Sunday 27 March 2005

Dr. Who Is Back!

I'll give the new Dr. Who series a thumbs up. Good casting and a proper special effects budget are a good start. The storyline was as corny as ever but, hey,  that's part of the fun. It's now firmly on my agenda for Saturday nights. Episode 6 is entitled "Dalek"!

All part of a proper education for the children...

Friday 25 March 2005

Guardian: Buffet attacks American spending junkies

I was shocked the other day when I converted some US funds into pounds sterling. The exchange rate was 1.92!

The dollar continues to plummet due to American spending junkies. In FY04, the US spent $322 billion on interest payments. The US debt is up to $7.7 trillion. I honestly think we're creeping up to some major instability in the world finanical system. Financial instability leads to political instability.

Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki, 2005)

Accidently came across this superb documentary on BBC 4 while flipping around the channels.

"Why We Fight" is actually the title of a series of US propaganda films made in 1942 justifying the war effort. This film starts there and looks at the forces that shapes and propels America's militarism. America developed it's military-industrial complex during WWII and maintained it because of the cold war. Dwight D. Eisenhower recognised the danger in his farewell speech in 1961:

"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

The film exposes the collusion between the White House, Congress, Think Tanks and the Military-Industrial Complex. Essentially, we now have that "disastrous rise of misplaced power" as illustrated with the Iraq War. War is a profitable business.

George Bush has dramatically increased military spending. From $288 billion in 2000, the budget request for 2005 is $420 billion. This is almost the same as the rest of the world combined! It is 8 times more than China which is the 2nd biggest spender. By comparision, all the programmes and agencies of the United Nations cost a paltry 10 billion.

Why does America need such a huge military? It doesn't but the film provides plenty of insight to how it got that way and how ready America is to use it.

Wednesday 23 March 2005

BBC: Poll shows backing for UN reform

A survey of 23,500 people across 23 countries shows widespread support for a stronger UN. I totally agree. The UN needs teeth. Most favoured the idea of adding Germany, India, Japan and Brazil to the organisation's Security Council and enabling the Security Council to override the veto power of the permanent members. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Otherwise the UN is will continue to be hamstrung by the national self-interests of the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia. All the major economies should be represented and one single nation shouldn't be able to scupper important resolutions. But do you really think the permanent members would support such reforms?

Tuesday 22 March 2005

Roger Dodger (Dylan Kidd, 2002)

Roger is a hopelessly cynical advertising copywriter with a razor-sharp wit who believes he has mastered the art of manipulating women. But Roger's seemingly foolproof world of smooth talk and casual sex unravels when he tries to help his desperate 16 year old nephew lose his virginity one night in New York.

Excellent script. Fine cast and acting. Unconventional cinematography. But above all, the dialogue really carries this film. An award winning independent film that's well worth watching.

Paper Meals?

A weird snippet from this months excellent The Ecologist magazine:

"A US chef has developed a range of paper meals. Using a special ink created from liquidised food, Homaru Cantu prints edibles pictures of actual meals on sheets of soya bean and potato paper."

I searched around the Internet to find out more. Turns out he uses a Canon i560 inkjet printer. He's got more idea's too. Personally, I think mixing chefs with technology is a bad idea.

Longest Village Name in Britain

And the longest domain name...

Sunday 20 March 2005

Jamie's School Dinners

Jenny and I really enjoyed watching Jamie's School Dinners even though we only caught two of the four episodes. I think it was absolutely fantastic that Jamie did this and it's totally spot on that junkie school dinners should go. Interesting to see that the astute Tony Blair has caught on to this issue and promised to act.

This kind of advocacy programme is one of the very best uses of television. It also illustrates the kind of nasty profit driven uncaring impovished solutions that are often provided by outsourcing to a big corporation. As a school governor and parent, I'd love to see the Scholarest contract dumped and a school kitchen put in place.

Unfortunately, both the local Infant school and Junior school don't even have a kitchen! So K* usually takes a packed lunch.

Wouldn't it be great if all the food was provided by local organic farms too? There could also be great educational value in school/farm partnerships at a primary school level. Win/win.


What a great little idea! Find your local Freecycle Community and use it to "find homes for stuff too good for the land fill". The rule is that it's got to be for free. If you want to sell, use ebay, a local paper or go to a car boot sale. If you can't sell it, give it away. If you can't give it away, recycle it. Free your inner packrat!

Locally, I've discovered a pretty active East Berkshire Freecycle Group.

Ebay Seller

I'm currently selling my first item ever on ebay. Kind of exciting to see the bidding going up. It's just an old soundcard that I wasn't using and recently realized it was still worth quite a bit. I'm looking around the house for other things to auction off. And then I can buy more stuff from ebay!

Saturday 19 March 2005

BBC: Chewing gum can 'enhance breasts' 80%. Wow!! Those cleverJapanese are at it again with something called B2Up.

Thursday 17 March 2005

Theoretical Day Skipper

I wrote my RYA Day Skipper navigation theory exam last week. This last Tuesday, I got my certificate confirming that I had passed. Yaayy! The class went to the pub to celebrate. It was really pretty easy and I wish the course had been much more condensed. So now I just need to complete a five day Day Skipper Practical course and we'll be able to go on a sailing holiday. I've been eyeing doing the course in Gibraltar. It sounds much more interesting than the Solent, the wind is reliable and it's warmer.


A friend brought to my attention the ChangeThis website which tries to "facilitate the dissemination of thoughtful ideas". They "focus on rational and thoughtful arguements that help people change their mind to a more productive point of view". Looks interesting.

