Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Are you left-brained or right-brained?

Or do you simply enjoy any linty navel-gazing activity that provides an excuse to push work aside for a bit longer?

Whichever – here are thirty seconds of unbridled fun plus fodder for next time the office herd gathers at the water cooler.

Click on the dancer below. She will transport you to a place of dizzying delights.

All you have to decide is whether she is spinning clockwise or anti-clockwise.

This will, erm, determine which side of the brain you prefer to sit on.

For some people, she will appear to alternate between spinning modes. Don’t worry – there are folks who can help you with this.

Go ahead – click to spin!

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The UK government is worried. The chancellor sees the country’s financial plight as “arguably the worst” in 60 years.

A draft Home Office document fears an increase in support for “far right extremism and racism”.

In addition, a surge in “acquisitive crime” is expected. Presumably, that scourge of a booming economy – gratuitous property offloading (GPO) will experience a sharp decline. No more waking up to a house mysteriously filled with other people’s unwanted high-end electrical products then.

Worse still, the Home Office fears the nation’s cultural bedrock is cracking under the strain.

According to the Guardian, “Jacqui Smith, the home secretary … WARNS that a downturn may lead to”:

“a FALL in the use of cocaine and LESS drunken disorder in town centres unless drinks companies respond to the downturn by aggressive price cutting.”

Odd government warnings these. Perhaps plummeting cocaine use would trigger a cabinet crisis of confidence. or even a full-blown crash.

As for warning that less drunken disorder would be evident on the streets, this is easier to explain.

A sober and fully aware populace always presents a clear threat to government stability. There are obvious political gains in 24/7 drinking laws and the carpet-bombing of town centres with liquor licenses.

More drunken disorder  = good. More civil disorder = bad.

Work may be the curse of the drinking classes, but, for leaders in peril, sizeable numbers in the latter can be a merry blessing.

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Spare a thought for the Bergschrund family who drew into Iceland this morning. Tragically, their cruise of a lifetime came to an abrupt end.

The rest of the carefree cruise passengers ran open-armed towards the feisty geysers for their day off the boat.

Meanwhile, the Bergschrund family were pushed down the gangplank with their plush suitcases tossed unceremoniously after them.

Reykjavik will be their last port of call. They will not be returning to the boat.

Last night, Mr and Mrs Bergschrund chanced their luck in the ship’s casino. Mrs B, keenly sensing an abject lack of fortune, quit the tables early, leaving Mr. B with his dwindling chips and rapidly replenishing glass.

What happened next remains something of a transparent mystery.

At 5.30 a.m. this morning, the  captain made a ship-wide announcement:

“Would Mr Bergschrund of Cabin 251 please call zero on any phone.”

At 6.15 a.m. – in tones of rising desperation:

“Would Mr Bergschrund of Cabin 251 PLEASE call zero on ANY phone.”

6.30 a.m. – a more authoritative and more sombre announcement

“All crew involved in the search procedures please begin standard initial ship sweep and all guest services will be suspended.”

7.00 a.m. – Au revoir to the glitz and glamour of this particular cruise: 

“Ladies and Gentlemen we have been unable to locate Mr Bergschrund, who has been missing since 4 a.m. this morning. We are turning the ship around 180 degrees and will be ready to perform Man Overboard procedures. Meanwhile all crew please conduct stage 2 of the ‘bomb search’ procedure.”

8.15a.m. – Hint of extreme irritation:

“We have located the missing person and all services will be resumed as normal. Our arrival in Iceland is likely to be delayed several hours.”

The upshot was that Mr Bergschrund had drowned his sorrows with gusto in the casino after his wife had gone to bed.

Sometime in the unthinking small hours, he repaired to the cabin of a ‘new friend’, passed out and slept through the procession of announcements.

He was found during the stage 2 search (the combing of every cabin and waking of every guest at 7am)  draped on his new friend’s couch in a state of complete nakedness and insobriety.

Mr Bergschrund had remained blissfully unaware of the chaos all around.

Captain’s log:

The ship covered an additional 35km at a fuel cost of $518 per km. Four coastguard helicopters were scrambled. Two other ships began diversions to cover the same track. 

Estimated cost – forty thousand dollars US.

Mr Bergschrund and his family were dumped in Reykjavik this morning and left to find their way home (or to wherever Mr. B will henceforth be banished).

Just when you think the chips are down…

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Something of a mix up on the Yahoo news service.

