Friday 31 October 2003

R* Turns Eight

Today was R*'s birthday. Eight years old! I almost can't believe it. I have to keep reminding myself they grow up quickly and to make the best of it. Yesterday, we took her and her friends to Finding Nemo (again) and then out for a pizza before coming home for a sleepover. One of the girls didn't go to sleep until 1 am and then they all got up at 6 am! Argghhh. Jenny made a fab breakfast before they went home. Today has been kind of low key. We stayed at home. Only about six groups of kids came by Trick or Treating. There are some fireworks displays this weekend we might go to. Of coure, the big event in the UK is Guy Fawkes Night next week.

Thursday 30 October 2003

Second World Press Freedom Ranking

Finland first, North Korea last. In between you have Canada 10th, UK 27th, US 31st and Malaysia 104th. Check the article if you're interested how they came up with the ranking. Interesting how low the US scores.

Happy Halloween

The kids and I carved pumpkins yesterday while Jenny and her Mom went to London to listen to a talk by Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans. Sounded like a good talk. The pumpkins from left to right: K*, mine and R*'s

The Ecologist

Another excellent magazine I picked up recently. The original environmental magazine subtitled "Rethinking Basic Assumptions". Very impressive editorial board, high production values, good punchy articles. For example, the October issues has a two page spread explaining why you should think twice about buying cut flowers again:

  1. Cash Crop Impacts - moving people off their land and causing food shortages
  2. Pesticide Abuse - there is no regulations governing the use of pesticides on flowers
  3. Poisoned Labourers - protection from pesticides not provided
  4. Water Waste - flowers get water when farms and people don't
  5. Workers Rights Abused - child labour, slave wages, etc
  6. Flower Miles - creating vast quantities of carbon dioxide emissions

Many other articles (like why your shampoo could be deadly!). It's worth picking up a copy if you can find it.

Ethical Consumer

Picked up a copy of this magazine recently.  Excellent. I gotta subscribe to it. Ever wondered what was the best petrol station to fill up at? At least from an ethical point of view? Turns out BP and Shell are considered as making the most progress. Want to avoid GM food? Tesco can't guarantee their brand products are GM free but Marks & Spencer can. Check out this guide. Good articles and references.

Wednesday 29 October 2003

Reading International Solidarity Center

I discovered the Reading International Solidarity Center the other day and went down to check it out. It's very close to the Oracle Shopping Center if you know Reading. The place has a shop with a great book selection as well as a cafe. Can't vouch for the cafe yet but the book selection was excellent for global concerns. The place also hosts a lot of activist-type talks that look interesting. I think they should change the name of the place though. Solidarity? Wasn't that an 80's thing?


An ex-colleague of mine is an amateur producer/director and today I helped him out with a shoot of a DVD he's producing for the magician Etienne Pradier at Chilston Park. My role in the filming team was soundman; just taking care of the microphone and sound levels. I enjoyed it quite a lot. It's nice to be part of a team solving problems and making something. Yeah, I miss that. The DVD was of Etienne teaching how to do some of the tricks he does. It was just fun watching him explain the tricks as he did them! He's very good.

Soundman eh? Yeah, I could see that as a fun career to freelance in for a while.

Monday 27 October 2003

Burnham Beeches

It's half-term and we took the children for a walk through the forest nearby at Burnham Beeches. It's a nature reserve and the Autumn colours are in full swing. Gorgeous.

Sunday 26 October 2003


I'm still working on the trip to Jordan travelogue. The draft is six pages and it still needs lots of editting and then I need to add photos. Hang on.

Saturday 25 October 2003

Anyone for a Holiday?

