Tuesday, February 27, 2007

How to make a kick-ass smoked haddock soup /chowder

(one of the many smoked haddock chowder variants)


2 small carrots, or 1 large carrot, sliced
1 full leek finely chopped
3 or more medium potatoes cut in to chunks
30 grams plain flour
600 ml vegetable stock (try 500 ml for thicker soup)
600 ml milk (try 500 ml for thicker soup)
Smoked haddock fish, flaked or cut in to pieces
Butter to stir fry
Black pepper, and some dill (optional)


Melt the butter in a saucepan, add all the vegetables, and stir fry for a minute or so. Add the flour and mix to coat all the vegetables. Add the hot vegetable stock and mix. Then add the milk, mix, and simmer for about 20 minutes. Finally, add the fish and cook for a further five minutes, and then add black pepper and dill (or any other herbs), to flavour as desired. Serve hot.

This dish serves 3-4 regular people ... or one very hungry 'real man'.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sunny Jim's 'Lost in Translation'

(from the BBC Asian Network)

Credit to Sunny Hundal (Pickled Politics), who tackles the issue of oppression and violence suffered by the immigrant wives of British Asian men. You can listen to his radio documentary here and read his piece in the Times newspaper here.

I believe that any work that assists in giving a voice to the previously voiceless, is highly honourable.

A 'First Lesson in Econometrics'

This 'First Lesson in Econometrics' is great for anyone thinking about taking up the subject. It accurately reflects my experience of econometrics - never have a tried so hard on a subject and understood so little. I think I would have been better off studying Mandarin.

(hat tip to mahalanobis for the link).

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Thought seed - hobo

Sometimes I feel like a stationary hobo. It is my mind that is doing the wondering.

Mark Jenkins and his tape people

I've just happened across the work of the artist Mark Jenkins, and it's amazing; he has created a beautiful, surreal world of tape adults, tape babies and tape animals.

I've posted a few of his pictures below, but you can visit his excellent site for hundreds more.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Creatine, make me bigger !

Last week, I picked up a tub of reduced price creatine powder from Holland & Barret (£9.99 instead of £24.99). I'm not overly fussed about whether it will work, but I figured I'd give it a try and see what happens. Unlike protein powders, which people can take on a regular basis, creatine is generally taken in phases. First, there is the loading phase (4-5 servings a day, for 5 days). This is followed by the maintenance phase (1 serving a day for 11 weeks), and then the empty phase (nothing for 4 weeks). The cycle can then be repeated.

Here's some information on the innocuous white powder (taken from the BUPA web-site)

- Creatine delays muscle fatigue by "buffering" the build up of lactic acid in the muscles
- It speeds up recovery between bouts of high-intensity physical activity
- It extends maximal muscle power output
- It increases total body mass - particularly lean muscle tissue

Will taking creatine supplements alter my body weight or body composition?
Studies have shown that creatine supplementation does increase body weight and also has an effect on body composition. In particular it increases muscle mass and this effect has been found in both male and female athletes. Weight increases of up to 4kg have been reported after a period of six weeks with creatine supplementation.

It is thought that this weight gain occurs because increases in the concentration of creatine in the muscles has the effect of drawing water into the muscle cells, thus increasing cell volume. This increase in volume acts as an anabolic signal which helps to reduce protein breakdown and improves the body's usage of protein. The end result is an increase in lean body tissue.

What's the best way to supplement the diet with creatine?
... Ideally, creatine should be taken together with some carbohydrate-rich food. This is because the carbohydrate increases the concentration of insulin in the blood stream which, in turn, helps the creatine to be absorbed by the muscle cells. A snack containing between 30g to 40g of carbohydrate is ideal for this purpose. For example, a banana, two thick slices of wholemeal bread, or a bowl of muesli.

Dosage - there are a variety of recommendations, however the most widely used is a loading dose of 20g per day for five days, followed by a maintenance dose of 2g per day. Doses in excess of this are of no benefit as muscle can only store a certain amount and any excess is removed from the body.

In addition, BUPA says: Studies so far have not highlighted any problems.7,8 If you are training and taking creatine supplements you will almost certainly gain weight, particularly lean body mass. Creatine supplementation is not illegal and is allowed by the International Olympic Committee.

I was a bit suspicious about creatine at the outset, but I've checked endless web-sites, and all reported side-effects (there are quite a few) are anecdotal. I've just completed the loading phase and so far there are no ill-effects, but I'll be sure to report back if I notice any changes.

