Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The presses ring out about town...good old plain English is back

The new Debenhams coffee menu
Fancy name (usually seen in high street coffee shops)
Plain English version (as seen on the new Debenhams menu)
Black coffee
Simple coffee – with or without milk
Caffe latte
Really really milky coffee
Frothy coffee
Caffe mocha
Chocolate flavoured coffee
Espresso shot
A shot of strong coffee

My 6,128 Favorite Books

Joe Queenan has written a cracking piece in the Wall Street Journal about his reading addiction and the purpose of books. Read the whole thing, or just read my choice quotes (almost half the article):

... I've never squandered an opportunity to read. There are only 24 hours in the day, seven of which are spent sleeping, and in my view at least four of the remaining 17 must be devoted to reading. A friend once told me that the real message Bram Stoker sought to convey in "Dracula" is that a human being needs to live hundreds and hundreds of years to get all his reading done; that Count Dracula, basically nothing more than a misunderstood bookworm, was draining blood from the necks of 10,000 hapless virgins not because he was the apotheosis of pure evil but because it was the only way he could live long enough to polish off his extensive reading list.

... I avoid inspirational and self-actualization books; if I wanted to read a self-improvement manual, I would try the Bible. Unless paid, I never read books by or about businessmen or politicians; these books are interchangeably cretinous and they all sound exactly the same: inspiring, sincere, flatulent, deadly. Reviewing them is like reviewing brake fluid: They get the job done, but who cares?

....I do not accept reading tips from strangers, especially from indecisive men whose shirt collars are a dramatically different color from the main portion of the garment.

...  hope to get through another 2,137 books before I die—and so far it has not included time for "The Audacity of Hope" or "The Whore of Akron," much less "Father John: Navajo Healer." I hate having books rammed down my throat, which may explain why I never liked school: I still cannot understand how one human being could ask another to read "Death of a Salesman" or "Ethan Frome" and then expect to remain on speaking terms.

... Until recently, I wasn't aware how completely books dominate my physical existence. Only when I started cataloging my possessions did I realize that there are books in every room in my house, 1,340 in all. My obliviousness to this fact has an obvious explanation: I am of Irish descent, and to the Irish, books are as natural and inevitable a feature of the landscape as sand is to Tuaregs or sand traps are to the frat boys at Myrtle Beach. You know, the guys with the belted shorts. When the English stormed the Emerald Isle in the 17th century, they took everything that was worth taking and burned everything else. Thereafter, the Irish had no land, no money, no future. That left them with words, and words became books, and books, ingeniously coupled with music and alcohol, enabled the Irish to transcend reality.

... Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who have clutter issues, or who don't want other people to see that they are reading books about parallel universes where nine-eyed sea serpents and blind marsupials join forces with deaf Valkyries to rescue high-strung albino virgins from the clutches of hermaphrodite centaurs, but they are useless for people engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on. Books that make us believe, for however short a time, that we shall all live happily ever after.

Hatip goes to the Tim Melvin from the SpecList!

Film: Daniel Day Lewis is Lincoln

Daniel Day Lewis is soon to be back on our screens in a biopic of Lincoln, and there's a great piece in Time reminding us of his brilliance. His approach of extreme method acting is legend:
... "If lincoln seems given over to legend, so does Day-Lewis’ totalizing methodology of acting, honed over a quarter-century. It comes with its own boilerplate of mythos and anecdote: How he stayed in character throughout My Left Foot (1989), in which he portrayed the profoundly disabled Irish writer and painter Christy Brown, to the point that cast and crew members fed him at lunch breaks and carried him over equipment between setups. How he lived in the manner of an 18th century American Indian in preparation to play the noble warrior Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), surviving for days on a 3,000-acre (1,200 hectare) expanse of Alabama wilderness. (“If he didn’t shoot it,” Mohicans director Michael Mann says, “he didn’t eat it.”) How he stayed up for three nights straight before a nightmarish interrogation scene as a man wrongly accused of an IRA bombing for In the Name of the Father (1993). How he sharpened knives between takes as the terrifying proto-mobster Bill “The -Butcher” Cutting on the set of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002)."

