Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Garden photos

I went on holiday today,
in my garden.
Deliberately pottering around,
observing the insect life and the bird activity;
the wonderful variety of flowers,
out in full bloom,
bathed in a gentle sunshine.

Oscar the death cat

'A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat' is another fascinating article from the New England Journal of Medicine:

This the face of death?
'Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families.'

Twinnings Everyday tea on sale

One of my favourite teas is half price at Sainsbury's (99p for 80 tea-bags). Ah, the power of suggestion ... I think I'll go make a cuppa !

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Clustering of the fatties and the fat virus

The Herald Tribune has just reported on a study that proves that being fat is contagious, kind of. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine looks at data going back over 32 years and finds that people are much more likely to become obese if friends/family in their social network become obese. Unfortunately there seems to be no effect in the opposite direction.

Other thought-generating factoids on the topic of fat, health and body image (from my secret trove of interesting links and facts!):

  • The UK is home to the fattest people in Europe, with 22.3% of men and 23.0% of women classed as obese.
  • The BBC reports that people are increasingly obsessed about their looks, with eating disorders and considerations of plastic surgery abound.
  • The relationship between heart disease and a healthy diet could be significantly less robust than we are be led to believe (See this BBC 'Matters of the Heart' radio documentary).
  • We are not always what we eat. Our body breaks down the molecules of food we feed it, rebuilding them in to all sorts of things. For example, are you worried about the high cholesterol level found in eggs and other foods raising your cholesterol level? Worry not, for The British Heart Foundation says dietary cholesterol has limited influence on the body's cholesterol levels and that 'The most common cause of high blood cholesterol levels in people in the UK is too much saturated fat in the diet.'
  • We were taught that body fat is an energy storage device that is largely inert. Time for an update buddy; the latest thinking on this substance is that it is more complex, with biologists now considering it along the lines of an endocrine (hormone releasing) organ; fat cells send out all sorts of signals that can affect blood pressure, blood clot formation, metabolism, weight, and cell growth, that in turn alters the risk of developing cancer.
  • The New England Journal of Medicine found that liposuction that removes subcutaneous fat (i.e. just beneath the skin) had no effect on the patients health whatsoever. It is, thus, purely cosmetic.

Returning to the original study that looks at the power of the the social network effect in spreading obesity, here is a summary of the New England Journal of Medicine study:
  • Authors Christakis and Fowler evaluated the BMIs of 12,067 people over 32 years, and used various statistical methods to see whether weight gain was associated with weight gain in a person's friends, siblings, spouse and neighbours.
  • Their findings suggest that 'friends have an even more important effect on a person's risk of obesity than genes do'. To underscore the role of genes on obesity, the Journal notes 'A recent study reported that among people who carried a single copy of the high-risk allele for the FTO gene, which is associated with fat mass and obesity, the risk of obesity increased by 30%. The risk of obesity increased by 67% among people who carried two alleles, and on average they gained 3.0 kg (6.6 lb) or more.'
  • They concluded that 'A person's chances of becoming obese increased by 57%...if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval' and that ' when two persons perceived each other as friends, if one friend became obese during a given time interval, the other friend's chances of following suit increased by 171%. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. The results of this study also indicate that obesity is clustered in communities. For example, the risk that the friend of a friend of an obese person would be obese was about 20% higher in the observed network than in a random network; this effect vanished only by the fourth degree of separation.'
Powerful stuff.

Golf tips

'We're cool, and we know it'

Here are some tips that I've sourced from a handful of books on the great game:

Ernie Els - The Complete Smart Game

* Don't rock back onto the heels through the swing.
* Pre-shot routine is essential: visualise the shot (swing and ball flight).
* A good set-up encourages a good swing.
* The golf swing is built up of various positions, but it is one continuous flow.
* Keep the ball positioned about 3 ball widths inside the left heel.
* Never 'force' a pitch shot > know your range and stick to it. Too long? Go up a club. It's that simple.
* The nearer the pin, the more accurate the line becomes. Therefore, focus more on the 'weight' of the shot.
* It's easier to judge the distance if you keep the ball low to the ground: chip/bump-and-run shots are likely to be more accurate than lobs, which may be more suited to obstacle avoidance shots.
* Ideally, for chipping shots:
7-iron: 25% air / 75% ground
9-iron: 50% air / 50% ground
PW: 75% air / 25% ground
* Putting: length of stroke determines distance. Amateurs vary force whereas pro's vary the length of the stroke. The latter is more reliable.
* Have fun.

