How to Poach an Egg and Leave a Marriage

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

by Brandy Jensen

Set a timer. Cook the eggs for precisely three minutes and not a second longer.

Everyone thinks they have a sense of how time passes, but it’s crucial to use a timer. You are never as right as you think. Three minutes goes by more quickly than you expect. Six years even quicker.

Good instructions for poaching eggs. Also for leaving a marriage, for all I know. Surprisingly strong parallels between the two.

Salty JavaScript analogy

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

JavaScript is like salt. If you add just enough salt to a dish, it’ll help make the flavour awesome. Add too much though, and you’ll completely ruin it.

Similarly, if you add just enough JavaScript to your website, it’ll help make it awesome. Add too much though, and you’ll completely ruin it.

This, this, a thousand times this.

On This Day In 2005

I normally reserve my “on this day” posts to look back at my own archived content, but once in a while I get a moment of nostalgia for something of somebody else’s that “fell off the web”. And so I bring you something you probably haven’t seen in over a decade: Paul and Jon‘s Birmingham Egg.

Paul's lunch on this day 13 years ago: Birmingham Egg with Naan Bread
Is this honestly so different from the kind of crap that most of our circle of friends ate in 2005?

It was a simpler time: a time when YouTube was a new “fringe” site (which is probably why I don’t have a surviving copy of the original video) and not yet owned by Google, before Facebook was universally-available, and when original Web content remained decentralised (maybe we’re moving back in that direction, but I wouldn’t count on it…). And only a few days after issue 175 of the b3ta newsletter wrote:

* BIRMINGHAM EGG - Take 5 scotch eggs, cut in
  half and cover in masala sauce. Place in
  Balti dish and serve with naan and/or chips. 
  We'll send a b3ta t-shirt to anyone who cooks
  this up, eats it and makes a lovely little
  photo log / write up of their adventure.
Birmingham Egg preparation
Sure, this looks like the kind of thing that seems like a good idea when you’re a student.

Clearly-inspired, Paul said “Guess what we’re doing on Sunday?” and sure enough, he delivered. On this day 13 years ago and with the help of Jon, Liz, Siân, and Andy R, Paul whipped up the dish and presented his findings to the Internet: the original page is long-gone, but I’ve resurrected it for posterity. I don’t know if he ever got his promised free t-shirt, but he earned it: the page went briefly viral and brought joy to the world before being forgotten the following week when we all started arguing about whether 9 Songs was a good film or not.

It was a simpler time, when, having fewer responsibilities, we were able to do things like this “for the lulz”. But more than that, it was still at the tail-end of the era in which individuals putting absurd shit online was still a legitimate art form on the Web. Somewhere along the way, the Web got serious and siloed. It’s not all a bad thing, but it does mean that we’re publishing less weirdness than we were back then.

Bread Winner

Yesterday, Ruth and I attended a Festive Breads Workshop at the Oxford Brookes Restaurant Cookery and Wine School, where we had a hands-on lesson in making a variety of different (semi-)seasonal bread products. It was a fantastic experience and gave us both skills and confidence that we’d have struggled to attain so-readily in any other way.

Dan wins a certificate for being a Star Baker
I am the Master Baker! The Bread Winner! (Okay, so everybody got one of these certificates…)

The Oxford Brookes Restaurant is a working restaurant which doubles as a place for Brookes’ students to work and practice roles as chefs, sommeliers, and hospitality managers as part of their courses. In addition, the restaurant runs a handful of shorter or day-long courses for adults and children on regional and cuisine-based cookery, knife skills, breadmaking, and wine tasting. Even from the prep room off the main working kitchen (and occasionally traipsing through it on the way to and from the ovens), it was easy to be captivated the buzz of activity as the lunchtime rush began outside: a large commercial kitchen is an awesome thing to behold.

Prep room at the Oxford Brookes Restaurant
Working in our kitchen at home I often have less space than my entire work area in this, the smallest room of the Brookes’ kitchens.

By early afternoon we’d each made five different breads: a stollen, a plaitted wreath, rum babas, a seeded flatbread, and a four-strand woven challah. That’s plenty to do (and a good amount of standing up and kneading!), but it was made possible by the number of things we didn’t have to do. There was no weighing and measuring, no washing-up: this was done for us, and it’s amazingly efficiency-enhancing to be able to go directly from each recipe to the next without having to think about these little tasks. We didn’t even have to run our breads in and out of the proofing cupboard and the ovens: as we’d be starting on mixing the next dough, the last would be loaded onto trays and carried around the kitchens.

Bread making class at Oxford Brookes Restaurant.
Start from the right and weave to the left: over, under, over. Repeat.

