Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Advertisement watch: Pearl Drops toothpaste


In the latest advertisement from the popular tooth-whitening toothpaste "Pearl Drops", just 52% of 52 people agreed that their toothpaste does what it says it will do. So it doesn't work for over half of the customers? I don't think I want to buy this product.

Their earlier adverts were better:

Osborne - a misguided approach


"I'm determined to back people who want to do their best for their families. Help to Buy is about getting behind those who aspire to own a home." - George Osborne

A few questions:

  • Why is the government backing people who want to buy a house? I want to buy a bigger car, a new computer, a camera, a telescope, a microscope and a stethoscope, and I also want to do a butler to tend to my whims. For some reason, the government keeps drilling home the idea that owning a house is a fundamental right. There are alternatives to owning. There are also much better places to spend our taxes.
  • Also, why is the government supporting buyers by providing cheap finance? Isn't that what got us into this mess? What about the future generations who will be priced out of the market. The government isn't "getting behind" them at all, quite the opposite. It's an easy political manoeuvre because for the most part these future people aren't yet around to protest. 
  • Wouldn't lower prices be a better mechanism to support current and future generations? Focus on planning restrictions and the like, instead of stoking demand.
  • Maybe Osborne doesn't understand basic economics? If only he were so naive. It's calculated and that just makes it worse.

xkcd comic: the minus universe

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book: Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix



I wasn't expecting to find Rumble Strip - a graphic novel about road safety - so grimly captivating. It is so effective in highlighting the dangers of driving that I honestly think it should be read by all road users.

In this little masterpiece Woodrow successfully conveys how the emotive aspects of driving mask the reality, how we are led down a path of recklessness as a heady mixture of marketing, comfort and cultural acceptance overrides our concern for safety, dulling instead of heightening our sense that we are hurtling around the roads at crazy speeds, feeling safe and cozy in our expensive tin cans when the reality is anything but. When we step in a car our outlook and sense of balance changes.

I found this book far more effective in promoting sensible driving than a speed awareness course that I recently "participated" in. Since reading the book, the imagery and central message have come to mind pretty much every time I have stepped into my car.

**** 1/2

Quotes:

- If you really want to murder someone and get away with it .... don't shoot them.... don't stab them or feed them poison...just get behind the wheel and ... run .... them ... down.
When you are driving a car, killing other people is not murder ... or even manslaughter... it's misfortune.

- Suppose a car could run on sunshine and its exhaust fumes were birthday cake, cut grass and ponies ... at 40 miles an hour it would kill you just the same.

Some of the facts in the Sources were pretty eye-opening:

- In the US, almost 175,000 pedestrians dies in all motor vehicle crashes between 1975 and 2000.

- In the US, 80% of road traffic deaths occur within 25 miles of home and at speeds under 40 miles per hour.

- A pedestrian hit by a driver operating a sports utility vehicle (4x4) is more than twice as likely to be killed as a pedestrian hit by a passenger car at the same speed.




(click on the images to see them in full size)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Book: Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham


Pyschiatric Tales is an insightful, sympathetic graphic novel (a more appropriate term might be 'graphic documentary') that provides an insider's understanding of a host of psychiatric ailments, including dementia, suicidal tendencies, self-harm, the black-dog of depression, anti-social behaviour and schizophrenia. The format is an ideal vehicle to raise awareness of these uncomfortable subjects amongst the layman, as a film documentary or text-only book would likely be too depressing and harrowing. Credit to the author for a great achievement.

**** 

Quotes:

- We live in a society where many of the psychopathic traits are considered quite reasonable. Selfishness, lack of empathy, superficiality and manipulativeness ... are traits that are highly valued in the worlds of business, politics, the law and academia. I've met psychopaths who knew very well what they were and remained unconcerned about it. Once I had a friend ...(describes psychopathic traits) ... years later, I heard that he'd become a lawyer.

- Only a positive self-image, confidence and better coping skills can bring about emotional stability .... goals that take years to achieve and are hard won .... but are far from impossible.

- On bipolar disorder: It's very easy to think, once you are well, that you don't need drugs anymore ... this always leads to disaster.