This screenshot featuring furry pre-Olympic jollities and a slightly incongruous headline is a bit wrong on so many levels.

This was even accessible from your laptop in Beijing for a day or so thanks to the timely removal of censorship barriers by the Chinese government.

A quiet word was had and now everything is just fine again.

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Major clerical error

teddy on a bit

Jesus Christ on a bike.

British teacher, Gillian Gibbons, has  been jailed in Sudan for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Is this part of a plot by the Sudanese authorities to foment more satirical Western cartoons?

And is this really the kind of legacy that the Prophet Muhammad had in mind?

Release Gillian Gibbons.


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For many years, I was anti-naps.

Not just mildly against. Vehemently opposed.

People who napped were wasting their lives away.

“Why waste normal waking hours being unconscious?” I would wonder.

Then, I had something of an epiphany.

Or, to use the exact scientific terminology, I dozed off a couple of times after dinner. For about twenty minutes.

The next day, I felt great: No grey fog of a morning. No mid-afternoon yawning marathons.

It was a bolt of enlightenment. Like a fully wakeful myoclonic jerk in the brain.

Next, I began to notice that sleep was all the rage. Sleep, it seems, is the new wonder drug.

cat nap 4

For a start, that midday nap appears to reduce heart disease. From this BBC article:

“A six-year Greek study found that those who took a 30-minute siesta at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death.”

Sleeping longer can also make you slim. Sleeping for just five hours a night gives you a 50% greater chance of being obese.

Only six hours of kip still ups your chances of a thickening waistline by 23%.

This is unrelated to exercise levels, gender, alcohol, or depression. However, chances are it also correlates massively with an extra two hours of wakeful sedentary snack fests.

cat nap

As well as keeping your vital signs active within the body beautiful, sleep also makes you smarter. Anecdotally, we are all aware that a long drool into a pillow can seemingly turn us into mental giants, but science is fully on board with this argument.

Research at a German university shows that we do indeed figure stuff out while sleeping.

“The volunteers were shown a number puzzle in which was embedded a ‘hidden code’ revealing the answer, the journal Nature reports. Those kept awake overnight reportedly had far less chance of solving it.”

Presumably, this means that sleeping on the job will now incur generous bonus payments, rather than carry a work-shy stigma.

“Hey, George has nodded off in his soup again. Must be working on that new strategic development. I’m gonna recommend him for another corporate commitment award.”

“Yeah, that guy really puts the mental effort in. Sure puts us alert, wakeful types to shame.”

cat nap 3

Sleep also keeps us from reverting to our more anti-social proclivities. This is noted by Dr. Melissa Clouthier, citing Matthew Walker, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who states that sleep deprivation creates a state of mind “as if the brain is reverting to more primitive behavior.”

Naturally, for kids, diverging from normal sleep patterns can have profound effects.

A survey, cited in New York magazine, of 7,000 Minnesota high-school students found the following:

“Teens who received A’s averaged about fifteen more minutes sleep than the B students, who in turn averaged eleven more minutes than the C’s, and the C’s had ten more minutes than the D’s.”

And, surprise surprise, kids who start high school at 07:30 achieve far lower grades than those starting at 08:30. After making such a switch, one high school found massively improved SAT results among their top-achieving students.

cat nap 2

Here, in Canada, political and educational movers and shakers were cackling manically in their slumber.

“Just think,” they dreamed. “If that’s the effect of starting at 08:30, just imagine what political mileage we can gain by keeping them in bed all morning.”

To capitalize on this meaningless grade boosting learning opportunity, one Toronto school plans to start classes as late as 11:30.

Hah, before you know it, they’ll be letting kids show up whenever their smart sleeping schedules deem it optimal for their pedagogical needs.

Hang on a second, what’s this from England? A 24-hour school? And Australia.

Naturally, the blogosphere is fully conscious of the properties of sleep. Blue Soup , Dark Sociologist , and Work at Home Mom Revolution are clearly attuned to the need for productive slumber.

Now, as we trudge up the stairs towards zedtime, many of us will be turning to the Bard for a spot of light soporific reading.

Here’s one Shakespeare quotation on the getting-stuff-sorted-outability of sleep (but put a bit better):

“…the innocent sleep, / Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care,”

Goodnight and sweet dreams.

wap nap


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Dinner party

Many thanks to Aiglee for this meme nomination.

“The idea is to work your way through the eight phases of the dinner party, answering all of the questions on the way – being as honest and creative as you wish. Once your homework has been completed, please nominate any number of bloggers to host their very own “virtual” dinner party.”

