Stir-fried Spinach and Fennel

Prep time: 5 mins
Cooking time: 5 mins

Good with: Salty, eastern dishes.

Ingredients:
1/2 fennel thinly sliced
150g fresh spinach
sesame oil
lemon juice

Add sesame oil and a squeeze of lemon juice to hot pan. Add the sliced fennel. Fennel loses a lot of its nutrients if it fried for too long so make sure it is not in the pan for more than 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and stir fry until spinach is wilted and fennel is slightly browned.

Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to have made any of these recipes up from scratch, but nor do I cook from books.

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Oi, Microsoft… Advertise This.

Service :MSN UK Complaints
*Be specific when describing your problem. The details that you include enable us to promptly send you the most likely solution to your issue.

What is the frequency of the problem?

~Always present.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you to express my sadness and disgust at some of the advertising displayed on my Hotmail account. Namely, for cosmetic surgery and, in particular, that one where big brother losers (I mean that in the literal sense of the word, for now) endorse a particular cosmetic surgery (not improvement, not enhancement…) company to entice young women, such as myself, to mutilate their bodies.

I understand that you will need to create an advertising revenue, as Hotmail is a free service (for which I applaud you), I also understand that someone, somewhere will have produced a report claiming that targeted advertising will yield far better results than randomly generated adverts, which leads me to believe that I am being targeted because of the demographic to which I belong. I find this to be appalling.

If you think about why certain demographics are vulnerable to certain types of advertising, for example, young women are more vulnerable to these types of advertising because they have the highest rate of ‘body issues’, then surely you will see that to target them is immoral. Not to mention Microsoft being a well-respected multi-national corporation who, no doubt, is in tune with equal rights and has promoted many women to top, managerial roles and perhaps even to the board? In addition to the (perhaps more obvious) disgrace that is the cosmetic surgery industry and my being a target, how on earth is their credibility enhanced by the endorsement of Big Brother contestants?

Big brother is awash with talentless oiks who encourage us, as a nation, to celebrate mediocrity; to shirk responsibility, thirst for knowledge and the sense of working towards an achievement; to ridicule others for their idiosyncratic faults and to voyeuristically gape into their private lives and judge them by our own standards. [Please feel free to insert the alternative meaning of the word ‘losers’ at any time].

We know MSN to be part of the respected technology brand Microsoft, who have led the way in software, hardware and social media for some years now, it would be a real shame to see MS lose some of its respect in favour of the many other competitors out there who have a sense for what their customers want, not to mention superior algorithms for relevant advertising.

Which brings me to my next point. I have not have time to research your algorithm or policy for advertising selection, but I know that there are algorithms being used by your competitors to select keywords from emails in the account holder’s inbox to provide them with advertising for products which they are *likely* to find useful. I know you do not utilise these algorithms because all of my advertising has been for credit cards, loans and cosmetic surgery – all of which are so far outside of stratosphere of interest, I would be willing to bet I have *never* mentioned any of the three in an email or searched for any using your search engine. To reiterate, it would be a shame to see a company such as your fall by the wayside to superior technology.

While this may not all be relevant to MSN/Hotmail (you have no choice in the creative aspect of cosmetic surgery adverts, I presume), my specific feedback to you is with regards to the image you project to customers. With the cosmetic surgery (and credit card/loans advertisements) you are propagating what is a very serious and ubiquitous problem for young people these days (and in terms of the financial ‘solutions’, very irresponsible given the cause for the current recession).

I know that your profits more than doubled from £2.15 billion to £4.6 billion (yes, billion) in the most recent quarterly reports (yes, quarterly) which is obviously very impressive in a recession, but Microsoft is in a very lucky position compared to many other companies where they can afford to present the image they would like to customers in all aspects, including the adverts they *choose* to display.

In short, you should be leading the way and not falling foul to the temptation of the greed culture.

Of course, there is the chance that this particular advertising is not targeted at all and you show this type of advertising to everyone. In which case, I have said before, there is superior technology out there, you should investigate. I would be interested to hear your reply and would be willing to assist, as a customer, your quest for a successful product.

Kind regards,

Saronimo

“Calculus of Risk”

Calculus (n) Latin ~ Small stone used for counting.