... (Emily Watson)  I remember asking at the very end, ‘Why do you work like that?’ And he said—it was very sweet—‘Well, I don’t think I’m a good enough actor to be able to not do it this way.’
The comment Lewis makes to Emily Watson underscores why this approach is so important to him - it is required for Lewis to be able to give his best game. If you become the character, you don't need to play the character. Contrast this to other actors who can turn up and play a variety of roles at the drop of a hat without needing to continue living as the character when the red button blinks off. The approach itself doesn't necessarily make an actor better or worse, it's about doing what works best for the individual.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


via xkcd

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Island Where People Forget to Die

The New York Times recently published a wonderful article about the great longevity of the people of the Greek island of Ikaria, where folk seem to stay sharp and healthy until the very end. There is a big focus on diet but there are simply too many factors to isolate a single cause, so there is no quick fix answer here. Nevertheless, this is still a must-read; it makes you want to go and live the good life. See below for selected quotes:

... he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. “People stay up late here,” Leriadis said. “We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.” He took a sip of his wine. “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”

...  They married in their early 20s and raised five children on Thanasis’s pay as a lumberjack. Like that of almost all of Ikaria’s traditional folk, their daily routine unfolded much the way Leriadis had described it: Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset, they either visited neighbors or neighbors visited them. Their diet was also typical: a breakfast of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always beans (lentils, garbanzos), potatoes, greens (fennel, dandelion or a spinachlike green called horta) and whatever seasonal vegetables their garden produced; dinner was bread and goat’s milk.

...  the Ikarians’ diet, like that of others around the Mediterranean, was rich in olive oil and vegetables, low in dairy (except goat’s milk) and meat products, and also included moderate amounts of alcohol. It emphasized homegrown potatoes, beans (garbanzo, black-eyed peas and lentils), wild greens and locally produced goat milk and honey. may not be only what they’re eating; it may also be what they’re not eating. “Are they doing something positive, or is it the absence of something negative?” Gary Taubes asked when I described to him the Ikarians’ longevity and their diet....“One explanation why they live so long is they eat a plant-based diet. Or it could be the absence of sugar and white flour. From what I know of the Greek diet, they eat very little refined sugar, and their breads have been traditionally made with stone-ground wheat.”

...  her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish twice a week and meat five times a month, drank on average two to three cups of coffee a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar — the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered they were consuming high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day.

... The researchers followed subjects for an average of six years, measuring their diets, physical activity and how much they napped. They found that occasional napping was associated with a 12 percent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, but that regular napping — at least three days weekly — was associated with a 37 percent reduction.

... Although unemployment is high — perhaps as high as 40 percent — most everyone has access to a family garden and livestock, Parikos told me. People who work might have several jobs. Someone involved in tourism, for example, might also be a painter or an electrician or have a store. “People are fine here because we are very self-sufficient,” she said. “We may not have money for luxuries, but we will have food on the table and still have fun with family and friends. We may not be in a hurry to get work done during the day, so we work into the night. At the end of the day, we don’t go home to sit on the couch.”

... it’s more about how we eat. Even if it’s your lunch break from work, you relax and enjoy your meal. You enjoy the company of whoever you are with. Food here is always enjoyed in combination with conversation.”

... If you pay careful attention to the way Ikarians have lived their lives, it appears that a dozen subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the village goes dead during afternoon naptime. It helps that the cheapest, most accessible foods are also the most healthful — and that your ancestors have spent centuries developing ways to make them taste good. It’s hard to get through the day in Ikaria without walking up 20 hills. You’re not likely to ever feel the existential pain of not belonging or even the simple stress of arriving late. Your community makes sure you’ll always have something to eat, but peer pressure will get you to contribute something too. You’re going to grow a garden, because that’s what your parents did, and that’s what your neighbors are doing.

... For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, I have become convinced, they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible. As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses. The power of such an environment lies in the mutually reinforcing relationships among lots of small nudges and default choices. There’s no silver bullet to keep death and the diseases of old age at bay. If there’s anything close to a secret, it’s silver buckshot.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Spider web strands in Autumn rain

(taken last week)

Vitamin D: news

- Here we have another promising small-sample study looking at the impact of ultra-high dose vitamin D on SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) patients.

- Also, this report further suggests that continual dosing with relatively high quantities of vitamin D seems to produce no ill effects. For reference, the tablets I take on an almost daily basis provide 2000 IU of the vitamin, which is at the lower end of the dosage spectrum discussed in the article.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Arnie doesn't fade into the night

The guy's even got a tattoo on his trigger finger. 