The tuition itself was excellent, too. The tutors, Amanda and Jan, were friendly and laid-back (except if anybody tried to short-cut their kneading of a wet dough by adding more flour than was necessary, in which case they’d enter “flour police” mode and start slapping wrists) and clearly very knowledgeable and experienced. When I struggled at one point with getting a dough ball to the consistency that was required, Jan stepped in and within seconds identified that the problem was that my hands were too warm. The pair complemented one another very well, too, for example with Amanda being more-inclined than Jan towards the laissez-faire approach to ingredient measurement that I prefer when I make bread, for example.

Ruth shapes her woven challah loaf.
It looked a little lopsided at this point, but Ruth’s challah looked among the best of all of them among the final products.

The pace was fast and Ruth in particular struggled early on to keep up, but by the end the entire group – despite many hours on our feet, much of it kneading stiff doughs – were hammering through each activity, even though there was a clear gradient in the technical complexity of what we were working on. And – perhaps again thanks to the fantastic tuition – even the things that seemed intimidating upon first glance (like weaving four strands of dough together without them sticking to one another or the surface) weren’t problematic once we got rolling.

Glazing and seeding bread before it goes into the oven.
Having great equipment like large hot ovens, a proofing cupboard, and an endless supply of highly-active live (not dried) yeast might have helped too.

Our hosts, apparently somehow not having enough to do while teaching and supervising us, simultaneously baked a selection of absolutely delicious bread to be served with our lunch, which by that point was just showing-off. Meanwhile, we put the finishing touches on our various baked goods with glazes, seeds, ribbons, and sugar.

Dan and Ruth's challah, between two others.
Dan and Ruth’s challah. Ruth’s is the one with white sesame seeds; Dan’s is the one with poppy seeds to the left of it.

And so we find ourselves with a house completely full of amazingly-tasty fresh bread – the downside perhaps of having two of us from the same household on the same course! – and a whole new appreciation of the versatility of bread. As somebody who makes pizza bases and, once in a blue moon, bread rolls, I feel like there’s so much more I could be doing and I’m looking forward to getting more adventurous with my bread-making sometime soon.

Ruth among the challah, stollen, and wreaths.
Tired-but-proud would be a pretty good description of Ruth here, I think.

I’d really highly recommend the Brookes Restaurant courses; they’re well worth a look if you’re interested in gaining a point or two of Cooking skill.

Pizza Cake

I’m a big fan of pizza. I use it to celebrate people moving house back to Aber; I use it to bribe people to help me move house; I’ve been known to travel into the next country over in search of the “right” one; over the course of the 300 or so Troma Nights I hosted between 2004 and 2010, it got to the point that our local pizza place would bring our food in through the front door and directly to each consumer; and once we got as far south as Naples, finding the world’s best pizza was among the first things on Claire and I’s minds. I like pizza: you get the picture.

More-lately, I’m also a big fan of making pizza. I’ve always enjoyed making bread, but over the last five years or so I’ve become particularly fascinated with making pizzas. I make a pretty good one now, I think, although I’m still learning and periodically experimenting with different flour blends, cooking surfaces, kneading techniques and so on. Those of you who know how capable I am of being a giant nerd about things should understand what I mean when I say that I’ve gotten to be a pizza nerd.

Rolled dough being cut into a circle.
Normally, dough should be stretched into a circular shape: but today, I needed a perfect circle of an exact size, so I cut it instead.

In pizza-related circles of the Internet (yes, these exist), there’s recently been some talk about pizza cake: a dish made by assembling several pizzas, stacked on top of one another in a cake tin – ideally one with a removable base – and then baking them together as a unit. Personally, I think that the name “pizza cake” isn’t as accurate nor descriptive as alternative names “pizza pie” (which unfortunately doesn’t translate so well over the Atlantic) or “pizza lasagne” (which is pretty universal). In any case, you can by now imagine what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is an artery-destroying monster.

The first layer of pizza cake begins to be assembled in the tin.
Spreading sauce onto the bottom layer of the pizza cake.

Not wanting to squander my dough-making skills on something that must be cut to size (proper pizza dough should always be stretched, or in the worst case rolled, to size – did I mention that I’d been getting picky about this kind of stuff?), I opted to go for the lazy approach and use some pre-made dough, from a chilled can. That was probably my first and largest mistake, but a close second was that I followed through with this crazy idea at all.

Pizza cake ready to go into the oven.
This pizza cake is one-third meaty, two-thirds veggie: the fillings go all the way down across four layers of pizzas.

I didn’t have as deep a cake tin as I’d have liked, either, so my resulting pizza cake was shorter and squatter than I might have liked. Nonetheless, it came together reasonably well, albeit with some careful repositioning of the ingredients in order to provide the necessary structural support for each layer as it was added. I eventually built four layers: that is, from bottom to top – dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms, dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms, dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms, dough, tomato, cheese, pepperoni & mushrooms. As I went along I found myself thinking about calzone.