Jenny and I have been trying to plan out our holidays for next year. Now that we take holidays in high season, you have to plan this far ahead. The holiday would need to fall between April 3rd to 22nd or July 24th to Sept 1st. If any of you are interested in joining us, get in touch! We've always found it fun to go on holidays with others. Next year, I'm pretty keen to muck about with boats. Here are some ideas:

  1. Faraway offers Sail & Dive Expeditions in Thailand and Burma. The idea is to hire a catamaran with a skipper and dive equipment. It can also carry kayaks. It sounds awesome. We could share this with either another family or leave the kids and go with two other couples.
  2. Another idea I'm very partial to is a flotilla sailing holiday in the Aegean or Ionian. You don't need any experience and learn on the job so to speak. For example, check out Activity Holidays. Could do this for one week and then rent a villa for another week?
  3. We've been interested in renting a canal boat in France (probably Burgandy) for quite a while. It's too busy to do this in the summer but we could do it during the Easter break.
  4. Otherwise, we're always open to renting a large villa somewhere around the Mediterranean and not too far from the sea. You can get places that have their own olive groves, tennis courts, pools, billard tables, etc and they're really not that expensive. For example, look at Tuscany Now or Chez Nous.

Or get in touch if you've got other ideas for a good holiday.We'd prefer to stick to Europe.

Guardian: Oil giant in dock over Amazon waste

Fantastic landmark class action suit against ChevronTexaco for it's environmental destruction in Ecuador. What's great is the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the trial will be held in Ecuador but the judgement is enforceable in the US. This opens the legal floodgates to claims by indigenous peoples around the world against western oil and mining companies.

Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiver (INTP)

I once did the Myers-Briggs (Personality) Type Indicator way back in my University days and I came out as an INTP (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiver). Of course, I don't agree with putting people in boxes but the description still finds plenty of resonance; better than a horoscope! Actually, they claim the type indicator isn't a box but a preferred way of working. Reasonable enough. I bring this up only because I stumbled upon a whole INTP website. You can find out more at KnowYourType.

Friday 24 October 2003

New Internationalist

I recently subscribed to this magazine and got my first issue yesterday. It's a bit thin but the articles are good. The magazine subtitle is "The people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice." Theme of the current issue is the nasty practices of the big pharmaceutical companies. Very nasty. At first blush it seems like the world would be much better off if there was a public trust that invested in critical research and kept ownership of the patents. Maybe a trust managed through the United Nations. Certainly a better solution than the WTO TRIPS agreement.

Milk Sucks

Great website explaining why you shouldn't drink milk. It's a myth children need it for healthy bones.

Boycott Bush Targets Microsoft

The Boycott Bush campaign lists the top 30 donors to the Republican Party with global consumer brands. Microsoft is number three with a donation of $2.4 million. The call to boycott these brands is in response to the US rejection of the Kyoto agreement.

Microsoft used to be politically agnostic but the whole Department of Justifice affair certainly taught it that it couldn't be. It's now a politically savvy player and like most corporations, it's busy currying favour on Capitol Hill and donating money to both sides.

How To Stop America

Interesting article by George Monbiot. Indeed, he's written a lot of interesting articles.

Thursday 23 October 2003

Guardian: The Flight To India

Excellent article by George Monbiot about the sweet irony of the flight of jobs to India.

Petition the WTO

The US has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation arguing that the EU's reluctance to take GM foods is an illegal barrier to free trade. You can follow the above link to add yourself to a petition to throw this complaint out.

The Complex by the Blue Man Group

cover This is my latest CD purchase and what I've been listening to lately. I discovered them after one of the tracks was used to demo a 14,000 watt system at a HiFi Show. It's heavier than a lot of stuff I've been listening to of late but it's very good. Listen to the sample of "Sing Along" which is very catchy. I really like their rendition of the old Jefferson Airplane number "White Rabbit". That's taking me back! Sounds like they would be excellent to see live with their percussion instruments including Airpoles, Anvil, Backpack Tubulum, Doulum, Drumulum, Dumpster, Piano Smasher, PVC Instrument and other novel items.

Diving In Jordan

After many years of thinking we would like to try diving, Jenny and I finally decided that this was the year (2003) we would just do it. We finished our PADI Open Water certification at a nearby lake in the summer with a local scuba shop, DiveStyle. They were great and I would definitely recommend them.

Wraysbury Lake wasn’t a very exciting place to learn. At least it wasn’t cold wearing 7mm wet suites but visibility was very low; maybe three metres at best. Nevertheless, learning to dive requires going through a bunch of exercises and it doesn’t really matter how interesting the underwater environment is. After all, we didn’t want to waste any days of a holiday doing training so we stuck to learning in the UK. The good thing about a lake is that with freshwater you don’t have to wear as much weight and the water doesn’t sting your eyes.

