Thursday, April 30, 2009

Film Review - Outlander

Outlander is basically Alien versus the Vikings. It is so bad that it is almost good (but not quite) and I'll generously give it three stars because I was in the mood for the movie equivalent of junk food at the time.

The reality is this is overly drawn out affair is a one-star film, worthy only of the likes of Channel Five. Don't expect a sequel.

*** Generous

* Actual

Film Review: Wolverine

Woah, the critics (and wannabe critics) really got their claws out for Wolverine. I understand the die-hards have some issues with the story and how it fits with the rest of the X-Men films, but I don't really care about that stuff. I just wanted a well made pop-corn, superhero actioner and Wolverine delivered the goods quite nicely. Stylistically, it had one of the best intro sequences I have seen (reminding me very much of the Highlander series), and in terms of direction and production I think it sits well alongside the earlier X-Men films.

The first rate acting from Hugh 'Big Arms' Jackman and his severely troubled brother (Liev Schreiber) puts Wolverine in the class of Batman and Watchmen and definitely not in the cheese-fest category (e.g. The Hulk and Spiderman).


Wolverine - Battle of the Mutton Chops!

Calories burned during golf

It's only until relatively recently that professional golfers have placed great store on their health and fitness. Prior to this, golf lived in the domain of darts, bowls, and other lazy sporting activities (i.e. more games than sports). Golf is definitely more active than a game of darts but how much so? This study offers some interesting answers:

"For the test, Wolkodoff strapped subjects into equipment that measured, among other things, their heart rate, oxygen consumption, carbon dioxide production and how far they were walking. Each volunteer played four (hilly) nine-hole rounds: one carrying the bag on their shoulder, one pushing the bag in a push-cart, one with a caddie and one in a golf cart.

... Wolkodoff discovered the subjects burned more calories when they walked and carried their clubs (721) than when they rode in a cart (411). When they walked, they traversed about 2.5 miles, compared to 0.5 miles when they rode, but the 500 percent increase in mileage corresponded to only a 75 percent increase in calories burned.

--There was virtually no difference in calories burned between carrying (721) and using a push cart (718) -- a surprising result to many, who figured it would take more work to push the cart.

Not surprisingly, walking the course with a caddie carrying the clubs burned fewer calories (613) and playing while riding in a cart burned even fewer (411). "
So, it's in the walking and the swinging, not the carrying.

For a comparison against other activities has the following for an hour of each activity.:

- Darts: 175 calories
- Billiards: 175 calories
- Bowling: 210 calories
- Golf (pulling clubs): 301 calories
- Golf (carrying clubs): 315 calories
- Tennis: 490 calories
- Squash: 840 calories

Oh yes, and the simple act of walking burns around 200 calories an hour at a moderate pace.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Acer Aspire One A150, £129 from Tescos

I picked up one of these beauties from Tesco's yesterday. Selling like hotcakes they were.

£129 bought a light-weight notebook with 1GB RAM (twice as much as my current laptop) and over ten times the hard drive space. This version comes with a simple Linux operating system but the machine is super hackable and the LCD display can even be converted into a touch screen with a spot of soldering - I don't think I'll be going there though!

The Acer One A150 has small screen (9 inches) and a keyboard that would take some getting used to, but being small is the notebooks whole reason for being. It looks ideal for light usage and at this price point I'm not in a position to complain.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Finally some exercise

It was so nice to put some mobility back into those legs, even if it only involved half an hour of 'mindless' cycling. I use the term 'mindless' in a good way; by grabbing The Observer Food Magazine of the rack and reading it while taking a gentle cycle on a very low setting, I was able to burn 165 calories without thinking about what I was doing. A short bout of light strength training (an oxymoron?) likely took the count up to 200, which would have taken my caloric balance into negative territory for the day, but I had a bottle of Gatorade energy drink to keep my energy up (only 125 calories). After the Gatorade, my calorie tally for the day came to one. Yes, one, a single calorie. Indeed, the Gatorade was a bit too filling as it's 6:45pm and I feel I could go til 9 without eating anything. I am looking forward to eating something soon but I have zero appetite/hunger!

Over the next ten days of my diet experiment I'll be hitting the gym and subtracting an estimation of calories burned from exercise from my daily calorie tally. Instead of pushing really hard over the ten days, I'll take it easy for the first five days and then take things to the (reasonable) limit.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My calorie reference table

I've slowly built up this reference table over the course of my dieting project.

Many vegetables are so low in calories that the oil used to cook them can end up doubling the calorie count. My low-calorie oil spray has been a real saviour in this respect.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Got milk?

