Saturday, July 31, 2010

Adobe reader's frustating updates

I am tired of Adobe's Acrobat Reader and it's constant updates and start-up files. I don't need the bells and whistles, I just want a simple inobtrusive reader that loads fast and doesn't keep pestering me. I can't stands it no more, Olive!

So it is that I have uninstalled Adobe and replaced it with a lighter piece of software called Nitro PDF Reader. Hopefully, there will be no going back.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Telegraph has a fascinating history of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I had no idea that the tower almost fell down and had to be closed to the public for a decade, and that it was then straightened back to its original tilt.

Photoscape effects

I do like how Photoscape can generate so many cool effects with a couple of mouse clicks. It isn't perfect software by any means, but it's quirky, free, fun to use, and pretty powerful.

Here's an example of vignetting, and further down are examples of the 'antique' overlays on offer.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Film: A-Team

Baam, Bur-rup, Baam, Da, Daa, Dumm.

The A-Team is almost exactly what I expected: lots of action and lots of jokes. BA, played by Quentin 'Rampage' Jackson, steals the show, just as Mr T stole the series from the serious actor George Peppard.

The final scene is way over the top (crazily so), however, and the plot too complex, but overall it's worth a watch if feel like having fun and watching things get blown up.


Sunbury golf course driving range

Sunbury costs the same as the Hounslow range (£5 for 100 balls), but you get a lot more than a broken bucket of ancient balls to whack up a field. Sunbury has a 9 hole course, an 18 hole course, a putting green, and a covered, flood-lit driving range which a really cool teeing off surface - you pour the balls down the hatch at one end, select the tee height, and watch them pop up, one at a time, waiting to be smacked down the range.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Buskers in Pisa

On our last evening in Italy, we happened to cross these fantastic buskers just outside Pisa's famous leaning tower. Forgive the dodgy footage!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Italy 2010 holiday pics (3 of 3) - Food edition, 23 photos

Tuscany may be a meat eaters paradise but finding vegetarian food is no problem whatsoever. Trattorias are the place to eat for reasonably priced fare that tastes home cooked. The region's food can best be described by the term 'cucina povera', which means 'cooking of the poor'. It is simple and rustic, and rich in taste, and it feels as if it has been laboured over and not just thrown together.

If you are in Florence, give Il Fagioli a try for a homely feel and cracking service (the waiter translated the menu into english and made up some specials for us). However, if you can only visit one place it has to be Trattoria da Benvenuto . This place offers fantastic value for money and serves up large portions to boot. The starter plates (primo platti) at trattorias are substantial, so don't over order!

A log of foods eaten and drinks drank (for me at least, visual scenes fade but flavours linger):

Starters and mains
- Ribolitta (a wonderful vegetable soup, so thick you eat it with a fork)
- Panazanella (another super thick, rich tomato and bread soup)
- Lucchesse barley/spelt soup (wonderful with olive oil and bread)
- Fagioli (these contorni, or 'surroundings' are just a plate of fresh beans, flavoured with little more than olive oil, salt & pepper, and garlic...still delicious though!)
- Pizza (thin and thick, fast food style and in the traditional fashion at trattorias and proper pizzerias)
- Tortellini
- Tagliatelle
- Spinach Squid
- Fried zucchini flowers
- Gnocchi with pesto dressing
- Seafood risotto
- Deep fried calamari
- Polenta with mushrooms

Sweet things
- Bomboline (like jam filled donuts but so much lighter)
- Ice-cream (real creamy)
- Biscotti (delicious and perfect for dunking in coffee)
- Tiramisu (the perfect end to the day, this desert was made by the mother of a chap working at a cafe/tratorria in Pisa)
- Creme caramel

- Salt & pepper
- Pepperoncino (dried chili flakes)
- Olive oil

- Unsalted bread

- Cappucino
- Espresso (the best one I had cost a trifle 60p and was had standing at the bar - it's more expensive to sit down on the continent)
- Barley capucinno
- Latte fredo

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Italy 2010 general holiday pics (2 of 3) - 33 photos

Food pics to follow.

Italy 2010 holiday pics (1 of 3)

Here's a wee smattering of pics from a week in Italy (Florence, Pisa and Lucca). I've had a nice relaxed evening sorting through and editing the photos and will upload the slideshows over the weekend.

The heat was strong, the pound was weak, and the food was excellent.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vitamin D on offer

Holland & Barret are running a half price special on vitamin D tablets. Go for the 25ug ones, not the 10ug, but act fast because these tablets seem to sell like the proverbial hot cakes. I've bought enough jars to see me through to the end of 2011.