Sample page:

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Documentary: Risking it all on the Lowari Pass

Below is a 25-m film from Al-Jazeera's "Risking it all" series. This one covers the lives of lorry drivers on what must be one of the world's most dangerous roads:



I appreciate that some of my recent complaints about Britain's pot-holed roads may have been somewhat out of proportion.

Book - Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse


Having previously read and loved "PSmith, Journalist", I knew I was in for a treat when I decided to give the book a re-read. Wodehouse's use of the English word and his turns of phrase continue to amaze. The only point of upset comes when one ponders what could have caused Wodehouse to give so little of PSmith to the world when his output was so prodigious. On the upside, at least we were blessed with three strong stories featuring the great monocled one. And on that note, next up is a re-reading of "Leave it to PSmith!".

**** 1/2 (not quite the full five stars on the second reading but it's still a cut above the rest and well worth reading!)

Quotes and other beautiful language employed by Wodehouse:


- "...restore the keen edge to my nervous system"

- "buck up"

- "in the soup"

- "the prevailing mode"

- "You wound me, Comrade Jackson"..."I had expected a broader outlook from you."

----

A man of your undoubted powers, Comrade Windsor, should have more scope. That is the cry, 'more scope!' I must look into this matter. When I gaze at your broad, bulging forehead, when I see the clear light of intelligence in your eyes, and hear the grey matter splashing restlessly about in your cerebellum, I say to myself without hesitation, 'Comrade Windsor must have more scope.'" He looked at Mike, who was turning over the leaves of his copy of Cosy Moments in a sort of dull despair. "Well, Comrade Jackson, and what is your verdict?"
Mike looked at Billy Windsor. He wished to be polite, yet he could find nothing polite to say. Billy interpreted the look.
"Go on," he said. "Say it. It can't be worse than what I think."
"I expect some people would like it awfully," said Mike.
"They must, or they wouldn't buy it. I've never met any of them yet, though."

---

 "I don't know. You don't know. They," said Psmith, indicating the rest with a wave of the hand, "don't know. Nobody knows. His locality is as hard to ascertain as that of a black cat in a coal-cellar on a moonless night. Shortly before I joined this journal, Mr. Wilberfloss, by his doctor's orders, started out on a holiday, leaving no address. No letters were to be forwarded. He was to enjoy complete rest. Where is he now? Who shall say? Possibly legging it down some rugged slope in the Rockies, with two bears and a wild cat in earnest pursuit. Possibly in the midst of some Florida everglade, making a noise like a piece of meat in order to snare crocodiles. Possibly in Canada, baiting moose-traps. We have no data."

---

Psmith rose to his feet and dusted his clothes ruefully. For the first time he realised the horrors of war. His hat had gone for ever. His trousers could never be the same again after their close acquaintance with the pavement.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Butterfly hunting at the weekend

a few pics from around the garden. The blasted things kept flying off, which made focussing a bit of a pain. Nevertheless, a few cool shots made it wortwhile:




 loving this dude's/dudette's tuft of white hair!


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

British ninja


(hat-tip to brother-in-law for sending across!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Golfing madnesses ensues

First I order a set of Callaway X-20 irons off E-bay, and then a few days later I order another set of irons, this time made by Ping. I figure I'll test them out all on the range and then re-sell the reject set. In the mean time though, your honourable hacker author will be the proud owner of three sets of irons!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Last week's golfings

A quick update on last week's golfing shenanigans:

- Deciding that golf is indeed all about the short game and not the lengthy drive, we decided to visit Lavender Park to practice the pitch, the chip and the putt. Suffice to say, the quality of this par-3 course was terrible. It was under watered, had terrible greens, and the pro shop was closed in the evening which made it impossible to buy spare golf balls...what kind of place was this? It's a shame they didn't t invest a bit more in their course given the reasonable quality of their driving range and club house.

On the upside, I found a bit of a groove toward the end of the round and managed to pitch a sand wedge to within a centimetre of the pin on an eighty-foot hole. Nevertheless, the bad outweighed the good and it's difficult to find a good reason to revisit this course.

