Saturday, 22 December 2007

Cajun Vegetable Soup Recipe

This recipe came about for two reasons

1) My daughter Emily has a really bad cold and what appears to be a very sore throat and doesn't want to eat any of her favorite foods.

2) We're going away for a couple of days and have a load of vegetables left over from our organic box delivery that needed to be used up.

This recipe can be pretty much adapted to use any spare vegetables that you have lying around.


  • Saucepan or Casserole (if you want to make a lot)
  • Hand Blender
  • 1 Onion
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • 1 Large Potato
  • 1 Large Parsnip
  • 4 Large Carrots
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 Litre of stock or water
  • Milk
  • Butter and Olive Oil

Finely chop your onions and garlic.

Add the butter to the saucepan and melt over a low heat on your hob. Add some olive oil.

Add the garlic and onions and mix well with a wooden spoon to ensure that they get a good coating of butter and oil.

Put the lid on the saucepan and leave to sweat for 5 minutes. The onions should soften but not burn.

Peel the potato and chop up to little pieces. With the parsnips and carrots, simply scrub to remove any dirt and chop into little pieces.

Add the potatoes, carrots and swedes to the onions, put the lid back on and leave for another 5 minutes to allow all the vegetables to soften.

Add 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning to the soft vegetables and mix in thoroughly and cook for another minute.

Add your litre of vegetable stock to the mixture. If you don't have time to make stock (and who does?), I suggest using Swiss Vegetable Bouillon which is an excellent substitute.

If you like your soups a little creamy, add a splash of milk.

Leave the soup on a rolling simmer for half an hour. This is where you get a tiny stream of bubbles appearing.

After half an hour, either pour into a blender or use a hand blender to get it to the consistency that you like.

Serve and Enjoy

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Is Jacob Zuma bad news for South Africa?

With a South African wife and daughter and in laws still leaving in South Africa, I like to pay close attention as to what is happening in that country.

This weeks big news is that Jakob Zuma, the colourful and controversial Zulu politician has been elected head of the ANC and quite likely the next South African president. Its generally assumed by the white population that this is a bad thing due to his more radical views and perhaps more importantly impending court case on corruption charges.

Zuma has fantastic grass routes support for one very good reason, in that 50% of South Africans have seen very little change in their lives since the end of Apartheid in 1994. Great leaps forward have been made in some areas so that people still have clean water and a constant power supply, but a lot of people are still living in poverty, whereas the white population hasn't really suffered too many hardships since the end of apartheid.

William Gumede writes a very thought provoking article called Zuma's victory may trigger the break-up of the ANC in which he looks at the reasons why Zuma one and concludes it was Zuma was seen of the lesser of two evils by lot of the ANC who had finally got tired of Thabo Mbeki.

If you're South African or just interested, I recommend reading the article

Thoughts from a concerned dad

Ever since becoming a Dad to a young daughter, I'm been having the same thoughts that I am sure that most parents have about worrying about the world that they are growing up.

Libby Purves in today's Guardian has written an excellent article called A tide of bland imagery tells girls that sexy is everything which pretty much sums up what I have been thinking about when it comes to world that girls grow up in and pressures that have to put up with

One particularly interesting and potentially worrying point was that" research analysis undertaken by Women in Journalism this year found that, while primary school girls were happy to imagine themselves as the next prime minister, aspirations shrunk with age to dwell around the appearance-dependent occupations of modelling, pop singing and generic celebrity" concerned

Eddie Izzards Death Star Canteen

As well as useful physics lectures and all the stuff to enhance your mind, YouTube is also great for finding stuff that is just funny.

A friend recommended looking up the words Death Star Canteen which is a two and a half minute sketch by British comedian Eddie Izzard about Darth Vader waiting in line to be served. The joy of this video is that someone has used Lego star wars characters to act it out.

There's more to YouTube than you think

If you think Youtube is all about exploding Pepsi bottles and the fun Will It Blend series of clips, think again.

According to the article Top of the iTunes chart: meet the professor who's making physics cool, some of the biggest performing videos on Youtube and Itunes are from professors who are using it spread their message. So far there have been at least 250,00 viewing of the videos on YouTube

I've embedded a highlight video of Professor Walter Lewin who uses all types of props and stunts to educate his students in the laws of physics.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Peter Garrett brings Australia back into the enviromental fold

Over the last couple of years, Australia appears to have followed Americas lead and denied that global warming or climate change was happening. It looks like a seven year drought at home and other internatioanl warning signs may have been enough to convince enough Australians that it was time for a change.

Who better to lead this change, then Peter Garrett, former front man for Midnight Oil who is now the Labour environment minister. Midnight Oil is a band that I have followed for nearly 15 years and whom are best know known in their UK for their single Beds are Burning.

Midnight Oil tackled a whole range of issues that ranged from aboriginal rights, Geo politics and perhaps most importantly the environment. Songs such River Runs Red from their Blue Sky Mining album in 1990 tackled the destruction of the rain forest way before it was on the public consciousness.

Its going to be interesting to see how much impact such a passionate man such as Peter can make and how many compromises he is going to have to make along the way to achieve his goals.

There is already some controversy over the fact that he is not responsible for negotiating Australia's position on the Kyoto treaty, but its early days.


Friday, 30 November 2007

How to Encrypt Your Data & Files When Emailing or Sending It

Its a shame that the no-one at HMRC thought about using one of the most commonly used software programs installed when sending their data Winzip.