Usage:

1. (Mathematics) a branch of mathematics, developed independently by Newton and Leibniz. Both differential calculus and integral calculus are concerned with the effect on a function of an infinitesimal change in the independent variable as it tends to zero.
2. (Mathematics) any mathematical system of calculation involving the use of symbols
3. (Philosophy / Logic) Logic an uninterpreted formal system
4. (Medicine / Pathology) pl -li [-ˌlaɪ] Pathol a stonelike concretion of minerals and salts found in ducts or hollow organs of the body

So which definition does Blair mean when he uses his new phrase ‘Calculus of risk’?

1. (Mathematics) a branch of mathematics, developed independently by Newton and Leibniz. Both differential calculus and integral calculus are concerned with the effect on a function of an infinitesimal change in the independent variable as it tends to zero.
2. (Mathematics) any mathematical system of calculation involving the use of symbols

Calculus is a branch of mathematics concerned with change. You can look into differential calculus and discover rate of change. For example given a speed-time graph you can find the acceleration using the method of differentiation – the gradient of the speed curve = acceleration. Alternatively, looking at integral calculus, the same speed-time graph can be used to find the total distance traveled, which is the area under the graph.  A good way to look at it is changing between dimensions: differentiation – down a dimension and integration – up a dimension.

Both methods can be explained by studying increasingly smaller changes in the variable x (time in the speed-time graph) so that, conceptually, the difference between one input ‘x’ and the next is infinitesimally small.

Trying to put this into context of Blair’s usage and attempting to turn it into an equation, I can only speculate that he means quantifiable risk measuring the output ‘reward’ plotted on the axis of evil.

To differentiate the ‘equation’ might result in a rate of change, but I am more interested in what he though the integral effects of any war waged would be. The sum of all risk-reward options as the change in risk tends towards zero.

Now, I’m not privy to Blair’s idiosyncratic equation measuring reward against risk,  I suppose that’s part of the Chilcot Inquiry – to discover whether his equation makes sense, is well defined and it reporting sensible answers. But it seems, to my humble self, that Blair has manipulated the change in risk by attempting to ensure that people were behind him, rather than behind his strategy or logic. One of his repetitive justifications is that he was doing what he thought was the right thing, perhaps in the hope that that the ‘change in risk’ of public opinion turning sour tends towards zero for each increment along the scale of actions and their relative extremities. Using this assumption for his approximation he has appeared to have used methods of calculus to enter into a higher dimension (which is a discovery of mathematics I’m sure he favours, given his new phrase). But are his methods of seeking support sound? Well we’ve heard rumours of fabrication, ignoring advice and sexing up anything they could get their hands on. Of course it’s not for me to opine politically, but if we’re talking maths here, then its no matter for debate that the incorrect input can result in the incorrect output.

Of course he could mean the philosophical definition:

3. (Philosophy / Logic) Logic an uninterpreted formal system

Closely related to the 2nd mathematical definition above, the logical calculus in which the expressions include predicate letters and variables, as well as the expressions for truth-functions and the propositional variables of the propositional calculus. Hmmm… truth function. I’m sure he likes the sound of that, too.

So, for example, IF Saddam Hussain has wmd THEN he must be removed.

Or, perhaps: IF Saddam has wmd THEN we have an excuse for regime change.

Of course, it doesn’t tell you what to do if your predicate turns out to be incorrect – you have the relationship between predicate and subject wrong? For most it’s back to the drawing board, but for some perhaps they enlist the help of the aforementioned ‘higher dimensions’..

But by his own admission, this calculus of risk changed after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, an emotive and terrifying event, but what did his predicate change from? And what to? Will we ever find out?

Of course there is the medical definition:

4. (Medicine / Pathology) pl -li [-ˌlaɪ] Pathol a stonelike concretion of minerals and salts found in ducts or hollow organs of the body

While I do think this definition has more to do with the original Latin meaning of the word, it certainly gives me a stone in the pit of my stomach.

An Ode to Manflu

At the periphery of your consciousness it starts; an oozing fuzz lurking round corners, darkening the sky.

The silent weapon of potent power, picks apart your strength and courage as you look up into the light. Something is wrong. A wave of lethargy descends and you know it it too late. Your head lifts, your eyes close and your mind freezes.

3..

2..

1 ..

“Aitchoo”

The signal has been given – the sensory assault is underway. Mucus reacts almost immediately, placing blockades at the nose and ears. Meanwhile the vision is impaired as the basel tears stream down your cheeks. The battle commences and as the casualties spill from your face, you know the drill; you know what you have to do.

You. Must. Drop. Everything.

Alerting all to the battle raging within, your primary objective is clear. Authorization is a mere formality and you plan your escape. From the room, down the stairs and out into the cold light of day, the defense falters.

