Category Archives: books

S for Shilpa, F for Fun


Well, there’s been a lot of bad news of late.  I think we are all overdue to have some FUN for a change and right on cue, famous Bollywood actress and celebrity, Shilpa Shetty, has come to our rescue. God bless her.

During an interview, she commented on the decision by Indian authorities to include Harry Potter books as part of the school syllabus.  She thought it was a great idea and threw in a suggestion or two of other books that would be a boon to young minds. (see picture below).

Image result for shetty animal farm

Inspired by her views on Little Women and Animal Farm, the internet wags have been a bit merciless in developing the theme of books that should be included in the reading programs of our children.  Here are some great suggestions;

Fifty Shades of Grey – an amazing colouring book. Children will  love it.

The Life of Pi – should be read by all children as it will enhance their mathematical skills.

Mein Kampf – is a nice guide on camping and other outdoor activities.

The Hobbit – is good.  All children should be encouraged to develop good hobbits.

Anyway, this squirrel pondered over the books in his library to see what books I might recommend too.  I came up with the following;

Gone with the Wind – learning about the fury of Nature and the power of tornados.

Stephen King’s IT – Never too young to start learning about computers.

The Maze Runner – sharpen your child’s mind with this giant book of crosswords, puzzles and mazes.

The Name of the Rose – introduce your child to the wonders of gardening and horticulture with this guide book to the hundreds of rose species.

V for Vendetta – the classic children’s alphabet book but with an updated and relevant twist. (A is for Apple Inc., B is for Brexit…….. Z is for Zika)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – teaching children about different career choices for when they grow up.

But  totally, totally NOT RECOMMENDED is Moby Dick.

Perhaps, dear readers, you have other books that you might suggest?

 

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Colouring Between the Lines


Has it finally happened?!?!?!  Has the Lone Grey Squirrel become so grey that he has entered the proverbial second childhood?

For whatever reason, LGS has returned to the childhood activity of trying to colour between the lines.  I blame my wife. She started it and I got dragged in.

As you smart and trendy readers would know, there seems to be a surging interest in colouring books for adults.  These books are full of line drawings of varying complexity but all uncoloured.  All awaiting our inner child to awake and put our imagination and creativity on paper.  It is touted as a great way for stress relief and I guess it is more constructive than my old standard of throwing darts at a picture of my boss.

At any rate, the sheer proliferation of such books are a clear reflection of its popularity.  And as I always say, “50 million monkeys can’t be wrong”!*

*in case you are wondering, those are lyrics from the song “The Peanut Vendor” by Moises Simons of Cuba; although the English lyrics were by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Marion Sunshine.

Anyway, I present before your cruel, critical eyes,some of my early work in this medium.  Please be kind – like to a helpless baby seal. Thank you.

squirrel
SQUIRRELS! Of course, I had to start here!  This could be my coat of arms….what do you think? (drawing from Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom; colouring by LGS)
mushrooms
You may be wondering what possessed LGS to do this?  All I have to say is SHROOMS! (drawing from Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland; colouring by LGS)
bird nest
Now, colouring between the lines seems to be here to stay, like a  BIRD COMING IN TO NEST! (drawing from Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland: colouring by LGS)

Will you catch the bug too?

The Odd Book


This post isn’t about “the odd book” as in “I have read the odd book or two” but more in the vein of “this book I read is very odd”.  Regular readers will know that the Lone Grey Squirrel avidly follows international awards like those for odd and funny scientific research (IgNobel awards) and awards for works of fiction so bad that they are good  ( Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest) .   I recently discovered a new international award that is equally good at recognising the bad, the ugly  and the funny.

It is the “tadaaaaa……”   Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year  .  This annual award goes to the most interesting, weird and unusual book title.  Please note that most of these books are serious and well researched literary works but the titles can make our imagination run wild and tickle our funny bones.

This was started during the Frankfurt Book Fair of 1978 and the winner of the inaugural award was “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice”.  As funny and as odd as that might seem, as a scientist, I actually studied nude mice.  Before you think that nude mice is part of a study on sexual perversion, let me explain that nude mice are actually specially bred laboratory mice with suppressed immune systems used in medical research. Ya….so now you know…….nude mice……try to get that image out of your mind!