The latest versions of Winzip have a built in encryption function that contains up to 256bit encryption, which should shop anyone apart from possibly MI5, GCHQ or the NSA from looking into your file.

To encrypt the data, all you do is create the zip file as normal and then:

1. Press the Encrypt buttom at the top of the Winzip tool bar

2. Select the type of encryption you want - I'd recommend the AES 256 bit option, rather than the weaker Winzip password which can be broken relativly easily.

3. Enter the password - the longer the better and ideally with numbers and characters

4. PC has an excellent password generator that will create random long passwords

4. That's it - the zip file is then encrypted and secure

You can now send it to anyone, just making sure you don't send the password in the same email

They'll need at least Winzip 10 or higher to read the file. When they extract the file, they'll be asked for the password. Once that has been successfully put in, they can extract the file.

Winzip is currently around £20 per user - a lot cheaper than a £5000 fine from the Information Commissioner

Monday, 26 November 2007

Death by water

Next time you think you're having a rough time, spend a couple of seconds and consider those people that don't have access to clean water for either drinking or sanitation.

Where death by water is part of daily life, by Larry Elliott details just how bad the situation and how little the developing world is really doing to help those in places such as Bangladesh. If you don't have time to read the full article, just consider these two salient facts.

  • According to the UN 2.6 billion people live in insanitary conditions
  • 2oo children an hour die from water borne diseases
If you feel like doing something about it, the charity WaterAid is a good place to start

Untergunther - Breaking and Repairing

Unlike most people who break into a property and then either steal something or trash it, the Untergunther group in Paris has a different motive. Their aim is to restore French cultural heritage.

In September 2005, the group broke into the Panthéon in Paris and set about restoring the antique clock that had been left to rust in. Repairing

Read more at Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock

At last, the Church of England finally makes a stand

Readers of this blog know that organised religion and I parted company quite some time ago. I like to think of myself as an agnostic bordering on the atheist (still not quite ready to make the final jump.

Whatever I or other agnostics / atheists think about organised religion, we do need to respect other peoples beliefs and views, even if we think they are wrong. What I often find surprising is how quiet the church can be over some of the big issues that face us such as global warming.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams making some very valid points about American foreign policy and Christain fundementalism. To quote from an interview he gave to the Muslim magazine Emel.

  • "It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that's what the British empire did - in India, for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together - Iraq, for example."
  • He had told his interviewer that he found Christian Zionism "not at all easy to accept", adding that it was connected with the "chosen national myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God's purpose for humanity".
Surely this what the church should be doing - standing up and saying what it thinks rather than worrying what people think it should say.

The Guardian has more Archbishop thrown into row over US Middle East policy

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Class War comes to the Gower

Originally uploaded by zippy

Its always nice when the national papers manage to report on a story just near you, rather than wander no further than London.

Our nearest beach, Langland, has always had beach huts and these were always very fairly provided by a ballot that was open to any local taxpayer. You got them for a three month period and then if you wanted them again, you had to put your name into the ballot.

In an effort to reduce their budget deficit, the council has decided to decided to offer 25% of the 80 huts out on a 10 year lease for a £10,000 payment. While this nets the council an immediate £200,000 sum, it means that what used to be a resource that was open to all, becomes something that is only available to those with a spare £10,000.

The council has said that the money will be spent renovating the huts, but has been vague on whether it is all the huts or just those who have spent £10,000.

The biggest shame is that the only people who can really afford the money are the people who live closest to the beach, those who live in Langlands and the Mumbles. Although I should point out, not all of us who live in the Mumbles have a spare £10,000 to spend.

The Observer has the full story called Class Row over beach huts where Dylan Thomas kissed

A Musical Tribute To Apollo 11

A friend of mine, Graham, has released an album called Eleven, which is a musical tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing.

As well as making a great sounding album, Grahams built a great web site to promote the album and which many aspiring bands and artists could learn something from.

  • The website is about the album itself rather than the artists
  • The look and feel fits in the ambient nature of the album
  • Best of all, an inbuilt music player that allows you to hear a sample from each track
    • The music player uses Flash, which has now overtaken every other plugin to become the defacto standard for audio and visual content on the web
Check it out, try the music and if you like it, buy it for the bargain price of £7.99

How one person can make a difference

When confronted with the questions and issues around climate change and global warming, many people say "What difference can I make" and carry on consuming as before.

Thank goodness that Rebecca Hoskings decided to not to follow this approach. After seeing the affect that plastic rubbish was having on the wildlife on Midway Island in the Pacific, she returned home to the town of Modbury and within a month had persuaded all 43 shopkeepers in the town to stop giving away plastic bags and use cloth bags instead. So far, the local shopkeeper reckon they have kept 500,000 bags from ending up in the rubbish.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Those missing child benefit disks

Good to see that some people still have a sense of humour. The Register found the following for auction on Ebay this morning, shame the spoilsports at Ebay didn't see the funny side.

The disks were advertised as follows....

Here we have two CD-R's for auction. They are not blank, but seem to have some sort of database written to them. I found them in my local courier firm's sorting office, addressed to

"Her Majesties Audit Office - Child Benefits Section" and marked


They were obviously surplus to requirements.

I haven't read the data myself. The database appears to have approximately 25 milion records in it, but is password protected, so it is impossible to read it and it's definitely impossible to extract any bank account data from it.

