Saturday, February 28, 2009

Book review - The Odyssey by Homer (translated by Robert Fagles, narrated by Ian Mckellan)

The Odyssey (8th century BC) is a first rate example of early Western literature and I am happy to report that for this translation at least, one does not need any prior knowledge of history, context, characters, etc, to enjoy the story to its fullest.

There were pros and cons to listening to the audio book versus reading the text. On the upside, Ian Mckellan has a beautiful voice perfectly suited to this greek epic, and while the audio format provides for a more passive experience, the story is strikingly visual and it allowed me to focus on imagining the scenes to their fullest - childhood memories of films like Jason and the Argonauts came flooding back.

On the downside, my ipod shuffle became redundant as anything more than an audio book for two months, because I didn't want to keep losing my place in the story. Also, the translation provided so many beautiful sentences that were begging to be quoted for posterity, but the audio format doesn't lend itself to efficient note-taking.

While the sheer length of the audio book (13 hours!) had me thinking about yielding about half way through, I am glad for having persevered as it quickly returned to form and I was hooked through to the end. This work is a perfect introduction to the classics and Fagles deserves much applause for this masterly rendition. I look forward to reading the Iliad and other classics in the future.


An article from 'Time' magazine (1996) on the release of Fagles' translation of Homer's Odyssey.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Film Review: Franklyn

As I watched Franklyn, I kept asking myself 'Am I missing something deeper here?'. I have done some digging around on the net and it seems the answer is a firm 'no'. It is what it is.

For a film made on a very low budget (£6m), Franklyn has fantastic visuals but I was disappointed that the narrative didn't lead anywhere particularly significant - after a slow-ish start I was really looking for it to develop some of its themes about reality and fantasy in greater depth, but alas, it just failed to deliver. Also, unnecessary confusion was added to the affair by Eva Green's dual role.

If the Franklyn's script could have been developed further this could have been a great film. Instead, what we have is a just about decent enough time passer.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A picture from the Natural History Museum

Continental drift ... it's a big jigsaw puzzle!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Book review - Shoot the Puppy by Tony Thorne

I read Shoot the Puppy whilst in Dubai, so this review is a tad late.

Shoot the Puppy is a small, entertaining book that provides the low-down on the latest corporate jargon and buzz phrases, most of which will want to make you hurl. Here are some of my favourite picks:

- Eating 'al-desko', or having a 'deskfast'.
- 'Someheimers' - where you forget things some of the time.
- 'Excel chimps'
- 'Entreprenerd'
- When you are past the leading and edge and beyond the cutting edge, you are on the 'bleeding edge'.
- 'Werewolf project' - starts out straight forward but then transforms into a nightmare.
- 'Muppet shuffle' - a moving around of underperforming employees
- 'Adhocracy' - where all decisions making is improvised.
- 'Delusions of adequacy'
- 'Truthiness' - plausibility based on feeling, not fact.
- 'PICNIC' - Problem in chair, not computer.
- 'Shoot the Puppy' - to do the unthinkable (desperate measures, ultra-macho, etc).


If you like to keep abreast of the latest words and phrases that are doing the rounds, I highly recommend Urban Dictionary. Some recent entries include:

- 'Lol theory': The theory that the internet phrase lol,meaning "laugh out loud", can be placed at any part in any sentence and make said sentence lose all credibilty and seriousness.
ex 1 - Doc: We need to operate on your colon lol, you have cancer.
ex 2 - Jesus: Take this all of you and eat it, it is my body, lol.
ex 3 -
Me: Will you marry me? Lol.

- '
Land it in the Hudson': An expression used to encourage yourself or someone else when it appears an endeavor is headed for a disastrous outcome (due mostly to external conditions). Based on when Sully averted tragedy by successfully landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River. See also, "Land it like Sully."

- 'Default potential': A self-portrait or a picture with you in it that has the potential to be your default image on myspace/facebook etc.

