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Friday 22 February 2008

The Random RDA of Goji Berries [Lurks]

I had a cough for a few weeks. So the missus, being a woman, naturally believes that this is solved by discovering some random homeopathic substance that boosts the immune system. Today this was dried Goji Berries, being heralded in some parts as a super food. Cool, I'm broadly open to super foods, some of them are very good for you. Goji Berries are in actual fact, Wolfberries.

So the thing about Goji berries is that there's a whole pile of baseless claims about how they boost libido and Christ knows what else. The reality is they're quite good because they have more vitamin C than oranges, more beta-carotene than carrots and more iron than steak. Course that all depends on how you look at it, clearly you eat more orange, carrots and steak than a few dried berries. But still, that's fine.

The thing is, my eye is drawn to the nutritional label helpfully provided on this Tescos 100gr pack of Dried Goji Berries. There it says that 25g of the stuff, about quarter of a packet and they're not that flavorsome but kind of tasty, so you'd happily scoff 25g in a sitting I think, contains 1230% of the RDA of Vitamin C. Holy smoke Batman! Yet strangely underneath it that's 17.2mg. That means that Tesco is of the belief that your Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin C is paulty 1.4mg. That's obviously bullshit.

So I begin to look it up. I found RDA figures for Vitamin C quoted at 45mg, 60mg and 90mg by various people so I start to understand how dodgy this stuff is. However in 1997 RDA got brought into a wider Dietary Reference Intake set of guidelines. This puts Estmated Average Requirements of Vitamin C at 75mg, and Recommended Dietary Allowance at 90mg.

Wikipedia says that the Vitamin C range of Wolfberries is quite wide, equating to about 7mg to 37mg for 25gr so Tesco's quoted 17mg is pretty much bang in the middle. So let's get on some dodgy ground and assume Tescos actually had this stuff analysed and the 17.2mg is correct. That's actually 25% of the RDA for vitamin C. In fact you would need to scoff the entire 100mg bag to get 68.9mg of Vitamin C according to the label, just shy of the 100% Vitamin C RDA. Not the 4919% that Tescos amusingly list.

Or you could drink 3/4 of a cup of orange juice and get about 75mg. Hmm.

Thursday 21 February 2008

It's OK to like something shallow, really. [Spiny]

Hmm, I posted the below in response to this. Which was moderated out. Odd, as I didn't think it warranted excluding. Tbh, it's a really bad post and a bit out of their depth as a movie site. Kind of sad really. Although I guess in deleting a comment like mine they're being hoisted by their own petard..."In our society, we only believe in free speech and the value of different ideas if we agree with them"

Still, at least The Simpsons can always show us the way eh? :)

Guess I'll lower my expectations of the movie blog.


Wow. John. I'm so saddened by that post. Please please, do yourself a favour & read up on this stuff.
"Actually, you’re incorrect. Evolution, according to most darwinist scientists, is not a “fact”. My their own admission, is is simply what many of them believe to be the best working theory they have."

Aside from the labeling of "darwinist" that' actually broadly true. Just that evolution by natural selection is the *only* credible theory put forward in 150 years that can explain the growth of life on earth. There is a huge amount of supporting evidence, and none against.
"Also, the point here is, that when many scientists do produce theories and facts, and ask to just simply follow the evidence to wherever it leads, they get silenced. Many people start with the incorrect scientific assumption that unless evidence leads to where they already want it to go, they dismiss it. The problem is that people refuse to sit and listen to anything that doesn’t already fundamentally agree with your preexisting ideas."

Um, no. This isn't how science works at all. This is how theology works. Yes, you start with a hypothesis and look to prove this by using your theory to predict experimental results (e.g. gravitational lensing as predicted by general relativity). If the evidence matches your predictions then bingo. If it doesn't, well...that can actually be better. It means you have something interesting to look at, there's a hole in your theory etc. Now, the kicker is that all of this means nothing without peer review. Competition fuels science. Can you honestly believe that if someone came up with refuting evidence and an alternative theory of evolution by natural selection that they wouldn't shout it from the rooftops? They'd be the Einstein of Biology! A 150 years of theory overturned! The Nobel Prize and a place in history!...or "nah, I think I'll just support the status quo.".And also there's another would welcome this. Unlike politicians, or indeed theologians, scientists care about what is true, not just supporting the current world view. If you can show them a theory that supplants their own they will be delighted. I almost hesitate to recommend him, because of many people's preconceptions (who probably haven't read his work), but do read some of rRichard Dawkins stuff. And no, I don't mean "The God Delusion". I mean one of his science books. Something like "Unweaving The Rainbow" or "The Ancestor's Tale". There's a taster here from one of his lectures. Try this and see if you're interested.If that's not to your taste, try some Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman or Kip Thorne.Then you'll understand what I mean by no one believes in evolution, myself included.


