Archive for August, 2011

Is Chocolate Good For You?

Eating high levels of chocolate could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by about a third according to a review of previous research, published by the British Medical Journal.

But the researchers warned that excessive consumption of chocolate would result in other illnesses, and the British Heart Foundation said there were better ways to protect the heart.

Scientists from Cambridge University compared risks to the brain and heart in groups of people who reported eating low levels of chocolate, fewer than two bars per week, with those eating higher levels – more than two bars per week.

And their results showed that the, “highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels”.

Dr Oscar Franco, one of the researchers, said that chocolate was also known to decrease blood pressure. He told the BBC the findings were “promising”, but needed further research to confirm any protective effect.

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Evidence does suggest chocolate might have some heart health benefits but we need to find out why that might be.”

So further research is required to find out what about chocolate is providing these beneficial outcomes, and potentially to discover if one type of chocolate is better than another. Other studies have shown that plain chocolate can be good for you – but only in small amounts, unfortunately.

The Cambridge study also warns that chocolate can lead to weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. It suggested that chocolate could one day be used to protect from heart problems and stroke – if the sugar and fat content of chocolate bars was reduced.

Chocolate without fat and sugar? Doesn’t sound too appealing, does it?

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A fast start and two clinical finishes from Gary Hooper gave Celtic three points in Paisley. St Mirren showed that they can play football in midfield but had little up front to trouble the Celtic defence.

Neil Lennon made two changes from the team defeated in Sion in midweek, with James Forrest replacing Joe Ledley in midfield and Anthony Stokes returning to partner Gary Hooper at the expense of Georgios Samaras.

Celtic started well with Anthony Stokes shooting wide within two minutes. And thirty seconds later he had a legitimate goal disallowed after dispossessing the last defender and finishing coolly. But referee Collum had seen some sort of a foul that no one else in the ground noticed.

The opening goal was not to be delayed for long, however. On six minutes Gary Hooper played a sharp one two with Stokes on the edge of the box, steadied himself and shot low into the corner of the net. A fine finish and a deserved lead for Celtic.

And five minutes later it was 2 – 0 after Hooper intercepted a poor cross field pass just outside the St Mirren. Again the striker took time to settle himself before comprehensively beating the St Mirren goalkeeper.

Rather than going on to close out the match, Celtic fell out of the game entirely. St Mirren took control of the midfield, playing some nice passing football, but were unable to create clear chances. Celtic offered little in the remainder of the first half and would have been happy to go in with their two goal lead intact.

The game was much more open in the second half and St Mirren continued to play well without creating too much in front of goal. Indeed it was Kelvin Wilson who came closest with a header just wide of goal, leaving Fraser Forster helpless. Celtic also pressed forward and Samson in the St Mirren goal made a string of good saves from Stokes, Forrest and Ki.

Joe Ledley came on for Ki in the closing minutes, with James Forrest moving to his natural right wing position, and he came close to scoring after a good passing move. Celtic ran out comfortable winners in the end.

Goal scoring hero Gary Hooper looked sharp and was my man of the match Cha gave a solid performance getting forward well on the right and Stokes contributed well too.

Three points and a clean sheet was a good outcome for Celtic following a home defeat and a draining midweek fixture, played with ten men for all but two minutes. A home match with Motherwell is next up for Neil Lennon’s men.

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The phone hacking scandal has so far led to the closure of the News Of The World, several arrests and resignations, and there could still be more revaluations to come yet.

And it has also spawned a comedy show. ‘Hacks’ will be a one off special and will be shown on Channel 4 later this year.

The show is being written by Guy Jenkin and will feature a fictional newspaper where journalists use methods such as hacking, using private investigators and “pinging” – when a phone signal is used to track someone.

Channel 4’s head of comedy Shane Allen said: “We are very excited about Hacks and it’s great that Channel 4 can be so quick off the mark to shine a satirical light on what’s been happening in the media over the last few months.”

