Friday, May 29, 2009

Jesus Image Appears in Marmite. Spread the Word!

It may not be immediately obvious to everyone, but one family are convinced they can see the face of Jesus on the lid of a jar of Marmite. No! they don't live in Mexico. They are Welsh!

Claire Allen, 36, said she was the first to notice the image on the underside of the lid as she was putting the yeasty spread on her son's toast.

Her husband Gareth, 37, said he could not believe his eyes when he saw it.

Mr Allen, of Ystrad, Rhondda, said: "The kids are still eating it, but we kept the lid." Well, after all, frugalness is next to Godliness!

Couple Aged 101, celebrate 81st wedding anniversary

Couple celebrate 81st wedding anniversary (Image © Tom Palmer/PA Wire)

The longest-living married couple in Britain have toasted to 81 years of marriage.

Frank and Anita Milford tied the knot at Torpoint registry office in Cornwall on May 26, 1928, after meeting at a dance in the St Budeaux area of Plymouth in 1926.

Mr Milford is 101 and Mrs Milford will turn 101 next month, making them both the only living couple to reach a century.

Frank says I still chase women but can't remember why!

New Prototype Smart Car: Sneak Preview

Perry Watkins, a car fanatic has made the world's tiniest motor from a Postman Pat (Pimp my ...) children's ride.

He has previously entered the record books three times for having the world's lowest car - or Flatmobile as he calls it. Now he has turned his mechanical talents to making what he claims is the world's smallest car.

Apparently he's big in Japan .......but then we all are!

World's oldest dog celebrates 21st birthday

World's oldest dog celebrates 21st birthday (Image © Erik C. Pendzich/Rex Features)
The world's oldest dog proved she was a real party animal by celebrating her 21st birthday with a big bash and a cake.

Chanel, a dachshund from New York, was treated to a day out at the city's Dog Hotel and Spa to mark the milestone birthday and collect a certificate from a Guinness World Records official confirming their pet's status as the oldest dog.

Impressive aye? That's nothing! The last time I was in NY, I think I had the oldest Hot Dog from a vendor in Central Park!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dream Cars and one Nightmare

Rolls Royce Phantom - in a $1,000,000 Italian setting

Ferrari Enzo - $1,000,000 on the road

This one speaks for itself - Moooooove!
.......and it runs on Green Fuel! Grass!

Rasberry leaf blower wanted!

X is for…
Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is found in berries and other fruit and vegetables. Why is it good for you? Xylitol is a sugar alcohol rather than a regular sugar and therefore has a much less detrimental effect on your teeth. In fact, xylitol is thought to protect the teeth and fight bacteria in the mouth.

So, if you have any bacteria that's bothering you, just slip it in your mouth with a handful of rasberries and that'll be the end of that!

Humans May Contains Nuts!

W is for…
Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and most other nuts are full of omega-3 fats to control your cholesterol and protect your heart, boost cognitive function and prevent conditions such as asthma, arthritis and psoriasis. They also contain ellagic acid which is thought to have cancer-fighting properties.

The other great power house food source is oily fish (mackerel, herring, sardines, etc), of course. Fish do not have access to nuts and nuts are not fed on a fish diet because this is nature's way of keeping these two dynamic foodstuffs apart, to avoid a catastrophic creation of an over aggressive mutant fish or over developed oily nut threatening the balance of power in the world. Fortunately, only we humans have access to these things and we must use them wisely.

Remember! Keep them in your shopping trolley not under your hat!

Posh Healthy Breakfast! Fancy Quail's Eggs!

Q is for…
Breakfast at Tiffany's! It has not been confirmed that Posh eats these fancy quail's eggs for breakfast but they are very eye-catching and beneficial for a healthy diet.

Despite being more expensive than hen's eggs, quail's eggs, taste better and are more nutritious. Quail's eggs are high in lecithin, which actually helps fight cholesterol. Have you ever seen an overweight Quail? No, of course not.

Meanwhile, studies have linked quail's eggs with the prevention of allergies such as hay fever (Simply wedge 2 quail's eggs up your nostrils before going out and your hay fever is gone!).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Debt Relief: Words of Wisdom: Glasgow

A Dennistoun bar in Glasgow, The Iron Dike (Rusty Duck), has a barman nicknamed Thrombosis.

The reason being that he was a "slow-moving clot".

Dreamy Smoothy

A customer in Costco at Springburn, Glasgow asked at the restaurant for a smoothie for his daughter.

The woman behind the counter said she would try, but couldn't guarantee the result as the smoothie machine had "been a bit sentimental that morning".

Daydreaming about all the great smoothies of the past, no doubt.

Seafaring Wisdom
I was spending the holiday weekend at a west coast marina and asked an old yachting hand in the marina bar what was a good way of dealing with seasickness.

