Friday, August 29, 2014

Golf - a decent score before falling apart at the seams

This May I achieved a personal best at my local golf course, completing 9 holes for a total of 45. The scorecard included five pars and all was proceeding rather smoothly, right to the end, but then the pressure of the final hole proved too much and I crumpled and folded in on myself, completing the last par-5 hole for an abysmal score of 9.

Today I went around the same 9 holes in 46 shots. The first 8 holes included decent tee shots all the way, as well as some pretty decent iron play, but the putting was mediocre and costly. And guess what, the cursed final hole had it's dirty way with me; once again I collapsed on the par 5 and it took a painful 8 shots to complete.

My game has been all over the place this year, a real helter-skelter performance, but the fact that I can string together a few good holes fills me with hope for a decent round and keeps me coming back for more self-inflicted pain and punishment. This is the disease commonly known as golf.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Poem: Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a powerful, short poem that serves as a reminder to remain humble and not to fool oneself into believing that anything one does will stand the test of time. It also gets bonus points for having been recited by Ben Kingsley in a tv commerical, and by Bryan Cranston for the final season of Breaking Bad. Both videos are below.

See here, here and here for more on the meaning of the poem.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

New comic site...for me anyways

I've added Abstruse Goose to my online comic viewing roster. Other geeky comics in the roster include SMBC and XKCD.

: )

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Film: Expendables 3

After seeing the low ratings from both critics and the general audience. I was a tad hesitant about watching the The Expendables III. However, on "cheap Tuesday" such chances can afford to be taken, and Ex3 proved a chance worth taking. The cheese is laid on thick and fast in this third installment of this geriatric actioner, and the story is little more than a vehicle for lots of set piece action, but the action is first rate, delivering endless variety of shooting, fighting and blowing-up of all kinds of buildings and modes of transport. Also, the naff dialogue makes it all the better for not taking itself too seriously, even if many of the lines could have done with some re-work. The question is where can Stallone take the franchise next? The veteran Expendables seem to be on their way out while the young bucks lack sufficient appeal and brawn to carry the franchise to new grounds. Let's see where Sly takes it.


Monday, August 25, 2014

smbc comic

Friday, August 15, 2014

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is as crazy as it looks. It is great fun, takes itself lightly, and doesn't suffer a dull moment. The movie is pure popcorn fun, and I look forward to the sequel. Oh, and the soundtrack kicks.


Rocket Raccoon: [about Drax] Metaphors go over his head.
Drax the Destroyer: NOTHING goes over my head!... My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A few more South Korean movies

Using the Hola location unblocker, I've been able to watch a bunch of South Korean movies that are not available on Netflix UK. All three movies fall in to the South Korean revenge genre, a category I think may have kickstarted by the classic movie Oldboy - this film which was my gateway in to South Korean cinema. The stand-out movie in the bunch is "I Saw the Devil", which is up there with the best of them (think Oldboy, New Order, The Man from Nowhere, A Bittersweet Life, and The Good The Bad and The Weird).

I Saw the Devil

A Company Man

Confession of a Murder

With Hollywood's well of originality running drier than the Atacama Desert, it's no surprise that I Saw the Devil is being remade for Western audiences. It's a shame, as I think the studios are repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot. If they simply bought the distribution rights to movies like Oldboy and I Saw the Devil, and marketed them like Western movies, I reckon they could really open audience's eyes to some foreign gems and leave them wanting more (witness the surge in interest in subtitled Scandinavian programmes in the UK). Instead, we get flat remakes that seem rather pointless.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Book: A Greedy Man in a Hungry World

Congratulations to Jay Rayner for writing a wise yet entertaining book about global food issues. Rayner takes the widest lens possible, looking at how rising populations (the UN predicts a rise to 9bn by 2050 and says that we will need to double food production by 2030) along with rising incomes in the emerging economies, primarily China, are overhauling the dynamics of the global food supply chain. The theme throughout the book is that our focus on local, organic, seasonal produce is a side issue, almost a non-issue in the grand scheme, and that while it may be hard to swallow, sustainable intensification may be the only way forward.

While Rayner has a clear opinion on most issues, he does well to consider the good and bad points of every argument and importantly, he comes armed with an abundance of well sourced facts. He also travels the world to report on the food production landscape from direct experience. Importantly, Rayner's conversational style of writing, which includes a fair chunk of personal, food related reminiscences, makes the book an easy swallow.