A vindicating “aitchoo, aitchoo, aitchoo” bursts from nowhere, bouncing off buildings and frightening strangers. A fuzzy brain peering through bleary eyes marks out the route. You start with small steps as you begin to manage your increasing vertigo and your terminal velocity is perhaps not what it once was. But you power on, keeping your goal in mind.

Setting yourself on autopilot, your mind scans through the items you need to survive. Your mind focuses on striding purposefully. 1, 2, 1, 2.

Home. Your hands reach for the keys, your quivering body unable to hide its strife. The hallway. Bag drops to the ground and you head towards the kitchen. Supplies. You gather all you can carry in your arms and head for the stairs. Oh! the stairs. You drop to your knees and hang your head, casualties of war spilling all over the carpet. You start to crawl, utilising all your waning strength to maneuver the tiered mountain.

After an age you pull yourself up to the last step. Your perfectly apportioned energy is drained and, running on empty, you inch your way across the landing towards your goal. A cruel twist of fate sees the bedroom door shut and you leave some supplies and take only what you immediately need.

The bedroom. Heading towards the bed; the home straight. Somehow, your mind struggling to stay afloat in a sea of phlegm,  your limbs pull together to deliver you to your fluffy infirmary.

Horizontal now, the mist starts to clear. Your hand reaches shakily for the weapon and you press the button. The flatscreen before you springs to life, blasting through the haze that is your mind.

You’ll live to fight another day.

Homeopathic Methods Applied as a Case Study.

I recently read ‘What actually gets taught on a homeopathy course: part 1’ revealed by Professor Colquhoun in his website and it got me thinking about application of these ‘scientific’ methods. Since the treatment is often constructed based on the idiosyncrasies of the ailment at the hands of a ‘trained professional’, this leaves the root of the problem often open to interpretation.

‘Like with Like’ is the claim made on The Society of Homoeopaths website. So, for a person suffering with insomnia, ‘coffea’ could be recommended (a thoroughly watered down coffee) – to generalise, a substance that would cause symptoms in an otherwise healthy person is used to create a remedy.

On that note, I’ve imagined that ‘The Economy’ has walked though into my ‘pretend diagnosis’ room (sounds about right). Poorly and unsure of the root of the problem, given the length of time between acknowledgement of a problem and any diagnosis or action, I’m not surprised she sought alternative therapy. Not that I want to propogate a self-fulfilling prophesy, but unless something dramatically alters, we’ll see a Conservative government voted into power within the next year and this probably means that deregulation will be among the diagnoses of the financial woes presided over by The Labour Party in the past 12 years. So if I were a Conservative* Homeopath* I might concoct a remedy based on regulation watered down so much that there appears to be very little substance left. That sounds familiar.

When labour came into power 1997 after the systematic deregulation and privatisation of many public services by a conservative government, they tried to claw back some financial regulation with the introduction the FSA and FSMA 2000. Consolidating 7 regulatory bodies into 1, their watered-down, ambiguous Primary Objectives appear to have, without going into too much detail, errr… failed. Not only that, but they have kept very quiet about their accountability,  allowing blame to lie with individuals who are supposedly authorised, regulated and penalised by themselves. In fact, the Principles of Business are so watered down they leave many of the judgement calls on ethos and even individual trades to the very people that profit from them, and retaining what some may opine to be very little substance themselves. Hmm…

The continued application of such ‘remedies’  with, at best, zero proof of efficacy is commonplace in policy making, displayed by the recent dismissal of Professor Nutt. You’d think that drugs policy would be one of the easiest areas to turn into a near exact science. Legislation could easily be based on scientific results from data collected in studies relating to physical/mental health rather than applying the same old ‘classification rehashing’ to a problem caused by prohibition and characterised by criminalising addicts. Apparently not.

I really hope** that the next government discontinue the use of out-dated methods of applying remedies, we’ve come a long way scientifically in the last 100 years and we don’t really need to still be using the same archaic MO.  Regulation and state-control are not necessarily the enemy; poorly justified, ambiguous, unaccountable, watered-down regulation, however, is.

* I’m not.

** While my hope is rational, it is wasted. So instead I heartily look forward to the ribbing that the main parties get when their ‘science’ is put under scrutiny.

Flac You I Won’t Do What You Tell Me – Raging Against the Machine.

Once upon a time, people used to go to see live music. That and composing music was the only way they could listen to it. “What is this ‘technologee?” they would have said if they saw a compact disc.

