Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Richard Wiseman wobbly head blog

Somebody sent this in to Wiseman's blog. Let your eyes drift a little and around it. Weird.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Letters of Note

A new blog has joined my list of regular reads. 'Letters of Note: Correspondence deserving of a wider audience' collects and published interesting letters through the ages:

Here we have an opinion on Eugenics, by Theodore Roosevelt:

"I agree with you if you mean, as I suppose you do, that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind. It is really extraordinary that our people refuse to apply to human beings such elementary knowledge as every successful farmer is obliged to apply to his own stock breeding. Any group of farmers who permitted their best stock not to breed, and let all the increase come from the worst stock, would be treated as fit inmates for an asylum. Yet we fail to understand that such conduct is rational compared to the conduct of a nation which permits unlimited breeding from the worst stocks, physically and morally, while it encourages or connives at the cold selfishness or the twisted sentimentality as a result of which the men and women ought to marry, and if married have large families, remain celebates or have no children or only one or two. Some day we will realize that the prime duty - the inescapable duty - of the good citizen of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type."
Shocking stuff to my generation but it is more comprehensible in the context of history, as I learn of a wider acceptance of this practice. From the BBC: "In all, 30 states conducted sterilisation programmes - in Virginia's case until 1979 - in an effort to wipe out human deficiencies and vices assumed to be hereditary."

On a more uplifting note, my favourite letter is this simple note:
"Can you move the Helicopter to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to mouve. Please rescue me.

Major Bung, wife and 5 child"
There's a great story behind it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A nice little quote, just read on "Wired"

"Dying used to mean something in a videogame, but these days it's just a reason to reload a checkpoint"

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another nice optical illusion

I want to make one of these!

Book: The Myth of Sisphyus by Albert Camus

Having found Camus' 'The Outsider' to be a masterpiece of intellect and truth, I came to 'The Myth of Sisyphus' with high hopes. They were promptly deflated.

The book is small but the main essay is a dense, rambling piece of philosophical academia, which seems not have been edited for clarity. I have found value in it for the imagery of Sisyphus, but so far cannot glean much meaning from the message, which doesn't appear to extend beyond saying that the absurd world and absence of meaning is such that we must find meaning and happiness instead of finding misery i.e. adopt a positive mind-set as we live life and push our metphorically pointless rocks up steep hills. Camus' conclusion that we must imagine Sisyphus happy is one that sticks uneasily in my throat, for a man eternally tasked to push a big rock up a hill, may start with gusto and acceptance but must surely want to end it all after a short while?


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Superhero optical illusions

Wolverine or double Batman?
Batman or Joker (upside down)?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book: Humble Pie

Gordon Ramsay's 'Humble Pie' dropped through the letterbox yesterday morning. By the late evening, I had finished reading it. Unfortunately, I just wanted to burn through the book because I wanted to to understand Ramsay's story, not because it is well written. Indeed, this is one of the most poorly written books that I have read in a long, long time. I feel it's written to make us feel that it's Ramsays own words, as it's written like a machine gun on auto-fire; short sentences with quite a bit going on to keep you turning the page. You don't skim it, but you don't waste a second pondering over a setence either, even when the author emphasises a word by writing it in upper WHY! When I finished the book, I thought Ramsay may have actually typed it out himself and so could forgive the style, but alas it is the work of a ghost writer (par for the course).


Having read so many books about restauranteurs recently, I haven't tired of the genre. I feel I need to read Michel Roux's book and Raymond Blanc's, and then I'll have done the set. Fortunately, these chaps are less about ego and dishing out abuse than the likes of Ramsay and Marco Pierre White, and should provide a nice change of tone on which to end this rather unplanned reading journey into the professional kitchen and kitchen professional.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blog Momento

My thoughts and learnings are like a crossing of a gold-fish and a hamster: I forget so much that I end up rebuilding my thoughts and understandings from the ground up, over and over. Indeed, I regularly find myself in a deception where I believe I am having new thoughts but in reality these are ghostly repititions of old thoughts now forgotten. I have come to this realisation by flicking through my blog and coming across topics that I forgot writing about and ended up writing about again (e.g. I wrote about the pointlessness of voting in 2008 and then again in 2010), or which I remembered writing about but then retained barely a wisp of knowledge about the content of the post.