"Stand under a tree," was the mariner's suggestion.

Country Dancers
A friend's daughter in Carluke returned home from school and announced they had been learning the "flashing white sergeant".

Its a problem or a benefit, caused by cheap kilts and going 'Commando!'

Health Education
A father and his daughter both watched as a chap weaved around erratically in the car in front of them, and his daughter asked what was wrong with the chap.

Dad replied: "I think he's just drunk, a bit too much beer."

His daughter told him: "Stacey's daddy likes beer."

So dad tries to explain: "Yes, but if you drink too much of it, you can fall over."

"Should we tell Stacey's dad?" his daughter asked.

"Oh, I think he probably knows," replied dad.

Road to perdition
A YOUNG woman was telling her pals in Starbucks: "I dreamed last night of a metal circle with the number 30 on it."

She then added: "I think it's maybe a sign."

Life's way of telling you to slow down!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Have you taken the Long Way Home?

His Master's Bicycle! (distant traffic crossing the 5m high dyke that protects us from the the North Sea flood via the Ijsmeer)

Wilderness Roses!


The Polder Wetlands - A Good Home for transient Geese, Spoonbills, Egrets and the resident Marsh Harriers, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Wild Horses, Buffalo and of course the odd Transient Ex-Pat!

Came across a very smart hairy caterpiller of the Garden Tiger Moth

.....and a Spoonbill!

Addicted to overeating!

In a sequence of short, readable chapters, Kessler lays out the science behind the obesity epidemic. Modern foods have become too palatable, he says. Rich in fat and sugar, they overstimulate the brain's reward pathways, conditioning us to seek more and more. Manufacturers of processed foods and major restaurant chains all exploit this neurological vulnerability by layering fat and sugar into foods to create "craveability". "Where traditional cuisine is made to satisfy, modern industrial food is made to stimulate," Kessler writes.

It gets worse. When we eat these hyperstimulating foods and experience the neural rewards they offer, the foods become even more stimulating the next time around. Eventually, the cues that accompany the foods - location, time of day, emotional state - become triggers that drive food-seeking behaviour. That habitual craving, Kessler says, is why he can't resist the plate of chocolate-chip cookies on the table during meetings.

The Chinese have been using a similar technique for years, with the aid of Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG), a very addictive hyper-stimulant that cane create hyper-activity in children and adults alike.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Absolutely Fabulous Result!

British actress Joanna Lumley and Gurkha veterans and supporters outside the Houses of Parliament react to the government’s announcement that it will allow retired Gurkha veterans to settle in Britain.

British actress Joanna Lumley and Gurkha veterans and supporters outside the Houses of Parliament react to the government’s announcement that it will allow retired Gurkha veterans to settle in Britain.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sir Ranulph, 65, scales Everest: Now let's Talk Ageism!

On Top of The World!
Third time lucky: Sir Ranulph Fiennes becomes the oldest Briton to conquer Everest. A slap in the face of ageism and an example of the enduring spirit all to rarely seen these days. Picture: PA

After suffering a heart attack and undergoing triple bypass surgery, the younger generation and powers behind commercialism and consumerism, would tell you to call it time. Sit down, relax and wait for death. No way!

Yesterday 65-year-old Sir Ranulph Fiennes proved that age is no barrier to achieving challenging ambitions, when he conquered Mount Everest.The veteran explorer reached the summit of the world's highest mountain on his third attempt.He became the oldest Briton to stand at the top of the world. When he arrived at the summit of the Himalayan giant just before 1am yesterday , he also became the first man to cross the north and south poles and make it to the top of Everest.

Speaking by radio from the summit, Sir Ranulph said: "We came to the summit as dawn broke. We're very, very cold. "This is the closest you can get to the moon by walking." Well, if anyone could walk to the Moon, Ranulph Fiennes is the most likely candidate.

Sir Ranulph began his bid to scale Everest in April but kept his expedition low-key after the failure of his previous attempts in 2005 and last year.During his 2005 attempt on Everest, he had a heart attack at 8,500 metres and last year was forced to turn back less than 1,500ft from the summit, after suffering from exhaustion.

After his second attempt, he said: "I won't be returning to Everest. Last time, I had a heart attack, this time weather scuppered my chances. Any third attempt would be bad luck."However, he changed his mind because he wanted to help raise funds for sufferers of cancer, a disease which claimed the life of his beloved wife Ginny in 2004.

Sir Ranulph, often described as the world's greatest explorer has demonstrated his indomitable spirit on previous occasions by running seven marathons in seven consecutive days on seven continents – just four months after his triple heart bypass in 2003.