Jenkin and Andy Hamilton created Drop The Dead Donkey, a cult comedy series set in the office of the fictional TV news company GlobeLink News. The show, which was originally to have been called Dead Belgians Don’t Count, ran from 1990 to 1998.

The series followed the news room following a take over by ruthless businessman Sir Royston Merchant, a name thought to refer to both Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell. Merchant installs Gus Hedges, a man who swallowed a management manual and speaks in nothing but jargon, to run the company.

Other main characters included a neurotic hypochondriac editor, a newsreader thought to have been based on Reginald Bosanquet, a thrill seeking reporter who repeatedly gets his cameramen injured, another who has a gambling addiction and an aggressive and much feared PA called Joy.

If you’ve never see this wonderful series it is well worth getting a hold of. I’m looking forward to seeing if ‘Hacks’ is as funny. With the material that Jenkin has to work with it certainly has enormous potential.


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In 2008 the remains of more than forty bodies were removed from Stonehenge for scientific study. Ministers gave researchers from Sheffield University permission to keep the bones until 2015.

In the High Court yesterday, a 57-year-old former soldier and biker asked the court to give permission for a judicial review of the government’s decision to allow the remains to be taken away. His request was denied.

The petitioner’s name?

King Arthur Pendragon, battle chieftain of the Council of British Druid Orders and “titular head and chosen chief” of the Loyal Arthurian Warband druid order.

Looking fully the part in flowing white robes decorated with a red dragon and his long grey hair tied back, the king was defiant.

He said, “Even though on this occasion my appeal has been dismissed I am still very much hopeful that I can win in the future. I wasn’t asking for the bones to be put back straight away, I simply wanted confirmation that they will be returned to the site as soon as possible.”

Pendragon, who represented himself, said the bones were remains of members of the “royal line” or “priest caste” who could have been the “founding fathers of this great nation”. After the hearing, Pendragon, who signed himself as Arthur Rex on court papers, vowed to continue his fight to have the remains reburied.

It is not recorded whether King Arthur brought his sword to court with him, or if he had a group of knights on hand in case things turned nasty.

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Scenes from Brad Pitt’s new movie, World War Z (pronounced ‘Zee’ I’m told) are being filmed in Glasgow, which is standing in for Philadelphia. A section of the city centre around George Square has been closed to traffic and given a special makeover for the part.

Yesterday afternoon I headed for the centre of Glasgow and walked through a Hollywood film set with my camera. That’s not something you can do every day, is it? OK, Brad wasn’t around and neither was Angelina, but it was still a lot of fun.

Philadelphia is a city I know pretty well. I’ve been over about a dozen times over the years and can see the logic for my home city doubling for the City of Brotherly Love. The architecture of the two cities is similar, the grid pattern of the streets is almost identical and both have a square featuring the main civic headquarters at their heart.

So if you take Glasgow and repaint the roads, replace the familiar street signs with Philly ones, then fill the streets with yellow cabs, PAPD vehicles and the odd fire truck you really could be on the streets of Philadelphia.

Glasgow has scored a major coup by bringing Brad Pitt and co. to this side of the Atlantic. And the filming will bring several million pounds into the city’s economy. A few streets may be closed but we can live with that for a couple of weeks.

But on the other side of the pond they are not happy at all. Philadelphia lost out to Glasgow for the filming for financial reasons, leaving many bitter. The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper has said that says the decision cost the city tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue and hundreds of jobs.

And the Inquirer also noted that JFK Plaza has been reconstructed in George Square, which was named after George III, the monarch whose intransigence over taxes sparked the American War of Independence.

“The very despot Philadelphia led the Revolution against,” the newspaper observed sourly.

Whatever the politics and historical ironies, Glasgow looks good as Philly and it will be great to watch the film when it comes out, knowing exactly where some of the scenes have been filmed.

