Best Books of the Month Shop Costumes Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon $5 Albums All-New Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote Subscribe & Save Introducing Handmade New Kitchen Scale from AmazonBasics Amazon Gift Card Offer redoaks redoaks redoaks  Amazon Echo Starting at $49.99 Kindle Voyage UnchartedBundle Shop Now Kids Halloween
Profile for Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) > Reviews


Roger McEvilly (...'s Profile

Customer Reviews: 106
Top Reviewer Ranking: 76,234
Helpful Votes: 2490

Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) RSS Feed (Perth, Australia)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11
Sony 55mm F1.8 Sonnar T* FE ZA Full Frame Prime Lens - Fixed
Sony 55mm F1.8 Sonnar T* FE ZA Full Frame Prime Lens - Fixed
Price: $998.00
28 used & new from $719.95

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent all round lens, with a note on available Sony E mount lenses., August 24, 2015
With a review of any single camera lens, one must take into account not only price and picture quality, but also what other lenses are on offer, and what constitutes an all-round package of lenses for shooting in different conditions (few people use just one lens). These are discussed below.

This is one of the highest rated lenses on the market, Sony or otherwise.

Won't get much better with any other lens (as at August 215), and for a similar price (around $US900).

Therefore, if you are going to get just one very good, general purpose, Sony E mount, full frame FF lens for around $US900, this is a very good choice.

Other options, in the full frame series, are the Sony 35mm/2.8 FF (~US$600), and the 35mm/1.4 FF (~US$1600). I got the 55mm/1.8 over the 35mm/2.8 due to the lower fstop, meaning brighter and better pictures in lower light, including a desire for milky way shots with a tripod at night. (and the 35mm/1.4 is also much more expensive).

At 55mm, it's very good for portraits, general street photography, indoor use, and can also be useful for some architecture and landscapes. At fstop 1.8 is also very good for night/astronomy photos, with the help of a tripod.

It’s a full frame (FF) lens, which are designed for full frame Sony A7 series cameras; however you can use it on NEX series Sony cameras but it’s not really worth it, as you pay way more for this lens which won’t give you any better quality on those NEX series cameras than other, cheaper lenses which are specifically made for the NEX cameras.

After much searching and looking to minimise costs (at August 2015) I use these lenses for my Sony A7 full frame (FF) camera:

• Sony 55mm/1.8 lens FF (~$900US), (general street use, portrait, indoor, some macro at 0.5m)
• Sony 55-210mm lens APS-C (~$US250) , (wildlife, distal objects)
• Sony 28-70mm lens FF (~$400US/$200 with A7 kit) (landscapes at ~28mm, general use)
• Sony 30mm/3.5 macro APS-C (45mm equivalent on full frame sensor) (~$250US) (macro use)

MY TOTAL LENS PACKAGE (with mix of FF and APS-C lenses) COST ABOUT US$1600-1800.

Here are some alternatives:
• Sony 24-240mm FF (~US$1000) for wildlife and distant objects,
• Sony 16-35mm FF (~US$1200) for landscapes and architecture.
• Sony 90mm FF macro (~US$1000), macro
• Sony 35mm/2.8 FF (~US$600), general street use, portrait, some landscape
• Or /Sony 35mm/ 1.4 FF (~US$1600) general street use, portrait, some landscape


So there is significant differences between lens prices/packages, so perhaps a mix for those on a budget, but with at least 1-2 full frame (FF) lenses, is not a bad, cheaper alternative, as I have done.

The Sony 55-210mm APS-C lens performs surprisingly well in wildlife shots, except in very low light (I took it to Africa and it was fine), even though it isn’t a full frame lens, and so is a reasonable cheaper alternative to the Sony 24-240mm FF lens.


Can be done, but you need a convertor, and the availability/quality isn’t much different from the A series to the E series, so I don’t think it’s really worth it.


I wouldn’t bother, as these lenses are not specific to Sony and many do not for example include autofocus, except for the Sigma for Sony lenses. The Sigmas for Sony: 19/30/60mm are fine and relatively cheap, but as yet there are no full frame lenses in this series, so these are only really worth it for the NEX series cameras.

The Sigma 19mm tests I did on the Sony A7 full frame camera were ok but of lower quality than what the Sony 28-70mm kit lens achieved. The Sony 55m was better in all respects than both the Sigma 19mm and the28-70mm kit lens, especially in lower light.


The advantage of fixed focal length lenses is they give a better, more even and sharper picture (both in the middle and also across the frame) for that focal length, compared to zoom lenses. So the detail in the corners will be similar to the middle when so desired, but they can also give more ‘bokeh’ or ‘blurred background’ when you want to blur out unwanted details in the background, which is common, for example, in portrait work.

The Sony 55mm/1.8 lens is an excellent, full frame lens for Sony A7 series cameras. It doesn’t have image stabilisation, however I’m told this is only really an issue in very low light and without a tripod, and perhaps also with some hand-held video contexts.

You need to pair it with other lenses in a package to decide whether you really need it, taking into account price and what kind of pictures you want to take, for what situations. It’s particularly good for portrait work and general street photography, but can also be used in other contexts including some landscape photography and night/ low light work as well as some macro it’s ok, so it makes a good all-round, high quality lens. It gets only 4 stars due to price and lack of image stabilisation with video.
Comment Comment | Permalink

The Tourist Travel & Field Guide of the Ngorongoro: Conservation Area
The Tourist Travel & Field Guide of the Ngorongoro: Conservation Area
by Veronica Roodt
Edition: Paperback
20 used & new from $2.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of one of the best parks in Africa, August 9, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Excellent overview of one of the best parks in Africa.