Mario Van Peebles spotted in Damages

It was nice to see actor Mario Van Peebles pop up in the latest episode of Damages. I remember him from one of the Highlander films, the dismal Gunmen, Panther, and the short-lived series 'Sonny Spoon'. Despite delivering turkey upon turkey, Peebles also wrote, produced, directed, and starred in 'Baadassss!', a biopic of his father Melvin Van Peebles that won several awards and has a very respectable rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A few interesting random bits

- Scientists in the UK seem to have succeeded in curing children with peanut allergies by exposing them to small amounts of peanuts over a long period of time, allowing them to build up a tolerance.

- You might not like Obama's $800 billion monster spending bill, but at least you'll be able to see where the money is going.

- Straatis' Flick photostream has more excellent pictures taken around a century ago:

1908 - Free coffee at Bowery Mission for unemployed

- Iran and the West is an amazingly insightful three-part documentary on the behind-the-scenes realpolitik shenanigans between Iran, the EU and the US since the Iranian Revolution. It took three years to produce and includes interviews with almost all the major players at the time. This is the best thing I have seen on the box so far in 2009 by some distance. It is available on BBC's iPlayer until Feb 28th.

- The FT reviews three books discussing violence. 'Une histoire de la violence' by Robert Muchembled sounds particularly fascinating but the darn thing seems to be in French. Anyway, here's a quote from the review:
"In his history of violence, written in French, Muchembled presents a highly optimistic analysis. He argues that we have moved from a society “saturated by brutality”, in which violence was widely encouraged, to one in which it has become almost universally taboo – apart, most importantly, from state-sanctioned wars. Resorting to violence, which men once celebrated as proof of their virility and their ability to defend home and family, is now condemned as a sign of social delinquency. The rise of this culture of sensibility, which accelerated from the 18th century, has been one of the most remarkable developments of modern history.

The statistics Muchembled cites are striking. The number of murders per year is just one per 100,000 in Europe today and six in the US. In 14th-century Europe it was estimated at 130 per 100,000. Yet some aspects of violence have remained constant over seven centuries: 90 per cent of murders are committed by men, most of them younger than 30, and southern Europe has always had a higher incidence of violence than in the north, giving some credence to the popular image of a hot-blooded Latin male."
- I see good nutrition as a function of two things: what you eat, and how much you eat.

While my recent readings have given more weight to quantity over quality, I am interested to know whether low calories diets comprising of so called 'junk' are actually bad for you, provided you continue to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals, etc. In other words, we know being fat is bad for you, but what about eating fat? They are two very different things. Alas, this study (on mice) suggests that high fat diets could indeed play a dangerous role in the inflammatory response in atherosclerosis. I tried to read the study and couldn't make heads or tails of it, but it's food for thought:
Neal Weintraub, MD, and colleagues examined adipose tissue - or fat - surrounding the coronary arteries of humans. The researchers found these fat cells to be highly inflamed, suggesting that they could trigger inflammation of the blood vessels, an important component of atherosclerosis.

They also found that the inflammation of fat tissues around the arteries of mice is increased by feeding the animals a high-fat diet for just two weeks.

"This is independent of weight gain or blood lipids-cholesterol levels,"
- Michael Mosely has been investigating the options people are pursuing to try and live much longer, healthier lives (iPlayer link). Life extension tricks include human growth hormone injections, calorie restriction, and growing organs in a lab. It's all very fascinating. With proper trials and testing, I reckong some of these wacky ideas could easily become mainstream. Afterall, people are increasingly eager to use plastic surgery to look younger, so actually trying to become biologically younger is surely the next logical step. And while it may seem unnatural to try and extend one's life by restricting calories or taking hormone injections, if the side-effects are negligible surely it's worth a shot?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

British Library - Taking Liberties Exhibition

The Taking Liberties exhibition (free entry) at the British Library provides an in-depth time-line of the evolution of liberties in England, from the Magna Carta through to the modern day. One of the many things I learned of during this trip is the appalling treatment of Jews in England around the 12th century:

"Although nominally under royal protection, the Jewish community in England faced violent persecution from the end of the 12th century, culminating in the massacre at York. In 1290, Edward I confiscated all Jewish property and expelled the Jews from England. It was not until the 17th century that they formally petitioned to be allowed re-entry."
The BBC site linked above shares this interesting tidbit of info:
"According to sources in the Chief Rabbi's office, devout Jews travelling on the East Coast Main Line still take care not to eat sandwiches as they pass through York, as this would contravene the cherem still associated with the city. On overseas Jewish community internet message boards, the question of whether travel to York is permitted is a frequent one."

