28 August 2007

Harry Potter hilarity!

My son's friends have discovered this little gem on YouTube, and we've been watching it continually. Little things for little minds, as my dear old Dad used to say!

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Paypal’s new logo. What do you think?

Paypal are in the process of giving their website a new look and feel, and with it comes a new logo. There’s no question the previous one looked a bit old-fashioned, even when it was new. Rather than a complete redesign, Paypal have used the same type and style, just got rid of the outline. I think it’s a little more modern looking, preserving the integrity of the brand, whilst moving it forward a little. It’s hardly earth-shattering, though. And given that tens of thousands of sellers are probably hosting the current logo on their own servers, it will take months or years for the old logo to completely disappear.

I’m in two minds about this one. Is it really worth the effort for so little change? Is it a missed opportunity? Tell me what you think, by way of a comment or through the poll at the top of the right column.
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22 August 2007

Arsenal takes the Crossbar Challenge

An entertaining little clip for all Arsenal fans. It gives just a little insight into the players' personalities and the positive spirit within the club.
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16 August 2007

How I lowered my cholesterol

I’m not paranoid about cholesterol, but when my GP told me understatedly that my levels were “just beginning to be a cause for concern” I was, well, rather concerned. It is, after all, my goal in life to hang around as long as possible, for my kids, for all those people who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting me, and perhaps just to annoy those who dislike me.

I’m no medico, so I’m not about to give a primer on cholesterol (you can find a good one here). But the gist of it is that there are two sorts of cholesterol, Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) which is BAD because it ends up in your bloodstream and can clog your arteries, and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) which is good for you because it counteracts the LDL cholesterol. Most health authorities agree that your LDL cholesterol should be no higher than 5.5 mmols/litre, and I’d reached 5.6. The GP told me not to panic, as I was reasonably fit, not overweight, not a smoker or heavy drinker, although on the negative side, my father had suffered from diabetes. He advised simply keeping an eye on things, and monitoring my diet more closely.

So I did that. I reduced my fat intake, especially fatty meats, cut out butter in favour of margarine, and cut down fried foods a little. I also increased my aerobic activity and dropped a few pounds. 6 months passed and my next test showed my LDL levels down to 5.3 mmols/litre. Progress, but hardly earth-shattering.

Then I made two more changes to my diet. I started using margarine which had added plant sterols on my morning toast, and I increased my avocado intake to 3 or 4 a week.

Less than three months later I saw an ad in the paper requesting volunteers for a cholesterol study. They specifically wanted fit and otherwise healthy people in their mid 30s with LDL levels of 5 and above, and there was a reasonable financial incentive on offer. I went in for the initial tests, and waited 2 weeks before they rang me with the bad news—I was ineligible for the study because my cholesterol was too low. In three months my LDL was down from 5.3 to 4.3.

Of course, I have no idea which was the more significant, the avocado or the sterol-based margarine. I still have avocado reasonably regularly, but I’ve stuck with the margarine enthusiastically, and of the various brands available I have come to particularly like the taste of the Flora variant with Olive Oil. Several years have passed, and my cholesterol is still well in check.

The usual disclaimers apply—I am not dispensing medical advice, just sharing my experience, and your mileage may vary, so do talk to your GP. And it must be noted that plant sterol margarine is fairly new on the market, so no-one knows what the effects are of consuming it daily for many years. But apart from that faint glow I have at night, so far so good.Go to eebahgum!

14 August 2007

The Maltese Falcon revisited

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking my son to see The Maltese Falcon on the big screen. I have seen the film at least 4 times before , but was still bristling with excitement beforehand, tinged with just a little trepidation as to how he would cope with ‘film noir’ at the tender age of 10. I’d prepared him by emphasising that it was a dialogue-driven, rather than CGI-driven film, and that it was not in colour. “What, none of it is in colour?” has asked at one point. Er, no, absolutely none. It is film noir et blanc, or at least, various shades of gris, in presentation if not in content.

Although it was late and he was weary, I am glad to report that he liked the film, giving it “less than 4 stars but more than 3 and a half”. On that basis, I think he preferred it to Shrek 3, which we are agreed was pretty awful, with untold money being spent on CGI where a decent writer may have been more useful, but less than Spiderman 3. I guess, in the balance, that should be considered a victory.

I, on the other hand, had expected to be underwhelmed by a film with which I was already so familiar. Instead, I was completely wrapped in every moment of it on the larger screen, drawn into Bogart’s every sneer and smirk, irked by Peter Lorre’s sinister simpering, beguiled by Sydney Greenstreet’s deep, yet threatening reasonableness, and almost seduced by Mary Astor’s beguiling dishonesty. Characters complex, yet without depth, each one almost psychopathic in his or her lack of emotion and sympathy. And with a sympathetic audience around me, the sheer brilliance of the writing seemed compounded. Even out of context the many of the lines seem magical:

BRIGID O’SHAUGHNESSY (MARY ASTOR): He has a wife and three children in England.
SAM SPADE (HUMPHREY BOGART): They usually do, though not always in England.

SAM SPADE: We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your two hundred dollars.
SAM SPADE: I mean, you paid us more than if you’d been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.

SAM SPADE: When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it!

KASPER GUTMAN (SYDNEY GREENSTREET): I distrust a close-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously, unless you keep in practice. Now, sir, we’ll talk if you like. I’ll tell you right out, I’m a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk.

KASPER GUTMAN: I distrust a man who says “when”. If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much, it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does.

KASPER GUTMAN: Well, Wilmer, I’m sorry indeed to lose you, but I want you to know I couldn’t be fonder of you if you were my own son. Well, if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.

SAM SPADE: Yes, angel, I’m going to send you over. But chances are, you’ll get off with life. That means, if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in twenty years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.

SAM SPADE: All we’ve got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.
BRIGID O’SHAUGHNESSY: You know whether you love me or not.
SAM SPADE: Maybe I do. I’ll have some rotten nights after I’ve sent you over, but that’ll pass.

I looked up Falcon in my Halliwell’s when back home, and found it had 3 Academy Award nominations in 1941, but no wins. Then I remembered that another one of my favourites was released in the same year, Citizen Kane, one of the handful of films which could legitimately lay claim to being the greatest film ever. What bad luck for Falcon, I thought, then discovered that the film that had cleaned up at the 1941 Oscars was, in fact, the now very dated-looking How Green was my Valley.

But The Maltese Falcon has not dated, only matured. And as Hollywood has moved from silent film, to talkies, and somehow back again to a new age of pseudo-silent film through CGI-driven blockbusters which no longer exalt acting or screenwriting, the black bird seems to have been given new wings.
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