Froot Loops come to the UK. I compare with the US version.

Kelloggs are trialling Froot Loops in the UK at the moment, in special limited edition boxes. I used to eat them, alongside any number of other colourful cereals, when I lived in the US, so I picked up a box. I don’t remember the US ones well enough to be able to compare the taste and crunch, but these ones taste pretty good to me.

Froot Loops come to the UK.

The UK version only has 3 colours of loop, and for good reason. Our version only used natural colours, so we have orange, coloured with carrot, purple, coloured with blackcurrant, and green, coloured with spinach and nettle. You can’t taste any carrot, spinach or nettle, by the way. Here are the British ingredients:

Cereal Flours (Oat, Wheat, Maize), Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Salt, Natural Citrus Flavouring with other Natural Flavourings, Plant Extracts (Nettle, Spinach), Fruit and Vegetable Extracts (Carrot, Blackcurrant), Colour (Papricka Extract)

And here are the US ingredients:

Sugar, whole grain corn flour, wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat fiber, soluble corn fiber, contains 2% or less of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), salt, red 40, natural flavor, blue 2, turmeric color, yellow 6, annatto color, blue 1, BHT for freshness.

There’s quite some difference there. Firstly, the US version has sugar as its number one ingredient. It also has partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, while the UK version seems to manage with no oil at all. Our primary cereal seems to be oats, while the US, unsurprisingly, has corn at the top, and then some soluble corn later. I’ve no idea if that really changes the taste much, but oats are quite a wondrous food. Oats have the highest protein levels of any cereal crop, which probably explains why UK Froot Loops have THREE TIMES the protein of their US counterparts.

Then you have Red 40, and a host of other artificial colours. BHT, or Butylated hydroxytoluene is a petroleum-based antioxidant used for freshness, but once again, the UK version manages to mysteriously not need it. It is possible that the natural colours (such as the carotene in the orange loops) are doing double duty, as they have strong antioxidant properties themselves.

The point of this post is this: There is no good reason why Kelloggs could not use the recipe they’re using in the UK in the US too. Even if you don’t care about the artifical chemicals (and you should), the British recipe is undeniably far better for you. The calorie amount is actually roughly the same, but the British version has about three times as much protein (great stuff, but also a slow-release calorie source), and about two thirds of the sugar. So neither are what you’d call healthy food, but the Glycemic Index of the US version would be much higher, as it releases its energy over a shorter period of time, meaning you get hungry again more quickly.

Essentially, UK Froot Loops are quite unhealthy on their own, but in moderation you could fit them in to a reasonably healthy diet. US Froot Loops are a comparative nutritional void, laced with a variety of suspect artificial substances with links to hyperactivity and cancer.

So, why not ask Kelloggs if they’d like to start treating American customers as well as they treat British ones? Currently, the deck is stacked against any American who wants to eat healthily, and the obesity epidemic can certainly be blamed in part on the choices companies make in formulating their products. As this post has shown, producers know how to make healthier products, but they feel they can get away with cutting corners when US consumers are concerned.

In Which I See The Light : My Laser Eye Surgery Consultation

I have been rather short-sighted for most of my life. It hasn’t really bothered me all that much, but still, it’s a bit inconvenient, and I’ve always had a hankering to get my eyes fixed. Back when I first looked at it, it was a rather new thing in the UK, and I decided that I’d pass, with it not being worth that chance of something going wrong.

A few weeks ago I was wandering through Norwich when I saw a sign outside Optical Express offering laser eye surgery at a vaguely affordable price, and on the spur of the moment I popped in to get some written information. Having talked it over with my friends and family, I finally decided to book a consultation, which I’ve just returned from.

It was all fairly painless. A bit of form-filling, and a lot of staring into various machines for a couple of hours. Also much chatting with the absolutely gorgeous and intelligent optical technician doing the scanning, who did a great job of putting my mind at ease (though the same could not be said for my pulse).

I was given some eye drops to dilate my pupils, and wow, I have had awesome bedroom eyes ever since. The drawback is that everything is far too bright, and my close up vision became terrible, with or without glasses. That seems to be wearing off now, but it made for a slightly squinty walk home.

After all the scans, I was reluctantly passed on to another optician who explained all the various laser surgery options to me. The actual procedure will be done by a laser-surgeon, whom I’ll meet on the day.

I’m going for the Advanced CustomVue Wavefront option. They do a basic laser surgery option that’s a lot cheaper, but I am deeply reluctant to skimp on something like my eyes. The Wavefront system not only deals with your short-sightedness, but also fixes up all sorts of other little defects in your eye. As it turned out that I have a fair few of those, it seems worthwhile, especially as most people who use Wavefront end up with better than 20/20 vision. As everyone’s eyes deteriorate with age anyway, having that extra wiggle-room seems like a good idea.

The part of the operation that scared me is the very beginning, where they have to cut your cornea to lift a flap, making the hole through which to shoot the lasers. I’d imagined that this was going to involve a doctor poking my eye with a knife. As you might know, I’m massively phobic of knives and blood, so I was very worried I might not be able to keep my eye still. Actually, I was also slightly concerned I might freak out, dive out of the chair, knock the doctor to the floor, and run screaming down the corridor. That would be an extreme panic response, but well within the realms of possibility for me and pointy objects.