So after getting certified, we were keen for a “Jacque Cousteau” experience. Watching his documentaries as a child is probably what inspired me the most to do this. The Red Sea was the obvious destination being very highly regarded and not too far away. Deciding exactly what part of the Red Sea turned out to be quite difficult. We eventually settled on Aqaba after lots of research on the Internet. Jenny was also keen to add some sightseeing to our holiday and had a long held desire to see Petra.

So we signed up with Aquatours and left for Amman on Oct 3rd flying Royal Jordanian Airlines out of Heathrow.

Oct 3rd

We arrived at 1 am in the morning and were met by a representative of the tour operator (International Traders). After waiting a while for a visa we were taken to our hotel by our very own driver/guide. Yes, this wasn’t a group tour. For the next three days we had a driver/guide who took us around in a private car.

Oct 4th

This was our first visit to the Middle East and one of the first things we discovered was that it wasn’t as  hot as we expected; somewhere in the mid-twenties celsius. Nevertheless, our first stop after getting money from an ATM was to stock up on bottled water. A bottle of water was a constant companion.

I got to admit I felt pretty excited sitting in the car driving through Amman. We were on the road without children! Adventure travel again! Yippee! Hooray!!

This first day was just a short excursion north of Amman to visit the ruins of Jerash and Ajlun Castle. Jerash was a Roman city and the ruins are well preserved. You can get a very good idea of what the city might once have been like. You can even see ancient cart tracks worn in the stone paving.

Ajlun Castle was built in the sixth century and later fortified to defend against the Crusaders. Nice enough but not terribly interesting.

On the way back to Amman, the driver kindly took us to a craft and gift shop. You know the deal right? As a tourist, the guide is always keen to take you to craft and gift shops. They say “just look you don’t need to buy” but you know there’s kick back somewhere. We cordially played the game. At least you get a free cup of Turkish sludge - err, "coffee" - or tea.

Actually, I really like Turkish coffee but you have to be careful not to drink the bottom layer which really is sludge. If you forget, like I did, it feels like a dollop of mud in your mouth.

The first question at a shop is always “Where are you from?” As we learned in Turkey many years ago, this question and your answer is of utmost importance. Based on where you’re from, they figure out what you can afford and what their price will be. It’s value-based marketing in a pure form. I generally keep my mouth shut and Jenny tells them she’s from Malaysia. Sometimes I play the “guess where I’m from game”. That’s how I found out that I can pass for an Egyptian! However, I suspect Jordanians don't hold Egyptians in high regard.

That evening back in Amman we had dinner at a fancy Arab place called Reem al-Bawadi. The Rough Guide To Jordan describes it as a “delightfully over-the-top kitsch-laden affair devoted to showy power-dining (Colonel Gaddafi has been known to drop by), complete with tent, fake castle, fountains, palm trees and neon lights.” Yep, that’s a pretty accurate description. It was enjoyable none-the-less.

Oct 5th

We checked out of the hotel and drove south to the Baptism Site of Jesus. This wasn’t originally part of the tour but I managed to get our driver to squeeze it in at the last minute.

The biblical site of Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan was only discovered in 1994 after Jordan demilitarized the area, Excavation work is still ongoing. They’ve uncovered eleven Byzantine churches, ancient baptism pools and other evidence which strongly confirms its identity. The Pope has recognized the site and even held a mass there in 2000.

I was surprised to find that we were the only visitors when we arrived. The site is still very new and not developed. There’s plenty of security with fences, guards and checkpoints to remind you that the Jordan River demarks the border with Israel. In the distance you can see Jericho over on the West Bank through the haze. Wow Jericho! It’s thought that it might be the oldest city in the world founded between 6000 BC and 8000 BC.

Unfortunately, the springs in the area are dry most of the year except for the middle of winter. We visited the dried up spring where John the Baptist allegedly practiced and the spot where Jesus was baptised in the Jordan (picture). At the very least, the area has a fantastically strong sense of place.