The BBC reports that the genes of the Hereford Cow have been sequenced, and how this could lead to major changes in breeding, improving dairy production around the world.

However, today's typical cow is no slouch when it comes to delivering the daily pint. Whereas the average British cow in the 1940s produced an average yield of around 3,000 litres a year, this has now risen by 130% to a whopping 6,885 litres per year, or 18.9 litres per day per cow (well above what nature intended i.e. the levels demanded by calves).

Over the past years this number seems to have hit a plateau of sorts, but I guess you can expect the number to rise further over the long-run. All this extra efficiency comes with costs and more cows suffer from lameness and other issues related to selective breeding, and while this is a cost many will be willing to bear, I am starting to wonder whether we are drinking more milk than may be good for us. I do think milk is good for my health but the fact that the UK milk industry was highly subsidised for decades, leading to excess production and heavy marketing promotions to shift all the extra surplus make me temper the view I grew up with that a daily milk a glass of milk is crucial to the diet.

Here are some findings to note:

- A recent study compared the bone density of vegan nuns to non-vegetarian nuns, with very different protein and calcium intakes, and made the surprising observation that the bone densities of both groups were the same.

- The Harvard School of Public Health states 'It’s not clear, though, that we need as much calcium as is generally recommended, and it’s also not clear that dairy products are really the best source of calcium for most people.'

- Findings suggest 'milk was off the menu for Europeans until only a few thousand years ago'. Did we have weak bones until we evolved the gene for lactose tolerance?

- The evidence for milk consumption at an early age seems pretty strong and milk drinking is common among infants across the animal kingdom, but how many adult species do you see drinking milk beyond us humans? Several studies show the link between bone health and milk consumption is much weaker in adults, sometimes even showing a negative effect.

Woah - I was just about to post this article when I thought I'd check the Harvard site for more info. Here's a more in-depth report on milk and bone density, which discusses how high milk consumption is a probable factor in causing prostate cancer and a possible factor in ovarian cancer. Everything in moderation seems to be the way forward.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quick thought - the word 'fat' is misleading

Strictly speaking, getting fat has very little to do with eating fat. Growing larger in size is about consuming excessive calories - these can come from either carbohydrates, proteins or fats.

The issue is blurred by the fact that excess calories turn to body fat, and by the fact that fat carries more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, but by calling overweight people 'fat' we are further blurring the distinction between being fat by eating fat and being fat by eating too many calories. Simply put, if 40% of your required calories came from healthy fats and 60% from other foods, this could easily be very healthy and would definitely produce no weight change. However, if you consumed 120% of your calorie requirement with fruit and vegetables you would balloon in size and become obese. Yes, fruit and vegetables are much lower in calories than so called junk food, but it's at the margin that you put on weight and it doesn't matter too much whether these extra calories come from a packet of crisps or a banana.

Something to think about.

Supercool Leonovo W700DS

Introducing the first dual screen laptop.

Adding another pull-out screen to the other side would make this into a great semi-portable workstation for financial market traders. The side panels could be great for charts, IM clients etc, leaving the main screen uncluttered for core operations.

This idea needs to be incorporated into my super portable creation.

Quick thought - where do I get some of that placebo medicine?

The trials show that it's pretty effective.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

30 days down - 15 days in

A quick review midway through the 30 Days Down project:

- I'm satisfied with my progress to date: a loss of 0.8 stone over 15 days with no exercise.

- The first few days presented a moderate challenge with occasional feelings of hunger and the odd craving for junk food, but my body adapted to the lower calorie intake pretty quickly, allowing me to reduce my consumption to the 500-650 calorie range (approx) with no abnormal sensations of hunger. Skipping breakfast and lunch and consuming most of these calories at night ensures that I don't go to bed hungry.

It's worth emphasising that this exercise ceased to be a test of willpower after the first few days as it simply stopped being a mental challenge. This is a bit of a shame because I really wanted to test both body and mind, not just the body.

- The relationship between daily calorie intake and weight loss is quite apparent and as yet there is no sign that my body is adapting and trying to conserve energy more efficiently. Surely, it can't be much longer before this routine (500-650 calories) is less effective in producing weight loss.

- The scatter chart shows more clearly how daily calorie restriction has related to daily changes in body weight. There isn't many observations (15) but so far anything intake below 650 calories has produced a loss (I weigh myself the following morning). I think the 500-650 range, marked with a dotted rectangle, is a good sweet spot as it produces weight loss while allowing me to get all my nutrients.

