Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Crapsticks ...running 8 miles on empty

Is a word I made up this evening. It came to me when I Google-mapped the distance I ran a few hours ago. I figured I'd run close to 7 miles at a push. Instead, it's turned out to be 8 miles, which is a match for my personal best. I was planning to go for 4 miles but when I reached my target location (Bray film studios) I had too much energy left in the tank so I kept on running, all the way to the Fat Duck restaurant which is 4m away. It's a 'crapsticks' moment because I hadn't eaten a morsel of food before the run, no breakfast, no lunch, and no snacking of any sort.

On the one hand I'm pretty surprised that I can go so far on empty but on the other hand it suggests something could be amiss with the mind-body connection. Best keep a limit on runs from here on...they are not the ideal form of activity to put on weight, which is a goal I am toying with.

Moon shots 29th Feb 2012

Taken from the garden. Diffuse lighting was aided by subtle cloud cover. The Sony HX-9V can do so much more than my Pentax H90 and yet I continue to lament its demise : (  Fortunately I do not have a very good memory so this period of mourning (for an inanimate object) should be short-lived.

More frog spawn

Frog spawn update. The pond is positively teeming with frogs and frogspawn. Compared to a few days ago, the eggs are now protruding through the water to create little mountains of spawn. Slimy cool.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ladybird saved ...

...from drowning in the bird bath. The least it could do was to pose for a few pictures!

Monday, February 27, 2012

A 41MP camera is coming out, on a mobile phone!

With camera technology on smart phones improving exponentially, the compact camera market needs to run fast just to stand still. I'm increasingly happy with my Sony HX-9V but also accept that the next iphone could well match the Sony for quality on many fronts. It's all to the good for consumers though, as it means that camera makers are really going to have go at it to keep their offerings fresh.

The Muppets Movie

The Muppets Movie is considerably better than I thought it was going to be. The jokes are often quite clever, the songs are very well crafted into the movie (they are cheesy, but in a good way) and the story zips along at a decent pace.

**** 1/2

What? Four and a half stars? For the Muppets? Yes. You see the makers of the Muppets added that little bit of special sauce to catapault this movie in to the 'must-see' bracket. They added a scene where the muppets are ninjas on a mission to kidnap Jack Black for their celebrity telethon. Perfect.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Taking photos of the moon with the Sony HX-9V

I wonder about this Sony HX-9V. What exactly is this box that I have on my hands? A digital point and shoot camera, perhaps. A HD video camera, quite possibly. What about a telescope? Unlikely ... or so I thought until now. I just took this snap 10 minutes ago.

It's much clearer than the eye can see. I had to drop down the quality to vga in order to achieve the maximum zoom, but it's still pretty cool. Looking forward to more moon shots in the future.

It's alive

Our pond is heaving with wobbly frog spawn and frantic froglets. Right now the frogs are diving for deep cover everytime I approach, hence the photos of the jelly and none of frogs. However, if last year is anything to go by at least a few frogs should get used to human presence. And then the lego ninja will come out!

Just bought ...

... or at least ordered £210 worth of barbeques for a mere £10 including postage. I fear the order will be rejected as a mis-pricing. If not, I'm going to have a lot of bbq metal on my hands!

Sony HX9V test shots

Here be some test shots I took today and yesterday with my new camera. The first picture was taken late at night in low artificial light, so I can't complain about that too much.

The snail shot above is a fake depth of effect created in-camera by taking to photos back to back and blending them together to create a blurry background.

I'm happy with a lot of the pictures taken to date but there are certain things about the camera that are going to take some getting used to. First of all, there is no macro mode. There is a macro setting which is automatically sensed and employed by the camera, however I'm used to telling the camera when I want it to be in either macro or landscape mode. Also, the lens flare is nowhere near as nice it was on the Pentax H90. Actually, the effect on the H90 was so nice that shooting into the sun became a habit. The flare on the 9V isn't terrible, it just isn't beautiful. Guess I'll just have to learn to shoot with the sun like everyone else.

The plus points are decent low light control, great panorama mode, fantastic video, and good controls for the timer function and other bits and pieces. There is also a built in HDR mode which I need to try out and the 16x zoom is super cool. Battery life is also very good and the in-camera UBS charger is actually proving an advantage.