Pizza cake freshly removed from the oven.
Regardless of anything else, though, it smelled amazing as it came out of the oven.

Using a cake tin with a removable base turned out to be an incredibly wise move, as it proved possible to separate the food from its container by simply running around the outside and then tapping the tin from underneath. It had the weight and consistency of a cake of similar size, and smelled richly like freshly-based bread and cheese: exactly what you’d expect, really. I sliced it into six wedges, “cake-style”, and served it with a side salad to my courageous test pilots.

The completed pizza cake, ready to be sliced.
At a glance, it looked like the thickest imaginable pizza. Sadly, this was the most-awesome part of the experience.

Ultimately, though, the experience wasn’t one we’re likely to repeat: the resulting dish was less-satisfying than if I’d just gone to the effort of making four regular pizzas in the first place. It was impossible to get an adequately crispy crust over the expanded surface area without risking burning the cheese, and as a result the central bread was unsatisfyingly stodgy, regardless of how thin I’d rolled it in anticipation of this risk. Having toppings spread through the dish was interesting, but didn’t add anything in particular that’s worthy of note. And while we ate it all up, we wouldn’t have chosen it instad of an actual pizza unless we’d never tried it before – once was enough.

But that’s just our experience: if you give pizza cake/pie/lasagne a go, let me know how you get on. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to making my own dough and using it to make my own regular, flat pizzas. The way that the pizza gods intended!

Halloumi & Mushroom Skewers

Last week, I was invited to a barbeque with Oxford’s Young Friends. Despite being neither a Friend (in their “capital-F” meaning of the word: a Quaker) nor young (at least; not so young as I was, whatever that means), I went along and showed off my barbecue skills. It also gave me an excuse to make use of my Firestick – a contemporary tinderbox – to generally feel butch and manly, perhaps in an effort to compensate for the other week.

Anyway: this is how I discovered halloumi and mushroom skewers. Which may now have become my favourite barbeque foodstuff. Wow. Maybe it’s just the lack of mushrooms in my diet (we operate a cooking rota on Earth, but Paul doesn’t like mushrooms so I usually only get them when he or I happen to be eating elsewhere), but these things are just about the most delicious thing that you can pull off hot coals.

Aside from meat, of course.

Update: we just had some at the Three Rings Code Week, and they were almost as delicious once again, despite being hampered by a biting wind, frozen mushrooms, and a dodgy barbeque.

The 17 Blog Posts That Weren’t

It may come as a surprise to you that the stuff I write about on my blog – whether about technology, dreams, food, film, games, relationships, or my life in general – isn’t actually always written off-the-cuff. To the contrary, sometimes a post is edited and re-edited over the course of weeks or months before it finally makes it onto the web. When I wrote late last year about some of my controversial ideas about the ethics (or lack thereof) associated with telling children about Santa Claus, I’m sure that it looked like it had been inspired by the run-up to Christmas. In actual fact, I’d begun writing it six months earlier, as summer began, and had routinely visited and revisited it from time to time until I was happy with it, which luckily coincided with the Christmas season.

As an inevitable result of this process, it’s sometimes the case that a blog post is written or partially-written and then waits forever to be finished. These forever-unready, never-published articles are destined to sit forever in my drafts folder, gathering virtual dust. These aren’t the posts which were completed but left unpublished – the ones where it’s only upon finishing writing that it became self-evident that this was not for general consumption – no, the posts I’m talking about are those which honestly had a chance but just didn’t quite make it to completion.

Well, today is their day! I’ve decided to call an amnesty on my incomplete blog posts, at long last giving them a chance to see the light of day. If you’ve heard mention of declaring inbox bankruptcy, this is a similar concept: I’m sick of seeing some of these blog articles which will never be ready cluttering up my drafts folder: it’s time to make some space! Let the spring cleaning begin:

Title: Typically Busy
Unpublished since: March 2004
Unpublished because:
Better-expressed by another post, abandoned

In this post, I talk about how busy my life is feeling, and how this is pretty much par for the course. It’s understandable that I was feeling so pressured: at the time we were having one of our particularly frenetic periods at SmartData, I was fighting to finish my dissertation, and I was trying to find time to train for my upcoming cycle tour of Malawi. The ideas I was trying to express later appeared in a post entitled I’m Still In Aber. Yay, in a much more-optimistic form.

Title: Idloes, Where Art Thou?
Unpublished since: June 2004
Unpublished because: Got distracted by rebuilding the web server on which my blog is hosted, after a technical fault

In anticipation of my trip to Malawi, I was prescribed an anti-malarial drug, Lariam, which – in accordance with the directions – I began taking daily doses of several weeks before travelling. It seemed silly in the long run; I never even saw a single mosquito while I was over there, but better safe than sorry I suppose. In any case, common side-effects of Lariam include delusions, paranoia, strange dreams, hallucinations, and other psychological
effects. I had them in spades, and especially the weird trippy dreams.

