Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Joys of the British Housing Market

The housing market in the UK is barking mad. I am so glad I am not a first time buyer these days. With talk of pig sties in the Cotswolds selling for ridiculous fees, I thought the worst excesses of the market were restricted to England.

Prices in St Andrews in Scotland have been rising fairly steeply in the last few years, but this article about the sale of public toilets there shows that things are getting distinctly out of hand. The guide price was £50,000, but the "property" actually sold for almost £200,000! It apparently has three doors onto the street and was described by the sellers as "being in need of extensive renovation.".

You don't say....

Monday, June 25, 2007

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing!

I've got a confession to make: I have absolutely no natural rhythm. I can never decide if I don't like dancing because I'm crap at it, or if I'm crap at dancing because I don't like it. At school we had ballroom dancing lessons given by the physical education (PE) department. I used to hate PE, so dancing seemed a slightly more pleasant alternative. I still had horrendous difficulty remembering the steps, and always ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, sometimes dancing with the wrong partner.

Nowadays the only dancing I ever seem to be called to do is disco dancing, or at least my version of disco dancing. This consists of frantic shuffling from one foot to another. I do try and do it in time with the music, but sometimes it doesn't seem to work out that way. Occasionally, seemingly at random, I do a little 360 degree twirl to add a bit of variety. At the end of the day, I've got, to coin a phrase, "two left feet".

This is all the more embarrassing when you notice the dancing prowess of the guy in the video who has, you will notice, no left foot.

I'm not that bothered though, and I certainly won't be having an amputation to see if it improves my technique!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Impressive, but mercifully short...

I've posted before about my lack of enthusiasm for the accordion as a musical instrument. However, even I have to admit that this guy is good.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Minor Disappointment....

Wosog and I are shortly going on holiday to Egypt. My dear wife has been interested in the history of ancient Egypt for many years, and we both look forward to the photographic opportunities it presents. I must confess I do have two concerns about visiting the country: firstly, the unlikely, but distinctly life-threatening, risk of terrorist attack, and secondly the much more likely, but slightly less life-threatening, risk of gastroenteritis. A worryingly large proportion of the people I know who have been to Egypt seem to mention diarrhoea as a feature of their holiday, and I have been given extensive advice on steps to take to avoid "the runs". Anyway, hopefully nobody will decide to shoot at us, and we won't have to spend too much time inspecting the local plumbing system. I suppose if we are stricken, it might be a good way of losing a bit of weight!

The first week of our holiday involves a cruise down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. The Smart Alec in me was looking forward to being able to say that I had cruised down the longest river in the World (though admittedly not its full length). Imagine my disappointment, therefore, to find that a group of meddlesome geographers in South America claim to have proven recently that the Amazon is, in fact, longer than the Nile? According to these killjoys, the Amazon is 6,800km (4,250 miles) long, while the Nile is a mere 6,695km.

I'm not sure if it's my feeling of minor disappointment that makes me ask the question "Who funds an expedition to provide information as pointless as this?".

Friday, June 22, 2007

My Wordie!

My Wordie!
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.
One of my Internet Obsessions is the website Wordie. I've been interested in the English language since I was at primary school, and Wordie, as the name suggests, is a site for word enthusiasts, or possibly more accurately "word collectors". Wordie describes itself as "Like Flickr, but without the photos." Unfortunately for its creator and owner, I don't think it's going to be the money spinner that Flickr turned out to be for its creators, but the site is gaining more users and more words: it had around 1,700 users when I joined and as of today it has 4,336. My collection of words on the site has just passed 2,500.

The idea of Wordie is that you collect words that, presumably, have some significance for you. These might be words that you love, words that you hate, words that you like the sound of, etc., etc. The beauty of the site is that the user makes the rules. Wordie allows you to mark favourite words, and favourite lists from other people's words. You can also comment on words and lists. It has built in links to dictionary sites, and it's a great way of learning new words. I can't help feeling that more could be done to make the site more interactive, but I suspect the lack of financial success of Wordie limits the amount of time the owner can devote to developing it further. Maybe the sponsorship from the makers of Scrabble will come through one of these days!

"What's the point?" some might ask, but I would argue that collecting words on Wordie is more worthwhile than, for example, the online gaming that others spend hours playing.

We're all different and, fortunately, the Web has a place for every foible!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is That The Time?