In the latest update on the magical vitamin-non-vitamin that is vitamin D, I can report a massive reduction in my skin sensitivity to the sun. When I was on holiday in Italy the temperature must have averaged around 35 degrees and we were out of doors much of the time - yet I applied minimal sunblock and suffered 90% less skin irritation than usual. You could put this down to coincidence, but my mother suffers from skin lupus and is highly photo allergic and she reported similar findings (she started taking the tablets at around the same time as myself). I am not ruling out chance but the science suggests Vitamin D plays an integral role in auto-immune response, so the link is a plausible one.

Yes, if I keep on taking this magical tablet, I will surely be invincible.

Hounslow driving range ... my oh my

Watch out for the Hounslow Driving Range. For they say they have floodlit driving ranges (yes, with an 's'), but alas, the reality is somewhat different: a broken bucket of ancient balls, a field with a few markers on it, no shelter, and no teeting off mats. Oh, and a rock hard surface covered with stones. Okay, £5 for 100 balls is good value for money, but that's the only thing in its favour.

The course itself may be okay, but the range is an embarassment to all involved.

Film: Inception

Inception is a must see. The director says the film "deals with levels of reality...It's an action film set in a contemporary world, but with a slight science-fiction bent to it", while also describing it as "very much an ensemble film structured somewhat as a heist movie. It's an action adventure that spans the globe".

I normally despise CGI but the effects in this movie are spectacular. The script is also pretty tight and the story is complex but not incomprehensible. All the central actors lend further credibility to the movie with their sterling performances, although the only role I'm not sure about is Tom Berenger's.

It comes together exceedingly well, although I can't award it 5 stars because of the lack of ninjas. Close though, and it's the best thing so far this year.

**** and 3/4 stars (sorry, no ninja)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Good Oscar Wilde quote

"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live."

- Oscar Wilde

Film: Shrek 3D review

Short, fun, good use of 3D.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

A nice vitamin D update

The latest news(worthy) stories vitamin D are as follows:

- Osteoperosis Canada increases its vitamin D recommendation to the elderly.

- Vitamin D receptor plays a key role in the gut microbe garden ... nice.

- This decent looking study draws a link between Parkinson's and vitamin D levels. The study looks at 3000 Finnish folk over 30 years. The published paper is gated (blasted rascals) but here's the NHS summary:

"... researchers found that individuals with higher vitamin D levels had a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease compared to individuals with low vitamin D. The relative risk of developing Parkinson’s disease was 67% lower for the quarter of patients with the highest vitamin D levels, compared to the quarter of patients with the lowest vitamin D.

The researchers suggest that an optimal blood vitamin D concentration is 75-80 nmol/l. People in:

  • the lowest quartile had vitamin D concentrations of 8 to 28 nmol/l (men), 7 to 25 nmol/l (women).
  • the highest quartiles had vitamin D concentrations in the range 57 to 159 nmol/l (men), 50 to 151 nmol/l (women)."
Unfortunately, the BBC - who first reported on the story - have quoted some chap saying 'A balanced healthy diet should provide the recommended levels of vitamin D'. Whoops. This is pure garbage. To get a decent amount of vitamin D from food alone would require a highly unbalaned diet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Recipe: Chili oil pasta

Having run down my food stocks, I took a gamble this evening and went for a super simple pasta dinner. The recipe (2-3 servings):

- Boil pasta (add salt to the water as per usual). Drain, and add a couple of desert spoons of chili oil and a grinding of salt and pepper.

Um, that's it. Okay, I also added some fake vegetarian parmesan, but this is definitely optional as it doesn't do much beyond adding the smell of powdered old socks to your meal. Provided you don't hold back on the flavourings, this dish is beautiful in its simplicity.

A little grated chedddar on top would be perfect, but alas the fridge is holds nothing beyong a bottle of milk and the freezer nothing beyong a few chunks of Boursin. Hard times.

Off to Italy ... Caio

I'm off to Tuscany tomorrow, and am looking forward to partaking in much Italian pizza and coffee (my kind'a place). In a strange coincidence, I flicked on the Travel channel just now and the upcoming programme (a food/travel programme about Germany) had changed into a programme about food in Tuscany. I'm watching polenta, pizza, baked mushrooms, etc, and I want to eat it all!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sainsbury's Basics Mixed Vegetable Rice

This packet of mixed vegetable rice costs a mere 30p.

The contents looked dusty and rank when I emptied it into the pan, but I ramped it up with some frozen veg and a touch of chili oil and it tasted way better than expected. The ingredients list is pretty darn long but it's actually a relatively healthy snack as the only nasty in there is the oil, which is present in only a tiny quantity.

I'd recommend keeping a pack or two of this in the larder as a back up.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Double Quixote ... you wait ages for one and then two come along!

I've just read that Warner Brothers are rushing forth with their version of Don Quixote, with Joel Silver on production. I just hope Terry Gilliam gets there first, as Warner Bros could take the wind out of his sails with their (most probably) highly action packed, big-budget, no-care-for-the-original-story, version.