- I've learned just how easy it is to get your 5-a-day at a very low calorie count, although experience tells me vegetables are better than fruit for satiety (per calorie). When I'm back on my normal diet there will be plenty of wiggle room for so called junk food (low nutrient, high calorie foods) which I am not touching right now ... mmm, can't wait. Indeed, I plan to celebrate this project with an Elvis Presley favourite, the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich!

- Food habits are infectious. I've noticed that the people I'm around start watching what they are eating even though I am not doing this experiment for health reasons.

- I wanted to experiment with the satiety effect of different foods as experience tells me that liquid calories and fruit is generally not at all filling, protein quite filling, and nuts, oils and oats extremely filling. Not only do I not have enough of a calorie budget to effectively experiment with these foods but I don't actually suffer from the sensation of hunger at all through the day. If I do get light-headed I just have some tea or coffee with sugar or some dried apricots, which seem effective in keeping my blood-sugar levels in check (sugar is surprisingly low in calories at 15 cal per level teaspoon).

- For this project I am only recording calorie intake, not expenditure. However, I have generally been quite sedentary over the period. I did spend two days painting around the house and have played two rounds of golf, but I have stayed away from the gym. In the last ten days of the project, I plan to to do cardio work at the gym to try and push my body to the extreme. The machines give a reading for calories burned which I'll use to augment my daily calorie intake calculations. Let's see where it takes us.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Book review - Sick City by Richard Barnett

Sick City is a great achievement in presenting a rich tour of Medical London through the ages. While it isn't a gripping read, the book is certainly packed with enough interesting factoids to hold the reader's attention. For example, did you know that London's oldest hospital (St Barts) was founded by a royal courtier of King Henry (I) after he went on a pilgrimage to Rome, caught malaria, and had a vision of Bartholemew promising to cure his fever if he dedicated his life to caring for the poor? And a good talking point when passing along the elevator at Camden Town tube station may be the high likelihood that you are passing through a mass grave from the times from the Great Plague, or Black Death, that lasted from 1348 to the last death in 1665.

*** 1/2

Here are a few notes I made whilst reading:

- Sanitary reform led to the an upgrading of the bowels of Victorian London with a sewer works construction project. New rules were introduced in 1844, forcing all newly built houses to connect to the sewer system. This led to massive contamination of the Thames as more than three million houses emptied their waste into the system. Worse still, during '...storms and spring tides the river backed up, sending jets of raw sewage cascading into houses.' In the hot summers of the late 1850s the level of the river fell, and the smell of excrement rotting on the foreshore - the 'Great Stinks' - caused Parliament to be suspended for several weeks.

- In his Microscopic Examination of the Water Supplied to the Inhabitants of London published in 1850, Arthur Hassell, a journalist and amateur microscopist, gave an incisive summary of the problem facing the inhabitants of the Victorian city:

'According to the present system of London Water Supply, a portion of the inhabitants of the metropolis are made to consume, in some form or another, a portion of their own excrement, and moreover, to pay for the privilege.'

- When cholera was spreading around Victorian London, people thought it was due to a miasma (airborne vapours) until John Snow, who believed it was due to inanimate particles in water, provided evidence that cases of cholera were spread around the Broad Street Pump. The pump handle handle was removed, although this perhaps more of a symbolic gesture as the outbreak was already burning itself out. Snow then went on to produce a comprehensive study on water quality and death rates across London.

- In 1858, Bazalgette was commissioned to redesign the sewage system. Between 1858 and 1875 1,500 miles of sewers were built at a cost of £6.5m, the largest peace time project up to that point.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ford Mustang - what happened? plots the evolution of the Ford Mustang here. The early 1960s Mustang was a beautiful creation (first pic below). The article reports 'When Ford unveiled the Mustang 45 years ago today, company execs figured they’d sell maybe 100,000 a year. They sold 22,000 on the first day. The Mustang was more than a success. It was a phenomenon. Ford sold 1 million in the first 18 months, making the Mustang its most successful launch since the Model A.'

Look at the 2008 model (middle pic below). These days, the Mustang looks like something that's been beefed up on steroids, a kind of comic muscle car. And where is ailing Ford pinning it's hopes next? The last pic shows the 2010 model. It's supposed to give a nod to it's 1960s heritage styling, but I can't see it. The design just sucks.