There was a lot to do on this day, so we soon had to move on.

We drove to the Dead Sea Spa Resort Hotel and changed into our swim things. As you probably know, the Dead Sea is the lowest point on the earth at 400m below sea level and is famous for its incredible salinity. Whereas the ocean is 3% salt, the Dead Sea is about 30% salt.

It was fantastic floating about in it. You can float vertically with no effort and the water comes only midway up your chest. We also smeared each other with the mud which is supposed to be a very good skin treatment. Personally, I suspect there’s a heck of a lot of agricultural pollutants in it but I buried that thought. The only thing to be very careful of is not to splash water in your eyes since it stings terribly. Any cuts on your body will also sting.

After washing all the mud off, we enjoyed a short swim in the hotel swimming pool before being whisked away again.

Next stop was Mt. Nebo. This is the mountain from where Moses saw the Promised Land and where he subsequently died. There’s a church here with nice mosaics but the location is mainly interesting for the views. The land doesn’t look very promising now.  Dry and parched.

After a buffet lunch, we were taken to a craft shop. Here we go again! Jenny got serious about carpets and some intense selling ensured. Jenny got more and more flustered with their pressure tactics. I find you just have to stay firm, polite and keep a good sense of humour. Our best offer and their best price didn’t meet up so we managed to get away without buying anything.

Next stop was St George's Church in Madaba. It’s famous for a large 6th century mosaic floor which depicts a map of the Middle East. It’s the first known map of the region.

We then drove for about two hours south along the Desert Highway to Petra. The route is largely parallel to the Hejaz Railway which is the route Lawrence of Arabia followed during the Arab Revolt. As we had been driving south, the landscape was getting more and more barren. We were now into real desert.

Arriving at Petra, we checked into the Crown Plaza Hotel and followed our driver to the Sandstone Restaurant for dinner listening to a live performance by local Arab musicians. Honestly, I consider myself pretty open to world music but it does sound like a cat being tortured sometimes (maybe that noise was coming from the kitchen?) It’s not really what one would call dinner music! I do like the sound of the Oud though.

Oct 6th

The joys of travel also come with the discomforts of travel. I can highly recommend Imodium Plus. It saved the day.

A new guide met us early in the morning to take us on our tour of Petra. We wanted to see it before the crowds arrived and at 8 am we were mostly by ourselves.  While the short horse ride to the entrance of a narrow gorge known as The Siq was unnecessary, the walk through The Siq itself was breathtaking. Beautiful and hauntingly quiet.  The pictures can't convey all the colours in the rock.

Petra is fascinating and there’s no point of me writing an essay about it here. You can find other descriptions on the internet. It certainly lived up to our expectations.

It would be worth spending a couple of days exploring the area but by noon, we needed to get back to the hotel. By then, large tourist groups were arriving and I was exhausted and not feeling very well. A sympathetic waiter at the hotel prescribed sage tea which seemed to help.

Next, we barreled down the highway for two hours to Aqaba racing across the desert dodging convoys of heavy trucks.  It turns out that Aqaba is the main port for shipping goods in and out of Iraq and the route is very busy.

As we got out of the car in Aqaba, the heat hit us. It was much hotter; probably around 30 degrees. The Golden Tulip Hotel was nothing glamorous but we were given a large corner room that we would call home for the next week. Over that week, we found the staff friendly and quick to respond to anything we needed (we locked ourselves out of our room three times). I should have suggested that they get rid of the black velvet painting in the lobby!

Oct 7th

We got up early in nervous anticipation of our first day of diving.

The Dive Aqaba dive shop is just across the road from the Golden Tulip. We were greeted enthusiastically and quickly got our scuba rentals sorted out. We each chose 5 mm full one piece Marbella wet suits. One of the reasons we chose Dive Aqaba is that they’re a relatively new outfit and all the equipment is still quite new.

At 9:50, we boarded a small bus and in five minutes we were at the harbour getting on a small boat that then ferried us to a larger dive boat.