Friday 15 February 2008

A Step In The Right Direction [DrDave]

Heaven's to Betsy! It seems that common sense seems to be erupting right before our eyes. yesterday launched a rival download service to iTunes, Napster et al. Nothing unusual there you might think, but completely flying in the face of convention, play's service is actually pretty good.

First and foremost, tracks are DRM-free. Seriously, you just get MP3s that will play on anything. No bullshit. Second, they're good quality. Lowest bitrate seems to be 192kbps with many albums weighing in at 320kbps. Third, the service is easy and fast to use. Within about three minutes of deciding to buy something to show willing, I had Hot Chip's new album down and playing in iTunes.

Best of all, they appear to have a dynamic approach to pricing. Generally, albums seem to come in at about £7.95, but some examples (Pink Floyd's Meddle for example) sell for a frankly ludicrous £3.25. It would be rude not to grab it at that price.

It does have some kinks to iron out however. At the moment, only EMI tracks are available. It also has a strangely non-compelling tendency to link to the CD version of the album when the CD version is 3 quid cheaper (like here). In that case, I'd grab the CD, rip it and spend the three quid I'd saved on a four pack to drink while listening to it. Must try harder there!

Overall though, I think these are the initial teething troubles of what will be a fantastic service. It is certainly a massive step in the right direction certianly.

Well done!

Wednesday 13 February 2008

BBC iPlayer [Lurks]

After an extensive trial (in which they only wanted women from the Isle of Man apparently), BBC launched the iPlayer. It's basically an on-demand thing, well only it isn't. It's a sort of sliding-window archive of stuff you can download to watch, which is encumbered perhaps necessarily with DRM. The site has things up for a week, or so, but not all shows. And if you download them you have to watch them before some time limit or they wont play.

BBC iPlayer in practical terms is a sort of half arsed browser-based thing that installs a plug-in to manage downloads and then shoves the whole thing onto P2P. I gave it a go with Jools Holland's Later, which I always miss on Friday night. It was over 600MB for an hour so basically a pretty big bitrate, I was expecting good things. Only my P2P downloader thing only found 30 or 40 odd peers and I got 47k/s. No clue what ports it's using, assuming it's basically just bittorrent ripped off. No clue what to forward to get it to work better. 47k/s is pretty damn lame, and so is that number of peers.

So anyway it's leeched. Overnight. Sigh. I go to watch it, click watch and it trashes the HD for awhile and then says acquiring a licence for content and then fires up an extremely basic media player window thing. It does full screen but that's about it. Worse still, the video is blocky as hell, it essentially looks like a very badly encoded mpeg2. It gets worse, whoever coded this completely fucked up the player and it suffers from massive tearing as the rendering isn't synched to actual frame rate. It's just plain nasty.

So that's why 30-40 people were seeding this thing. It's fucking shit. You'd just go onto Usenet or whatever and download someone who will have done a proper goddamn encode and play in a real video player without any goddamn DRM.

Gah, I was hoping this would be half way useful. I bet they spent a ton of money coming up with this rubbish too.

Saturday 9 February 2008

Open authentication [Slim]

I really like this idea: it's an effort to reduce the number of passwords and identities you have online. You specify one of your accounts as your master, and other sites will then authenticate you against this account. Not only does it give you the choice on picking a nice secure master and have fewer passwords to remember, it makes it fairly trivial for you to set up different levels of ID, you can have one for blog comments, forums, that sort of thing, and another for things you like to be more careful with.Of course, it does mean if you're compromised, it's easier to get at more of your stuff. On the other hand, change one password, and all your shits changed too.I'd like to see a commercial service now that'll sell me a central two factor authenticator that I can point a bunch of stuff like, Amazon, Paypal and Google at, and have strong authentication with only one device.

Thursday 7 February 2008

Could we bend over backwards any further? [Brit]

Rowan Williams, the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury has always struck me as an intelligent guy, indeed, to navigate what seems to be an increasingly anachronistic organisation like the Church of England through modern society must warrant a modicum of brightness 'up top'.

He is no shy retiring wallflower either, and since his appointment has regularly made the news with his (and by extension the Church of England's) views on various subjects, from abortion to immigration, homosexuality to marriage - but today he appears to have truly blurred the already fairly murky boundaries between Church and State.