Whilst I have fears and concerns about the Joel Silver version, I imagine both films will be sufficiently different to the original such that they could ignite a surge in interest in the original work.

In my mind, Don Quixote needs to be made into a big budget mini-series, or perhaps split into 3 or 4 movies. There is no other way to stay faithful to Cervantes.

Thomas Thomas Start Edition

My first SatNav system is the TomTom Start, a dinky beginners model which is rock solid and does a sterling job of helping me to find my way about the place. Now, with the aid of Google, I have downloaded a bunch of free celebrity voices to keep me entertained on my drives.

Given my track record of missed turnings, my general tendency to head in the wrong direction, and my reluctance to back track, I reckon the unit will pay for itself within half a year.

Like double glazing, microwaves, tumble dryers, etc, when you finally get around to buying these things, you wonder why you didn't get one earlier.

Superb iRiver U30 offer

This nifty bit of kit is selling for a mere £40 at Expansys. You'll find it for around £150 elsewhere. I won't be buying one as I don't have the need for it, but it is a cracking deal.

PS - Use Quidco for a further discount.

Friday - no more chocolates but ...

The chocolate bar pact is in tact after week 1.

However, for every defensive measure, the market develops an attacking counter measure. So it was on Friday that I lunched on a plate of chips, followed by a large slice of cake, all washed down by a regular bottle of coke. After a visit to Sainsburys I discovered that I had purchased four full size cream crakes, and planned to eat them over the weekend whilst watching the final world cup games. But alas, life can be cruel, oh so cruel, and the fates dictated that this great plan would be lay to ruin by my very own hand. Later that evening, overcome by an insatiable need to 'banish' the cakes from the fridge, I ate them all in half an hour. That's a chocolate eclair, a custard and Bramley apple doughnut, a fresh cream and jam doughnut and a fresh cream Swiss bun ... all gone.

I hereby state declare a fresh cake ban until the end of the year!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Action heroes that keep on giving

Danny Trejo is 66 years old and he is still kicking ass.

Machete will be out shortly. It also features the likes of De Niro, Don Johnson, and Steven Seagal!

Film review: Predators ... good but it doesn't come close

I'm starting to believe that the original Predator is as good as it gets and that the film should be re-released.

The latest film in the franchise is 'Predators', which sits somewhere in between the original Predator and the Alien versus Predator series in terms of quality. The fundamental problems with the movie are that it is still too alieny (it's set on another planet), the characters are without depth, and the story is pure B-movie with zero suspense. It's also a pretty obvious semi-reboot of the original. On the up side, it's definitly a notch above the AVP films, Brody is okay as the cold hearted lead, and there are a few good lines.

The best bit about the movie was spotting all the homages to the original. Here are the ones I got from memory:

- The chain gun makes an early appearance
- Brody kills an insect with a big hunting knife (aka 'Billy's knife)
- Brody shouts 'Kill me, I'm here, kill me' - I loved that bit
- The song during the closing credits is the intro sequence song in the original
- They actually discuss the story of the Predator experience in '87 ... nice touch
- The Yakuza chap does a 'Billy', but this time it ends on a different note
- Brody smothers himself in mud as per Arnie
- The swinging log trap is employed again
- The female lead gets to say 'You set us up!'

Predators rating: 5.5 out of 10
Predator: 10 out of 10

Here's a post from a while back on the original Predator, fine film that it is:

Action films do not age at all well. I remember watching Kickboxer again a few years ago, and while I managed to sit through the entire film, this was more for nostalgia value than anything else. I am proud to report that Predator escapes this trap, standing head and shoulders above most other films in the genre. I was reminded of the sheer brilliance of this film when it aired on tv last week and all I can say is 'Wow'. It blew me away for the xth time. Okay, the effects used to show Predator's heat-vision don't hold up too well against today's special effects, but other than that the film is very well put together, and the dialogue - sparse that it is - is of the highest quality. I'm putting this forward as the ultimate RM film, and perhaps as Arnie's best film in his career. Below are some quotes from the film and some behind the scenes info. Enjoy.

Quotes from the film:

Dutch: Dillon, you son-of-a-bitch (they engage in a mid-air arm wrestle)
Dutch: What's the matter? The CIA got you pushing too many pencils?

Dutch: We're a rescue team. Not assassins.

Dutch: [to Dillon] So you cooked up a story and dropped the six of us in a meat grinder?

Poncho: You're bleeding, man.
Blain: I ain't got time to bleed.

Blain: You lose it here and you're in a world of hurt.

Dutch: [directing his team into the jungle] We move, five meter spread, no sound.

Dutch: Ruuun ! ... Get to da choppa !

Dutch: What happened to you, Dillon? You used to be someone I could trust.
Dillon: I woke up. Why don't you? You're an asset. An expendable asset. And I used you to get the job done, got it?