All the dive sites are south of Aqaba. It took about an hour to arrive at a site called the “Japanese Gardens” which we were assured was a nice easy dive for beginners. Of course, we were a bit nervous but we kitted up and jumped off the boat following Ash, our guide and Dive Master. We bobbed around the surface working hard to relax and slow our breathing down. At least the water was warm at 25 degrees.

It turned out that we were a bit underweighted on the first dive so the descent took a bit of work. The visibility was fantastic; maybe 25 or 30 meters. There was no descent line so it was rather tricky figuring out how fast we descended but we eventually got down to 7 meters. A lot of our attention was focused on getting the mechanics right such as breathing, buoyancy control and finning. I had this overwhelming feeling of swimming in a huge aquarium; plenty of coral, small fish, Cornet fish and a giant Moray eel. Fantastic!

The first dive lasted only 35 minutes although it seemed longer. We were both elated that we had pulled it off successfully. An hour later we did a second dive with a different guide, Amer (pronouced Amir), but in a different part of the same site called “Seven Sisters and The Tank”. Again, much of our attention was spent working on the mechanics. I was still underweighted. There were bigger coral formations and a huge variety of fish: Puffer, Angel, Olive Dotty Back, Anthias, Clown, Parrot and plenty more that I never learned the name of. “The Tank” turned out to be a submerged M40 anti-aircraft tracked vehicle. I guess that qualifies as our first wreck dive?

My air tank got too empty and I eventually lost neutral bouyancy and surfaced with only 15 bar left. Not good. We were using 12 litre aluminium tanks that were usually filled to 200 bar although they were sometimes short by 10 or 20 bar. As a beginner, you use up air more quickly but you’re supposed to exit with about 50 bar in reserve as a safety margin.

Back at the dive shop, I bought a book on fish identification so I could say more than “did you see that big fish with the stripes?”

That night, we celebrated our first day of diving with a grilled fish dinner at a restaurant called Ali Baba. I don't think Jenny sees fish; she sees seafood.

Oct 8th

The next four days followed a similiar routine as our first day with a morning dive and an afternoon dive.

Unfortunately, we aborted the morning dive at Black Rock because Jenny couldn’t equalise the pressure in her ears. She was really disappointed and frustrated.

In the afternoon, Jenny was feeling nauseous and still couldn’t clear her ears so I buddied up with another diver, Patrick from Switzerland.  We dived a deeper part of the Japanese Gardens following a slope down to 18 meters. I was diving with more weight on my belt and my buoyancy control was getting better. It was a great dive. I found I could spend more attention on where I was rather than working on the mechanics of diving.

Again, I exited with only 15 bar of air left after 37 minutes. Still not good.

That night Ash held a BBQ on the rooftop of his apartment building. Ash is a real character. He's also the Managing Director of Dive Aqaba. Although Jordanian, he sounds and jokes just like a British lad and obviously likes a good party. He did a great job of making sure everyone was enjoying themselves. We got to know the other people on the dive boat and heard lots of diving stories.

Oct 9th

The morning dive was at King Abdullah Reef but it wasn’t as good as the previous day. Smaller coral structures on a gentle slope. Jenny was fine again.

In the afternoon, we dived the Japanese Gardens again this time exploring a pinnacle that was surrounded by fish. Absolutely beautiful! Also saw a Scorpion fish and a Lion fish too. Jenny lost a fin at one point but recovered ok.

That night we enjoyed the view of Aqaba from the bar at the Royal Jordanian Yacht Club before wandering around town. Aqaba has a great promenade where lots of people hang out in the evening. It’s pretty lively and the shops stay open late. It’s a nice town; not too big and not too small. We explored a great little food market buying some fruit and then had dinner at a local diner.

We then met up with rest of dive group at an ice cream parlour. Nice thing about diving is that it’s a very social activity. You meet lots of people.


Oct 10th

For the morning dive we were briefed that we were going dive the Power Station. Everyone seemed more serious. It was a deep wall dive down to 30 meters and we were told we might see sharks. Gulp!

Jenny was terrified beyond consolation while putting on her wet suite but was determined not to be left behind. We were assured that if we were uncomfortable, we could stay at about 20 meters. If you dive deeper than 30 meters, you need to worry about decompression stops so I was inclined to go no deeper than 25 meters. To be fair, they would accommodate us if we didn’t want to dive the wall, but there was also a great sense of thrill to try it.