An article on the BBC has 'Bish Will saying that it is the adoption of certain elements of Sharia law by the UK "seems unavoidable", and goes further to say that we must "face up to the fact" that some of our citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

This is an absurd position to take and I wonder how much of this is said in an effort to bolster his Church's flagging relevance to a society which seems to want to break the traditional religious tethers that once bound it to institutions such as this (the same can be applied to the Catholic Church and other denominations).

Such a public statement from a figure such as he however is I feel symptomatic of a wider malaise currently running through the UK political landscape - whatever Muslims want, Muslims get; and if we don't adhere to that we're somehow being culturally insensitive or just plain racist. It quite literally is the biggest elephant in the room to date, and nobody seems willing to point it out.

In my mind, if you come to the UK to live and work, you first and foremost attempt to integrate with whats already here. If you don't like it, you can make moves to change it through our centuries old and well tested democratic process.

Since when did that become such a low priority option?

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Album covers from a parallel universe [DrDave]

[This blog idea is quite shamelessly stolen from this page]

A harmless piece of midweek whimsey. Using random chance, generate an album cover. Use the following ingredients:

Mash them all together in your favoured art package and behold, a band is born. Gentlemen, I give you, "Springerville, Arizona":

Friday 1 February 2008

How bad can a movie be (AvP2) [Lurks]

I want to talk about a movie. Aliens vs Predator Requiem. AvP2 if you will. I don't really talk about movies much but this one was something special and deserves a mention because this was prety much the ultimate excersize in pissing on a franchise and forcefully delivering a truly apocalyptically abysmal movie. Never before have I seen a movie that so clearly read out to you a list of check boxes of what the producers wanted to be in the movie.

It seems in some circles of Hollywood they've given up all pretence of getting a quality script and trying to make a reasonable movie. Now it's purely some big marketing excersize, more methodically and cynically designed than any simple consumer product, let alone a creative medium.

I fear I wont be able to mention it all but here's a list of cliches and check-boxes which must have seemed like a solid bankable idea by the corporate fuckwits at 20th Century Fox.
  • Teen movie. Yep, let's make central characters teenagers. And let's put in a love interest. A jock. And let's have our hero kicked by the jock on the ground while the hot girl that kinda likes him looks on and is called away by the jock... WHY is this in a fucking Alien/Predator movie?!
  • Dark brooding hero with criminal past comes back into town. His bestest buddy is now the sherrif and a pretty shit one at that. After loads of people die and dudes are discovered skinned and hung up in the woods I would have thought it was time to CALL THE FBI.
  • Female lead. It's Dessler from 24 and she's practically Sigourney Weaver, right? I mean she's in the army and everything. Oh but her little girl (Newt) doesn't like her because she spends so much time away from home.
  • Marines showing up. Hoo-hah! Oh but we have radio contact with them as the Aliens attack. Oh noes, they're all dead. Wow.
  • Armoured vehicle. It's in Aliens! Only this one apparently can't go very far because the fucking airport is 'too far away' while the much closer alien-infested hospital with a helicopter on the roof is a MUCH better idea.
  • Spooky sewer tunnel things. Despite the fact it's a hick town in some backwards state in the US, it's apparently got a sewer network with a thriving hobo population.
  • The Predator. I don't think the makers of this movie have actually seen a Predator film. In this film the Predator is about as good a hunter as Elmer McFudd.
  • Predator instead of having cool vision modes, can't really see anything in most modes. Also apparently completely deaf and can be snuck up on by hissing aliens and county police pushing through the undergrowth. But hey the vision modes went Fwwwwaaazzzpp all the time, I mean ALL of the time. Just so you knew it was a predator movie.
  • Predator mysterious out-of-character bio-dissolving blue gunk used repeatedly. Never before has the Predator wanted to clean up corpses, I guess this one is a zero impact greenie. No really the blue gunk is *clearly* a plot device supposed to be some way it get despatched at the end (say it's in water and the hero chick says something whitty and then smashes the blue shit in the water so the predator dissolves) but they axed that from the end I assume, so now we have the BLUE GOO OF POINTLESSNESS.
  • Alien and Aliens had dudes in suits. Let's put dudes in suits. That'll be keeping it real man. Yeah except IT LOOKS LIKE A DUDE IN A SUIT IN THE YEAR 2008.
  • Alien inner jaw thing smashing into skulls. That was cool wasn't it? So we had better do it for EVERY DUDE THAT EVER COMES INTO CONTACT WITH AN ALIEN.
  • Predalien planting eggs in some pregnant chick directly with it's FACE. Eh? What the fuck? I guess they just must have thought oh we're setting in a hospital. Let's think of something really gross! Fuck any pretence at all with sticking with the actual lore of the franchise or anything.
  • Oh no but wait, we'd better stick with the lore of the franchise. So let's do a cut-and-paste scene of Predator with flourescent green blood using some technical device to close a wound and doing a big roar. It's like they think we just go to the cinema because want to see exactly the same thing again. Erm, so let's just put Predator on instead since it DIDN'T SUCK RANCID COCK.
  • Oh and shit, since we've just fucked the franchise so much we better tie the end of our movie into the lore of the original by having evil black helicopter town-nuking overlords with inexplicable satellite based alien-infestation maps and a cameo appearance, to close with, of some chick we've never seen whatsoever who is apparently YUTANI. That's WEYLAND-YUTANI see? That's for all you hard-core fans, the whole thing MAKES SENSE now.

