Journalists are bad for your health, again

As I’ve mentioned before, some of the health articles in magazines are wrong at best and dangerous at worst. The current issue of womens’ title R contains a particularly blatant example: under the banner headline “Is Salad Making You Fat?” it spends three pages singing the praises of the Novo Programme.

The Novo Programme is new and very scientific. You send off a sample of your blood for analysis – along with £350 – and the report comes back detailing the foods you should avoid. It is, of course, bullshit. Apparently we’re all intolerant of various foods, and particles of those foods whizz around the bloodstream playing merry hell with your immune system. This makes you fat.


The Novo Programme isn’t new at all; it’s a revised and rebranded version of the Nutron Diet, which pops up every few years under a new name. Which? Magazine investigated it back in 1994, and concluded that it’s a con: they sent in two samples and got two completely different sets of results, which was strange as both samples were from the same person and were drawn at the same time. More worryingly, the samples were from someone who actually had a serious allergy; the oh-so-scientific tests didn’t spot it in either sample.

What’s particularly galling about the article is that all the stuff about Novo/Nutron above took less than a minute to find in Google, and yet over three pages there wasn’t a single sentence rebutting the Novo Programme’s claims. There’s plenty of case studies, though, and they all go something like this:

I’ve tried all kinds of diets before and they didn’t work, but the Novo Programme did! The tests came back and I discovered that I can’t eat X, Y or Z! So I cut them out of my diet and blam! I lost weight!

Typically X will be something innocuous such as lettuce, but Y & Z will be processed/junk foods and chocolate. Oh, and the Novo Programme also forbids alcohol for the first two months. Do people lose weight? Of course they do, but it’s because they’re not eating junk food or drinking booze.

As I wrote back in December:

we want a quick fix, a miracle drug, a magic bullet. That such things rarely, if ever, exist doesn’t stop newspapers from levelling entire forests to bring us articles expounding the virtues of assorted quackeries.

This really bugs me. If I write something that isn’t up to scratch, the worst that can happen is you’ll find that a program can’t export in a particular file format or needs a bit more RAM than I’ve suggested. If health writers write bad articles, their advice can damage your health. And R isn’t the only offender: in the sunday papers last weekend, there was yet another article banging on about St John’s Wort that listed all its benefits but didn’t mention that it’s bad, bad news for pregnant women or anyone taking blood-thinning drugs such as Warfarin.

Let me put it another way: you’re getting more reliable health information from a balding, binge drinking, heavy smoking, lazy-arsed Scots techno-blogger than you’re getting from supposed health experts. Does that scare you? It scares the hell out of me.

Things I have learnt while lying on the sofa recovering from back surgery

In no particular order:

* When you see GQ magazine in the newsagent, you immediately forget that the last issue was rubbish and buy the current issue because it looks interesting. So you take it home and… it’s rubbish!

* Women’s magazines are much more interesting than men’s magazines. This month’s GQ? A man ranting about dogshit and a short piece about the Fleshbot porn blog. This week’s R? Sleepwalking women strangling their husbands and the truth about lesbian prison sex. Yay!

* If the games industry wants to be taken seriously it really needs to spend money on writers and voice talent. I’ve been watching the cutscenes in various games from behind my fingers – they’re more horrific than any of the monsters in Doom 3.

* Stuff magazine is the publishing equivalent of junk food: you read it, and 10 seconds afterwards you can’t remember a single thing about it.

* Giving up the Internet is harder than giving up smoking.

* Two weeks on a sofa seems like the perfect opportunity to stop smoking. It isn’t.

* The importance of mail is inversely proportional to the noise it makes coming through your letterbox. If its landing on your doormat makes the ceiling collapse, it’s a special offer from Tesco World of Wine. If it floats through the air in silence, it’s probably the most important message in the history of the world.

* Planning a kitchen on graph paper while lying down is difficult, but not impossible.

* When you say that you’ll use your two weeks off to work on your novel, you won’t work on your novel. That’s because you have internet access.

* Burning TV shows to DVD takes four to six times as long as you think it will, and the burn process will crash the instant you leave the room.

* There is nothing, absolutely nothing, worth watching on daytime television.

Mr Jobs, I’m ready for my Tablet Mac

Now that the dust raised by the Apple/Intel news has settled somewhat, various sites are asking the big question: what does it all mean? If The Register’s readers are typical, a significant chunk of people are going to hold off purchasing new Macs – not just until the Intel-powered versions are out, but until version 2 of the Intel Macs are out. Only the truly fearless would invest in a brand new, version 1.0 machine due to the inevitable teething problems that you find with new kit (the same rule applies to software).

I was gagging for a G5 PowerBook; now I’ll obviously have to wait for Apple to make an Intel-powered one, and that could take some time – so no new Mac for me this year, unless I cave in and decide to make a Mac Mini Media Centre. I’m sure there are plenty of other people in a similar position making similar decisions, and while price cuts could tempt some upgrades I reckon I’ll hang on for the Intel kit.