So far, not bad. There will be a learning curve with this one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Don't call it a comeback - revenge of the ninja

Spotted in Orange advertisements:

Elsewhere, female ninja are spotted in Iran:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Barclays Additions Active - not bad at all

Okay, so this is my best money saving deal at present and it has been for a long time. It's a Barclays Additions Active account that offers all of the following at a mere £15 a month:

  • Worldwide multi-trip travel insurance 
  • Mobile phone insurance including cover against loss, theft and accidental damage
  • Comprehensive RAC Breakdown Cover in the UK and Europe
  • Extended warranty cover for your domestic appliances
  • Cardholder protection, covering you against loss or theft of your cards or passport
  • Will-Writing service and inheritance tax brochure
  • Barclays loyalty mortgage – get a better deal (subject to status and availability)
  • ID theft advice helpline
  • Legal and tax helpline
  • Gadget insurance for things like your mp3 player
Now the good bit, or should I say the better bit: you can open a joint account for the same cost and two people can enjoy the above benefits for £7.50 a month.

The gadget cover alone just paid for my broken camera, I've already used the travel insurance a few times, called the RAC and registered a few goods for the extended warranty service. There will inevitably be some overlap with some of your existing policies but once you have the account in place everything is in perfect synchrony. One less thing to worry about, me thinks. As it should be.


The above black box is my replacement for the sadly deceased Pentax Optio H90. It is the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V (umm, anyone at home in in the marketing department? Do you see coffees with names like Kenco Costa Rican Rich - Blend T24335-Y23?). Anyway, let's let the name pass if we can, it is but a trifle ... but no, it doesn't make any sense, why, why, why!!! Okay, that's enough now.

The HX9V has received a strange array of reviews. It has attained best in class awards from several reviewers but many a user also seem to despise it and return the camera to the store it asap. I'll give it a week or two before posting my review, to let me get comfortable with its strengths and weaknesses. I shouldn't complain too much as it only cost me £20; my kind insurance company offered Jessop's vouchers which had a value of more than double of what my H90 cost in the first place. Hopefully they aren't reading. Who is reading? I am reading as I write and that's good enough for me.

I was going to plump for the Nikon P300 but Sony's 16x zoom knocked the P300 out of the ring. The Sony can also create some mind-blowing videos for a compact, not that I have the technical capacity to process anything I record. On that note, I've already dropped the resolution down from 16MP to 10MP so my little Thinkpad doesn't need several days to download the photos.

Here is my best picture to date. Surprise surprise, it's Ninja Cole. I love how the view through the window looks like a painting.

And here be an example of the value of a 16x optical zoom. The pictures are as they came out of the camera.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dieting: Less is not more but nothing is everything

Since the start of 2012 I've pretty much been going without breakfast and lunch Mondays through to Thursdays. Prior to this odd habit I would usually have a slice of toast or two at work for breakfast. However, on my first day back in the office in 2012 the fridge was missing the usual loaf and I was forced to go without. Ditto for lunch. I was hungry but laziness won out and I didn't go out for food. The next day I had lost my hunger. More through curiousity than anything else I wanted to see how far I could push things. Initially, I found that a can of coke was more than sufficient to keep me going through to 5pm. 12 spoons of sugar afterall. But this made me feel sick after a few days so I switched to Diet. And Diet made me feel all chemical-ly so I dropped back to teas and coffees, no sugar. This has been my modus operandi through the working week, except for several Fridays when I chose to have a muesli breakfast at home to see the effects. The effect was that my stomach was rumbling by around 11:30! Quite something. Give a little and your body wants more. I may experiment on future Fridays with high fat and high protein foods to test the satiety impact.

I can't claim this practice as a victory of willpower or mind over matter. It is simply a case of having broken one's sense of hunger and also quite liking the stable energy levels the approach provides through the day. Oddly enough, I am back to normal on Saturdays and Sundays and have no trouble adjusting to the diet on the Monday. Is it unhealthy? I find a lot of unsupported advice about the importance of snacking and eating breakfast on the internet but little meaningful science.

The problem, and it has been a problem, is that it becomes difficult to reach one's calorie requirements without pigging out in the evenings. Afterall, if I've generally had little more than 200 calories by 5:00pm, there is some serious making up to do. If you put your mind to it though, it's pretty easy goings. A pint or so of full fat milk provides just shy of 400kcal, which is a good start. Instant noodles give another 450 odd kcal. A couple of slices of toast give 200 kcal, going up to about 400 kcal with a few eggs on top. The trick is just to remember that you gotta eat, hungry or not. To save time, I may just end up dousing everything in olive oil. Or I could eat like a normal human again...let's keep this one going for a little longer and see where we end up.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gotye - Somebody that I used to know

A cool song from Gotye:

Pentax H90 disappears forever

I have left my much loved Pentax H90 Flikr group.