Turns out, it doesn’t involve anything obviously knife shaped. A little circular suction device goes on the eye, it whirs a bit, and you’re done. I should be OK with that.

There is actually a more advanced option where they make the flap using another laser instead, but that costs an extra £300 an eye, which seems utterly unreasonable to me. It obviously would not cost them anything like that to use their laser rather than the mechanical thing, and I do get a bit annoyed when things are given a premium price for no good reason, especially where improved clinical outcomes are concerned.

In a similar vein, even though the laser part of the operation is going to take about 20 seconds per eye, if that, it turns out that my left eye is going to cost £200 more than my right, because it’s weaker. I am deeply doubtful that there is any good reason why my left eye should cost more to do.

Anyhows, it’s going to cost me a fair bit more than I expected. The costs quoted in the prospectus seem to be a very best case scenario, so you should expect to end up paying over that. I decided to go ahead with it anyway. I’m worth it! If I take into account all the glasses and contact lenses I won’t need to buy, maybe it’ll actually save me money in the long run. I keep telling myself that! The price includes a lot of after-care, so I guess it’s not too bad.

I saw no point in not having it done as soon as possible, so at 12:30 pm on the 7th of June, I’ll be getting my eyes zapped by Optical Express. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m terribly nervous, but also rather excited. The last year has been full of life-changes for me, and this will be yet another positive step, I hope.

In some ways I’m going to rather miss wearing glasses. They’ve been a part of me for so long, and are kind of part of the geek uniform. I might pick up some nice sunglasses in a similar style, of the sort that adjust to light levels. That’ll give me something to hide behind when I feel the need!

An Overly Personal Growth.

I’m sorry I’ve not been posting much here recently. Truth be told, I’ve had a lot of other things on my mind. While I have gotten some gaming in, I’ve not really felt much like saying too much about it.

I was hoping that I was going to be able to write a relieved post today about how it turns out I don’t actually have cancer after all. Unfortunately, after my hospital appointment today, we still don’t know, and so I have a whole spectrum of interesting tests coming up in the next few weeks.

Lets lay it out. It’s a rather squeam-inducing and embarrassing topic for a chap to discuss, but I might as well be open about it.

My body has been in a state of decline for a few years, with various organs deciding that they could no longer be bothered to work properly, not least of which was my brain, which has not been feeling particularly sharp of late. Why all this was happening was a bit of a spooky mystery, but we suspected that the toxins that my liver was steadfastly refusing to filter out of my blood were probably not doing the rest of me any good.

Anyhows, that was the state of play until a few months ago, when my good friend, Dave Fuller, suggested to me that maybe I should get my testosterone levels checked. Testosterone is an incredibly important hormone, and low levels can trash your concentration and energy, cause depression, prevent muscle growth no matter how much you exercise, and even, in extreme cases, cause your organs to pack up. Well, this sounded sort of familiar, so the next time I was at my GP I asked him if I could get that tested for along with all my usual blood tests.

The thing is, male hormone-replacement therapy is getting to be a bit trendy, and GPs are somewhat beset by middle aged men trying to persuade them to put them on it. That particular therapy, for folks with normal hormone levels for their age, is not available on the NHS. There was, then, a bit of resistance from my GP. I argued that it might be the root cause of my depression, and that it would save us all a lot of trouble if that turned out to be the case. Largely, I suspect, to humour me, he agreed we’d test it, just to see.

The results were devastating. My testosterone levels are, well, practically non-existent. How long this has been going on is hard to say at this stage, but it seems likely that it has seriously messed up a good portion of my life up until now. I spent a month or more being pretty damn angry and bitter about that. I’m largely through the anger now, and looking forward to the possibility of getting a fully functional body and mind. Should that come to pass, I do, I shall warn you, reserve the right to catch up on some of the youthful adventures that I missed out on.

First though, we needed to find out exactly why my testosterone levels are so low. I’m pretty much hitting the embarrassment wall here. Suffice it to say that parts of my body have been poked, prodded, and scanned. It was during an ultrasound that the operators found something of interest. They were actually just supposed to be checking the blood flow (which turned out to be fine), but there it was; a dark blob, its dense structure absorbing the ultrasound far more than the surrounding tissue, or anything else that ought to be there.

Funny thing is, it probably has absolutely nothing to do with my low testosterone levels. We just happened to be looking in the right place at the right time to catch the very early stages of whatever it is. We still don’t know its exact nature, but it scares me terribly. It perches upon my shoulder during my waking hours, pregnant with dark possibilities. It is difficult to think of much else, and I’m afraid that I have been not been feeling terribly inspired to write about games, even when I feel well enough to play.

But I will. Don’t go deleting me from your RSS just yet. I’ve a whole lot of scans to get through, and likely a fair amount of being needled, stabbed, and sliced, but I’m going to get through this, and with any luck, I might even end up with a properly working brain again, and the strength to use it.

The Pale Blue Pixel

Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” monologue never fails to move me. A single pixel breaks down the barriers between all the family of man, making us realise how very few we are, and how alike, when compared with the rest of the universe that is not us.