It was awesome! It’s like flying over the top of a cliff but below you and in front of you is just an inky dark blue. I read later it drops down to 200 meters. And while you hover above this void, you just wonder what might be out there. Best not to dwell on that thought! I find its best not to let the imagination wander when diving. We followed the wall descending to 26 meters. The surface looked a long way away. No sharks appeared. That was fine by me.

We ascended and explored the top of the cliff. I was the first person to notice a sea turtle swimming by. Wow!  I managed to get Jenny’s attention and pointed the turtle out before swimming over to one of our companion divers nearby who had a video camera so she could film it.

Our afternoon dive was at Ferris Bay and was much more relaxed. Max depth was 21 meters. With fear firmly conquered, we felt brave enough to sign-up for the night dive that evening.

Back onshore, we had a light dinner of lamb shewarmas for dinner. Cost less than a fiver for both of us!

That evening, we got on the bus as usual but this time we drove down the coast to the dive site at Wreck Reef. This was going to be a shore-based dive which was a great relief since a night descent in deep water would have been freaky.

A party of more advanced divers went out to the wreck of a Lebanese cargo ship while our group was just going to do a slow tour of the reef. After a briefing on how to use the flashlights and the dive plan, we lumbered down to the shore with all our dive equipment on.

Shore-based diving is awkward to say the least! The hardest bit is getting your fins on while waist deep in the water.

The dive was interesting but not spectacular. The flashlights really bring out the reds in the fish. We did see a Spanish Dancer (kind of a large sea slug) and a Giant Lobster named Fred. The coolest thing was when we turned all the lights off. For one, there was a full moon and you could see the reef quite well by moonlight. Looking up, you could see the moon reflecting through the waves on the surface. Best of all, we had great fun shaking up the phosphorescence in the water. It’s like shooting sparks from your hand.

This was a great day. I could see how diving could get addictive!

Oct 11th

It was Saturday and our last day of diving. There were much fewer people on the boat. I had bought an underwater disposable camera and was hoping to take some pictures. Our first dive at Oliver’s Canyon and The Tank provided a good opportunity. Here's a portrait of Jenny and her swimming around the tank.

For our last dive, we went to Gorgon One and the Three Pinnacles. Gorgon One is a fan like coral structure but the pinnacles blew me away. The largest pinnacle was surrounded by schools of fish. A large school of motionless Jack fish hovered nearby while a ribbon of Fusileers weaved around. The pinnacle itself was engulfed in a cloud of orange Anthias and I managed to hover among them completely surrounded.

This last dive involved a lot of finning but we still managed to stay down for 52 minutes at a maximum depth of 15 meters with well controled bouyancy. After five days, I can say we both felt much more comfortable and confident about diving. The dive boat returned to Aqaba just as the sunset for a perfect ending to the day.

That evening, we did some souvenir shopping and then went once again to Ash’s place for dinner and a party.

Oct 12th

You’re not supposed to dive within 24 hours of a flight so for our last day we had arranged to go on a tour of Wadi Rum.

We joined six other Brits in two 4x4 trucks and drove for about an hour before we left the tarmac and headed out into the desert. Great scenery and not nearly as hot as I was expecting.

We eventually arrived at “Captain’s Desert Camp”. Yes, this wasn’t too authentic and felt very touristy but we were expecting that. We were the only people there. We had a late lunch in Bedouin tents to live Arab music. I even got to play around with an Oud.

The highlight came at five o’clock we all got on camels and were led by local Bedouins out into the desert. We eventually got to a rocky promontory where we got off and climbed up the rocks to watch the sun slowly set over the desert.

Night fell quickly and it was dark by the time we had ridden back to the camp. A huge bonfire had been lit and the camp was illuminated by dozens of candles in paper bags. Very pretty. We sat around a table outside watching the stars come out. There’s not much light pollution so the Milky Way put on a stupendous show as it got darker and darker.

I’m not a smoker but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try out a hubbly bubbly (hookah) with Apple flavoured tobacco. Nice! The smoke is cool and fruity.