When I sent the camera off to the repair shop I had high hopes of recovery.  Hopes that were dashed when I received a letter from my insurance company stating that the camera was beyond repair. There is some good news though, as they have kindly offered a choice of cameras from Jessops, some of which are more than double the value of the H90. That said, there was a magical charm about the H90 that demanded it be taken everywhere and used at every opportunity. Farewell H90, I knew you well and you served me well.  : (

A recent comment on an old post that is fast becoming a highly prized guiding light to the holy katlama:

"Went to the Lahore Karahi in Tooting last night, expressly because we'd heard they do katlamas. Wasn't disappointed. They weren't fresh out of the fryer but were pretty good, and pretty much as we remembered them from Saleem's in Birmingham. They even came with the same red sauce that Saleem's give you (minus the raw onions). The only difference was they cut the katlama up into quarters rather than give you the whole thing in one big piece. A good find - and the added bonus was that the bhunas we had were really really good. Would recommend it highly."

More vitamin D stories

Here are couple of recent links that I don't think I've come across before:

Vitamin D levels may predict depression relapse
Kids' language issues tied to moms' low vitamin D: study

I won't repeat my thoughts on the vitamin but must look to merge all my past ramblings into a more comprehensive post (one day).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ninjabread men

Sometimes you just need a quiet, ninja based evening, with Kung Fu Hustle playing on dvd and kick-ass ninjabread men cooking away in the background.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Photos from Japan



 ... okay, they are photos from a Japanese monastery in Milton Keynes.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ninja vs the Mysterious Woodland Warrior - the battle

Ninja vs the Mysterious Woodland Warrior

Ninja travels through the snowy woods in search of a worthy enemy. He has spent decades practicing his sword, his daggers, his bow and his spear. Ninja's abilities surpassed those of his master several years ago. He has read and absorbed every useful written word on the art of combat. His strategies are strong. Stories of his past victories circulate in the villages like myths but they do not lie. He has practiced his deadly art each day for several decades and is hungry for a challenge. Before his mind starts to dull. Before his body gives in to nature and starts to weaken.

Ninja has spent weeks wondering the forest in search of the woodland warrior, the one they talk of in hushed whispers. Little has passed Ninja's lips but the water of the river and some wild berries. Perhaps the story of the mysterious woodland warrior is just a fairytale.

Just as Ninja is about to just about to turn out of the woods, he senses that another is close by.

The mysterious woodland warrior emerges.

He is real and he has come to fight.

Later that evening a duel takes place.

There can be only one.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Alain de Botton - some ideas from his talk

A few days back I mentioned that I had been to to an LSE public lecture given by popular philosopher Alain De Botton. I rate the chap quite highly as a writer (The Art of Travel ****, Status Anxiety ****, How Proust Can Change Your Life *** 1/2, ) and speaker, and thought it may be interesting to hear what he had to say about his new book 'Religion for Atheists'. Suspicions were confirmed and interesting it was. De Botton bathed my brain in his clear, wise words ... I would like to think that a little portion of his wisdom diffused into my grey cells but I'm writing this note just in case I forget everything he said. Indeed, much of it has already disappeared into the ether already...damn my infernal leaky brain!

Anyhoo, back to the lecture.

De Botton's position is a refreshing contrast to that of the atheistic zealot (think Dawkins and his ilk, who come over as a bit too sharp around the edges and confrontational). The talk was actually not about atheism per so but instead was about what atheists can gain by looking at the benefits of religion as a cultural, organisational and successful part of our society. All of which means the title of De Botton's book and speech is completely and unfortunately misleading, as it is not at all about establishing a 'religion for atheists' but is more about 'what atheists can learn from religion'.

