Wednesday, 30 January 2008

John West Salmon and Bear Commercial

This is so funny.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

World Memory Championships and Mind Mapping

I saw an amazing TV programme called "The Mentalists" about the World Memory Championships 2007 held in Bahrain with two main competitors - Ben Pridmore from the UK and Dr Gunther Karsten from Germany, the latter winning.

Ben won the World Memory Champion in 2004 in a ten-discipline competition. He also holds the official world record for memorizing the order of a randomly shuffled 52-card deck in 26.28 seconds. He beat the previous record by 5 seconds.

Ben's world records to date:
- 795 binary digits in 5 minutes
- 3915 binary digits in 30 minutes
- 99 historical dates in 5 minutes
- 312 playing cards in 10 minutes
- 1404 playing cards in an hour
Ben Pridmore on Wikipedia
Ben Pridmore's blog "Zoomy"

The World Memory Championships have been running since 1991, the brainchild (sorry for the pun) of Tony Buzan. Apparently memory training is a skill open to anyone of average intelligence although such extreme levels are achieved only by blinkered determination and daily practice. For us ordinary mortals, plenty of books have been written and there is even software.

Tony Buzan is the inventor of Mind Maps®, the most powerful 'thinking tool' of our times. The Chairman of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognised its importance in his article entitled 'The Road Ahead – How Mind-Mappers are taking our information democracy to the next stage': ..."a new generation of 'mind-mapping' software can also be used as a digital 'blank slate' to help connect and synthesize ideas and data – and ultimately create new knowledge"... (Newsweek Issues, 2006).

Tony Buzan suggests using the following foundation structures for Mind Mapping:

1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your Mind Map.
3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
4. Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
5. The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image.
7. Use colors – your own code – throughout the Mind Map.
8. Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.
9. Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.
10. Keep the Mind Map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches. [1]

I find this a fascinating subject. Tony Buzan has written lots of books including Mind Map, Speed Reading, Brilliant Memory and Brain Child so there are books to help children develop their mind. Find Tony Buzan Mind Mappinghere.

Read more:
Tony Buzan
[1]Mind Mapping on Wikipedia
The Speed Reading Secret
World Memory Championship official site
How to win the World Memory Championship

©Antonia Stuart-James 2008 at

Friday, 25 January 2008

Beautiful EyCatchers® Wind Spinners

Isn't this pretty? I do not know how I came across this website but these pretty EyeCatchers certainly caught my eye.

The EyCatchers® Wind Spinners are available from Spinners in the Wind

Blonde joke

A blonde calls her boyfriend and says, "Please come over here and help me. I have a killer jigsaw puzzle, and I can't figure out how to get started."

Her boyfriend asks, "What is it supposed to be when it's finished?"

The blonde says, "According to the picture on the box, it's a rooster."

Her boyfriend decides to go over and help with the puzzle. She lets him in and shows him where she has the puzzle spread all over the table.

He studies the pieces for a moment, then looks at the box, then turns to her and says,
"First of all, no matter what we do, we're not going to be able to assemble these pieces into anything resembling a rooster."

He takes her hand and says, "Second, I want you to relax. Let's have a nice cup of tea, and then " he said with a deep sigh, . .. . .. . .. .

...."Let's put all the Corn Flakes back in the box."

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Child Benefit Office Cost of Writing to People

I am one of the 25 million people whose personal records were mislaid by the Child Benefit office.

That is bad enough. But they have written to me, not once but twice to apologize.

A second-class stamp costs 24p so multiply that by 25 million, twice = £12 million.

Even worse, the true cost of sending a business letter including stationery, ink and time is, say, £2.50. That makes the cost £125 million. Banks charge £35 per letter = £1,750 million

Anyone find that a scandulous waste of UK Government resources?

BBC story about Government emailing rather than sending letters

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

9 Words Women Use

(1) Fine: This is the word women use to end an argument when they are right and you need to shut up.
(2) Five Minutes: If she is getting dressed, this means a half an hour. Five minutes is only five minutes if you have just been given five more minutes to watch the game before helping around the house.
(3) Nothing: This is the calm before the storm. This means something and you should be on your toes. Arguments that begin with nothing usually end in fine.
(4) Go Ahead: This is a dare, not permission. Don't Do It!
(5) Loud Sigh: This is actually a word, but is a non-verbal statement often misunderstood by men. A loud sigh means she thinks you are an idiot and wonders why she is wasting her time standing here and arguing with you about nothing. (Refer back to # 3 for the meaning of nothing.)
(6) That's Okay: This is one of the most dangerous statements a women can make to a man. That's okay means she wants to think long and hard before deciding how and when you will pay for your mistake.
(7) Thanks: A woman is thanking you, do not question, or Faint. Just say you're welcome. (I want to add in a clause here - This is true, unless she says "Thanks a lot" - that is PURE sarcasm and she is not thanking you at all. DO NOT say "you're welcome" ... that will bring on a "whatever").
(8) Whatever: Is a women's way of saying F*cK YOU!
(9) Don't worry about it, I got it: Another dangerous statement, meaning this is something that a woman has told a man to do several times, but is now doing it herself. This will later result in a man asking "What's wrong?" For the woman's response refer to # 3.