This blog post described what could have been one of those dreams… or, I suppose, could have just been the regular variety of somewhat-strange dream that isn’t uncommon for me. In the dream I was living back in Idloes, a tall Aberystwyth townhouse where I’d rented a room during 2002/2003. In the dream, the house caught fire one night, and my landlady, Anne, was killed. Apparently the fire was started by her electric blanket.

Title: Are We Alone In The Universe?
Unpublished since: March 2006
Unpublished because: Never finished, beaten to the punchline

Here’s an example of an article that I went back to, refining and improving time and time again over a period of years, but still never finished. I was quite pleased with the direction it was going, but I just wasn’t able to give it as much time as it needed to reach completion.

The Drake Equation

In the article, I examine the infamous Drake Equation, which estimates the likelihood of there being intelligent life elsewhere in the galaxy (more specifically, it attempts to estimate the number of intelligent civilizations “out there”). Which is all well and good, but the only way to put the formula into practice is to effectively pull unknowable numbers out of the air and stuff them into the equation to get, in the end, whatever answer you like. The only objective factors in the entire equation are those relating to the number of stars in the galaxy, and everything else is pure conjecture: who honestly thinks that they can estimate the probability of any given species reaching sentience?

The post never got finished, and I’ve since seen other articles, journals, and even stand-up comedians take apart the Drake Equation in a similar way to that which I intended, so I guess I’ve missed the boat, now. If you want to see the kind of thing I was working on, here it is but better-written. I wonder what the probability is that a blog post will never end up being published to the world?

Title: Why Old People Should Be Grumpy
Unpublished since: October 2006
Unpublished because: Never finished, possibly bullshit

In this post, I put forward a theory that grumpy old people are a positive sign that a nation is making just enough change to not be stagnant: something about the value of keeping older people around crossed with the importance of taking what they say with a pinch of salt, because it’s not them that has to live in the world of tomorrow. I can’t even remember what the point was that I was trying to make, and my notes are scanty, but I’m sure it was a little bit of a one-sided argument for social change with an underdeveloped counter-argument for social stability.

In any case, I left it for years and eventually gave up on it.

Title: The Games That Didn’t Make The List
Unpublished since: July 2007
Unpublished because: I could have kept refining it forever and still never finish it

After my immensely popular list of 10 Computer Games That Stole My Life, I received a great deal of feedback – either as direct feedback in the form of comments or indirectly in other people’s blogs. Reading through this feedback got me thinking about computer games that had stolen my life which I hadn’t mentioned. Not wanting to leave them out, I put together a list of “games that didn’t make the list”: i.e. games which could also have been said to steal my life, but which I didn’t think of when I wrote my original top ten. They included:

  • Castles and Castles 2
    The original Castles was one of the first non-free PC computer games I ever owned (after Alley Cat, that golf game, and the space command/exploration game whose name I’ve been perpetually unable to recall). It was a lot of fun; a well-designed game of strategy and conquest. Later, I got a copy of Castles 2 – an early CD-ROM title, back before developers knew quite what to do with all that space – which was even better: the same castle-building awesomeness but with great new diplomacy and resource-management exercises, as well as siege engines and the ability to launch your own offensives. In the end, getting Civilization later in the same year meant that it stole more of my time, but I still sometimes dig out Castles 2 and have a quick game, from time to time.
  • Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates!
    Early during the development of Three Rings, I came across an existing company with the name Three Rings Design, based in the US. Their major product is a game called Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates, an MMOG in which players – as pirates – play puzzle games in order to compete at various tasks (you know, piratey tasks: like sailing, drinking, and swordfighting). Claire and I both got quite deeply involved during the beta, and played extensively, even forming our own crew, The Dastardly Dragons, at one point, and met some fascinating folks from around the world. When the beta came to an end we both took advantage of a “tester’s bonus” chance to buy lifetime subscriptions, which we both barely used. Despite the fact that I’ve almost never played the game since then, it still “stole my life” in a quite remarkable way for some time, and my experience with this (as well as with the Ultima Online beta, which I participated in many years earlier) has shown me that I should never get too deeply involved with MMORPGs again, lest they take over my life.
  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
    As a Civilization fan, I leapt on the chance to get myself a copy of Alpha Centauri, and it was awesome. I actually pirated my first copy of the game, copying it from a friend who I studied with, and loved it so much that I wrapped up the cash value of the game in an envelope and sent it directly to the development team, asking them to use it as a “beer fund” and have a round on me. Later, when I lost my pirated copy, I bought a legitimate copy, and, later still, when I damaged the disk, bought another copy, including the (spectacular) add-on pack. Alpha Centauri is the only game I’ve ever loved so much that I’ve paid for it three times over, despite having stolen it, and it was worth every penny. Despite its age, I still sometimes dig it out and have a game.
  • Wii Sports Tennis – Target Training
    Perhaps the most recent game in the list, this particular part of the Wii Sports package stole my life for weeks on end while I worked up to achieving a coveted platinum medal at it, over the course of several weeks. I still play it once in a while: it’s good to put on some dance music and leap around the living room swinging a Wiimote to the beat.
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon and Rollercoaster Tycoon 2
    In the comments to my original post, Rory reminded me of these games which stole my life during my first couple of years at University (and his, too!). RCT2, in particular, ate my time for years and still gets an occassional play out of me – but was pipped to the post by OpenTTD, of course.
  • X-COM series
    Another series of games which hooked me while I was young and stayed with me as I grew, the X-COM series (by which – of course – I mean Enemy Unknown, Terror From The Deep, and Apocolypse; not Interceptor and certainly not that modern travesty, Aftermath). Extremely difficult, each of them took me months or years before I completed them, and I’ve still never finished Apocalypse on anything higher that the lowest-two difficulty settings.