Now come on creatine, make me bigger !

PS - After the first day of the loading phase, I managed to increase the weights I was lifting/pushing by some 10%. This is clearly purely psychological, but it does make me wonder how much I have been 'leaving in the tank'.

Top 10 Causes Of Death In Men

Some interesting, if morbid, statistics from the ONS archives:

Top 10 Causes Of Death In Men - 2005

Heart disease - 20.2%
Cerebrovascular diseases - 7.9%
Lung cancer - 6.9%
Chronic lower respiratory disease - 5.6%
Flu/pneumonia - 5%
Prostate cancer - 3.7%
Colon cancer - 3.1%
Lymph cancers - 2.3%
Alzheimer's disease/dementia - 2.1%
Aortic aneurysm - 2%

The ONS also reported: 'In 2001 the average life expectancy at birth of females born in the UK was 80 years compared with 76 years for males. However, the gap is smaller in terms of the number of years they can expect to live in good health. Healthy life expectancy for women in 1999 averaged 69 years compared with 67 years for men. Consequently, while women can expect to live longer than men they are also more likely to have more years in poor health.'

I don't don't smoke and I eat quite healthily, so my average life expectancy could be a bit higher than the average. But then again, there is a history of heart disease in the family ... Doh !

Equal pay at Wimbledon ... it's a scandal

The powers that be at Wimbledon have decided to raise the prize money in the women's game to bring it to par with the men's. The US and Australia already have equal pay, so you could argue that the elimination of the marginal difference in prize money at Wimbledon was due.

But I think this is all wrong. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the women's game, but I don't find it nearly as enjoyable as the men's game. The biggest difference is in the time spent on court. The men play the best out of 5 sets, and some of these games develop in to real gladiatorial battles; true tests of stamina and endurance. Women, however, play the best of 3 sets. The longer rallies are enjoyable, but on average, there is simply less screen time. Surely, this should translate in to lower earnings?

Maybe the men should petition for a reduction in the length of their matches? Maybe companies should start paying people based on efforts and not results? And there I was thinking we lived in a meritocracy.
Now, how do climb off this high horse.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Enviga, a new drink that actually burns calories !

Yup, you read it correctly. The unique selling point of 'Enviga' - a new health drink from Coca-Cola and Nestle - is that it actually burns calories. Just look at their 'flame' logo; their 'Be positive. Drink negative' catchphrase; the explicit 'Calorie Burner' tag-line printed on the cans. Everything about Enviga screams 'miracle cure for weight loss'.

What's the deal? Will this miracle juice really 'invigorate my metabolism' and gently burn calories? (you know, I've always had this niggling feeling that my metabolism wasn't sufficiently invigorated).

On the funky Enviga web-site, it is claimed that drinking three cans a day can burn an extra 60-100 calories, which equates to about 10 minutes on a treadmill or exercise bike at a medium pace. What's more, their claim is based on a scientific study. Okay, so the study was funded by Nestle and was based on a group of just 31 people over a 72 hour period. Still, it's better than nothing ... or is it? Recently, the full study was published in a scientific journal on Obesity, and it shows that six of the thirty-one participants in the study actually burned fewer calories after consuming the drink. That's an increase in calories for 20% of the sample group! In a blatant exercise in misinformation, the Enviga web-site only mentions the average increase in calories burned, ignoring this massive variability between subjects.

In the US, where the drink is now on sale, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed against the companies, saying "Enviga is just a highly caffeinated and overpriced diet soda, and is exactly the kind of faddy, phony diet aid it claims not to be." On the one hand, the makers of Enviga say 'we want to make clear that this is not a magic bullet to lose weight', but then again Helen Falco (Coke's director of nutrition and health policy), told USA Today 'I can choose to walk up the stairs or I can choose to have a can of Enviga'. Unbelievable.

A few more things to consider:

- If Enviga was on sale in the UK, it would cost at least £1 a can. If you literally bought in to the hype and purchased three cans a day for a year, you would be out of pocket over £1000 each year.
- A can of Enviga contains 100mg of caffeine, roughly the same amount as a strong cup of coffee. If you have three cans of Enviga, that's the equivalent of three cups of coffee, which is more than enough for the negative effects of caffeine to kick in. What's more, many people will drink Enviga on top of their regular coffee/tea intake.
- Enviga contains Aspartame. Just 'Google' it to see the many side-effects.