I had the great honour of meeting Ranulph Fiennes in Dundee at a fund-raiser for the Discovery restoration. He has a staggering list of accomplishments and is a magnificent example of a public figure that the younger generation should be looking up to, instead of the superficial and transient 'personalities' that fill the pages of the tabloids.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mickey Mouse dies aged 62: Disney speachless?

Gee Pluto! Wayne Allwine, the actor who voiced Mickey Mouse for more than 30 years, has died. (Gone to that big lobby in the sky!)

The Walt Disney Company said Allwine died on Monday of complications from diabetes, with Russi Taylor, his wife of 20 years and the voice of Minnie Mouse, by his side. He was 62.

"Wayne dedicated his entire professional life to Disney," chief executive Robert Iger said.

"Over the last 32 years, he gave so much joy, happiness and comfort to so many around the world by giving voice to our most beloved, iconic character, Mickey Mouse."


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bi-Lingual Beggars Abound! No Comprendi?

"Do you speak English?"

If it’s not a bewildered traveller asking you this question, it’s likely to be a beggar – but one possibly doubling as a thieves’ accomplice.

Often turning on the waterworks or adopting a sorrowful demeanour, they will hand you a card – suspiciously laminated, so it’ll withstand crumpling – with a pidgin-English account of why their need is so great. As they touchingly implore you, you may not notice the loss of your wallet or camera.

It is one of the attractions or distractions while waiting in the queues around the Eiffel Tower but it can happen anywhere.

How do you avoid this approach? Well, when approached, just pretend to be German. Brits can say “nein” convincingly.

Most beggars nowadays will speak a few words of most European languages and some (more professional ones) will speak a little Chinese and Japanese. None of them bother with Russian because there is little future in upsetting those guys. So, why not try the occasional 'Nyet!' and watch for their reaction.

Unwanted Extras! Padding the Bill Scam

The arrival of a couple of rolls (or bread and dips) at your French restaurant table causes you no stomach tremors: you would expect such free sundries when dining out in Britain. But what’s this on the bill? A single stale bap, which you didn’t touch, for the equivalent of £3 - and £2 for the butter?

Heaven help you if you assumed those other plates of nibbles and dips were included in the price. Such creeping additions to the bill are commonplace in Portugal and in other European countries, but if you don’t touch the dishes, or wave them away when they arrive, you won’t be charged.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished! Showshine Scam

A trick employed in souks and markets everywhere is to thrust apparent samples, or surpluses, of sweets, fabric or tobacco at you and then claim you misunderstood the transaction and you have to pay, over the odds, for the “gift”.

A variant of the same that seems to have wandered beyond the bazaar is that of the “grateful shoeshiner”. You pick up a shoeshiner’s brush that he dropped in the road, and he is so grateful you have saved his livelihood he insists on shining your shoes – for free, of course, you think.

Wrong! When your shoes are gleaming - as you are, at the freebie - he will demand grossly inflated payment. Fellow shoeshiners (Members of the local Buffer's Union) soon appear to help to reinforce his claim. This routine has reached virtual plague proportions in Istanbul.

1p Knickers at M&S Bonanza

Marks & Spencer is offering customers a range of 20 products for just 1p each to celebrate its 125th Birthday.

The store began life in 1884 when Michael Marks, a Russian-born Polish refugee, opened a stall in Leeds Kirkgate market. As he didn't speak English he put up a sign reading: "Don't ask the price, it's a penny".

So to mark its 125th birthday, M&S is going back its roots by offering a range of special "Penny Bazaar" products for just 1p. The celebratory products include jewellery, scarves, ties, socks and more.

"M&S started off in life as a Penny Bazaar back in 1884, so what better way to share our birthday with our customers than offering them the chance to choose M&S products for just one penny?" asked M&S chairman Stuart Rose.

M&S Penny Bazaar jewellery  (Image © Marks & Spencer)

The offer is available for just three days from Wednesday May 20 to Friday May 23. More than 300 M&S stores will participate, but the deals are on a strictly first-come, first-serve basis. The 1pm range will not be available at M&S Simply Food or Outlet stores or at franchise stores at BP Connect forecourts, railway stations, airports or Moto motorway service stations.

"We've got two million one penny products available, but my best advice to our customers is to get to M&S stores as early as you can," Rose said.

M&S Penny Bazaar tie (Image © Marks & Spencer)

Yes, you really can pick up anything in this range for just a penny: but the price is simply a suggestion. Every, ahem, penny made from this promotion is going straight to the M&S 125 Charity Challenge.

The charity drive is aiming to make £1.25 million for local and regional charities over the next five months, so if you want to pay more for your bargains you can, knowing the cash is going to a good cause. Additionally, as these products are more or less being given away, M&S's normal refund policy does not apply.