* Send this to the men you know, to warn them about arguments they can avoid if they remember the terminology.
* Send this to all the women you know to give them a good laugh, cause they know it's true.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

The Free-Range Chickens Debate

I am delighted to see so many TV programmes on British TV at the moment discussing nutrition and the quality of our food. What used to be a minority interest subject is being screened at peak viewing times and there are several programmes on offer at the moment.

TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall kicked off with a three-part series, "Hugh's Chicken Run" in which he built a temporary chicken barn and raised 4,000 chicks from 3 days old to slaughter time, of which just over a half were raised by current intensive standards and the rest given a life and some freedom.

The intensive group were kept indoors, saw no natural light, had nothing to do other than feed 23.5 hours per day and walked around in each other's urine and faeces. The shed stank of ammonia from the urine. Their life ended at 39 days.

The lucky chicks started off the same but after some days were given straw bales, perches, footballs and dangling CDs - all playthings to amuse chickens. Then, the gates were opened and they spent much of their day outside on grass. They lived to 56 days.

A group of council residents were given an allotment area and some chickens to raise themselves until it was time to slaughter them and eat them!

Jamie Oliver went further in "Jamie's Fowl Dinners". His audience sat at tables waiting for his gala dinner but first learned about chicken rearing the hard way. He reeled off the facts relating to the UK market:

- 855 million chickens are raised per year.
- 27 newborn chicks are culled every second in a gassing chamber.
- Dead chicks are given to zoos for animal feeding or put into pet food.
- Pound per pound, intensively farmed chickens are now cheaper than dog food.
- He made Mechanically Recovered Meat(MRM) from chicken carcasses and waste.
- Brits consume 29 million eggs every day, ie 10 billion eggs per year.
- Laid out top to tail, the eggs would circumnavigate the globe 15 times.
- A busy hen lays 300+ eggs per year and spends its whole life - about one year - in a cage with a few others.
- 20 million battery hens are kept in cages.
- 60% of eggs in Britain are laid by battery hens.
- 5 billion eggs are produced by battery hens every year.

One woman set up a charity taking the worn out battery hens after their busy year, saving them from slaughter and passing them on as domestic hens where they can live 8+ years continuing to lay eggs.

Hellman's mayonnaise is a brand we all love but it is made from battery eggs. Their spokesman said they had to ensure a huge volume of eggs for the production but are committed to only use free range eggs by June 2008. Good on them.

The cheapest eggs cost 12p to the consumer, barn eggs about 19p and free range eggs, 21p. The difference in taste is incredible, never mind the welfare of the chickens.

An EU ban on battery hens will be enforced in 2012.

So back to the chickens. They hatch after 21 days and any potentially lame ones or underweight ones are immediately culled. This culling occurs daily as they cannot move about so risk being trampled. 17 chickens share a space of just 1m2.

A farmer makes a 3p profit per chicken. Typical Tesco price of an intensively raised chicken is £2.99 or two for a fiver. I dread to think how much of that goes into plastic packaging.

By 2010, the RSPCA Freedom Fird birds will have access to natural light, straw, perches, footballs and hanging toys. They want the birds to have 25% more space and a 49 days growing period. The price of such a chicken is £3.99, just £1 more, and it has a better flavour. That seems fair enough to me.

Free-range chickens are allowed 75-100 days growth and sell for about £7. Hugh found some for £2 more than a cheapie so suggested £2 for a family of 4 means 50p extra each - a price that might be worth paying.

I might point out that here in my local Carrefour supermarket in Belgium, a cheap chicken costs about 5€, a corn-fed chicken costs 9€ and a free-range chicken, 12€ so the price differential is greater. Cheap eggs cost 0,10€(30 for 3.15€), barn eggs 0,26€ and free range eggs 0,39€. Divide by 1.4 to convert to £.