My solution is a simple one: go back to the original designs using modern mechanical/electrical systems, to create some true collectible classics. Easy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Expendables update

In a post titled 'Sly’s stunt double must be getting bored', the Expendables blog reports on one of Stallone's monster action scenes:

" The freakin guy is fearless and pretty much ageless. No matter how I describe what I watched him do - 6 times - it won’t even be close to conveying what it was - a classic old school mano a mano takedown. Keep in mind there were no mats on the ground and Sly was basically bareback - no pads except for on his knees - as he dove, rolled, flipped, growled and punched his way through the scene ending with him breaking a neck. Oh and did I mention the sweltering heat and the hard dusty ground he kept slamming his body into? Sly was bleeding and bruised but after watching the last take he turned around and said “that’s how you teach the children.” Then he set up the next shot while the medics tried to stop the bleeding and clean the dirt and stones out of his arm."

Despite my hype overdrive on this film I have no idea expectation of how it will turn out (although I know I am going to to watch it several times over, either way). However, if it does deliver the goods, The Expendables could bring in a very broad audience, reaching out to both the young audience and folks in their thirties who hark bark to the days of pre-CGI actioners e.g. Rambo, Commando, Red Scorpion ... okay, may not so much with the Red Scorpion.

Book review - The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blythe

The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blythe is a light, enjoyable work on the art of conversation. I was a little put off by her initial ranting about the terrible state of conversation in the modern world - thinking that it really isn't all that bad - but Blythe quickly moved on to more interesting matters.

More important than any rules and tips for good conversation, which are great, is Blythe's infectiously enthusiastic tone and her praise for conversation as a mode of communication.

*** 1/2

A few quotes of quotes from The Art of Conversation:

A character in Berhard Sclink’s novel The Homecoming observes:

‘I am no good at small talk: I can never find quite the right tone to make the weighty sound trivial and the trivial sound weighty.’

And wherever it occurs, however artless, it (conversation) seems essential. As the wife reproves the husband in The Painted Veil:

‘If people only spoke when they had something to say, the human race would soon lose the power of speech’.

Either Winston Churchill’s mother or Queen Victoria :

‘When I left the room after sitting next to Mr Galdstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But after sitting next to Mr Disraeli I thought I was the cleverest woman in England.’

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Got to get me some bouillon - updated

Just realised that the widely praised Vegetable Bouillon by Marigold makes for a great savoury, low calorie drink, with only 12 calories per serving. Must buy this asap.

The 30 Days Down project is progressing nicely, with no notable ill effects.

Update - I found some Bouillon at the back of the cupboard and it does make for a nice, savoury alternative to coffee and tea. However, since a single serving contains 0.9g of sodium, it's probably best to have Bouillon no more than once a day.

Book review - Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan

If you are interested by topics such as complexity, chaos theory and tipping points, you should enjoy Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan. The book learns great lessons from a simple pile of sand and applies its central idea of 'critical states' to a variety of situations, from earthquakes to forest fires, and even to our entire understanding of history. I'll admit the title of the book is a bit bewildering and the tag-line 'the science of history ... or why science is simpler than we think' is a very poor guide as to what is contained within. At the very least it should be called Criticality.

Ubiquity is superbly written and extremely insightful, but I am only giving it three and a half stars because I felt it could have been a bit more concise in parts. Also, at times its wondering nature left me asking where it was going, and I found my interesting waning at some points only yo skyrocket at others.

Some notes and quotes from the book:

- 'The 1998 fire in Yellowstone burned 1.5 millions acres. In a critical state of course, there is no reason to look for specific causes of really big events. The mere existence of critical organisation means that terrific fires will occasionally break out, no matter what, since the forest is poised on the edge of disaster ...' The author goes on to describe the 'Yellowstone effect', where from 1890 the US Forest Service introduced a 'zero tolerance' approach to fires but this had the unintended effect of leading to a build up of flammable natural matter, driving the forest to 'an even more unstable state, a supercritical state, with burnable material everywhere.' Now the authority allows smaller fires to burn, and has even have prescribed managed burns, removing some of the deadwood and enabling new growth, and reducing the risk of a disturbance creating large scale environmental disaster.

- Discusses the 'Big Five' mass extinctions that struck the planet 44, 365, 250, 210, and 65 million years ago.

- 'Of course, not every extinction is part of a mass extinction. Evolutionary biologists estimate that some few billion different species have evolved at one time or another during the course of life's history. Only a few tens of millions exist today, however, which means that 99 per cent of all species in history are now extinct. Extinction is so natural an event in evolution that as someone once said, "to a first approximation, everything is extinct." As it turns out, only 35 per cent of all species died as part of a mass extinction.'

