death of Ruth Rendell, and two of her books appear on the list, including her very last book, Dark Corners, as well as The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, an earlier book published under her alternative name, Barbara Vine. I also enjoyed Val McDermid’s latest Tony Hill/Carol Jordan book, Splinter the Silence, which ended on a positive note (but which as Val commented in a response to my Tweet, won’t last!).

Here’s a list of the books I have read:

The Templar Cross – Paul Christopher
Runaway – Peter May
Sins of the Fathers – James Craig
The Stand – Stephen King
The Deep Green – John Lyman
Black Wood – S J I Holliday
A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale
Time of Death – Mark Billingham
You are Dead – Peter James
Rough Music – Patrick Gale
Notes from an Exhibition – Patrick Gale
A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale
Friendly Fire – Patrick Gale
A Sweet Obscurity – Patrick Gale
The Whole Day Through – Patrick Gale
The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy – Barbara Vine
The Murder Road – Stephen Booth
The Ways of the World – Robert Goddard
The Corners of the Globe – Robert Goddard
The Ends of the Earth – Robert Goddard
The Madagaskar Plan – Guy Saville
Nobody’s Hero – James Craig
The Bordeaux Connection – John Paul Davis
The Good Girl – Fiona Neill
Solomon Creed – Simon Toyne
Here we Lie – Sophie McKenzie
The Outsider – My Life in Intrigue – Frederick Forsyth
The House on Cold Hill – Peter James
Social Engineer – Ian Sutherland
Dark Corners – Ruth Rendell
Invasion of Privacy – Ian Sutherland
Where the Memories Lie – Sibel Hodge
Look behind You – Sibel Hodge
Even Dogs in the Wild – Ian Rankin
Trust in Me – Sophie McKenzie
Splinter the Silence – Val McDermid
The See-through Leopard – Sibel Hodge
Prelude to Dystopia – John Lyman
Sunfail – Steven Savile

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About The World – Tim Marshall

All in all, it was a great reading year. Let’s see if I can beat it next year!

My review of 2015

The year began with recovery from a cold/flu virus that had struck me down just after Christmas 2014. As I write this review I am pleased to report that in the Christmas holiday 2015 I am well.

On the teaching front, the year did not involve any new material, having made extensive changes in 2013-14. It started in January with my X-ray diffraction lectures having a second outing, followed by quantum chemistry/statistical thermodynamics (which had also been recently revised). Later in the year my teaching included advanced quantum chemistry and materials chemistry lectures, again having a second outing. My Forensics teaching included revised lectures on Arson given in the autumn. I travelled to Nottingham Trent University in June for my third external examining visit, which went smoothly.

Research in the first half of 2015 was dominated by Giordano Bispo’s visit. His project involved use of supercells to model a material with partial occupancies, and it was (and continues to be) very challenging. He will be submitting his PhD thesis in 2016, which will hopefully include some of this work. In addition I started a new project with ‘old’ collaborators in Germany, which included a visit to Goslar and Clausthal in June. I only attended two conferences this year, one in Bristol, where an old student kindly invited me to give a talk, even though the main theme of the conference was Analytical Chemistry (!), and the annual RSC Solid State Group Chemistry meeting, which was held this year at the University of Kent. At this meeting I didn’t contribute to the scientific proceedings, but I did stand for Group Treasurer, and was elected by 41 votes to 19!

On the musical front, I continued to play in three orchestras (South Cheshire, Middlewich and Keele), and was involved in concerts for all of them. They were all fun, but unlike in 2014, none of the programmes were particularly interesting or challenging. Let’s hope that changes in 2016.

I had my annual visit to the GBBF in August, which I posted about earlier in the year, and we had a short holiday in Brussels in September, which was well timed (although not by design) to coincide with the start of the Belgian Beer Weekend (which I also posted on). I am very fond of Brussels, and the fact it is accessible by Eurostar is the icing on the cake.

2015 was dominated by a General Election, and although the result was very bad for me, it had a positive personal effect in a way. I had continued to support Labour, even though I left the party in 2013, and I had quite high hopes for them in the General Election. In the end, the poll predictions all proved to be wrong (apart from Angela’s predictions, which were also right about Labour’s collapse in Scotland), and the Tories won with an overall majority. As a result, Labour had a leadership election, and the left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn won. But before the result of the leadership election had even been announced, I had made the decision to join the Liberal Democrats, and to look for Social Democrats within the party to align with. I just couldn’t continue as a Labour supporter, especially with Corbyn as leader! Anyway, after reading posts on LibDemVoice, I made contact with George Kendall, who was interested in reviving the Social Democrat tradition in the party. I am now helping George to set up a Social Democrat Group. I am also active in my local party, where I was appointed Social Media Officer and webmaster in November. So for me, something good came out of the General Election, in that I have now found a political home in which I am much happier.

Finally, I should add a tech update. Early in 2015 I upgraded my mobile phone to a Sony Xperia Z3, and it has worked very well throughout the year. At the moment I have no immediate plans for an upgrade; we’ll see what emerges during 2016. There will be a new flavour of Android, for example. And on the laptop front, my Microsoft Surface 3 continues to serve me well. I also invested in a Sony Smart Watch as a Christmas present, and I’m just getting used to what it can do. I’ll post a review in due course.

The main challenges for 2016 will be to try to consolidate my research activities, which don’t seem very strong at the moment, to make a useful contribution in my political activities, and to help the RSC Solid State Chemistry Group maintain a secure financial position. Let’s hope I succeed!