This is an excellent guide, not only to Ngorongoro Crater, but can also serve as a safari guide to most of the other Tanzanian and Kenyan National Parks.

It has scientific glossary, background information, and colour pictures of the mammals, birds, insects, vegetation, and reptiles in the crater (both common and rare), as well as chapters on archaeological digs and sites, geology, ecology, hydrology and human history, not only of Ngorongoro, but also the surrounding areas such as Olduvai, Lake Natron, the active volcano Oldoinyo Lengai, Empakaai, Olmoti, Serengeti area, and others. Box texts on hominid finds, extinct/threatened animals, conservation stories, and so on are also included. Road maps, walking trails, and places to stay are included, but these might have aged a bit, but the rest of the scientific and other information is pretty reliable.

Ngorongoro is a special place, right up there with Yellowstone or Uluru, one of the best parks/conservation areas I have ever visited. It's actually not a national park, but a 'conservation area', as locals still shepherd their animals within the crater; seeing lions a few hundred metres away from shepherds is a somewhat strange sight, although both lions and shepherds have learnt to live with/avoid each other in a somewhat unusual arrangement. In fact many parks in Africa are a bit like this, you see townships and villages right next to roaming wild animals relatively often, both people and animals have found ways to avoid each other and more or less co exist, although not always without some friction or conflict. (This is likely why there is no African wild dogs in the crater anymore, also discussed in this guide, they are too good at killing and stealing cows and goats, so get hounded off or killed by protective farmers from time to time. Same thing sometimes occurs in places like Yellowstone with the wolves there).

There are beautiful illustrations, including full colour topographical maps, roads, camping sites, you name it- it's probably got it.

This guide is quite comprehensive and might be all you need for a safari trip in Tanzania/Kenya. Locals guides also use it, and its also available in Tanzanian parks for sale for about $50 US, so it's cheaper to pick up a copy before you go, or when you get home, as I did.

You can fit it in you backpack as well. You can also get the Serengeti guide in the same series, but i preferred the Ngorongoro Crater on my trip, so i got this one. There are a few other national parks in the area such as Manyara and Tarangire which aren't included, but it has just about everything else. Highly recommended.

Attached is a few photos of my trip to Nogorongoro. And by the way, it's at 2400m on the crater rim and was 14 degrees C the day i was there, so take a jacket.
Comment Comment | Permalink

A&E -- American Justice :  Why O.J. Simpson Won
A&E -- American Justice : Why O.J. Simpson Won
DVD ~ Kurtis
Price: $13.50

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting legal case, mired by police bungling and misunderstanding., February 10, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
One thing is clear, the investigation into the OJ murder trial of his ex-wife by stabbing was bungled by the police. This is the case put forward in this documentary.

Regardless of whether or not one thinks OJ is guilty, the information put forward in this documentary is an interesting examination of the case. The documentary contains statements and information from those involved in the trial who were both for, and against, OJ.

Effectively it became a case, at least in the jury's eyes, of police procedure and process, and not necessarily the evidence for or against OJ.

Although the prosecutor, Marcia Clark, was indeed very competent, the police involved were not. And yet it is up to the police to be competent, in order for prosecutors to be able to do their job effectively. The police essentially let her down.

In one very real sense, one couldn't blame the jury, but they could have perhaps looked more at the actual evidence, rather than almost solely the way the police conducted the investigation.

Some details of the case and some of the evidence shown here, some of which was also not discussed in the trial or considered by the jury, include:

-OJ having a badly cut finger to which OJ did not have a response (which was not discussed by the prosecution).

-having a single glove found at his home which the other matching glove found at the crime scene, with OJs blood on both (which evidence was ignored, by being tainted by the officer involved being caught lying in an unrelated matter)

-blood at the crime scene which matched OJs, as well as on his socks and on his car door (which were ignored due to police officers not following proper procedure during collection and analysis)

-OJ repeatedly changing his story of his whereabouts

-the `suicide note' left by OJ, during a rambling car chase after his initial arrest.

-the repeated history of violence from OJ towards his ex-wife.

By the police not following proper procedure, and being lax in procedure, the police unwittingly put doubt in the minds of the jury, that the government's case against OJ was tainted and flawed. The jury, essentially, confused the way the police and prosecutors handled the case, with the evidence that was actually available. An important point was made by the defense at the end, "who will police the police, you do!" (Talking to the jury). This is the way the jury interpreted the case. Were they right? Yes, and no.

Nobody wants innocent people locked up due to police bungling and cutting corners, but also, nobody wants guilty people to get away with murder due to police bungling and cutting corners.

This case was essentially a proxy for government and police procedure, and the way the government may be perceived to be biased and lax in the way it treats different individuals, not just between black and white, but between the way the judicial and police system can act against any vulnerable individual.

In other words, the jury were adamant, that a person can only be found guilty if the dual process of police procedures and proper legal process are followed, not whether or not the available evidence may or may not be beyond reasonable doubt. The evidence was seen to be in reasonable doubt when police procedure is seen to be compromised.

The case then, is ultimately about whether or not someone should be found guilty if the police don't do their jobs properly. By induction, it is also about whether they can potentially be seen to be acting in the interests of a majority against a minority, in this case, potentially against African Americans. It is not really a case about race, but whether police follow procedures against what are perceived as any less powerful or vulnerable minorities.