- The false idea of the scientist as an 'automaton driven by the the holy trinity of rationality, objectivity, and open-mindedness':

On the basis of detailed historical studies of how science has really worked in practice ... the historian Michael Polyani came to the conclusion that scientists are not actually so open-minded and rational as they would have you believe. ... Instead of always being open-minded, Polyani found, scientists often have their eyes and minds closed.

... (Harvard University's Kuhn) found that scientists did not promptly reject the old theories when they were judged to rationally and objectively to be lacking in the courtroom of facts. Kuhn noticed instead that scientists at any moment seem to be emotionally committed to a shared set of ideas, and will not even consider rejecting these ideas unless their 'maladjustment' to the nature they are meant to describe becomes obviously and intolerably great.

- Author discusses history using the analogy of the grain of sand that triggers an avalanche in a sand pile:

'... the largest avalanches are far and away the most influential in terms of the effects they have on the pile. ... how should some historian explain these movements?
Out historian will be sorely tempted to identify certain individual grains as having been massively influential. After all, colleagues will point out that in 1942, an individual grain of immense courage named Granular Columbus triggered an avalanche that ultimately carried grains all the way from the East to the West, and so altered the face of the world and its future. ... For each great event, they can identify some extraordinary grain that touched it off, and perhaps a few others that kept it going at crucial stages. And these grains, they might conclude, are the real agents of history.

Despite being tempted to agree, our historian (a subtle observer of individual character) will have noticed that in the sand world every grain is identical to every other, so there really can be no question of any one being a Great Grain. … By understanding that the pile is always on the edge of radical change, our historian comes to realise that there are always places in the pile at which the falling of a single grain can trigger world-changing effects. These grains are only special, however, because they happened to fall in the right place at the right time. In a critical world, there are necessarily a few great roles and some grains by necessity fall into them.

Might the same be true of human history? There is no denying that some people, by virtue of their personality or intelligence, are more influential than others. And yet it is at least a theoretical possibility that our world exists in something very much like a critical state. In such a world, even if human being were identical in their abilities, a few would nevertheless find themselves in situations in which their ordinary actions would have truly staggering consequences. They might not even be aware of it, as the potential for their actions to propagate might only become apparent as history unfolded. Such individuals might come to be known as great men or great women, as creators of vast social movements of tremendous import. Many of them might indeed be exceptional. But this need not imply that their greatness accounts for the greatness of the events they sparked off.

Just as it is almost irresistibly tempting to seek great causes behind the great earthquakes or the mass extinctions, it is also tempting to see great persons behind the great events in history. But the sand-pile historian comes down firmly against the ‘great grain’ theory of history … Our historian might agree with Georg Wilhel Friedrich Hegel, who concluded that:

‘The great man of the age is one who can out into words the will of his age, tell his age what its will is, and accomplish it. What he does is the heart and essence of his age; he actualises his age.’

… what makes an individual notable and ‘great’ is the ability to unleash pent-up forces – the will of the age – and so enable those immeasurably greater forces to have their effect.

In the context of science, Einstein was a genius of the first order. … But the theory of relativity was revolutionary not because of Einstein’s genius, but because it represented a terrific avalanche in the fabric of ideas. Even if scientists were all genetic clones, such revolutionary ideas would still be set off by a select few. To borrow a phrase of the biologist Edward O.Wilson, ‘Genius is the summed up production of the many with the names of the few attached for easy recall.’

It does not seem normal and law-like for long periods of calm to be suddenly and sporadically shattered by cataclysm, and yet it is. This is, it seems, the ubiquitous nature of the world.

Book review - Three is Complexity by Neil Johnson

I found this book to be too technical in its approach to be enjoyed in the minutes before one dozes off. It is definitely not one for the sleepy headed lay person and after a few repeated efforts I gave up - it was just too complex!

* 1/2

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Calorie counting web-site

Calorie King is my preferred site for my calorie counting project. It's easy to use, the database is comprehensive and it has a nice feature that allows you to switch between specify measures - e.g. regular servings, x grams, x oz, etc.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Book review - Panic Nation by Stanley Feldman and Vincent Marks

'All things are poison and nothing is without poison. It is the dose that makes a thing poisonous.' - Paracelsus, father of modern toxicology (1493 - 1541)

Panic Nation provides an easy to read, critical assessment of the world of nutrition. However, while the book succeeds in getting the reader to think twice and question dietary recommendations, Feldman seems to switch into rant mode too often and this excessive shouting from the pulpit only serves to undermine the advice he is trying to deliver. Indeed, the tone makes one question the validity of some of the author's own claims.