*** 1/2

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Wimbledon 2014

Alas, the annual Wimbledon tennis frenzy is over. The women's final this year was an extremely one sided affair, lasting just around an hour. The quality of tennis from the champion (Kvitova) was first rate but her opponent (Bouchard) didn't get a look in. With Wimbledon finals tickets for going for a song, I'm sure many people felt a little cheated, although in compensation they did get to witness a fantastic doubles final later in the evening. In contrast, the men's final this year (Federer vs Djokovic) was a finely balanced, grade A, balls to the wall, nerve wracking, knuckle biting, sweat inducing, battle of strength, stamina and skill. Kitchen sinks were thrown over and over, lapses were punished, and come backs were swift. The match was a four hour masterclass in in class and fortitude by two great ambassadors of the game. Tennis was the winner, along with Djokovic. Federer also proved to the armchair doubters that he still has what it takes, although I'm sure he doesn't give a jot about what the scribblers from the sidelines think. The guy still loves the game and it shows.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Mobile phone renewal

Here is a picture of the phones I've had over the years:

I received the last phone six years ago, in 2008. Here it in the close up:

Nokia 6300

Apart from a few nicks and scratches, the old work horse has held up surprisingly well over the years. However, in recent weeks, the battery wouldn't hold its charge for more than a few minutes of talk time and it was also worryingly swollen to the point where I could hardly get the back plate back on.

I did look at a few smart phones as potential replacements but in the end opted for a new battery (just £2.99) and a SIM-only EE deal for £9.99 a month (12 mth contract), which includes 500 minutes talk time and 500 texts and also still includes a valuable, free home broadband deal which I took up way back when. Hopefully, the little solid brick will keep going for a little while longer.  : )

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wimbledon 2014

A few pics from the first day of the tournament ... managed to get my paws on Court 1 tickets!

And here are some rapid fire stills of Tsonga serving and striking a clean back hand:

Monday, June 16, 2014

A few films recently watched on Netlfix

The Firefox Add-on is still working a treat, providing access to the much wider Netflix US movie catalogue. Recent movies enjoyed include:

- Never Back Down 2 (featuring and directed by Michael Jai White) 4/5
- New Order (excellent South Korean cop/mafia movie along the lines of The Departed) 4.5/5
- Drug War (an over rated Hong Kong crime procedural) 3/5
- The Grandmaster (a good movie from Wong Kar-Wai, but perhaps a touch too much style over substance) 3.5/5

A nice quote from The Grandmaster: 'In life, ability isn't everything. Some thrive in light, others in shadows. The times make us who we are'.

- Jiro Dreams of Sushi (exquisite documentary about devotion and dedication to perfection) 4/5

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Annual hayfever update

The hayfever medicine cabinet contains an ever growing list of products. For those who don't suffer, trust me, it is a right pain in the ***. You feel all bunged up like you have a cold. You can't concentrate and are forever sneezing, rubbing your eyes, and blowing your nose. This is the plague of the modern era and it sucks.

This year my arsenal comprises:

- Cetrizine Hydrochloride - when I first developed hayfever, half of one of these tablets would clear up the itchy eye and sneezing symptoms almost immediately. However, their effectiveness has decreased each year and now they are only a modest help (they are at least off patent so are cheap to buy). These days the runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing must all be adressed individually.
- Eye drops containing that sodium cromoglicate - used as needed for itchy eyes. Good stuff.
- Pirinase nasal spray contains fluticasone propionate - used last night and I had a great sleep with no runny nose. Seems to be at least as good as Beconase.
- Sudafed Decongestant with Pseudoephedrine. These tablets are the manna from the gods for those days when the nose doesn't stop dripping like a tap. I used to end up blowing my nose so much that it would start bleeding. Last year, I couldn't get a hold of Sudafed with this active ingredient and really suffered as a result. Note, these tablets are only available from the pharmacist, no prescription required. The substance is quite potent and is banned in many sports and is also used a precursor in the production of crytsal meth. In some other countries, its sale is much more tightly regulated and requires identification etc. You know its good stuff when it's on a restricted substance list! 

If the meds don't solve the problem this year, I may have to perform the annual ritual of making my bedroom into a clean 'safe zone'. I'll avoid this if I can though, because it is nigh on impossible to keep the window closed in summer, and once it's opened, it's game over and all the effort is wasted.

Relegated for now:

- Prevalin - turned out to be a complete waste of money last year. The dispenser was ineffective and it didn't do much more than coat the nose with a protective layer, which a few sneezes or nose blows would render useless.
- Sudafed Blocked Nose Tablets containing Phenylephorine Hydrochloride - these looked very similar to the Sudafed Decongestant Tablets described above but the active ingredient is nowhere near as helpful. To date I would say they have only been about 25% effective, if that. Definitely a waste of money.
- Beconase containing Beclomatsone Dipropionate - this was clearly effective last year, but this year I wanted to try something different.