Friday, February 20, 2009

'The Expendables' update - Arnie might have a small role

Back in January, I put together this strip of actors who will be starring in Stallone's upcoming project, The Expendables:
Alas, it looks like Sir Ben is out and Eric Roberts in. That's not a fair swap! On a more positive note, there is talk that Arnie might have a small role. The odds are pretty slim so don't get your hopes up, but there is serious talk him taking a day out of his Governating schedule for filming.

More cool photos from 'The Big Picture'

Samuel Johnson quote, from outside the British Library

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Clint Eastwood quote

'Sometimes you have to swing hard and miss the ball. But you have to swing hard.'

From an interesting interview in the Guardian. I always liked the actor, now I firmly like the man.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Predator goes Jane Austen

Hollywood executive: 'We like the costume drama idea, but it's getting stale and audiences are starting to weary. What this project needs to liven it up is ... Predators. Yes, add Predators and it gets the green light.'
Writers: 'Umm, okay, sure.'

From Variety:

"Pride and Predator" ... veers from the traditional period costume drama when an alien crash lands and begins to butcher the mannered protags, who suddenly have more than marriage and inheritance to worry about.
It really doesn't get much better.

Reverse Triage - From the War & Medicine Exhbition at the Wellcome Trust

I wonder if the reverse triage concept is at all being considered by the economic policy makers who are addressing issues of whom to bail out, and how.

(Link to Exhibition)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Shield is back

The final series of The Shield starts tonight at 10pm, on Five US.

Great charts on the UK economy

From a lengthy piece in the FT on how it is all going so wrong for the Bank of England:

The last chart is the best. Just as the investment banks' risk models would have operated on a limited history of artificially stable data, so the same holds true for the policy makers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a blog

Elsewhere, I see that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a blog. I initially thought this was a hoax - it is very 'Borat-esque', with the 'about' section opening with 'During the era that nobility was a prestige and living in a city was perfection, I was born in a poor family in a remote village of Garmsar...' - but my many researches reveal that the blog is indeed the real deal.

Alas, Mahmoud stopped writing in Dec 2007, by which time he had only given us a handful of lengthy posts, but it's interesting reading nonetheless.

The Iranian President is known for his one-liners (e.g. 'Nuclear weapons are so 20th century' and 'We thank God that our enemies are idiots') and I thought every few sentences would provide ample material for mockery, but after scanning the final few paragraphs of his last post I have to say I was thrown aback at the humility of his preaching:

"Beware and do not develop the trait of self-admiration and self-appreciation. Do ‎not get conceited of the good points that you find in your good character or good ‎deeds that you have done. Do not let flattery and cajolery make you vain and ‎ego-centric. Remember that of all the cunning ruses of the devil to undo good ‎deeds of the pious people and to affect their piety, flattery and false praises are ‎the ones on which it relies the most.‎

Do not boast of the favors and kindnesses that you have done to your subjects ‎and do not try to make them realize this, do not think too much of the good that ‎you have done to them, and do not go back upon the promises made, all these ‎three habits are very ugly features of one's character. The practice of boasting ‎over the favors done undoes the good done, the habit of exaggerating and ‎thinking very highly of our good actions will make us lose the guidance of Allah, ‎and the habit of breaking one's promises is disliked both by Allah and by man. ‎The Merciful Allah says, "It is most hateful in the sight of Allah, to say something ‎and not to practice it." [Holy Qur'an, 61:3].‎

