Always take the music with you

speakers
The item pictured above is an UE ROLL Ultraportable Bluetooth Speaker. It’s waterproof, shockproof, and delivers excellent quality sound when connected to a smartphone. Susan bought one from the duty free at Heathrow on our trip last month to the UK.

Last week, Susan and I did a bike ride to the Tel Aviv namal and back. Susan decided that she wanted to have her music with her, so she charged up the device, and stuck it in her backpack. Controlling the sound from her handlebar mounted iPhone, she was able to achieve what she wanted. While some of the music wasn’t to my taste, there was some that caught the mood exactly. For example, we found ourselves singing Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody as we cycled over the bridge at Herzliya Railway Station. There were a couple of other pop classics that we murdered, too! It was great fun. And, as continuing proof of the power of music, it gave an extra boost to our cycling performance.

Susan has used the device quite a bit, and is very satisfied with it. Since her hearing is much better than mine, and she says the sound is good, that’s a decent piece of praise. Worth checking out that piece of kit if you are in the market for a Bluetooth speaker. Incidentally, the guy at Dixons at Heathrow tried to convince Susan to buy the cheaper model. But, this one was the Which? recommendation, and Susan stuck to her guns. My bet is that Dixons have too much stock of the cheaper one.

Dark Intelligence – Neal Asher

I struggled with this – really struggled. It’s a space opera of the all action military type, featuring mind boggling technology, and three key characters. So, from that perspective it was right up my street. Why then, did I struggle?

Let’s step back, and identify the protagonists here. The main hero is Thorvald Spear, a Polity soldier brought back from the dead. He died in the war against the alien Prador; a war that ended 100 years previously. Now he is back, troubled and tormented, and looking for revenge against one of the other main characters, Penny Royal. Spear’s death had come when trapped on a planet, when rescue seemed at hand. But the AI for that ship, Penny Royal, killed him and his colleagues, and went rogue. Finally, there is mafia boss Isobel Satomi. She’s been afflicted by Penny Royal, and is turning into something that is not human. Her darker side is about to get even darker.

So, what didn’t I like?

First, the technobabble. It may be I was too lazy to trudge my way through it, and work out what was going on. Or, it may be that I needed to have read other works in the author’s universe, to better understand. that ended a century ago.

Second, the dialogue is not that great. OK, it’s often worse.

Third, there is so much powerful technology on show, that it overwhelms any sense of the story. There is one, but it struggles to get out there.

Fourth, having reached the ending, my disappointment was complete. It seemed silly.

And what did I like?

There’s a decent amount of (deadly) action. Some of the ideas were intriguing. (But the execution didn’t work for me.)

That’s it.

All in all, this did not work for me. The author has his fans, so it’s very much a question of personal taste, but there’s no way I could recommend this. And it will take a hell of a lot of persuading to get me to try another one of this author’s books.

Five for Friday

Cottage in Peaslake in all its purple finery - May 2016

Cottage in Peaslake in all its purple finery – May 2016

Whatever happens with the referendum in Britain, the event itself has dominated the week. I’m glad I didn’t vote, and also glad it will be easy for me to ignore the inevitable deluge of media coverage trying to analyze why Britain got it wrong or right (depending on your perspective) and the political blame game that is sure to follow. It almost makes the Israeli political scene attractive!

Apart from the referendum, for me the week has been a fairly routine one, though Susan and I did manage a terrific ride on our bikes out to the Tel Aviv namal and back. We started later, because of the heat, and worked hard during the ride, returning as the night descended. We put our newly acquired bike lights to good use. Previously, we had some cheap kit that was unreliable, and generally poor. On our last trip to the UK, we took the opportunity of picking up some expensive, but high quality, bike lights. And they made a difference. Part of the ride was along the beach top at Herzliya, and that is a pretty scary riding surface in the pitch black.

There was also an innovation event at work, which was a break from the routine, and was interesting in parts. It was a little ironical that a program intended to encourage out of the box thinking, started with an exercise about breaking into a box!

The weekend is here. Enjoy it. Here are the regular weekly selection of links that may – or may not – help:

Shabbat Shalom!

Bad news at the Independent

On June 16 2016, the excellent UK Media Watch reported as follows:

The latest smear against Israel in the British media involves a distortion used repeatedly by mainstream media outlets, NGOs and pro-Palestinian propagandists: the charge that Israel cruelly uses water as a weapon against innocent Palestinian civilians, cruelly denying the population an adequate supply.

The particular (well deserved) target of their attention was a dreadful dose of demonization  at the Independent‘s website by Peter Yeung, accusing Israel of cutting the water supply to the Palestinians for Ramadan. This, despite the fact that the opposite was true, and had been shown as such to the Independent. The details are here.

On 17 June 2016, UK Media Watch followed up its earlier report by revealing something very interesting: in response to some of the criticism of his article, Peter Yeung sent a tweet as follows.

“The allegation still stands. It was never reported as fact.”

That’s a breathtakingly stupid explanation, if you ask me. Talk about failing to take responsibility!

As UK media Watch pointed out:

It’s the responsibility of professional journalists (and their editors) to determine if allegations have merit, not merely to parrot baseless charges and malevolent smears.

And they have lodged a complaint.

Meantime, I wonder if there is an explanation for this shocking state of affairs. I am a subscriber to the print edition of Private Eye magazine. The issue number 1420 (10 June – 23 June 2016) has just reached me, and look what I saw on page 9:

p-eye-1

Perhaps the real reason for that daft piece, and the even more daft excuse for not sorting it, can be found in the Private Eye piece:

  • Did Mr Yeung file the offending piece in the hope it was a scoop?
  • Was Mr Yeung following established practice?
  • Was Mr Yeung discouraged from checking any facts?
  • Or, did Mr Yeung have a query about the article, once the storm of criticism started, but never got the go ahead from his manager to spend money on a legal query?