It's starting to look like Stallone's Expendables may have effectively brought an entire genre out of dormancy. Hipsters be warned. Your time is up. Brute force is back.

Let us bask in the glorious return of the action hero.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Film: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie is one of Tim Burton's better efforts of late. The animation is superb and the homages to the old horror classics are enjoyable to pick out. The character we never tired of seeing was Edgar, who is strangely creepy adorable. Watch the short clip to see what I mean.

Rating: 6.5 (better but still some way off Burton's best)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Office chairs of death

Two recent studies remind us of the perils of sitting for prolonged periods. The big surprise here is that whilst exercise helps provide a measure of offset, prolonged sitting appears to be a bad thing in and of itself. If the conclusions are valid, they would suggest that the standard advice of exercising 3-4 times a week (with some gusto) is insufficient and we need to move about more while at work. Quite literally, an "uprising" may be called for.

Study 1: Published in Diabetologia:

  • "Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis"
  • Analysed 18 existing studies involving almost 800,000 people.
  • Comment from the researchers: "Dr Emma Wilmot, who led the study, said it was clear that those who sat the most had a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease and death than those who sat the least.She said: "If a worker sits at their desk all day then goes to the gym, while their colleague heads home to watch TV, then the gym-goer will have better health outcomes."But there is still a health risk because of the amount of sitting they do. "Comparatively, the risk for a waiter who is on their feet all day is going to be a lot lower." She added: "People convince themselves they are living a healthy lifestyle, doing their 30 minutes of exercise a day. "But they need to think about the other 23.5 hours." BBC.

The hazards of high levels of sitting were first highlighted in
the 1950s when J. Morris et al identified a twofold increase
in the risk of a myocardial infarction in London bus drivers
compared with active bus conductors [1]. In the following
60 years research has focused on establishing the links between
moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) and
health, largely overlooking the potentially important distinc-
tion between sedentary (sitting) and light-intensity physical
activity. The opportunities for sedentary behaviour in modern
society, such as watching television (TV), sitting in a car or
using the computer, are ubiquitous. As such, sedentary behav-
iours are an important facet of human lifestyle. Objective
measures have demonstrated that the average adult spends
50–60% of their day in sedentary pursuits [2].

Conclusions/interpretation Sedentary time is associated
with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease
and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality; the strength of
the association is most consistent for diabetes.
 Study 2: Published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine:
  • "Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis" 
  • Reported on in the New York Times: "ccording to the survey data, in 2008, the year that the researchers chose as their benchmark, Australian adults viewed a collective 9.8 billion hours of television. Using complex actuarial tables and adjusting for smoking, waist circumference, dietary quality, exercise habits and other variables, the scientists were next able to isolate the specific effect that the hours of sitting seemed to be having on people’s life spans. And the findings were sobering: Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer’s life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes, the authors said.Looking more broadly, they concluded that an adult who spends an average of six hours a day watching TV over the course of a lifetime can expect to live 4.8 years fewer than a person who does not watch TV.  Those results hold true, the authors point out, even for people who exercise regularly. It appears, Dr. Veerman says, that “a person who does a lot of exercise but watches six hours of TV” every night “might have a similar mortality risk as someone who does not exercise and watches no TV.” 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Vitamin D advice needs improvement

I hear that some doctors in the UK continue to respond to patient enquiries about vitamin D with advise that one can get a sufficient amount of the good stuff from dietary sources alone. This is a falsehood. The only way you will get enough vitamin D from food is if your foodstuffs have been artificially fortified with the vitamin. Note, in the UK milk is NOT fortified with vitamin D.

Also, when patients are diagnosed or found to be at high risk of skin cancer, lupus, or other conditions that require spending more time than usual out of the sun, why isn't long-term vitamin D prescription a simple matter of course? Not only may it assist with a host of ailments but it definitely helps reduce risk of weak bones, the probability of which will rise substantially if you spend too much time hidden away from the sun's rays.

What will you find in the The Unknown?

also via The Folded Mind tumblr.