Here’s a link to some more pictures of the film set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gordon_j/sets/72157627374871879/


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No business likes to lose customers, but if you try to cancel a Sky TV subscription you could find it very difficult to terminate that contract.

Sky has three call centres in Scotland employing around 6,000 staff in total. If you call to cancel, you will be put onto an advisor in the Turn Around team, whose job it is to try to change your mind.

Staff in this team receive a bonus if they can persuade you to stay with the company – but if they fail it affects the total amount they take home at the end of the month. And this has led to the adoption of some very interesting practices.

You might find it difficult to get a hold of anyone to talk to once transferred, as staff try to avoid taking calls. You might be put on hold indefinitely. Or you might even be told that the advisor’s headset isn’t working properly and advised to call back later.

Those working within the unit think that the bonus system is unfair to the staff. One told the Sunday Herald, “If a customer is moving abroad or moving into a listed building, you are not going to be able to save them, but that goes against the adviser.”

Another Sky employee said, “The system really is not fair on the customer or the employees. A customer could benefit from a cheaper package … but we as sales agents are being targeted and not really offering the customer the best solution.”

Graeme Morrice, the Labour MP for Livingston, said he would be seeking a meeting with the firm’s Chief Executive.
“This is a shocking way to treat staff and customers but hardly surprising given the way its biggest shareholder has run some of its newspapers, said Morrice. “Call-centre staff already face some of the grimmest employment conditions in modern workplaces but this takes things to a new level.”

So if you do have cause to cancel your Sky contract you might just find it easier to put it in writing.

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Only around 1% of people in Britain belong to a political party. The numbers have been falling steadily for many years – but what do they tell us about British society?

Is this simply another sign of the cynicism that many have regarding the political process? An indicator of new ways in which we can express political opinions? Or do we see no point in joining the highly centralised political parties where ordinary members have little say?

The closure of many traditional Conservative and Liberal clubs may have an impact too. These were key social settings in many areas, and often the only place that served alcohol. You had to become a party member to enter, even if you never took part in any political activities afterwards.

It costs money to join too: the Labour Party’s basic rate is £41 although that falls to £20.50 if you are a member of an affiliated trade union. For the Tories it costs £25, while the Lib Dems comes in at £12. All have cheaper rates for young people, and the Lib Dems and Labour have special rates for the unemployed, but not the Tories.

The fall in numbers has affected all three major parties. The Conservatives have seen numbers fall from 1 million in 1991 to just 177,000. Over the same period, Labour Party membership has fallen from 261,000 to 190,000 and the Lib Dems have dropped from 91,000 to 66,000.

There are more fringe parties now, which brings the total membership numbers up a little: the Greens and UKIP have grown in recent years. And the nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National Party, both have healthy memberships.

Many people now prefer to join local campaigning groups or single issue organisations rather than a political party. This would seem to indicate a more sophisticated electorate that prefers to focus its energies on the issues it sees as most important.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that we now do not have mass membership political parties. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and indeed could indicate a wider involvement in grass roots organisations that could change the nature of political life in time.

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How much pocket money do you give your children?

According to a survey by Halifax, 80% of children receive money weekly, and the average amount of pocket money children receive has risen by 6% to £6.25 per week. That’s an above inflation rise!

Older children get more pocket money than their younger brothers and sisters, which isn’t too surprising. At 8 years old the average is £4.44 per week, whereas it’s almost double this for 15 year olds at £8.38 per week.

There is a gender difference, with girls getting £6.09, compared with boys getting an average of £6.41. Interestingly the gap in pay in the adult world is mirrored amongst children

Children who live in London get the most pocket money on average at £7.63 per week, closely followed by those in Scotland (£6.89) and the West Midlands (£6.49). Children in the south west receive the lowest weekly pocket money at £5.15, followed by Wales at £5.43 a week

Flavia Palacios Umana, head of savings products at Halifax, said: “It is encouraging to see the amount of pocket money children receive has increased from last year, this gives kids the chance to save their money as well as spend it.”