See the below graphic to figure know your enemy:

Pollen in the UK
The pollen season separates into three main sections:

  1. Tree pollen - late March to mid-May.
  2. Grass pollen - mid-May to July.
  3. Weed pollen - end of June to September

The old E-bay switcheroo

My sports locker undergone a modest transformation. I sold the above Ping Zings on E-bay for a touch under what than I paid for them last year, and have channelled the funds into a tennis racquet, also purchased on E-bay. I may have overpaid a little for the racket but it is a rare Wilson Hyper Hammer, a model I tend to love. My current racquet is the newer model Wilson K factor Bold, but new isn't always best. The feel is my racket is okay but it isn't quite on the money. I expect the Hammer to do wonders for my game ... cough, cough, focusing illusion, cough, good tradesman and his tools, cough.

Going back to the golfing situation, I forgot to mention that after scoring a 9-hole personal best at our home course (Bird Hills), I improved on the number (scored 42 vs par 35) shortly thereafter on a much tougher course (Wexham). I haven't been practicing at all this year and put the good scores down to either my new clubs - some rusty but trusty Calloway X-20s which I purchased last year - and the fact that I am now carrying the full spectrum of irons, instead of just the odd numbers. Consistency is still all over the place though and I still don't know whether Jekyll or Hyde has turned up until I tee-up the first shot of the day.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Return to Snap City: non-specfic neck pain

After adventures in 'busted triceps country' (the problem is now pretty much fixed, see here and here for more), I now find myself dealing with a case of what I think is muscle related, non-specific neck pain, which has put me out of action this weekend. My breakfast comprised two paracetamol and a nurofen, partnered with a liberal spaying of Deep Heat - me thinks something more substantial may be required. Sleeping is horrible: I woke up repeatedly through the night, feeling being pinned to the bed, and actually needed to use my hands to lift my head to more comfortable positions (and also to get out of bed) because the strain on the neck of simply getting up is too much for the useless, weakling neck to deal with in its current condition. I mean come on, it's not like I was involved in some kind of accident. I can't even recall straining it in anyway. It was just a case of waking up and there it was. Boom, bang, hello Snap City. It's like some kind of curse had landed upon me from a far away land. Causes can include bad posture such as being arched over at your desk at work, sleeping on thick pillows, or anxiety, none of which I would think are a problem for me. By process of elimination that only really leaves the gypsy black magic curse from lands afar. The problem is compounded many fold by peak hay fever, which brings with it north of 30 violent sneezes a day, each one acting like a mini pain injection (they're over in a second but the anticipation sucks). Also, working through the pain (e.g. playing a round of golf, which I did last night), is not recommended.

Before visiting the doctor, the treatment appears to be simple, and the NHS says that it is 'generally nothing to worry about', which is all to the good:

- Paracetamol/Ibuprofen, or both (I'm on both for now, the paracetamol seem ineffective so will be dropped).
- Gentle neck exercises, ranging from general shoulder rotations and arm movements to gentle directional head movements. Keeping your head stationary for too long isn't recommended. Another good one seems to be to use a foam roller or tennis ball to massage the sore spot, or sticking two tennis balls in a sock with a slight gap between them, and using the device to massage the base of the neck for relief.
- Heat treatments can help to reduce the pain - I'm using Deep Heat for immediate relief and may use heat packs if needed. A hot bath can also be helpful.
- Work at eye level as much as possible (out go all the active activities, in come surfing the web, blogging, and watching the French isn't all bad!)

Note to self, the neck pain subsided significantly after taking an Ibuprofen, increasing the pain-free circular range to approximately 50%, from around 10% first thing in the morning. But how much is simply due to starting the day and moving out of the uncomfortable lying position. Confound you, multiple variables!

I'm not wallowing in pity with these injuries by blogging about them, but am interested in logging them for future reference. The dilemma once faces with these things is that most issues heal themselves, so you may end up taking lots of non-helpful actions and you won't really know if they are helpful or not, but because the cost of taking the actions is low, they will become part of your self-treatment routine. No doubt some measures are nothing more than gypsy magic, but you'll never know. So, rational being, how do you like them apples?