Films, music, plays and exhibitions 2015

I saw 12 films in 2015, 2 more than in 2014:

The theory of everything (6/01)
Testament of Youth (20/02)
Kingsman (12/02)
Project Almanac (23/02)
Second Exotic Marigold Hotel (3/03)
Spooks: the greater good (12/05)
San Andreas (28/05)
Mr Holmes (23/06)
Man from Uncle (29/08)
No Escape (8/09)
Spectre (26/10)
Bridge of Spies (10/12)

The plays, music and musicals I saw were:

And then there were none (26/02)
Calamity Jane (12/03)
Take That (at Vue cinema) (19/06)
Bend it Like Beckham (27/06)
Glenn Miller Story (30/09)
An Inspector Calls (15/10)
It’s a wonderful life (1/12)
Handel’s Messiah (4/12)
Ukulele Orchestra of GB (8/12)

The exhibitions I saw were:

Sculpture Victorious (15/04) (Tate Britain)
Salt and Silver (15/04) (Tate Britain)
Defining Beauty – The Body in Ancient Greece (16/04) (British Museum)
Barbara Hepworth (12/08) (Tate Britain)
Audrey Hepburn (1/09) (NPG)

Overall a good year, in which we’ve managed several short visits to London, which seems to work well, and which I hope we’ll repeat in 2016.

Are we sleep walking ourselves to Brexit?

As far as I am concerned, there is no question that the UK should remain an EU member, for a multitude of reasons. These include trade, security, freedom of movement as well as educational opportunities and research funding. And I don’t know anyone who disagrees with this.

Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership are both unnecessary and doomed to failure. The only reason he’s doing this is to pacify the right wing of his own party (and to minimise the threat from UKIP), but he won’t achieve enough ‘concessions’ to change their mindsets. Added to this is the undoubted effect of the Murdoch press.

The worry is that many of the benefits of our membership are not understood or appreciated by a majority of the electorate. Instead they will respond to Cameron’s likely failed negotiations and the screaming newspaper headlines by voting No. And before we know it, we’ll be out.

As many commentators have said, Brexit may then lead to breakup of the UK, as the other countries, particularly Scotland, are unlikely to want to leave the EU.

Altogether this is a frightening and sobering prospect at any time of the year, but especially in this season of goodwill.

A surreal Christmas post

Of course I wish anyone reading this a very happy Christmas and New Year season.

This Christmas has a surreal feeling about it for me. We only finished teaching on Friday, and then I was off to my conference in Canterbury on Sunday, getting back late Tuesday night. Yesterday was spent trying to catch up so I can genuinely take time off for the next week. Today is Christmas Eve, and I still have a few things to do at work before I can finally relax. But I’m almost there!

The other factor that is making it feel a lot not like Christmas (!) is the weather. Unseasonably warm. We rarely get snow these days, but it would normally be quite a lot colder.

Anyway, have a great Christmas, and I’ll be posting my review of 2015 before the year turns.

Are third party alternatives to Facebook apps on Android worth considering?

As someone who uses Facebook a lot, both for social reasons but also as an administrator of 5 Facebook pages and 2 Facebook groups (and counting !), having access to Facebook on my smartphone is essential. When Facebook decided to make it necessary to install the Messenger app separately, I started looking at the considerable memory real estate these apps occupy.

I currently have a Sony Xperia Z3, which has 16 Gb memory in the device, and which I have expanded with a 32 Gb SD card. However, as Android users will be aware, not all apps will run on the card, meaning that the 16 Gb can potentially get filled quickly.

The first thing I tried was to replace the Messenger app (109 Mb) by a less memory intensive third party app. After some research, I installed Trillian which occupies considerably less memory, and initially seemed to be fine. It can be configured for other messenging services, like Google Hangouts, but since Hangouts is a permanent fixture on my phone, I didn’t configure Trillian to replace it. The only minor irritation with Trillian is that it is advertisement supported, (the pro version is subscription based rather than a one-off payment). I also found that sometimes one can’t send a message to an offline user, which I do need to do quite often.

I then took the bold step of uninstalling the Facebook app (256 Mb) and replacing it by the third party app Fast for Android. It certainly takes up less memory, and can do most of the things the native app can do. But there are things it struggles with, like adding a comment to a photo being uploaded to Facebook. Also, it’s really a front end to the mobile Facebook web site, and I often found myself having to go there to complete some tasks.

Trillian and Fast certainly saved memory, and both resided on the SD card without complaint. But after a while (a month or so), I began to get irritated by the things they couldn’t do! I went back to the native Facebook app first, and about a week ago, relented and reinstalled Messenger. I have found that the Facebook app will go on the SD card, but (annoyingly) Messenger doesn’t work well unless it is installed in the main phone memory.

My conclusion is, if you are a heavy mobile user of Facebook, and need to use the messenging service, there is no substitute for the native apps. Let’s hope that future smartphones are built with more memory on the device, as this was one of the reasons I tried the alternatives!

Introducing the Social Democrat Group

When I joined the LibDems back in July, I hoped to find fellow members with an interest in reviving the social democrat tradition in the party. I signed up to LibDemVoice, which is a forum for wide-ranging discussions on all aspects of party activities, and was pleased to read a post there from George Kendall, on reviving the party’s social democrat heritage, and potentially attracting disaffected Labour Party members. Since I had already made the move from Labour (as discussed in previous posts), I was sure there were others who shared my views, and I supported the idea of setting up a Social Democrat Group within the party.

Having made contact with George, and had several discussions, I agreed to help with administration and social media for the new group, and between us we set up a Twitter account and a Facebook Page. George wrote a piece about our aims, which has been recently published on LibDemVoice, and we are attracting interest and comment.

Although it is early days for the group, we intend to have an information stand at the Spring Conference, and a launch event at some stage, possibly at or associated with the Autumn Conference. Full details will appear on our Facebook page and Twitter account in due course. There is also a sign-up form on our Facebook page where you can introduce yourself if you would like to get involved.