It is a shame that the authors of Panic Nation have to some degree undone their good work by overshooting the skeptical case, but at the very least the book does provide a most useful counterbalance to a world drowning in nutritional advice, reminding us how much we still don't know about the complex field of nutritional science.

*** 1/2

Some quoted passages from the book:

- The default setting for the human condition is now widely seen as being in a state of vulnerability and victim hood. The autonomous individual who stands on how or her own two feet appears to be an endangered species. Instead, the assumption is that we are pretty pathetic specimens who must need professional intervention and advice to protect us from the problems of everyday life. We are a society on the couch, under the supervision of the therapeutic state.

- There is no such thing as junk food. All food is composed of carbohydrate, fat and protein. An intake of a certain amount of each is essential for a healthy life. In addition, a supply of certain minerals ... and fluid contribute to health. Once the necessary amounts of carbohydrate, fat and protein have been taken, any long term surplus is stored as glycogen or fat in the body. Protein is protein, whether it comes from an Aberdeen Angus steak or a McDonald's hamburger. It is broken up in the gut in to its amino-acid building blocks, which are identical in both the hamburger and the steak ... Any excess ends up as fat. One source of animal protein is not necessarily of better value to the body than another, nor is it more fattening.

- It is not the particular food that makes people fat, it is the amount they eat.

- The most oft-quoted clinical trial in the last few years is the UK-based Heart Protection Study (HPS). A veritable triumph for statins, demonstrating protection in almost every group studied. What is most intriguing, however, is that the protection was apparent if the starting cholesterol as high, average or low. … So, if statins do protect those … there must be some other mechanism of action, unrelated to cholesterol lowering. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence to support the idea that statins have a whole series of protective actions.

- There are few studies of the long-term consequences of a low-salt diet in terms of mortality from cardiovascular disease. … In a study in 1995, of the relationship between dietary salt intake and heart attacks among men with high blood pressure, Michael Alderman and colleagues followed up 2,937 subjects for an average of nearly four years. The frequency of heart attacks was lowest in the group with the highest salt intake. … These studies do not prove there is a hazard associated with a low-salt diet but they give cause for concern.

Without adequate randomised trials to show that it is effective and establish its long-term safety, in particular to show reduced mortality, the imposition of a low-salt diet by government diktat appears particularly foolhardy and without any scientific basis.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Stallone's The Expendables

I've been tracking Stallone's Expendables project for a while and I bring good news: filming has started and the PR machine is already running in overdrive in the best possible way. Eric Roberts (brother of Julia Roberts) has a blog, and Stallone is tweeting along with the movie's publicist, Sheryl Main. Early photo's of the first days of shooting are also popping up. Stallone seems to have taken a bit of input from bloggers already, seemingly taking their advice on 50-cent's suitability for a role - it was decided that he was not suitable. As opposed to big-budget marketing drives, I much prefer this more organic approach to PR buzz generation. Indeed, I wonder how long it will be a film is made that is truly open source, allowing people to decide it's fate as it is under production. For example, film makers could film an introduction, present several options on story direction and let bloggers or other public decide its future ... could this wisdom of the masses work? It could make for an interesting experiment. In theory, you could even get people writing script and voting on the best dialogue etc to include.

Anyway, back to The Expendables, here's a clip from Eric Roberts' blog:

'wow this has been crazy. Yesterday we went to a Mangarathiba, small fishing village about 2 hours outside of Rio. Sly set up the first shot for tomorrow (Monday) our first day of shooting. The whole town turned out to greet him. I’m told it’s the biggest thing to happen in the village since - well, since ever! When the stunt seaplane flew over the crowd at a VERY LOW altitude, they began cheering. Sly then walked over to the crowd to take photos, signs autographs and shake hands. Chaos ensued! Back to Rio where he was mobbed as he tried to enter the hotel. 300 fans chanting ROCKY ROCKY ROCKY in Portuguese was pretty interesting. Meanwhile out at the airport Jason Statham required a police escort just to get out of the airport. '
And some of the pics:

Bear in mind Stallone is 62 years old.

Book - Milledulcia (1857), part 2

In this second instalment of copy from the endlessly fascinating 'Milledulcia: A Thousand Pleasant Things: Selected from Notes and Queries' (1857), we look at the origin of the term 'old fogy':

Previously, we looked at the topic of hermitaging.

A few random bits on food

- I'm two days into the Thirty Days Diet. My daily calorie intake in each of the past two days has been less than a regular McDonalds meal (Filet-O-Fish, medium fries and a medium shake). I've had no trouble sleeping, which was my biggest worry, although I am going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. I've also invented a few low calorie twists on a few dishes including a night-time porridge drink and high-quantity, low-calorie vegetable stir-fry. Also realised that it is very easy to get your five-a-day with a very low calorie count (hint, focus on vegetables, not sugary fruits) - in the future, this could give more margin for so called 'junk foods'.