Any information that you might discover (should you be lucky enough to win the auction for these useful items and read the database thereon) must be kept in the strictest confidence.

0.99p start and no reserve, so grab yourself a bargain. All profit from these items will be donated to Sue Ryder Care.

Cash on collection ONLY please from Portsmouth PO8, since we wouldn't want these to get lost in the post!

PLEASE NOTE: Government departments should contact me by email before bidding, since they will have to be vetted for competence before entrusting such items to them.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Stanford's 10 Guidelines for Increased Web Credibility

The first set of Standford Credibility Guidelines was published over 5 years and their guidelines are still applicable. Thanks to the guys at FutureNow for finding this updated 65 page presenation on their findings.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Ridley Scott Creative Process for his first three films

Wired Magazine has a fascinating interview with Ridley Scott about his film career. One of the best bits is how the first three films shaped the process. I dropped the quote in directly, but I would recommend reading the full Ridley Scott interview

[E]very time you do a movie, in fact, the more experience you get, you can almost say, the less you know. Because the more you know, the more can go wrong. So that can also make you more insecure. But I guess I don't really worry about much. I just try and do the best I can on the set.

[At the time I made Blade Runner], I'm in three movies. I mean [Blade Runner] is my third movie. My first movie is pretty good actually, called The Duellists. And that was criticized for being too beautiful, and you know, I took that to heart. So the next one was Alien, and that was less beautiful but more impressive and more grungy. I was criticized for a lack of character development. I said, "What fucking character development do you need when you've got that son of a bitch on board?"

So I started getting defensive, then realized actually I was in fairly good shape in terms of being a film director, because for the kind of movies that I will do, I will be always very visual. And I won't push it in your face, but I know it's an advantage. I've got a good eye, and I don't know what a good eye means, but I've got a good eye, I think. I can align and see way beforehand, imagine way beforehand, what's going to be. That's good, that's very useful. Because some people don't have that, they [need to have] other talents.

I've had to evolve my capabilities in developing material... Alien I was sent, and I read it and thought, "I know what to do with this," and didn't want to change anything. Because they kept saying, "Want to change anything?" "Nope." They said, "No?" I said, "No. That's it. Let's go." So that was great, because that flew.

And then Blade Runner was the play, which then evolved for eight months every day. [The writer] and I and [the producer] every day talked, talked, talked, talked. As [the producer] was trying to get the financing, the film was growing. And that was interesting because that was a real evolution of working alongside a writer that I really respect. And it was hard for him because sometimes he'd say "Oh fuck." I'd suddenly have this brain wave that comes from a visual notion. We'd get a lot of, "Oh God, I thought we had that worked out." I said, "Yeah, but wouldn't this be great?" And he'd say, "Yeah, but that will mean this, this, this, and this." [And] then there's a domino effect...

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Should we stop eating Kettle Crisps?

When Kettle Crisps launched a couple of years ago, it could be said that revolunisted the crisp market. Out went the standard flavours such as salt and vinegar, to be replaced with the far more fancy Sea Salt and Balsamic vinegar. They certainly cost more, but they just seemed to taste better. You knew how successful they had got when all the supermarkets started to produce their own upmarket crisps.

It appears that those of us who like to make an ethical choice about what we buy may now have to consider boycotting Kettle crisps. According to the Guardian, It appears that the private equity firm that owns Kettle crips has employed an American firm who specialise in union busting to dissaude their workers from joining a union.

Unions certainly are not perfect and often make bad mistakes such as the most recent tube strike. However, they do stand up for workers rights which is becoming increasing important in these days when firms are increasing relying more on temporary workers (Poor pay, no rights: UK's new workforce 24th Sept 2007)

Read the article Kettle Chips calls in US union-busters to stop recognition and make up your own mind

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

How sea tubes could slow climate change

When scientists such as James Lovelock come up with new ideas about climate change, they are always worth listening.

His latest idea is to dot the worlds oceans with 200m tubes to bring alge rich water up to surface so that they can bloom and capture capture carbon dioxide.

Even if this doesn't work it might just spark someone else to come up with an even better idea.

Trying Something Different

For some unknown reason, my favourite paper the Guardian wasn't available the other day in Swansea, so I thought I'd try the Independent instead.

As a student I'd always read the Indy, but over the years I was lured away to the guardian by a better standard of writing and especially the breadth of columnists.

Have to say that it I was really impressed by that days Indy. Perhaps not enough to switch full time, but it kept me busy for my journey up to London.

Two particular items caught my eye.

Weapons left by us troops used as bait to kill Iraqis which details how us sniper teams have been deliberately leaving weapons out in the open and then shooting anyone who picks them up on the assumption they must be terrorists. Those shot can therefore be counted as enemy combatants and therefore used to justify the success of the surge.

The battle of Little Rocks is apart an interview that Louis Armstrong gave in 1957 about civil rights. Before this interview, Louis Armstrong had been regarded as an uncle tom character by many civil rights activists. The interview shocked America and his concerts were boycotted in the same way that the Dixie chicks were to be 40 years later when they criticised president bush.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Libraries rock

There are very few authors whose books I want to read as soon as they come out, but for William Gibson I make an exception. His new book Spook Country came out two weeks ago, but seeing as I have around 15 books sitting by the side of my bed waiting to be read, I decided not to buy the hardback and decided to just wait for the paperback to come out.