Time and again, the programmes referred to the price and "what the consumer wants". Actually, it is what the supermarkets want in their price war. Chickens used to be a luxury and not a cheap food option. Supermarkets forced the farmers to produce cheaper chickens and eggs and to find ways to continually cut the price. We are used to paying a certain price for a food then a supermarket offers us an own brand option for less so we eat that instead. Tesco go further with their white brands - the 9p tin of baked beans, for example. We did not demand such cheap beans but it was offered to us by Tesco who want us to buy from them and not a competitor. Many cheap foods are sourced from third world countries produced by cheap labour. The product is canned nearer home so labelled produce of eg Italy and we are none the wiser.

I did not eat chickens or any meat from 1984 to 2007 because of the way chickens are farmed in the UK, not because I am an animal lover which I am not but because of the forced feeding, the unnatural lives, the inevitable disease and knock-on effect on our health. I suffered one week with salmonella poisoning in 1980 caused by a chicken sandwich. I started eating chicken again just to be sociable but eat no other meat. Well the odd slice of Serrano ham. I am not evangelistic about vegetarianism. It is simply my quiet preference and a much cheaper food option.

The point about chickens is not so much which type of whole chicken you choose to buy but about the poor quality of meat used in chicken products, especially the nuggets given to children because they are tasty. LISTEN PEOPLE - THEY ARE RUBBISH.

I wonder whether KFC and McDonalds will now be forced by consumer pressure to consider their chicken sources.

I know millions of people are on a low budget. (I once heard the frightening statistic that 38 million of the 60 million Brits in the UK had less than £112 to their name!) Yet many of these people still find money for alcohol, cigarettes and lottery tickets. Don't get me started on the latter. Then there are new clothes every season, piles of them cheaply bought at Primark, a car and the must-have holidays. Very few people in the UK are so poor that they cannot make healthier food choices - like eating cheaper beans and pulses instead of meat. It is all a question of priorities.

Will someone please investigate why smoked salmon is now so cheap? It used to be a luxury, Christmas day food but 200g of cheapo Atlantic product made(?) in France now costs 1,50 € in Carrefour, down from 2,99 €. Of course it is thin and the odd bit is too chewy to eat but it is edible enough for sandwiches. Even my 10 year old's school sandwiches.

Read about Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's TV campaigns:
News on SmartPlanet about chicken sales since the programmes.
Response from the Supermarkets in The Times
Guardian article with readers' comments
Christians urged to buy free-range chickens

©Antonia Stuart-James 2008 on

Grateful for Penicillin Discovery

Like so many people in Belgium at the moment, my young son has a lung infection. He said he felt "in hell" with the painful throat, high temperature, difficulty in breathing and sickness.

A hundred years ago he would probably have died as did so many people from simple colds and similar infections but thanks to the discovery of penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, a professor of bacteriology at St. Mary's Hospital in London, my son is sure to survive. One bottle of Amoxycillin anti-biotics is making him better quickly.

Therefore, today I am very grateful that Fleming discovered penicillin and that so many scientists labour everyday to find new medical advancements.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Your Kid Has Been Kidnapped

A blonde, out of money and down on her luck after buying air at a real bargain, needed money desperately. To raise cash, she decided to kidnap a child and hold him for ransom.

She went to the local playground, grabbed a kid randomly, took her behind a building, and told her, "I've kidnapped you."

She then wrote a big note saying, "I've kidnapped your kid. Tomorrow morning, put $10,000 in a paper bag and leave it under the apple tree next to the slides on the south side of the playground. Signed, A blonde."

The blonde then pinned the note to the kid's shirt and sent him home to show it to his parents. The next morning the blonde checked, and sure enough, a paper bag was sitting beneath the apple tree. The blonde looked in the bag and found the $10,000 with a note that said, "How could you do this to a fellow blonde?"

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Best News Headlines of 2007


Crack Found on Governor's Daughter
[Imagine that!]

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says[No, really?]

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
[Now that's taking things a bit far!]

Is There a Ring of Debris around Uranus?
[Not if I wipe thoroughly!]

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
[What a guy!]

Miners Refuse to Work after Death[No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so!]

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
[See if that works any better than a fair trial!]

War Dims Hope for Peace
[I can see where it might have that effect!]

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
[You think?]

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
[Who would have thought!]

Enfield Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
[They may be on to something!]

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
[You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?]

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
[he probably IS the battery charge!]

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
[Weren't they fat enough?!]

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
[That's what he gets for eating those beans!]

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
[Taste like chicken?]

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
[Chainsaw Massacre all over again!]

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
[Boy, are they tall!]