I often think about that when I read gaming blogs and forums, and Martin Luther King day seems an appropriate time to talk about it. As gamers, we divide and subdivide ourselves, into evermore insular tribes, contemptuous of all outside OUR group. Hardcore, Casual, PvPers, non-PvPers, people younger or older than ourselves. Those who play different games to us, or who play the same game but are less experienced, or play in a way that we don’t personally approve of. People who speak other languages, or who show less perfection than ourselves in their typed English. We have special labels for the people outside our own tribe. “Noobs”, “Carebears”, and a great many that I am not comfortable writing down. We have a derogatory term for every occasion.

Just as an extraterrestrial visitor would consider the differences between the different sorts of human to be trivial, an outside observer would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the different tribes of gaming, and could be forgiven for concluding that gamers are the worst people in the universe, based on our own opinions. Gamers are sometimes demonised by the general media, or by politicians, but it tends to be nothing compared with how we talk about ourselves.

Bashing one group of players in order to appeal to another’s sense of superiority, or even just to stir up controversy, is a technique used across the whole range of gaming journalism, from the scrappiest little blog to the large sites and print media. It is an unworthy deed, and it infuriates and saddens me whenever I see it. It drains my will to be part of this gaming society, though where could I go? We just reflect humanity’s own obsession with dividing itself, but in microcosm.

We should not be in the business of “otherising” our fellow gamers. We are too few as it is, and the universe so very large.

Spider Babys.

Araneus diadematus, the European garden spider, has been busy in my garden. I spotted this group of bouncing babies having fun on my wheeliebin and thought I’d share!

The focus isn’t perfect, but I think it’s the best my little camera is going to manage as close as I had to get. These spiderlings are little more than a millimetre across each. Click the picture to get a larger version.

Araneus Diadematus Baby European Garden Spiders 499x375

Araneus diadematus - Baby European Garden Spiders

I hope you enjoy this International Day for Biological Diversity. Why not have a rummage around your own garden or street, and see what you can find! I’d love to see pictures, especially those of you in distant lands.

The British Big Freeze of 2010

Via Twitter from Ysharros. It really IS cold. This is a NASA satellite image from today.

The British Big Freeze 2010 791x1024

The British Big Freeze 2010

Truly epic.

Doomwatch: Swine Flu

The outbreak in the Americas is starting to look rather serious. At issue is the idea that the virus has managed to sneakily combine not only swine flu and human flu genes, but it has also managed to get some avian flu genes also. Clearly a virus strain with a very interesting history. Avian flu was considered the most likely candidate for the next flu pandemic, so this “threefer” is ringing a whole lot of alarm bells.

The World Health Organization is set to declare the deadly swine flu virus outbreak in Mexico and the U.S. a global concern, potentially prompting travel restrictions, said a person familiar with the matter.

An emergency committee of the WHO in Geneva will declare the outbreak “a public health event of international concern” in a 4 p.m. teleconference today, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting is confidential. In response, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan may raise the level of pandemic alert, which could lead to travel restrictions aimed at curbing the disease’s spread. – Bloomberg News

Given our modern antivirals, some of which have been proven to be effective on this new strain, it is unlikely that the mortality rate would be anything like the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, but it could still be rather nasty, especially if it makes it as far as the densely populated cities of the developing world who cannot afford widespread preventative use of antiviral drugs. Like the Spanish flu it seems to be at its worst in otherwise healthy young adults, unlike more common strains which are mostly a danger to the elderly, infirm, or very young.

So far it has only been found in Mexico and the southern US, but the BBC has quoted a “top US health official” as saying that “the strain of swine flu had spread widely and could not be contained.”. It is only a matter of time before it crops up somewhere else, I expect, most likely elsewhere in Central America.

It is not the most important aspect of this, but the very last thing the global economy needs right now is travel restrictions and the shutting down of public buildings such as schools and libraries. (Mexico City has pretty much shut down everything, and I don’t blame them one bit.) Nice timing, pandemic swine flu.

With any luck, it’ll peter out like the other outbreaks of recent years, but until then, it deserves our attention. I hope the UK is ready to offer all the scientific assistance we can provide.

Probably not the source of the outbreak.

Probably not the source of the outbreak.

I draw odd comfort from seeing that the pro-rapture movement has already started putting out the idea that this is possibly the beginning of the apocalypse. Given their record for being utterly wrong on such predictions is 100%, maybe we’ll get through this alright!

Update: The US Center for Disease Control has just confirmed 2 cases in the state of Kansas, 8 suspected cases in New York, and additional confirmed cases in Texas.

Update: According to MSNBC, there are suspected cases in Minnesota and Massachusetts.

Some thoughts: How common is it for a virus to manage to gather genes from swine flu, avian flu, and human flu before it gets noticed? I would have thought it would have been causing problems when it combined just two of those. Has this happened before?

Update, 1 AM, 26th of April:

Genetic analysis of the virus indicates it is highly unusual: It is a hybrid that resulted from a combination of four different viruses — one that typically infects people, one that originated in North American birds and two from pigs in Europe and Asia. – Washington Post