I wanted to write more and include more games, but by the time I’d made as much progress as I had, above, the moment felt like it had passed, so I quietly dropped the post. I suppose I’ve now shared what I was thinking, anyway.

Title: Rational Human Interaction
Unpublished since: September 2007
Unpublished because: Too pretentious, even for me; never completed

I had some ideas about how humans behave and how their rationality and their emotions can conflict, and what this can mean. And then I tried to write it down and I couldn’t find a happy medium between being profound and insightful and being obvious and condescending. Later, I realised that I was tending towards the latter and, besides, much of what I was writing was too self-evident to justify a blog post, so I dropped it.

Title: Long Weekend
Unpublished since: April 2008
Unpublished because: Too long, too wordy, and by the time it was nearing completion it was completely out of date

This post was supposed to be just an update about what was going on in my life and in and around Aber at the time. But as anybody who’s neglected their blog for more than a little while before may know, it can be far too easy to write about everything that’s happened in the interim, and as a result end up writing a blog post that’s so long that it’ll never be finished. Or maybe that’s just me.

In any case, the highlights of the post – which is all that it should have consisted of, ultimately – were as follows:

  • It was the Easter weekend on 2008, and town had gone (predictably) quiet, as many of my friends took the opportunity to visit family elsewhere, and there was a particular absence of tourists this year. Between Matt being in Cornwall, Sarah being out-of-town, and Ruth, JTA, Gareth and Penny off skiing (none of them wrote anything about it, so no post links there), it felt a little empty at our Easter Troma Night, which was rebranded a Troma Ultralite as it had only two of the requisite four people present: not even the three needed for a Troma Lite! Similarly, our Geek Night only had four attendees (but that did include Paul, unusually).
  • Claire and I took a dig through her wardrobe about found that of the skirts and dresses that she famously never wears, she owns over two dozen of them. Seriously.
  • I played and reviewed Turning Point: Fall Of Liberty, which turned out to be a second-rate first-person shooter with a reasonably clever alternate history slant. I’m a fan of alternate histories in video games, so this did a good job of keeping me amused over the long bank holiday weekend.
  • Paul and I were arranging for a beach-fire-barbeque with Ruth and JTA when they got back, to which we even anticipated attendence from the often-absent not-gay-Gareth.
  • And finally, I had something to say about Jimmy‘s recent experiences in Thailand, but that’s as far as my draft went and I don’t remember what I had planned to say…

Title: Confused And Disoriented
Unpublished since: April 2008
Unpublished because: Never finished; abandoned

Having received mixed feedback about my more-unusual dreams over the years, I’ve taken to blogging about a great number of them in order to spread the insanity and let others comment on quite how strange my subconscious really is. This was to be one of those posts, and it catalogued two such unusual dreams.

In the first, I was at my grandma’s funeral (my grandma had died about two years earlier). A eulogy was given by both my mum and – confusingly – by Andy R. Afterwards, the crowd present booed them.

In the second, I revisited a place that I’ve dreamed of many times before, and which I think is a reference to some place that I found as a young child, but have never been able to determine the location of since. In this recurring theme I crawl through a tunnel (possibly of rock, as in a ruined castle) to reach a plateau (again, ruined castle-like), from which I am able to shuffle around to a hidden ledge. I have such vivid and strong memories of this place, but my faith in my own memory is shaken by the very “dreamlike” aspects of the event: the tunnel, the “secret place”, as well as the fact that it has appeared in my dreams time and time again for over 15 years. Perhaps it never existed at all: memory is a fragile and malleable thing, and it’s possible that I made it up entirely.

Some parts of it are less dream-like. For example, I’m aware that I’ve visited this place a number of times at different ages, and that I found it harder to fit through the tunnel to re-visit my secret childhood hiding place when I was older and larger.

