Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Pizza is one of my favourite meals. Nutrition-wise, there is a fair balance of stuff. One slice of a large Pizza Hut Deep Pan Pepperoni Feast (assuming 8 slices) will provide you with 18g protein, 33g carbohydrate and 20g fat. However, it is one of the most calorie-laden concoctions you can purchase. That same slice contains nearly 400 calories. That means 4 slices provides an average, physically active woman with her entire daily calorific requirements.

Throw in garlic bread, chicken wings and an ice cream dessert, washed down with a couple of glasses of wine, and you can see why pizza should be a treat, rather than a regular part of your diet.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


You've got a number of things to do. One of them includes mowing the lawn. It is dry outside, but clouds are looming.

All the other jobs can be done while it is raining.

Mow the lawn now. Not later.

Yes. Now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A brace of brilliant books

I became a Christian nearly 30 years ago. One of the books that influenced my decision was 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis. Despite being written nearly 40 years before I read it (it was adapted from a 1943 series of BBC radio lectures, originally printed as three separate pamphlets, The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality), I found it spoke to me more clearly than many more contemporary 'apologetic' works.

Perhaps there were resonances with Lewis' struggles with accepting the existence of a personal, loving creator God. I still remember smiling as I read the words of his own conversion experience:

“In the Spring term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Recently I was corresponding with a woman who is working on a thesis exploring the beliefs of individuals involved in a conversation between Christianity and contemporary culture. One of the questions she asked me was how I thought Christianity interprets the world.

This is a massive question, and I began to think of books I had read that might help to answer the question. 'Mere Christianity' was the first book that came to mind, not because it deals directly with that question, but because it goes straight to the root of what Christianity is.

I then began to think about whether there were newer (better?) books available. One that sprang to mind was Tom Wright's 'Simply Christian', which has often been branded as the 'New Mere Christianity'. Certainly Tom Wright possesses a similarly powerful intellect, and his writing is never less than readable. So this Saturday, I made myself a double-strength latte, settled myself down into my comfy sofa, and worked my way through it.

It is an excellent book. One I would recommend to anyone thinking about spirituality of any kind. And having read it, I thought I would read through Mere Christianity again, to compare and contrast. It made for a fascinating study.

'Mere Christianity' remains a fresh and contemporary work. Lewis couldn't write a bad sentence if he tried, and his determination to focus on the essentials of the Christian faith means that not much of it has dated. His arguments for the uniqueness of Jesus, and the necessity of God when arguing for morality are still compelling and succinct, although I'm sure that they would make Richard Dawkins' teeth itch.

However, Wright's book is (not surprisingly) a far more contemporary presentation of the Christian faith, especially in giving a holistic overview of what the Christian belief system entails. It deals with subjects that Lewis didn't have to, such as postmodernism, pantheism and Islam.

Wright spends far more time with the Bible than Lewis does, and presents a masterful precis of it, and why it is central to the Christian faith (albeit reflecting his particular interpretative biases). He also deals with the Church as a worshipping, human community in a way that Lewis doesn't attempt.

In conclusion, they're both worth reading. But if I had to choose one book for someone who was keen to gain an understanding of what the Christian faith was about, I'd buy them a copy of 'Simply Christian'.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Every once in a while I find myself with a free Sunday afternoon. By 'free', I mean that I am by myself and there is nothing I have to do in the next few hours. Usually I make myself a simple meal, wash it down with a few glasses of wine, then lie down on my huge 'so old it's trendily retro' sofa, and fall asleep.

The room that houses this sofa also contains a very decent sound system. And yet I often find myself leaving the kitchen radio on, and listening to that instead. Somehow music that is coming from 'somewhere else' is more conducive to relaxing - blending with the environment rather than dominating it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Perspectives on technology

Sundays are precious days for me. I lie in until 6.30am, get up, make myself a coffee and tidy up the kitchen. Then, weather permitting, I don heart rate monitor, iPod and running shoes (OK, and a pair of shorts, and a t-shirt) and embark on a 6-mile run.

A couple of Sunday morning's ago there was a fine drizzle in the air, and I decided to leave the iPod indoors. As the run takes about 50 minutes to complete I was a little worried about the 'boredom factor' kicking in sans musical accompaniment. I am aware that my conversation is scintillating to other people, however I already know the punchlines to my outrageously witty jokes, and I'm familiar with my huge store of scintillating anecdotes.