It is also perhaps true however, that the jury didn't really understand the subtleties of the case against OJ. Examples include that some evidently did not understand the nature or details of the blood sample matches.

It is likely an example of poorly resourced and out-of-touch government departments, similar to what happened with the SEC during the financial crisis. It costs money and resources to train police officers to understand and follow procedure. It costs money and resources for sensitive medical forensic procedures to be understood and followed.

When Bernie Madoff was arrested for financial fraud, in the biggest case of financial fraud known to date, he made the comment that low level government officials bumbled various investigations into his fraudulent activities. Better people tend not to work for government departments, partly because they are under-funded. And those that do, are not always well trained. So one could argue, that both the Madoff case and the OJ case revealed weaknesses in the way US government departments are resourced, trained, and funded.

An interesting explanation of the details of the OJ case, regardless of whether one thinks we was guilty or not.

Gary Larson's Tales From the Far Side
Gary Larson's Tales From the Far Side
7 used & new from $24.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why isn't this on DVD?, January 13, 2015
This is the first of 2 'The Far Side' specials screened on TV in the late 1990s. (I taped them on my old VHS player back then and still have them). It comprises a number of authentic Gary Larson short stories which are every bit as good as the cartoons. Both these specials can be picked up on VHS, but not DVD.

My favourite might be the home movie of a retired wolf, where an older wolf watches a home movie of a former lover-wolf as they frolicked amongst the woods, only for the love of his life to be captured in a bear trap (sorry for the spoiler, but it's typical Gary Larson stuff).

The music is also excellent, typically off-beat and odd, (where is the soundtrack on CD?)

These are all Gary Larson-authentic short stories, whose extended lengths are not all contained within the special cartoon books, (such as a longer UFO story which ends up with a pick-up truck on its' bonnet etc etc). I think a few of the stories are actually completely new and original, although most are loosely based on selected Gary Larson drawings.

It must be some kind of copyright thing that it hasn't come out on DVD, because these are very good short stories, and add to any Gary Larson Far Side collection.

Panasonic DMC-ZS40K Digital Camera with 3-Inch LCD (Black)
Panasonic DMC-ZS40K Digital Camera with 3-Inch LCD (Black)
Offered by RitzCamera
Price: $447.99
13 used & new from $209.95

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best slim and pocketable compacts around at present., November 30, 2014
Being new to this 'semi-serious hobby photography' game, I would make a few points about the current 'buying the new camera' game.


1. It's an ultra competitive environment. This means there are some truly great camera deals around, as well as some rubbish propaganda out there.

Camera makers are very market-oriented, meaning they sometimes sacrifice quality for hype, and if you know a few things first, you can get around the bells and whistles and various marketing hype out there and get a really good quality functional and picture quality camera at not a very high price. This is one of those (The ZS40 in the US is also the TZ60 in Australia).

2. Opinions of 'expert reviews' are just that, opinions.

Everybody feels differently about specifics because some things which are very important to one person are completely irrelevant to another. To get a few points off my chest straight away:

Non negotiable point 1:
I absolutely HAVE to have either a telescopic lens or a superzoom lens, otherwise I don't want to take pictures, it's as simple as that. I've found it needs to be at least 20x. I don't want to go searching and resizing the image for that distant bird in the trees or that funny advertising sign in the distance, or that surfer in the distance, back on my laptop later, I want a close up ON my viewscreen at the time, so I can compose and take the distant shot the way I want it. This rules out a lot of otherwise very good cameras straight away, e.g. the Sony RX100 series, the Canon G7, Panasonic Lumix LX100 etc.

Non negotiable point 2:
Another camera type I don't see any point whatsoever pursuing is a camera without an electronic viewfinder (EVF), I want to compose and take the shot carefully, not on an LCD screen which I struggle to focus on and hold in the wind, or on rocking boats, or in sunshine etc. Yet many 'expert reviews' don't even bother mentioning whether a camera has an EVF. Sorry, for me it's a non-negotiable issue. (So much for another bunch of otherwise good cameras, such as the Olympus SH1, Canon SX700 etc) .

Non negotiable point 3:
Must fit in my pocket, if I am paying less than $1000. Sorry, I want to walk around Europe or the Himalayas with my wallet, passport, and camera, all in my pockets, with my hands completely free to read that book in the shop, or eat a sandwich, or ride a bike, or scratch my nose, or tip that dodgy official or haggle with that shop owner without them noticing my camera. I take the camera out in a few seconds when I see something, it's as simple as that. I don't want it swaying down into my soup either from around my neck.

For others, they have to have things like WIFI, or panaroma, or touchscreen, or 7 different lenses, and so on. 'Experts reviews' sometimes don't even mention the things I mentioned above, so I just ignore these expert reviews.

Make the points you want in a camera first, and then buy THAT camera, ignore the sales agents who want to tell you that the best camera in the world doesn't even have an EVF or needs a superzoom that you cant put in your pocket or 11 lenses. It's their opinion, not yours.

Now the Lumix TZ60/ZS40 (its called a TZ60 in Australia where I'm from).