Jenny and I walked a little outside of the camp and watched the moonrise over the desert. Beautiful.

The rest of the Brits were staying the night but we had to get back to Aqaba and start packing for the flight the next day. I would have liked to enjoy the evening for many more hours but sadly, we had to go.

Oct 13th

The flights from Aqaba to Amman and back to London went exceptionally smooth. Representatives from International Traders helped us all the way.

Home Again

I really enjoyed this trip to Jordan. The people of Jordan are friendly and personable and there’s plenty of interesting sites to see and things to do. Most important, we accomplished our goal of diving in the Red Sea and got to do a bit of adventure travel. It was so nice not dragging children about!

We’re now left with one burning question. Where to dive next?

Wednesday 22 October 2003

The Little Earth Book

cover So you think you know all the issues facing the planet? I just finished reading this provocative little book which has 66 mini-essays on the myriad of ways we're screwing the planet and the developing nations. Obviously it sacrifices depth for breadth but it's easy to read and a great book for raising your awareness. I cringed at a few of the broad statements but there are references and further readings to back it up.

Yes, it does leave you feeling rather dismayed. Ignorance is bliss isn't it? Read it for yourself and figure out whether you can do anything. Buy it here for £5.59.

Steve Hackett Live

Tonight we saw Steve Hackett at the Town Hall in High Wycombe. He was the guitarist for Genesis back in the 70's. A friend suggested seeing him and I went along for the heck of it even though I have never been a fan of Genesis or progressive rock. I'm still not. He played a lot of old Genesis material and got a great response from the audience. Some of it was ok but I would have been happy to leave at the intermission. His acoustic set was fine. As a guitarist, I didn't find him particularly inspiring technically or melodically. He's great at getting a lot of different sounds though.

Tuesday 21 October 2003

Legoland Visit #4

Took K* to Legoland yesterday. He loves it and we need to make use of the annual pass. It's definitely getting cold though! The highlight, of course, is the lego shop. He sure is good at making stuff.

Reduce Your Junk Mail (UK only)

I just discovered the Mailing Preference Service. They claim that by registering with them, your address will be scrubbed from up to 95% of direct mailing lists in the UK. I'm giving it a shot. Or if you want, you can add yourself to direct mailing lists (home, leisure, clothing, financial, sport, travel, children, community services).

Monday 20 October 2003

City Of Lost Children (French, 1995)

Got together with some friends for another foreign film night and we watched City Of Lost Children by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. Very strange film but a great feast visually.  Often surreal, certainly enjoyable and nothing like a Hollywood film. If you like an offbeat film, it's worth watching.

Friday 17 October 2003

Change Activist: Make Big Things Happen Fast

I've just finished reading Change Activist: Make Big Things Happen Fast by Carmel McConnell. I first ran across it in the Microsoft library and thought it looked interesting so I bought it for my holiday reading.

cover It's quite hard to describe the book. It's essentially a pep talk to get you to be your own change activist working within the corporate environment and aligning your passion, principles and purpose. It's written in a very conversational, email style of partial sentences which is a bit disconcerting. I didn't find the book particularly well structured but the narrative is easy to digest and humorous.

Two key quotes from the book:

"The change activist is a hybrid, capable of business success, able to understand and steer their career by action on personal values. Lives Activist Rule 1: to thine own self be true. Insists on working with a sense of social contribution as a way of finding their true path."

"The change activist integrates hitting the strengthened bottom line into the job descriptions, team goal and finally into company objectives. Really. That way we can all help world trade solve humanities problems. Without risking lower profit."

The most interesting ideas I got from the book were:

  1. That maybe there should be some optimism that corporations could evolve to offer more; the so-called triple bottom line of profits, environment and social contributions. Ethical branding could be more than just a marketing ploy. Maybe. I'd certainly like to work for a company like that.
  2. The section on trust was very interesting. Trust as a form of social capital. Trust being critical for change and quick actions. It would be interesting to look at social structures and processes in terms of trust. How is trust created? Maybe the pub is the key institution for trust creation! Something to mull over. 

A good read if you want a pep talk on a way to approach your career. You might want to check out the other books by Your Momentum.

