Saturday 29 May 2004

Lottery Fantasies

Last weekend while lounging around in a park, I challenged the kids to find a four leaf clover. To raise their motivation, I told them I'd buy a lottery ticket if they found one. We've talked about lottery tickets before and they know it's easier to get hit by lightning than win a big lottery. But it's a game to play and they know it offers an incredibly slim chance they could get a dog since we would probably move into a bigger house.

Lo and behold, K* found a five leaf clover! I kept my promise and bought tickets for this Saturday's draw which happens to be the first ever triple rollover of the Lotto with a top prize of at least £21.5 million!

When you buy a lottery ticket, what you're really buying is the right to legitimately fantasize for a short while before the actual draw. You should sit back and really think about what you would do with that kind of a prize. Envision what your ideal lifestyle would be given no financial constraints or risk. It's healthy and time boxed. Once you know you've lost, you should then think about how you might get closer to that lifestyle on your own steam.

Excuse me now as I only have several more hours to spend £21 million and all I've got so far is a big house and a dog. I guess I could avoid looking at the winning numbers for another day or two just to get my money's worth!

Thursday 27 May 2004

Don't Be Fooled By The Little Red Tractor

cornetThe little red tractor is the trademark of the British Farm Standard promoting "food you can trust". Read this microsite to discover that it really doesn't offer much assurance beyond the statutory minimum.

Guardian: MPs deliver ultimatum to food industry

There's a lot of reports regarding the current obesity crisis and actions the goverment should take along with how the food industry should be regulated. It's great to see this level of debate but I generally consider it a futile exercise. The obesity crisis is just the symptom of deeper issues around how food is produced, distributed and marketed. It's not just obesity either. Our food is simply not very healthy anymore. Period.

Some articles are hitting on the more emotive issue around children's diets and blaming the advertising of junk food. Sure it would be good to regulate that more and the misleading advertising and labelling. Support the Children's Food Bill. Ever wondered what exactly is a juice drink? It can have as little as 1% juice - expensive sugar water! (Parents, check out this free poster)

But really, parents are responsible for their children's diets and setting their standards. In the end, it's their choice except for school meals. One thing the goverment could do right away is provide much healthier children's meals in schools - at least make them as good as the meals prisoners get.

But when you get right down to it, the problem is the demand for cheap and convenient food. We need convenient food because we live in a time poor society. Very hard to fix that. The food industry provides cheap food that masquerades as healthy food when it isn't and most people can't tell that.

The government can do a lot to promote awareness and try and shift social norms and demands. It can also get things clearly labelled so you really know what you're eating - like "chicken with added water and growth hormones".

Guardian: New York Times admits failures in run-up to war

Very nice to see them admit this (you must sign-up to the NYT website to get to the original article). I particularly like this quote:

"This is one of the great journalistic mass delusions of the era," said Michael Wolff, a media commentator and columnist for Vanity Fair.

Maybe, just maybe, this will be helpful the next time the general media considers joining the government on a witch hunt. What a waste and a mess the whole Iraq affair is.

Tuesday 25 May 2004

Summer Music Festival Season

With summer fast approaching I'm looking around to see what concerts would be good to go see. There's just so much that goes on in the UK. It's fantastic.

I've just got tickets for Guilfest 2004 if you're interested in joining us. It's reputed to be one of the most children friendly events. We're going the Saturday (July 17th) when Simple Minds will be playing top of the bill. Will also be keen to see Rickie Lee Jones. With three stages, two tents and a kids zone, there's lots of choice.

The following week, we're also off to the WOMAD concert (July 23rd). It was good fun last year and worth going again. Come along to that too.

For more summer festival information, a great website is eFestivals.

Thursday 20 May 2004

Sailing Club Induction

We're now members of a small local sailing club and today we went for an induction evening. The club sails on a small lake and has a pretty nice club house with a bar. Everyone is very friendly.

Jenny and I took turns going for a sail with someone else on their dinghy. On my turn, we participated in the weekly racing while the heavens poured buckets on us. Got completely drenched but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The racing is very casual and good natured. Basically, there's not much else to do on a lake with a dinghy other than to get into racing.

There's a small playground which keeps the kids happy. There's also other kids about and they got a ride on a power boat. R* has expressed an interest in learning to sail and she's now old enough.

Jenny starts her dinghy sailing course this Saturday. I'm planning to get in some sailing practice at the club over the summer. Meanwhile, I've booked myself onto a five day RYA Competent Crew course learning how to sail a yacht this August in the Solent. Looking forward to some windy days!

Wednesday 19 May 2004

Kayak Club Evening Paddle

Yesterday I went down to the Kayak Club that I'm now a member of and went for my first club evening paddle. There must have been twenty five of us all together and everyone sticks together as a group. I had expected people to break off in small groups and just paddle off. I quickly changed into some new paddling gear I've bought and got myself out onto the Thames in a club boat.

