Thursday 30 September 2004

Corporate Watch: Nuclear Contamination in Reading

Here's a rather alarming article by Corporate Watch about Raymond Fox's ongoing failure to get any justice over plutonium contamination found in his backyard at 338 Wokingham Rd in Earley near Reading. A soil sample was found to contain five times higher radioactive contamination than pollution at a nuclear weapons factory in Aldermaston! The scarey thing is the "Wall Of Silence" that he has been subjected to as no one want to do anything about it.

If I lived in the neighbourhood, I'd be pretty upset and demanding a thorough investigation. What about the groundwater?

Generally the UK seems quite good at being evenhanded but I do get the impression that there are many area's where corporations and institutions can steamroller over individuals that  have little recourse. Unfortunately, Mr Fox seems to have found one of those areas.

Wednesday 29 September 2004

Buddhist Economics

Nice short essay on the value of work and the need for meaningful work. It's hosted on a site called World Transformation which looks pretty interesting.

Tuesday 28 September 2004



Yesterday, I taught the kids how to play conkers. There's a horse chestnut tree at R*'s school so the kids there collect them but they don't know how to play conkers so I figured I would teach her this most English of games. As a kid, I had my five seconds of fame playing in a conker competition with the shattering of my conker being broadcast on local TV news. My opponent went on to win the competition with a very seasoned seven year old indestructable conker.

On Sunday, we trooped down to Windsor Great Park and collected a bag of them. It's a little early in the season but wasn't hard to find some. At home, I attached the strings and we were ready to play.

I was soon reminded it can be rather painful to play conkers. It's easy to whack yourself. R* even went and put on her skateboarding pads. After I lost to R*, I set the kids up with a hanging conker to practise on but unfortunately, Kieran whacked himself in the nose and head! So, ok, maybe there's a good reason conkers isn't played much!

Still, I might keep some conkers in a dark corner of a cupboard. They could prove useful in several years.

Sunday 26 September 2004

Back From Bavaria

145 mphGot back safe and sound from our road trip to Germany yesterday. Had a great time and I'll try and get a travelogue written up and posted this week. Driving the Autobahn was a real highlight for me. Here's a picture of my speedometer showing us hitting 145 mph as we got near to Munich.

I have a new found respect for German cars; they all seem to be built for driving at speeds like these!

Friday 17 September 2004

Learning the Nurburgring

On Sunday, a friend and I are off on a roadtrip driving around Germany. A big highlight will be driving the famous Nurburgring race circuit. I've been spending quite a bit of time preparing to drive this massive circuit of 13 miles and 73 bends. Ben Lovejoy has put together a fabulous Nurburgring website which has been a tremendous help. There's also lots of help at the Ringers Group including maps with race lines of the circuit.

Best of all, the Xbox game Project Gotham 2 has a very realistic depiction of the circuit. I've spent the last month playing it just to get to the end where you unlock the Nurburgring circuit in the very last race. I've had a few evenings to drive around and around and around learning the layout. It matches up well with the other maps I have so I figure it's a better way to prepare than driving it cold - that together with Ben's Photo Lap.

Exciting stuff! I should be at the real circuit toll gate at 1pm on Monday.

Thursday 16 September 2004

Egypt Vaccinations

My left arm still hurts a bit after Jenny and I got our combined Hepatitis-A and Typhoid vaccination this morning. If you want to travel, you need to consider the health risks so in preparing for our holiday to Egypt next month, I spent some time reading the WHO's International Travel and Health website. Quite interesting - especially the world disease maps.

Egypt doesn't require any vaccinations but we decided the prudent ones to have covered in our family are Polio, Tetanus/Diptheria and Hepatitis A. Luckily malaria is almost non-existent in Egypt. It's the disease responsible for the highest death rate among travellers. Meanwhile, Hepatitis A is the most common disease travellers catch.

I hate injections. Even though I know they don't hurt much, I can't help getting queasy, light-headed and can even breakout into a cold sweat. Silly, I know, but it's like a real phobia. In a couple of weeks, I'll take the children for their injections and somehow I have to pretend I don't mind getting a Tetanus shot. I can just imagine hearing, "Dad, why are you lying on the floor?"

Das Experiment (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2001)

German movie based on the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment  (read more about the experiment here) but this movie takes the experiment much further. Twenty ordinary people are divided into twelve prisoners and eight guards and asked to play these roles for two weeks. The story is centered on one of the prisoners, Tarek Fahd.

The drama is intense as behaviours escalate to the flims climax. Plausible and topical given the prison abuses in Iraq. Worth watching (thanks Jennifer for the recommendation).

Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)

Park your mind and prepare to feel good. It's a sickly sweet romantic comedy cuddle movie. Don't start analysing how crassly commercial and shallow it is or you'll stop smiling. Fine acting and well made, it's ok for a Friday night rental. Better still, use it for foreplay.