Part of my work is being the medical officer for a rehabilitation ward for the elderly. I've been doing the work for around 12 years, and even over that relatively short space of time there has been a noticeable increase in the average age of the patients admitted. Some of these older patients are remarkably fit: in fact a 91 year old patient that I admitted the other day could easily have passed for 71 years. However, many of them are very unfit, significantly demented, and appear to have a very poor quality of life by most people's standards.

This article about the oldest man in the world, a 111 year old Japanese guy, states that he joked that he is sorry to have lived this long. Maybe he was really kidding, but I'm a great believer in the saying "Many a true word spoken in jest". I've certainly met several very elderly frail patients who have calmly expressed the wish that tomorrow would never come.

With improved social conditions, nutrition and medical care in the developed world increasing longevity is not difficult. The trick is producing a life that is not only longer but also worth living.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The End Is Nigh

I've never been in the habit of buying a newspaper on a regular basis. They seem to me rather doom-laden publications that presumably service the insatiable appetite for schadenfreude. I'd far rather get my news from a combination of radio, television and, of course, the Internet. However, it seems from this article that the prophets of doom have been at work again and they are forecasting the collapse of the Internet.

In the olden days, IE in the early 90s, Internet users were quite happy to exchange a few e-mails. Less than 10 years later picture-rich sites and the arrival of the mp3 file led to increased strain on the Net's infrastructure. Fast forward to the era of YouTube with streaming videos, and some are suggesting that collapse of the whole edifice looms.

As you can see from the article, threats to the system include not only increased use and the resultant increased strain on routers and the parts of the network made from old-fashioned copper. We also should be losing sleep over the possibilities of terrorism and natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Jings, and I thought global warming, mortgage interest rates and bird flu were all I had to keep me awake!

Monday, June 18, 2007

It Shouldn't Happen To A Stick Figure

It's amazing the variety of misfortunes that befall the poor little stick figures in this.

It's one of a series if you're interested.

Maybe not....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tampering With Nature

This picture from my good friend The Rocketeer on Flickr illustrates one of my pet hates. I'm not a vegetarian, although I do like some vegetarian dishes. I'm really a bit of a hypocrite, because if I had to kill the animal myself in order to eat it I probably couldn't bring myself to do it. When the meat comes to me nicely packaged on my supermarket shelf I don't have the same problem.

I don't mind other people being vegetarian, but what I do object to are vegetarian dishes that should really be meat dishes, but the meat has been substituted. Quorn sausages and "vegetarian chilli con carne" (sic) fall into this category, but I only found out today that one of Scotland's national dishes has been "vegefied". Vegetarian haggis: what is that all about? If these people really want meat, why don't they have the guts (if you pardon the expression) to admit it?

There! I feel so much better for having got that off my chest!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Still A Political Football

Patricia Hewitt is an idiot in so many ways. My spirits picked up a little when I heard last year that Gordon Brown was said to favour handing over day-to-day control of the NHS to an independent board - in the same way he gave up control of interest rates to the Bank of England in 1997. At last, I thought, I might work for an organisation that is run by people who have some idea what they are talking about instead of suffering the consequences of being run by feeble-minded politicians who have no experience of the NHS, either as managers or, in many cases, as consumers. In my experience, politicians often have poorly thought-through ideas that seem to be based on gaining short-term popularity through headlines in the tabloid press.

According to this article, however, that plan has fallen out of favour. I note Hewitt's comments about the putative benefits of "competitive pressure" within the NHS, but I would like to see the evidence for such benefits especially outwith major cities, IE in places where the local hospital has no effective competitor.

Hewitt is said to
back an NHS constitution, which could cover behaviour expected of NHS patients and people's personal responsibility for their own health. This is another area where political rule falls down. It's not exactly a vote-winner to tell people that they should be more responsible in the use of the service.

It seems Hewitt is likely to go when Brown takes over the helm, but it appears that the poor staff of the NHS will continue to work for a "polical football".

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's In A Name?

I was fascinated today to read that has appointed a new executive director who goes by the name of, would you believe, Dr Brilliant! I hadn't previously heard of Larry Brilliant but, as befits his name, dear Larry is a veritable polymath: "a medical doctor, epidemiologist, technologist, author and philanthropist" according to his Wikipedia entry. I'm not sure I would have wanted to go through life called Mr (or Dr) Brilliant. The name would certainly create certain expectations among one's contemporaries that might prove difficult to meet. However, maybe having a name like that gives one a certain self-confidence that others find elusive?

