Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cheap books at Borders ... while it lasts

A few of the Borders bookshops are closing down and prices are nicely reduced. I picked a bunch of books up today at 70% off the sticker price. Act fast as the shelves are clearing at a pace.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mashy peas or mushy peas?

I have learned that fish and chips are a long standing tradition at my workplace on Fridays, and I am doing my part to ensure this institution does not go to ruin. They are served with peas of the mashy/mushy variety, tartar sauce and a slice of lemon.

Omm, nom nom nom.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Wire, end of

'The Wire' is the first long running series where I watched every episode in order. To summarise, and to reiterate earlier comments, it's brilliant but it's not quite as good as The Shield.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

5:04 pm - 5:23 pm

5:04 pm - Left office.
5:23 pm - At home, showered, and changed into my civvies.

That's what I'm talking about. It won't last but I'll enjoy it while it does. Woo hah.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vitamin D levels

One of my loyal army of readers (cough) kindly enquired as to my vitamin D status. I had my blood tested during the peak summer, after significant sun exposure, and my vitamin D3 blood serum level came in at 63 nmol/L. This is not 'deficient' but it does fall into the 'insufficient' category. Anything above 70 is classed as replete.

This isn't as bad as I feared but it's still pretty dismal given that it represents my peak vitamin D levels. Also, because there seems to be such a high tolerance before there are any expected side effects, I'd prefer to err on the higher side of the spectrum.

To give my D3 levels a boost I'm taking these tablets, each of which provides 500% of the woefully inadequate RDI.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nigerian e-mail scams don't quit

Without daily pruning, hotmail accounts can fill up pretty fast. The first e-mail I have to deal with is from a certain Hajia Mariam, who informs me of the sudden death of her husband:

'Due to the sudden death of my husband General Abacha the former head of state of Nigeria in June 1998, I have been thrown into a state of hopelessness by the present administration ... I got your contacts through personal research,and had to reach you through this medium. I will give you more details when you Due to security network placed on my daily affairs I cant visit the embassy so that is why I have contacted you.My husband deposited $12.6million dollars with a security firm abroad whose name is witheld for now till we communicate. I will be happy if you can receive this funds and keep it safe I assure you something good out of the funds in return for your assistance.'

Bad times for Mrs Mariam, although I fear I will enter into my own state of helplessness if I get involved.


I have just spent five days without internet access and with barely any mobile signal, and I was spending my nights in a sprawling business conference type hotel that was previously owned by the technology company ICL!

The first week has been a great introduction to Centrica, my new employer. It's a company with a really positive energy that seems to be making all the right moves, and I'm sure it's going to be pretty interesting to work for them in the years ahead.

Anyway, work is work and blog is blog, and rarely the twain will meet.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Back to gen-pop

I'll be re-entering the workplace on Monday, after having spent some time in the wilderness. With the world economy in a pretty deep funk, jobs are getting increasingly scarce (1, 2, 3), so I had better make the most of this opportunity.

Spreadsheets, rush hour, coffee machines, early starts, late finishes, shirts to be ironed, suits to be dry cleaned, shoes to be polished, firewalled internet access, cheeky checking of web-sites when no one is looking, ergonomic swivel office chairs, business cards, intranets, expense forms, and so much more. Bring it, bring it all, bring it all in spades.

Book review - How to Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson

How to be Free is an enjoyable and insightful diatribe against the hectic, modern age.

I knew what I was in for with this book when, a few pages in, Tom states that in today's word it is easier to rob the poor, and cites the evil supermarket Tesco as a chief culprit. In the argument for self-sufficiency and independence, comparative advantage (the whole reason why trade takes place), is wholly overlooked, which is a shame. However, I guess this book, while very well researched, is all about opinion and Tom's opinion is put forward very well, even if he does massively overstate the case (my opinion).

While I can see gaping holes in Tom's prescription, I can also appreciate much of what he has to say.


Some quotes from the book:

… it is important to read decent stuff. Put quality materials into your mind, quality ingredients. A diet of god writing, without crappy newspapers and magazine, which just make the anxiety worse, will produce quality thoughts and a self-sufficient, resourceful person. Feed your mind.

Sometimes I think that life is becoming no more than staring at a screen. We stare at a screen all day at work. They we get home and stare at our computer screen before staring at the TV screen. For entertainment, we stare at cinema screens. Screens make us into passive receivers. Smash the screen and find a pencil and a piece of paper instead.

Put simply, if you avoid consuming the products of the system, then you will not have to pay for those products. This way, you will save not only the money that you used to spend on umpteen services, you will also save on the time and mental hassle spent dealing with all those bills. The oppression will gradually depart from your doorstep. And you won’t have to work so hard. Life will become cheaper and easier.

