Flying Flapjack Danger

25/03/2013

Presentation1An Essex School has today banned triangular flapjacks after a freak accident last week. A flying flapjack left a pupil so injured that he had to return home for the afternoon.

While I understand that a 60 degree angle (for an equilateral triangle), or even more obtuse angles on an isosceles triangle can cause injury, the dictum that flapjacks must now be square or rectangular does not address the possibly more major issue that the school’s canteen is producing biscuits that appear to levitate and throw themselves across the hall.

Surely, the maths department could have offered up a solution that a spherical flapjack would offer no hazardous points. But, really, they ought to draft in Dumbledore to pay attention at the levitation issues at the school.

Or, question why something as unhealthy as flapjacks are being served anyway. And possibly, just possibly that an errant student threw the object at the victim in the first place.

Seems it’s lucky that the levitation spells were not cast on the cutlery.

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Apple & iBooks

22/01/2012

Let me start by stating that I am a fan of Apple products.

There are those who seem to take pride in slating every breath that Apple take, that Apple is the monster set on World domination, whose actions restrict and profit from everything we do.

I just enjoy the fact that the products I buy from them certainly seem to do what they propose to do and all work together without hassle. Certainly since I switched to Mac in 2005, the time I spend with IT issues now seems limited to helping out others with their PC woes rather than my own problems. If you want to spend time making products from different companies work with each other, that’s up to you. I’m happy to possibly pay a little more and have everything work well. In fact, taking into account time spent and the longevity (and resale value) of the Apple products I’ve owned, I reckon the cost of ownership is LESS than other brands.

Now we mention the word ‘brand’, I reckon therein lies one of the issues. Many people avoid major brands in the belief that they are evil or something – the recent recall announcement by MINI is a case where some have said it’s a “PR disaster” and then doubting the quality of the product. Other lesser companies seem to get less press for potentially worse issues, like the Toyota brake scare for example. At least it will be fixed with no fuss, and owners will get a coffee and a free valet clean into the bargain!

Apple just announced the new iBooks initiative, together with iBooks Author – effectively a free desktop publishing program that allows you to easily generate electronically publishable content as if it was a word processor, desktop publishing or presentation program. In reality, it’s a combination of all of those, allowing you to include interactive diagrams, video content as well as easily manageable text content.

For the last few years, I’ve kept a few recipes in a document, initially in Microsoft Word, then Apple’s Pages and now into the iBooks Author program. Moving the text into it was simple as you’d expect then tweaking the text to make it fit well was easy.

The output works straight away on the iPad – but is also exportable as a PDF if you so require.

People are complaining about the EULA that Apple operate with this program – simply put, if you want to sell books produced by iBooks Author, then you HAVE to sell them via Apple’s iBook store, where Apple take a cut.

Well, you can choose to publish your books other ways. I wrote a book a couple of years ago and it was a major process, using Adobe InDesign, ensuring that PDF output was exactly the right format and so on. For the newbie, there were many pitfalls – apart from the fact that I am typographical design challenged, so required the help of my cousin who runs a design company to guide me on page layout. iBook Author has templates ready to go, so although your book may look like many others, at least it will be readable and easy on the eye.

So, I don’t subscribe to those who say that Apple are restricting authors, they can still choose the old ways of publishing.

Electronic distribution gives more to authors, my print book would give me about 5% of the cover price as revenue. The publisher, printer and book distributor all make their margins, most at 50%. When it’s sold electronically, the cover price is about 40% of the print price – much better for the reader, and I get about 40% of the cover price as revenue – this isn’t Apple by the way setting this level, although it is available there too. So, I sell more copies and get a larger cash amount per book.

Apple are making the route for self-publishing much easier – and, if I choose to put books through the Apple iBook store, readers will get updates automatically.

If I don’t want to charge for books, I can make them available for download where I like (as I have here).

So, if you want to see my little recipe book, it’s available here for the iPad. Also here as a PDF for other systems. I don’t claim any literary prowess for this, it’s more a simple demo of what can be done quickly with iBooks Author. Both files are output from iBooks Author, but I think you’ll agree that the user interface and readability if way better using the iBooks program – and you can add notes, highlights all for review later if you like.

The book doesn’t have any fancy animations, callouts or videos yet, but it does demonstrate the concept and has been very easy to produce.


Just the best Gingerbread loaf

18/09/2011

I’ve been making this quite a bit recently and had lots of very complimentary comments about it. If you like gingerbread at all, just try it out, you’ll love it. Makes a lovely, moist gingerbread loaf, very easy to do.

Ingredients

175g Unsalted butter
200g soft brown sugar (can use caster)
3 tablespoons golden syrup
250ml milk
250g plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (can use allspice here)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / Gas 4. Grease and flour a 20x10cm loaf tin.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the the butter, and add the sugar, golden syrup and milk. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat and set aside.
  3. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl. Stir in the boiled mixture until just blended.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.
  5. Turn down the oven to 160°C / Gas 2 1/2 and bake for one hour or until the top of the loaf springs back when lightly touched.
That’s it, very simple. Enjoy!