One of the "chosen ones" in the new UK government under Gordon Brown rejoices in the name Ed Balls. I can't imagine growing up in the West of Scotland with a name like that. I suspect it would have been a pretty painful experience. Having a somewhat provocative name does not seem to have hampered Ed's progress though life. He's certainly a rising star just now. Here we see the nice Mr Balls talking about his efforts to help disabled children.

Sometimes tell-tale names can be a bit more subtle, though. It took us years to notice that Blair was an anagram of "B liar", for example....

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stephen Fry On The Internet

VideoJug: The Internet

This is quite an interesting collection of short video clips giving Stephen Fry's views on the Internet. He certainly seems like an enthusiast. I'm not sure how he comes to be regarded as an expert on the subject, though!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gordon Ramsay, Superstar

For those unfamiliar with Gordon Ramsay, he is what has come to be known as a "celebrity chef". His gimmick is that he swears a lot (supposedly), and this has produced the title of his television programme "The F Word", which I watched last night. I actually find watching the programme quite stressful because the way it is produced makes cooking in a restaurant look so frenzied that it reminds me of how I imagine warfare to be. Having said that, Ramsay is certainly more entertaining than most of the celebrity chefs, and I suspect, at the end of the day, he is probably quite a good cook.

One of Gordon's endearing features is that he always seems prepared to "have a go" at anything from diving for scallops, shearing sheep, to milking a buffalo----while not quite avoiding a torrent of urine and crap. The buffalo incident occurred in Scotland where Gordon decided to make Scotland's first buffalo mozzarella. I was going to post about the incident that happened on that trip but wasn't televised: namely a collision between Mr Ramsay's four-wheel-drive and that driven by the farmer. However, I then noticed another article.

Apparently, a recent pole in Esquire Magazine voted Gordon Ramsay as the most admired man. Bizarrely, he beat Professor Stephen Hawking into second place! I know Esquire readers are not necessarily representative of the British Public as a whole, but can they really not find someone better to vote for than a cook with a giant ego and a penchant for expletives?

I really worry about where our society is going sometimes....

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bear Necessities

No, it is not April Fool's Day. It's actually true that the US military is developing a robot with a teddy bear-style head to help carry injured soldiers away from the battlefield. Its even got a snappy acronym: Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot IE BEAR (geddit?).

the "friendly appearance" of the robot is designed to put the wounded at ease.

I'm sure having these gangly machines wandering about the battlefields of the world will make them altogether much cuddlier places to be!

Monday, June 11, 2007

I Love Paris

I was pleased to hear that Paris Hilton has decided to accept her prison sentence, and is not going to appeal against it again. She is said to "learning and growing" from her ordeal.

Paris says that
"Being in jail is by far the hardest thing I have ever done." but that's not saying much is it?

No doubt she's already toting up in her evil little brain how much she can sell the story for.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Threat We Must Ignore

I note that Abdalla El-Badri, who is the secretary-general of Opec (the oil cartel), has stated that investment in biofuels could push oil prices "through the roof". If that isn't a threat, I don't know what is.

Opec members control about 40% of the world's oil production, and El-Badri warns that moves to use biofuels would make his members consider cutting investment in new oil production.

This sort of rhetoric demonstrates the ridiculous position we have got ourself into with our worrying dependence on fossil fuels. The only way out of this, in the long term, is to expand the use of alternative fuel sources.

We cannot afford to be bullied by international gangsters like this.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Positively Agricultural!

I was fascinated to read in this article about the idea of using the rooftops of New York to grow food. New York Sun Works claim that if hydroponic systems were installed on the city's 14,000 acres of unshaded rooftop, the setup could feed as many as 20 million people in New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area year round!

Apparently New York, unlike some other major cities, ships in practically all its food. The group make the point that growing local produce could cut carbon emissions by reducing the need for trucks to deliver vegetables from long distances.

Just think how different the view from the top of the Empire State Building would be if most of the rooftops were covered with hydroponic greenhouses!

I can't see it happening in my lifetime!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Turn Of The Screw

I always think that describing somebody as "having a screw loose" is a great way of implying their mental instability. It seems somehow appropriate, therefore, that some strange person has created the Screw Asylum where they can collect "defective screw related data".

The question is "Why?"

