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Mouse @ Flickr

I stayed the same this week. I’m happy with that, because I lost 4 last week. I got Slimmer of the Month, for a total of 11.5 lb in March, and I’m very pleased about that. :-)

This week in group we talked about our attitudes to ‘food optimising’, which is what SW calls the plan, and whether we were doing all we could to focus on weight loss. The plan allows you to eat as much as you like of certain foods, and the risk/temptation is that one keeps hold of eating habits from before. Eating for comfort, to reward myself or others, or simply through boredom are the sorts of behaviours that got me into this situation, and SW doesn’t remove them from reach as long as I change the foods I use to those ends. However, that will only get me so far; to achieve and sustain weight loss, I need to work on the default ways of thinking, and tackle some practical issues like portion control and snacking.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the science behind both willpower and happiness, and the two feed into healthy eating in the ways I expected. The unexpected thing (for me) about both strands is that it is possible to work on both with some fairly simple techniques. I may post about both at some stage, once I have had a chance to read more, and digest some of it better. In the meantime, I leave you with an observation: I use food-related words quite a lot, even when I am not talking about food – ‘digest’, ‘feed into’ – is it just me? :-)

Goingslo @ flickr

I love my sleep, and can get a bit twitchy when I don’t get a good eight hours. Ask my OH. :-) It seems, though, that I’m doing it wrong. I ought to be sleeping for four hours, getting up in the early morning for an hour or two, then going back to sleep for another four hours.

In the 1990s, Thomas Wehr, a psychiatrist, experimented with making subjects experience 14 hours of darkness every day for a month. His research, published in 1992, showed that, after adjusting, they fell into bi-modal sleep quite naturally.

This type of sleep pattern was commonplace until the 17th century, apparently, but has receded completely from our collective social memory. At about the same time as references to segmented sleep start disappearing, sleep maintenance insomnia starts to appear. That’s where you sleep, wake and have trouble getting back to sleep again. If we once again recognised first and second sleeps as normal, perhaps those who can’t get back to sleep would feel less anxious about it?

(c) Feversham Lens

After the BBC published their article, people who sleep like this wrote in with their accounts of what they do in their waking section. They watch TV, eat, pray, draw, do yoga, or just lie and look forward to their next dream. My OH, whilst not a segmented-sleeper or a regular night owl, has been out and about in the early hours, grabbing some night photos, and I think this is one of the best shots he’s taken. :-)

An interesting article on research being done in the US to improve the identification of suspects in police id procedures.

Identification is notoriously difficult, and has frequently been proved wrong by other decisive evidence, such as DNA. Human beings are just not that good at picking the person we saw commit a crime, or even at recognising people we know. How many times have you seen a person walking down the street, and thought it was someone you knew really well, only to discover on closer checking that it was not them? That kind of “fleeting glimpse” identification is the most dangerous.

There’s a Code of Practice for police as to when and how to carry out identification procedures, backed up by a whole body of criminal case law. Many police forces here use VIPER, which shows a series of images on DVD – stills or videos – and asks the witness to pick the person. The possible choices are shown sequentially, but the witness does not have to make a decision about whether they are or are not the right one before moving on to the next. That appears to be the big difference between VIPER and the system Gary Wells has designed. Also, Gary Wells’ process is significantly different, it seems, from usual practice in the US, which appears to be to show the selection simultaneously in an array.

I don’t know what the data is for successful identifications from VIPER procedures, and it’s harder to assess outside the lab, of course, when you may not know who the real culprit is. The stats from Wells’ research are described in Ben Paynter’s article: “Overall, simultaneous and sequential methods proved equally (if not highly) effective. Witnesses to real crimes picked the prime suspect 26 and 27 percent of the time, respectively. That difference isn’t statistically significant. For Wells, it’s the first indication that there actually might not be any downside to the sequential method: If the suspect is there, witnesses will pick him or her out, no matter which lineup procedure gets used. Even better, while witnesses viewing simultaneous lineups chose fillers 42 percent of the time, witnesses viewing sequential lineups picked fillers only 31 percent of the time. In other words, witnesses shown sequential lineups are 25 percent less likely to rationalize their way into bad choices.”

From the always-interesting Mind Hacks (and they got it from

In 1995, New Mexico state senator Duncan Scott introduced a legislative amendment providing that:

When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant’s competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts. Additionally, a psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length, and shall punctuate crucial elements of his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand. Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding a defendant’s competency, the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong…

The amendment, which was intended satirically, was passed unanimously but removed from the bill before it became law.

If you want to know more, there’s a good post by Karen Franklin Ph.D. here expanding on the story.