- Bird Hills remains the home course, offering lush landscapes, beautiful greens and a good mix of challenging and forgiving holes, all at a reasonable price. On Friday, I managed to play to a higher standard than usual and finished the first 9 holes with a p.b. of 44 (par 36).

Of course, after tallying up the score and fantasising about breaking 90 over the full 18, it all went to pot and I closed the 18th with a less resectable score of 98, although this was still a success on many fronts: it was the first time I had adhered to the rules (we are normally quite lax and allow Mr Mulligan to show up on the front nine and then the back, play preferred lies, and generally ignore scuff tee-offs, out of bounds posts, etc); I had scored a decent p.b. over the front 9; I had a total score p.b. for the year to date; and I had finally broken the cursed 100 mark!

- I have also won a bid on E-bay for a set of decent irons (Taylormade X-20s), which will hopefully add a bit of spring and consistency to my game. Can't wait to get out on to the course and prove I had faulty tools all along (cough, cough!).


Book: PSmith in the City (1910)


PSmith (the p is silent) is my favourite of all the Wodehouse characters. He is charming, witty, confidently at ease with all levels of society, and is always ready to inject a spot of cheeky mischief into the mix. PSmith in the City isn't quite up to the five star standard of Psmith, Journalist or Leave it to PSmith, but the story still makes for an excellent, comical read and is perfect material for those sunny weekends when you're pretty much house bound owing to extremely hot, stifling weather on the one hand, and a five-month old niece making prolonged excursions impossible on the other - combined, these forces leave little option but to seek refuge under the shade of cherry tree and spend quality time with a classic Wodehouse.


**** 1/2

Quotes:

"I have my spies everywhere" - PSmith

"The whisper goes round...." - PSmith

"Comrade B. resented my efforts to improve him" - PSmith

"Work, the hobby of the philosopher and the poor man's friend" - PSmith

- Few workers in the City do regard lunch as a trivial affair. It is the keynote of their day. It is an oasis in a desert of ink and ledgers. Conversation in city office deals, in the morning, with what one is going to have for lunch, and in the afternoon with what one has had for lunch.

- 'Commerce,' said Psmith, as he drew off his lavender gloves, 'has claimed me for her own. Comrade of old, I, too, have joined this blighted institution.'

- A stroll will just restore those tissues which the gruelling work of the last half-hour has wasted away. It is a fearful strain, this commercial toil. Let us trickle towards the post office. I will leave my hat and gloves as a guarantee of good faith. The cry will go round, "Psmith has gone! Some rival institution has kidnapped him!" Then they will see my hat,'—he built up a foundation of ledgers, planted a long ruler in the middle, and hung his hat on it—'my gloves,'—he stuck two pens into the desk and hung a lavender glove on each—'and they will sink back swooning with relief. The awful suspense will be over. They will say, "No, he has not gone permanently. Psmith will return. When the fields are white with daisies he'll return."

- 'I need you, Comrade Jackson,' he said, when Mike lodged a protest on finding himself bound for the stalls for the second night in succession. 'We must stick together. As my confidential secretary and adviser, your place is by my side. Who knows but that between the acts tonight I may not be seized with some luminous thought? Could I utter this to my next-door neighbour or the programme-girl? Stand by me, Comrade Jackson, or we are undone.'

- 'What with Comrades Bristow and Bickersdyke combined,' said Psmith plaintively, 'the work is becoming too hard for me. The whisper is beginning to circulate, "Psmith's number is up—As a reformer he is merely among those present. He is losing his dash." But what can I do? I cannot keep an eye on both of them at the same time. The moment I concentrate myself on Comrade Bickersdyke for a brief spell, and seem to be doing him a bit of good, what happens? Why, Comrade Bristow sneaks off and buys a sort of woollen sunset. I saw the thing unexpectedly. I tell you I was shaken. It is the suddenness of that waistcoat which hits you. It's discouraging, this sort of thing. I try always to think well of my fellow man. As an energetic Socialist, I do my best to see the good that is in him, but it's hard. Comrade Bristow's the most striking argument against the equality of man I've ever come across.'

