This is my review of the book Act of Treason by Vince Flynn, which I have read recently.
It was interesting to contrast this book, which is all about life in America and American politics, to that of a fictitious Britain as described by C J Sansom in Dominion. In both cases the use of disposing of the opposition by killing them off is the norm. It is just that in this book by Vince - it is meant to be loosely based on real life, so it does make one question how often the idea of disposing of ones opponents really does happen, and is not just a fictitious idea.
Still getting back to the review of the book, there are two weeks to go before the presidential election, and sadly one of the potential candidates motorcade is ambushed by a terrorist bomb. Several people are killed, but not the candidate, who is then carried to victory by a sympathy vote.
Who planted the bomb, on the surface it seemed to be al-Qaeda, but then the CIA is given evidence that calls this all into question?
Super hero Mitch Rapp, America's top counter-terrorism expert is asked to solve the mystery, and it must be done before the new president is sworn in.
It is an enjoyable easy read that romps along at a good pace. This was book 2 week 1 – fiction 2 (0 on audio) non fiction 0
When we were thinking of what to have as the digital wallpaper for February, the snow and rain was lashing down outside. This sort of helped guide our choice to something that was not too wet or cold.
Oyster Catcher - February Digital Wallaper
For this month's image we have chosen an Oyster Catcher on some rocks taken last June in the Isle of Islay
Isle of Islay Sunset
We were very fortunate as the weather was great at this time on Islay giving amazing sunsets
Oyster Catchers Flying
I think Oyster Catchers are a lovely birds, and can often be seen as a flock. There distinctive red to orange beaks standing out in the sky as they fly by.
Oyster Catcher February Digital Wallpaper - With Calendar
We hope you like our choice of free Oyster Catcher February wallpaper taken on the Isle of Islay last June. Hopefully we have included all common screen size combinations, so you can enjoy it too, over this coming month. There are more free digital wallpapers to be found here...
This is my review of the book Dominion by C J Sansom. I have been keeping this book for a while as I have been looking forward to reading it, and it did not disappoint. It being quite a large book, over 400 pages of small type it has taken some reading.
The theme of the story, is that instead of defeating the Nazis in the 1940's Britain, under prime minister Lord Halifax sues for peace, and Churchill becomes leader of the resistance.
C J Sansom then manages to create a series of believable characters set in the 1950's and an alternative history that goes along with this. The book is not only a very believable, intriguing thriller, but also an exploration of an alternative British life – what Britain could have been like if Britain had not one the war.
This includes rounding up British Jews for transportation to the gas camps. It is fascinating how he explores all aspects of society, form trade unions, along with strikes to the civil service.
Of course the SS comes into the story along with an Auxiliary Police force, that seems to be modeled on the SS. As the Literary Review has said about the story - The chase is exciting and the action thrilling, but the really absorbing part of this excellent book is the detailed creation of a society that could so easily have existed’
So what is the story, well it is set in smog torn Britain in 1952, when the fogs were so thick that one could not see the end of ones arm. Our hero a civil servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given the mission by them to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives. Hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men. Can they escape and stop Frank being captured....
A very enjoyable original book, and thoroughly recommended. This was book 1 week 1 of my new list.
I was going to write this yesterday but the heavy snow caused the power and our broadband to flicker so much that I thought it prudent to turn everything off and resort to paper and a pencil – more on that later.
Sunrise at Trostrie
This is my ad hoc update and diary describing how I am developing our garden at Trostrie Cottage in Galloway. You can see the garden for yourself if you book a self catering dog friendly holiday @
The Shieling which is attached to Trostrie Cottage http://www.trostriecottage.co.uk/
The day started with a fantastic fire red sunrise and was an inspiration to get out into the garden even though it was so cold
As it was so cold, and there is so much to burn I thought it would be good to have another bonfire. This is fire number four and it still does not look as if any has been burnt, from the two piles. Maybe next time I will try to make it a bit larger and see if I can get rid of enough to actually make an impression on the piles waiting to be burnt.
Marking out the fence line
Having got the fire going well I started to try and put in the new line of fence posts that will define the new vegetable plot. - Yes that is one of the piles waiting to be burnt in the back ground right in the middle of the new plot.
Sadly the ground was so hard due to the ice that I could not really get the posts into the ground so I spent time pacing the plot out, and working out where the new beds will go.
Plan of the new vegetable plot
The plot will be fairly formal in shape, to contrast the rest of the garden as it is very informal. It will have four inner beds for rotating crops and four external beds for static crops, and four triangular central beds for herbs. Well that is the current idea, of course it can change. The size you ask. The external fence to try and keep out the rabbits will be roughly 11 paces by 14 paces.
The only major problem is that I do have to get the rubbish that is in the way burnt before I can do much more to this, but that is for another day.
This is my review of the book Praetorian by Simon Scarrow – book 52 and the final book in this current list. It was actually finished a few days ago, but I am a bit behind in my reviews.