Muscle memory

Is it real or is it a myth? Anecdotal and personal evidence suggests that muscle memory does exist but decent studies using human subjects and large samples seem relatively thin on the ground.  I did found this widely reported study which showed that just as fat cells don't really disappear when we diet, so it seems that the additional nuclei generated by strength training don't completely disappear either:

The study challenges the idea that muscles go back to their starting condition when you stop strength training. "Our findings suggest that there are permanent structural changes in the muscle," says Gundersen. "We don't know if they're really permanent, but they're very long-lasting in animals, at least." The researchers put mice through strength training on their hind legs. Building muscle generates new muscle nuclei, which Gundersen calls the "small factories that will produce new muscle." Then the researchers took the mice off their training regimen. Gundersen observed their nuclei directly with specialized microcameras, and found that although the mice lost muscle mass, they still maintained the muscle nuclei. Those nuclei give the muscle a head start when training resumes.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Skoghaug Industri Norwegian chair and foot stool

Recently purchased for a mere £28 from a local Age Concern warehouse, this 80s/70s chair is super comfortable. Here's to a good few years of quality feet-up relaxing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Film: Undisputed III

A few days after noting that Scott Adkins from Expendables II may be one to watch, I went ahead and purchased "Undisputed III" for a few squids from Amazon.

The movie is a straight to DVD beat em up that is much better than you would expect.Adkins plays the simple, mean-ass main character called Boyka, who takes part in a rigged prison fight tournment. Of course, the story is just an excuse to present a series of fights, all of which are all carried off supremely well.

Next stop is another Adkins movie called "Ninja", which doesn't rate nearly so well ... BUT IT'S CALLED NINJA!


Here is Adkins in training for Undisputed. The guys kicks.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Oh no..fading memory

...I sense this blog is becoming ever more important as a repository for my thought and memories. I recently took up the game of squash after a seriously  long break and seemed to pick it up quite fast. I told my colleague that I hadn't played in some 10 years, which made my quick improvements in each session seem that much more impressive. Well, my blog tells me that I was playing the game with some gusto back in early 2007. It is quite a while ago but it's not a decade!
Perhaps even more embarassing, I was just today filling in a contact form at a local garage when I completely forgot my house number. In the end, I settled on a number that was a hundred houses out. The next line was name and telephone number. Name, fine. My telephone number, not fine. My number has been with me for about 15 years and I give it out to people all the time. This time I got it completely jumbled up and was only able to correct it when I checked my phone.

This stuff can be kind of funny but the more often it happens the more serious it gets. It's a major hindrance in the workplace.

Food: Chilli Sauces

For the past few years I have been experimenting with various chili sauces and oils. After many experimentations I am broadly happy with my set-up:

 - I have found Regae Regae Sauce to be very nice on cheese on toast and quite nice indeed when used alongside eggs. Overall however, this spicy tangy sauce is not a must-have and a single bottle can last many months. I may buy his sauce once a year or so if it's on offer.
- Chili oil is a must have sauce/dip that I could not do without. I've been using this for over a decade now and it is the second most important condiment in my larder (ketchup being the king). Get one with a god amount of chili flake sediment in so you can tailor the strength of kick to your meal (more flakes= more kick, more oil = a milder chili flavour but still pretty potent).
- Sriracha  chili sauce is another wonderful sauce that provides more of a zesty, garlicky zing compared to the chili oil, and is great on all sorts of random foods from toast to avocados!
- Now, I do actually prefer Vietnamese Trang Thunh Chili Sauce to Sriracha but there is a slight sourcing problem:  the only way to get a hold of this sauce seems to be to buy it wholesale and the minimum bottle purchase is 48,000 boxes
 - Sweet Chili Sauce is another go-to classic that occupies condiment shelf space in many households. However, this sauce has fallen away over time due to its relatively limited. It has been replaced by the occassional purchase of Lingham's Chili Sauce, which has a bit of sweetness about it and also has a much wider application.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jeremy Brett: The definitive Sherlock Holmes

In my books Jeremy Brett is Holmes, no question.

From Wikipedia:

"One of Brett's dearest possessions on the set was his 77-page "Baker Street File" on everything from Holmes' mannerisms to his eating and drinking habits. Brett once explained that "some actors are becomers — they try to become their characters. When it works, the actor is like a sponge, squeezing himself dry to remove his own personality, then absorbing the character's like a liquid"

"Brett was obsessed with bringing more passion to the role of Holmes. He introduced Holmes' rather eccentric hand gestures and short violent laughter. He would hurl himself on the ground just to look for a footprint, "he would leap over the furniture or jump onto the parapet of a bridge with no regard for his personal safety."