As the run progressed, I was surprised to discover that not only was it no more boring and painful than usual, I was also more aware of what was going on around me. The sound of the wind in the trees. The rush of cars passing by. The rhythmic 'thump, thump, thump' of trainers on pavement. I felt more orientated. More balanced.

Last weekend the strap on my heart rate monitor broke. So this weekend I ran without it. Or my iPod. I didn't even time my run. Once again, I enjoyed the freedom of not being 'paced & chased' by the readout on my watch. I'm fairly sure I ran slower, but not by much.

I'm aware that these events' charm resided primarily in their novelty value. And that using the pulse rate monitor has provided me with good feedback on how different levels of exertion 'feel' to me. Before I used the pulse rate monitor, I know that I used to work too hard, preventing me from gaining some of the benefits of running, and making me hate the exercise even more than I do now!

Long-term, I'm sure that I will use the iPod on some of my runs, and the heart rate monitor for most of them. But it was good to discover that I'm not completely dependent on them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Understanding colour

Colour is one of those things that we tend to take for granted. And yet it plays a huge role in the way we perceive our surroundings, and is inextricably woven into the language we use.

Understanding just why colour is so important to humans has proven elusive. Is colour an objective part of reality, a property of objects with a status similar to shape and size? Or is it more like pain, something that only becomes real when experienced?

What we do know is that most people are very conservative about colour, usually because they know how horrible things look when the 'wrong' colours are juxtaposed. However, the science of matching colours is straightforward.

The simplest way to find colours that work together is to visit a web site like wellstyled.com which will generate a variety of different combinations of colours based on a colour that you choose. It even has a menu that simulates a variety of visual limitations for the 15% of people who cannot see the 'normal' colour spectrum.

For 'instant' ideas and inspiration, Adobe's kuler web page offers a huge range of colour varieties, and you can even subscribe to an RSS feed that keeps you up-to-date with the latest additions.

colourlovers.com serves a similar purpose, with one advantage: the swatches can be downloaded as graphics files that are large enough to use as screen savers/wallpaper. I've made up a folder full of them, which I run as my screensaver and my screen's wallpaper. As well as being attractive, it also exposes me to a wide range of colour combinations that I might not otherwise consider.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Baked Beans

Most commercial tinned baked beans are haricot beans, also known as Boston Beans or Navy Beans, cooked in a tomato-based sauce.

In the United Kingdom, Heinz is the top selling brand of baked beans. A half-tin portion of UK-sourced Heinz Baked Beans contains 10g protein, 27g carbohydrate and .4g fat. It also contains 8g of dietary fibre. (Heinz produce a 'lower salt/sugar' variety, but the nutritional/calorific differences are very slight).

They are gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians and are low on the glycaemic index. Heinz beans (like all Heinz products) have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

If you're looking to restrict calorie intake while maintaining a balanced diet, baked beans make a good substitute for the 'potato/pasta' portion, and only take a few minutes to heat up. If you're in a real hurry, they are quite palatable when cold.

Note: There are differences between Heinz baked beans sold in the UK and the US. The US beans contain brown sugar (UK beans do not). US beans also contain double the total amount of sugar, are darker in colour, and possess a mushier texture.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Exercise in the morning

1. It gets it out of the way. This is the single most important reason for exercising in the morning. Even if you schedule exercise during the day, it will usually be the item that gets dropped as the day becomes busier.

2. It raises your metabolic rate, making you feel more ready for the day ahead.

3. It helps regulates your appetite for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Arabica vs Robusta

There are a wide range of coffee species, but the two most commonly available are Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica has milder but more complex taste characteristics. It grows better at higher altitudes and requires intense cultivation. Arabica is predominantly grown in the tropical and equatorial strips of America, Africa and Asia.

Robusta has a simpler taste profile, with a bitter, astringent flavour. It costs much less to grow, as it is more resistant to tropical heat and parasites and thrives at lower altitudes. This, combined with the fact that it is more soluble than Arabica beans, means that it is commonly used as the major ingredient in 'instant' coffees.

Arabica and Robusta are genetically quite distinct: the first has 44 chromosomes, the second only 22.

The caffeine content of Arabica is about 1%. Robusta ranges from 2 to 4.5%.