What's even more depressing is this thing is pulling a 5.5 on IMDB right now. Excuse me, what the fuck? The scumbag who wrote this festering pile of cliche-ridden claptrap is apparently some guy called Shane Salerno. He's basically made a living out of re-writing movies with actual scripts into hollywood check-box bullshit and amazingly they love him for it.

To demonstrate just how much hollywood sycophants polute IMDB you really do need to check out the Bio of Shane Salerno written by some nom de plume, aka by Shane Salerno or his marketing people. Here's a great quote.

"Shane's work continues to make him a much sought-after writer whose unique writing draws in actors, directors and studios that are eager to work with him."

Haha! Fuck me I bet they're queing up for some of that unique writing! Seriously Shane, can I call you Shane, you're a talentest fuckwad of the highest order and as an individual you represent the entire sellout fucking whorishness of the American big-budget movie making establishment. I just wish I could sneak into your house at night with a vial of BLUE GOO OF POINTLESSNESS and erase your very fucking existance.

The British Brain Drain? [Lurks]

The Royal Society has kicked out a report (PDF here) which takes a look at higher education in Britain. The general way this is being summarised by the media is that there's a large increase in the amount of high qualifications such as a 79% increase in the issue of doctorates this decade versus the previous decade. Yet in terms of hard science the numbers have barely changed and as a percentage of the current student body they've significantly dropped.

"Our detailed analysis of the statistics confirms a decline in numbers of UK students taking core science and engineering subjects at postgraduate levels. In order to avoid serious shortages of these vital skills, we urge both individual universities and central Government to encourage study in core STEM subjects at all levels, for example by the introduction of bursaries or reduced fees for students undertaking these courses and by promoting wider awareness of the career options that such courses open up."

The media are using emotive language like the British brain drain, the fact this shows Britain wont be competitive in technology and science with other nations. And of course it's the fault of people who want easy degrees is how some are spinning it. Yet the report is pretty light on why this actually is, beyond saying that any PhD should be eight years of study and definately not six.

Well, I think I can tell you. It's because you do an MBA or a PhD in some fluffy subject etc and it sets you up for a career. The problem with hard science in this country is that it's been pushed into a status that makes it strictly a calling rather than something that anyone would want to do as a reasonable career.

You only need to pick up the UK science periodicals and take a skip through the job section. You may well get a surprise. Job adverts regularly say things like, PhD in random hard core science required, years of practical experience required, six month contract depending on project funding, £15,000 p/a.

The idea that's being put forward by the Royal Society and the press is that Britain is shafted due to not having enough hard science and engineering graduates. Well, if that was true jobs in these areas would pay top dollar. In fact certain kinds of engineering do but pure science rarely does. That means there's essentially enough people to satisfy demand, or the market rate would rise.

The key issue is that there's little of that kind of work being done in the UK and the market is responding to that. Still, the conclusion that bursaries should be reduced in under serviced courses is a reasonable one - after all one may as well try and catch the people who don't know what they want to study anyway. Promoting career options that courses open is also a pretty solid idea, particularly in engineering I think where there's plenty of jobs, great career prospects, interesting project-based work and nice big salaries.

Perhaps part the problem is that this all seems very nice to someone looking at university choices but in the kind of easy-option culture that is the hallmark of the noughties, students are as likely to want to avoid anything that seems like hard work and hard science is proper brain-bendingly hard work.

Ultimately though, it frustrates me seeing these reports on British further education without any actual analysis of the underlying industry. I came to this country as an engineer. I found little work in that beyond temporary service-type roles and ended up going into consumer journalism instead and ended up being the most highly qualified person in the building.

Before jumping up and down whinging about the courses people are taking, let's hear from industry about who is finding it difficult to find graduates in their field rather than screaming brain drain and slamming universities for churning out nonsense PhDs.