Good Golf Made Easy - Tony Dear

* Let arms hang naturally.
* Focus on the fundamentals: don't seek the perfect golf swing.
* When the left arm is parallel to the ground, the club should point to the sky.
* Watch for the reverse pivot on the down swing: when your weight goes from the right foot to the left, instead of from left to right.
* Hip action should come naturally.
* Hit 'through' the ball, not at it.
* Think 'coil, unwind, balance'.
* Never get bogged down in technique or over complicate matters when you are on the golf course.
* Don't lunge/grimace at the ball; go for rythm and tempo and maintain this through the clubs.
* The only difference between a driver and a pitching wedge should be ball position and stance; aim for a constant rythm and good timing.
* Sand: focus on a spot a couple of inches before the ball, open the face of the club, open the stance, and scoop the ball out with the right hand feeling dominant.
* Follow through: 'Splash, don't crash'.
* Have fun.

50 Years of Golfing Wisdom - John Jacobs

* Never be tense, have a firm stance, almost with the feet trying to grip the ground.
* Having a good set-up makes a good swing a probability versus a possibility.
* Due to the swing arc, having the ball too forward in the stance increases the probability of hitting it to the left, and vice-versa.
* Lateral head movement is okay: it's found in most good swings.
* Remember: The maximum speed is at impact.
* Distance is club-head speed correctly applied.
* Always picture your shot.
* Pitch shot: left hand must lead the clubface through impact. Don't scoop the ball into the air, leaning back on the right foot and hitting upwards. Set weight on left foot, and hit down into the ball. The clubface will send it up.
* Bunker shots: Want the sensation of the club sliding through the sand, not digging into it.
* Putting is about confidence/authority.
* You play your best golf shot by letting your swing just happen, not be concentrating on making it happen.
* The golf swing has only one purpose: to deliver the head of the club to the ball correctly. How that is done is immaterial, so long as the method permits correct impact to be achieved over and over again.
* Don't lift up; wind up.
* Start the back-swing with the right shoulder getting out of the way.
* As near as possible, keep your feet flat on the ground.
* Don't let things get to you, shrug them off and stay relaxed for the next shot.
* Metal pictures help club selection.
* A decisive factor in good shot making is preparation: shot assuredness, club selection, grip, aim, stance, posture > these are the foundation.
* Everybody has a natural clubhead speed, a tempo (e.g Ben Hogan was lightning fast, Sam Snead was so slow it almost seemed lazy).

Caddy Shack

* Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball.

The RMF Clubhouse

Jolly good golfing expedition yesterday, what. It felt a little odd, mind, not once having to dive into the woods to escape torrential rain. The highlights:

  • Abs - Had me on the floor in laughter when a series of tee-offs flew off at right angles straight into neighbouring bushes. Far and away the best comedic performance to date. With a little assistance from our good friend, 'Mr Mulligan', Abs pulls his handicap down a few decimal points and gets ever closer to breaking his average of 5 shots per hole.
  • Levi - Using the trusty P-wedge at every opportunity, all previous records are smashed with a truly stunning show of form. A new personal best of 43 beats the previous PB by a full ten strokes! And all of this is achieved with a unique putting styles that continues to amaze on-lookers; the thinking seems to be the closer the ball is to the hole, the greater is the certainty of it going in, so it can be struck that much harder!
  • Priyesh (aka 'The Dedicated') - Absent from the course yesterday, but we could have found him on the local driving range (twice that day!), getting secret tips from a 4-handicapper. It's like Rocky when he goes to the Russian mountains to do training!
  • Me - After a horrible first round, I decided the Nike ball that I had found and was using had been cursed by it's previous owner I decided to ditch this sphere of evil, replacing it with my trusty (cheap) Donnay ball that had served me in recent weeks. At that instant my luck changed and I produced a nice round of 31. A couple of decent rounds bring me that little bit closer to breaking the 4-shot-per-hole average.
Here is the updated scorecard:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Book quote - Do Butlers Burgle Banks?