While the Daily Mail says Enviga will not to be marketed in the UK, an article in The Times says we can expect it to hit our shores later in the year. I look forward to not buying it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The art of the "to do" list

George 'Dubya' Bush makes his to do list

My 'to do' list was getting out of control, so I thought I'd follow a recent tip I read on the 'Lifehacker' web-site and divide the list in two. The first is a list of projects that will be personally rewarding but will take a while to complete. The second list is titled 'mosquitoes' and comprises of the small, pesky tasks that I have been putting aside due to general lethargy. I've spent the last few days squatting these mosquitoes and am happy to report the extermination is nearly complete.

Of course, this means I'll soon be out of excuses not to get stuck in to some of my projects - a procrastinator's nightmare?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Shilpa Shetty is everywhere ... help us

The country's obsession with Shilpa Shetty is made clear in Armando Ianucci's excellent weekend column in the Guardian:

"I get up in the morning and see many pictures of Shilpa Shetty flopped on my doormat. She's on the front of every newspaper in a sequence of 15 exclusive interviews outlining her unique blend of grooming advice and spiritual counselling. In one interview, she tells me how to improve my dress sense while never swearing; in another, how to eat more calcium while remaining true to oneself.

In a third, there's advice on how to run a small business while using heavily weighted dumb bells to improve leg definition, while a fourth tells us all how we can both avoid confrontation and use heated hair-straighteners for less frazzled hair.

I read them all; her DIY advice in the Mirror, a diagram of her emotional rollercoaster in the Express, her betting tips in the Racing Post, her plans for a Middle East settlement in the New Statesman

But as I go out the front door, I feel I haven't had enough of her. I want to know what her views are on Nasa's plans to set up a permanent Moon base. I head for the newsagent's to pick up a copy of Astronomy Today. Here, I sign a petition to have a new bridge across the Thames built and named after her. As I walk home, I hear on the cab-driver's radio that Gordon Brown has announced £25bn funding for a proposed new Department of Shilpa Shetty."

Click here for the rest of this hilarious piece.

That's what I call snow

Just look at that. I measured the depth at 5 inches exactly, and it's still snowing!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I couldn't help it...more Rocky material !

Here are some choice quotes from all the Rocky films:

Rocky I

Mickey: You're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!

Rocky: Well, ya see, sir I understand you're lookin' for sparrin' partners for Apollo, and I jus' want ta let ya know that I am very available.

Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?
Rocky: Because I can't sing or dance.

Paulie: [talking about Adrian] You like her?
Rocky: Sure, I like her.
Paulie: What's the attraction?
Rocky: I dunno... she fills gaps.
Paulie: What's 'gaps'?
Rocky: I dunno, she's got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.

Rocky: I been comin' here for six years, and for six years ya been stickin' it to me, an' I wanna know how come!
Mickey: Ya don't wanna know!
Rocky: I wanna know how come!
Mickey: Ya wanna know?
Mickey: OK, I'm gonna tell ya! You had the talent to become a good fighter, but instead of that, you become a legbreaker to some cheap, second rate loanshark!
Rocky: It's a living.

Rocky: I can't do it.
Adrian: What?
Rocky: I can't beat him.
Adrian: Apollo?
Rocky: Yeah. I been out there walkin' around, thinkin'. I mean, who am I kiddin'? I ain't even in the guy's league.
Adrian: What are we gonna do?
Rocky: I don't know.
Adrian: You worked so hard.
Rocky: Yeah, that don't matter. 'Cause I was nobody before.
Adrian: Don't say that.
Rocky: Ah come on, Adrian, it's true. I was nobody. But that don't matter either, you know? 'Cause I was thinkin', it really don't matter if I lose this fight. It really don't matter if this guy opens my head, either. 'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.

Rocky: ADRIAN!

Rocky II

Rocky Balboa: It's Apollo.
Mickey: Who were you expecting?
Rocky Balboa: I was hoping he wouldn't show
[to Apollo, about a rematch with Rocky]

Duke: He's all wrong for us, baby. I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man get beat before, and the man kept coming after you. Now we don't need no man like that in our lives.
[During Rocky's retraining]

Mickey: This guy just don't want to win you know. He wants to bury you, he wants to humiliate you, he wants to prove to the whole world that you was nothing but some kind of a... a freak the first time out.
[Rocky is punching the heavy bag]

Rocky Balboa: Three, four.
Mickey: Now remember I want 500 hard ones go!
Rocky Balboa: Where was I, seven or eight?

