Saturday, December 18, 2010

UK's chocolate bars shrinking due to cost.

From Daily Mail:
Some of the biggest confectionery firms are shrinking their biggest brands to protect profits.

Companies such as Nestle and Cadburys have reduced the size of some of their most popular brands at the same time as increasing prices to shelter profits from the rise in VAT, looming in January.

Poundland offers a typical example. Chief Executive Jim McCarthy said he’s agreed to cut the size of Toblerones by one triangle so he can keep the price at £1.

Dairy Milk bars will lose a couple of chunks in February, following to the reduction in the weight of a bag of Maltezers from 140g to 120g.

Bourneville, which was called a Scrooge for removing the expensive chocolates from tubs of Heros two years ago, has taken more cost-cutting steps, under its new owner, Kraft.

A Cadburys spokesman claimed they increasing the price of packs due to rising ingredient costs, according to the Guardian.

Mintel analyst David Jago said the first wave of changes in confectionary value went largely unnoticed. Changes in the sizes of bars such as Mars and Twix were not obvious to most consumers, but now that companies are changing the price of bars as well, people are seeing a change.

Jago said the changes are a tactic being used by confectionary companies to keep profit margins stable when VAT is expected to rise and the price of sugar and cocoa are also increasing.

He also said manufacturers had been asked to alter the size of packs to help tackle the obesity epidemic.

The cost of chocolate has been rising since 2007 when cocoa prices hit a 33-year high over £2700 a tonne.

Customers are already seeing price rises at newsagents. Cadburys and Nestle have boosted recommended retail prices of Kit Kat, Yorkie, Wispa and Dairy Milk by a noticeable 7% – more than twice the rate of inflation.

A Nestle spokesman said the company ‘occasionally’ made changes to prices due to a change in formation or packaging.

The Office for National Statistics has said that food inflation is nearly 5%, in part due to Russia’s ban on grain and wheat exports following the summer droughts.

Dead: Captain Beefheart.

RIP Zig Zag Wanderer... From UPI:
TRINIDAD, Calif., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Accolades poured in Saturday for Don Van Vliet, the avant-garde rocker known as Captain Beefheart, after his death in Northern California at the age of 69.

Van Vliet died Friday of complications from multiple sclerosis while living and working as a successful painter in the small town of Trinidad, according to Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner in the New York gallery where Van Vliet often showed his paintings.

There was no immediate word on memorial services; however Van Vliet was never forgotten by music critics and rock historians. His eccentric album with the Magic Band called "Trout Mask Replica" is considered a classic.

The New York Times said Saturday that Captain Beefheart's music career, which stretched from 1966 to 1982, put together a unique body of work that had a strong influence on the punk and new wave generations.

Van Vliet had little in the way of formal musical training, but he fell in with fellow Southern Californian Frank Zappa in the 1960s, adopted the name Captain Beefheart and with the Magic Band. The Times said his singing style resembled blues great Howlin' Wolf: "a deep, rough-riding moan turned up into swooped falsettos at the end of lines, pinched and bellowing and sounding as if it caused pain.

Van Vliet quit the music business in 1982 after releasing "Ice Cream Crow" and devoted his time to his painting while living a reclusive lifestyle.

ATM spits out gold.

From Jen C! Item!
BOCA RATON, Fla. — Shoppers who are looking for something sparkly to put under the Christmas tree can skip the jewelry and go straight to the source: an ATM that dispenses shiny 24-carat gold bars and coins.

A German company installed the machine Friday at an upscale mall in Boca Raton, a South Florida paradise of palm trees, pink buildings and wealthy retirees.

Thomas Geissler, CEO of Ex Oriente Lux and inventor of the Gold To Go machines, says the majority of buyers will be walk-ups enamored by the novelty. But he says they're also convenient for more serious investors looking to bypass the hassle of buying gold at pawn shops and over the Internet.

"Instead of buying flowers or chocolates, which is gone after two or three minutes, this will stay for the next few hundreds years," Geissler told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

The company installed its first machine at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace hotel in May and followed up with gold ATMs in Germany, Spain and Italy. Geissler said they plan to unroll a few hundred machines worldwide in 2011. He said the Abu Dhabi machine has been so popular it has to be restocked every two days.

A bank in Vietnam installed its own brand of the machines in a country with a much poorer population but one that values gold more than paper money.