Thursday 16 October 2003

Star Wars Photoshopping Project

One of those people with too much time....

Guardian: GM trials reveal mixed impact on wildlife

Glad to see hard evidence that some GM crops are harmful. Full text of the Farm Scale Evaluations report here. Still, it only evaluates one small aspect of GM crops. Hopefully this makes it ever more clear that GM crops are a nightmare to assess in terms of their impact.

Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation is giving $25 million for research into GM food can provide extra vitamins and micro-nutrients to people in developing countries. Now there's a dilema. It's certainly great to see GM used to benefit the end consumer rather than the producer particularly for such a worthy cause. However, it still means introducing new GM crops which are very difficult to assess in terms of their total impact on the environment. It's worth researching though.

Wednesday 15 October 2003

Degree Confluence Project

The idea is to visit each location a latitude and longitude integer degree intersects and take a picture of it to post on this website. Anorak travellers unite! Think I need to go get a GPS system...

BBC: US blocks action on Israeli 'wall'

Once again the US - Bush - seem to have such a poor foreign policy. Israel contorts this idiotic idea of "war on terrorism" to it's own agenda and the US supports it. The wall sucks. Nice to see that the moderates are still talking.

Michael Moore speaking Nov 9th in London

cover Michael Moore is coming to town on Nov 9th speaking at the Palladium in London: "launching his new patriotic move for regime change `Dude, Where's My Country?`"  The 6pm show is sold out but there's another show at 8:30. I've got tickets! Should be great. Follow the link to Orange One Word to buy them online. Just noticed you can also read his (short) Oscar Speech here.

Tuesday 14 October 2003

Arrggghh! Christmas Catalogues!

I can't believe we've already received our first Christmas Catalogue in the post. I don't want to think about Christmas yet! You think retailers could wait a bit longer although I bet there are people out there who already have their gifts sorted out.

Monday 13 October 2003

Food For Life

Jenny and I are both foodies so we both take food issues pretty seriously. This superb little site tackles the issue of the food quality of school meals in the UK. Low quality processed food dominates school meals costing as little as 31p per day compared with 60p spent on a prisoner's lunch. Appalling. There's a good summary report.

Friday 3 October 2003

Gone Diving

I'm afraid this blog will be going quiet again. Jenny and I are leaving today for a sightseeing and diving holiday in Jordan with Aquatours. I'm quite excited about it even if we will be between Israel and Iraq. We're going without the children and will be staying in Amman, Petra and Aqaba doing various excursions. I'm really looking forward to diving the Red Sea. We'll be back on Oct 13th and as usual a travelogue will appear soon afterwards.

Thursday 2 October 2003

A Man of Words and not of Deeds

R* had to memorize the following poem:

A man of words and not of deeds.
Is like a garden full of weeds;
And when the weeds begin to grow,
It's like a garden full of snow;
And when the snow begins to fall,
It's like a bird upon the wall;
And when the bird away does fly,
It's like an eagle in the sky;
And when the sky begins to roar,
It's like a lion at the door;
And when the door begins to crack,
It's like a stick across your back;
And when your back begins to smart,
It's like a penknife in your heart;
And when your heart begins to bleed,
You're dead, you're dead, and dead indeed.

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT has put course materials for 500 of it's courses online. Verying interesting. Some courses even have the lecture notes and video while others mostly give you a reading list. Worth poking around your favourite academic subjects.

Wednesday 1 October 2003

Back From Wales

We're back from Wales and I've written a short travelogue of the trip here. When we finally get around to replacing our people mover, I'm sure we'll take a closer look at buying a 4x4.

Welcome Lithuania

It's end of the month so I've been checking my website stats. The most visits come from the Netherlands but I think that's due to to search engine indexing servers. Next is the UK which makes sense but the third place most visitors are from is Lithuania. So welcome Lithuania! How you find me I have no idea. After that it's Australia, Brazil and Hungary. Unique visitors is down a bit to 877 but still managed 197 views of that Writing Code Is Stupid article. By far most people who find this website via a search is looking for StrengthsFinder and that article got 102 views. So is StrengthsFinder taking off in Lithuania?