Fat People & The Future Of The World

29/09/2010

I write this as I sit beside the pool in Porec, Croatia. So, what does a late summer holiday have to with mankind’s destiny you say? Well, nothing particularily, but what I have seen while here is the state of health of the western world. Europe along with America sees itself as the leaders of the modern world, but for a moment, consider the attitudes we have to health, welfare, diet and even defence.

Health : I recently watched a documentary covering the subject of liver disease. Most of the patients there were suffering from liver failure due to alcohol abuse. Others suffered from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (something I was recently diagnosed with) which is equally life threatening, causing liver and other organ failure as it progresses. Both can be easily avoided and the latter cured. NAFLD can be cured by losing weight and by cutting out or avoiding alcohol. Sanctimoniously, I can announce I have done both and am clear (for now) of any problem. I just have to be careful with weight and probably avoid booze for the rest of my life.

The people in the documentary were mostly awaiting liver transplants, 900 of which are available in the UK every year at a cost of £100,000 each. 7,000 people are on the waiting list for a liver however, so I suppose 6,100 are sentenced to death as a result of not enough organs or money being available.

The attitude of some of the people who had NAFLD was shocking however. “I’ll carry on drinking, I don’t worry about my diet” an overweight twenty-something declared – “when I need one, the NHS will give me a transplant, after all that’s what my taxes pay for”. This attitude sickened me to the core of my healing liver. What if I had needed, or should need a liver, but become one of the 6,100 fated souls at the expense of this binge drinking porker? I would feel unfairly treated. After all, like famous footballers before, she would probably go on to pickle the donated one in any case. The incidence of NAFLD has increased 400% in the last ten years, and may well become a bigger killer than heart disease in the next twenty.

My real point? We treat the NHS as a crutch for our unhealthy lifestyle. Taxes on cigarettes and booze pay for healthcare as if it’s a justified vice and the tax is some form of life insurance policy.

Welfare : We have gone far too soft on those who choose not to work and subsequently not contribute to our country and state. You can now leave school, even leave it early, have children and get housing, even without getting a job or earning a penny. Young, single parent families seem to have priority over council housing, making cheap housing inaccessible for those who choose to work and pursue a career. Ironically, buying a house is now even more out of reach than it has ever been in modern times for our hard working young people. So, those who are low-achievers will often take the easy way out, relying on the state for housing and handouts.

Diet : This has to be the biggest contributor to the decline of the modern Western World. As our lives become busier, our demand for fast food becomes more. We buy ready meals, eat take away food or dine on burgers and pizzas. Foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugars, direct contributors to weight gain – either very visible, or as in my case mostly fat on the liver. The human body is simply not designed to deal with the vast volumes of sugars and refined foods we attempt to pass through it nowadays, meat and vegetables are what we are intended to eat, but we supplement our Kentucky Fried Chicken with chocolates, cakes and sweets between meals. Gastric bands, once treated like cosmetic surgery, is often now available via the NHS as reducing weight itself will cause less of a burden on the service in the future as weight gain causes not just liver disease, but is better known for causing heart attacks and other coronary killers.

This is where I return to what I have realised on holiday. Watching hordes of fat Germans, Italians and English queue for the hotel buffet, loading up and overloading plates with pizza, chips and pasta, it’s not going to get any better. A large number are little older than me, but already walking with sticks and looking, well frankly, fit for nothing. OK, I managed to lose weight, so I’m a reformed fatty, probably worse than a reformed smoker, but I now enjoy salads and high protein foods like chicken and fish and while I don’t abstain totally, I avoid high carbohydrate foods like potato and pasta.

Defence : This is where this story unfolds. With current constraints on public spending, the UK government is considering suspending or scrapping the building of two new aircraft carriers, reducing the size of the armed forces – even the Territorial Army is set to be reduced by 60%, and even scrapping our nuclear deterrent is a possibility. At a time when our already reduced armed forces are horribly stretched in foreign wars, we have to ask if our defence is adequate given new risks we may face. Possibly not Russia any more, the real cold war is largely over, but there are new risks out there, very different from the last World Wars.

The Middle East is where everyone focusses, obviously because of the region’s significance in oil, but there are massive continents with millions of healthy, young people who could fight for their cause wether a common or a dictated one.

Many don’t have a welfare system like ours, but in their own way encourage child birth and population growth exactly because they don’t. Take Pakistan and many African countries as examples. These countries have growing populations, and populations that are getting younger as a result, not older like ours. The reason? Probably mainly because a family’s legacy is the home and farm associated with it. There are no employees, just the family to tend the fields, so to have more workers on the farm and produce more, it’s simple. Have more children. There’s also no infrastructure with towns having the odd McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, the food eaten is by necessity as high protein as possible, but in any case, very low in fat and sugars. Cynically, I wonder if this is why Africa produces so many World class athletes?