This is the continuing saga of our heroes Cato and Macro and their undercover exploits working for Narcissus to save Emperor Claudius from all would be assassins.
The tale starts with a massive bullion robbery, and then migrates to corruption, at the highest levels. To keep the emperor safe and to infiltrate the liberators Cato and Marco are sent undercover as lowly legionaries in the Praetorian guard. These are the special soldiers tasked with guarding the emperor and his family. They also have the best perks.
The story then migrates to a grain shortage and hunger riots in the Roman streets, as they try and root out the traitors.
It is an enjoyable tale of fiction and fact intermingled together, and Simon manages to paint a very realistic picture of life in the Rome during AD51.
This was book 52 fiction 48 (14 on audio) non fiction 4 and the final book on this list.
Just under a year ago I put my name down for a Raspberry Pi, and was given a waiting list number of over 260,000. While I was waiting for my Pi to come, I looked around on the internet as to various things one could do with a Pi.
Early on I noticed a blog article by someone talking about programming their arm to pick up a mince pie and give it to them, when they were having a cup of coffee. This was over Christmas 2011.
I sort of vaguely mentioned this to Pauline, that it might be good fun to try and do when I got the Pi. Well the Pi came in the early autumn, followed by Christmas we have just had. There under the tree was a Robot Arm and usb interface.
Quite a few hours later the arm was built – (33 pages of instructions), and was happily moving around with the manual control unit. This had to be uninstalled and the usb interface wired in.
This is now quite a number of months since I saw the original blog item, and I could not find it again, but no worries as there seems to be at least 20 sites quoting the same bit of code on how to get it working. That should give a clue.
It was late one evening between Christmas and New Year and I felt that I would like to get it working, and then work out how to change it afterwards. So I went onto one of the 20 plus sites, downloaded the code and tried to get it working. It would not work. Maybe time for bed
The next day tried again, and still would not work. Ok so I thought maybe something on my Pi was conflicting with it. I had apache running at the time, so time for a new version. I downloaded the latest wheezy version http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads, and wrote it to my sd card.
While this was being done I thought I had better test my wiring just to make sure the Arm was working via the usb, so installed the software that came with it on a windows laptop and tested it. Yes it was working.
So have set up the new card, installed tightvncserver on it so I can access it remotely (also this reduced the number of things going into the usb ports just in case they were causing the problem. We were ready for action. This time I was going to do it from first principles.
lsusb command results
Firstly needed to check that the pi was picking up the arm via the usb hub. The easiest was of doing this is to use the command “sudo lsusb” in a terminal. (If the -v flag is used at the end then it is quite amazing the info it produces).
The first time was with the arm turned off. The second time was when it was turned on
So I could see that the arm had been detected as device 4 with an id of 1267. This is important as the id is needed by the program to talk to the arm.
Next needed to install the usb library for python this is the version that I used. I saved it then, extracted it then ran into problems as the installation instructions say "python setup.py install". The Pi has two versions of python 2.7 and 3.2 Unfortunately the default one seems to be python 2.7, but this needs to be on the other version so when doing a python command need to add a 3 to the command. Probably there is a way of changing the default but I don't know it.
The simple python code is as shown. This sends a single command at a time controlling the arm.
The byte commands are documented here http://notbrainsurgery.livejournal.com/38622.html
It can either be run via the python GUI or as a terminal command line remembering to do it as a sudo command
The byte data in the commanddata variable can be changed to move the arm. This way each movement and the corresponding byte data can be checked and tested.
The next stage is to develop the program but that is for another day.
This is my review of the book Micro posthumously published by Michael Crichton.
Sadly I would say that this is a book that should have been left unpublished. The idea was good, but I felt the execution was not up so some of Michael's other books.
So what was the idea – A group of up and coming graduate students are offered, seemingly the job of a life time, by a company in Hawaii. The firm is doing cutting edge Microbiology. The brother of one of the group is a vice president of the company.
He them mysteriously seemingly dies in a boat accident, and they start to investigate. Very soon they find out that there is an arch enemy around who uses the companies new technology to zap them with magnetic waves, which shrinks them to a micro size.
They think they are safe in this Micro world, but they have forgotten about nature, inspects, birds etc. that all look on them as food. The story them becomes a chase across the micro world to see if they can get out alive.
Running parallel to this is an investigation by the police into unsolved murders, and a secret government contract for killer robots. These micro-drones are programmed to attack and do this by getting inside the blood stream and chop the person up from the inside out. So potentially they could kill any leader on the earth.
The text goes into great detail describing the insect world and how it attacks the heroes and kills them off one by one. I love the bit where one of them is eaten alive and then spat back out again still alive, but the trouble is I was not left with any regret when one of them died. The characters just lacked any real personality. If the same number of words had been used to describe the people as was used to describe the world they were inhabiting then it would probably have had a bit more depth to the story line.
