Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cutting Remarks

Wosog and I went to see the film Sweeney Todd last night. We've been to see quite a lot of movies recently. I've said before that we often have difficulty choosing films to go to together because our tastes differ. I like horror films, but Wosog doesn't. Wosog likes musicals, but as a rule I don't. This film has had such good reviews that I decided I had to see it. I really like Tim Burton's style of film-making, and for Wosog I think the fact that Mr Depp was in it might have had an influence!

I was under the impression that Sweeney Todd was a real person, but it seems this is not actually true. The Wikipedia entry on the subject is very informative. He certainly fits in with the modern obsession with serial killers, probably best exemplified by the Hannibal Lecter films. The theme of cannibalism is another one they share.

Anyway the film is a superb bit of cinema, and may be the one that finally gets Johnny Depp his Oscar. Helena Bonham Carter is great too as Mrs Lovett, and Sacha Baron Cohen has a surprisingly impressive cameo role. The whole look of the film is superb, as you would expect from Tim Burton. It even has the best film website I have ever seen!

As you will gather, I was pretty impressed! I suggest UK readers go and see this film while it is still in the cinema.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Down in the Mouth

I must admit I have never fancied being a dentist. When I was a medical student we shared pre-clinical classes with dental students, and I could never understand why it was felt that dentists, who are solely concerned with affairs above the neck, required a training as long as that of a doctor. Most medical students are driven to at least a small degree by a spirit of altruism, but as far as I could see most dental students were motivated by a heart-felt desire to make as much money as possible and retire as early as possible. I may be doing them a disservice here, but somehow I doubt it!

Even though I have always felt that most of the dentists I knew were financially better off than I, I really didn't envy them. Several decades of poking around in mouths afflicted by halitosis does not appeal to me, and I don't think I would find the work very varied. I hadn't, however, thought of the degree to which these guys were exposed to litigation as well.

In the usual way that trends tend to flow across the Atlantic from the USA, litigation has been increasing in medical practice in the UK. So far, general medical practice has not been affected too badly, although my Defence Union subscriptions have increased a fair bit over the years. According to this article, however, legal claims against dentists have increased dramatically in recent years. Much of this seems to relate to increasing amounts of private dental work.

I wonder if the people making these claims care about the fact that their successful litigation will inevitably lead to escalating costs for them and everyone else in the future? I suspect not.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Celebrity Beliefs

There can be few Internet enthusiasts who have not seen or at least heard of the infamous video showing Tom Cruise talking about his belief in the Church of Scientology. I must confess I haven't been able to watch it all the way through because I am pathologically impatient and have little tolerance of someone who uses hundreds of words to say very little. This is especially true if the "very little" makes no sense at all. Cruise has been mocked to varying degrees for his beliefs for a number of years, but this video seems to have stimulated a frenzy of criticism and numerous parodies including:


This article in Gawker describes how various Internet-based groups are mounting a concerted opposition to the Church of Scientology, which most of its opponents would describe as a dangerous cult. I can't say I have a detailed knowledge of the subject, but it does seem a somewhat sinister organisation and I would not like my family to have anything to do with it.

In the interests of balance, and just to show that I have reservations about forms of religion other than Scientology, I present to you this quotation from Richard Gere, who I believe is a Buddhist:

"I know who I am. No one else knows who I am. If I was a giraffe, and someone said I was a snake, I'd think, no, actually I'm a giraffe."
I rest my case.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Big Yellow Taxi

There are apparently over 12,000 yellow cabs in New York City. Certainly any tourist in The Big Apple can hardly fail to notice them.

Don't you think, therefore, these taxi booties for your infant are a great way to commemorate your visit to NYC?

Well maybe not....

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Emperor's New Laptop

Hot on the heels of the sexy MacBook Air comes the even more orgasmic iNvisible iBook.

Our Hero Steve Jobs has really surpassed himself here, but I'm not sure if I'm cool enough or smart enough to even see today's ultimate gadget. I would certainly agree it's a steal at $2,999.