A few years ago, I spoke to my mum about this dream, and described the location in great detail and asked where it might be, and she couldn’t think of anywhere. It’s strange to have such a strong and profound memory that I can’t justify through the experience of anybody else, and which consistently acts as if it were always just a dream. Maybe it’s real, and maybe it isn’t… but it’s beginning to sound like I’ll never know for sure.

Title: The Code In The School
Unpublished since:May 2008
Unpublished because: Never finished; abandoned

Another dream, right after Troma Night 219, where it seems that the combination of the beer and the trippy nature of the films we watched inspired my brain to run off on a tangent of it’s own:

In the dream, I was visiting a school as an industrialist (similarly to how I had previously visited Gregynog on behalf of the Computer Science department at Aberystwyth University in 2005, 2006 and 2007). While there, I was given a challenge by one of the other industrialists to decipher a code represented by a number of coloured squares. A basic frequency analysis proved of no value because the data set was too small, but I was given a hint that the squares might represent words (sort of like early maritime signal flags). During mock interviews with the students, I used the challenge as a test, to see if I could get one of them to do it for me, without success. Later in the dream I cracked the message, but I’m afraid I didn’t make a record of how I did so or what the result was.

A particularly famous message represented in maritime signal flags (click for bigger version)

Title: Absence

Unpublished since: May 2008
Unpublished because: Forgotten about; abandoned

At the beginning of the long, hot summer of 2008, I wrote about the immenent exodus of former students (and other hangers-on) from Aberystwyth, paying particular attention to Matt P and to Ele, who left for good at about this time. And then I forgot that I was writing about it. But Matt wrote about leaving and Ele wrote about being away, anyway, so I guess my post rapidly became redundant, anyway.

Title: =o(
Unpublished since: June 2008
Unpublished because: Too negative; unfinished

I don’t even know what I was complaining about, but essentially this post was making an excuse to mope for a little while before I pull myself together and get things fixed. And that’s all that remains. It’s possible that it had something to do with this blog post, but without context I’ve no idea what that one was about, too. Sounds like it was about an argument, and so I’m happier just letting it go, whatever it was, anyway.

Title: Spicy Yellow Split Pea Soup
Unpublished since: November 2008
Unpublished because: Got lazy; unfinished

I came up with a recipe for a delicious spicy yellow split pea soup, and wanted to share it with you, so I made myself the stub of a blog entry to remind myself to do so. And then I didn’t do so. Now I don’t even remember the recipe. Whoops!

In any case, the moral is that pulses make great soup, as well as being cheap and really good for you, and are especially tasty as the days get shorter and winter tightens it’s icy grip. Also that you shouldn’t leave just a title for a blog post for yourself and expect to fill it in afterwards, because you won’t.

Title: (untitled)
Unpublished since: December 2008
Unpublished because: Too busy building, configuring, and working on my new PC, ironically

December is, according to Rory, the season for hardware failures, and given that alongside his troubles, Ruth’s laptop died and Paul’s computer started overheating, all at the same time, perhaps he’s right. So that’s when my long-serving desktop computer, Dualitoo, decided to kick the bucket as well. This was a particularly awkward time, as I was due to spend a weekend working my arse off towards a Three Rings deadline. Thankfully, with the help of friends and family, I was able to pull forward my plans to upgrade anyway and build myself a new box, Nena (which I continue to use to this day).

I began to write a blog post about my experience of building a computer using only local shops (I was too busy to be able to spare the time to do mail order, as I usually would), but I was unfortunately too busy building and then using – in an attempt, ultimately successful, to meet my deadline – my new computer to be able to spare time to blogging.

But I did learn some valuable things about buying components and building a mid-to-high spec computer, in Aberystwyth, all in one afternoon:

  1. Daton Computers are pretty much useless. Actual exchange:
    “Hi, I need to buy [name of component], or another [type of component] with [specification of component].”
    “Well, you’ll need to bring your computer in for us to have a look at.”
    “Umm; no – I’m building a computer right now: I have [other components], but I really need a [name of component] or something compatible – can you help?”
    “Well, not without looking at the PC first.”
    “WTF??? Why do you need to look at my PC before you can sell me a [type of component]?”
    “So we can tell what’s wrong.”
    “But I know what’s wrong! I only took the shrink-wrap off the [other components] this morning: all I need is a [type of component], because I don’t have one! Now can you sell one to me or not?”
    “Well, not without -”
    /Dan exits/
  2. Crosswood Computers are pretty much awesome. Actual exchange:
    “Hi, remember me? I was in here this morning.”
    “Yeah: how’s the rebuild going?”
    “Not bad, but I’ve realised that I’m short by a [type of cable]: do you sell them?”
    “We’re out of stock right now, but I’ve got some left-over ones in the back; you can have one for free.”
    /Dan wins/
  3. It’s possible to do this, but not recommended. The local stores, and in particular Crosswood, are great, but when time allows it’s still preferable to do your component-shopping online.