Anyways, it looks like my hopes to get back in the gym need to be set back another week, which is roughly how long it takes for the problem to fix itself. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Do not resuscitate - death with dignity (i.e. minimal suffering)

What better way to spend a Sunday morning than to research "Do Not Resuscitate" (or "Allow Natural Death") orders? I decided to look into this after listening to a Radiolab podcast about how CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is far less successful than we commonly believe. The distorted view is most likely due to fictional tv programmes, in which people are routinely saved from the brink of death, often going on to make a full recoveries. In reality, the technique is beset with risks, including irreversible brain damage, broken rib cages, etc. I will research this further but given that I have no fear of death in and of itself (it seems illogical as once I am dead, I am no longer around to worry about it), but I do have a fear of suffering, and given that many people instinctively think that lives are worth saving at any cost, I wouldn't mind having some say in when not to be resuscitated.

Not unsurprisingly, this topic can be quite controversial. The likes of AgeUK have been flagging up cases where doctors have issued DNRs (do not resuscitate) orders on patients without discussing the patients' wishes with the patient (they not be mentally competent) or even with their friends or family. My concern is on the other side - that a DNR order is not in place when I would wish it to be. Because of this concern, I have added 'death planning' to my to do list.

For the time being, let it be known that I do want to be resuscitated in temporary situations such as choking, anaphylaxis, and operations where there is a risk that that my heart will stop beating. I do not want to be resuscitated if it is only going to prolong my life for a few weeks or months, and there is a high risk that my consciousness/brain-state will be significantly impaired or/and that I will be in significant pain for a prolonged period. Scenarios might include extreme accidents or the final phases of terminal illnesses.

To all friends and family, if senior doctors/consultants ever decide that a DNR should be in place based on their assessment of the futility of further treatment and resuscitation, I would like this determination to be respected and not to be challenged (maybe even thank the good doctor for making this tough call).

Lastly, I would much prefer for my last moments to be at home versus being in a hospital, however, if this significantly reduces the probability of successful organ donation then the hospital is the best place.

And just in case anybody is worried, please rest assured, I am currently in good health.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bracknell Forest Mountain Biking

off-road and gripped? ...let's go chew up the dirt

I've recently been on a few mountain biking trips at The Lookout in Bracknell Forest. The first trip was a tentative venture as I hadn't ridden a bike for some 15 years (it turns out that it is, as they say, as easy as riding a bike). The cycle hire place (Swinley Bike Hub) rents out the bikes pictured above for a reasonable fee of £15 for two hours (including helmets), which is just enough time to do run yourself silly on the tracks and finish up feeling totally spent. The sprawling course also provides ample opportunity to get a little lost if you venture off the tracks (thank god for phones with GPS!).

When you pull up to the The Lookout, it looks like a sanitised and family friendly venue, and it is, but once you are on the trails, it can fast become a test of stamina and staying power - one wrong move and you will be wiped out, with potential serious injury. Focus is key and you are forced to lose yourself in the activity. Highly recommended to those who want to do burn up some calories while spraying around a little mud.

Bobby's Almond Fingers

These here are my Achille's heel, the deadly of the deadliest weaknesses that will bring me down. You will find this cake biscuit product in the 'dirty food' corner in many newsagents and corner shops. There is no pretense of organic or natural. No, I imagine these sticks of pure addiction are made in an industrial estate in a desolate post-industrial wasteland where the sun never shines and workers forever dream of escape. The typeface for the listed ingredients is small enough so as not to make me inspect in detail. I am glad there is no information on calories or saturated or trans fats because when I bite into these bad boys and taste the succulent goodness, every swallow pings my brain with a subtle message reminding the better side of my nature that all the soft happiness from the cake comes  from  fats that could well be the collected by waste product from oil changes at car garage...the hint that this is not suitable for human consumption permeates everything to do with this product: the shelve space in the shop (the overlooked section where products often collect a grimy dust), the manufacturer's range of other industrial looking cakes and biscuits, and the long list of 'please don't look too closely' ingredients.

And yet, time after time, I will buy a pack of these and they will all be gone before the day is over.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On-line Courses in 2014

So far this year, I have completed the following courses on Coursera and edX:

  • Buddhism & Modern Psychology by Robert Wright (Princeton University)
  • A Beginner's Guide to Irrationality by Dan Ariely (Duke University)
  • Think 101x: The Science of Everyday Thinking (University of Queensland)
  • Practical Ethics by Peter Singer (Princeton University)
  • Moralities of Everyday Life by Paul Bloom (Yale University)

Due to time constraints I didn't complete any of the coursework requirements or required readings, although I do appreciate how valuable these activities are.