Meagan, my wife, made the very sensible suggestion to ask at the local library. Having read about the financial pressures on local libraries, I thought the chances of actually getting it were fairly slim, what with all the copies of Harry Potter they've probably had to buy.

Therefore I was very pleasantly surprised when Meagan came home with the hardback which I'll be reading over the next couple of days.

This may sound like a conspiracy theory...

While the city fund managers had every right to feel very jittery about Northern Rock this week, it seem just a little strange that the Bradford and Bingley and the Alliance and Leicester had sharp drops in the share price.

The business sections of the broadsheet papers have been pointing out over the last year that the Northern Rock mortgage book was full of buy to let and sub prime mortgages and therefore the most vulnerable.

However while there has been some discussion on the smaller banks abilities to withstand a downturn in the economy, I don't think anyone expected to see such a dumping of these stocks and at such a rate.

Call me cynical, but is it just possible that some people in the city with sizable cash reserves stirred up the hysteria to see the price drop and then dived in at the last minute knowing that they could make a killing.

Admittedly you need balls of steel to carry this out, but the really smart money would have avoided Northern Rock like the plague as it was just too risky and concentrated on a softer target such as the A&L

Monday, 17 September 2007

Now that's what I call asking the customer

The Guardian reports that the co-op is planning to ask all of its members and customers about their green and ethical policies.

Worth reading for the comments from the head of co-op about the fact that growing roses in Holland generates six times as much co2 than in Kenya due to amount of heating and lighting used.

I don't know whether this is true or not but it is good to see a company that has the guts to take such a bold step, especially if they are planning to publish the results as a benchmark.

At long last... the truth about Iraq

From todays Guardian, Alan Greenspan the former head of the US federal reserve admits that the war in the Iraq may have been over oil after all....

In the book Mr Greenspan writes: "Whatever their publicised angst over Saddam Hussain's 'weapons of mass destruction', American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in the area that harbours a resource indispensable for the functioning of the world economy. I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

OK, so it taken nearly 4 years to be honest and come out and say what the rest of us have known for ages, but I like this new spirit of honesty. Next, we might even George admitting that he didn't really win his first election and that he'd like to say sorry to AL

Friday, 14 September 2007

A radical green agenda that the press manages to ignore

Two weeks ago the Liberal Democrat party released possibly the most radical green agenda that this country has seen for quite some time

It combined huge improvements in energy efficiency, renewables for generation and international carbon trading schemes.

Yet the press managed to ignore this which was a real shame as it outlined a radically different future. Unlike either the Labour and Conservative parties who have pussy footed around the issue, is suggested some very clear measures.

Ashley Seager, the guardians economics correspondent delves into this issue further in his article political climate change is changing faster than our prime minister

Wish Lists - Another trick from Amazon

Whenever I need to see how an ecommerce web site presents products, I'll often end up at Amazon just to see how they have done it.

Amazon has obviously realised that I havn't bought anything off my wish list in ages, so has decided to remind me on when I went to the site today. The arrows allow to scroll through the list so that I can see whats on the list.

Now all they need to do is tell me how much I am going to save on each book and the credit card will be out

Monday, 10 September 2007

What's the Metros Agenda?

For those readers who live outside of the uk, The Metro is a free newspaper that is distributed in most of the major UK cities. Since it was first launched over 5 years ago, its proved very popular and many people, including a lot of friends have stopped buying a normal newspaper and just pick up the metro.

At least when you buy a paper, you normally know its political point of view, as you're going to choose a paper that matches your own. The Metro has very little actual analysis and normally concentrates on celebrity stories.

This mornings front page story was about a so called 'report' by the tax payers alliance into how UK families are paying £400 extra over the amount needed to cover their carbon footprint. Clearly the Taxpayers Alliance has an axe to grind over this and are certainly entitles to their point of view as is any individual or organisation.

What is surprising is that a survey run by a group with a clear right wing agenda manages to make it onto the front page of a national paper. If the conservative party was making a song and dance about this, I could understand.

Hence to the title of this post. The metro is owned by associated newspapers who also own the daily mail which is clearly aimed at white conservative middle class Britain, so what exactly is associated press up to?.

With so many stories that they could have run about the effect that global change is having, why concentrate on this non issue.

Instead of getting people to actually start thinking about the earth and each other, this article does nothing more than reinforce the Whats in it for me attitude.

Being Ahead Of The Curve

As reported by the Financial Times, the Guardian and the BBC, it appears that elements of the Chinese army have been tested the electronic defences of this country.

Once again it looks like William Gibson was ahead of the curve in his book Neuromancer in which he foresaw the Chinese army deploying large virus clouds to take out part of cyberspace.

If you haven't already read Neuromancer, I'd highly recommend doing so as William Gibson describes the cyberspace & the web back in 1986, a full three years before Tim Berners Lee even started fiddling around with it at Cern. Its influence can be seen in films such as the Matrix.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Why hasn't Desmond been made a saint yet?

The BBC reports that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has praised the unifying power of the Braai or the barbecue as it's known in the rest of the world.

We have 11 different official languages but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai: in Xhosa, English, Afrikaans, whatever," he said.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Brainstorming - Does it actually work

Marc Andreessen (the guy who developed the Netscape browser) asks whether brainstorming actually works and quotes a passage from the The Medici Effect.