I later went on to write more about Nena, when I had the time.

Title: Child Porn
Unpublished since: April 2009
Unpublished because: Never finished; too much work in writing this article

I had planned to write an article about the history of child pornography, starting well before Operation Ore and leading up to the present day, and to talk about the vilification of paedophiles (they’re the new terrorists!) – to the point where evidence is no longer as important as the severity of the alleged crime (for particularly awful examples of this kind of thinking, I recommend this article). I’m all in favour of the criminalisation of child abuse, of course, but I think it’s important that people understand the difference between the producers and the consumers of child porn, as far as a demonstrable intent to cause harm is concerned.

Anyway, the more I read around the subject, the more I realised that nothing I could write would do justice to the topic, and that others were already saying better what I was thinking, so I abandoned the post.

Title: 50 Days On An EeePC 1000
Unpublished since: May 2009
Unpublished because: By the time I was making progress, it had been more like 150 days

Earlier in the year, I’d promised that I’d write a review of my new notebook, an Asus EeePC 1000. I thought that a fun and engaging way to do that would be to write about the experience of my first 50 days using it (starting, of course, with reformatting it and installing a better operating system than the one provided with it).

Of course, by the time I’d made any real progress on the article, it was already well-past 50 days (in fact, I’d already changed the title of the post twice, from “30 Days…” to “40 Days…” and then again to “50 Days…”). It’s still a great laptop, although I’ve used it less than I expected over the last nine months or so (part of my original thinking was to allow me to allow Claire to feel like she’d reclaimed the living room, which was being taken over by Three Rings) and in some ways it’s been very-recently superceded by my awesome mobile phone.

Title: El De-arr
Unpublished since: September 2009
Unpublished because: Too waffley; couldn’t be bothered to finish it; somewhat thrown by breaking up with Claire

Over the years I’ve tried a handful of long-distance romantic relationships, and a reasonable number of short-distance ones, and, in general, I’ve been awful at the former and far better at the latter. In this blog post I wrote about my experience so far of having a long-distance relationship with Ruth and what was making it work (and what was challenging).

I’m not sure where I was going with it in the first place, but by the time Claire and I broke up I didn’t have the heart to go back into it and correct all of the references to her and I, so I dropped it.

Title: Knowing What I’m Talking About
Unpublished since: October 2009
Unpublished because: Never finished; got distracted by breaking up with Claire

On the tenth anniversary since I started doing volunteer work for emotional support helplines (starting with a Nightline, and most recently for Samaritans), I wrote about a talk I gave at BiCon 2009 on the subject of “Listening Skills for Supporting Others”. It was a little under-attended but it went well, and there was some great feedback at the end of it. I’d helped out with a workshop entitled “Different Approaches to Polyamory” alongside fire_kitten, but strangely it was this, the workshop whose topic should be that which I have the greater amount of experience in, that made me nervous.

This blog post was supposed to be an exploration of my personal development over the previous decade and an examination of what was different about giving this talk to giving countless presentations at helpline training sessions for years that made me apprehensive. I think it could have been pretty good, actually. Unfortunately a lot of blog posts started around this time never ended up finished as I had other concerns on my plate, but I might come back to this topic if I give a similar presentation at a future conference.

So there we have it: a big cleanse on my perpetually unfinished blog posts. I’ve still got about eight drafts open, so there’s a reasonable chance that I might finish some of them, some day: but failing that, I’ll wait until another decade or so of blogging is up and I’ll “purge” them all again, then.

And if you had the patience to read all of these – these “17 blog posts in one” – well, thanks! This was more about me than about you, so I don’t mind that plenty of you will have just scrolled down to the bottom and read this one sentence, too.

Foods That Begin With The Letter Q

To mark the second anniversary of QParty, I thought I’d cook Claire and I a meal consisting of foods that begin with the letter Q. How hard can it be, right? Turns out it’s more difficult than you might first expect.

My first thought was quails with qvark dumplings, but, would you believe it, both of these things turn out to be hard to get in Aberystwyth. Not wanting to have to resort to Quorn™, we ended up having a quirky mixture of foods that have probably never before been seen on the same plate:

  • A quarter-pounder burger
  • Pasta quills
  • Quesadillas
  • Quiche

I’d have liked to have put quinces in the desert somehow, or else flapjacks made from Quaker oats, but in the end we just had cherry pie and cream, which I insisted on calling queam.

Aside from those listed above, and quinoa, of course, what foods have I missed? Is there anything that you can eat that begins with a “Q” that I haven’t thought of?

