Friday, 30 January 2009

Picture Tag

I've been tagged by my father-in-law Scriptor Senex with a picture tag. The rules are as follows:
  1. Go to the 4th folder in your computer where you store your pictures
  2. Pick the 4th picture in that folder
  3. Explain the picture
  4. Tag 4 people to do the same
As an added consideration I was tagged as, and I quote, "because he's got lots of photos I've never seen". So starting from my top level photography folder the fourth folder is called "Good Photos", which unfortunately doesn't actually contain anything but more folders. So keeping with the four theme I went for the fourth folder "Printable" and this folder contains more than four photos so here endeth my journey.

The "Good Photos" directory actually stores high quality scans of my better pre-digital photos. I scan on the highest resolution I can handle and then painstakingly clean each scan. This leaves me with files which can then be printed and framed.

This particular photo was taken one warm summers evening in Poolewe, Scotland way back in 1997. I was camping with my brother and parents in the campsite at Poolewe, and this was the view from the other side of the road looking out across Loch Ewe. We had many great sunsets during the fortnight we were there but that evening was the most vivid. I think the photo works so well because of the canoe -- it is certainly better than the photos taken just before and just after without the canoe, but with similar light. It's weird how following the fourth folder down to the fourth image should have hit upon the photo that I am probably most proud of (I promise I didn't fake that). I just hope other people like the photo as much as I do -- it's been framed for at least two Christmas presents and a house warming.

There is only one problem with the photo and this picture tag -- Scriptor Senex has seen it before. In fact I believe he has a small 6x4 print of it somewhere (it used to hang on the wall half way up the stairs along with a lot of other family photos).

So as a bonus I applied the same rules to the top level of the folder containing all my digital photos. I have this folder organised with one folder a year and as I bought my first digital camera in 2005, the fourth folder holds the photos from 2008. The fourth folder of 2008 is from the 20th of February. It had obviously been frost and I took a whole bunch of photos on the way to work using my small digital camera that I keep with me at most times. And here we have the fourth photo from that folder -- a weird, frosty little fern thing!

Now unfortunately I'm struggling with the final rule; tag 4 other people to do the same. Apart from family members who blog, I don't know any other bloggers well enough to tag them and the other family members (Helen and GB) were already tagged by Scriptor Senex. So I guess I'll have to wait until I get to know some other bloggers a bit better before passing the tag along.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

cookbook v0.1

WOW! I thought a few people may read my previous posting concerning storing (and finding) recipes, but I never expected so many comments -- I'm guessing it's not just me that has this problem. Thank you all for the helpful comments and feedback (both the comments left on the blog and other conversations I have had with some of you) they have been really helpful. Hopefully you will soon start to find the site useful rather than just something to play around with.

Since that first post I've done quite a bit of work on cookbook (does it need a better name?) the most obvious being the layout and style of the pages. So you don't have to click away from this post (yet) to have a look, here is the new navbar.

Nice yes? Anyway there have also been quite a few functional changes which I want to document (and here seems as good a place as any).
  1. Tagging of ingredients has changed slightly. In the original version you simply encased each ingredient within two = symbols. You still do this but each ingredient can now have three attributes; amount, unit, and item. For example, lets assume we originally had =2 tablespoons olive oil= we would now write =2:tablespoon:olive oil=. Simple really, but this allows me to easily combine multiple mentions of the same ingredient which is rarely useful on a single recipe but will be needed when I support shopping lists combining the ingredient lists from multiple recipes. You don't need to specify all three sections, so =onion= is treated as 1 onion, =2:onion= is two onions or you could be greedy and have =2:large:onions=.
  2. I've added user accounts. You can continue to browse through the recipes without creating an account but to add a new recipe you have to be logged in. I needed user accounts for building shopping lists (which will appear in a later version) but I decided I would also use them to restrict what each user can do. All logged in users can add new recipes but you can only edit or delete (another new feature) recipes which you have added. I decided this was the best way of making sure that recipes didn't get messed around with. Later I might add a feature where a user can gain edit permissions for other recipes if they have submitted a number of recipes which other users have rated highly, i.e. if your own recipes are considered good then you should be trusted to fix mistakes in other recipes.
  3. As I mentioned before I've done quite a bit of work on the style and layout although there is still a lot to do, so any feedback would be appreciated -- I'm definitely not to be trusted with colour schemes!
I really do want more feedback and I've decided that the database design is stable enough that I'm going to support the site as it is. This means that I don't intend to make changes that would mean deleting all the data so it is safe to start adding recipes they won't disappear. I'll keep pushing regular code updates but I'll make sure they are stable as well so the whole site should stay usable but periodically will gain new features. So consider this v0.1 of cookbook.

Enjoy and please keep do leaving me comments letting me know what you think so far.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Smoke Me A Kipper, I'll Be Back For Breakfast!