Do not be hasty and do not precipitate your decisions and actions, when the time ‎comes for an action to be done, or a decision to be taken, then do not be lazy ‎and do not waste time and do not show weakness. When you do not find a true ‎way to do the thing on hand, then do not persist on the wrong way and when you ‎have found a correct solution, then do not be lethargic in adopting it. ‎

In short do everything at a proper time and in a proper way and keep everything ‎in its proper place."
It's 30 years since the Iranian Revolution so it's a good time to learn about the going-ons of this somewhat mysterious country. The British Museum is holding an exhibition on Shah Abbas, while the BBC have put together a great, in-depth documentary about the revolution called 'Iran and the West', as well as a series of radio programmes under the 'Uncovering Iran' banner.

PS - I'm very glad to hear that Khatami will be running for presidency later this year; with Obama opening the way for a more constructive dialogue with Iran, a switch to less hard-line, more open-minded president could be very productive.

Alistair Campbell has a blog...

... and it's damn good.

From his most recent post on State schools:

'I do not pretend that any State school is perfect, or that all State schools are good. But they are far, far better than the national media portrays them, and that is because the coverage is so much driven by the personal choices leading journalists make, not by the reality of the schools the bulk of their readers use.'

Something for the weekend

What did we learn from the Soviet Army?

(hat-tip to kottke)

Answer: How to break-dance!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Health Assessment

The results of my recent 1-hour health assessment just came through the post and all is well. I was probed and prodded for an hour, and new fangled technology was employed to perform an analysis on my spine and to measure my antioxidant levels. If I didn't have a massive discount (it cost a mere £15 versus the supposed RRP of £225), I wouldn't bother with these assessments as most of the tests can be performed at little or no cost:

- BMI (this is just a function of your height and weight)
- Hip-to-Waist ratio: you just need a tape measure to do this (tip: the waist measurement is around the belly button in a normal, relaxed position, and the hips measurement is taken around the widest part of the buttocks.
- Body fat (any gym will have tools to measure this, but you have to take an average of multiple readings as most fat measuring devices are highly variable)
- Blood pressure (your doctor or gym should measure your blood pressure for free)
- Cholesterol and blood glucose (your doctor can provide this for free, along with a breakdown of HDL/LDL levels, etc).

Rounded edges & the Kindle 2

It looks like I am not alone in my strong aesthetic preference for rounded edges in life. Here is Amazon's new Kindle 2 compared to the original Kindle.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Film Review: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

'The Good, the Bad, the Weird' is a spectacular Korean western. It is based on the Sergio Leone classic 'The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly', but this is no boring rip-off.

What we have here is something very special, a splendidly original work that fizzes with a fresh vibrancy, with super bright colours abound and wonderful action scenes throughout. When I started watching it, I kept on expecting the movie to burst out into 'Kung-Fu Hustle' levels of absurdity; however, to it's credit the fantastical element is kept relatively contained, helped by believable acting from the three main actors with especially good turns from the Bad and the Weird. Despite a slight let down by the finale, this is a near damn perfect action adventure movie.

**** 1/2

PS - After watching The Good, the Bad, the Weird, I felt the same feeling of joy I experienced as a kid watching the Indiana Jones movies. I hadn't experienced this feeling in such a long time that I thought I had simply grown out of it, but now I'm thinking it's more of a case of Hollywood not making them like it used to.

Film Review: The Punisher: War Zone

War Zone is a violent, non-stop, blood-splatter-fest that barely improves on the earlier efforts at making the Punisher comic into a film. The violence in the film is extreme and fully explains the 18 certificate, but because it is done very much in a comic style I didn't feel that these scenes were disgustingly gratuitous, although other critics would disagree.

I guess it's good if you are in the mood for some well choreographed, mindless violence - just don't expect very much else.