Dutch: Come on... Come on! Do it! Do it! Come on. Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Kill me! I'm here! Kill me! Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Come on! Do it now! Kill me!

And the ultimate line:

Dutch: If it bleeds, we can kill it.
One of my goals in life is to watch the collector's edition DVD. It's a 2-disc set and is chock full of extras, including a documentary called "If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It: The Making of Predator". The Predator DVD has 356 Amazon reviews with an average rating of 4.5/5, putting on par with the likes of Gone With the Wind and Godfather.

Here is some behind the scenes info from the Popcorn Junkies film site:
This is a terrific role for Schwarzenegger, playing a variation on his Matrix role from Commando, only seemingly a bit more realistic. He moves with the efficiency and the confidence of a real commander. He doesn't do a lot of bragging or mouthing off, leaving those types of things to the rest of his team.

The rest of the squad is an all star cast of movie bad asses crafted out of the same mold as The Dirty Dozen, and hasn't been topped for testosterone count since then. What I love is that apparently as soon as the camera quit rolling, these men were constantly trying to top each other, and really this tension comes across on screen as well. Look at the brash Blain (Jessie Ventura), mouthing off to everyone that they should chew tobacco because it will increase their sexual prowess. Off screen, Ventura was competing with Schwarzenegger for who had the largest biceps, losing by three inches. Sonny Landham, who plays Billy, the team's tracker in the film, was so crazy that the insurance company for the film would not even insure the project once they found out he was on board. Only after a bodyguard was hired to protect everyone else from the actor, was Landham allowed to join the project.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Golfing good times

Over the past few days, I've located a good bunch of driving ranges 9-hole golf courses within a 10 mile radius of Staines. Happy times.

I also got around to discarding my trusty old Pinseeker golf clubs. Alas, they turned out not to be so trusty afterall, as I'm hitting the ball much sweeter with a bunch of half-price, cheap-yet-heavy-ass Onyx clubs from Argos (they worked out to less than £3 a club). Sometimes you can blame the tools!

Predators: Adrien instead of Arnie?

Adrien Brody is a great actor, but he just wouldn't feature on the list of actors whom I'd like to see leading a Predator movie.

These quotes have changed my mind completely:

"I approached this with the kind of level of focus I would approach any of the roles that I've been given an opportunity to play... I think my intention, and the intention of hiring me to play Royce, was to delve into the kind of flawed tragic hero and not this kind of typical ... overtly physically imposing character... I did put on a substantial amount of muscle mass for the role, and the physical training was a big part of building to that character, [but it was also important] to prepare psychologically. We shot in Hawaii, and we shot in thousands of acres of tropical rainforest, and I had gotten permission from the owners of the estate to stay in the property... I didn't stay in a hotel... [Instead,] I isolated myself... My nightly ritual was poring over survival manuals and military and paramilitary training books. I was reading Sun Tzu. I was studying meditation. I was on a very strict diet. I wasn't drinking. I wasn't eating sugar. I wasn't having sex. I had to kind of go there, for me, because this was a tremendous opportunity."

As a tie-in with the movie, perhaps we could see an Art of War - Predator Edition?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

5 chocolates for £1

These days, it isn't uncommon to find a 5 pack of Mars or Twix bars in the supermarket for £1. A mere £1. I have fallen victim to said offer for the second time and am now feeling the '5-chocolate bars-for-a-pound-remorse'. I want to sick it all up and start the day over again.

Wimbledon: Nadal v Berdych

It should be a great final today. Yes, it would have been amazing to see Murray up against Nadal, but when it came to the crunch Murray didn't quite cut it on the court. He played fine tennis but Nadal was the better man on the day. The key thing for Murrary is that he was valiant in play and in defeat, which is promising fo future titles.

Turning to today, I'm confident that Berdych is going to put up a strong fight. He took out Federer and Djokovic in the early stages and is surely playing the tennis of his life. Nadal meanwhile, is the world number 1 but he has looked particularly angry of late - a few bad calls by the umpire could push his buttons, giving the underdog a chance to capitalise on the distractions.

Berdych quote: "You just need to go step by step and beat every player. Coming to every match, every opponent, with the same goals, same tactics: be concentrated, be patient, and try your best. So far, works pretty well."

Berdych's successes have filled him with confidence, putting him in good stead for the final. Since it is rarely the case that a player without a positive attitude succeeds against an equally matched foe, an interesting question to consider is whether we need a few successes, even minor ones, to cultivate a confident attitutude, or whether we can create such a mentality irrrespective of our play.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Film: The Killer Inside Me

Not good, not good at all. The Killer Inside Me is way too heavy and literally hard hitting, that it leaves you with a rather revolting taste in your mouth. It's one that ain't going to wash out easy, either. You have been warned.