M&S Penny Bazaar tie cufflinks (Image © Marks & Spencer)

Customers can select up to five products from the Penny Bazaar range each day of the sale. The first 700,000 people who queue outside stores will be given a free "peel and reveal" prize card.

The prizes on offer include cash jackpots of £12,500, the chance to buy products from the M&S 125 range (rather than the 20-product Penny Bazaar range) for 1p and discounts on clothing ranges.

Stores are opening at their normal trading hours.

What's on offer
M&S Penny Bazaar scarf (Image © Marks & Spencer)

Here's the full range of M&S products being sold for 1p:

  • Five different jewellery sets
  • Scarves
  • Purses
  • Knickers
  • Cufflinks
  • Ties
  • Socks
  • Leather passport holders
  • Leather luggage tags
  • Tea towels
  • Mugs
  • Bags of retro sweets
  • Cans of retro drink
  • Beach toys
  • Beach balls

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Deadly Shocking Pink or Blonde and Ginger

Pink cyanide millipede

It's bright pink, smells of almonds and goes by the slightly camp name of "Mangkorn chomphoo" but you wouldn't want to mess with this beast.

Discovered in central Thailand in 2007, Desmoxytes purpurosea is a large, spiny "dragon millipede" that oozes hydrogen cyanide to ward off predators - hence the almond-like smell.

Mangkorn chomphoo - Thai for "shocking-pink dragon millipede" - is the latest addition to the dragon millipede family, whose members are found in south-east Asia and Australia. These creatures are often large, spiny and colourful, but Mangkorn Chomphoo takes the biscuit.

At about 3 centimetres in length, it is one of the largest, one of the spiniest and definitely the most lurid of them all.

Blonde-ginger bat (flying fox)

This blonde/ginger fruitbat has striking stripes on its face that make it look rather like a fox.

It is known as the Mindoro stripe-faced fruit bat, or Styloctenium mindorensis.

The species' closest relative lives some 1,200 kilometres away on an island in Indonesia but they never write. Families!

(Image: Harvey John D. Garcia)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Elephantine Ablutions

Wet weather warning!

I thought you said England was suffering from Global Warming!

Dancing on the Street

Up-town Girl receives accolades!......

Whereas one gay man singing show tunes meets a more critical audience!

I think we've found Madeleine!

Powerpoint on show

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Red Bull to the Rescue!

I had the dubious pleasure of being stuck in a traffic jam for 1.5 hours yesterday. Right next to Schipol airport in Amsterdam, in the soaring heat of a Dutch spring day.

The traffic was stationery for most of that time and of course there was no reason for it. Reminiscent of an REM video, people were out of their cars walking around and chatting to each other, with the smokers having a quick gasp on their way to the hospital and beyond. (As if the car fumes and aeroplane exhaust vapours on either side of the carriageway were not enough)

In the midst of this melee was this little mini and in this little mini were two little misses who came to the rescue of the nearby 'trapped' drivers, by distributing cool cans of Red Bull. It was a most thoughtful and pleasant thing to do, even if you ignore the possible commercial advantage it may provide and the sudden surge in confined hyperactivity that followed. I would prefer to think that this gesture was done on more humanitarian grounds but then I am a soft touch for free drink and young misses.

I took some pictures of these girls distributing aid to the drivers but the pics were taken through the bug spattered windscreen, so I will not share them with you. Instead I will leave you with this picture off the Red Bull website of someone who looks remarkably like one of the girls, even if she is doing a lot of damage to a small car.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Swine Flu in China?

Pork dumplings in China (Image © Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Breakfast starts early in Beijing, with workers getting their morning rice porridge or fried bread sticks from street stalls as early as 5am. For a more civilised, sit-down start, try Din Tai Fung in Chaoyang District. It does great steamed pork dumplings that will set you up for the day.

The Glasgow Herald Diary page: extracts

Putting the wind up

Ayrshire GP Dr Tom Smith has followed up his autobiography A Seaside Practice with more tales of doctoring in the just published Going Loco. He tells of flying to Miami to interview the speakers at a major medical conference, and introducing one, after looking at his notes, as "Professor Fartegas of Oporto University".

At that the professor stopped Tom and told him in front of the audience: "My name is not Fartygas. It is Francisco Artegas. There is a full-stop between the F and the A."

Oops! Pardon me!

Buckie the trend

Upmarket champagne house Krug sent their chief winemaker Julie Cavil to Scotland this week to explain the complexities of the rich brand to Scotland's drinks industry.

Members of the Krug family have blended champagne for more than 160 years, and it is a tradition, explained Julie, that whenever a Krug is born, champagne is dipped on their lips on their very first day "Some families in Coatbridge do the same with Buckfast," a Scot in the company told the demure French lady.