Great functionality.
Big zoom (30x, with 2x digital, meaning its really 30x and cropped), BUT STILL THIN ENOUGH TO FIT IN POCKET. A big plus.
Very superior lens ( I imagine the lens alone would cost something around $400, so you are getting a Leica deal teamed up with a very good Panasonic camera for much less than either bought alone-this is that cut throat market out there working for you, and this camera takes full advantage of it.)
'Intelligent auto' feature is better than picking the scene yourself.
Great new starry sky feature. Put it in a makeshift holder or a tripod for star pictures at night.
Good macro (3 cm-better than the Sonxy HX60 for example)
Sepia, and black and white option, as well as one colour option (as In Schindler's List's red girl)
Wifi, Panaroma, 3D pictures, slow motion video, and all the other bells and whistles, if you use them.
Good image stabilisation I'm told, and good and fast autofocus and tracking,
FULL HD video (1080).
It's weather-sealed if you get it too wet (not all cameras are, but don't put it fully underwater).
Built in EVF (not super high quality in terms of pixels etc, but for me it certainly does the job, and it has to be built-in or pop up to fit in your pocket, external attachments are too fiddly and no good for a compact-defeats the point and shoot purpose).
Very good picture quality for this price.


There is no touch screen, which I suspect all cameras will have in a few years, it's just a question of time and price, so the next ones I get will be touch screen.
At 30x distance the focusing is a little more difficult, as the camera starts to struggle to focus at 30x, which is also why you don't get better quality cameras with superzooms on them, after this 'at-cheaper' price they all start to become interchangeable lenses if you want big zooms. At 20-25x its still fine, I've found its only at the very end of 30x it starts to struggle to focus.
No external charger. Not a big deal with me, I charge it in the wall via the cable or in my laptop. (I don't know what all the fuss is about.)

This camera essentially has all the competitors have at this price, except perhaps the touchsceen.


Finally, the quality of the pictures and video, the most important issue, and this is where it gets a little obscure from the camera makers.

Apparently newer sensors of the same size are better than older sensors of the same size; whatever the reason, this TZ60/ZS40 has a 1/2.3 sensor that isn't all that different in actual picture quality than a bigger sensor, say a 1 inch (Olympus Stylus 1), or a Olympus OMD which has a '4/3'. Sensor sizes and specifics are deliberately obscure and vague, either because the camera companies are hiding things from you, or the 'expert reviewers' are. Sensor size, together with resolution and pixels are key factors in picture quality and in buying any camera, (and I still don't get how all these various factors come together, primarily because companies are deliberately vague about it).

I have a Sony A7 full frame (around $1500) camera which has a 36x24 sensor, which is a way bigger sensor, and on testing I find that the quality is, surprisingly, not that different between the Sony A7 and this Panasonic TZ60/ZS40, I suspect because the newer sensors in compacts are getting better and better, and also I suspect because I need a $1000-2000 lens to bring out the full quality of my full frame Sony A7, which I am in the process of getting, but still, the TZ60 pictures are really not that bad at all in comparison. (E.g. blades of grass, foliage, individual hairs on my cat, brightness and all-round reliability).

Haven't tried the video yet. It's 1080 full HD.


And also, I, like many, am going down the track of having 1 pricier camera (full frame) -my Sony A7 $1500 mirrorless (because I just don't like the bulkiness of the DSLRs)- and with a superior pricey lens that I look after and take time with and fuss over, and then a throw-around compact camera for everyday shots at A LOT LESS the price-which is the TZ60/ZS40 at around $400-500. The two together have the all round features I need in smaller version cameras (oh, and the Olympus waterproof TG3 for surfing and swimming, but that's a specific-oriented toy, you could also go the GoPro in this category). The reason for people having 2-4 cameras, incidentally is that no camera in the world has ALL these features together at affordable prices, (also you might lose, borrow to someone, or break one whilst travelling etc anyway).


Very good camera.

Get this if you need an EVF and a superzoom that is also thin and fits in your pocket, otherwise the Sony HX60 (if you don't need an EVF), or the Sony RX100 series3 or Olympus Stylus 1 or Panasonic Lumix LX100, OR Canon G7 (if you don't need a superzoom but these are a bit more), or the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ70 or many others if you want a bigger 50-60x superzoom style but note these DON'T fit in your pocket (which is why I didn't get one), or a DSLR (say a Nikon D3300, but again these are a little more pricey, the Canon 5DMK3 and Nikon D4 are super pricey and super bulky and heavy) if you don't want to put it your pocket, or the Olympus OMD or the Sony A7 series (if you want to pay more and get something better quality but a little thicker again, and with better interchangeable lenses, but with the lenses attached they aren't really pocketable but are still smaller and more travel friendly than the DSLRs), and the Olympus TG3 if you want a similar priced underwater -waterproof, (which I also have, but the pictures and video are not the same quality).

Note: experts might find some of the above technically weak, as I am just a learning amateur, but that is how this game is played, not everyone who buys on the market knows everything about cameras, but they do tend to know what they LIKE in a camera (e.g. superzoom or not, EVF or not, touch screen, thin etc etc), and that is what this review is about.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 18, 2014 6:10 AM PST

Sony a7 Full-Frame Mirrorless Digital Camera with 28-70mm Lens
Sony a7 Full-Frame Mirrorless Digital Camera with 28-70mm Lens
Price: $1,398.00
33 used & new from $1,073.50

10 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The future is here, December 1, 2013
Stop the whinging. A couple of hard facts.

All things electronic get smaller and less expensive over time, as well as better quality.