- 'In that way possibly, as you say, I am agreeably situated. If the New Asiatic Bank does not require Psmith's services, there are other spheres where a young man of spirit may carve a place for himself. No, what is worrying me, Comrade Jackson, is not the thought of the push. It is the growing fear that Comrade Bickersdyke and I will never thoroughly understand and appreciate one another. A deep gulf lies between us. I do what I can do to bridge it over, but he makes no response. On his side of the gulf building operations appear to be at an entire standstill.      ....Comrade Jackson, do not disturb me. I must concentrate myself. These are deep waters.'

Monday, July 15, 2013

Film: The Grandmaster

This may look like just another kung-fu fest but just look at the credentials: the director is Wong Kar Wei (2046), and the movie stars Ziyi Zhang and Tony Leung. High hopes.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Book quote: The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris - displacement

Here Morris talks about displacement activities:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book quote: The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris - Exploration

Here Morris talks about man's innate exploratory nature:





Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book: The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris

"There are one hundred and ninety-three living species of of monkeys and apes. One hundred and ninety-two of them are covered with hair. The exception is a naked ape self-named Homo sapiens."


While some of the accepted wisdom may have changed since this book was first published in 1967, "The Naked Ape" remains an exciting, highly readable and eye-opening account of man as an animal. In just two-hundred or so pages, all of the essential topics are covered including include the origins of the hairless ape, exploration, sex, feeding and animals.

Morris's zoological work is shaded with opinions, some of which readers may disagree with, but the striking originality on display adds much colour and the arguments remains convincing on most counts. I highly recommend this book as a refreshing reminder of who you are.

As to the origins of the hairless ape, theories of denudation put forward include the survival value of naked skin as a means of parasite avoidance; reducing dirt capture; the ability to make fire as a way to keep warm; and the interesting idea that we went through a phase as an aquatic ape when we left the forests (as surprising as this sounds, it isn't that far fetched). Social evolution is also cited but the theory favoured by Morris is that we lost our hair to avoid overheating after giving chase to prey or when running from carnivorous rivals.

There are a couple of long quotes to post on man's inherent exploratory nature and the displacement strategies we employ, but I'll save these for later in the week.

****



Saturday, July 06, 2013

Book: Small Dream of a Scorpion by Spike Milligan




This little book may catch you by surprise. It is infused with the typical Milligan humour but also with much seriousness, sadness and madness.

***

Some of my favourite poems from Small Dreams of a Scorpion:

2B or not 2B

When I was small and five
I found a pencil sharpener alive!
He lay in the lonely grasses
Looking for work
I bought a pencil for him
He ate and are until all that
Left was a pile of wood dust
It was the happiest pencil sharpener
I ever had.


Me

Born screaming into this world -
Living I am
Occupational therapy twixt birth and death -
What was I before?
What will I be next?
What am I now?
Cruel answer carried in the jesting mind
                                     of a careless God.
I will not bend and grovel
When I die. If He says my sins are myriad
I will ask why He made me so imperfect
And he will say 'My chisels were blunt'
I will say 'Then why did you make so many of me'.
                                 
                                                      - Bethlehem Hospital, Highgate 1966

Opus I

This silent call you make,
A silence so raging loud
I fear the world knows its meaning.
If you fill every corner of a room
Where can I look?
If I close my eyes
               the silence becomes louder!
There is not escape from you
The only way out
         is in

                                                  - On train to Bournemouth, Feb 1967

Oberon

The flowers in my garden
            grow down,
Their colour is pain
Their fragrance is sorrow,
Into my eyes grow their roots
              feeling for tears
To nourish the black
                hopeless rose
                within me
                                       
                                                - Nervous breakdown, Bournemouth Feb 1967


True Love

I saw a purple balloon
    capture a girl one day.
He would not let her go,
     for heaven strove to take her
     but she was too heavy
So, he stayed earthbound
     to prove his love, until,
A hundred years later than night
     he died with a bang.
The little girl cried
      for never again
      would she find such a pure love

                                            - May 1970

Goliath

They chop down 100ft trees
To make chairs
I bought one
I am six foot one inch
When I sit in the chair
I'm four foot two.
did they really chop down a 100ft tree
To make me look shorter?

                                                   - Bayswater, London 1971