Book Review: Fermat’s Last Theorem: The Story Of A Riddle…

Posted on by 5WC in Book
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At the same time as I was given Simon Singh’s The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, I was also presented with his book on Fermat’s Last Theorem (The Story Of A Riddle That Confounded The World’s Greatest Minds For 358 Years). Fermat’s Last Theorem is the idea that xⁿ + yⁿ ≠ zⁿ when n > 2 or in other words, that there is only a solution to Pythagoras’ theorem, any power greater than 2 and the formula that would give you the length of the hypotenuse of a right angle triangle falls totally apart.

This may sound like a really boring topic for a book. And in one respect you’d be right, however, it’s a problem that has plagued the mathematical work for over 350 years. It’s an itch that refused to be scratched. In maths an idea isn’t true until proof categorically provided. It has to be universal to be accepted. Pierre de Fermat, who created the theorem and gave the world the problem, simply stated that he had the proof it was true but not enough space to explain it in the margin of his book. In other words, he claimed it as fact but refused to divulge how he knew. Read more

Film Review: The Martian

Posted on by 5WC in Film

I have an interesting relationship with Ridley Scott. I cite Gladiator as one of my few “turn to” movies, those films you can just watch over and over without losing any impact. He directed Blade Runner and Alien, Hannibal and Black Hawk Down. I like his films, and yet recently he’s lost his way. Prometheus teased as a modern spin to his Alien franchise but simply crushed my expectations leaving me bored, confused and feeling completely flat; whilst Exodus: Gods and Kings arrived with a trailer promising an epic scale and spectacle that not only failed to appear, was so monotonously dull I actually fell asleep!

Then we have Matt Damon. The man who very nearly destroyed James Bond through his character Jason Bourne. I have always been a fan ever since he stole the show from underneath Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and even though he often has a smugness to him that oozes a arrogant knowledge of just how good he is I somehow still forgive him all his ills. So when I heard he’d teamed up with Ridley Scott to make a science fiction story called The Martian, it’s fair to say I was expecting something with a bit more of a serious edge. Read more

Book Review: Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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The human mind is a fascinating thing. Or at least I think it is. My intrigue and interest was sparked when, many years ago, I read that the human mind can’t feel pain. And that, during brain surgery, patients are fully conscious often engaging in physical activity or conversation. I was mesmerised and it is one of the main driving forces behind my love of psychology. I want to learn more about the ball of fat, the wiring of billions of cells, and how it somehow comes together, with a power we cannot comprehend, to give us “life”.

As a result I’ve started to read more and more non-fiction and  this is another example. While the title of the book gives away little as to what it actually contains Thinking Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman is more than just a look at how the brain “thinks” and instead covers the way our brain processes the information and requests we give it. The book, essentially, is based around the fact our brain can be split into two distinct processing paths (or systems as Kahneman refers to them throughout). The first, an impulsive pathway that initially reacts to everything the brain processes and secondary, a slower reflective pathway that arrives when the first gets a bit out of its depth. Read more

Book Review: The Compass Of Pleasure by David J. Linden

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I am certainly no expert, in fact, I expect to spend portions of this review referring back to lecture notes and text books to ensure I get my facts straight where necessary; over the last few months I have been introduced to a broad, but generalised, world of neuroscience as part of my psychology degree. ERP, MRI, the prefrontal cortex; action potentials, synaptic responses, neural pathways I been told about it all, and hopefully, understood some of it.

It’s extremely scientific and took more than a few moments to get my head around the scale of everything involved. The idea of single cells, individual neurotransmitters and resultant systems designed purely for their use seems logical when drawn to fill an A4 sheet of paper, but when you start to reduce that back to reality, and realise it’s one entity within 100,000,000,000, the epic infinitesimal scale of the structure involved in something so power is truly mind-blowing. Read more

Film Review: Suffragette

Posted on by 5WC in Film

I was born in the 1980s and while I remember a time before our lives were turned into binary code and broadcast through mobile phones, wireless internet and satellite television, I have lived in a disjointed but equal society my entire life. I am not going to argue that men and women have equal rights, they don’t. You just have to look at the board of directors of the FTSE100 or even the general pay gap to realise society still doesn’t understand women are as capable as men, but, I live at a time when women have found their voice, even if the bigoted majority, still stupidly, refuse to listen.