'Ada, however, had made a deep impression on him, though physically, it could not be denied, she lay open to criticism. Hers, though pleasant, was definitely not the face that launched a thousand ships, and she was additionally handicapped by a square, sturdy figure suggestive of someone who in the football season turned out regularly at scrum half for the London Scottish. Nevertheless, it was with a sentimental glow that he was thinking of her. Looks, he was telling himself, are not everything. Far more important are the womanly virtues for which one so often seeks in vain. These she possessed in abundance, and pre-eminent among them was her superlative cooking.'
Do Butlers Burgle Banks? - P.G Wodehouse

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Goats in trees madness

These pictures appear to be the real deal. Apparently, the goats are crazy about the fruit of the Argan tree.

For further evidence, watch goats scramble up trees in this travel video from Yahoo.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thought seed

A few random thoughts on averages

  1. Did you hear about the man who had his feet in a bucket of ice and his head in the oven? On average he was feeling just right. (Apologies, it's economist humour).
  2. When it comes to rating one's performance of various daily activities (eg: driving a car) most people think they are a bit better than the average. By definition, this can't be.
  3. I don't want to be all that different from the rest of the population, to stand out, to leave a legacy, to be unique or to attain great status. I consider myself fairly average. Now, doesn't that make me different? Doh!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The RMF Clubhouse

We returned to the golf course we much enthusiasm this Saturday. After the third hole, it started pouring down with rain (again) , but this time we were ready. We had our umbrellas though ... all of which we were left in our cars. Persevering, we found shelter under the tree's whenever possible, and our patience was rewarded with the occasional break of sunshine. We closed the day having played three round for a total of over 7 hours of on-off golfing.

Is there a risk of golf fatigue setting in? Well, I woke up this morning, the sun was shining, and my first thought was of how good it would be back out on the course. I will refrain though, as there is much golf to be watched on tv - it's the final day of the Open (these guys are also getting a good soaking!).

Highlights of the yesterday's golf:

Abs - Remains the master of the recovery, scoring 4's from many 'lost-cause' positions. Provides additional entertainment value by giving chase to the rabbits.
Levi - Showed us a flash of good form on the long 5th, but I the newcomer seems to have too strong a penchant for aiming right, shooting right, putting down the right etc, and needs to be sent to the garage for realignment. It is a mystery.
Priyesh (aka 'The Tormented') - Many balls were sacrificed to the bushes and tree's, providing a clear illustration of the power vs accuracy trade-off that exists in the game. Also, introduced the call 'Weakling!', to be used when a player's shot comes up too short.
Me - Several good tee-offs made my life that much easier and I scored a personal best for the course (31 vs par 27). Good times!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Are brains overhyped?

This is a scan of a man's brain. The black space a big hole, the grey lining is the brain matter. Makes you think, eh? Here is the full story, in Spiegel.

Random thoughts about food

Helping to bring in the weekly shopping from the car, I had a few thoughts about food:

- Is the pineapple a form of apple?
- Something must be wrong when a banana is classified as a herb and a tomato as a fruit.
- What came first, the colour orange, or the orange fruit?

Harry Potter

... in the RMF?

Pull the other one!

Friday, July 20, 2007

A free laptop with your broadband, sir?

I do love a bargain and what a bargain this is. PC Word are offering free laptops worth £300 when you subscribe to Orange Broadband (£14.99 a month with a reduced rate for the first three months). If you pay an extra £19.99 you get a laptop with built-in wi-fi and double memory (512MB). The only catch seems to be the 24-month lock-in. Otherwise, this looks like a cracking deal. I already use Orange Broadband and it works a treat, but this looks like a decent offer for those without neither computer and internet connection.

Asturias pictures 6 of 6

This slideshow of the typical traditional buildings in Asturias wraps up the series. Click on the 'play' button to watch.

Asturias pictures 5 of 6

Click on the 'play' button to watch a slideshow of scenes in Asturias.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Asturias pictures 4 of 6

Here is chamois, the source of the leather people use to clean their cars. Chamois are a type of mountain goat native to the mountainous regions of Europe. They clearly have a head for heights; just one more inch forward and this chamois would have been over the edge (it doesn't look it but it's about 50 metres, straight down).