It was a beautiful evening; we've been having somewhat of a heat wave. We went downstream a short ways and then broke off into two groups. One group to play polo and another group to paddle downstream and back. The mainly younger crowd went for polo. Ok, I'm definitely on the older scale of the crowd but I'm not alone.

I'm still working hard to keep the kayak going straight but I had a good time. The weather was perfect and it's a very pretty part of the river (lined by some fantastic houses I must say). It was gorgeous as the sun set.The only drawback was the swarming clouds of mayflies on the river. At times, you had to be sure not to open your mouth!

Nevertheless, kayaking is a great thing to do on a warm summer evening. Something to be repeated!

Friday 14 May 2004

The Little Money Book (David Boyle, 2003)

The book is subtitled "A provocative view of the way money works". It's in the same format as the other Fragile Earth books; a collection of numerous mini-essays around a single theme. I don't think the format worked that well since money is quite a complex issue and there are many interconnected concepts that need more indepth explanation.

It's a good "taster" book for covering a wide range of ideas and insanities. For example, the concept of GDP is badly flawed as an economic measure and a way of measuring progress. Money that loses value over time to encourage economic activity. The guaranteed citizens' income. There is more debt outstanding than there is money to pay it off. About one third of all global wealth is held offshore. The problems and history of interest (usury). Micro-credit. The Tobin Tax. And much more.

The section on DIY money was particularly interesting. He creates an arguement that we should generally have many more currencies rather than fewer. Lots of interesting examples of how effective this can be (e.g. LETS). One great illustration was the Brazillian city of Curitiba which issued points for recycling their rubbish. This was enthusiastically collected by street children as they could spend the points on off-peak bus rides. It's a great solution since you get a clean city just by using spare bus capacity.

The book begins with this fantastic speech by Guaicaipuro Cuatemoc to European heads of state. Well worth reading it as it eloquently claims a 500 year old debt for the loan of 185,000 kilos of gold and 16,000,000 kilos of silver - with interest!

The Hamsters at Norden Farm

Went and saw The Hamsters at Norden Farm last night with my fellow band mates. Hard working solid three piece rock band. They do covers of Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top as well as their own stuff and R&B standards. Excellent guitarist. Nothing special but they certainly rock!

It's given us a bit of inspiration to start jamming again. The main problem is finding the time we can all get together.

Tuesday 11 May 2004

Guardian: Consumers send 'warning sign' to US brands

So US foreign policies are putting American corporate brands in the mud? Fantastic! Wouldn't it be great if this motivated corporations to influence US foreign policies for the better. I'm sure there's some irony here somewhere.

BBC: Monsato drops plans for GM wheat

Great news. But this article and their carefully worded press release shows that their new strategy is to apply GM to less "emotive" foods that are not so easily identified. In other words, they are sneaking it in through soya, corn and oilseeds where "biotechnology is broadly applied". Note that under EU rules, a product with up to 1% contamination with GM ingredients does not have to be labelled provided the manufacturer has taken steps to avoid GM supplies. It's not the end, just a change in strategy to target less resistant markets and developing countries.

Monday 10 May 2004

Kayaking Course

I spent the weekend on a kayaking course at a local canoe club and  graduated with a 1 star British Canoe Union rating. That basically means I can paddled a bit.

In truth, a kayak is surprising difficult to paddle. With a round bottom and no keel, ridge or rudder, it turns very easily so just paddling forward takes a fair bit of concentration. It's very susceptible to wind, current and uneven paddling!

It's also fairly unstable. On the morning of the first day, I fell into the Thames while trying to get into the kayak. Yes, the only person out of 18 people taking the course! And I should mention, the weather was miserable: rain, overcast, cold. Believe me, the river was nippy and tastes terrible!

But everyone eventually got to try capsizing as that's part of the course on both days. The first day you learn how to get out of the kayak when you're upside down and drowning. The second day, there's a formal assessment and you have to show them yet again that you have a desire to breathe.

Besides that, the rest of the course was spent learning and practising several paddling strokes: forward, backward, sideways, sweeps and stopping. There's also some group games we played to practice maneuvering and we had to listen to a bit of safety and theory. Nothing difficult.

One shocking fact you learn is that 98% of UK rivers have no public access rights! The person who owns the adjacent land, also owns the riverbed right out to the middle of the river. If you paddle on the river, you're trespassing! This is unique to England and Wales and turns out to be William the Conqueror's fault for giving away this right. This has totally shot down the idea I had of paddling around some of the small local rivers.