I bought the Sony Alpha 7 as a budding enthusiast's first entry into higher level/DSLR cameras, because I wanted a top quality full frame camera that was smaller and lighter than the bigger Canon 5D and the Nikon D800, as well as being about 2/3 the price, as well as also being strong and weatherproof. The Sony alpha 7 fits all this.

I know this camera is a bit high level for entry level knowledge, but I thought: why upgrade in a year or two when you can just get the upgrade now and then grow into it? It becomes part of the challenge; knowing one has a top quality full frame camera that has top quality picture POTENTIAL, one can learn and grown into it, even if one doesn't know how to use it all yet. The same thing goes for the better lenses which aren't out yet, I'm happy to wait a few months to grow into this camera, which is why Sony is marketing it like this I suspect-camera first better lenses later-for people just like me. I can use the kit lens to get used to it until February 2014, and get a better lens then, and it's still cheaper than the Canon 5D or the Nikon D800.

I almost bought the Canon 5D Mark 3 a few weeks ago until someone at the shop told me about the newer Sony Alpha 7 coming out. It's about half the size and 2/3 the price, for something that is almost the same quality overall-its was a no-brainer. The only other ones I considered was the new Olympus OM-D series, which are also quite small and good quality, but the Sony has the full frame.

I don't know enough about the specifics about why some people are complaining about a few points about this camera compared to the bigger models, but I can tell you what the market will think: the smaller full frame cameras will eventually iron out these bugs and weaker points.

Another thing: whether the A7K or the A7R? Another hard rule in electronics is that the very top range stuff usually has extra features at significantly higher prices, that most people won't use or need. It's the same here. Unless you are a pro, I would skip the A7R. It doesn't even come with any lenses as it expects you to be a pro with heaps of lenses already. Save yourself ~$600 and get the A7K, unless you are a pro.

The battery life is apparently weak compared to other cameras. I found this sort of thing with some of the new smartphones as well, which only lasted about a day, but then figured out just to turn a few things off and they last 3-4 days, which is fine. I suspect the same with this camera. For a non-professional, a hundred shots a day is enough, this camera is fine at that level. Pros might want to take 500 shots in a day but most other people don't. I might get an extra battery and carry it around, but again, I suspect I wont need it.

People want a camera which they can travel with more easily, take snaps on the go, and not worry about rain, tripods, or bulky heavy cameras and lenses. The Nikon D800 and Canon 5d are not exactly small in this area, and when travelling with luggage, and getting on and off planes, buses, and so on, it makes a difference. Their full kits take up half my luggage. Sorry, but smaller higher level/DSLR cameras are the future. Same thing happened with phones, computers etc, the only exception is bigger screen TVs, but these have gotten thinner so the volume has actually gone down, even though the size of the screen has gone up-I used to have one of the earlier big screen TVs and it was so big and thick you needed a forklift to move it.

I'm happy with the shots and will learn all the specifics and stuff on the go, and get the better lenses later. I'm also taking it travelling, so it's the best one for me by far. The guy at the shop told me its strong, weatherproof and sturdy, so I expect to have it for years.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2013 7:45 PM PST

Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future
Why the West Rules--for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future
by Ian Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.12
91 used & new from $3.96

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some glaring weaknesses, but overall ok, June 5, 2013
This is a long winded, hard read.

Morris is an archaeologist who takes the broader view that his field encourages, in trying to explain why it is that the west is more economically developed than the East in the early 21st century, but he also rambles a bit too much. With his archaeological background, he emphasises the role of geography in human development, something that might seem natural and obvious when one tries to determine why and where an old lost settlement sprang up, and what nearby trade and resources it might have had, and why it declined, etc etc. Highlighting the importance of geography in human history and development I think is the right angle, as in many historical analyses people's cultural ego makes them generally under-play and disregard something so seemingly unimportant as where you are and the shape of your landmass and how this affects who you are and how the history of your country develops. However, there are also some glaring weaknesses in Morris's general discussion.

Here is one. In describing the origins of the Industrial Revolution in the 17th-19th centuries occurring in western Europe rather than the East(a key factor in the development of the modern world) he emphases geography and states that NW Europe, and in particular the UK, was better placed geographically to develop steam and coal, and kickstart the benefits of replacing human power with much more powerful steam and coal power. They were closest to the large and innovative market of the USA, and coal was local and plentiful (But then why didn't coal-rich USA develop steam power first?-no mention of this). Wages were high and labour was relatively scarce, so there was incentive to make machines to boost productivity, rather than just pay more low paid workers to work more. But Morris fails to really mention or highlight a major and key ingredient between western Europe and the East- a culture that rewarded innovation and incentive existed in the west, but not so much in the east. The east during the times of the 17th-19th centuries generally lacked such a culture of innovation (they still do, to a point). The reasons for this are many, but include:

The cultural environment in the east has long fostered and enforced an existing, rigid social hierarchy, and this generally discourages lower and middle class innovation. In line with this is the general lack of/weak property and copyright laws. Any lower or middle class innovation was either stolen, or at best actively discouraged, by the elite because they generally don't want to reward the lower and middle classes, as this would under-mine their social power and control ('creative destruction'). They may even want to keep locals poor, despite rhetoric to the contrary. (Foreigners are also often restricted for the same reasons, the elite don't want them making too much money from the locals, and in particular, depriving the local elite of making this same money from them. That is why in Adam Smith's day, there were only 2 ports open for foreign ships in China, and even these were restrictive). Anything that is made, discovered, or found by locals, is generally supposed to be reserved for the elite under the existing strict social hierarchy, but the elite themselves generally won't invent something, because they already have large numbers of low paid workers to do all the work required for them, within a very stable social system.