- Recently discovered and bookmarked Tastespotting, an excellent site for food/recipe voyeurism. The site is a good example of a simple idea beautifully executed.

- On Monday, the Food Standards Authority announced that 'Eighteen major catering companies, including many high street names, are to introduce calorie information on their menus for the first time.' I like the idea as I like to make informed choices, but it needs to be remembered that eating is about nutrients as well as calories, and while an excess calorie is an excess calorie we also need to take into account the calorie delivery system (fast release sugar in a coke is different to getting the same amount of calories from most fruit and vegetables, nutrients aside). However, since the wider public problem seems to be one of excess calories and not undernourishment, printing calorie information surely helps people make informed choices. Logic says that people armed with this information are more likely to substitute down to low calorie options than doing the opposite. Indeed, the BBC comments that 'A similar idea has been running in parts of the United States since 2007. In New York officials have found it has changed customers behaviour and, on average, the calories consumed has gone down by 50 to 100 calories per choice.'

- The results of study '... provide the first evidence following a large group of people over time with clear evidence of obesity occurring prior to periodontal disease, and support an association between obesity and risk of periodontal disease. ' A while back, I read about studies that suggested a link between gum disease and heart disease, and formed the hypothesis that gum disease can cause bacterial infection which leads to an inflammatory reponse in the arteries. Based on the recent study, I wonder if the hypothesis holds up. Perhaps fat people get gum disease and it has little to with bacterial infection. Could it be a classic correlation-causation error.

- I watched an excellent programme last night called 'Horse People with Alexandra Tolstoy'. Tolstoy provided a fascinating insight into the lives of Siberian horse herders. On the food side of things, I didn't see anyone eat a single vegetable for the duration of Tolstoys stay (a few weeks), but did learn that the herders each ate at least 1 kg of meat a day. It does make you wonder about the apparent necessity for so much variety and getting your 5-a-day. This area is surely worthy of further researches.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


In an earlier post on film criticism, I suggested that 'sites like Metacritic and Yahoo could be made much more user-friendly if they presented two summary bar charts for each film, showing the dispersion of views from critics and users.' Well, David, from a film review site called MRQE, commented that their site already does this. The site looks pretty cool and is worth a look-see.

Other ideas: If I could tweak the charts I would make them quite a bit shorter and smaller to avoid having to scroll down. Perhaps they could even be incorporated, side by side, into the main movie description box. Also, because the bars show percentage brackets, it could be insightful to show the total number of critics and users.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Thirty Days Down

It was around this time last year that a couple of friends and I embarked on a mission to lose a stone each in weight. I weighed 11.4 stone before the exercise and managed to lose the stone within a few months. As time progressed I steadily dropped down to 10 stone, and then I dropped a further half stone to 9.5.

What has happened since? Well, I am now back at exactly 10 stone, which seems to be close to my natural weight, if such a thing exists. However, in the spirit of self-experimentation I have decided to see how much weight I can lose over the next thirty days. It is important to note that this experiment is all about finding out about myself and has little to do with health. I am particularly interested in the following:

  • Testing my will power and ability to perform a test of endurance and abstinence without a strong motivating driver.
  • Experiencing and recording the sensation of hunger throughout the day and evaluating how it responds to different food types and quantities.
  • The central objective is to learn about myself through meticulous measurement. For this experiment I have purchased both a precise electronic weighing scale to weigh myself every morning, and an excellent little digital kitchen scale to get a firm handle on how much I am eating. I'll also carry a small notebook around with me to record what I eat or drink. It won't be perfect but I hope to be as accurate as reasonably possible.
Here are my reference statistics going in to the project (taken this morning):

- Weight: 10 stone
- Waist (around belly button): 33 inches relaxed, 34.5 inches breathing out max
- Hips (widest circumference around buttocks): 37 inches
- Biceps: 34 cm

These measurements were taken in Jan and Feb:

- BMI: 20 and 21.5
- Blood pressure: 120/77 and 128/80
- Body fat: 17%
- Cholesterol: 4.05

I've set up a blog called Thirty Days Down to track my progress - I'll be weighing myself every morning and will take other comparative measurements at the end of the project. The blog will have an entry for each of the thirty days and will close at the end of the project.