Anyway, as part of the course, I'm now a member of the club and can take the club kayaks out free of charge. Cool. They seem like a nice group to hang around with. My plan now is to go buy a wet suit and do some paddling along the Thames.

Sunday 9 May 2004

Eric Clapton at the Royal Albert Hall

I've been trying to get tickets to see Eric Clapton for many years. He always plays the Royal Albert Hall and they always sell out at a stunning speed. I finally managed to get them this year through a local lady who owns one of the boxes. It's the most I've ever paid for a pair of tickets but still substantially cheaper than what I've heard others have paid for them.

So last night I got to see Eric.

Most of the night, he just played the blues. It's obviously his true love and he personifies it. Mostly Mississsippi style with his latest homage to Robert Johnson. It was great but I can't say I was particularly moved or thrilled. Just the blues done very, very well. It's kind of a shame because he's such a great guitarist. I don't think the blues stretches his abilities.

The audience came alive when he started covering his rock hits towards the later part of the concert. These included I Shot The Sheriff, Cocaine, Badge, Wonderful Tonight. Best of all, he did Layla. For the encore, he did Sunshine Of Your Love. That was thrilling. The last concert of the Cream was played at the very same Royal Albert Hall on November 26th, 1968.

He must be sick of playing those old songs but I'm thankful that he did. The man has put out 36 albums in a 40 year career but those were some of his very best.

His band was faultless. Special mention should be made of Billy Preston on Hammond organ. The fifth Beatle himself.

Friday 7 May 2004

The Next Oil Crisis

After reading about the wind power debate, I started reading about the upcoming oil crisis (or peak oil). There are lots of good articles around but this one sums it up nicely.

Truly it's amazing that given our civillisation is so heavily dependent on oil that we are so woefully unprepared to face up to the challenges of it running out. Sure there's debate about exactly when but we can all agree that it will run out. Some believe that this is the year we get to the Hubbert Peak while others put it out a few more years.  If you're middle-aged, you'll probably live long enough to see the pump run dry.

Just think about that.

The world economy, our cities and lifestyle are all based around transportation and distribution. And that's all based on cheap oil. And we depend heavily on oil-based products like plastics and other petrochemicals. But the topic really isn't up for discussion except by doom sayers. There's no quick technology fix either. For example, switching to electric cars would require the national grid to quadruple.

Shouldn't this be discussed as urgently as global warming? The transition out of the oil age isn't exactly going to be easy.

In the meantime you can watch and plan on the price of oil to slowly soar. It's now just reaching $40 a barrel but we can probably get another blissful decade living with it. The sooner it rises the better since it's the only way the issue will get serious attention but it's going to cause some serious economic and political turmoil.

The Wind Power Debate

Good article in the Guardian about the current wind power debate; read An Ill Wind?

I'm wholly in favour of wind power but can see that there has to be a consensus on the issue of scale. No one wants to live in an industrialised landscape so clearly onshore wind farms have to be kept to a reasonable scale. We saw some in Cornwall last year and thought they looked quite pleasant but they were small installations of a dozen or less. The answer has to be to build the big wind farms offshore at sea.

Downhill Battle: Music Activism

Ran into this really well organised website campaigning for the demise of the big five record labels. They've got some good reasons. What's really impressive is how slick their campaign appears. Personally, I think there's a lot bigger problems in the world to be concerned about but it's good to see someone doing this.

Wednesday 5 May 2004

BBC: Expert fights horse cloning ban

Another great example why genetic modification and cloning must be so carefully controlled. Italy is allowing horse cloning for competition purposes. So the arguement is that we need to do it as well to stay competitive. Next, someone will want to start genetically modifying animals to win competitions.

It's completely unacceptable to use this technology for such trivial purposes. The last paragraph says it all:

"It's a trivial purpose and cloning causes pain and suffering to animals because the vast number of embryos die, and those that don't may develop abnormalities and die young."

Tuesday 4 May 2004

United States of Europe

The European Union is now 25 countries strong (or weak if you're a cynic). There's a constant dance of denial that it's not a super state but it sure smells like one. It's got a legal system, a parliment, a budget and soon a constitution.

I don't think it's a bad thing and is just one of the GreatExperiments of the century. If a model of co-operation can be worked out between these countries, then perhaps it can be replicated by other trading blocs and may eventually help to create a better form of world governance. That would be huge progress. In the meantime, it provides a much needed balance to the lone super power in the world.

However, the bickering will be intense and the debates endless. Enlargement just makes it more unweildy. Would have been better to put it off.

More Objections To Middle East Policies

I'm pleased to read US diplomats launch Bush attack which adds to the letter sent by UK diplomats to Tony Blair. These current policies are just making things worse. I've never quite understood why the US is so pro Israel but then I read this fairly bizarre article about the Rapture. Very scary to think this could have that much influence.