"Holmes has become the dark side of the moon for me. He is moody and solitary and underneath I am really sociable and gregarious. It has all got too dangerous"

Levni Yilmaz - Numb

No one shall match Hercule Poirot for his humbility

Ah Poirot, endearing even when he dislays misplaced pride and ambition.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Book: The Small Bachelor by P.G Wodehouse

Reading P.G Wodehouse after a couple of years is like coming back to an old friend. The Small Bachelor is a typical Wodehouse affair with much farce and muddle, a delicious mix of characters and, as always, a certain rythm which clips along like a sweet melody with no wasted words.


I can see myself creating a reading system whereby I read an 'improving book' along with a classic, and then take a light relief with a Wodehouse comedy. Given Wodehouse's vast output, this system should be able to run until the end of my years. Certainly something for consideration.

Masters of Money: Economics series from the BBC

BBC economics journalist Stephanie Flanders recently produced a great three part series on three major thinkers in economics (Keynes, Hayek, Marx). In three hours you would have learned how the ideas of economists from different parts of the ideological spectrum shaped the world, and have shaped debate ever since. It's an important series because economics doesn't normally get this kind of coverage and it was an overall success in driving home several key messages.

I do have a few gripes though:

  • What's with the title, Masters of Money? It sounds like it's about money managers, not economists. 
  • Much of the footage was really poorly edited with respect to visuals. The excessive and completely inappropriate use of the blurry tilt-shift effect was just uneccessary. See the image of Jeffrey Sachs below for what I am talking about.

  • The series expires on iPlayer tomorrow. Finally, we have something of use for GCSE economics students and for people who want to learn a bit more about the subject and it's vanishing into the ether. 
On the upside, a good bunch of prominent people in the economics arena were interviewed for the series, including Mervyn King who makes some really good points. Also, the focus on Hayek instead of Milton Friedman was refreshing, as he is a better contrast to Keynes and less well known than Friedman.

Here's a 60 second video from the Open University, narrated by David Mitchell (follow Youtube through to see more in the series)

Confession: Downton Abbey and the dearth of good tv

I don't get it. I watched the first two episodes of the first series and the first episode of the new series and it just isn't clicking. I constantly feel like I am waiting for something to happen, even though its quite evident that things are happening - between my extreme viewings, a butler has managed to find his way to prison for murder and the estate has lost its fortune on railway stocks. But something just isn't clicking. Despite the broader trend for higher quality television series in recent years, I now find myself with zero must-see-tv. Fortunately, the cinematic features have more than made up the slack, and there are many good films still on the 2012 calendar. Another upside is that the absence of decent tv offerings encourages me to do something a bit more engaging, like reading a book, doing a spot of sport or exercise, or write a general, meandering blog post like this one here.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Yellow Music Orchestra - Sportsman + lyrics

I'm worrying everyday,
I could be anorexic
I'll have to get into shape
Can't seem to find the right charge
Your mother she might be a swimmer
Your father must of been a vaulter
Don't put me in skates
Ping-pong, I'm no great shakes
People say i'm weak
Can't even hold her tight
You're the star of the poolside
Your streamline curves i can't abide

I'll be a good sport
Be a good sport
I'll be a sports man
I'm not sleeping these days
Maybe insomniac
Quench my thirst, flesh and blood
I've got this craving for you
You brother they call him batman
Your sister we know she's a wonder woman

I'm seeing sundays
I could be apoplectic
The whole family gets in shape
Under the floodlights
People tell me i'm not strong
I can't seem to find the right charge
I'll be a good sport
Be a good sport
I'll be a sports man

(lyrics taken from a commenter on Youtube, who kindly wrote them out for everyone to appreciate the madness).

Scott Adkins joins the Universal Soldiers

So that's three stars from Expendables 2 in Universal Solider: The New Dimension. The action scenes from some of the films in the Uni Sol series are cool enough to have me looking forward to the latest installment.

And for some of that 80s/90 good stuff, here's a compilation of JCVD spin kicking his way to stardom: