Mini review: “Data and Goliath” by Bruce Schneier (audiobook version)

This book looks at the current state of internet data gathering (surveillance) by nation states and private companies.  They are involved in collecting as much data as possible about you in the interests of security and profit.  This has big implications for individuals and society both now and in the future.

It is well balanced, easy to understand and I agree with every word.  Do not miss it…

… Having said that, there are a couple of points I want to raise.


It frustrates me that a book that contains information that everyone should be aware of, with clear and reasoned arguments should be pitched at such a niche audience.  What this book needs is a new cover – and a willingness to get the book out in front of as many people as possible.  This is the only way that you are going to stimulate the debate that this issue deserves.

Look at what we have:


Look at the kind of thing that can be achieved:

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, jacket cover

Clean, simple, interesting – and approachable.


I listened to the audiobook version and the publishers got this right.

They used an excellent narrator who is able to make this an easy listen.  I know him from fiction –  the Nate Heller series of novels from Max Allan Collins.  When you have a subject that people need to pay attention to, you need to have someone who can put over a story.

This is what it takes to make the book approachable.  Compare the good “Data and Goliath” with the poor “The Second Machine Age” (my review – with criticism of the narration – is here).

Well done.


This is a book that needs to be read (or listened to).  Society has to decide where to draw the line when it comes to data gathering – not an easy task given the different points of view and the international nature of the issue.  There is probably not a definitive answer to this subject, but there should at least be a debate to highlight the situation.

Radio: The Making of the Modern Arab World (BBC Radio 4)


An excellent four part series looking at the history of the Arab world – in particular Eygpt and Syria – from the invasion of Eygpt by Napoleon in 1798 to the present day.

The early history is interesting, but it is the post-war period that is riveting – in particular episode three.  The defeat of colonial powers, a more permissive time especially for women, then war with Israel.  Defeat for the Arab states in the war led to a shift towards Islamism.  This was strengthened by newly oil (and dollar) rich countries such as Saudi Arabia which had stricter religious views. With greater economic influence in the region comes a greater religious influence. All this has only happened in the last 40 years – something of a surprise to me that such a big change actually occurred relatively recently.

More broadly in the area, the series looks at the revolution in Iran and the impact of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

The look at Syria’s recent history puts today’s situation into some context, in that the current leader, President Assad,  is continuing the actions of his father who was leader before him.  This is indeed a vicious circle.

This is the BBC once again at its best – informative and interesting.  I learned a lot.

• BBC Radio 4:  The Making of the Modern Arab World (available indefinitely)

• BBC Radio 4:  Analysis – programmes on Syria


HMS Cavalier – Royal Navy destroyer visit at The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent


I recently took another trip to The Historic Dockyard in Chatham to take a more detailed tour of the submarine HMS Ocelot. Taking advantage of some spare time I had a look around HMS Cavalier.  After the near claustrophobia of the submarine, the warship seems massive, relatively comfortable and stocked with some small luxuries…


To get an idea of what to expect, there is an excellent Google virtual tour of the ship.  This is a real multimedia tour – even if you can’t make it to the real thing, spend some time exploring.  All attractions should have something like this.

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Mini review: “The Girl On The Train” by Paula Hawkins (audiobook version)


I wouldn’t normally go for a new thriller but this is everywhere, gets good reviews and it’s summertime, so why not?

This book will not change the world but I found myself wanting to keep reading and it twists and turns enough to keep you interested all the way through.

The audiobook version is particularly effective as this is a story told by three characters.  All the narrators are good at charging the words with emotion.  It works.

The perfect holiday season read – good characters, solid plot, not too taxing on the brain.

Spare Cycles turns eight…


This lovingly crafted blog is celebrating its eighth birthday.   A beer (or eight) is cooling in the fridge to toast the reaching of a milestone.  Happy birthday!

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns seven…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns six…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns five…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns four…

• Spare Cycles: Spare Cycles turns three…

Mini review: “Spy Sinker” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)


This is the final book in the second of Len Deighton’s trilogies featuring weathered English spy Bernard Samson, set a few years after the end of the Game, Set and Match series.

This book is completely different to those that have come before.  It is not a story told in the first person by Bernard Samson but instead a look at the whole story so far from the points of view of his wife and other major characters.  This switch gives you an insight into the aspects of the story that Bernard does not know about.

You discover the emotional impact on the protagonists and those who had a hand in masterminding the whole thing.   There are revelations all the way through the book, taking events that you are familiar with and looking at them from a new angle or with new knowledge.  There are new plot elements too, demonstrating the limited nature of what you have learned so far. Then there is the set-piece ending.   So much clearer than in the previous book, you get to appreciate what the author has pulled off, not just in this book but over the course of the two trilogies.

The book is not perfect – there is a section where the author deals with events covered in the prequel “Winter: A Berlin Family” which is interesting but is raised in a bit of a contrived way.

Still, this is a brilliant end to the series so far.

I say “so far” because there is actually another Bernard Samson trilogy: Faith, Hope and Charity.  I read them a while ago and I’m not sure if I’m going to listen to them as audiobooks as they are released later this year.  From what I remember they are not as strong as the books in the first two trilogies.  You could leave Bernard Samson, his colleagues, cohorts and foes at this point having been mightily entertained for many an hour.

Also see…

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Berlin Game” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Mexico Set” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “London Match” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Hook” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “Spy Line” by Len Deighton (audiobook version)

• Spare Cycles: Len Deighton books (including my original review of Spy Sinker)

• Harper Collins: Len Deighton audiobooks