But we don't think she quite understood.

Lost in Translation: check please!

I was perusing the menu at my favourite Mandarin Chinese restaurant this week, prior to enjoying a fabulous meal. My favourite entree is the seared duck bill with Sechzuan sauce. If I am truthful, I just enjoy the contrariness of asking for 'the bill' at the beginning of the meal but I draw the line at asking the waiter if he has 'duck's feet' or is it just his ill-fitting shoes?

Pardon my digression. Looking through the menu reminded of the joys of Translation software and the early attempts to translate the English language into other tongues, with varying degrees of success.

The first attempts included a translation application for US Senators to permit them to better correspond with and understand their foreign counterparts.

One senator was selected to attend a demonstration and was most impressed by the presentation until he asked for a practical test. He was asked to provide an English phrase that the team could translate and he chose 'Out of sight, out of mind!'.

The application team entered the phrase, which duly returned in Mandarin Chinese. Unfortunately none of the team understood Mandarin and the senator certainly did not. He thought it was a fruit and of course, the team thought he was.

With great confidence the team re-entered the Chinese translation into the application, claiming they could re-translate it back into English. This was duly done and the machine spat out the phrase 'Invisible, idiot!'

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chocolate Things You May Not Know

For many of us, life without chocolate is difficult to imagine but it was only as recently as the Victorian era that the chocolate bar was invented. There is so much more to discover about the history of one of the world's best-loved treats.

1. Origins
No, it did not come from Mars. The ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations in Central America were the world’s first chocolate lovers. Cocoa trees grew wild in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon basin and the Maya and Aztecs used the beans to make a much-prized spicy drink, which they called “chocolatl”. (Try chocolate with some chilli added. It zings!)

2. Meaning
In Nahuatl, the Aztec language, chocolatl means “bitter water”. A related Nahuatl word, cacao (source of the English word cocoa), refers to the bean itself.

3. Chocolate in Europe
It was the Spanish Conquistador, Don Hernán Cortés, who first realized the commercial value of chocolate. He brought cocoa beans back to Spain in 1528 and very gradually the custom of drinking chocolate spread across Europe (which surrounds France). In 1657 the first of many drinking-houses where the new liquid-chocolate was enjoyed appeared in England.

4. Eating chocolate
Until the early Victorian times chocolate was exclusively for drinking, but then a technique for making the chocolate solid for "eating", was devised. The inventor of the said “eating chocolate” is unknown but the first reported solid chocolate in the UK, was sold in 1847 by Fry & Sons of Bristol.

One can only imagine that the dishwashers and potscrubbers of the day were very familiar with 'solid' chocolate. It seems a logical step that the 'discovery' of solid chocolate was a wide spread and shared experience. Mr Fry may have been simply the first to claim the market share.

5. Milk and white chocolate
In 1875 a Swiss manufacturer, Daniel Peters of Vevey, Switzerland (also near France), produced the first milk chocolate bar by successfully finding a way to combine chocolate and milk. The abomination called White chocolate, which is technically not chocolate at all because it does not contain any cocoa liquor, was not invented until the 1930s.

6. Swiss chocolate
The Swiss consume more real chocolate than any other population in the world. On average, each person consumes around 9 kg (20 lbs) each year! Perhaps this isn't really surprising because the Swiss take their chocolate very serious.

Famous Swiss chocolate makers include Rodolphe Lindt, Henri Nestlé, Philippe Suchard, Jean Tobler (founder of the Toblerone brand), and Charles Amédée Kohler (the first to add hazelnuts to chocolate).

7. Chocolate boxes
Back in the UK, Richard Cadbury introduced the first ever chocolate box in 1868. He also introduced the first ever chocolate boxes for Valentine's Day, thereby starting the tradition of giving chocolate as a token of love on February 14. Another example of the restrictive practices of giving presents and love, that the English are famous for.

8. Making chocolate
The harvesting of cocoa pods is very labour intensive. The pods are split open by hand and the cocao beans, needed to make the chocolate, are removed to be fermented and dried. They are then sent to chocolate manufacturing companies, where they are roasted and ground in large mills until they become a thick brown liquid. This cocoa mass is the basis of all chocolate and cocoa products.

It is at this point the chocolate producers can develop their own unique flavour, by mixing the type of beans used and varying the level of the roast. The European taste for chocolate is very different and arguably superior to that of the UK, used to being fed a much less pure, milky and flavourless product.

9. Producing chocolate
African countries harvest about two-thirds of the total world output of cocoa beans. At the start of the twenty-first century the Côte d'Ivoire was the world's greatest cocoa-bean producing nation. Some of the African Free Trade chocolate products are extremely popular in Europe and with good reason.