To make my efforts worthwhile, I really should spend some time consolidating this knowledge. The problem is that around every course lies another interesting course - bookmarked courses for future study include:
  • Unethical Decision Making in Organizations (University of Lausanne)
  • Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity (University of Copenhagen)
  • Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World (University of Virginia)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Think101x The Science of Everyday Thinking

I recently completed a course on edX called "Think101x The Science of Everyday Thinking", which was pretty cool. Here is their wrap-up video, which captures key expert insights on how we might go about starting to improve our thinking. See below for the full transcript:

"Over the last year, we've traveled right across the planet to talk to some of the best people
in the world about the science of everyday thinking. Starting right here in Australia,
we talked to Ian Frazer about vaccinations, flew to New York to chat with Danny Kahneman
about intuition and rationality. We went to England to talk to Susan Blackmore about consciousness
and her out-of-body experience, and to Arizona to chat with Richard Nisbett about the person and the situation.
Yes. They'd never been asked their advice for how people can improve their everyday thinking, so we asked them.
Start with your intuitions. Watch yourself. Feel those intuitions coming up and question them.
At least part of the answer is a healthy skepticism. Let's see some proof. I want to see some evidence.
A key feature of storage in our memories is that that's a process of linking up any new
information with what we already know. In fact, rather than thinking of your memory
as some sort of box or tape that the more you have in it or on it, the less room you have
—actually, memory storage creates capacity for additional storage. The more knowledge
you have in some domain, the more ways there are to link things up and hook things up.
The best way to think about, "Will I be able to do something well in the future," is to
simulate it in the present. Without a good simulation, we're really going to make a lot
of mistakes about our own abilities and how we will perform in the future.
One is to recognize that we know much less than we think we know. People who think they've
got everything figured out are almost always wrong.
Understanding the scientific process—the fact that you can make a hypothesis, or call
it a guess, if you like, and then test it, and then at the end of the testing be reasonably
confident about whether your guess was correct or not—that is the basis for making decisions about things.
That's the message that I would always leave people with.
Pick a few areas and pick a few things where you want to change what you're doing. Focus
on those. I mean, do not expect that you can generally increase the quality of your thinking
because I think you really cannot. If there are repetitive mistakes that you're prone
to make, if you learn the cues, the situations in which you make that mistake, then maybe
you can learn to eliminate them.
Do not just read things that make you happy because people agree with you. Challenge yourself by stepping outside that.
Just because it's expressed in confidence, in detail, with emotion, it doesn't mean it's
really a true memory. Without independent corroboration, you can't know for sure.
There are a lot of ways in which we could be biased as consumers. From little things
that really shouldn't make a difference—like I was describing earlier, the name of the
wine. That's something very subtle that could impact the consumer.
Read, read, read, read and more reading.
It's also that we're playful with the things that we approach. It helps take something
that might be just a random pile of data typed on papers, laying on the table, and turns
it into something that is real because internalizing it means that you bring it into your head.
People make all kinds of errors because they can't think statistically. They make all kinds
of errors where they don't understand the need for a control group in something.
I mean, 28 people took a weight loss program, and nearly all of them lost weight.
Well, what was the control group for that?
Very clearly, the single best predictor of how good you are is how much you know about
the domain, not what problem-solving skills you bring to bear on it. We began there. That was wrong.
Paying attention to the message of Danny Kahneman's book is a starting point—and that is, there
are many, many sources of error or bias that we learn about in psychology. The message
is: when we're doing one of the tasks that we know that people have difficulty with or
are subject to particular biases, just take a little time, reconsider it.
The equivalent to not pressing the send button when you've written a message that you're not sure about.
It's a good idea just to stop and take a little time and reflect.
I mean, I'd like to think that in general, thinking about the fact that you can test
things yourselves and asking questions about that, that that applies to anything in life,
and so even just the realization, "Can I ask a question about this," and, "How would I
test this if I wanted to find out?" I think it applies to anything.
The kind of advice that I give people about making better decisions is to be careful about
what information you allow yourself to consider. If you're a forensic scientist and you want
to avoid being influenced inappropriately by extraneous information, make sure you don't know that information.
Aside from the obvious: exercise, good diet, get a good night's sleep... No, I don't know
what my research says about that. Part of what it is, if you're thinking about, say,
Danny Kahneman's recent book on thinking fast and slow, there are certain situations you
see outlines where the thinking fast really gets you into trouble, but it also in many,
many situations where it gets you out of trouble, where thinking slow would not. There's not a simple panacea here.
To be honest, I think actually what helps you more is common sense. The problem is that
common sense isn't very common—to use the old phrase. Lots of the time, people cling
to their hopes, and their wishes, and their dreams. They think that without putting much
effort in, these things will somehow come true. That's often underlying a lot of actual
belief in the paranormal and a lot of the self-help literature as well.
If psychology tells us anything, it's for the most part, success is associated with hard work.
In terms of every day thinking, I would say you've got to put the time in. There's no shortcuts here."