The Chapel of La Soledad is a little chapel in the old town of Gijon, with an interesting history. It used to be the headquarters to the Seafarer's Guild, which financed and organised the capture of whales in the local port. A few hundred metres from the building is the highest point in the area, and from it is from here that lookouts would light bonfires when they spotted whales in the vicinity, alerting the local fishermen. Hunted whales were dragged ashore and cut up in front of a representative of the Guild and the priest of the Chapel, with one fin going to the fisherman who caught it, the belly to the Chapel, and the rest divided amongst the rest of the fishing community.

We conclude with an obligatory shot of our hire car, a necessity for travel in Asturias. Our run-around was a nifty little Toyota Yaris that proved supremely efficient and was a joy to drive. We chipped in an extra tenner each for a Garmin satellite navigation system (we called it 'The Gerbil') that allowed us to relax ... oh, apart from the first day when it told us to turn too early off a roundabout and sent us through a series of villages in the hills ... and when it sent us high into the mountains in the blackness of the night, where we had to use lights on full-beam to navigate through the clouds!

This is the last of the 'scroll down' photos. Slideshows of landscape scenes and traditional buildings of Asturias are up next.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Asturias pictures 3 of 6

We encountered this magical 'tree in a rock' whilst walking in the Picos de Europa.

Setting out on a long walk through the Picos.

Llanes is a nice area, but it's not sure about their taste for the modern. Apparently the artist 'uses a non figuartive method to achieve a work of great beauty, a work for contemplation, a work whose colours and shapes are constantly changing with the light and the water'.

The solitary rock (under the seagull) belongs to Playa de Poo ('the beach of Poo). The area changed it's name to Po in 2005 but all the signs still read Poo, making for good comedy value!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Asturias pictures 2 of 6

It's always about the tea drinking. I find the price of a cuppa works well as a gage for the general price level across a region. In Asturias a pot of the brown stuff costs between 1-1.4 euros (around 70p-£1). This cafe also makes an excellent fried bread, which I was obliged to try.

This is the 'Eulogy of the Horizon', a landmark symbol of Gijon, a coastal city with a nice old town. From this angle, the sculpture creates a kind of optical illusion.

A tiny beach with several caves to the left.

I loved the collection of large, pastel coloured rocks that had been smoothed over by the waves. A couple of smaller rocks found there way back to the UK

: )

Monday, July 16, 2007

Asturias pictures 1 of 6

This week I'll be posting a collection of photo's from our family holiday in the Asturias region of northern Spain. It's a beautiful part of the country with a climate similar to the UK (although we were fortunately blessed with very little rain!). Let us begin:

The view from our lodging, a wonderful b&b called Casa El Campu.

Swallows flew right across our window in the morning, before heading off over the hills.

A sneaky peak into an old barbershop.

A medieval bridge in Cangas de Onis, crossing the Rio Sella. You can't see it in the picture, but a man and his dog were swimming laps from one side of the river to the other.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The re-reading of Don Quixote

Even though I know how the story develops, Don Quixote retains all of it its charm on a second visit. This 400+ year old novel is truly something to behold, a real gift to the literary world. I look forward to reading it again next year.

PS - If you are reading Edith Grossman's translation, I recommend skipping the first 20 to 30 pages of unnecessary discussion of DQ from the literary perspective, comparing Cervantes to Shakespeare and the like. Just go straight to the story and get stuck in.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Thought seed

The 'forgetting time' phenomenon

I woke up last Sunday morning with absolutely no sense of time, not knowing what day it was or what my plans were. Where was I? I was totally discombobulated. It took about ten seconds to regain my senses and collect my thoughts: it was a Sunday and I had arranged to play a round of golf. Ten seconds doesn't seem that long, but it's long enough to get worried at not being able to remember pretty much anything at all. This probably happens to everyone (have you ever woken up at the weekend thinking you are late for work?) but that doesn't make it any less mysterious. A strange phenomenon indeed.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