It could be enough to make me forsake the joys of Windows Vista: and that is serious!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Talking with your eyes shut

Grouchofied Version
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.
I recently came across this collection of freaky images so I thought I'd have a go myself. I'm afraid my Photoshop skills are not good enough to blend the skin colour around my mouth with the colour in the area of my eye sockets.

I don't think any of the transformations make the subject look more beautiful, but some are relatively inoffensive. I must admit, though, I didn't think any trick photography could make Hilary Clinton look more scary or Vladimir Putin more sinister!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

It Makes You Think 2

Here are two similar quotations on the subject of parenthood, especially with reference to the dreaded teenagers:

"By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he's wrong." Charles Wadsworth.
"Few things are more satisfying than seeing your own children have teenagers of their own." Doug Larson.
So true, so true...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

People in Order by Lenka Clayton and James Price

This is a video of people from 1 to 100 years old beating a drum with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It was featured on Boing Boing. Although the idea may seem a strange one, it is a fascinating 3 minute film that speaks volumes about the general behaviour of different age groups but at the same time shows that age is not a good indicator of a person's physical and mental fitness.

There is just something very heartwarming about it, I think.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another Wonderful Product of Canada

As a teenager I was a great fan of Joni Mitchell, so I suppose you could say I have a longstanding penchant for Canadian singer-songwriters. I first came across Leslie Feist when I saw the video clip for the song 1 2 3 4 on Bill Adams' blog. I subsequently made the decision to buy her latest album, The Reminder, and I think it's excellent.

Her songs are amazingly varied and she has a simply superb, haunting voice.

Why not check her out?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Simply Alsome

I never cease to be amazed at the range of things people, particularly women, talk about---often in surprisingly public places. I wonder if you, like me, love the experience of coming into a room and catching the bizarre-sounding tail end of a conversation? Isn't it a joy to mull over in your mind what the participants might have been discussing?

If I've got you sussed, Overheard in the Office is the website for you. Although the flavour is distinctly American, many of the themes covered are basically universal: fetishes, penis size, and whether or not to start a career as a stripper (to name but a few). The most popular section is a riot, although I'm sure that first one was made up!

Alsome, indeed!

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Scourge of Overprotectionism

Wosog got me a great little pair of Nikon binoculars for Christmas. Like many Japanese products they came with a surprising amount of documentation. This included admonition to read thoroughly the safety precautions before use. Alongside sensible advice about not looking through the binoculars while walking, I was amazed to find instructions such as:

"Do not swing the binoculars by their straps. They may hit someone and cause injury."

"If you use the rubber eyecups for a long period of time, you may suffer skin inflammation. If you develop any symptoms, consult a doctor immediately."

"Be careful not to pinch your finger when adjusting interpupillary distance or diopter."

"Do not leave the polythene bag used for packaging witihin small children's reach. Children may put it into their mouths and suffocate."
I am a great fan of TED Talks, and I spotted this one today that seemed to be on a similar subject: namely the irresistible rise of overprotectionism. The speaker advocates, far from protecting children from every conceivable threat, that we should be deliberately exposing them to activities that could be dangerous:

The activities recommended include exposure to fire, using a pocket knife, throwing a spear. dismantling electrical equipment and driving a car: all under appropriate supervision, of course. It's surprising how wild these suggestions appear to a modern audience, including myself, but then I remember how many of these things, as well as even more hazardous activities I actually did when young!

The comments on the TED site are almost universally supportive of Gever Tulley's suggestions, so why are we and our American fellow parents still overprotecting our children, and why do manufacturers feel obliged to put this ridiculous advice on their products?

Fear of litigation is undoubtedly part of the explanation, but I don't think we can lay all the blame at the feet of the despicable lawyers!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

It Makes You Think 1

I've always loved quotations, and I've planned for a while to post occasional quotations that hopefully will provoke thought, and entertain at the same time. I recently came across this quotation, and I wasn't sure if I should call this post "Our Wonderful Political Readers 2" as a sequel to the preceding post about the up-and-coming American Election.