Humans had been around for millenia before music started being recorded. Although the technology was very cutting edge at the time, the recording technologies have embarked on a steep learning curve since the 1940s and we have come a very long way to where we are now. From Vinyl to tape to CD to mp3 (and don’t forget minidisc…) people’s music collection has changed shape numerous times. But did we complain every time we had to upgrade our collection? (I say ‘we’ – before I was even born vinyl was being described as ‘retro’, but to deny me the right to complain anyway is just downright ageist.) No. Well, maybe a bit, but upgrade we did.

Recently, the big music bosses have caught up with the times and realised that, in the last 10 years, some people might have downloaded music without paying for it. We all know the arguments for and against, in my view both sides have reasonable arguments.

The main problem with the whole debate is that the Fat Cats major labels have no statistics to back up their claims that people are, on a large scale, reproducing copyrighted material, not paying for it and redistributing it without the relevant permissions. In fact, it could be argued that those downloading music are also prolific music buyers as well. And they go and see the bands live. And they buy the special edition CD. And the T-Shirt. The DVD. The ‘Best of’ album. And ‘The Life Story of…’. In every recording format. So is the ‘issue’, as they see it, really an issue that affects the artists? Or just their pockets?

When Radiohead released their album on their website for a suggested £10 but  actually it was a ‘voluntary donation’ the average price paid was not zero. This categorically implies that people do have principles when it comes to buying music, even for a huge band like Radiohead. Kind of puts paid to the accusations that we’re you’re all free-loading scroungers who have no concept of ownership, no morals and would happily see our favourite artists out on the street as long as we can save ourselves £10.

Things have changed. Social media is a big part of many people’s lives nowadays and if you’re an artist trying to get you’re name about, you’d be a fool not to be on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter at least – promoting yourself, offering downloads, freebies or exclusives. The advent of this new communication tool, unfortunately for some, may lead to the demise of the Oligarchical  rule of the music industry.  While I know for a fact they do a lot for emerging artists and they help no end with their PR and marketing and there have been a lot of artists in the past that would have never got off the ground without their label, there are other means to get in the public eye nowadays.

So on that note, let’s look at the recent Facebook page ‘RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.1’. You know it, you joined it and you downloaded the song. How do I know? Well, actually I don’t. But the song got to number 1, so a lot of people did. I actually bought it twice. Quiet, people, quiet… let me speak… I’m not a hero…. I’m not. Actually I just bought it a week early without thinking so I had to buy it again to make sure it counted towards the correct week, but that’s not the point. I still bought it twice.

Many have scoffed saying ‘They’re on Sony anyway, so is SuBo’ blah de blah, lamenting us for joining in with this petty nonsense, refusing to take part generally swaggering around off target and missing the point. This is the general public mocking the Fat Cats, showing them we choose what to buy ourselves, not them. If for once* I can be part of something that pisses off The X Factory and brings a good tune back into the public eye then good. 79P well spent.** It is, in short us flexing our bicep.***

So Simon Cowell, Peter Mandelson and every other boring square who only cares about cash but thinly veils it as caring for the artists, I say to you: Don’t buy music do I? Just steal it do I? Reproduce it without permission do I? Incorrect. I buy good music. Not shite. Stop churning out crap and you might see some higher sales.

*Ok, twice – See ‘Jedward’

** I bought it twice so that’s £1.58? After the first time they put it up to 99p, so it’s actually £1.78. But still.

*** Unlike any of the X Factor crap, this campaign raised a lot of money for Shelter – £60,000 as of yesterday.

9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People

The glittery disco balls in the foyer of Hammersmith Apollo reflected the excitement I’d been feeling all week for 9 Lessons and Carols and the long-awaited rise from the ashes of the brain. It’s not often I get to treat my Dad, Dr. Saronimo, and after seeing Robin Ince’s School for the Gifted a few months ago I knew it’d be right up his street. Plus I thought by seeing him in real life, it might get me one step closer to marrying befriending Dr Ben Goldacre.

One of the first things said on stage was the announcement that Rage Against the Machine – ‘Killing in the Name Of’ had beaten The X Factory to number 1 – a movement I felt proud to be part of, so I cheekily told my Dad the defining lyric. (I didn’t write it, Dad, that’s what it says in the song. Heh heh). I knew I was amongst friends.

The next three and a half hours saw scientists, journalists, comedians and musicians (professions which are not mutually exclusive, it would appear!) take to the stage.