John Updike on golf

John Updike is a famous author who is obsessed with golf. From his 'Golf' essay in the New York Times, 1973:

An exceedingly small ball is placed a large distance from one's face, and a silver wand curiously warped at one end is placed in one's hands. Additionally, one's head is set a-flitting with a swarm of dimly remembered "tips." Tommy Armour says to hit the ball with the right hand. Ben Hogan says to push off with the right foot. Arnold Palmer says keep your head still. Arnold Palmer has painted hands in his golf book. Gary Player says don't lift the left heel. There is a white circle around his heel. Dick Aultman says keep everything square, even your right foot to the line of flight. His book is full of beautiful pictures of straight lines lying along wrists like carpenter's rules on planed wood. Mindy Blake, in his golf book, says "square-to- square" is an evolutionary half-step on the way to a stance in which both feet are skewed toward the hole and at the extremity of the backswing the angle between the left arm and the line to the target is a mere 14 degrees. And 15 degrees. Not 13 degrees. Fourteen degrees. Jack Nicklaus, who is a big man, says you should stand up to the ball the way you'd stand around doing nothing in particular. Hogan and Player, who are small men, show a lot of strenuous arrows generating terrific torque at the hips. Player says pass the right shoulder under the chin. Somebody else says count two knuckles on the left hand at address. Somebody else says no knuckle should show. Which is to say nothing about knees, open or closed clubface at top of backswing, passive right side, "sitting down" to the ball, looking at the ball with right eye -- all of which are crucial.
And the bit he doesn't say: once you've got all this figured out, you shouldn't be consciously thinking about any of it when you play your shot !

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Joey Chestnut hotdog eating champion

We have a new king! Joey Chestnut has taken the hotdog eating crown, consuming 66 hotdogs in just 12 minutes. The winner for the previous five years - Japanese hotdog eating superstar Takeru Kobayashi - kept with the pace til the last. Kobayashi may have been slowed down by the fact that he'd recently had his wisdom tooth taken out, but then again that does leave more space for hotdogs!

We turn to Youtube for footage of rapid hotdog eating, including a video of Kobayashi in a hotdog eating contest against an Alaskan bear.

I wonder if these guys are blacklisted at all the local buffet restaurants?

Hayfever - Dr Reddy's hayfever tablets

When I first developed hayfever I had no idea what it was and I spent weeks suffering: I sneezed so much that my noise started bleeding, and my eyes felt like somebody had rubbed ground up glass into them. Blurry eyed, I made my way to the pharmacy and bought a pack of Zirtek antihistamine tablets. They cost a whopping £5.50 for a 7 day supply, but they were worth every penny. Within minutes, my symptoms had cleared up ... it was a miracle. And each tablet actually lasted almost two days.

Alas, the body adapts and the Zirtek tablets now last just under a day. So, I am very happy to report that 'Dr Reddy's hayfever tablets' from Superdrug work just as effectively (they contain the same active ingredient) and they only cost 70p a pack (on the buy-one-get-one-free offer). Stock up now!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Monday, July 02, 2007

More from the Audiphile

My car has gone in for it's MOT today. My assessment is that it needs new brakes, new tires, and a quick service. The garage man is a bit more optimistic, but we shall see what transpires. I've had the car for well over two years now, and I haven't had to spend a penny on repairs. Oh, how I love my Audi 80.

Update: No new tires were needed, but a fog light replacement, and new front brakes have dented my wallet. Oh Audi, I lament your petrol consumption and your expensive German parts, but it is not your fault.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Audi 80 mpg (miles per gallon)

I've been logging my mileage and petrol expenditure over the past few months to gage the efficiency of my old workhorse:

Miles: Approx 1000.
Petrol expense: Approx £120 (6 x £20 at an average of 96p a litre, using ordinary unleaded).

This equates to roughly 8 1/2p a mile, or 36.4 miles per gallon. For an old, heavy Audi 80 I'm impressed, as the results hold up well against the modern A4.

The next step is to repeat the test with premium unleaded.

PS - Against the more modern, green cars, however, the results leave a lot to be desired. The top green cars achieve somewhere between 60-75 mpg, with the little electric runabouts squeezing out an equivalent of over 600mpg!