On the positive side, I've now started using my blog search function with increased frequency, going over my past meanderings as a starting point on which to build my thoughts. This function will play an ever more important role as the content continues to fill out.

Ron Paul for President

I like Ron Paul. You may not agree with everything he says, but he'll certainly make you think. In this interview, the old chap sets the proposed Libyan on-fly zone in the wider context (btw, I do not know enough to have an informed view on this issue, so don't beat me down!).

Optical illusion

It looks like the grid in the middle is moving but it's just an artefact of your little grey cells.

(Found on Richard Wiseman's blog.)

Pasta calories

As a quick follow-up to the below post about a pasta sauce which is nothing more than melted butter, I thought it's worth mentioning that we shouldn't be fooled into thinking that this is an obscenely carlorie-rich way to eat pasta. I say this because a full tablespoon of butter has about 100 calories, while half a tub of stuffed pasta (such as the one pictured below) has over 400 calories, and you know you really need a full tub of this for your dinner, so that's a cool 800+ calories from the pasta alone...nice!

Pasta with butter sauce

I made the simplest pasta sauce last night:

- Melt a tablespoon of butter on a very low heat until it just starts to brown. Add a bit of s+p and pour over your pasta. Tasted great.

I imagine it could also be quite good with chili flakes or garlic and herbs.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Book: Quirkology - The Curious Science of Everyday Lives by Richard Wiseman

This book of quirky science/pyschology is right up my street.

Wiseman has managed to jam pack his book with an endless number of interesting (quirky) experimental findings on human behaviour, and yet, despite it's lack of 'padding', the author's breezy, clear-cut style of writing made its reading an addictively enjoyable experience.

I shall present some of the more enlightening findings in the book in future posts.

**** 1/2

Confessions of a temporary bookworm

Oh no, my book reading addiction had overlapped with my accountancy studies - when one is faced with the an interesting piece of fiction, and a large, dry tome on governance and risk in the field of accountancy, the choice is not a difficult one. Oh well, I'm sure I'll knuckle down soon enough ... even if I have just gone and ordered a second hand copy of Gordon Ramsey's Humble Pie from Amazon for a mere £1.15 (including postage - go figure). Ah, and a book about various types of shipping and other means of conveyance is also being shipped to me from the US, for just over £3.50.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Superfrog didn't save Tokyo

- Just after I read a book called 'After the Quake', an earthquake strikes Japan.

- When discussing the earthquake and tsunami, why are BBC news presenters using the phrase, 'it's something you just can't legislate for' in the same inappropriate way as football pundits? Actually, level 8 earthquakes and above are something the UK could very effectively legislate against. Indeed, I put it to you that the law would be so well upheld that an earthquake of this magnitude would dare not strike our island while it is in force.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

When I read this passage in this story about an old concierge and a suicidal 13 year old girl, I almost gave up:

'All of phenomology is founded on this certainty: our reflective consciousness, the sign of our ontological dignity, is the only entity we have that is worth studying, for it saves us from biological determinism.'

Twenty pages later, when I realised the book was going nowhere fast, I was ready to throw in the towel for a second time, but the chapter finished with the line, 'And this is when it all started'. I'm seventy three pages in and this is where is starts? Why didn't it start there, then!

Alas, it turns out that even this was a false promise, for nothing truly started at this point. Another twenty pages later I slammed the book closed, not wanting to waste my life any further. Better to have a good lie down.

The premise of the Hedgehog book is a good, interesting one, but it would have entertained much more if it was a little less pretensious and lost in the thoughts of the characters. I've heard of this book being likened to Proust, so I definitely won't be reading any of his work any time soon.

Some where between * and **. Just not my cup of tea.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

2nd hand books and economic thinking

I've recently discovered the joys of second hand books on Amazon.