I’m a man. I don’t face the discrimination of the fairer sex; but I neither do my peers. I’ve just started a psychology degree with over 200 fellow students. There are only 7 men. We are all set the same work, the same deadlines and can even all vote (assuming nationality) should we chose. We can even all apply for the same job in 3 years’ time (assuming we all pass). Yes, societal statistics show my chromosomes apparently give me an advantage, but I can guarantee 193 psychology students won’t be chaining themselves to the fence in protest. Read more

Film Review: The Lady In The Van

Posted on by 5WC in Film

To me, Alan Bennett is the name of a playwright, and nothing more. I certainly couldn’t name a play he wrote or tell you anything about him. 1850, 1950 or alive today I wouldn’t have a clue. So when I saw the trailer for The Lady in the Van I took it entirely on face value. I just soaked in the light hearted, silly and implausible story, set against a backdrop of witty humour and charming fun and made a mental note to keep an eye out for its release.

The first, and slightly obvious, thing to say about The Lady in the Van is that it is aimed as the tea and biscuits market. The older, retired, “goes to the cinema on a wet Sunday afternoon to sleep of the indulgence of roast beef, potatoes and a Yorkshire pudding” viewer. It knows that it is playing to its audience in the same way as Marigold Hotels, Mr Holmes and Helen Mirren films knew too. It’s grown up, analogue film making, where the story and the characters run riot over any idea of special effects or CGI trickery. Read more

Film Review: Slow West

Posted on by 5WC in Film

If I’m honest, I’m really not the biggest fan of Westerns. Too often I find them reflecting their environment being dry, coarse, stifling and slow. Yet for some reason I continue to happily watch them, only to be disappointed, as again they fail to invoke any emotional response besides boredom. The Homesman being a perfect example from my recent past. So it should come as no surprise that when people started to proclaim a Western to be “the perfect Western… the real deal” I forgot all that went before and accepted the unexplainable pull of its promise.

That perfection came from John Maclean’s first feature film – Slow West. And whilst I expected it to pass me by, purely as it didn’t appear the type of film that would naturally get a widespread big screen release, I was given optimism when the poster for it appeared on the wall of my local multiplex. My fear was founded though, and even with the advertising, it never arrived so I’ve had to wait, and wait, for it to finally be released ‘on-demand’ before I could get a chance to see whether, this time, it would finally provide me with a Western I actually enjoyed. Read more

Book Review: The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh

Posted on by 5WC in Book
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They may be yellow, and the voices in the first series may be unrecognisable to the point of rendering it unwatchable, but The Simpsons has raised a generation. As series followed series, subtly and subconsciously, Bart and Homer, Lisa, Maggie and Marge came to tease snippets of learning into the minds of all those laughing as Moe, once again, calls out for “Amanda Hugginkiss”

I grew up on The Simpsons and, in our house, they were a Sunday night staple. They were the soap opera of my childhood. Far-fetched, comedic and entertaining. But at their heart, behind the characters, lies academia. So often you hear people answer a question, recount a fact they shouldn’t realistically know and cite The Simpsons as the point of reference. I know I certainly have. The quality in The Simpsons is in its writing, its style, you learn by osmosis. You laugh and cry, enjoy and smile at their hilarity and misfortune, whilst all the time, learning. Read more

Book Review: Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

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After I read Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, a book which in theory is one of the most famous tales involving a balloon, only to discover it actually doesn’t, I turned to social media to find me a true lighter than air tale. A few people suggested Mike Kendrick’s biography Thursday’s Child (which I’d already read), but mainly, people just pointed me towards Enduring Love by Ian McEwan.

I don’t exactly know why, but in my mind I had this idea of Enduring Love being a very old fashioned tale, maybe it’s the word “enduring” and the slow, step back from life it invokes when you hear it, but there was something that just made me feel cold towards the book. Before I’d even turned a page I didn’t expect to enjoy it and that niggling though had actually kept it in my “to read” pile longer than it otherwise would have. Read more

Film Review: Spectre

Posted on by 5WC in Film

Bond is back, and so are Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes. Looking to follow up the phenomenal success they had together on Skyfall; Spectre, the 24th instalment in the Bond franchise, has always been stuck slightly in predecessor’s shadow with a weight of expectation to deliver upon its shoulders far greater than it really deserved. In fact, it’s fair to say that aside from Star Wars: The Force Awakens no other movie this year has been waited for with such anticipation, and I’ll admit, I am one of those piling on the pressure to deliver, after all, I named it in my 10 movies of 2015 I couldn’t wait to see.

Sadly though for me, it just doesn’t deliver. It’s not a bad film, it’s purely a case that there are more negatives than positives to come from it. My biggest complaint against it is that nothing really makes sense. The plot appears to be individualistic yet formulaic. This is the story of Daniel Craig as Bond and so, all too often, it’s trying to tie up ideas and clarify characters from any one of his previous three outings into a story that is meant to come together and complete the tale. It’s a back to the future plot. A completing of the circle. Read more