North Korea has a highly controlled population, fiercely loyal (maybe through fear) and again, none of our western afflictions. China is similar, although they have had a one family/one child rule for nearly twenty five years now and now have a declining and ageing population, which will give them a new set of problems in years to come. However, at the moment, they are a significant force to be reckoned with, if only for sheer numbers. Japan, although it has bee infected with our culture, largely does not have the health problems of the West.

Just a few countries who arguably are in better condition than ours. While financially, maybe not, but in terms of health and certainly attitude and loyalty. What would happen if they just got organised and mobilised against us? How many of our fat, dole taking, NHS draining layabouts would willingly join up and fight to support the way of life that they are accustomed to?

God forbid that the African & Eastern nations should join forces, we may think that our technology and nuclear arms are all we need to be safe, but modern terrorism has shown that it’s people on the ground that are what really counts. Make that huge numbers of fit, fanatical people against apathetic, artery clogged populations and I think there’s no match.


Forty, Fat & Unfit

29/09/2009

Well, fortyish…

Back in June 2008 I had a routine blood test. My liver was found to be over-active, with elevated ALT and iron levels very high. After a couple more blood tests, I was referred to a liver specialist.  This was the start of a rollercoaster ride of worry.

First, I was sent for an ultrasound – yes the sort that pregnant women had. The doctor confirmed that I wasn’t pregnant and that there was a layer of fat on my liver. Normal for my age apparently. I was 45, 5’9″ tall and 14 stone in weight. Not excessive, but maybe a little lardy!

Back to the specialist, who scratched his head a little and sent me for a CT scan. A most unpleasant experience with the iodine being pumped into your body so the scan shows up. Nothing untoward showed up there either.

Finally, the day before Christmas Eve, I am sent for a liver biopsy to make sure there’s nothing abnormal with my liver. This is a procedure that you remain conscious for as the doctor inserts a needle through your left hand side and into the liver. You have to stop breathing as this is done to stop the organs moving around and causing internal bleeding – the most common complication with a liver biopsy. The sensation is like being punched in the side, you can feel the needle push, then pierce the organ as it goes in for the sample. The biopsy failed, so a second needle was inserted (after a little swearing from myself). You then have to lie on your side for two hours, then stay in bed being observed for a further four before being allowed home.

So, wait for the results, then back to the specialist for a verdict.

Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease was the diagnosis in my case. Some people can cope with fat on the liver, but in my case, it makes it go berserk. Excessive iron and other enzymes won’t directly kill you through liver failure, but will cause other organs to have problems. The cure is to lose weight.

I was basically told “it’s not the liver that’ll kill you, but the iron buggering up your other organs”.

So, some incentive then. The prescribed diet was no carbs (no potatoes, rice, pasta, bread), no sugar (cakes, biscuits, sweets,fizzy drinks etc.), and no red meat. So, chicken, fish, salad, vegetables and fruit. Cheese and dairy is OK. I’d already given up the booze when all of this started back in June.

Weight falls off, but it’s boring, and I stuck to it 100% (they scared the sh*t out of me – quite literally).  After about three months, I’d lost about a stone and a half, after five or so, two stone.

I joined a gym too, and when asked what my goal was, I replied “I want to move this up about a foot”, pointing at my stomach.

Back for blood tests and the final verdict after doing what I’ve been told by the specialist. If the blood enzymes are not back to normal, I’m in real trouble. Liver transplant or worse.

The specialist tells me I’ve got the all clear, blood results are back to normal, so I can eat normally now, but I have to keep the weight under control. 11st 12lb at the consultation for the record – a couple of pounds lost through worry no doubt!

I’m keeping the weight off successfully, three months on and still hovering around twelve stone. I avoid eating excessively, I’m still not drinking (mostly). I had two pints of Guinness two weeks ago – a real bender!, but drinking is a rarity now. I don’t eat chocolate bars as snacks any more & sweets just seem pointless. Yoghurt for breakfast, a salad and something like chicken or prawns for lunch and a normal dinner. Crisps and things like pizza are best avoided.

Our office has moved, so visiting the gym’s a problem, but I’m cycling to and from the station every day, so I’m reasonably active. Carrying my cameras around at the weekend is more exercise – yes really! Have you seen me carrying two large cameras and lenses?

Some bonuses :

I’m fitter. Nothing fazes me any more, like long walks, or the odd sprint etc.

I used to have trouble with my knees, and carrying about 15% less weight through them has just about cured that problem.

The downside is that I’ve had to buy new trousers. I’ve gone down two inches on my waist size.

I know that it sounds like a cliché, but I feel ten years younger – some people even say I look it!

Hundreds of chickens have died to help me achieve my goal and I thank them.