So what point is there to for anyone to innovate and develop a steam engine? If you do actually make something useful, the elite will either confiscate it or steal it, because it will either upset the existing social system, or much worse, if it is patented and marketed by the lower and middle classes, will give the lower and middle classes money and reward, rather than the elite themselves, which is an affront to their sense of pride and honour. So there is also weak copyright and property laws. So generally, nobody invents anything, or at best, such processes are much slower and weaker. So no steam engines invented in China, despite plentiful coal. So no industrial revolution.

(Oh, and there is another thing Morris doesn't mention at all, particularly about Chinese coal. Chinese coal was generally a long way from ports, down rivers which were sometimes wild and unnavigable, unlike the situation in Britain. Coal is a bulk commodity and as such is very sensitive to transport costs. Transporting it economically in China from where it was, to ports and people was much more difficult and expensive. This is why there is STILL so much coal in Mongolia for example, more even than in Britain before the Industrial Revolution, but which has never been mined, because it was simply too far away from anything, but that is now gradually changing, with modern communication, transport and technology. )

In other words, Britain had lots of cheap coal, that was also nearby, AND a market system that encouraged and rewarded innovation and development, without just stealing such for the benefit of the elite or the state. The East generally didn't have these things, so no Industrial revolution. He doesn't talk much about this major second part of the equation, but having lived and worked in Asian business for several years (within the realm of natural resources), it is a key factor STILL. There is still a sense in many places that the elite should have the rights to things they don't generally do anything to make, invent, or attain, which both discourages innovation amongst the lower and middle classes, as well as keep things under-developed, but this is slowly changing. In many places those who have the most money get to say how the law operates, or they simply buy-out smaller companies to keep them from developing too much, or they transfer ownership by nefarious methods so as to steal their hard earned assets for themselves (a 'takeover', but often without accompanying compensation to investors). As said, things are slowly changing, and of course it varies from place to place and business type, but the general business environment is in some places still a long way off what is generally considered 'standard' practice in the west.

This may all sound culturally racist and patronising, and there is of course a balance to what foreigners, for example, should be allowed to do, but getting this balance right is complicated and difficult, and locals themselves may often feel the same way. Weak property and foreign investment laws are now better, but still echo what they were in Adam Smith's day, when he stated that a culture which only allows ships in only two of its many ports is not going to get the same amount of business (and social development) when compared to a culture that allows much freer and wider trade, in all of its' ports. It's simple mathematics and geography. I know of local business people in the east, for example, who say they one can't invest in local natural resource projects, for example, unless one is connected to government (the modern 'elite'), because otherwise the government will simply steal anything you find, with the government also believing that there is essentially little wrong with this. (An echo of the old cultural/ social mentality, that everything of value should be exclusively reserved for the 'elite'). I also know of local elites, who won't allow or strongly discourage development, research, or change of any kind, in areas they control, because it would undermine their considerable social authority. In other cases, development is allowed, but the only ones allowed to develop anything are the elite themselves, however they might not have the technology or assets to develop the things in question, so nothing eventuates. All this is hardly a recipe to encourage and reward the lower and middle classes, and encourage innovation, and the key factor is more often than not an existing, rigid social hierarchy, with the associated belief that the local elites are also the only ones allowed to do anything, including no-one in the lower or middle classes, the key drivers of social change and development. So it was at the time of the Industrial Revolution, no steam engines in China were the result, despite all their coal.

Civilization: The West and the Rest
Civilization: The West and the Rest
by Niall Ferguson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.23
105 used & new from $5.18

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of the important issues, June 2, 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

It sat on my shelf for about a year because I wasn't all that impressed with Fergusons's Ascent of Money, which I thought was both a little dry and a little too conservative. I thought this book was much better, but it still suffers from what I call Niall Ferguson's emphasis on conservatism-that is, he often resorts to saying history happened a certain way because it was more or less inevitable, whereas I see things as being more defined by chance and accident, history's grand themes needn't have turned out the way they did, in my opinion anyway.

The best thing about this book is the very wide coverage of ideas. I have long wanted information on e.g. the French Revolution (why did it go so bad after such a useful basis at least?), what Marx was really up to and about, why China and the east in general lagged the West from the Middle Ages, why North and South America developed so differently after the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century, and continue to do so, what is the main reasons for Africa's under-development, why soviet communism eventually failed, and why China is now the fastest developing nation on earth, and what all this means for the future. There is a wide coverage of ideas here, some unconventional, some not, but excellent examples and idiosyncratic tales are a strong point of Ferguson, making it thoroughly entertaining at the very least.

