Translation: A magic website for intellectually gifted people and those who stare for hours at anything out of the ordinary.
What I’m alluding to here is a fantastic website called FreeRice. It’s a superb site that allows you to make the world a better place almost without lifting a finger.
Ask yourself: how often do you get the chance to make the world a better place whilst sitting on your bum, with a coffee in your hand?
Well, today you do. And if you’re any sort of decent person you’ll try to do it as many days as you can. It’s free and it makes you smarter.
Go to www.freerice.com and start to play. It asks you what the definition of a word is, and gives you 4 options. For each question you get right they donate 10 grains of rice to the UN food programme. For FREE. And there’s no limit to how many grains you can donate, or how often you can do it. It’s like Karma in the bank. So to speak.

Many tiny actions can make a huge difference

Many tiny actions can make a huge difference

It also now has many other catagories, including maths, languages, chemistry, geography and art. Whichever subject you choose you’ll be doing the same good work. You learn new things and people who can’t afford food to survive also benefit. Everyone’s a winner. And, let me just mention again, it costs you nothing. Not a bean. Not even a grain.
So improve your vocabulary, or your maths, or anything you choose as you improve someone else’s life immeasurably. Tell as many people as you know. Donate rice and make a difference. If we all got behind this then the world could be a much fairer and better place.

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These pile ’em high sell ’em cheap sofa shops like DFS and SCS are really beginning to take the mickey with their laughable attempts at promoting their sale prices.

They saw you coming, Coco

They saw you coming, Coco

And the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) are letting these businesses away with murder.
It used to be that your ‘full’ price had to be offered in a certain percentage of your stores for the immediate 2 weeks prior to the sale. This meant that stores couldn’t just say that an item had cost £100, and then offer 50% off, when in fact the item had cost, say, £60.

What these sneaky people at DFS and the like do is to offer the sofas at the higher price for the 2 weeks after the sale ends. This may not seem that much, but it is a huge difference. Once the sale ends, they are effectively admitting that they will not sell any more sofas (unless some real muppet happens along).

So they can make their inflated claims, and we have to sit and listen to what are, effectively, lies.
They are obeying the law of the land, but are being utterly morally corrupt as they do it. They, and the ASA, should be ashamed of themselves.
Imagine if you had to explain to your 5-year old daughter or your grandmother how you conduct business, and then see how justified you feel.
You heartless, lying, manipulative clowns.
And, just in case anyone thinks this is a case of sour grapes, it’s not. I’ve never even been into one of their stores. I prefer to put some money aside and buy a real sofa – sure it might cost more but it means that I can sit comfotable in the knowledge that I’ve paid for something that is worth it.

The Pantene advert that was on UK TVs over the recent winter period manages to not only say very little (as most of these products do), but it also manages the impressive feat of not even speaking in English that makes sense.
See the ad here.
It’s the voiceover that really gets me. I quote:
“I don’t mind winter, but not what it does to my hair.”

This sentence doesn’t make sense. Come on guys. I know recording sessions can drag on, but at least pay attention at some point.
How many people must have listened to this before it went on air? A lot is the answer. Agency people, clients, editors, the director, the producer, the creative team. And the list goes on. Overall it’s very, very poor.

It may seem pedantic of me to pick up on this, but it smacks of the brand not caring enough about their customers to bother. I also realise that these things are sometimes governed by time available. In this case, however, they could have constructed a sentence that makes sense without adding any extra length to the running time of the ad.

Just to help, the sentence would read better if it was: “I quite like winter, but not what it does to my hair.” And by ‘better’ I mean that it would have at least had a basis in grammar.
Feel free to send me a consultancy fee and any future writing you need doing.
Or even just get your Grammar function turned on in your Word spellcheck function. It’s not rocket science people.

I’m not sure where to start with this story. They seem to have found a rare book containing Burns’ poetry in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. So rare, in fact, that it has notes in Burns’ handwriting inside. Read the full story on the BBC site here.

Definitely not a wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie.

Definitely not a wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie.

The discovery raises several questions:

1. Who’s in charge at the museum that they could ‘miss’ this book?
2. Surely something that will ‘take pride of place in the new museum’ should have been properly cared for and respected before now?
3. Why on earth is the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum closed during the celebration to mark 250 years since Burns’ birth? Did they not know that we’d be celebrating it this year? Or did they just not care enough to bother?

He was not only gifted with the way he used and delivered words, but he was patriotic and proud of being a Scot. He was also proud of his rural roots and came to realise that was what gave him his unique and enduring voice. He used wit, humour and acerbic comments to make sure his verse was always accessible to all. He enjoyed whisky and the company of ladies, making both something of a lifelong love affair. In his own words:

“A Scottish Bard, proud of the name, and whose highest ambition is to sing in his country’s service, where shall he so properly look for patronage as to the illustrious names of his native land: those who bear the honours and inherit the virtues of their ancestors? The poetic genius of my country found me, as the prophetic bard Elijah did Elisha – at the plough, and threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes and rural pleasures of my native soil, in my native tongue; I tuned my wild, artless notes as she inspired.” Robert Burns, April 4, 1787.

Most people will have heard some Burns’ poetry, whether at a Burns Supper or even from school. Some of his less well-known poetry is fantastic. I’ve watched a few of the programmes BBC Scotland have shown as part of the year of celebration and they’ve been great. He never forgot where he came from, or how difficult a history Scotland had. He penned the iconic ‘Scots Wha Hae’ in 1793, and it served as an unofficial national anthem for many years. In fact, there is still a movement in Scotland to make it our national anthem today. It is inspired by his admiration for the 13th century patriot, William Wallace. As you read it you can’t help but be moved by his passion and belief. As a rallying cry it has few equals.

Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to Victorie!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour:
See the front o’ battle lour,
See approach proud Edward’s power –
Chains and Slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha will fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!

Wha, for Scotland’s King and Law,
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or Freeman fa’,
Let him on wi’ me!

By Oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow! –
Let us do or die!

Pretty strong words from someone who’s best known for his romantic verse.

You can see his acerbic approach in ‘For Gavin Hamilton’. He has a go at authority for persecuting Hamilton for riding on a Sunday and also saying “damn it” in front of a minister. Things that to some people were hugely important. To the rest of us on planet earth they seemed barely worth a mention. And it’s that self-importance that Burns continually has a go at. He seemed keen to let people live their lives without judgement from those he considered hypocritical.

“The poor man weeps–here Gavin sleeps,
Whom canting wretches blam’d:
But with such as he, where’er he be,
May I be sav’d or damn’d!”

Each year on January 25th Scots the world over celebrate the birthday of Rabbie Burns. Join in. Raise a glass (or two) and enjoy the freedom of thought that his poetry brings. Because much of it still has relevance today and resonates as keenly as it ever did.
Sláinte Mhath (good health).

Just a quick doffing of my cap to a piece of comedy genius – Cheers.
The series ran from 1982 until 1993 and was set in a bar (called, unsurprisingly, Cheers) in the US city of Boston. The bar was a hang-out for all sorts of people from all sorts of walks of life. The writing was absolutely stellar and the laughs just kept on coming. My favourite character was always Norm, due to his unique view of the world.

My usual please, barman.

My usual please, barman.

He was always greeted like a long-lost son on his arrival at the bar.
The gags he delivered were almost always superb, like this one below:
Norm enters the bar. He is greeted in the following manner:
Norm: Afternoon, everybody!
Customers: NORM!
Diane: Norman.
Coach: How’s life treating you Norm?
Norm: Like he caught me in bed with his wife.

If you haven’t seen any of it, or if you have and just need reminding how great it was, visit YouTube and get ready to laugh like a drain. If, like me, you’re a fan of Norm then you’ll love this compilation of Norm-isms. Click here and get ready to laugh.
Perhaps the best exchanges were between Norm and his fellow bar-fly, Cliff. Cliff was a down-at-heel kind of a character who seemed to find the downside of any given situation. But together they made for some great comedy.
Like the explanation below, when Cliff tries to explain the Buffalo Theory (basically the theory of Survival of the Fittest for purpose) to Norm. A piece of genius if ever there was one.

It takes a smart man...

It takes a smart man...

So there you have it. If the day doesn’t seem to be going well, try a beer. Your day might not get any better, but you’ll sure as heck think it has. Cheers.

I recently bought my Dad a fantastic book. It’s simply called ‘Frank Gehry in Pop-Up’ and is a stunning book that shows some of his awesome designs rendered in 3D.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

Gehry is rightly famous for some outrageous designs that are a part of our modern landscape. Buildings like the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Dancing House in Prague and the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Each of the buildings serves not only its functional purpose, but each of them also acts as a focal point for the landscape (or cityscape) to offer the viewer something that initially looks out of place, yet ultimately seems so fitting. You can see images of these three below (not, unfortunately, in pop-up form).

Guggenheim Mueum, Bilbao

Guggenheim Mueum, Bilbao

The Dancing House, Prague

The Dancing House, Prague

Experience Music Project, Seattle

Experience Music Project, Seattle

The main reason I bought my Dad the book is that he’s an architect, and I figured he’d enjoy seeing how they’d recreated Gehry’s designs using paper and card.
But the unexpected bonus was that it enabled my dad to explain to my daughter (who is 5) what he does for a living, and to show how structures work. I’m sure he’d be delighted to get a budget approaching the ones that Mr Gehry gets to work with. But, until then, he can content himself with a beautifully produced book that goes some way to showing the complexities of building in the modern age, and just what can be achieved when you get it spot on.
The book is sensational, and is by Jinny Johnson. It’s a real labour of love.
Learn more about the hugely talented Frank Owen Gehry here and buy the book, through Amazon, here.

I’ve just discovered this image of some fantastic packaging design.

banana_juicebox1

It’s for Banana juice, which is apparently big in Japan. Unfortunately I’ve never managed to track some down to try it. It’s one of these pieces of design that just seems so perfect for the product. It was designed by a pretty smart chap by the name of Naoto Fukasawa. He’s designed some awesome stuff, like the Muji CD wall unit and has worked with some stellar names, like Issey Miyake. You can learn more about the way he thinks here.
If I ever manage to track down a carton I reckon I’d probably not even notice what the banana juice tastes like I’d be too excited by the packaging.
Whilst I’m on about bananas, I’ll bore you with a few more little-known facts. They are full of vitamin B6 and are a good source of potassium, magnesium, fiber and vitamin C. Potassium is great for sports as it helps to alleviate lactic acid (which causes cramp). It has also been shown recently that they are rich in serotonin and norepinephrine, which could help improve the mental well-being of those suffering from depression.
There is also the fact that some people still maintain that banana plants “walk”. This is due to the way that their bark (or husk) grows on top of the previous year’s bark. Over the lifetime the plant appears to move by up to 50cm. But there is a big debate online about this, and whether they do actually “walk” or whether their roots are spreading and therefore just letting the new shoots appear above the roots. It’s a debate that has knowledgeable botanists confused, so I’ll not bother joining in.
I’ll just point them in the direction of some refreshing banana juice, and let that inspire and revive them.