** 1/2

Happy 200th Birthday Charles Darwin

Here is Darwin's daily routine when he stayed at his house in Kent:

Go for a short walk before sunrise
7:45 - 8:00 Light breakfast
8:00 - 9:30 Best time for research
9:30 - 10:30 Relax on sofa and read letters
10:30 - 12:00 Research
12:00 - 1:00 Visit greenhouse and walk along Sand Walk and think
1:00 - 2:00 Lunch and read newspaper
2:00 - 3:00 Write letters
3:00 - 4:00 Rest while Emma reads aloud
4:00 - 4:30 Afternoon stroll
4:30 - 5:30 Research
5:30 - Evening begins
10:30 To bed

(Source: British Library Darwin Exhibition)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wellcome Collection

I love the Wellcome Collection, which is just outside Euston Station, Central London. It houses two permanent exhibitions (Medicine Now and Medicine Man) and a feature exhibition (currently War & Medicine), which changes every few months. They are all free and if you visit at the right times, you can also get a guided tour.

Highly recommended to anyone with a curious nature.

Oh, that's Henry Wellcome pictured on the right, by the way!

' The Music Room in the Royal Pavilion served as a ward as well, housing two rows of beds, occupied by wounded Indian soldiers.

The oriental style of the venue was considered to be an appropriate setting for Indian soldiers. It was believed that they would appreciate these supposedly familiar surroundings, while the combination of opulence and sea air would provide therapeutic mental health benefits.' - War & Medicine Exhibition ( Image: The Royal Pavilion Museums, Brighton and Hove)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Strange bookish tendencies

I believe I am suffering from a weak form of bibliophilia/bookmania. While true bibliophiles admire and collect books primarily for their qualities (e.g. first editions, bindings, age, etc) my appreciation lies more with the actual content. I have recently been more than happy visiting my local library with no intention of taking out books, but to simply browse around to see what has been written on different subjects, both fact and fiction. The variety of books in my city library is much higher than in bookshops, and I like the fact that all these books have passed through many hands and been read many times over. Strange, but true.

In recent years, I have been largely successful in fighting my urge to buy books, but I recently succumbed when I was walking along Euston Road, between Euston Station and Kings Cross, and came across a shop selling great books for £1 or £2 a pop. I did walk out of there empty handed but the mysterious forces pulled me back in and didn't allow me to leave until I had bought four books.

In an earlier post, Don Chu commented, 'The following words from one of my favourite writers have always helped my reading gluttony: "Read the best books first" -Thoreau'. I must start to heed this advice if I am to get anywhere!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Dubai - hot people

I generally view labour immobility as a bad thing, but when it comes to Dubai I see workers as dangerously ultra-mobile in the same sense that short-term capital flows, or 'hot money', can be highly destabilising in economic downturns. Because most folk go to Dubai with the view of eventually returning home, they are less likely to battle it out when the going gets tough.

Also, the fact that many private liabilities (loans, mortgages, etc) are unlikely to be chased outside of the Emirates means that you have a pretty strong incentive to pack your bags, drive to the airport and leave your car and other borrowed belongings behind, and fly out of there to start afresh back home or in another country. And this is exactly what is happening. From the Times:

"Now, faced with crippling debts as a result of their high living and Dubai’s fading fortunes, many expatriates are abandoning their cars at the airport and fleeing home rather than risk jail for defaulting on loans.

Police have found more than 3,000 cars outside Dubai’s international airport in recent months. Most of the cars – four-wheel drives, saloons and “a few” Mercedes – had keys left in the ignition.

Some had used-to-the-limit credit cards in the glove box. Others had notes of apology attached to the windscreen."

The Times article finishes with scary statistics such as '8% population decline predicted this year as expatriates leave; 1,500 visas cancelled every day in Dubai; 62% of homes occupied by expatriates 60% fall in property values predicted; 50% slump in the price of luxury apartments on Palm Jumeirah.