Nowhere In Africa (Caroline Link, 2001)

This German film won Best Foreign Language film in 2002. It's about a well off German Jewish family that leaves everything behind in Nazi Germany and survive as poor farm hands in Kenya. It's based on the autobiography of Stefanie Zweig and is told through the eyes of her as a little girl. Great story, well acted and beautiful cinematography. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 15 September 2004

Smart Music

Here's another little thing I found ages ago that I meant to blog about. I haven't tried Smart Music Studio out but it's description sure is intriguing:

SmartMusic Studio is an interactive, computer-based practice program for woodwind, brass, string and vocal musicians. SmartMusic Studio Intelligent Accompaniment®accompanies you while you practice so it can improve your musical performance in less time by making practicing more fun.

The interesting thing is that it actually changes tempo to follow you; you don't just play along with a recording. It looks slick but since I don't play a monophonic instrument, it's not of any use to me. Would be great for orchestral instruments.

Top 10 Urinals

You can also view the top 100 urinals. No, I don't know what the judging criteria is. The site does claim that it's the "best place to piss away your time on the Internet".

Sunday 12 September 2004

Thames Valley Farmer's Market

Went to the Thames Valley Farmer's Market today. We're trying to buy more things directly from local producers rather than from the supermarkets.  Makes sense to support the local economy and it's great being able to chat with people who actually know how their produce is grown or their animals raised. They can also tell you a lot about how to prepare it too. Overall, it means you can be much more confident about what you're eating and it's fresh - no air miles involved!

It's feels like the right thing to do in a "I recycle too" kind of way.

Two of the vendors we bought from today have websites. There's Cross Lanes Fruit Farm which grows over sixty varieties of apples, pears and plums. They're excellent. Note they're having an Open Day on October 10th which I hope to get to. There's also Brookleas Fish Farm which farms trout. It's a nightmare sourcing trustyworthy seafood - by the way is fresh water fish lakefood or riverfood? - but I had a good chat with how they raise their trout and it sounded safe. What's even better is that I learned you can go there and catch the trout yourself! Will have to take R* and give that a try.

Friday 10 September 2004

BBC: Gun firms pay out over US snipers

Two gun firms have settled with families of the victims of the Washington DC snipers. It's significant because this is the first time a gun manufacturer in the United States has agreed to pay damages for negligent distribution of weapons. This isn't an admission of liability but still it's a promising step towards bringing some sensibility to gun happy America.

Sunday 5 September 2004

Cordon Vert

Jenny is away for five days on a residential cookery workshop at The Cordon Vert School in Manchester - learning how to kill vegetables and skin them. Alright, she's doing the Foundation Workshop which aims to "give students a thorough knowledge of a vegetarian diet". She's very excited about having this break and attending her first professional cookery workshop.

No, we're not planning on becoming vegetarians but we'd be happy to eat more vegetables if the dishes were more interesting. I think vegetarianism is highly admirable and as this BBC article explains, we should all eat less meat.

Meanwhile I'm home alone with the kids learning to survive as a single dad. I have to admit, I don't enjoy cooking much and I quite dislike feeding kids. Worse still, I hate watching kids eat as they torture their meals and find novel ways of eating its contents.

Friday 3 September 2004

Motorcycle Lesson #5

Had my fifth motorcycle lesson today and it was my second time riding a 500cc bike. It's a big step up from the 125cc bikes. Lots of power on tap at all speeds. Scary. Small movements of your wrist can jolt you about quite a bit and you've got to be ready for it. I've learned to slip the clutch more at low speeds to keep control. There's no fairing or windshield so at 60 mph, you really feel the wind holding you up. Of course, going fast in a straight line is fine but we're now starting to take windy roads at speed and I'm gingerly learning how to lean into the corners.

Honda Hornet CB600FFor a break, we stopped by a motorcycle shop and Chris (my instructor) asked what bike I would like. I replied "something that won't kill me" while eyeing a superbike. He recommended a Honda Hornet. This is a "Naked" bike (more traditional) and turns out to be one of the best selling bikes in Europe. Looks pretty good to me.


It doesn't happen often but once in a while I run into a brand new word. I've never heard of this one before today but someone actually used it in a posting:


What a great word! It rolls off the tongue nice and rhythmically. Can't wait to drop that into a conversation: "I've been discombobulated!" or "what a discombobulation!"

Thursday 2 September 2004

K Starts Year One

K* started school today. Year One. He wasn't worred or fussed by it. His best friend is in the same class so that helps a lot. He's not the kind of boy that worries or fusses anyway; he just gets on with it. He even got awarded a sticker by the teacher for stopping an exercise when he was supposed to stop and then waiting quietly. He thrives on rules and just complies with them - such an easy kid.

These milestones can pass uncelebrated when they happen so easily. We now make a effort to drink a toast at dinner to recognise any and all achievements anyone makes. The kids love these kind of rituals. In fact R* suggested we should become Jewish because she really likes the rituals they have.

Wednesday 1 September 2004

The Soggiest Summer

It's official. This August was the wettest August since 1961 when modern rainfall measures were started - 163mm or 180% more than normal. For June, July and August, it's the second wettest summer since 1961. I'm feeling victimised as it's the first August we actually decided to stay in the country!

Jenny and the kids were so fed up a couple of weeks ago of staying inside that they demanded to go the beach rain or shine. I complied and we went down to West Wittering (near Chichester) where they spent a short time digging in the sand in the pouring rain before we all sat in the car for a picnic - a quintessential British experience. Luckily the sun did come out long enough for us to have a nice walk along East Head Beach.