Rocky Balboa: [noticing Mickey's hearing aid] What's that in your ear there?
Mickey: What it is, is I hear stupid things better.

Mickey: [after slapping Rocky in the face with his left hand] Now you didn't even see that comin', did ya? And that's comin' from a broken down punk like me. What... what do ya think the champ would do to ya?
Rocky Balboa: Hurt me bad I guess...
Mickey: Na, he'd hurt ya permanent. *Permanent*!

Rocky III

Interviewer: Do you hate Rocky?
Clubber Lang: No, I don't hate Balboa. I pity the fool.

Interviewer: What's your prediction for the fight?
Clubber Lang: My prediction?
Interviewer: Yes, your prediction.
[Clubber looks into camera]
Clubber Lang: Pain!

Rocky Balboa: Tomorrow. Let's do it tomorrow.
Apollo Creed: [Screaming] There is no tomorrow! THERE IS NO TOMORROW! THERE IS NO TOMORROW!

Apollo Creed: Now, when we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man; the edge! And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean?

Apollo Creed: See that look in their eyes, Rock? You gotta get that look back, Rock. Eye of the tiger, man.

Rocky Balboa: You ain't so bad, you ain't so bad, you ain't nothin'. C'mon, champ, hit me in the face!

Clubber Lang: I'm going to bust you up.
Rocky Balboa: Go for it.

Rocky Balboa: Nothing is real if you don't believe in who you are!

Rocky IV

Adrian: It's suicide. You've seen him, you know how strong he is. You can't win.
Rocky: Oh, Adrian. Adrian always tells the truth. No, maybe I can't win. Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything he's got. But to beat me, he's going to have to kill me. And to kill me, he's gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he's got to be willing to die himself. I don't know if he's ready to do that. I don't know.

Apollo: We always have to be in the middle of the action 'cause we're the warriors. And without some challenge, without some damn war to fight then the warriors might as well be dead, Stallion. Now I'm asking you - as a friend - stand by my side this one last time.

Apollo: Without some damn war to fight, then the warrior may as well be dead, Stallion!

Nicoli Koloff (talking about Drago): Whatever he hits, he destroys.

Drago: You will lose.

Drago: If he dies, he dies.

Drago: I must break you.

Duke: [to Rocky] You see? You see? He's not a machine, he's a man, he's a man.
Drago: [to his own trainer] He's not human. He's like a piece of iron.

Rocky: Going in one more round when you don't think you can - that's what makes all the difference in your life. (the margin!)

Rocky V

Rocky Balboa: [Present day, remembering] Nature's smarter than people think...
Mickey: [Flashback] And nature is smarter than people think. Little by little we lose our friends, we lose everything. We keep losin' and losin' till we say you know, 'Oh what the hell am I livin' around here for? I got not reason to go on.' But with you kid, boy, I got a reason to go on. And I'm gonna stay alive and I will watch you make good..

Rocky VI

Duke: To beat this guy, you need speed. You don't have any. Your knees are weak so no hard running. You've got neck arthritis and calcium deposits in most of your joints, so sparring is out.
Paulie: [to Rocky] I had that problem.
Duke: So what we'll be callin' on, is good old-fashioned blunt force trauma. Horse power. Heavy duty cast iron pile drivin' punches that will have to hurt so much it'll rattle his ancestors. Everytime you hit him with a shot, it's got to feel like he tried kissing the express train.
Duke: [cracks his neck] Yeah! Let's start building some hurtin' bombs.

Martin: Theres always somebody out there. Always. And when that time comes and you find something standing if front of you, something that ain't running and ain't backin up and is hittin on you and your too damn tired to breathe. You find that situation on you, that good, Cuz thats baptizim under fire! Oh you get thru that and you find the only kind of respect that matters in this world, Self respect.

Rocky Balboa: It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!

Even more Rocky Balboa

I've been in overdrive with Rocky material recently, so this selection of videos will be the last post on the Italian Stallion from Philly:

Friday, February 02, 2007

Rocky takes box office top spot

From the BBC: 'Rocky Balboa, the latest part of Sylvester Stallone's boxing saga, is champion of the UK box office.' Talk about the perfect ending.