It looks at whether brainstorming in groups or brainstorming individually was more effectively. Two sets of studies found that brainstorming individually generated twice as many ideas

Monday, 23 July 2007

At long last - Tetra Paks now recyclable

On my last recycling run to the tip on Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I can now finally recycles my tetra pack cartons.

HippyShopper has the full story and the Tetrapak website has a interactive map that allows you to see whether your local authority recycles them.

It would have been nice if they could have done a nice Google maps mashup so that I could see where the actual 4 locations in Swansea are, but at least its a start

Monday, 2 July 2007

America Finally Realises What News Actually Is

Irrespective of whether the MSNBC newscaster Mika Brzezinski had planed this for weeks or just did it on the spur of the monent, this is a great piece of television.

To sum it up, Mika rebels against her stations decesion to place the paris hilton leaving prison story ahead of an political story about Iraq.


Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Organic Local Carrots - Or are they

Todays Guardian has a story called Sainsbury's giant carrot washer, and the rejected royal roots which tells how Sainsburys have apparently rejected the organic carrots from not just Prince Charles estate, but also the head of the Soil Associations, Michael Holden

It appears that the carrots failed the cosmetic test and therefore did not look pretty enough to sit to the shelves. To be fair to Sainsburys, I guess all the major supermarkets are guilty of this and Michael Holden goes as far to say Mr Holden said: "Everyone who has supplied a supermarket own label will have a story similar to mine to tell, but most daren't tell it. This is not confined to one supermarket - Sainsbury's have in fact been more supportive of organic farming than some others."

The problem that all the supermarkets appear to face is that their distribution centres are not setup to deal with local produce being supplied to local markets. Instead they appear to be sent from warehouse to warehouse.

The article in todays paper is not available on line, so I've replicated the journey below using Google Maps to calculate the miles

  1. Carrots trucked from Michael Holden farm in Lampeter, Wales to Ross on Wye 82 Miles
  2. Trucked from Ross on Wye to Peterborough (washing / polishing) - 144 miles
  3. Trucked from Peterborough to Bristol Distribution Centre - 169 Miles
  4. Trucked from Bristol to my local Swansea Sainsburys - 80 miles
I'm not expecting any of the supermarkets to be able to ship directly from a farm to the supermarket (Lampeter to Swansea is 51 miles), but a trip of 475 miles seems a little excessive.

What I find hard to believe is that the supermarkets havn't done their market research into those people who buy organic food. Most people who get an organic box delivered to their door accept that the food isn't perfectly shaped and may come with some dirt on it - thats the price we pay for having food that has come straight from a local farm.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Please Leave Your Faith At The School Gates

When it comes to religion, I'm happy to admit that i am an agnostic verging towards atheism. That's my personal choice and when it comes to other peoples choices, that's also their own personal choice.

That said, i am not a big fan of mixing religion and the public sector especially schools. To me faith schools are decisive in that a child's education is decided by their parents beliefs or so called beliefs.

Take a look at the social makeup of many faith schools and you'll see that the middle classes have learnt how to play the system. Alternatively take a trip to a church on Sunday and wonder why churches are half empty despite all these parents claiming regular attendance.

The Guardian carried a story last week about a teaching assistant wouldn't let a child read out a Harry Potter story because she was an Evangelical christian. Her reason apparently was that the book glorified witchcraft.

What i find a little worrying is that the teaching assistant thought she had the right to impose her views on a nine year old child.

One wonders what would have happened if the child had picked up one of CS Lewis Narnia series, such as the Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. On one hand its crammed full of christian mythology, yet on the other it also contains witchcraft and magic.

Obviously we need to have limits and common sense on what can and cant be taught, as we don't want our children being taught revisionist history about the holocaust, but when it comes to religion, leave it at the school gate

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Bad Science keeps up the good work

The bad science that I am referring to is the name of the column in the Saturday guardian that sets out to debunk the bad science that is peddled by the charlatans that try and scare people about the dangers of everyday life.

Recent excellent articles have included ones on people selling devices to cancel out electromagnetic rays , the bad science behind the recent Panoram program on wifi and about Gillian Mckeith (the one who is obsessed by poo and has decided to stop calling herself a doctor - perhaps because she isn't qualified).

This weeks one concerns a Professor David Colquhoun who had some very sensible questions about claims made by a Dr Ann Walker for a herbal remedy conisting of red clover. His questions were posted them on his UCL (University College London Blog).

Apparently (and according to the Guardian article) the response were legal threats from Dr Walkers husband to which the university apparently caved in to. The good news was that the blogosphere rallied to the Professors side and deluged the Provost of UCL with letters demanding the reinstatement of his blog.

Even better was the fact that the theories being put about by Dr Walker were discussed in great length and to no great surprise most of them appeared not to believe a word.

The media world needs more people like Ben Goldacre to stop the myth peddlers from scaring people into buying things that they don't need.

Monday, 11 June 2007

CO2 sponge losing ability to soak up extra emissions

As predicted by the majority of the scientists who are actively involved in climate change research, the world appears to suffering from a feedback loop, whereby an increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, means the earth is less able to deal with the CO2, thus exacerbating the problem.

The Southern Ocean which traditionally has been able to soak up a proportion of the CO2 that the earth generates, has not been able to keep up with the increase in CO2, meaning that the other natural spongues such as the forests will have more difficulty in keeping up.

Michael Moore knows how to sell a film

People don't tend be ambivalent about Michael Moore and that's certainly the case in the US. While to our supposedly more sophisticated European tastes we might find him a little obvious and crude, he is certainly the only person on the left taking on the Bush establishment in such a vocal and public manner.

He is latest film Sicko examines the American health care system and includes taking policeman and fireman who suffer from respiratory problems due to 9/11 to Cuba for treatment.

It appears that the Michael Moore has helped out his nemesis Jim Kenefick who runs the site According to the Guardian, Moore anonymously paid $12,000 towards his Keneficks wife's treatment.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Make your customers feel more secure

The BBC News technology site brings us a report that says people are prepared to pay a little extra for goods if they think that they can trust a web site with their personal information.

While I think the test is a little skewed in that it asked people to use the P3p tool to evaluate the sites. The P3P's tool was designed to show how a site deals with privacy issues and most browsers allows you to see this (althought it is a little hidden). If you tell people that the tool will show how sites deal with privacy, its not surprising that most people will tell you that they feel more secure with a site that passes the P3P tests.

We've been telling clients for years that its important to reassure people about their data and we've seen uplifts in conversion of around 10% on sites such by telling people what happens to their data.

Creating a policy is fairly simple and for most sites and worth the £18 ($35) that sites such as P3P Writer and P3P Edit charge

Monday, 21 May 2007

Dash Into Biofuels Can Be Harmful Says Co-op

The Co-op and its financial services arm CIS are among a growing band of organisations who are warning about rushing into the biofuels market until further research into their impact and sustainability are investigated

Investor forces ethics on to Tesco agenda

In a story that may strike fear into the heart of some of the biggest companies in the country, a retired solicitor has used Companies Act legislation to force Tescos to accept a resolution to be put to the company AGM that better conditions for workers overseas.

Its good to see that for once the law is being used to force Tescos to do something, rather than Tescos high paid lawyers using the law to browbeat councils opposing planning applications or create shell companies to minimise tax payments.

George Monbiots Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain describes exactly how devious the big supermarkets can be.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Warmest April for 140 years and no one is worried

Anyone living in the UK can't of helped notice how warm April has been and this week the Met office confirmed just how warm it has been. The Hadley Centre, which is part of the Met office confirmed that the same trend was now happening all over the world and was in line with their models for global warming.

Yet it seems that very few people are changing their lifestyles to cut down on their carbon footprints. Short haul flights are increasing every year, recycling rates are still the second lowest Europe and people seem to think they have plenty of time to make the change.

My friend Huge Gage had a great idea - at the end of the weather forcast, the presenter should then ask people why they thought it was so much warmer and then suggest that perhaps they should start taking some practical steps to reduce their carbon footprint.

Waitrose commits to sustainable farming

There is only one thing that I miss in Wales and that is a nearby Waitrose. Tesco's and Sainsburys are Ok, but don't have that special edge that Waitorose does.

Waitrose is part of the John Lewis group which is a workers cooperative and one of the original social enterprises. Like the Co-op, they have been at the forefront of trying to produce and enviromentally and ethically produced food.

This week they announced that by 2010 all conventional fresh, prepared and frozen fruit, vegetables and flowers on sale in is supermarkets would be farmed to high environmental standards using sustainable farming methods.

It'll be interesting to see if they can manage to actually to achieve this, considering the huge effort that this will take. The next step will then be to get all the other supermarkets to do the same.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next

Naomi Wolf writes an excellent article on how civil liberties are slowly being eroded by the Bush administration

She details the following ten steps that have been taken and asks whether the next president, Republican or Democrat will have the courage to rescind these steps.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Its a timely reminder that in these current times, we need to make doubly sure that when governments pass legislation that they are doing it for the right reasons.

In case you're wondering about the title, it comes from the Manic Street Preachers song about the Spanish civil war

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Is Foxs Bill O'Reilly really Lewis Prothero

Last week I watched the excellent OutFoxed which details the Republican bias of Fox news. Even if you think you know all about Fox News, the documentary is real eye opener.

I then watched V for Vendetta which while not being as good as the original book, is still worth watching, although you'll either either its got some really interesting messages or complete tosh (comments from two of my friends).

It did occur to me that V for Vendettas Voice of Nation character Lewis Prothero is in fact Foxes Bill O'Reilly.

Watch both and till me that I am wrong.

While I'm at it, check out my friend Floyds Blog as he originally introduced me to V for Vendetta

How do we reconnect people with the countryside

According to the Observer on Sunday, 32% of the British public still are not aware of climate change or the effects of it.

In a thought provoking article, Madeline Bunting examines how the British public have lost their connection with the countryside and how this affects their thinking with the environment.

She's perhaps a little over keen to knock the middle classes, but the core principle is correct in that we need to get those people to live in the cities to actually reconnect with the countryside in the same way that countries such as Sweden do.a

Ignore this at your peril

Just in case you had missed all the fuss about climate change and still are not sure exactly what could happen, this very informative article from the Guardians Climate Change section, breaks down the possible effects if the temperature gets 6C hotter.

Effects range from increased rainfall all the way to a methane burp from the oceans floor which cause a massive explosion.

If you're still no convinced by global warming, take a look at the latest pictures from Greenland and you'll see just how much the glaciers are retreating

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Teenagers will be teenagers

Looks like Georges Bush plan to stop American teenagers from having sex as backfired rather spectacularly. Despite spending just over $1bn dollars, American teenagers are ignoring the advice.