Here are a selection of other past winners that made this squirrel chuckle;

The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution (1979)

The Joy of Chickens (1980)

Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Power: How to Increase the Other 90% of Your Mind to Increase the Size of Your Breasts (1985)

How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art (1989)

Bombproof Your Horse (2004)

How to Poo on a Date (2013)

And finally, this year’s winner, Too Naked For the Nazis

 

Finally, here are some other fascinating literary oddities that I scraped together for your edification;

book joy
Oh Joy!
book knitting
Clearly a “must read” for dog lovers
book pussy
Didn’t want cat lovers to feel left out of the fun. (I have actually seen this one on sale at a charity bazaar)
book poo
Yes, we all just know that the discourse would eventually degenerate to “poo”
book missionary
Ok, I hesitated about posting this cause I have a lot of respect for Mother Teresa but I think she would have seen the funny side of this and really, what on earth was the author thinking when he came up with this title?!?!!?

 

The Big 5 -Uh Oh!


Judging from the noticeable lack of comments on my previous post and the content of the few comments that were there, the political situation in the USA remains tense and is a topic that is either offensive or uncomfortable with readers.  So I decided that for this post, I should stick with a topic that should be offensive to no one but myself …….. i.e. my recent 50th birthday.

It was actually in September but that was right in the middle of my big house-moving exercise and blog break, so I did not post on it earlier.  Of course, I got my expected portion of “50 year old” gag birthday greetings like “You are now officially an Oldie” or “Don’t worry – once you are over the hill, you pick up speed”.   Sadly, that was about all I got.  Not a single present. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

My wife was trying to plan a surprise party for me with some friends but with all the packing and the rush of moving house, it did not materialize.  I don’t usually celebrate my own birthdays so it was not really missed.  Some say that turning the BIG 50 is an important milestone that should be celebrated but I think they are just hoping for a party and some cake.  Besides, I don’t think of myself as 50 but as 18 with 32 years of experience!

 

 

Anyway, to celebrate the additional 32 years of being 18, I tried to trace how my tastes and directions have changed during that time.  As you see, I am still a work in progress and still changing……..

 

LINKS

Music: Anne Murray , Clannad , Sinead O’Connor , Billy Joel, Sarah MacLachlan , Shania Twain , Adele , The Black Eyed Peas

Reading:  James Herriot , Ray Bradbury , Douglas Adams , Richard Adams , Sue Townsend , Stephen R. Donaldson , Arthur C. Clarke , Neil Gaiman

Art: Monet , J.M.W. Turner , Klimt , Andrew Wyeth

 

Getting High on Sci-fi


I am a big fan of the science fiction genre and it seems I have been breathing sci-fi these last few days. Definitely overdosing on a sci-fi high.

 

 

This afternoon, I went to watch the movie “Prometheus”.   This was a movie that had me shivering with anticipation.  In 1979, Ridley Scott gave us the first Alien movie which was a masterpiece of tension-building and directorial economy.   The next movie, “Aliens” was also a masterpiece but a completely different animal – it was more of a war movie.  The later movies in the series, all by different directors, were  a long fall from the standard established by the first two movies.  But how would Ridley Scott revisit this franchise after 33 years and how would he handle this prequel?

Well, he did great.  The storyline does develop the overall story-verse further and in a rather imaginative and different way than the earlier movies.  He was also able to keep it fresh even though he had to follow some concepts already well known to fans of the series.  It did not disappoint although, in my opinion, it still did not come close to the excellence of Alien and Aliens.

Yesterday, I noted that Ray Bradbury passed away at the age of 91.  Ray Bradbury was a science fiction, fantasy and horror story writer and it was reading his stories when I was a youth that got me started with my fascination with science fiction.  I was particularly enthralled by “The Martian Chronicles” and by the short story “All Summer in a Day“.  Reading the many tributes to him in the media, many famous authors also shared that he had been a major influence on their writing.  Certainly, his stories will continue to inspire many others.

Finally, the day before, the British magazine SFX published the results of a poll they carried out.  More than 10,000 sci-fi fans voted to determine the Top 100  science fiction, fantasy and horror movies of all time.  I was pretty pleased that most of my favorite movies of the genre also did well on the poll.

Below are my choice of top 10 movies of the genre.  The equivalent ranking in the SFX poll is given in brackets.

  1. Blade Runner (1)
  2. Aliens (3)
  3. Star Wars: A New Hope (4)
  4. The Thing (17)
  5. Serenity (7)
  6. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (2)
  7. Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (5)
  8. The Fifth Element (15)
  9. Alien (8)
  10. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (12)

In the SFX poll, 6th place was “The Matrix”, 9th place was “Back to the Future” and 10th place was “The Dark Knight”.

What are your favorites?

The Potter Formula


 

Well, at last the Harry Potter franchise of books and movies that seemed to have dominated the lives of so many young people  in the last decade has come to an end.