It is possible he did check with Foot Antsey. That excuse is exactly the type of thing some inexperienced junior legal trainee might have come up with – and it at least would have the merit of being cheap advice!

But, for sure, if the Private Eye article is correct, it scarcely seems that the Independent has any chance of being the home of serious journalism. So UK Media Watch is on target here, and will probably find its sights back on that website sooner rather than later.

The Wrong Girl – David Hewson

This is the second  of the Pieter Vos series (my review of the first is here) and firmly establishes the author as one of my favorites. (Why has it taken me so long to find out about this guy?) Read on for the details.

It’s December in Amsterdam. The city is tense with seasonal excitement about the forthcoming parade of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus?) and his attendants. Broadcast live, this big event is sure to attract hundreds of thousands to witness the occasion, and join in the fun. Except this year, the fun is curtailed by what starts out seeming like a terrorist attack, and develops into the kidnap of an eight year old girl. It was supposed to be the child from an Amsterdam aristocratic family; instead it’s the child of a Georgian single mother and prostitute.

Vos and his colleagues find themselves in a forest of competing interests, with the kidnappers making demands that are way above the head of the police force, and the security services making demands that are equally frustrating, an no less difficult. There’s a race against time, to wade through the obstacles and try and find and rescue the girl before it’s too late. The kidnapped child has her own ideas, as does her mother, and even the family of the original target play a part.

Although the central part of the plot was easy enough to work out, this is a finely told tale, with great characters, fine pacing, and a great setting. Hewson is economical with his descriptions, but brings the backdrop to life, and makes the characters seem like familiar people. He keeps the excitement up, and delivers a gripping finale. I very much enjoyed the writing style; it’s neither pretentious, nor flowery, but is packed with fine observation, and skillful focus. The story moves on, and you are carried along. It reminded me a lot of another great writer, Deon Meyer.

There are two measures for me of how good a novel is. One is that there is a sense of disappointment on reaching the end, because I want more. The other is that I read on, when I should be getting to sleep; in other words, a book that is hard to put down. Well, this book succeeds on both counts. Just wonderful.

Do yourself a favor, and get out there and discover David Hewson now. You will not be disappointed.

Ypres

ypres

On the table, Red Poppies Campaigns: The battles for Ypres by John Gorkowski, and published by Compass Games. It’s World War 1 combat at the tactical scale – units are companies, and hexes are 200 yards across. There are four scenarios – really learning material – with the meat in the campaigns covering 3-6 days of battle in campaigns of 1914, 1915, and 1917 around Ypres.

One standout for now is that there are three maps, all covering the same area, but each representing the changes – trench lines, for example – for each of these three years.

The system uses a mix of mechanics – with a heavy emphasis on mode (formed or dispersed) and cohesion checks (roll too high and die) – to seem to give an authentic feel for the period, and the challenges of such warfare.

I hope to post more after I have spend some serious time playing the game, but first impressions are very favorable.

Five for Friday

The minyan in the car park, before the Jerusalem biking event. I love it!

The minyan in the car park, before the Jerusalem biking event (May 2016). I love it!

We started with Shavuoth, and we finish back in some kind of routine. Please can we have more routine? Work is a bit hectic just now, so the weekend is very welcome. Here are the regular weekly selection of links:

Bonus

This week, why not take time out to check out Fathom? Issue 13 is just out, and there’s a ton of interesting articles as they look at four questions key to understanding the impasse in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Lots to chew over.

Shabbat Shalom!

Dangerous writing, and the variety of variables

From an interview with writer Guy Gavriel Kay in the May edition of Locus magazine:

“It’s very dangerous to talk to any writer, any artist, and believe them if they lay out a thematic, systemic explanation of their trajectory. No man or woman doing the arts can be trusted when they explain that they knew exactly what they were doing, and this is why and how it happened. We’re winging it, book by book, and we are at the mercy of a random variety of variables that will kick in as to whether something succeeds or doesn’t.”

The whole interview is worth reading. Locus magazine’s website is here. (If you are a science fiction or fantasy reader, Locus is a pretty good investment.)

On our way to Timbuktu

timbuktu

After a gap because of my UK trip, we finally had a home game session, with Azriel, Peleg, Roslynn, and Sheer joining me.

Peleg was first and so we did a quick two player game of Hey that’s my fish. Then Azriel and Roslynn arrived and we did a four player game of it.

Finally Sheer turned up, and we moved on to the main event of the night: Timbuktu.  I was the only one who had played it before, so first up was the rules explanation.

In this game, you start with a number of camels loaded with goods. Each round – one per player – thieves steal some of the goods. Each player knows where one of the thieves will strike, and during the round gets to know where two more will be. Also, all players know the potential combinations of where the thieves will be. So, you have to move your camels – with imperfect knowledge – and hope to get to the end of the rout with the most valuable cargo. Your moves are limited, but you can expand your Each good (there are five types) is worth as many points as lost and stolen goods of that type.

Roslynn seemed to get things sorted out the best, and right up until the last round was well ahead. Unfortunately for her, the last round went wrong, and Peleg turned out to be the winner. Tough luck on Roslynn, but well played Peleg. Azriel and I were well behind, and Sheer was neck and neck with Roslynn.

We finished with R-Eco, and Azriel pretty well cleaned our clocks.

Thanks to all who came for contributing to another fine night of gaming entertainment.