And the winner is....
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Now that you've smiled at least once, it's your turn to spread the stupidity
and send this to someone to whom you want to bring a smile (Maybe even a chuckle).
We all need a good laugh, keep laughing it will keep you young...

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

London Fireworks at New Year 2008

I took my children to London over the New Year and for the first time ever, was in Central London with the crowd of tens of thousands. I am ashamed to say as a Londoner that I had never done this before but this year made the effort to watch the live fireworks show over the river around the London Eye and Big Ben.

Here is someone's video posted on YouTube:

If you ever have a chance, go to London over New Year. You can arrange all your travel on EuroTravel.

Viagra Recipe

The Recipe

I knew it......I knew it!

I knew they would finally release the ingredients in Viagra!

3% Vitamin E
2% Aspirin
2% Ibuprofen
1% Vitamin C
5% Spray Starch
87% Fix-A-Flat

A Meditation on Presidential Faith

By Barbara Brotman of the Chicago Tribune, December 14, 2007

Moderator: Governor, some voters have expressed concern about your faith. How would you respond to them?

Former Gov. Mitt Dharma: I want to assure the American public that while my religion will never interfere with the performance of my office, I am a true Buddhist. I believe that life is suffering, that suffering is caused by desire and that it is possible to eliminate desire and suffering and thus achieve nirvana. My fellow Buddhists can rest assured that I am one of them.

Former Gov. Mike Anapanasati: I'd like to say that I respect Gov. Dharma and his beliefs, whatever they may be. Far be it from me to question another man's Buddhism. But let me just say that I have spent my life trying to follow the eightfold path. I believe the American people are looking for a mindful and meditative leader. I am mindful; I am meditative; and I believe I can lead this contemplative nation into a great future.

Former Sen. Fred Koan: For myself, I don't apologize for my relationship with the Buddha or the bodhisattvas. I don't apologize for my daily meditation practice. I'm all right with the Dalai Lama and the Dalai Lama's all right with me, as far as I know.

Moderator: Could you discuss the differences between your religious beliefs?

Gov. Dharma: My opponents have tried to paint themselves as better Buddhists than I. But I have striven all my life to conquer ambition and desire. I want nothing. There is no one who wants nothing more than I do, and I think the American people know that.

Gov. Anapanasati: Excuse me, but I take exception. The fact is, as the American people know, that I want nothing more than anyone in this race. I am proud to want nothing, and I can say without hesitation that I have spent my entire life wanting nothing.

Moderator: Don't you want to be president?

Gov. Anapanasati: Yes, but in a contemplative way that in no way detracts from my Buddhist beliefs.

Sen. Koan: I think it's clear that you can want something and still be committed to a life of not wanting anything. The question here is which candidate is most likely to transcend the cycle of birth and death. And I think it's clear to the American people which candidate that is.

Moderator: Are you saying, senator, that you are going to transcend the cycle of birth and death?

Sen. Koan: That is my intention.

Moderator: Gov. Dharma? Do you intend to transcend the cycle of birth and death?

Gov. Dharma: I do, with all my heart. And yet without actually desiring it, because, as I say, I am a true Buddhist, and desire is the cause of all suffering.

Gov. Anapanasati: I think it's for the American people to decide which candidate will transcend the cycle of birth and death, as I was saying to Richard Gere the other day.

Moderator: More voters are questioning candidates' spiritual practices. Can each of you answer the question – do you meditate?

Sen. Koan: Every day.

Gov. Anapanasati: Yes, but in a full lotus position? I meditate twice a day in a lotus position.

Gov. Dharma: I have to question whether the other candidates really empty their minds. I think the American people are looking for a president who can empty his mind completely. And I am proud to say that when I meditate, you can hear crickets.

Moderator: May I ask each of you, have you achieved enlightenment?

Sen. Koan: Absolutely. I am completely enlightened, and I'm not ashamed to say it.

Gov. Anapanasati: I achieved enlightenment early in life, and have been steadfast in my enlightenment ever since.

Gov. Dharma: With all due respect for my worthy opponents, I have achieved perfect enlightenment in which all dualities have fused and ceased to exist as separate entities. I am every bit as Buddhist as the other candidates. I think the American people know genuine Buddhism when they see it, and I think they know that our shared beliefs make me ideally suited for the presidency. Although, of course, I don't really want it.

Moderator: Thank you. And now can you each answer the following question: What is the sound of one candidate losing?

Sen. Koan, we'll start with you.

Barbara Brotman is a Tribune staff reporter.

Chicago Tribune