Over this period I may do some calorie burning cardio exercise in the gym but I definitely won't be doing any weight training because heavy lifting builds and maintains mass.

To get the ball rolling, I'm targeting an intake of 1,000 calories a day for the first week.

Old trainers - an update

In September 2008, I posted a comment on how I gave my decade old, tattered trainers (pictured above) a new lease of life by giving them a quick wash. Surprisingly, half a year later their condition has hardly deteriorated, despite daily use. They seem frozen in time in this pitiful state, refusing go the last mile to total ruin ... although perhaps I have an above average tolerance for wear and tear.

ps - You can't see it from the picture, but the grip on the sole has worn down to the type of frictionless surface that would make NASA proud.

New project: Thirty Days Down

I have started a new project today called Thirty Days Down. More to follow shortly.

Notes on criticism

Some of my favourite films and books have been enjoyed without any form of recommendation whatsoever. However, I've simply experienced to many turkeys to justify taking a completely blind approach to making my picks, and I now recommend the following approach:

- Critical review web-sites: Stay away from single review sites and instead focus on aggregators such as Yahoo Movies or Metacritic to get an instant summary of critics' ratings, as well as an average score from the users. Metacritic is particularly good because it provides a clear, summarised breakdown of the critics' responses, and you can easily see the variance of reviews. This is important because while some films have outright positive ratings, others may have similar average scores but the critics could have a much wider spectrum of opinion - in this case, you can judge whether the film may or may not be you cup of tea. Also, if you like certain low-brow genres, which I do, it's important to recognise that the critics are unlikely to provide useful information. For example Predator received a pitiful 36/100 from the critics versus a 8.6 rating from its users. Likewise, Fast & Furious, which has been blazing a steaming hot trail in theaters in the US, managed a mere 58/100 from the critics (and just 22% on Rotten Tomatoes) versus 9.2 from the public. Personally, I can't wait to see it.

- The future: I think sites like Metacritic and Yahoo could be made much more user-friendly if they presented two summary bar charts for each film, showing the dispersion of views from critics and users. This would provide instant insight to users, maximising the wisdom of two different crowds with no spoiler revelations on plot, acting surprises, etc. (There's an idea for a website if anyone is interested!).

Oh, and what's the deal with book reviews and the reluctance of newspapers and other professional reviewers to use a simple numerical ratings systems like Amazon's stars approach?

- Newsnight Review: The biggest reason for staying away from Newsnight Review for film commentary is the ruinous tendency for the critics to give away too much of the story, sometimes going as far as revealing twists and endings, and spoiling any sense of anticipation. Also, it can't be that a film maker wants to tell a simple story for our enjoyment. Oh no, that won't do. We have to look well beyond that. I'd love to hear these guys debate Predator; I bet they'd end up in heated debate about how the movie is actually a scathing criticism against Bush's policy of military intervention, and how the alien represents all those enemies who we think we can destroy but end up detroying us. If you wanted to, you could write a 10,000 word essay on 'Predator's relevance to our times' ... now there's a thought.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cool videos for the weekend

I'm loving the vibe of this track by La Roux. Their official video on Youtube is here, the one below is a live performance:

It's good gym music. Now "Pump the guns, blast your ass, and feel the burn damn it!"

Here is my favourite clip from The Wire (only four episodes in so far):

This 'Extreme Sheep LED Art' video looks like a corporate hoax, but it's still pretty cool:

Cool pictures for the weekend

The x-ray pictures are the work of Nick Veasey. Can't find the source of the Twitter comic.

Fame in death

'Death makes no conquest of this conqueror: For now he lives in fame, though not in life.' - Shakespeare

Here is a chart showing the number of weekly visitors to my old trading blog. After I stopped blogging in October 2008, the number of visitors increased by around 50%.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

For fans of CSI: Miami

As cool as ice.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Quick thought - insular science

Why is it that the majority of scientific discovery articles that we read about in the general media involve studies that took place in the UK or US? Is scientific discovery really so concentrated in these parts of the world, or is the media too lazy to look further afield for equally ground breaking studies? Perhaps it is a standards issue? I'd really like to know the answer to this puzzle.

My blog has been signed up for a book deal!

A few months ago, after I posted a book review, I noticed that a lady from Penguin Books had subscribed to my blog. A few days later I received an e-mail from her saying that she had read a good portion my archived posts and very much enjoyed the random mix of content, ranging from economics, recipes and food posts, to book and film reviews and other general musings. I thanked her kindly and forgot all about it. Well, a few weeks ago she contacted me about a potential book deal. It looks very promising and today I signed on the dotted line. See here for all the details.