BLOOM by Anna Schuleit. White Tulips

In 2003, the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (MMHC) was to be demolished, after 9 decades in operation. As a memorial, artist Anna Schuleit was invited to create an artwork, and chose this incredibly vibrant installation, entitled “Bloom”.

BLOOM by Anna Schuleit. Blue Hallway

In an interesting interview (with some great photos) on Colossal, she talks about the project: “Twenty-eight thousand flowers arrived on trucks in the span of a few days, all needing to be watered as they came in, all having to be placed in the building, unwrapped, arranged, watered again. I had a team of about eighty volunteers to help me with this, all spontaneous helpers”

BLOOM by Anna Schuleit. Orange Tulips

“After four public days of Bloom, the building was closed for good and we delivered all twenty-eight thousand flowers to shelters, half-way houses, and psychiatric hospitals throughout New England … Bloom was a reflection on the healing symbolism of flowers given to the sick when they are bedridden and confined to hospital settings … Here, patients receive few, if any, flowers during their stay. Bloom was created to address this absence, in the spirit of offering and transition.”

There are more photos here and more info here.

I posted that I’d been at Betty’s Cookery School for a week. The course, Advanced Kitchen Skills, was brilliant. It was a lot of work, and I came home every evening utterly wiped, but very happy, and feeling that I’d learnt a lot. The staff, from the tutors to administrators and housekeepers, are all friendly and efficient, and my fellow students were a great bunch. I was one of the slower ones (which I’d not expected), but I was far from the only one who got cross with themselves when they couldn’t get something perfect first time. I guess it’s that sort of course, and attracts that sort of person!


Monday was bread day – pretzels, ciabatta, croissants, pain au raisin with crème patisserie, and a sweet bread from Belgium called Craquelin, which was delicious. The croissants were too much work for me to try them again at home, I suspect. There’s a real skill to keeping the layers through all that rolling and folding, and I think I’ll leave it to the professionals. I will do the pretzel dough again, though, and probably the ciabatta and Craquelin for special occasions.

Tuesday was the hardest day of the lot, but we ended up (at about 7pm) with melt in the mouth oxtail suet puddings, red cabbage, and a nearly-finished hot water crust pork pie. We also made chilli jam and cucumber pickle to go with the pie, and red cabbage to accompany the oxtail puddings. Those are in my freezer, awaiting a visit from my Dad in May.

Wednesday was fish day – we filleted a whole salmon, then cured parts of it two ways (gravadlax was one, and the other was beetroot and vodka) and smoked some it over lapsang souchong tea leaves. The final part went into our lunch – a delicious mussel and langoustine broth, with bean sprouts, carrot and mange tout. I can see me adapting that one into a diet-friendly version. :-)

Thursday was butchery; we watched half a pig being expertly dissected by Brian Noon of Sykes House Farm, which supplies Betty’s with their bacon and sausages. We then had a go ourselves, but on a slightly scaled down level – rabbit! We stuffed the loin, rolled it in Parma ham, and served it with carrots, beans, fondant potatoes and some curly kale with pine nuts and raisins. Here’s one I made earlier! We also got to try making sausages, and I discovered that I am actually rather good at working them into those long ropes of sausages that you see hanging in butchers’ windows. If I ever lose the day job … :-) I’m toying with the idea of trying some home-curing in the garage. It’s not as hard as I’d have thought, and it would be lovely to have some decent bacon and ham. I hate how watery shop-bought bacon can be.

Day five, Friday, was my birthday, and it was such fun, one of the best birthdays I’ve had in years. My colleagues on the course surprised me with a card and flowers, and the tutors gave me a little cake with my name on it, which was really kind. We spent the whole day making desserts – six ways with apple, and some chocolate curls and spun sugar. What better way to spend your birthday than playing with chocolate and making puddings all day? I particularly liked the apple, vanilla and cinnamon ice cream and the apple and honey soufflé, but it was all yummy. :-)

I learned a lot of culinary skills from the course, and, as always, when trying a new thing, something about myself too. I forget, between times, how much fun it is to learn new things, and I will try to remember that more often. I think I will also try to practice getting faster at food prep whilst keeping some precision. I was unhappy that I was slower than most of my fellow students. On the other courses I’ve been on, I have been one of the quicker ones, and it’s clear this was a course for people at a different level. Being stretched is a good thing, though, and it’s given me something general to work on aside from just the recipes and techniques we were taught.