If this is your first Michael Crichton book, then do go on and look for others as he has written some very good thrillers with original plots. Sadly I did not think that this book was quite so good.
This was book 51 week 33 fiction 47 (14 on audio) non fiction 4
This is my review of Captain Corellis Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres, which I listened to as an audio book whilst travelling over the Christmas-New Year Period.
I thought I knew the story as had seen the film a few years ago, but to my surprise I found that the original, was fairly different to the film in so much as the film sort of stopped half way through the book and then cut to the end, which was rewritten anyway.
The level of descriptive language was fantastic, and perfect as an audio book as one could imagine the Greek island of Cephallonia in all its glory.
Anyway I am jumping the gun a little, the story is set on the Greek island of Cephallonia, and is invaded by the Italians in 1941. To ensure that the local doctor - Dr Iannis, can get supplies he agrees with the Italian quartermaster to have an Italian Captain billeted with them, in return for whatever he needs.
Captain Corelli is the person chosen. Though a captain in the local Italian Artillery, his main love is music, especially playing the mandolin. Dr Iannis has a daughter Pelagia, who of course falls for Captain Corelli.
There are some shocking events described as the island changes hands to the Germans, which I wont go into here. The end of the war comes and in the film this is near then end, but in the book, this is only about halfway.
The book then goes on to describe Pelagia's life till she is in her seventies and a grandmother. It is a lovely tale of love, war, humour, sadness and optimism. The book manages to tug at all the emotions. Quite a fitting book for the end of the year, and the start of a new one.
This was book 50 week 33 fiction 46 (14 on audio) non fiction 4
A number of years ago I started a blog on the work and progress I did on the garden at Fell View Kielder. Then due to blog host changes, and work commitments at the time I stopped recording what I did. Over time several friends, Marion & Colin especially said I should start doing this again, but I did not bother.
Well now I have a new garden to work on, not that the garden is new, but new to us. I thought it would be good to record our progress. Also we were given these mugs which helped inspire me to get writing.
Trostrie garden looking west
If you are like me then you like looking at plans to place where things are, well I am afraid this time you are going to be disappointed, but I will say the garden has some well established areas, and some a bit more wild.
Trostrie garden looking south
These three pictures are looking west, south and east respectively
Trostrie garden looking east
Over the more established area of garden in front of the house
New gate attached to old stone wall
The previous owner has two lively dogs and she was very worried in case they escaped so the main area of the garden was very well fenced in.
Well we do not have a dog and after a very short time realised that we needed a new access gate, so we did not have to go all the way round the house to get out of the garden.
Putting down the sub base for the path
The first thing I did was put in a single person gate. On clearing the undergrowth it became clear that there had originally been a gate there before, but it had been nailed up. The sides of the path were defined by gravel boards, and the base for the path was sub-base. We have had a delivery of around 6 tons to make a start on the paths.
Second gate going in
Having put the first gate and path in I needed to connect it up with the next one, rather than just walking across some very rough ground
When I needed a rest from the sub-base moving, we started the process of burning the two massive bonfires of waste material that there is. The trouble is this is very wet and does not burn that easily. As soon as I turned my back on the bonfire and went back to moving the stone it went out.
Who knows maybe the plans will be in the next installment of this blog.
You can see the garden for yourself if you book a self catering dog friendly holiday @
The Shieling which is attached to Trostrie Cottage http://www.trostriecottage.co.uk/
I am not very good at recording non fiction in this book list. They tend to be books, or ebooks in this case, that I have open and read alongside other fiction books, but I thought I would record this book in my list as I have been reading it over the last few months.
I worked out the other day that I have been computer programming for almost 39 years, and as such in some respects feel a bit like a grandmother being told how to suck eggs, when I read some programming books.
This was not the case with this book. For whatever reason Python seemed to have passed me by until earlier on in the year, when I got my Raspberry Pi. Having got that the next challenge was to run my usb robotic arm from the Raspberry Pi, and I decided to do that in Python.
Rather than just did in there and get it working I thought it would be good to spend a bit of time learning some basics about the language. I looked/tried several tutorials and got very frustrated as either are so condescending, or simple as to not to be worth their time. I nearly gave up, but saw this tutorial mentioned on the Raspberry Pi forum http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/index.php
The book is well structured and easy to follow, allowing one to skip through bits that you already know. The examples are reasonably interesting, and the challenges are not immediately answerable, in so much as they make one think.
It is a book that is well worth spending time on if one wants to learn about Python and object oriented programming, though other may disagree as it does not immediately tell you how to program a game but takes one through the fundamentals of the language first.
Of course the real question is – how did I get on with programming the robotic arm. Well friends you will have to wait for another post for that.
This was this was book 49 week 33 fiction 45 (13 on audio) non fiction 4
Dyslexic doodles on photography, food (growing, cooking & of course eating), faith and other fascinating things. This is a personal blog expressing my views.