Archive for July, 2009

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

July 29, 2009

In the past, philosophers were concerned about many facets of human activity and drew inspiration from subjects relating to existence, laws, emotions, love, truth and science. It should, therefore, come as a surprise that many of them ignored work as a subject for thought and criticism. For Alain de Botton, our job is forming a large part of our identity in our modern world. His latest book, “The pleasures and sorrows of work”, published by Penguin, is a testament to the joys and perils of the modern workplace, with an emphasis on jobs that are either taken for granted and are definitely not in the minds of university graduates. Thus, while anyone knows about the typical day in the work of a doctor, positions like a logistic workers have largely been neglected.

In the 10 chapters of the book, the author embarks upon a journey to describe a snapshot in the life of an accountant, a career counsellor, a painter and an aviation expert and the equally peculiar life of a cargo ship spotter, a rocket scientist, a biscuit manufacturer and a budding entrepreneur. Through logistics, we follow the trip of tuna from the Maldives coast, where it is captured and killed, to the dinner plate of a family in the UK, and through tracing a power line, we witness the journey of the transmission of electricity from a power plant in Kent to a substation in East London. The food in our plate or the power to use our appliances results from those activities, the orchestrated work of ten or thousands of people, that know little of each other, but nevertheless commit their time to a common cause.

The book is written with the unmistakable and imaginative style of de Botton, mixing the necessary with the superfluous and using every small detail as a vehicle for explanations of people’s ulterior motives and behaviours. While we have some reservations that the book is more of a voyeuristic description to weird and unusual professions that a philosophical manifesto of how we perceive our working environment, the book is very pleasant and easy to read.


P.S.: “The pleasures and sorrows of Work” costs £11.39 at Amazon or £60 for Monocle’s limited, signed edition. You may also see an interview of the author at one of Monocle’s Video Podcasts.

(book cover © Penguin books)


Restaurant of first accusation

July 27, 2009

When I was learning English back in Greece, we were once taught how to apply common sense in writing signs. At this lesson, we were also given examples of signs in Greece, in which obviously something had gone wrong. The sign “Restaurant of first accusation” seen in a Greek island restaurant is just one example.

The sudden surge of foreign tourists in the 70s and 80s necessitated a change of Greek tourist business. Obviously, the least Greeks could do was to offer their services in the English language. The only problem was that not many people knew English at that time. To translate your menu in English, you would either have to rely to your English speaking friends, a professional translating service, or -a low cost solution – to your trusty dictionary. The owner of the first accusation restaurant probably found refuge to the dictionary to produce that sign.

To the Englishman, the “Restaurant of first accusation” does not really make sense. If, however, you show the sentence to an English-speaking Greek, they will probably realise what is happening. The restaurant owner just wanted to point out that his restaurant is first class. (Evidently, you start having doubts even for that if you feel that the owner needs to boast). In Greek, you would go about branding your restaurant as “Restaurant of first category” or better “Εστιατόριο πρώτης κατηγορίας”. The only problem is that “κατηγορία” does not only mean class but accusation. The restauranteur probably opened a dictionary, saw that “category” was “accusation” and wrote in their sign that the restaurant was of “of first accusation”.


Since then, I think that the Greeks have gone a long way. They are regularly learning English at school or in private schools and those signs are a thing of the past. Or are they not? I was surprised to see some problems still remain when it comes to translating signs. But this time, it was not in restaurant in a remote island, but it was in Athens, and, in particular, in one of the Athens Metro signs. If you take a look at the right sign above, you will notice that the greek sentence is unusually long, whereas the English translation is curiously short. There is no problem with wrong translation here, but there is a problem with no translation.

The Greek sentence says “Mind the doors. They close inwards” but the English translation has been stripped of details just to say “Be careful”. I guess that English people are not as dumb as the Greeks that need to be told the doors close towards the inside. They can figure it out on their own.


P.S.: How your seen recently any incomprehensible English signs?

(picture ©  LambdaPhage)


July 26, 2009

You realise there is something seriously different with Peggle from the start of the game. Instead of the realistic graphics you would normally find in shoot-em-up games, you encounter carefully designed comic-like characters. And instead of ear-piercing noise, you are welcomed to the soothing sound of Edvard Grieg’sPeer Gynt Morning”, while the sun is rising.

Peggle was inspired by a very famous Japanese slot machine game called Pachinko. Like Patchinko, where you try to control the flow of balls that continuously fall from the top of the machine, in Peggle you are armed with a cannon at the top middle of your screen and you control the firing of a ball. The ball bounces obstacles and pegs at each level until it gets to the bottom, where is it either saved by the ball catcher, which moves back and forth in typical arcanoid fashion, or is lost. The pegs touched by the ball are lit, and when the shot is completed, or when the ball gets stuck, those pegs disappear. The object of the game is to eliminate the 25 orange pegs, which are randomly dispersed in the blue pegs at the start of each level. As you progress though the levels you will need to use strategy to remove blue pegs to target the orange ones, while paying attention to your remaining balls. There are some special pegs to help you: a purple peg awards you bonus points and a green peg activates the “magic power”.