Some his insights from religion included:
- How religious art is generally very clear in it's message and how the idea has come externally of the artist. The artist gives the idea power through clarity. Contrast this to much of the 'make of it what you will' art of today.
- Church congregations often get very fired up about issues. Why don't we inject some of this enthusiasm into other teachings, instead of just having somebody delivering bland, uninspiring lectures to a bored student body.
- Look at the success of religions as marketing machines. There is much to learn and transfer.
- Religion is filled with repitition, reminders and strict schedules. The knowledge and belief becomes engrained thorugh this rigor of performing acts per a timetable. Other walks of life could benefit from a more structured apporach as opposed to leaving things to when people feeling like doing them. They may never get done.
- Spending most of our time emmersed in a materialistic society leads to people subscicously or consciously thinking of others in terms of status and success within this structure. Religion brings everyone together on a level playing field.

There is much to ponder over. I highly recommend that you check out a couple of his videos on TED or Youtube.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Franc-ly Speaking

Go on my boy:

“Given this difficult environment, we remain firmly committed to defending the minimum exchange rate of 1.20 francs per euro,” Jordan said at an event in Geneva today. “This commitment applies at any time, from the moment the market opens in Sydney on Monday to when it closes in New York on Friday. We will not tolerate any trading below the minimum rate.”

Film: Howl's Moving Castle

A faulty fire alarm at work made for an early finish at work today, leaving your obliging servant with too much time on his hands.

In this unexpected half day holiday I wrote and posted a few bloggings; put the finishing touches to my first directorial debut which is titled 'Ninja vs Mysterious Warrior' and will shortly be released to a select audience (the spam bots that crawl this blog); read some of the excellent book 'The Princess and the Bride'; watched a couple of episodes of Catterick with Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer; ate three evening meals to make up for my strange habit of not breakfasting or lunching; did a late night grocery shop; and watched Howls Moving Castle, a classic Studio Ghibli film.

Howls is exactly what fans of Studio Ghibli will expect. It is magical, action packed, and completely fantastical and as always, it pulls on all the ghostly strings of our childhood imaginations, which we sometimes think have disappeared but are really still there, crowded out by the noise and distraction of adulthood.

**** 1/2

Monday, February 06, 2012

Top 5 regrets of dying

Here is the article. I hold strong quite ideas on how I want to feel at the point of death, although I stress that these mind ramblings are still in their infant stages and so could be subject to a complete change.Actually, why caveat with 'could'? Scrap that, they most definitely will change. For now however, the idea is basically to have no regrets. Nada. Zip. And how to achieve such a thing?

It is simple. Just take stock of one's position and maintain perspective: I am not at the centre of the universe, at the centre of my universe perhaps, but that universe ceases when I cease. I am one of over 6.8bn people on this Earth, a number which will most likely to be a fair bit higher by the time I pop my clogs, unless they catch up with me before I expire (they haven't so far, as I am cunning and evasive in equal measure). Assuming that I have no truly great burden resting on my shoulders, then what is the worry? Afterall, I will be dead and so will not be in a position to do anything. That's really all there is to it: There is no point regretting anything as it doesn't matter once you are dead. Important issues will be picked up by others. Trivial matters will melt away.

I certainly hope that I will not form an idealistic and distorted view on my past and start saying to myself or to others that I should have been true to myself, spent more time with x, y, z, etc, or such like.Yes, 'ideally' we would have more time to do more with others, be true to ourselves, etc, but resources are not limitless and the reality of the world is one of compromise and restraint. That is real life. If I have any regrets, they should be small and fleeting and not built on a false premise as I believe are the one's in the Guardian article, even though they are based on real regrets.

The position is either very bleak or life very positive, depending on your views. Of course, I find it rather uplifting.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A grand idea - learning to fail well

From one of the highest scoring girl's schools in the UK:

A top girls' school is planning a "failure week" to teach pupils to embrace risk, build resilience and learn from their mistakes. The emphasis will be on the value of having a go, rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less. Pupils at Wimbledon High School will be asked how they feel when they fail. The headmistress, Heather Hanbury, said she wanted to show "it is completely acceptable and completely normal not to succeed at times in life."
Source: BBC

I believe we need to see more attempts along these lines. It is good for the health of the individual and for  society if we are better able to lift ourselves from the mire of failure and move swiftly to the next pursuit, having learned valuable lessons along the way but with our confidence still intact.

A few pics from the's already melting : (


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Sunrise, -8 degrees, Windsor Great Park

Two pairs of thermal socks, two jumpers under a coat, jogging bottoms under jeans ... and I still froze half to death. Kind of worth it though:

And of course the Lego family had to turn up:

Later in the day, I ventured off to Bray Nature Reserve:

To think, I've lived here for over a year and only now am I really appreciating the surroundings. All thanks to the little light box hobby!