Thank you, Dad, Adie, Tan and James for buying me such a great present. I’ll be cooking you all something yummy from the long list of new and delicious scoffs I’ve learnt, promise. :-)

Edgar Mueller - The Crevasse

I live in a tourist destination, which is an odd thing, some of the time. In the summer, we get street painters – I’m sure you’ve seen them – recreating famous pictures (which we get quite often here) or making 3D images on the pavement. I was thinking about those today, and went looking for one I recalled specifically. It’s by an astoundingly talented artist called Edgar Mueller, and his website has loads of really stunning images, and fascinating videos of him creating the works. Although, even when you see how it’s done, and watch it come together stage by stage, it still fools your eye.

Guido Daniele - Elephant

The reason I was reminded of the pavement art was a feature on Trendland about a hand painter called Guido Daniele. His work recalled that of Mueller and the like. I particularly liked the elephant featured in the article and the dolphin (24 on this page of his website) but the two-handed ones are equally clever and the body art section also merits a visit [NSFW].

A fascinating article by Adam Gopnik in New Yorker magazine on the American penal system, including some scary facts and figures – like, that the population of the US prison system, if residing in a single city, would make that the second largest city in the US. It covers, very articulately, a lot of ground, including the historical, philosophical and political drivers of penal policies, relationship to crime rates, and what could help reduce the incarceration rate. Some of the last are really simple, like reducing the opportunities for crimes to be committed.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a few of my favourite quotes:

“Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes … Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.”

“Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures … Merely chipping away at the problem round the edges is usually the best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently, and, eventually, you get to its heart.”

“A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.”


The train used to be a good opportunity to get some work done, but it is becoming harder, the more crowded the trains become. There is rarely an occasion when somebody cannot overlook what you’re working on, and people seem to have fewer inhibitions about doing so. And then there’s the problem of space – the world and his wife has a laptop now, and, seemingly, a divine right to have sufficient space for it, their papers, phone, coffee, fondue set, cuddly toy etc etc etc. The iPad is wonderful for many reasons, but the teeny footprint is definitely high on my list.

Trains have also become noisier; again I suspect that this is as much about people’s respect for others as it is the sheer numbers involved. Even in the designated quiet coaches, there’s background chatter. Today isn’t too bad, busy but relatively peaceful – partly thanks to some early enforcement work by one of my fellow passengers towards someone making a phone call. Does it count if the train has not set off yet? Probably, and the rapid intervention appears to have set the (silent) tone, so well done, sir. :-)

So here I am there I was, tapping away at my now silent keyboard, making the most of the chance to catch up on this blog. When I started, I did wonder how much time I would have to devote to it. Weekly updates on the diet aside, it’s not particularly easy. There is an inverse proportion between what’s going on in my life and how much time I have to blog about it. Probably best to be busy and behind than blogging about nothing, but I suspect more work is needed to achieve a happy balance. That might be the motto for my life, by the way. And so many others’ besides.

I wrote this last week, meaning to post it when I got home, but didn’t get a chance – makes the point for me, rather. :-)

Steve Snodgrass at Flickr

I was hoping to lose a couple of pounds this week, so I was anticipating a Flickr search for ones or twos, and here I am with a six! I wasn’t expecting that, but I am really pleased. I have been on-plan all week, and I have also been careful about sticking to the right quantities of milk and bread, so maybe that has helped. I must confess, I have been a bit slack about that in the past. I was still losing, so I figured it didn’t do too much damage if I had bread from an 800g loaf instead of a 400g loaf – the slices aren’t that much bigger, surely? When will I learn? There’s a plan that has been given a great deal of thought, assessed by nutritionists, tried and tested by how many thousands of dieters, and what do I think is best? Oh, yes … give in to my impulses at the bakery counter … that will work fine! :-)

I almost didn’t make it to my Slimming World group on Thursday. My car broke down and I had to call the AA. It has been sounding a little juddery on starting the last few times, so I booked it for next week into the garage my OH uses, about 30 miles away. They’re not a main dealer, so they’re cheaper, and just as efficient as far as I can tell. Having been booked in, of course the car decides to break down, and at the most inconvenient place. At the petrol pump. When it’s really busy. The guy in the car behind kindly helped me push the car out of the way. That may have been enlightened self-interest on his part – he wasn’t getting any petrol until I was out of the way, after all – but he came back after filling up to see if he could start it, and was generally a complete gentleman. Barry, you are a prince, and I hope someone does you a good service if you need it. The first chance I get, I shall do one for someone else. Pay it forward. :-)

The car story doesn’t end there. The AA chap, Graham, also lovely, diagnosed a flat battery and towed it to the local main dealer, then dropped me at home, bless him. The garage fixed that yesterday, so I went to collect the car after work, and it would not run at all – the engine was firing really badly, so it’s still with them and I’m in a courtesy car. Sigh.

On the plus side, my faith in human nature has been reinforced, I have a working vehicle for the weekend, and I lost six pounds! What’s not to like?

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