10. Health
The chemical theobromine, found in chocolate, is toxic to dogs and cats. Prolonged ingestion will lead to premature death in your pets.

For humans, chocolate is not a true food source because it contains only a small amount of nutrients and has a high fat content. Like all sweet sugary products taken in excess, it has been linked to the onset of type 2 Diabetes later in life.

However, if you are looking for a justification to eat more of it, then you can consider the presence of antioxidants in dark chocolate as being beneficial to your health.

Moderation in all things and a little of something you enjoy occasionally, may do your spirit more good than your waisteline. Chocolate, falls readily into this category and into the shopping basket. Enjoy!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Blind Dates: Part II - Alternatives

Laugh and the World laughs with you!

Last time in Part 1, we discussed Blind Dates and some of the do's and don'ts that surround them. This time we will look at ways of meeting people in everyday situations and sparking up a transient conversation that will make you look more cool.

Location, location, ...
It is unlikely that you will meet many people if you stay in your apartment, with the exception of the door-to-door pests and distributors of junk mail. So, we have to go out! Wash and shave (you too men) and dress up nice. Where do we go? Let's start with, where the normal people are. At this point it is not important to seek out a particular 'type' of person. We are simply honing our techniques not targetting a 'dream boat' (look out for a later, more advanced blog on this).

Practice, practice, practice
The sad thing about irregular dating is that you don't get enough practice in making small talk and relaxing in front of unfamiliar people (strangers). So, when you do meet someone you want to impress, it can go a little awry; You try too hard, you talk too much, you laugh too loud when eating and vomit over their new Jimmy Choo's (shoes). We have all done it and paid the price!

Selection of a victim
OK, we are in the shopping mall, supermarket, busy high street, etc (somewhere public and non-threatening). You do not need to check for CCTV surveillance or security guards because this is a harmless exercise and very distant from the 'stalking' or 'pestering' that you are normally associated with.

If you are happier talking to your own sex or the opposite sex, then start there. Let's make this easy for you. All you have to do is select someone who looks friendly, innocent or has the look of an art student. Art students are notoriously gregarious, confident, approachable and informative people, who know where 'it' is at, apparently. Whatever, if things go badly wrong, you can easily buy them off!

The approach
A large majority of the people in shopping malls spend their time looking for stuff. This is not a big secret and these are the people you are looking for. Find someone who is looking at, or admiring something in the shop window (take your lawyers advice and avoid lingerie shops) and simply say something about it, out loud; "That (dress) is a really good colour" or "Gosh, look at the sparkle in that! (jewel)" or "Does that come with batteries?" (electrical gadget shop - remember, we promised not to hang around the sex shops any more).

Whatever you say, smile broadly and say it with some friendly enthusiasm and impact. Avoid sarcasm or phrases like "In your dreams, maybe.." or "I have something better for you at home" or "Do you like easy money?". Also avoid startling them too much. Unlike your normal behaviour, let them see you approach. We are trying to avoid startling, frightening, or any variation on this theme. We are looking for open, friendly, approachable, etc. You have it in you, dig deep.

Small Talking
We are talking about 'small talk' and 'conversation'. Remember, there should be a limited exchange of information during these moments. Information leads to thought and thought leads to an engagement of the rational side of your brain (if it exists). The result, you have just lost the moment, the possibility of connection with the emotional side of the victim's brain that was concentrating on the object in the shop window. Any logical thought will close this squishy warm side down, every shop assistant knows this. You are looking for an open and friendly response, not a geek's discussion on how nylon is made.

It's for You but not about You
Small talk and conversation is always about the other person. You need to appear interested in what they are saying and about them. People are always happy to talk about themselves. You know you are! The trick is to stop yourself talking and to start listening. If you want to hear your own voice; sing in the bath, read out loud while sitting in your apartment alone, pay for a therapist to listen to you, etc.

Catch and release
We are not looking for a life-partner here. We are talking here about transient conversations. Brief encounters (concentrate on lingering thoughts and not lingerie-thoughts, remember). You are working the room (street, mall). "Hi how are you today? You are looking good? Love the tan!". You have heard your favourite cabaret singers do it and it works.

Why? because, what it does, is makes people look on you as a 'nice' 'approachable' 'friendly' cool guy/gal. Now that's progress already! Yesterday you were just a sad, weirdo that followed people around and hung out near lingerie shops, now look at you.

In the beginning there may be setbacks. Not everyone is going to respond positively but if you are still getting 'maced', then we need to talk. Accept rebuttal with a big bemused smile. Remember to practice this in front of your bathroom mirror, not in public places. Partly because it can reveal your tactics and partly because it'll get you locked up, again. Keep trying and keep practicing. It can be difficult but it's already having a positive effect on you.