The gold-leaf-covered machine at Boca Raton's Town Center Mall sits outside a gourmet chocolate store and works much like the cash ATM beside it. Shoppers insert cash or credit cards and use a computer touch-screen to choose the weight and style they want. The machine spits out the gold in a classy black box with a tamperproof seal.

Each machine, manufactured in Germany, carries about 320 pieces of different-sized bars and coins. Prices are refigured automatically every 10 minutes to reflect market fluctuations. On Friday, a two-gram piece cost about $122, including packaging, certification and a 5 percent markup. An ounce cost about $1,442.

Buyer beware: A gram of the heavy metal is much smaller than you think, about the size of a fingernail. An ounce is a little larger than a quarter.

Caterpillar whistles to ward off birds.

From Jen K. Item!
The walnut sphinx caterpillar has a trick up its sleeve -- er, side -- to keep birds from chomping on it. The clever bug can make an odd whistling sound, which startles birds enough that they usually just leave it alone. Researchers didn't know how it managed to make this sound, so they set up cameras and began experimenting. The results are rather strange.

Live Science reports that neuroethologist Jayne Yack at Carleton University in Ottawa has for the first time have revealed that walnut sphinx caterpillars (Amorpha juglandis) can make music from their sides.

The team used high-speed videos, latex to cover each pair of the caterpillar's eight sets of abdomina spiracles, or breathing holes, and a pair of pincers. They systematically tried out each set of holes and discovered it's the eighth set that makes the noise when the caterpillar contracts its body, forcing air through the holes to whistles when it senses a threat. The whistles can last up to four seconds each, and range in frequencies from what is audible to humans all the way up to ultrasound.

When they introduced a bird into the situation -- a yellow warbler that coexists in the same habitat as these bugs -- they found the sound definitely works to startle the birds into going away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rush snubbed.

They let in boxcar hobo Tom Waits and yet Rush still snubbed? Shenanigans, I say. Although I do love Tom Waits. From CBS:
The 2011 class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame were announced Tuesday, and Alice Cooper and Neil Diamond were among the rockers chosen.

Darlene Love also made the list, along with New Orleans musician Dr. John and singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

Piano man Leon Russell was honored with a musical excellence award, previously the sideman category. Executives Jac Holzman and Art Rupe were given the Ahmet Ertegun Awards.

Others will have to try again next year. Bon Jovi, nominated for the first time, was turned away from music's prestigious club, as was LL Cool J, the J. Geils Band, the Beastie Boys, Donna Summer and more.

Diamond, whose hits include "Sweet Caroline," had been eligible for the Rock Hall for several years. But he was never really worried about getting an invitation.

"I thought about it occasionally, but I kind of figured they'd get around to me at some point," he said in a phone interview.

Like Diamond, Cooper said he hadn't been anxiously waiting for his Rock Hall invite, though his name has been mentioned in conjunction with the institution for years.

"You know it crosses your mind, but then you think of all the guys who aren't in there, some of them before you, and you go, 'Wow.' ... You realize that it's a waiting game," the heavy metal rocker, known for his dark eyeliner and shaggy hair, said in a phone interview. "I don't think you sit around holding your breath on it."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Terrible Hairy Fly rediscovered in Kenya.

From BBC News:
Scientists have rediscovered a bizarre insect in Kenya, collecting the first Terrible Hairy Fly specimen since 1948.

Since then, at least half a dozen expeditions have visited its only known habitat - a rock cleft in an area east of Nairobi - in search of the fly.

Two insect specialists recently spotted the 1cm-long insect, known as Mormotomyia hirsuta, living on the 20m-high rock.

They point out that it looks more like a spider with hairy legs.

The fly was found by Dr Robert Copeland and Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs during an expedition led by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

"The rediscovery of the species, which has been collected on only two occasions before, in 1933 and 1948, has caused excitement in insect museums world-wide," the team members said in a statement.

Unable to fly and partial to breeding in bat faeces, the fly is thought to live only in the dank, bat-filled cleft of the isolated rock in Kenya's Ukazi Hills.

It also has non-functional wings that resemble miniature belt-straps, and tiny eyes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jumping squid caught on camera.

Check out the photos here.
These remarkable photos show one of the most bizarre sights in the natural world.

A British photographer captured a particular type of squid which use jet propulsion to leap out of the sea and fly up to 65ft.

The flying squid swim in shoals and leap from the surface of the water and are often mistaken for the more common flying fish.

The squid actually fly looking backwards, with their tentacles dangling behind them and fins acting like wings, keeping them balanced in the air.