2005 Bloggie Awards

The 2005 bloggies were announced this week. Worth browsing through some of the 30 winners.

Wednesday 16 March 2005

Acrylamide In Your Food

While reading about the Sudan 1 red dye scare here in the UK, I discovered the issue of acrylamide in processed foods.

According to the World Health Organisation, acrylamide is "known to cause cancer in animals. Also, certain doses of acrylamide are toxic to the nervous system of both animals and humans."

The UK Foods Standards Agency describes the problem:

"In April 2002, scientists in Sweden discovered unexpectedly large amounts of the chemical acrylamide in foods rich in starch that had been cooked at high temperatures. These included crisps, chips, bread and crispbreads. Acrylamide is known to cause cancer in animals and its presence in some foods may harm people’s health."

Carcinogenic crisps, chips and bread? Now that could cause a little panic couldn't it?

The WHO is worried enough to setup an international network to co-ordinate investigation into the problem and the risk communication has been commendable in how open it's been. However, I've only just heard about it. Given how government and industry work together, they're not about to broadcast any big precautions are they?

Check out all the articles published by the FDA. It's here I found a presentation dated April 13, 2004 on exposure assessment:

K's Birthday Cake

So just how concerned should one be? I tracked down the very latest conclusions about acrylamide in the summary of the 64th meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee On Food Additives but you're better off reading the summary by the Heatox Project. The bottom line seems to be that the average person is getting 1/200th of the dose of acrylamide that is known to cause nerve damage to rats and 1/300th of the dose known to cause cancer. High intake consumers (which I suspect includes most children) are getting about 1/50th and 1/75th respectively.

Of course there's huge error margins in the calculations and variability with individuals so honestly, I'm not sure what to make of it yet. A Margin of Exposure (MOE) of less than 100 (i.e. more than 1/100th of a deadly dosage) is unacceptable to me. It will certainly make me think twice about that side order of fries or packet of crisps. And those kids meals are a disaster!

The Barbarian Invasions (Denys Arcand, 2003)

Excellent French-Canadian film about a man coming to terms with his impending death through cancer and those who help him. The general metaphor of invading barbarians is repeated many times. IMDB describes it well:

"we develop tidy definitions of who we are and who we are not. Life then deals us changes. Change is experienced as a violation (invasion) and the source of change feels foreign and evil (barbarians).How we are ultimately changed by these invasions defines who we are."

Superb script. Humourous and touching but not at all saccharine. Highly recommended. According to a Guardian article, You have a 1 in 3 chance of dying from cancer too. For American males, the odds is nearly 1 in 2.

Indochine (Régis Wargnier, 1992)

A complex romance/drama set in 1930's Vietnam with a woman and adopted daughter loving the same man. It's French with English subtitles. Good entertainment and historically accurate.

Tuesday 8 March 2005

BBC: Laughter boosts blood vessels

Sounds like good advice:

"Thirty minutes of exercise three times a week, and 15 minutes of laughter on a daily basis is probably good for the vascular system."

Forget the drama's. Watch comedies. Reminds me of a poster I saw that claims children average 500 smiles a day while adults only average 15. Why do we stop smiling? Further on in the article, there's this quote:

"UK heart experts said there was increasing interest in the idea that positive emotions benefited health."

Just an idea? Isn't it just blindingly obvious that there's a big causal relationship between emotion and health?

Money Saving Expert

Ran across the website. Looks useful if you live in the UK. I found it because it has an excellent way for looking up airfares. You give it an airport you want to fly from, a date range and a maximum budget and it will find out where you can go. Only problem is that it returns only airport codes which are rather cryptic. Check out the FlightChecker.

Tuesday 1 March 2005

Be My Gym Buddy

As previously posted, I started going to the gym several weeks ago. In a minor fit of madness, I committed to a gym membership just before my ski trip. They had a special promotion where you buy a three month membership and they give you four months with no joining fee (this is just at the local community centre). So, for this membership to be more cost effective than going on a pay-as-you-go casual basis, I have to make it the the gym 18 times by the end of May.

So, dear reader, you can be my gym buddy and keep me on the straight and narrow. Since coming back from the ski trip, I been to the gym 4 times. I'm trying hard to go to the gym at least twice a week. I generally try to go every third day and I know I should try to go three times a week but I'm not that committed yet.

So, this month, my commitment is to go to the gym 8 times. I'll try to post feedback each time I go.

My routine is quite basic. I stretch first and then do a cardiovascular routine that has to last for at least 30 minutes. I gradually want to up it to 45 minutes but it's currently about 35 minutes. I use the running machine, rowing machine and elliptical cross trainer primarily. I might use the stepper. I don't care for bike machines. I then follow this with around 40 minutes of circuit training. This month I'm concentrating on upper body. I then finish off doing some crunches. If I've got time, I do some stretches while sweating in the sauna. Overall, a visit to the gym takes about two hours.

Eager Beaver

K* was vested in a Beaver colony last week. That is, he's not living in the local river but he joined the Beavers/Cubs/Scouts variety. He really looks forward to the weekly meeting. They keep the emphasis on having fun so the meetings are rather loud and chaotic. I suspect he also like the rituals and "clubiness" of it.

I know some people don't approve of the paramilitary style of these organisations but I obviously disagree. I went through cubs and scounts myself. There's many commendable values and skills that they try to teach and they provide a strong community spirit.

Sixth Birthday

K* turned six last week. We had his birthday party at the Bracknell Look Out Discovery Centre last weekend and Jenny made one of her fantastic birthday cakes.

K's Birthday Cake