The ideas are way too many to outline here. So much so, I intent to read the book again, to take it all in. Here are some selected examples:

-John Locke had a good understanding of how best to set up government and its associations.
-South American cultural heritage of a strong caste-working class and elite social structures hinder and preclude truly representative and democratic governments, particularly in the realm of property rights.
-The consumer society tends to work to the betterment of everybody.
-Western Medicine has hitched the ride with various forms of colonisation and development, leading to better living standards.
-The origins of social Darwinism and Nazism can be found in imperialism in Africa in the 19th century.
-The origins of the first world war may have had something to do with cultural norms developed and fostered under African imperialism
-Jeans and rock music are two of the things that under-mined soviet communism. 'Russians don't need this cacophonic noise'.
-cultures which facilitate trust in business and venture capitalism tend to do much better than those that don't, for a variety of reasons.
-the west's moral (protestant) work ethic was a good preparation for secular capitalism, and might be argued to be a natural progression (Weber).
-China and the east in general have a chronic tendency to look inward. Only two ports in China allowed some selected foreign ships in Adam Smith's day.
-For a variety of reasons, a variety of Chinese Christian religious cults led to the deaths of millions under various 'rebellions' in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, however the growth of Christianity in China is profound.
-the Islamic tendency to denigrate scientific development has led it to consistently under-develop in comparison to the west. (thorny area this), particularly militarily.
-A fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam is the statement: 'render under Caesar the things that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are Gods'. Ie the separation of church and state, deeply embedded in Christianity from the very beginning.
-Chinese issued grey pyjama-lookalikes under communism, and Islamic scarves and veils have something in common.
-there still isn't a free press in China, Russia, and Iran, for example.
-The French revolution's decline towards violation of it's founding principles and development of a military dictatorship was written into the very seeds of its' birth. Unlike the US revolution, the French tended to elevate the general will above the law, they tended to implicitly trust authority, French society was also highly centralised and authoritarian, and the revolution itself originated in the bureaucracy, not the lower and middle classes. (They chose Rousseau instead of Locke, Ferguson puts it).

One could go on and on. You get a whiff of Ferguson's overt conservatism in the above, but he argues and backs it up very well. It is a better book than one might think at first, and deals with many deep issues. Worth reading twice.

National Geographic: Six Degrees Could Change the World
National Geographic: Six Degrees Could Change the World
DVD ~ Alec Baldwin
Offered by librex
Price: $9.91
28 used & new from $2.20

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Belongs in the science fiction section, not the documentary section, September 10, 2011
Since this documentary is so way-over the top, a few critical words about it.

If shows climate effects that are expected, by some scientists (though not all), to occur as a result of C02 produced from human activities over the next century, with a section devoted to each 1 degree celsius of warming projected, except that the last degree is left out-6 degrees of warming-which according to the documentary "scientists don't know what will happen... and don't want to find out". (Well the world has been 6 degrees warmer before and it didn't end, but anyway).

To begin with, as a professional geologist who is aware of past geological changes, I don't necessarily think they have got most of the worst case scenarios here wrong, it's just that I do tend to suspect they have got the rates wrong, and that the effects depicted in this film will take a lot longer to occur than is depicted (think in terms of hundreds or even thousands of years, not in decades) based on past rates of geological change and the buffering capacity of most earth processes. Such views should be more investigated in the scientific literature and in films such as this, (the father of modern geology- James Hutton- after all was also a strong believer in gradualism, who probably would have thought much the same thing).

The film claims to use past earth history to project what might happen, but fails to mention that these past earth changes took thousands and even millions of years to occur in the vast majority of cases (eg past volcanic C02 producing greenhouse over millions of years, not decades). But why should the earth produce the same large-scale changes, but just all speeded up, just because WE are here, like in some 'Day After Tomorrow' disaster movie?

The assumption pervading this film is that:
`oh yes large-scale climate changes in the past took thousands to millions of years, but we are doing these things- like adding c02 to the atmosphere-much faster than nature ever has'" (actually questionable),

but this statement doesn't mean that the earth will necessarily REACT faster to increased inputs. There is a concept in chemistry called 'buffering', which basically means just because you increase the rate of something, doesnt mean the rate of change budges much at all. So just how much are the earth various climate system's buffered to change? The geological record suggests they are nearly always very slow to change, even regardless of input rate. This implies that they are strongly buffered to fast changes.

To take an example where the film has got this 'rate' effect completely wrong, they use the UN IPCC's Himalayan glacier (propaganda) statement that they "could all melt by 2035", which turned out to be a date put in the IPCC report by politically-biased IPCC scientists, and nothing to do whatsoever with any scientific data or review. The UN's IPCC has since admitted and retracted the statement, which even under the worst case scenarios won't occur for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Are the rest of the scenarios shown in this film (and in the IPCC report) also not likely to occur for hundreds or even thousands of years? How does one know, for example, that the IPCC hasn't done much the same exageration and other rate errors in the rest of the IPCC report, but which are just more difficult to prove as false or exaggerated?

The geological record suggests it generally takes very long time periods for the earth to move in such directions as in this film (sea levels, ice melting, etc), and often regardless of increased rate of inputs. Such scientific evidence from the past is routinely ignored by some, I suspect for the same reason the IPCC scientists ignored criticism that the Himalayan glacier melting rate was wrong before the report was published (and ignored later also by the Chair of the IPCC) even when it was pointed out to them, for political reasons. "We wanted to highlight its importance to the we kept the statement in..." (IPCC scientists), ie they kept the statement in there for political reasons, not scientific ones (they would have made good directors of disaster movies). They wanted to do what they believed was the right thing, so they ignore valid critical review. The Chairman of the UN's IPCC described the Himalayan glacier criticism as "voodoo science", without bothering to investigate, but which just happened later to turn out to be entirely valid criticism and dead wrong. Is there an attitude problem with such scientists upon which these sort of statements and films are based?. The answer would have to be yes, by their OWN words.

