The following posts have no fixed theme or style, but I hope you enjoy reading them!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

My thoughts echoed in other people's words

I love it when someone says something, and it matches up really well with how I think about things. Here are a couple of examples.
. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .
Thierry Henry is a footballer who was hugely successful playing for Arsenal, but has had less success at Barcelona this season, after his transfer. He has had injuries and people have suggested that he should not have left Arsenal. He said

"There has been since I arrived here a lot of speculation from day one but, hey, go back where? There's only one team for me in my heart. It took me a while to understand what that club, Arsenal, meant."
Did he regret moving, though?
"I don't regret stuff in my life. Stuff happens for a reason. You don't regret stuff that you thought about. I don't regret it."

He's right. If you think long and hard about a decision, it's much harder to regret it. If it goes wrong, you can forgive yourself, because it is impossible to see the future. Even if it was a mistake that somebody else could have forseen; if you could not have forseen it yourself, it was not a rash decision, it was hardly even a mistake. Maybe Thierry Henry would have been better to stay at Arsenal, but he will never know, so he's better not worrying about it.
. ~ . ~ . ~ . ~ .
For some reason I have a little book of meditations from Marcus Aurelius, extracts from his writings in the 2nd century. I really should read more, because I like what he writes (Maxwell Staniforth's tranlation, published by Penguin):

"Were you to live three thousand years, or even thirty thousand, remember that the sole life which a man can lose is that which he is living at the moment; and furthermore, that he can have no other life except the one he loses." He explains, "the passing minute is every man's equal possession, but what has once gone by is not ours. Our loss, therefore, is limited to that one fleeting instant, since no one can lose what is past, nor what is yet to come"

I don't think this means that the past and the future are irrelevant. After all, both affect the present (or at least the expectation of the future affects the present). But death means that a person goes from existing in the present, to not existing. It is a complete, 100% change, no more and no less. It is a 100% change for everyone, no matter how long they have lived or who they are. I think it's important to realise that. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic. I got reading his wikipedia page and pages about stoicism. It is interesting, remind me to look into it in more detail sometime

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Milk in tea, Part II

Brits are quite sensible putting milk in most tea that they have, because most of it is blends of predominantly Kenya tea from a generic teabag.

Making tea that tastes really nice is actually harder with teabags, especially the pyramid bags that are advertised as being so perfectly designed. You'd think that a PG Tips pyramid bag would be the simplest, but actually the moment you pour boiling water over a pyramid bag, the entire flavour comes out, enough flavour for two cups in fact. In my opinion, teabags are not well-designed for a single cup; there are too many leaves.

Secondly, the leaves are actually different too. It will come of no surprise to you that teabags from supermarkets are not of the same quality as loose leaf tea. The worst quality leaves, the dust left once the leaves have been dried and taken away, are used in teabags. So although most of what's in there is indeed tea, my guess is that it comes from the crap leaves that fell apart as they were processed, probably because the leaves had been picked when they were old and manky on the bush. In any case, the grade and taste of the tea is generally thought to be lower in your average teabag compared to loose leaf. Such crushed leaves have a very high surface area so all of the flavour diffuses out the moment water gets near it. So you're almost guaranteed to have a cup of tea that is too strong from the start and needs milk to take away the bitterness that comes from overbrewing and bad quality leaves.

Apparently the tea does not infuse well through the bag, but I have no evidence for that, and I don't see why it should be any worse than an infuser. In my opinion, teabags taste worse than loose leaf because of the leaves that go into them. I imagine that the best quality teabags are as tasty as loose leaf, because they use better leaves (although I have not tested this thoroughly).

The British public is very sensible having milk in tea. Because it's very hard, with the tea we're given, to make tea that tastes any good without it. Luckily for these teas, consisting as they do mainly of Kenya tea, the addition of milk can be quite a positive thing. But I assure you, many of the best teas are absolutely wonderful without milk.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Milk in tea, Part I

Milk is not a taste that any tea lover wants in their tea. Who wants something that masks the flavours pure fresh taste of the tea with a creamy taste that completely changes the texture and taste of the tea? To me, the texture of milk is the worst thing. Drinking tea is like drinking water because it has such a clean and fresh texture. Milk just fills your mouth with fat and it's a bit gross.

And yet sometimes I do put milk in my tea. Kenya teas or an assams for example, have a lovely strong taste, but it is very easy to let some of the bitter tastes come out of the leaves as it brews. Milk has the amazing property that it sucks up all the bitterness with a minimal effect on the rest of the flavour. But be clear, use as little as possible, just a tiny little amount if you need it, and none at all otherwise. And in my opinion, you should use skimmed milk. Fat in your tea is distinctly manky, and that minimises the problem. Now, I don't actually like drinking milk on its own, so maybe I am biased against it, but if you want to taste the tea, you need the cup to be filled more with tea than with milk. Otherwise just drink milk, dammit!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Fun in the house

My relationship with my housemates can best be described as "increasing fondness".

Isn't Maria radishing?

Yes, she certainly is radishing, or she was when the picture was taken

Monday, 14 April 2008

Update on not-so-grinny guy (below)

Having filled in the form again, I submitted it. It then showed me the completed form that I had submitted. And it was blank. Apart from the submission date and the referees at the end. AAAaaaargh!

And I had some tea. Some of Chris's favourite Twining's Traditional Afternoon tea. And it tasted really weird. Well, Jo can't tell, but Maria thought it was odd too. Weird tea? AAAaaaaargh! But luckily the jasmine is better.

Time to abandon this mess and do something else!