1) The Dinner Party Theme
You have decided to hold a dinner party. When writing the invites you clearly state that fancy dress must be worn. Assuming that cost is no issue, who or what would you dress up as, and why?

Well, the dinner party would take place on a circle of rocks at the top of Sutton Bank in Yorkshire. Fancy dress? I have no idea. I’ll go as a black bear. Why? It’ll keep the wind off.

2) The Invitations
This dinner party is for 6 people (including yourself), you are allowed to invite any 5 other people (either past, present, real or fictional), who would you invite and why?

This is going to be difficult. I’d probably write a different list every day. I’m going to leave out luminaries such as Nelson Mandela and Mozart – I reckon they get to dine out at enough virtual parties as it is. Probably glad of a night in with a bag of crisps and a couple of movies. So, my five guests for this evening (with family on the fringes pawing at the food) are as follows:

Paul Theroux: for the traveller’s tales

Michael Parkinson: interviewer extraordinaire to get the best stories out of people

Louis Ferdinand Céline: for a token five minutes of deep literary discussion

Julie Walters: supreme raconteuse to keep any flagging at bay

David Hockney: to knock out a decent painting of the evening for posterity (with the sweeping landscape below Sutton Bank as background)

And, as the band (i.e. technically not one guest too many): 

Tom Waits: for light-hearted, cheery musical interludes

3) The Starter
You are preparing the menu, which dish(es) would you choose as the starter, and why?

Fresh mussels in garlic and white wine (my favourite)

4) The Main Course
Okay, now for the main course? and what drink would you serve with it?

Goan fish curry

Brown rice


5) The Sweet
Finally, the sweet. Which would you choose, and why?

English blackberry pie drenched with melted chocolate (because it’s very very nice)

6) The Entertainment
The dinner party has gone swimmingly, everybody has had fun, conversation and drinks have been flowing all evening. At the end of the meal you announce that everybody should perform their ‘party piece’ (no matter how strange or pointless). What party piece would you perform?

Well, strange and pointless would only scratch the surface. I could give a demonstration of just how surprisingly tuneless the human voice can be.

Or I suppose my owl impersonation is passably entertaining for a few seconds. Maybe I should call in the “band” at this point:

“Hey, Tom, time to give us a few songs, old pal.”

7) The End Of The Evening:
The party is over, everybody has gone home, the house suddenly feels empty and quiet. Your eyes fix on the hi-fi in the corner of the room. You search through your CD collection to put on some music as you want to listen to one more track before your retire to bed. Which track would you play?

One track? Probably one of the following:

‘Innocent When You Dream’ – Tom Waits

‘Wait for Me’ – Richard Hawley

‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ – The Pogues

‘Our Town’ – Kate Rusby

We’ll plump for The Pogues.

8) The Dinner Party Nightmares
Okay, so the “virtual” dinner party is over. Now for the real thing. Have you ever been to or hosted a dinner party during which something has gone wrong (either with the food, a guest or something else)?

My 40th birthday party was quite memorable. It was in our house, as I was still somewhat incapacitated by sciatica. So, I was lying on the floor on a yoga mat for the duration. Our next door neighbour had just broken his leg in two places in a skiing accident, so he was supine on a sofa.

Out in the back garden, the kids were sliding down the icy incline outside the kitchen. Unbeknownst to us, our youngest son was prompted (by the older and wiser sibling) to negotiate the slope while standing on a large inflatable rubber ring.

Naturally, the rubber ring immediately flipped him into the air. He then hit the icy slope teeth first. An incisor pinged out on impact. Another tooth embedded itself in his top lip. Much bleeding and screaming ensued.

All guests, cripples included, gamely rushed to administer aid.

There was no permanent damage other than to milk teeth.

Later in the evening, the smokers (including our skiing neighbour) gathered on the front porch in the chill February night. One guest, who had been caught up in the joys of babydom for too long, had opted for the fast track to a coma Merlot. Swaying unsteadily on her feet, glass and cigarette aloft, she lost her footing, grabbed the person next to her, and pulled our broken-legged neighbour down the sloping front garden, in a rolling flurry of limbs, casts, flailing crutches, and soaring wine glasses.

I hadn’t planned to spend my 40th birthday on my living room floor, but, in its own way, it was a night to remember.

The incisor was found in the spring thaw.


Tag nominations for this meme are these bloggers I’ve recently discovered:



Miss Rachel

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