Children saving money rather than spending it? Maybe times have changes – a lot.

The survey doesn’t record how many of these children have to carry out household chores in order to qualify for their weekly pocket money. And the older kids may have the opportunity to top up with a part time job – although there are surely a lot less paper rounds available that there used to be.

Still, £6.25 a week is a far cry from the days when pocket money covered a couple of comics and the odd packet of sweets.

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A report published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on research carried out in Australia claims that every hour of TV watched after the age of 25 may shorten your lifespan by 22 minutes.

So, if you believe the assertion, anyone who spends a lifetime average of watching three hours a day can expect to lose around three years.

According to one of the report’s authors, Dr Lennert Veerman, from the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland, it puts long hours spent in front of the television “in the same ballpark as smoking and obesity”.

“While smoking rates are declining, watching TV is not, which has implications at a population level,” he said.

But is television really that bad for us?

Looking a bit deeper into the story there are a couple of things that might help to explain the headlines.

Firstly, it is the lack of exercise that would appear to be the problem here, not watching television per se. Several hours a day sitting reading or working on a computer would presumably produce the same results. And television time can be balanced out with exercise – I suppose you could even do both at the same time.

There could be other factors too. Anyone watching excessive amounts of tv may well snack on unhealthy foods as they do so, and would also be less likely to cook healthy meals. So diet could play a part in the overall picture.

The second issue is confusion between cause and effect and correlation; something that seems to be creeping into many newspaper reports of late.

People whose mobility is affected by illness or disability, or those who choose sedentary lifestyles, may well watch more television than average. And their life expectancy may be shorter than average in the first place. So there is a connection between watching a lot of TV and lower life expectancy – but that is very different from proving that one causes the other.

An example: it is easy to observe that drivers use their windscreen wipers when it rains. The more cars you will see with the wipers on, the heavier the rain. So does this prove that using windscreen wipers causes rain? I think not.

Watching excessive television can’t be said to be good for you. But it certainly doesn’t kill you either.

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Search engine giant Google has moved heavily into the hardware market by buying mobile phone maker Motorola Mobility for $12.5bn – around £7.7bn. A joint statement said the boards of both companies had unanimously approved the deal, which should be completed by the end of this year, or early in 2012, subject to regulatory approval..

The move means that Google will follow Apple’s model by controlling the software, hardware and content on its devices. Microsoft also moved towards a similar solution earlier in the year. While it did not go as far as buying Nokia, it struck a deal that would make Windows Phone the sole smartphone platform on its handsets.

Google is effectively betting that the future lies in mobile computing devices rather than desktop PCs. And as smartphones are now effectively small computers that can also make phone calls, it seems a good call.

But where will the deal leave other manufacturers, such as Samsung and HTC, who use Google’s Android system on their phones? They will fear that Motorola will have a clear advantage and may get first access to new features or software releases.

Industry analyst Stuart Miles cautioned that if Motorola was seen to get too much preferential treatment – such as early access to new versions of Android, it might alienate the broader community of hardware manufacturers. But would that bother Google?

Larry Page, Google chief executive, said: “Motorola Mobility’s total commitment to Android has created a natural fit for our two companies. Together, we will create amazing user experiences that supercharge the entire Android ecosystem for the benefit of consumers, partners and developers. I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers.”

The Android ecosystem? Don’t you just love techno-speak?

The smartphone market is highly competitive has escalated into a bitterly fought patents war between the major manufacturers and software giants. Microsoft and Apple are suing Motorola and Google over a string of alleged patent infringements relating to Android.

Monday’s deal means that Google now owns Motorola Mobility’s swathe of patents, thought to total about 17,000, and strengthens its position in the market.

Android phones are becoming increasingly popular and this move puts Google in a position to capitalise on the success of its operating system. Apple and RIM, which manufacturers BlackBerries, must be looking at this deal and assessing its impact on their own businesses.

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