"Once upon a time there was a scientist with a nose made of silver [Tycho Brahe]
He found that there were far too hurtless days a year that one could do without
He called them black letter days
And the rest is silence..."
Black Letter Days - The Cardigans

not-so-grinny guy

I'm angry like I haven't been in ages. I spent all day yesterday filling in an application form for a job. I mean, I really really hate applying for jobs and that kind of future planning, but I finally did it, and I finished it at about midnight. I thought it would be sensible to leave it until the morning to proof-read it rather than send it off at midnight straight away, so I saved the on-line form and left it.

Now it's GONE! I woke up this morning panicking about my exams, but I thought, at least I have done a job application so I can concentrate on exam work for a few days at least. But NO. It's disappeared. Currently I want to throw something, maybe the computer, but I don't think it is really the computer's fault. It's that bloody website. AAAaaaargh. I can't afford another day on it now, but I also can't afford to wait any longer to apply for jobs because come the summer I'll be living at home getting in the way and being stressed. AAAaaargh! Shit, what a crap start to the day

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Advice #23

If you're going to eat the whole cow, don't choke on the tail

[GAP puzzled me with this advice a few years ago via a T-shirt]

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Proudly Pro-Ana

Don't let the propaganda take away from the truth. Ana is very important medically. Without terminology I fondly like to call Ana-logy, the medical profession would be lost. So let me profess my pro-ana leanings here and now. Ana is a prefix from Greek, meaning up or anew. It leads to many, though not all, of the ana words below (with their definitions from a science and technology dictionary):

(1) Anaphylaxis - An acute immediate hypersensitivity reaction following administration of an antigen to a subject resulting from combination of the antigen with IgE on mast cells or basophils which cause these cells to release histamine and other vasoactive agents.

(2) Anabolic - metabolic events which can lead to the synthesis of body constituents

(3) Anaesthetists - Those skilled in the administration of anaesthetic drugs (drugs producing insensibility to touch, pain and temperature) (in US, called anaesthesiologists)

(4) Anaemia - Diminution of the amount of total circulating haemoglobin in the blood

(5) Anabiosis - A temporary state of reduced metabolism in which metabolic activity is absent or undetectable

(6) Anaplasia - Loss of the differentiation of a cell associated with profligate activity (a characteristic of a malignant tumour)

(7) Anamnesis - The recollection of past things, the patient's recollections of symptoms and past illnesses

(8) Analgesia - Loss of sensibility to pain

(9) Anal - Referring to the opening of the alimentary canal by which indegestible residues are voided

(10) Anorexi... oh, sorry, that begins with ano, don't know how that sneaked in

Friday, 4 April 2008

Those at the top of the virtual ladder

The internet is sometimes said to open up a whole new world of competition, where consumers have the ability to choose the best products for them at the best prices in the whole world. New businesses have flourished and consumers have benefited from the stiff competition, forcing companies to be the best they possibly can be for their customers.

But is this really happening? More and more, entire global markets are becoming dominated by one large company:
"Google" - web searches
"e-bay" - web auctions
"Amazon" - books, and debatably other products
"Tomtom" - satnavs
"wikipedia" - knowledge
"Windows/Microsoft" - operating systems and many programs
"BBC" - news
"iPod" - MP3 players

The more attached a system is to the internet, the more likely there is to be a monopoly. For example, Tomtom relies on the internet for updates to maps and things, and their monopoly is very strong. MP3 players are less dominated by iPod, and we notice that many people buy their MP3 players from shops so they are not as tied to the internet. Price comparison websites are not controlled by a single company, but they advertise so much on television that they cannot be seen as existing purely online either. At the other end, Spybot Search and Destroy is certainly the only anti-spyware software I can name, and that's entirely an online phenomenon.

According to the tiny amount of economics I learned at school, monopolies are a BAD thing. Well, if a monopoly is maintained or has the potential to be maintained by "barriers to entry" into the market, then it is, since it prevents competitors from competing fairly.

So the question is, why do these companies have a monopoly? Is it because they provide the best service, products and price, or is it because the competition is suppressed somehow? Of course it's a combination. All of the companies above produce excellent products and services, but there are barriers to the competition too.

Since the internet is a new world, people are not aware of the competition. There is so much advertising for small companies, inefficient companies, rubbish companies that it is impossible to work out what is a good deal. If you order a CD from a random seller, will it ever arrive, will it be in the condition they say? Questions like this put people off trying out websites and companies who they don't know. In addition, a visit to an unknown website may result in you acquiring a virus and still not acquiring the product you're looking for.

Search engines are no help either. Top of the list is always the same business, and everyone buys from that company. It makes sense, it's quicker, easier and safer to do that. But it stifles competition, because if you're company number 2 and you're unknown, nobody will even see your products, unless they ignore search result 1 (even though it came up first and is therefore more popular) and visit your website instead. These are huge barriers to entry into the markets. It's very difficult for anyone to come into that.

At the moment, I don't see it as a problem. As I say, I think the monopoly companies in general offer good service, value for money and products. However, with these barriers existing, it does not have to stay like that. Most of these companies have only existed for ten years, so they haven't had the chance to go off the boil. But they will, all companies do, especially when they don't have the competition to drive them forward. And then the customers will suffer.

I'd like to see specialised "internet malls" set up, with the top ten search results for e.g. books, all equally advertised. That might encourage people to look around and choose based on getting the best deal rather than looking for the familiar face. It's not a good idea, but it's something and we need to do something. At the moment, people still shop on the high streets, but as we buy more online, the problems of internet monopolies will become more apparent. A solution must be found.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Advice #22

Drink plenty of water