So far I've managed to pick up a bunch of books for around £2-£3 a pop, little more than the price of a Sunday paper, and far cheaper than most books on E-bay. How these sellers turn a profit, I've no idea, but I'll be sure to enjoy it while it lasts. There is something about used books that gives them a certain appeal, a patina from having passed through at least one set of hands before mine. What's more, at these prices you feel no need to be precious about the books just because they are 'books'. Instead they can be treated in the same disposable manner as newspapers or magazines, and quickly moved on once done with, either by recycling or passing on to another reader. The words blow in to one's bookshelf only intermittently, only to be whisked away elsewhere a few weeks later. It is a good system.

Purchasing second hand books also pricked my economics brain with this thought: if you think of the items we purchase as a set of attributes (e.g. a car takes you from A to B, food fills you up, tastes nice, a fair ground ride provides a fun thrill, etc), then perhaps the price we pay should also feature as an attribute itself, because you pay a low price, you are buying something you can be care-free about, and vice-versa for something really expensive. This care-freeness is very valuable but at the same time as soon as it starts to get valued it gets bid up and disappears! Insurance if a bit of a bridge, as it allows you to make expensive purchases without worrying about theft, damage, etc, but not in all instances.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Book review; Maximum Diner by Christopher Nye

Of the recent books I've read about the food industry, this is the best of the bunch (by a whisker). It is an auto- biographical account of Christopher Nye's mission to open an American Style in a a typical Nowheresville of a town. The town he chooses is Uckfield, which fits the bill nicely, and the venue is Maximum Diner.

After the first thirty or so pages, this little book really gets flowing. It is very well written in a humourous matter of fact, easy-to-read style, and without any sense of ego, although this is no great surprise as you can't be too up on yourself if you are spending your days flipping burgers and lowering things into a deep fat fryer.

Read this book if you want a laugh, or if you are interested in restaurants and food venues, or in the efforts required to run a small business, or in fighting against losing odds come rain or shine, or even worse, come the tax man.


Friday, March 04, 2011

Book: The Devil in the Kitchen - Marco Pierre White Autobiography

Devil in the Kitchen may not be written with the stylish, brutish level of flair of Bourdain's 'Kitchen Confidential', but it is still a cracking, addictive read. Most of the chefs we know from tv feature in one way or another in this book. We have the young Heston Blumenthal as a young kid, Gordon Ramsey as Marco's Pierre protege, and Raymond Blanc as the passionate, skilled sensei.

Good reading.


A few quotes:

A reminder for the ketchup nazis:

"Nico, meanwhile, had established a reputation for being a perfectionist. He did not like customers to ask for well-done meat and he wouldn’t allow salt and pepper on the table. He thought his palate was perfect, which I don’t think is right - you have to accept that everyone’s palate is different. Nico’ may well have been perfect, but someone else might like a little more salt, it’s as simple as that."
And a wonderful piece of economic insight in action:
"… the restaurant business was struggling, but my rivals reacted to the dire economic situation in a completely different way to me: they put their prices down. They reckoned that to reduce the price of a meal would bring in the punters, and when that tactic failed they reduced their prices even further. They were searching desperately for the right price to appeal to customers. In contrast, I put my prices up. My rationale was simple: like it or not, fewer people were eating out, but the ones who were going to restaurants were the ones who could afford to pay more. My rivals sank. Their ever reducing prices took their losses higher and higher. They went bust and chefs disappeared to do God knows what. Meanwhile, I stayed in business and saw out the recession. I went on to achieve that dream and open thirty more restaurants."

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book; After the Quake by Haruki Murakami

The time-vacuum monster of accountancy studies is soon coming out of its hiding hole, to feast on my hours. In a last ditch effort to give my remaining free time a semblance of productivity and to honour the wasted hours which have gone before, I have acquired a bunch of books which I am trying to drink down before their reading ceases to be a possibility. I have already bitten off more than I can chew, but I'll keep chewing away at the haul until I can chew no more.

One book that I have just finished reading is Haruki Murkami's 'After the Quake', which is a collection of short stories that can best be described as being very much like other collections of short stories by Haruki Murakami(!). Some are good, some are not so good, and some are magical, such is the joy with the short story format. My favourite story in this slim volume is Super-Frog Saves Tokyo, which is mesmerisingly fantastic.