Things seemed to be close to a precipice, or turning point, when I was there in December, but surely they haven't turned so bad so quickly. Nevertheless, if we see more articles along these lines, it risks blocking the major lifeblood line for Dubai that is the inflow of fresh workers. While there is no doubt that substantial pain lies ahead, sensible decision making from here on (i.e. at least making investments that will have a positive payoff: the Burj al Arab is projected to never make a profit, as is the Burj Dubai) will be absolutely critical in steering Dubai through the downturn and ensuring its long time survival.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Ong Bak 2 - Ong Bak is back

Ong Bak was a landmark event in martial art movie-making. There was no CGI, no 'wire-fu', just spectacular, bone breaking fighting with realistic sound effects and unparalleled levels of athleticism.

Since it's release however, I believe Hollywood has learned almost nothing from Ong Bak, and Tinseltown's efforts are increasingly amounting to little more than glorified versions of Steven Seagal's rapid hand-slapping victories over an endless string of truly useless baddies (remember these fights?).

While wire-fu magic was put to great use in earlier Chinese kung-fu movies (e.g Jet Li in 'Once Upon A Time in China), it has been used in excess ever since The Matrix, and is now looking extremely tiring. I realise that it is too much to expect normal actors to learn a martial art, and that Hollywood actors probably couldn't get the insurance to take the crazy risks taken on the set of Ong Bak, but surely some of the new breed of action stars (e.g. Statham ... umm, and some others) can do something along these lines? I just hope the miraculous Tony Jaa doesn't got snapped up in a potentially ruinous Hollywood deal (just look at some of the god awful efforts of Jackie Chan and Jet Li when they came to the West).

For more background on Tony Jaa, read the wikipedia entry:

'Jaa grew up in a rural area and watched films by Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li at temple fairs. He was inspired by them and whilst doing chores or playing with friends, he would imitate the martial arts moves he had seen in the films. He would practice in his father's rice paddy or, when bathing the family's elephants, he would somersault off their backs into the river.'
For now, we can continue to revel in the joys of Tony Jaa in the Ong Bak series.

Here is the trailer for Ong Bak 2:

And if are wondering about potential cheeky use of CGI and wire-fu, check out this clip of the making of the film. From about 1 min 20 in, it really hots up:

And scroll forward to the 2 min, 30 sec mark in this clip to see something truly amazing:

PS - Ong Bak 3 is definitely on the cards. It looks like Tony Jaa's character's arms and legs will get severely damaged through torture in this film, and that he will have to develop a form of 'boneless fighting'. Um, okay, I'll go with it.

Calorie surprises

I have just looked at the calorie count for a half portion of-prepared garlic naan from Sainsbury's and it comes in at 230 - you typically have one of these with a meal, so you are looking at around 460 calories for the bread alone. For reference, a McDonalds Filet-O-Fish has around 360 calories.

And now for a real shocker: Baskin Robbin's Heath Shake won the much coveted Men's Health 'Unhealthiest Drink in America' prize in 2008, containing over seventy different ingredients and packing a whopping 2310 calories.

Not one to rest on their laurels, Baskin Robbin's recently scooped Men's Health 'Worst Food in America of 2009' award with the Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which contains 2,600 calories.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Film Review: Chandni Chowk to China

A couple of week's ago I said I was unsure of Chandni Chowk to China (CC2C) after reading this review:

'... imagine KUNG FU HUSTLE mixed with a Bruce Lee movie mixed with the 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN mixed with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, with a dash of MOULIN ROUGE, James Bond and an Adam Sandler movie. I know that last ingredient smells bad, but trust me… when you mix it all together it makes a delicious dish.'

Well, I watched CC2C earlier this week, and it does kind of work. The crazy effects, weird story, and reliance on extremely low probability coincidences do not hinder it a bit because this formula is made clear from the start. Crucially, most of humour works a treat. Also, amidst this firework of madness, Mithun Chakraborty ('Dada') was an acting revelation...or should I say, 'totally mind-blasting!'

As Warner Bros' first major effort at a Hindi film, I'd grade it a success, even if audiences generally think otherwise (the film is a big flop in many countries). My biggest gripe is that it was too long (3 hours, with an intermission) - I know that's par for the course for a Bollywood film, but half an hour could easily have been shaved of this colourful beast. I think the reason this film has a really divided audience, and has received quite a a mauling by the critics, is because it is not your typical Bollywood film. For me, it worked a treat as piece of highly derivative (almost mash-up) nonsense, and I'd recommend it as one to watch if you are in the mood for something a little left-field and have quite a bit of time on your hands.