The Fife Diet from Kamikaze Cookery

I’ve been following Kamikaze Cookery (three geeks doing cookery… with science!) for a while now, and it’s got some real potential, but what really sold me on it was their recent series on the Fife diet (yeah, I know, it’s been out for ages, but I’ve been busy so my RSS reader’s been brim-full and I only just got around to watching it).

If you haven’t come across Kamikaze Cookery before, The Fife Diet videos are a great place to start.

Face-Burning Chilli

Many of you reading this will have eaten one of my chilli con carnes before, where I’ve used my Da Bomb: The Final Answer hot sauce in the recipe before (original recipe). For those not in-the-know, when cooking chilli to feed four or so, I tend to use the following system to measure the hot sauce:

1. Dip last centimetre or two of a strand of spaghetti into sauce bottle.
2. Wipe excess sauce off back into bottle.
3. Dip spaghetti strand into chilli pan, then dispose of.

And this makes a nice, weighty, fruity (it’s not all about heat, y’know), strong chilli. It’s a powerful little sauce.

Anyway, while cooking this evening, I noticed that my upper lip was starting to go numb. This is normally a bad sign, indicative of having spilt an untraceable quantity of The Final Answer (dubbed who dares burns) on my fingers and then accidently having touched my face. I recall the time I hadn’t washed my hands quite well enough before going to bed with Claire, and you should have heard her scream…

A pan of chilli and a pan of rice

…I digress. The stinging spread to my cheeks and got worse, and it took me some time to realise that what was causing this pain was, in fact, merely the habanero-infused steam ascending from my pans. Yes; the capsaicin quantity of this steam alone was enough to cause pain. This was where I became a little alarmed, and opened the window.

Surprisingly, this chilli is really quite mild… but I think I’ve come up with a recipe that makes toxic chilli-fied steam while it cooks, which is in it self remarkable. Now if only I can find a way to condense the steam and collect it into gas grenades…


As Kit relates, too, we made a fab chilli con carne (and, using Quorn mince, a ‘chilli non carne’ for Paul). Recipe as below (feel free to steal, adapt etc.):

serves 8

1 225g tin chopped tomato
1 5-portion bottle “sundried tomato” pasta sauce
4 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tube double concentrate tomato paste
1 tube chilli paste
1 200g tin kidney beans
6 cloves garlic
12 medium closed-cup mushrooms, sliced
1 tblspn herbes de provence
6 mild green chilli peppers, sliced and de-seeded
1 small drop of “Da Bomb” mother-of-all-chilli-sauces (who dares burns)
2 teaspoons monosodium glutamate
pinch of salt
500g lean beef mince
250g quorn mince
olive oil

Fry the mince, and, in a separate pan, the quorn – in a little olive oil. Toast the garlic (again, olive oil) in a separate pan, add the mushrooms, and fry until cooked. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients in a large pan over a medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the cooked mushrooms and garlic to the tomato/chilli sauce, and heat for a further 5-10 minutes. Pour 2/3 of the sauce over the beef mince, and the remaining 1/3 over the quorn mince, and stir in. Serve with fajitas, tacos, or whatever else you like. Also tastes great re-heated, or with a little Worcester sauce added (not vegetarian, so don’t add it to the quorn pan!).

Without a doubt, Kit and I’s best chilli to date. Not hot enough to injure anybody… Bryn, who considers a medium curry “hot”, went back for seconds… but well-rounded, fruity (if substituting “Da Bomb”, use a good-quality chilli sauce), and warming. Brought my nose-end out in a sweat, and left us all sitting around in a mild chilli-induced euphoria. Fantastic.

Chasing The Paycheck

What with unavailable accountants and worse, I’ve not been able to get my paycheque until today – a week later than expected. I have £2.50, half a loaf of bread, a tin of beans, and a packet of super noodles to live on until my cheque is cashed. I don’t think that Sainsbury’s Recipe Finder quite understood me when I explained my situation, on account of it suggesting the following:

Cowboy Baked Beans
Prep and cook time: 30 mins to 1 hour
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients: 25g butter, 1 large onion, chopped finely, 1 clove garlic (optional), crushed, 2.5cm piece fresh root ginger, crushed, 1 each green and red pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped, 2 carrots, diced, 30ml vinegar, 60ml clear honey, 5ml Worcestershire sauce, 900g baked beans (hah! I only have a 450g can of baked beans anyway), 125g streaky bacon, sliced.

If you want the full recipe, go visit Sainsbury’s Recipe Finder.

In the end, Kit and I celebrated my paycheck by buying a heap of interesting looking ingredients from Somerfield, and made ourselves some cheesy garlic bread, a smokey-mince and pork tomato sauce with pasta-thingy, and some cheesecake. Then ate most of it. Fab.

It’s amazing what a little money will do for you. Last night we ate corned beef on toast.