Robin Ince was our host for the evening. He first entered my stratosphere as a comedian supporting Ricky Gervais a few years ago, but has since carved out his own career in a direction I for one condone! He introduced every act and kept the full-to-the-brim show moving as quickly as possible. In his links he ironically ridiculed the way science has fallen out of favour whilst barraging us with scientific facts, and mocked the creationist/Intelligent Design crusade to have creationism taught in science lessons. He is incredibly smart and passionate, which comes across when he talks and he really set the pace and tone for the evening.

Of the comedians I was most pleasantly surprised by Al Murray. I knew he was a smart guy, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his Pub Landlord character. He proved himself to be a competent wordsmith as he took us on a military-inspired journey proving God’s existence as evidenced by bacon! Chris Addison was his usual excitable-puppy self, traversing subjects and digressing which gave the impression he can think far quicker than he can speak! Shappi Khorsandi explained to us that she wasn’t allowed christmas due to the slightly unsavoury nature of an old man breaking in, creeping up to her room and emptying his sack! Jonny Ball seemed like he was from a different era with his slapstick and one-liners, but pulled it back at the end by bigging  up intellectualism and scientific methods. Nathalie Haynes,  Mark Steel, Richard Herring and the ever popular Dara O’Briain were also on the bill, each bringing to the table their own views on atheism, secularism and the demise of intellectualism and bagging a few laughs to boot!

Libel reform pioneer Simon Singh took the stage and talked briefly about his libel case against the BCA, asking us all to get involved at www.libelreform.org. He then moved on from libel to talk about the Bible (yes, I do know that rhymes, and yes, I also think he did it on purpose), in particular, the alleged ‘codes’ in the bible. He demonstrated to us that this is not magic but mere probability, using an example of Moby Dick predicting the tragic demise of Princess Di!  Dr Ben Goldacre bedazzled us with how coherently he could speed-talk in order to fit an overview of his investigation into treatments, placebos, no-cebos and patients exhibiting the side-effects they are expecting to. Or perhaps I was just bedazzled by his reason for speaking quickly – something to do with a data appendage… The demure Professor Brian Cox came on to talk to us about the LHC at CERN and his favourite things about the universe: the juxtaposition of the simplicity of the sub-atomic particles and the complexity and magnitude of the universe. See here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAVjF_7ensg for a video of the Hubble Deep Field Image.

The atmosphere became electric as Professor Richard Dawkins walked onto the stage and read excerpts from some of his publications. Ironically thought of as the god of atheism, we were told later that a teenager walked into rehearsals with a t-shirt declaring ‘Richard Dawkins is God’ he apparently quipped “Hmm, that means I believe I don’t exist”! It was fantastic to see him doing a reading live, as one of the most lauded and well-known atheists. His derision for alternative medicines and alternative uses for well-defined words such as ‘energy’ in the healing ‘profession’ came across loud and clear and had a slight air of intellectual snobbery – he knew his audience!

Gavin Osbourne played us a ballad he wrote about a young couple gazing at the stars in which he proudly manages to rhyme Copernicus and ‘her knickers’. Pan’s person was something quite different – a Character created by Joanne Neary, she performed an interpretive dance to the Cat Stevens song ‘Moonshadow’. Jim Bob collaborated with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra to perform Angel Strike, which was beautiful and haunting. MFMO were the ‘house band’ for the Godless christmas and the 27 strong group were impeccably behaved in between their own performances and supporting performances, as well as being spot on musically! Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden were the final act to perform, blasting us with ‘Peace and Quiet’ to finish of the night! The musical act that stood out for me was Baba Brinkman who performed a peer reviewed rap to the backing track of I’m A African, musing that by trying to write an exclusive tune, Dead Prez had inadvertantly written the most inclusive lyrics possible!

In the middle we were set upon by Laurie Taylor, who is on the editorial board for The New Humanist . The Rationalist Association are the charity responsible producing the magazine and he explained their plan of action to relieve religion of its illogical and outdated hold over legislation and public services. I might subscribe, if only for the religious ‘Top Trumps’ you can only get with a subscription!

There was such a variety of performers and talks last night, it is a testament to all of them that the only problem was not enough time on each act to really get into it. There were a couple of acts, ones perhaps who didn’t have an academic background, who would have benefited with more time for their act to find their feet with us the audience, but the show was throughly enjoyable from start to finish. Robin Ince did a fantastic job and for all the jokes made about ‘Nerdstock’, I don’t doubt for a second they would be able to find enough acts to fill a weekend. My only question would be where to buy the tickets!