*** 3/4

Offers galore - Orange Wednesday adds pizza to the deal

2009 will indeed be the year of the cheapskate. The latest blockbuster offer is from Orange.

In conjunction with the long-running, 'Orange Wednesday' cinema deal (buy one ticket, get one free), you can now get 2-for-1 on pizzas at Pizza Express. What's more, Pizza Express will provide a free starter of doughballs or garlic bread for both people. It sounds too good to be true, but I can't see any catches.

I can already use my my unlimited cinema pass on Orange Wednesdays to score two free tickets, but piling this Pizza Express voucher into the deal produces serious savings. Here's a rough tally:

- Cinema tickets x 2 = £14.60
- Garlic bread/Doughball starter x 2 = £4.60
- Pizza x 2 = £16

That's a total value of £35.20, all for the price of a single pizza (£8, or £4 between two). Not bad at all.

PS: I wonder if the Pizza Express deal will be renewed when it expires in August; I imagine a lot of folk who are currently getting free cinema tickets don't mind splashing out on overpriced nachos, drinks etc, but the Pizza Express deal risks cannibalising these revenues.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ants and traffic

When people take a distant bird's eye view of a city during the rush hour, it is common to hear them commenting how the folk down below look like teeny little ants. Well, scientists have been looking at ant behaviour to see if we humans can learn a thing or two about moving around more efficiently.

In a Wired magazine article titled 'Taking Traffic Control Lessons — From Ants', entomologist Audrey Dussutour comments, 'We should use their rules. I've been working with ants for eight years, and have never seen a traffic jam — and I've tried.' More quotes from the piece:

'In the latest findings, published in the February issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Dussutour's team found that ants leaving the colony automatically gave right-of-way to those returning with food. Of the returning ants, some were empty-mandibled — but rather than passing their leaf-carrying, slow-moving brethren, they gathered in clusters and moved behind them.'

"One dominating factor in human traffic is egoism," said University of Zoln traffic flow theorist Andreas Schadschneider. "Drivers optimize their own travel time, without taking much care about others. This leads to phantom traffic jams which occur without any obvious reason. Ants, on the other hand, are not egoistic." ... In human traffic, "the user optimum is relevant, whereas in ant traffic it is the system optimum, which can be quite different," and produces a different set of behaviors.
I like the idea of zen ants, working without ego, but doesn't our Highways Agency already use traffic optimisation techniques with variable speed limits and the like to try and optimise the system. If all the traffic belonged to a single transportation company, then I guess it would make sense to work in an ant-like collective system, with empty loads making way for full loads, but as it stands, many drivers on roads have different objectives. Saying that, perhaps if road travel did become more ordered, we would have more trust in expected arrival times due to an absence of delays, and would be more willing to comply with a system of changing rules which optimised the traffic flow - I imagine a better system of stronger incentives (penalties and rewards) would help.

All very interesting stuff indeed, and I expect we will make great progress on this front in the years ahead as communication technology advances and becomes more deeply integrated into cars.

I am constantly amazed at what the inquisitive mind can learn from nature.

Film - All The King's Men (1949)

All the King's Men is a thoughtful, fast paced film about endemic corruption in the dirty world of politics. Here there is no space for the good guy, if such a person even exists.

I thought the film came a little unstuck with an ending which felt too rushed. Nevertheless, 'All the King's Men' is still a corker.

*** 3/4

Monday, February 02, 2009

B-movie poster maker

Just discovered this nifty little tool to make your own B-movie film posters.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Film - Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Rise of the Lycans is pure cheesy escapism but I just had to watch it to see actor Michael Sheen (who is also currently playing the character of David Frost in Frost/Nixon) mutate into a werewolf and go on a vampire killing rampage.

If you liked the previous Underworld films, you should like this one.