One of the Peggle levels. In this snapshot, the ball has just been lost and all the lit pegs disappear from the level

One of the Peggle levels. In this snapshot, the ball has just been lost and all the lit pegs disappear from the level

Each of those special magic powers is named after an animal or plant character and gives special characteristics to your ball for a limited number of ball attempts. Bjorn, an avidly named unicorn, shows which way your ball will bounce after your initial firing. Kat Tut attaches a pyramid at the ball catcher at the bottom of the level, making it more difficult to lose a ball and helping you target bottom placed pegs. The imaginative french named Claude, a crab, attaches crab like flippers at the lower sides of the level and transform Peggle into a pinball experience. Tula, a smiling anthropomorphic daisy, will automatically light up the 20% remaining orange pegs for you, whereas Splork, an alien-like creature will similarly light up all nearby pegs with super advanced alien technology. Jimmy Lightning, a playful beaver, will clone your ball, whereas Warren will give you a choice of magic powers. Lord Cinderbottom, a phantasy inspired dragon, will transform your cannon into a destructive fireball, that will vaporize all pegs encountered in its path. Renfield, a Halloween pumpkin, will make your ball spookingly appear once at the top of the level exactly where it dropped to the bottom. Finally, the master of all the magic powers, Master Hu, a wise owl, will attempt to give the maximum zen to your ball and guide it to light up most orange pegs or to collect a high score.

Compared to other computer games, what Peggle lacks in complexity, it makes up with its creative, playful character. When you have completed a set of levels, you get awarded the certificate of the Peggle Master and unlock an exciting collection of new, and – sometimes almost impossible – levels. To successfully complete those you may for example need to eliminate all the pegs in the level, achieve a special high score, beat the computer as an opponent in dual gaming or complete several challenges one after the other. But the most exhilarating experience of playing the game is when you are about to hit the final orange peg to finish the level. When the ball approaches the peg, the area is magnified and tension builds up. If you are successful and hit your final peg, sparkles erupt from your ball and “Ode for Joy” accompanies you to the celebrations of finishing the level till your special bonus is counted.


P.S.: Peggle is made by Pop Cap games and is available for PC, Mac, iPhone, Nintendo DS and X-Box.

(all pictures are screenshots of the game © Pop Cap)

Fire and Stone

July 19, 2009


Fire and Stone deluxe Pizza restaurant in Covent Garden balances successfully between the classic Italian recipe for pizza and the stuffy, cheesy American counterpart, but with one small detail. Every ingredient used in the pizzas is not the ordinary ingredient typically found at the selves of a supermarket but a reworked, refined edition: slow cooked chutneys are used instead of sweet sauces, a recipe of cumin-ground spiced lamb instead of a plain one and rosemary-infused mascarpone instead of any ordinary cheese. In the end, Fire and Stone is not just an ordinary pizza joint like Pizza express, but brings whole new meaning to this humble food.

The experience starts from the moment you enter the restaurant. At your right hand, you will see the extractor pipe of the wood-fire oven situated at the basement of the restaurant. You climb up some steps and through a long wooden corridor you enter the main dining area, characterised by a long red couch in the middle and brightly lit bar at the right hand side. There is a smaller dinning area at the basement of the place, right next to the oven, overlooking the open plan kitchen where the deluxe pizzas are made.


The menu features some delicious Mediterranean antipasti and is dominated by different pizza choices. Indeed, if you have arrived at Fire and Stone expecting something more than pizza, you will probably be disappointed, as there is nothing else on the menu. The pizzas are named after cities and are grouped according to continents. But not all choices for pizzas are fantastic. Some of them sport weird combinations of ingredients that you might be best without. For example, steer clear of Bavaria or London pizza, unless you delight in German pork sausages with mustard or sour cream and sliced black pudding. Instead, if you are a fan of Peking duck, you will start wondering why hadn’t anyone though of making a pizza with those simple ingredients before. We also recommend focusing on the vegetarian varieties found in Europe, like Athena, with wilted spinach and barreled-aged feta and our personal favourite, Lombardia, with mascarpone, courgettes, artichokes and tomato chutney. Finally, there are two truly deluxe and quite expensive pizzas, Paris with roasted fillet of beef and Brittany with scallops and kings prawns.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is vibrant and very loud. Indeed, this is a place best visited with a lot of friends and not particularly suited for cosy,romantic dinners. And while the service is friendly, it might use a bit of an adjustment. On several occasions we have experienced delays in our food order and once they had even messed up with our reservation. Putting the problems with the service aside, however, a visit to Fire and Stone restaurant makes the experience of eating pizza out of the ordinary.


P.S.: Fire and Stone is located at 31/32 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7JS (Google Map, Street view).