Of course, there’s been lots of coverage of the Apple/Intel story but from what I’ve seen, it all tends to focus on just one area of Apple’s business: computers. That’s an important part, naturally, but it’s not Apple’s only business. There’s the all-conquering iPod, nifty things like AirTunes and any devices that Apple has sitting in its labs.

A number of pundits have pointed out that Apple can do just fine if people hang on to upgrade their PowerMacs and PowerBooks for a year or two; it’s got billions in the bank, after all. But there’s another possibility, too: that while Apple works on its next-gen Macs, it might also do something interesting in the iPod arena.

A video iPod is still pretty unlikely (but not impossible – when Jobs rules something out, he means “not yet” rather than “no”), but what if Apple were to unveil a Tablet Mac this year? It might not be a fully-fledged computer; even something akin to the rather lovely Nokia 770 Internet Tablet – which, if Apple doesn’t launch a Tablet Mac, is definitely on my shopping list this year – would have Mac users like me auctioning our grannies on eBay. Or it could be part of the iPod ecosystem, some kind of media controller that runs iTunes and works with Airport.

Think of the press coverage. Think of the sour faces of Apple’s competitors. Think of the large sums of cash flowing into Apple’s coffers.

It’s certainly possible and arguably sensible, but does that mean Apple will do it? I’ve no idea – but I hope it does.

Get your apps out

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages: a quick list of the applications that make my Mac world a better place. I’d be interested in your own nominations:


One of the things I miss from Windows is the Start button. TigerLaunch basically gives you a Mac equivalent: click on the icon in the menu bar and you can launch any app, anywhere on your Mac. Best of all you can customise the list to exclude things you rarely or never use. I’d rather chew off my own legs than lose this application.


A Swiss Army Knife for Safari. Code colouring, site alteration, animation killing… fantastic.


Run Dashboard widgets in Panther or get extra control over widgets in Tiger. On a related note: what drugs is Apple’s weather widget on? According to the widget, today’s forecast is 1 billion degrees centigrade.


Add HTML formatting for blog entries, board posts and so on with a couple of clicks. A tremendous time saver.


Utterly indispensable screen grabbing software. The latest version keeps all your grabs in a drawer for easy access.


Another indispensable tool for grabbing. Backdrop fills your screen with a white window, or the wallpaper of your choice, to hide open applications, folders, files and so on.


The best RSS reader I’ve ever used.


Not, as you might think, for copyright infringement; rather, it’s a boon for situations like I’m in at the moment – stuck at home, bored, with all my CDs packed away for the forthcoming house move. If someone invents a plugin for Safari that saves me from opening torrents in a separate program I’ll do a happy dance.

That’s probably enough time on the computer for today. I’m off to finish Project Snowblind…

Apple goes Intel

Interesting: as of this time next year, Apple will start shipping Intel-powered Macs. It makes sense, but as one Rick James (presumably not the esteemed funkmeister) notes in an Engadget comment:

Who the F*** is going to buy an apple PC over the next year with a processor that is effectively redundant?

Price cuts ahoy?

Update, 8 June

As ever, John Gruber’s take is well worth a read:

Apple’s attitude is clear: we’ll take a couple of quarters of weak sales now, and make it up for next year when the new systems ship. With growing iPod revenue, it’s entirely possible that Mac sales could take a complete nosedive for the remainder of 2005 and Apple could remain profitable. (It’s also possible that we will see some outstanding price cuts on existing product lines in the coming months.)

Back, slightly

Thanks to everyone for their nice comments, texts and emails. It looks like the op was a success: surgeon says it was a “textbook” job and he managed to get a big chunk of disc out without too much hassle. So I can walk, the sciatica’s gone completely (although I’ve been warned that it may come back as an echo over the next wee while) and the scar won’t be too bad.

All I need to do now is spend a few weeks munching painkillers (I feel as if I’ve been smacked in the small of the back by a car) and getting my strength back. I shouldn’t be sitting at the laptop at all, so I’ll disconnect with a guilty expression on my face :-)

Music industry greed created Crazy Frog

At least, that’s what industry watcher Mark Mulligan suggests. He explains:

A key (though not the only) reason for ring tone providers like Jamster (the home of Crazy Frog) churning out the likes of Cray Frog, Nessie and Sweety is because of the size of the license fees being commanded by record labels for true tones. The result is that mobile content providers seek out content which they can own and therefore take a much larger share of the pie. Hence the great irony that the net result of this process is that the labels end up paying for the rights to ring tone content.

Will the labels start being less demanding with their license fees? There is a risk that if they don’t, what was a booming revenue stream for them will become the near exclusive domain of animated crooning animals.