I have always complained that the Harry Potter stories by J.K. Rowling were poorly written, predictable, formulaic, repetitive and full of plot holes.  Well, I am a big enough squirrel to admit that 50% of that is what I believe but the other 50% is a case of sour grapes on my part.  Why?  Cause she became  a billionaire from writing this teen fodder. ……….I wish I had done that!

Anyway, I watched the final film installment of the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part II)”.  It was probably one of the best in the series and I have to admit that she managed to tie all the loose ends up rather well, even though the concept of the Hallows themselves seemed a little contrived and if examined under the electron microscope, certain plot flaws may be seen.  Anyway, that is my way of grudgingly acknowledging her writing.

Still, one wonders why it was such a mega-hit.  What can we learn so that we can churn out the next mega-hit for this decade and become billionaires ourselves.  Well, the big mega-hit of my generation was Star Wars (although I lost interest after the fourth movie in the series).

After spending my entire nut reserve on research, I can reveal to you that there is a certain formula followed by both Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker.

Originally seen at RandomPics.net.

And, there’s one more thing.  Do you remember that classic line in Star Wars;

Darth Vader: “Luke, I AM your father.”

Well the equivalent in the Potter series is not actually said but it was implied;

Severus Snape: “Harry, I LOVED your mother.”

So once again, the Lone Grey Squirrel has unselfishly shared with all of you the formula to fame and fortune.  If you do make it big, remember me ……..I would be happy with 15%.  Thank you

Odd Balls of Fire


Following on from the last post on “possessed foods”, comes more discussion about the strange and wonderful.  I have always had an interest in the weird, the odd, the unusual and the paranormal.  I was fated to be a fan of the X-files as I was of Kolchak -the Night Stalker, which was its predecessor and according to X-file creator, Chris Carter, an inspiration for the series.

I haven’t abandoned my scientific sensibilities and try to look at each of these reported phenomena objectively.  At the same time, I don’t dismiss all paranormal phenomena as bogus hocus pocus and hoaxes, believing instead that where there is smoke, there is fire.  I don’t believe in aliens creating crop circles, for example, as it can easily be done by pranksters.  However, other phenomena may appear strange but may be scientifically verified and explained when properly scrutinised.

To my great satisfaction, two of my favorite strange phenomena from my youth have now been more or less been properly documented and there are now plausible scientific theories to explain them.  These are the phenomena of “spontaneous human combustion”  and “ball lightning”.

Spontaneous human combustion refers to cases where humans are believed to burst into flames such that the bodies are discovered burnt to ashes with the exception of parts of the hands or legs.  However, there maybe minimal damage to the surroundings such as the bed or chair.   An interesting literary  side-note is that Charles Dickens killed off one of his characters, Krook, in Bleak House by this means.

The “wick” theory seems to adequately explain all the different aspects of the phenomena and has been successfully demonstrated using pig carcasses. The theory  basically says that a low grade fire caused by, for example, a cigarette lighting a blanket,  can be fueled by melting body fat.  The blanket may take up the oil and the oil may burn but the blanket would only char just as in a lit candle where the wick does not burn.  In this way, the body is consumed with little damage to the surrounding and the parts of the body with least fat, i.e. hands and legs, are not consumed.

Then there is ball lightning.  Ball lightning have been reported for hundreds of years.  They are basically charged luminous spheres which can move around for short periods.  In some cases, they appear capable of going through surfaces like walls but in other cases they explode on contact. They can kill people in the same way normal lightning can.  One of the earliest well documented case involved a 2.4 m diameter ball of fire that entered a church in Devon, England in 1638 which killed 4 people.

For many centuries, science tended to ignore ball lightning as an unreliably reported phenomena.  There was no theory then that could explain electricity or lightning behaving in this strange manner.  However, many scientists today accept ball lightning as a rare but naturally occurring phenomena and while it is still unclear what really happens in nature, similar glowing spheres have been successfully created in laboratory experiments.

These luminous spheres can be created by discharging a high voltage capacitor in a tank of water; or by using microwaves on certain compounds and objects; or by the oxidising of silicon vapours.  The microwave experiments produce “plasma balls” which adequately demonstrates all the know properties and behavior of ball lightning.

Strangely, one of the things that seems to produce plasma in a microwave is a cut grape (as seen in the video below).  I wonder how that was discovered.  Probably some bored scientist putting everything he/she could find in the kitchen into the microwave for entertainment.  Anyway, don’t try this at home.  Apparently the fumes produce are toxic and the gases can get so heated up that it can shatter glass.  You have been warned.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Anyway, this post is meant to whet your appetite for the strange and unusual cause next week I will share with you one strange X-file that this humble squirrel was indirectly involved in.  Till then. Too doo, too doo, too doo too doo……. (theme from Twilight Zone).