To take the glacier example again, there is no physical way to melt that much ice that quickly under ANY climate circumstances, even if the rate of warming vastly increases. This is now admitted by the IPCC. The same is true of Greenland ice, it is physically impossible to melt that much ice in less than hundreds or even thousands of years in even the worst case scenarios.

Other questionable things in the film: New York subway 25 feet underwater more or less permanently, deserts widespread in the western US, numerous world cities drowned by rising sea level, millions of climate refugees from places like India which has run out of government-propaganda water, etc etc. (By the way, one of the UN's environment programs also predicted that by this last year- 2010-2011- there would be hundreds of thousands of 'climate refugees', so far: ZERO, the statement has been withdrawn quietly from the UNs environment program website).

If some scientists consistently get statements and scenarios like the above 2 wrong, do you think they will get the past geological record right, which suggests at least, that the earth is strongly buffered to fast climate changes, which is perhaps why past large scale changes generally take thousands to millions of years to occur (rather than that the natural input rates were slower)?

One always hears about 'runaway greenhouse' this or 'runaway greenhouse' that, why doesn't one ever hear about the concept of `buffering'. The oceans are a good example, they are strongly buffered to chemical changes (not mentioned anywhere in this film). Just like the Indian scientists in the IPCC, highlighting the buffering capacties of the earth doesn't suit politically, just like the film `The Day After Tomorrow' slowed down 10,000 years would make a hell of a boring disaster film. Half the IPCC scientists would have to go back to their day jobs, such as the current chairman, -a railway engineer-who would have to go back to work on the railways (or his very thorough, painstaking investigations of `voodoo science').

Which would you prefer for your rental DVD? watching sea level rise 1.7mm/ year for thousands of years (the ACTUAL current rate, as well as the rate in many geological past changes, despite relative changes in inputs), or watching the Day After Tomorrow's storm surge swamping the New York subway?. That will be $5.95, and don't forget to return your DVD by tomorrow after you have watched the sea level rise 1/365th of 1.7mm/year for a couple of very boring hours.

I do think some scientists are mixing up science fiction with science, and can't tell the difference. This 'documentary' is a good example.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2013 10:46 AM PDT

The Incredible Human Journey
The Incredible Human Journey
DVD ~ Alice Roberts
Offered by kylakins
Price: $17.99
8 used & new from $13.97

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Creative, interactive and reasonably balanced, January 9, 2011
This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey (DVD)
The best thing about this series is it's done in a sort of 'personal odyssey' way. In other words, Alice Roberts personally visits and experiences various world archaeological sites over a tour of 6 months to see for herself what is going on. You can do parts of this journey yourself, as I have done-you gain a lot from first-hand experience rather than from reading textbooks, e.g. the dangers of the African Savannah, the relief that a dry cave offers for habitation in the tropics (meaning such caves have long records), the ease to which a log raft can travel between Indonesian islands, how easy it is to travel along the coast of the Americas with all the fish around, how terraced rice farming took off in the wetlands of SE Asia, and so on. There is a sort of interactive archaeological experience in this series, which is well worth viewing if you have don't have time to visit all these places yourself.

The general perspectives involve the most up to date research, such as the idea the Americas were first colonised by boat people down the west coast from Siberia and Alaska, since the rest was cut off from ice, and even the idea that some of these people were not from 'Siberia' as such, but rather further south around Melanesia-Austronesia, and the idea that the lack of sophisticated stone tools in SE Asia for long periods is because the widespread hard silica bamboo is such a versatile resource (can be used for ropes, string, planks, pipes, sharp knives, spears, rafts, houses, etc etc), but which doesn't survive in the archeological record for obvious reasons.

But for some reason she has missed recent research which suggests 1-4% of our genes are Neanderthal, and there was also a Neanderthal sub/species in Siberia- which genes show up in modern Melanesians. But most is pretty good, including crude stone tools below North American Clovis horizons, skulls in Brazil which do not look at all Siberian, and recent genetic research which shows all SE Asians show African homo sapien genetic markers from around 70,000 years ago. But she also gets a bit muddled with the recent academic slant on climate change and mammoth extinction (both here and in the book), everyone knows mammoths were hunted and it doesn't take much to wipe out such a slow reproducing species in the tundra which also survived many other warm climate changes before modern man was around. She generally accepts this, but still attributes some/most of their extinction in some places to the current fad of 'climate change' (not the dominant factor here). (She gets surprised to learn for example, that mammoth skeletons in the Americas have been found with stone points embedded in the bones).

One other criticism is there is a bit too much of a simplistic approach to some of it, such as over-emphasising the homo sapiens 'Out of Africa' model to the point where former species such as homo erectus earlier coming out of Africa is simply left out of calculations entirely. (These evolved to regional species such as Neanderthals which probably weakly mixed with later homo sapien). And she also believes only one group of homo sapiens, only once, ever left Africa-there is nothing to support this view- as the 'simple gene trace to one group' she refers to could also be explained by the same single homo sapien group in Africa leaving on multiple occasions-ie with the genes tracing back to the founding group in Africa, but leaving on multiple occasions.

There is however a lot of good stuff here, including the excellent new find in ?Turkey with temples and animal motifs from around the origin of farming or even before, the South African coastal cave sites with early stone and bone tools, recent Arabian stone tool finds, Indian 'Toba ash' tool finds, and several other recent finds. It's rather surprising how much is still being found every year.

Well worth it in this genre of the 'odyssey of homo sapiens'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2013 7:26 PM PST

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11