Mood enhancement
No, I am not talking about you and your dependency on alcohol and Prozac. I am expecting you to go out to the shopping mall and supermarket, etc and to 'enhance' other people's moods by striking up 'transient' conversations and making 'positive' remarks about them. If you do this regularly then you will become more relaxed, more confident and more welcome. Regularly greeted by smiling strangers and simply the coolest guy/gal in town.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The art of the long-distance carpenter

New Nail Gun, made by DeWALT. It can drive a 16-D nail through a 2 X 4 at 200 yards.

This makes construction a breeze, you can sit in your lawn chair and build a fence. Just get your wife to hold the fence boards in place while you sit back, relax with a cold drink and when she has the board in the right place, just fire away. With the hundred round magazine, you can build the fence with a minimum of reloading. After a day of fence building with the new DeWalt Rapid fire nail gun, the wife will not ask you to build or fix anything else again for a while but you may have some explaining to do to your neighbours.

Kinda makes 'paintballing' a bit lame!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Communications: The Cloud of Silence

The Cloud of Silence! No it has nothing to do with the Triads and it's not a criminal organisation, it's a privacy concept that has been considered for many years by sci-fi writers, film makers and Machiavellian managers.

The problem: how can you hold a confidential conversation in an open office without everyone overhearing? The answer that is being considered here is a device that will create an intimate 'cloud of silence' around the selected participants.

The proposed modern cloud of silence, we are assured, will work as it says on the box. It is being patented by engineers Joe Paradiso and Yasuhiro Ono of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Patented solution
Their idea, revealed in US patent application 2009/0097671 on 16 April, is to make confidential conversations possible in open-plan offices and canteens, the two places most regularly occupied by US employees. It will even let a conversing group move around a room and still remain in a secure sound bubble, like a 'cloud of silence'.

"In open-plan offices, the violation of employees' privacy can often become an issue, as third parties overhear their conversations intentionally or unintentionally," the inventors say in their patent. Their aim is to relieve people of that concern. Presumably the intentional eavesdropper is going to have to make other arrangements or choose a new hobby.

The Plastic Dome scenario

Initially people considered using plastic domes, this was temporarily attempted but quickly fell out of favour, partly due to the obvious suffocation risk and the unbearable humidity. So, the idea of the plastic dome was scrapped but the name and the concept clung on, regardless. The need was still strong in them.

The Modern Solution
In the modern 'cloud of silence' they use a sensor network to work out where potential eavesdroppers are, and mini speakers to generate subtle masking sounds, at just the correct audible level.

It sounds simple, but it needs quite a bit of smart infrastructure. The walls of the room must be peppered with light-switch-sized units that include a microphone, a speaker, an infrared location sensor and networking circuitry connected to a server. When somebody wants to activate what the MIT researchers call the "sound shield", they do so on their desktop computer.

By responding to the position of the computer, the sensors identifies the person's location and maps out the locations of the other people around them. Smart software assesses who is so close that they must be participants in the conversation and who might be a potential eavesdropper.

The array of speakers then aims a mix of white noise and randomised office hubbub at the eavesdroppers. The subtle, confusing sound makes the conversation unintelligible or more unintelligible, depending on which of your colleagues is talking. Good luck! with this new system guys and success in replacing the older low-tech ways.

Low-tech solutions
Clearly, as a human, you will be able to see which of your colleagues around you is wearing their headphones, staring closely at their screen, whilst pounding the keyboard and is completely unaware that they are in the office at all. For convenience, we will call this colleague Troyy. (It's spelled this way because he has an extra Y chromosome!)

From his behaviour you can quickly determine that he is not listening in on your chat. To further disguise your conversation and to drown out your voice completely, you should encourage Troyy to sing along to whatever Country & Western album he is listening to. This is what is called 'white trash noise.'

(Only joking Troyy! Sorry to hear about the dyslexia thing. Love the home-made tatoos! Especially the Mom & Dad one, or Omo & Ada as you have it!)

Alternative methods

Other ways to make your conversations unintelligible is to

  1. speak with a strong Scottish or Irish accent. (This has worked very well for me, so far)
  2. whispering or talking quietly sometimes works (not shouting, is good!)
  3. create your own 'zone of silence' by removing or repelling everyone in that area (we will discuss methods and ways of doing this in a separate blog)
  4. take your chat into a meeting room with real walls and doors
  5. step outside into the lobby or, if you are European
  6. step outside into a noisy cafe for a coffee and a croissant!

Sociological argument

I am sure you can think of very many other ways of retaining your privacy and confidentiality in the open office setting. The best defense, of course, is not to have taken any risks or to have done anything disreputable or news-worthy in the first place and then you will have no 'secrets' to protect. In the same way that the poor have no worries about the "fear of loss" and the "cost of ownership".