… we tend to try to become very good at one small thing to the exclusion of all others. This is called professionalism but could more accurately be labelled ‘being useless’.

The best thing is to possess pleasures without being their slave’ not to be devoid of pleasures. Aristippus, 435-356 BC.

Our built-in stupidity is what makes us fearful, We can’t do enough for ourselves and therefore rely on others to do things, and that makes us scared. We have also been told since the days of the Protestant revolution that we are more or less alone in this world, that we should trust nobody and suffer alone and in silence. How different from the old ‘brotherhood of man’ of pre-1500 days, where we were all in this together.

But. Insists Neitzsche, “To ask it again: to what extent can suffering balance debts or guilt?” What difference does it make? My suffering makes no difference to anyone else. It is a negative; it is completely pointless; it has no practical benefit to anyone.

When I walk down the Uxbridge Road in London, I see Somalians, Indians and West Indians simply hanging out and talking in groups. They are outside their shops, they are at their stalls in the market. But most of the white middle classes hurry through this scene alone, rushing back to the security of their burglar-alarmed terraced houses. We have lost that easy camaraderie of life, and we’re lucky that people from other cultures have moved to our cities and are demonstrating a more humane and enjoyable way of living right under our noses.

Machines have become as much like people as people have become like machines. They pulsate with life, while man becomes a robot. – E.F. Schumacher, Good Work (a letter written by a British worker)

As the gloomy Robert Burton writes: ‘In adversity I wish for prosperity, and in prosperity fear adversity … what condition of life is free? Wisdom hath labour annexed to it, glory envy, riches and cares, children and incumbrances, pleasure and diseases, rest and beggary, go together, as if man were therefore born to be punished in this life for some precedent sins.’

This is not to deny the pleasures of the log fire; indeed, the pleasures of the log fire are all the more intense when you have just been out in the snow to chop up the logs for it.

Humanity knows nothing at all. There is no intrinsic value in anything, and every action is a futile, meaningless effort. – Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution, 1978

The rise of the pension as a sort of earthly reward for having suffered forty years or more in a job you didn’t like – this is something new. Likewise, pension as a kind of national entitlement. A pension has become something that you work for rather than something that you get after working. In other words, it is an expression of reward by the authorities for good work, the ‘secular afterlife’, in the words of my friend Matthew de Abaitu. Suffer now: enter paradise later.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A life lesson from Ask Monica, my favourite nutrition blog

"With all due respect, Dr. Eades has a deep and abiding ideological bias. I'm sure he arrived at it honestly, from examination of the evidence. But once Considered Opinion has been allowed to harden into Intractable Point of View, it becomes increasingly difficult to evaluate new evidence on its merits."

Ask Monica

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Cool poem segment

From A Summer Night, By Matthew Arnold

For most men in a brazen prison live,
Where, in the sun's hot eye,
With heads bent o'er their toil, they languidly
Their lives to some unmeaning taskwork give,
Dreaming of nought beyond their prison-wall.
And as, year after year,
Fresh products of their barren labour fall
From their tired hands, and rest
Never yet comes more near,
Gloom settles slowly down over their breast;
And while they try to stem
The waves of mournful thought by which they are prest,
Death in their prison reaches them,
Unfreed, having seen nothing, still unblest.

And the rest, a few,
Escape their prison and depart
On the wide ocean of life anew.
There the freed prisoner, where'er his heart
Listeth, will sail;
Nor doth he know how there prevail,
Despotic on that sea,
Trade-winds which cross it from eternity.
Awhile he holds some false way, undebarr'd
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves.
And then the tempest strikes him; and between
The lightning-bursts is seen
Only a driving wreck,
And the pale master on his spar-strewn deck
With anguish'd face and flying hair
Grasping the rudder hard,
Still bent to make some port he knows not where,
Still standing for some false, impossible shore.
And sterner comes the roar
Of sea and wind, and through the deepening gloom
Fainter and fainter wreck and helmsman loom,
And he too disappears, and comes no more.

Is there no life, but these alone?
Madman or slave, must man be one?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Economists .... bah !

A weather team at Tesco

Surprisingly, Tesco has its own weather team:

After three years of research, the six-person team has created its own software that calculates how shopping patterns change “for every degree of temperature and every hour of sunshine,” Tesco said last month.

... “Rapidly changing weather can be a real challenge,” Jonathan Church, a Tesco spokesman, said in a statement. “The system successfully predicted temperature drops during July that led to a major increase in demand for soup, winter vegetables and cold-weather puddings.”
This type of economy of scale just doesn't figure into the thinking of the average high street operator but when you are the size of Tesco, with a turnover of over £1bn a week, the smallest improvement can be produce a big impact on the bottom line.

PS - For my money, Sainsbury's beats Tesco hands down.