What's more worrying is that in a lot of US states, normal sex education classes that teach teenagers about sensible things such as condoms and STD's have stopped and replaced with the abstinence only message, thus leaving a lot of teenagers ignorant about important sexual health issues.

The Abstinence program has also been a core part of US overseas aid program. Theoretically it forms part of the ABC program (Abstinence, be faithful, use a condom), but a lot of time only the Abstinence program has been pushed while simultaneously withdrawing funding from programs for sex workers

Thursday, 12 April 2007

The Economist and Castro finally agree

Fidel Castro returns and delivers a speech that needed to be made about how the rush to biofuels means that land previusly dedicated to food will be converted to produce fuel. This benefits the first world and increases the problems in the third world.

The Economist, rarely a supporter of Castro agreed.

"But when he roused himself from his sickbed last week to write an article criticising George Bush's unhealthy enthusiasm for ethanol, he had a point."

It all comes back to the fact that the world still believes that we don't need to make a radical shift in the way that we live our life and believe that technology will do it for us.

Offsetting your carbon by planting trees? Could be doing more harm than good

Carbon offsetting appears to be the new trend whereby instead of concentrating on reducing your energy consumption, people find it easier to carry on flying and buy a few trees to offset their carbon emissions. Also known as greenwashing!

A new report from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in America indicates that unless the planting is done in certain areas, we could actually increase the amount of CO2 as planting trees on exposed areas may simply absorb the heat rather than reflect in back in the atmosphere.

Many companies now offer the choice of investing money in alternative technology as well as forestry. Lucy Siegel in the Observer has a piece on how to choose the best scheme

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Internet Security - Not important for half of all users

A item on the BBC News web site indicates that just over half of all internet users think that protecting their personal information is not their job.

I don't think that they are deliberatly being perverse and more a case of people not knowing any better as no-one has ever explained the issues to them. I guess the 52% of people are probably also the people who don't have PC's locked down with the latest anti virus, anti spyware and firewalls installed and therefore most likely to have a trojan or rootware somewhere on their system.

Wired magazine has a scary article on how zombie networks were used to cripple an anti spam service

Friday, 30 March 2007

Have a baby and lost two months sleep

According to the BBC News web site, new parents can lose up to two months sleep in the first year of life and I, or should I say may wife Meagan can certainly agree with that.

We've been really lucky with Emily and she only wakes once in the night. We've got friends who babys still regularly wake four times in the night and I'm not sure how they manage to actually keep going apart from a lot of coffee.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

How green is hydroelectic power?

You'd hope that hydroelectric power would be fairly sound way of producing electricity and one that had a fairly low carbon footprint once you've constructed the dam.

However interesting new research indicates that the flooding of valleys to create the reservoirs are increasing the amount of methane emissions due to the trees and vegatations rotting under the water. The problem isn't too bad in cold climates such as the UK, but is proving to be a major problem in countries such as Brazil who have heavily invested in hydroelectic.

The Guardian covers this in more detail in a story called Hidden Dangers

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Eco Kettles

When Meagan, Emily and I moved house, we realised that we didn't actually own a kettle, which gave me the opportunity to buy the Eco Kettle I had been coveting for a while. Meagans initial skepticsm that I was purchasing another gadget, has disappeared now that she has found out that she can boil just enough water for one cup of coffee.

If you're feeing really flush, try the Electrisave Electricity Monitor which will tell you how much electricity your house is consuming at one one time. Two of my friends have them and spend hours wandering around the house, turning items on and off and watching the consumption rise and fall.

I've linked to both items at the Ethical Superstore as that had the best price on the kettle but plently of other places have them.

All together now

Todays Observer has a story called Village that's saving the world. All the residents of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire have agreed to live a carbon neutral lifestyle and this ranges from doing simple things such as turning off chargers when they are not being used, to building a community grid for generating electricty.

The Guardian covered the story back in February in a piece called Village on the road to a carbon-neutral future and made the very good point that once the whole community became involved it became easier for people to become involved. Previously, people had said that while they had wanted to try the lifestyle, they hadn't wanted to be viewed as cranky.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Users vs owners - Myspace gets corporate

Saturdays Guardian has a piece about how Myspace is attempting to reposition itself as the one of the main distributors of digital content and how the user community is opposing it.

Tila Tequila, whose whole record career has been based around Myspace appears to have told to stop linking to an external company who were selling her downloads and Ms Tequila has been quite forthright in blogging about how she feels Myspace has changed.

Kind of reminds of ten years ago when the Internet first started becoming commercalised and the purists out there said the Internet would be ruined. Personally, I think anyone who has managed to build a very successful career and paid virtually nothing for the distribution costs, might actually appreciate that Myspace somewhere down the line needs to make some money.

The New York Times has an interesting article on this as well

Does this smack of desperation?

It appears that Sony was so desperate to get some publicity for the long awaited launch of the Playstation 3, they decided to give all the people who had queued for up to 24 hours outside Virgin megastores a free 42inch Sony Bravia plasma tv worth around £2000.

A fanatastic deal for those people who had just paid £425 for their new Playstations, but you do need to wonder what Sony gets out of this, apart from being £250,000 out of pocket. Sure, you're going to get some publicity, but its going to need to do a lot more to convince the public to stop buying Wii consoles and spend the twice as much on a Playstation 3

Liams art is finally online

My good friend Liam has finally got round to putting his art online so that you can all see what you are missing, and no he doesn't sell his art by the yard.