They are indeed fortunate that they are not kept awake by thoughts about how to protect their savings, investments and ill-gotten assets from thieves, vagabonds, bankers, uncertainty and the vagueness of life, that leads to sudden loss. Perhaps that's why 'they're always with us' and when you here someone ask "Who's with us?" or state that "You're either with us or against us?" you will know that the poor will always be with us, no matter what.

Unfortunately, the poor can't promote us, sponsor us, or financially support us in any way. Neither can they afford to be elected to lead us, which is a pity. A poor leader may be a better leader but that takes us back to the sinister 'cloud of silence'. Discuss!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blind Dates: Do they work? Part 1

OK, let's talk about the Why, What and How of Blind Dates.

From the picture you can see that some unplanned blind dates are going to end in disappointment. Too much is hidden and guarded. Too many questions are left unanswered. (One guy is wearing corduroy! Yuck! and both could do with a short beating from the 'style stick')

Why Blind Dates?
There are probably as many reasons why people would take such a leap of faith, as there are people in the world but they should reduce down to a simple few. (the reasons not the people) At the most fundamental level, all people want love & intimacy, friendship, companionship and the security of belonging.

Anyone who has been to Coatbridge (or watched sport and football) will know that we humans are tribal. We not only need to feel loved, loveable and attractive but we want to form close /intimate relationships. We want to participate in life's fun and exciting activities. We want to feel alive, accomplished, good about ourselves. We need to be included and thought of as part of the tribe.

What do we get from Blind Dates?
Well Blind Dates have to meet and match with some of the criteria mentioned above. It is a big role for one activity to play, and maybe you need to reduce your expectations, certainly in the short term and take a more long term approach.

Clearly, a blind date is a thrilling and exciting event, full of possibility and expectation but the excitement should not spill over into anxiety and stress. If this happens, then the chance of you enjoying the experience is greatly reduced. Feeling at ease in these situations will come with practice and experience, so persevere.

Let's make-up and be friends!
Accountants and first impressions count! If you are startled by your date's appearance. Try to resist the urge to scream and run! This may trigger their 'chase' response. Use small talk to diffuse the situation. Ask "Do you normally wear a bell to warn people, when you are out in public" or 'You know Hallowe'en is over? You can take that comic mask off now!"

Dating is certainly a great opportunity to pay yourself some much needed personal attention. Get your hair done (if you still have any, if not buy a good toupee. No, you cannot hire one from the theatrical costumiers). Dress up (nice). You are going to meet new people with similar interests (you hope) and you will be in a socially secure gathering, surrounded by supportive friends or potential witnesses.

DMZs and Neutral ground
It is always better to meet new people in a group setting, its less stressful and confronting. It should also be in a public place to reduce the 'territorial' effect that one party may feel. This feeling of entering someone else's territory will heighten their feeling of alienation, reduce their confidence and will do nothing to meet their need for and sense of, belonging.

Observe the 'give and take' protocol of normal conversation, until you both start to relax and find common ground. If the two of you hit it off straight away (unlikely), then you can arrange to break from the group for some 'alone' time (No, keep your clothes on, it's too soon for that). If you have put in some effort on both sides and really don't get on, then you can politely withdraw into the crowd or feign the rapid onset of madness.

How do we go about getting a Blind Date?
Your friends have been trying to set you up for years but you have been fighting it but don't despair, there are other sources of suitable matchmakers. Well the biggest source of Blind Dates now is the internet. You can easily and quickly contact and chat away to people from all over the world, without anxiety, confrontation and with complete control over when and how long you want to be communicating. If its not working out then it is easy to 'disconnect'.

The downside and difficulty is the anonymity of the internet (you don't know who you are talking to - man, woman or child) and the lack of valuable 'visual' information that you get from a good ol' fashioned face-to-face meeting.

Non-verbal communications
80% of our communications is non-verbal, so remember that on-line chat is only a small part of it. If all is going well, then the next step is to arrange to talk on the phone. That way your ears get involved in the process and they have good sensing abilities, when applied appropriately.

Delayed gratification takes more time
Taking the careful and rational path is OK for some but this slow process of 'exploring' and 'revealing' may not appeal to everyone. It is certainly safer in some ways and can be less stressful to the cautious suitor but you may be more spontaneous. That's OK! if you are willing to take the risk and suffer the blows, emotional outbursts and disappointments that may quickly follow.

Building a relationship is like building anything, it needs good foundations, it takes time and effort on both sides. On the positive side, you can always hedge your bets and keep a number of dialogues going at the same time, with very little chance of the others knowing about it. Purely in the name of research, of course. You rascal you!