The statement is from US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, just to show that, even if we have reservations about our future World leaders we can have confidence in the current administration:

"I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started."
There, that made you think, didn't it?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Our Wonderful Political Leaders

I don't know as much as I probably should about American politics, but I think I know enough to be sure I would vote for the Democrats. That said, I don't think I trust Hilary Clinton with her annoying cackle. I like what I have seen of Barack Obama, although I think he is a little naive when pinned down to specifics.

Just as I would never vote for the Conservative Party in this country, I suspect I would never vote Republican in the US. Apart from their right-wing views the Republicans also have the major turn-off (from my point-of-view) of rampant religious fundamentalism. It may not be politically correct to say it, but the idea of having a Mormon American President in the form of Mitt Romney fills me with horror. I am put off Mike Huckabee for two reasons: firstly by his known illiberal views; and secondly by evidence to suggest that he may be an idiot:

But don't think I reserve my scorn for US politicians. At the moment, I don't think there is any UK political party I would vote for!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Shock Tactics

On this date in 1903 Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant called Topsy. He was making a lot of money from the patent for direct current and this was threatened by the proposed use of the new-fangled alternating current. He had embarked on a series of staged electrocutions of various unfortunate animals in an attempt to show how dangerous alternating current was.

Topsy the elephant had squashed 3 handlers in 3 years, and park officials at Luna Park on Coney Island decided that enough was enough. They considered hanging the poor beast, but the SPCA vetoed this. Edison was only too glad to provide an alternative means of execution.

In order to ensure that Topsy definitely died, she was fed cyanide-laced carrots moments before a 6,600-volt AC charge. Officials needn't have worried. The elephant was killed instantly and Edison, in his mind anyway, had proved his point. The "event" certainly provided a lot of publicity: a crowd put at 1,500 witnessed Topsy's execution, which was filmed by Edison and released later that year. Ultimately, of course, alternating current proved superior and became the standard.

Greed is a terrible thing, isn't it?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More Frightening than the Average Rollercoaster

This video represents US house prices from 1890 to the present day adjusted for inflation and plotted as a roller coaster. The equivalent graph is given here. The question is "Where to next?"

The sub-prime crisis that has already started to affect US house prices is very well explained here. The article suggests that the the effects of the crisis are likely to play out over the next 2 years. Who was it that said that "When America sneezes the World catches a cold."?

What did I say about Happy New Year?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ready for my Close-up?

According to an article in the latest EOS Magazine (the mag devoted to Canon's EOS camera system), research has shown that 86% of Brits believe they are unphotogenic. The survey of 1,700 UK residents also showed that the increasing used of digital cameras and social networking sites often meant that these subjects were being reluctantly thrust into the public gaze and their images preserved on the Internet forever.

  • Body weight was an issue, with 52% of people admitting to holding in their stomachs in photographs.
  • Having a double chin was perceived to be a problem too, with 25% of people happier to look slightly odd by thrusting their heads back when pictures are taken.
  • Apparently, 19% won't be photographed in direct sunlight and 3% insist on being lit from below.
  • Twenty percent of people admit to digitally retouching pictures to make themselves look better.
I actually love photographing people, but I do find that many folk are unhappy about being photographed. Partly for this reason, many of my Flickr photographs are only visible to friends and family. I'm sure a lot of these problems result from media images of the "beautiful people" (enhanced in many cases by Photoshop, sophisticated make-up, or even cosmetic surgery) making the rest of us feel inadequate for some reason.

Why can't we just celebrate the variety of humanity, with all its many imperfections, and above all be happy?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It runs in the family...

Star Quality
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.
This is my great nephew Charlie who visited me at Christmas. You can see the family resemblance, can't you? Charlie has asked me to wish you/ you both/ you all a tremendously Happy 2008.

Off now to eat even more food...