Some suggestions are given here, but I suspect the author would reply "Why not?"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

On the Theme of Spam

There are several versions of this video on YouTube. I think this one has Portuguese subtitles, confirming the delightful fact that the Portuguese for Spam is, in fact, Spam.

I always thought that Spam was an acronym for "Specially Processed American Meat", but the Wikipedia article on the subject doesn't mention this as a possibility. It appears that the origins of the name are "lost in the mists of time". This gap in our knowledge has led to less-than-kind suggestions like "Something Posing As Meat". It is interesting to see that the two countries with the highest Spam consumption are the UK and South Korea----brothers under the skin, right enough!

It is a sobering fact that this year is Spam's seventieth anniversary. This and other fascinating facts can be found at, a rather scarily professional website populated by a group of overenthusiastic spamaholics.

I think I'll go and have a cheese sandwich....

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Romance Is Not Dead

It may surprise you to find out that I am a bit of a romantic. However, I'm also a Scotsman and, as you know, romance can be a bit on the expensive side. An elderly patient that I looked after a while ago told me that her husband, when he was alive, used to buy her flowers every week. I made the grave error of mentioning this to Wosog, and she keeps bringing it up from time to time!

Imagine my delight, therefore, when I stumbled across a Zen Habits post entitled "50 Ways to Be Romantic on the Cheap". Zen Habits is a great source of what the geeks call "life hacks", or what you and I call survival tips. This article is no exception. Flowers are mentioned, for example, but they are wild flowers. Many of the other examples cost nothing too----although some are a wee bit time-consuming. I can't really see Wosog and I reading poetry together, but snuggling together on a rainy day sounds easy, and could even lead to savings on heating costs.

Wosog better not take me for granted, though. One of the nurses on the ward where I work said that one of the patients told her I was "a bit of a looker."

Admittedly the patient was 92 years old, but she did have some of her own teeth.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ian Mckellen gives Ricky Gervais acting advice

I've recently become a major fan of Ricky Gervais. I've bought the complete boxed set of The Office DVDs, and the DVDs of the first series of Extras.

Here we see Ricky getting acting advice from a Master.

Well I thought it was funny....

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Little Education

The internet is a tremendous educational resource. I've stated previously that I though one could find information about anything on the world wide web. A picture, as they say, paints a thousand words and the ability to post easily video clips has greatly enhanced the web's educational potential. My Flickr friend Juliet, in sunny Wales, recently pointed me in direction of this video about how to avoid flashing your knickers when you get out of a car. Personally, I have not put the advice here into practice yet, but if I ever wear a kilt the clip's "relevance quotient" would probably rocket.

The site that the clip above comes from has videos on all sorts of subjects. The other day I came across it's instructional video on "how to kiss someone passionately".

I've brought the video to Wosog's attention, but so far she hasn't taken the hint...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Loch Lomond From Drumkinnon Tower

Sometimes it's good to remind myself what a lovely part of the World I live in!

[Click on the photo to see comments and where this picture was taken from.]

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Joy of Lego

I've previously posted about how much I loved Lego as a child. Isn't it somehow reassuring in these hi tech times that those little brightly coloured bricks can still inspire people to produce highly useful and/or creative projects? Take the Rubber Band Chaingun, for example. This combines a love of Lego with the puerile desire to flick rubber bands at unsuspecting people or, if they are not available, inanimate objects. As the YouTube video demonstrates, this awesome weapon efficiently allows you to unleash wanton destruction, or at least a very nasty weal.

Lego is also useful in the creative field. Apparently, Nathan Sawaya gave up a career as a lawyer to make a living as a Lego artist (one lawyer down, x thousand to go). The video link in the article shows some of his creations and tells the stories behind them. Sawaya recounts how, while other lawyers went to the gym to wind down after work, he would get back to his Lego to rewind. He spends $200,000 per year on his little bricks, so I think he must be doing quite well! It appears that pink Lego is particularly expensive. At the end of the video, he reluctantly admits that being a Lego artist is marginally more fun than being an attorney.

Surely not?

Friday, June 01, 2007

An Electrifying Experience

Thanks to FlyButtafly on Flickr for pointing me in the direction of this video. I've always been terrified of heights, but the idea of flying on the outside of a helicopter to go for a crawl along a high tension cable definitely seems bizarre to me!

I really don't have enough excitement in my life!