Friday, 23 March 2007

10 things that you can do to make your web site more profitable

Despite Jakob Nielsons egotisitcal style of writing, he normally has some interesting things to say about web site usability and nine times out of ten, he's right. The latest missive called 10 High-Profit Redesign Priorities looks at the ten ways you can make your site more profitable.

All of them are fairly obvious, but worth reading as its amazing that a lot of shops still make the same mistakes time and again.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Why life is good in South Wales

Now that Meagan, Emily and I have decided to stay in Wales for good and finally bought our house in the Mumbles, its good to see we have one of the worlds best beaches just around the corner.

Oxwich Bay was voted one of the 12 best beaches in the world by the Travel Magazine and while I prefer Rhossili beach, Oxwich Bay certainly is beautiful. So don't go to Bali this year, come and explore the wonders of the Gower instead.

Please turn it down....

At the risk of sounding like a grumy old man, one of the things that has been really bugging me recently is people who can't be bothered to use headphones when listening to music on their mobile phones in the belief that the rest of the world wants to listen to it. Normally its played really loud and on a very small loudspeaker which makes it twice as bad.

Therefore, I decided to politely ask them to turn it down (i.e off) and both times its had the desired effect, although I hadn't quite expected the young man on the Bakerloo line yesterday to shout its not fair and stomp off down the carriage like Kevin The Teenager

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Seth's Blog: The problem with "global warming"

I recently sent the following link Seth's Blog: The problem with global warming to a friend of mine to illustrate the problem that faces anyone who is trying to educate and inform about global warming.

As the article says, global warming sounds really positive wheras a phrase such as "Atmosphere cancer" or "Pollution death" has more impact. His best point is that we really need to see and use visual indicators to explain to people what is happening as you can't really see a ton of CO2 in the atmosphere.

If you're not already subscribers, I'd recommend subscribing to his blog

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

Despite all the evidence presented in Paris over the last couple of days, its good to see that the oil companies and especially Exxon Mobil are still funding think tanks that continue to deny the existence of climate change.

If you havn't already seen it, I'd recommend either reading or watchingthe corporation which might explain why corporations as whole act in ways that we hope individual humans wouldn't.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Pester Power used for good

The Guardians ever excellent Ethical living section reports that once children get the ethical / green bug they start pestering their parents about not taking cheap flight and turning off the light.

Nice to see that pester power is being used to do some good rather than selling yet another fizzy drink.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Starbucks stirred by fair trade film

Interesting articles on a new film about fairtrade coffee and Starbucks reaction to it.

Despite Starbucks PR spin, it appears that Starbucks attempts to block the Eithopean trademark registration for their Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Harar brands makes them look rather tightfisted when it could deny the country of a well needed $88 million dollars.

Interestingly, the Japanese, European and Canada have already registered the trademarks and the only reason why the US has not has been down to pressure from Starbucks and their trade asociations

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Firms helped to make PCs greener

Useful piece from BBC NEWS | Technology section on how firms can helped to make PCs greener.

The Green Advisory Service will help firms improve their environmental profile, hopes IT firm Computacenter.

Its research found that a single PC left on overnight and at weekends racks up an annual electricity bill of £53. In addition a typical PC left on for 24 hours a day, 220 days of the year, is responsible for up to a tonne of CO2 over a 3-year period.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Embedding Videos from Google Video

Clients wanted to know how easy it was to embed video onto their own web site froom Google Video or You Tube. Picked this one at random and couldn't believe how great it was.

Basically its kids in wheelchairs taking over a skateboard park and pulling tricks - well worth waiting for the guy doing a backflip

Monday, 22 January 2007

Flight ban for anti-Bush T-shirt

The BBC News site reports that a passenger was barred from a Qantas airlines flight for wearing a T-shirt depicting US President George Bush as a terrorist as he was considered a security risk.

Silly me, I thought terrorists were meant to blend in, not stand out

Google Granted New Similarity Patent

According to Bruce Clay, Google has filed a new patent that checks to see how similar web pages are on a site. If a page is deemed to be too similar, Google will choose not to index it.

So what does this mean? It should hopefully take out a lot of the spam search sites that contain thousands of pages which are virtually indentical. It also means that if implemented, sites will need to have plenty of unique content on every page.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Workers leave their green habits at home

Interesting story from the Guardian about workers who turn off lights and computers and adopt other green practices at home often fail to do the same in the office because they are put off by their employers' lack of action, a report said today.

You've got to wonder whether people are either too scared of their co-workers reactions or embarrased that they are being labelled a hippy to make a fuss about other people. That said, how much effort does it take to make sure your PC is switched off before you go home.

Storms will worsen, climate scientists admit

While the rest of the UK remains obsessed with Celebrity Big Brother, the Observer brings us even more bad news about global warming. According to the story...

Global warming is destined to have a far more destructive and earlier impact than previously estimated, the most authoritative report yet produced on climate change will warn next week.

A draft copy of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by The Observer, shows the frequency of devastating storms - like the ones that battered Britain last week - will increase dramatically. Sea levels will rise over the century by around half a metre; snow will disappear from all but the highest mountains; deserts will spread; oceans become acidic, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and atolls; and deadly heatwaves will become more prevalent.

Hopefully news that companies such as Tescos are going to show the amount of carbon used to produce each food and Marks and Spencers are labelling which foods have been flown in, will start to convince the British public to fly a little less, walk a little more and not leave everything on stand by