Apparently there will be a new hour long episode of Red Dwarf screened on TV this Easter on the 10th of April. For once there will be something worth watching!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Storing (and Finding) Recipes

As you may have gathered by now, I like to cook. I've lost count of the number of recipe books and food magazines I own and this is beginning to be a problem. When I (or Bryony) randomly stumble across a nice sounding recipe it will get put on one side until I have the time to cook it. If it turns out well and we want to eat it again then the name of the recipe gets added to a list that Bryony maintains. We then use this list to help us to decide when we are stuck for what to eat. This works to a point, however, the list is getting long. While a long list gives us choice it also means a greater (on average) time between each successive cooking of a meal. As the time since I last used a recipe gets greater the chance of me finding the recipe again gets smaller. Eventually I have a recipe name without a recipe and only a few days to sort through the recipe books would fix the problem. I've already shared some of my favourite recipes with you, my faithful readers, a) because I think you will enjoy them and b) so I can find them again later, but I don't think that flooding this blog with recipes is the best solution.

Being a software engineer the obvious solution to this problem is to use the computer. I've been pondering the problem on and off for a while and have made a start on a webapp, which for want of a better name I'm currently calling cookbook! The problem is that I'm not entirely sure how it should work, so I'm going to ask for your help.

Please have a play with the latest version of cookbook and let me know what you think. Obviously the style and layout (what style?) is currently a long way from perfect but what I'm interested in is what features I should add. There currently isn't a search facility as I'm not sure it needs one -- being able to browse a list of recipes or a list of tags (like labels on a blog) make moving between related recipes relatively easy. I guess one possible feature would be to be able to see all recipes which include a given ingredient, but I'm not sure how often (or when) that would be useful.

Feel free to try out all the features you can find -- the version you can access is running on a separate database to my version so you can't mess anything up (I'll probably set a script to reset the copy you can see to a sensible version once a day so that it doesn't end up in an unusable state if anything goes wrong). The one thing that isn't currently available is the ability to upload an image for the recipe but that should get added soon.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or ideas please leave me a comment.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Doctor Who Goes Green

It would appear that Doctor Who has gone all environmental and painted the Tardis green. Of course if the Tardis worked as it should then a) it wouldn't always appear as a Police box and b) it could turn green without requiring a tin of paint.

More importantly this can't be the Tardis -- it's too well parked!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Warning: Disk Full

Periodically Windows warns me that I'm running out of disk space. Usually I know why (a large experiment or some video editing) but now and again I find myself at a loss as to where the space has gone. When this happens I turn to a useful piece of free software called WinDirStat.

The author describes WinDirStat as a disk usage statistics viewer and cleanup tool for Microsoft Windows. It is the viewer aspect of the tool that I find exceptionally useful. The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" is certainly true when it comes to tracking down stray large files on a computer. Rather than hunting through the folders on your computer one by one trying to find the problem one glance at the treemap in this tool makes it clear what is using up the disk space. For those of you who like the details the treemap is described as follows:
The treemap represents each file as a colored rectangle, the area of which is proportional to the file's size. The rectangles are arranged in such a way, that directories again make up rectangles, which contain all their files and subdirectories. So their area is proportional to the size of the subtrees. The color of a rectangle indicates the type of the file, as shown in the extension list. The cushion shading additionally brings out the directory structure.
It turns out that WinDirStat is actually a port of KDirStat for Linux. As a Windows user I haven't tried KDirStat but assuming it is as good as the Windows version then I'd certainly suggest having a look if you are using Linux.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Help Save Rufus!

Some of you may remember that back in September we stayed at Rufflets Hotel in St. Andrews for a wedding. One of the hotels nicer touches was Rufus Bear. Not only was Rufus a welcome companion but he would also guard your door to make sure you were not disturbed.

Apparently an evil nasty PR company has told the hotel that Rufus is outdated and that guests won't like him. How could they! Fortunately, rather than listen to the PR company the hotel is asking guests to vote to save Rufus. I've already voted to save him but if you think he is a great idea then you could help to save him as well by visiting his website and voting.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Can You Drown in a Fathom?

I think that most people would say that you could easily drown in a fathom of water but how many of you know how deep a fathom actually is. I would have said that it was at least 10 metres. In a totally unscientific survey one other person suggested a depth of about 30 metres. A fathom is actually the width of a man's outstretched arms. Also the depth of water in which it's too deep for most of us to stand on the bottom without drowning. That definition comes from a brilliant little book I got for Christmas called About the Size Of It: The Common Sense Approach to Measuring Things by Warwick Cairns.

About The Size Of It is a short book, the spine is about a barleycorn wide, but it packs in a full, from the ground up, definition of all our main units of measurements. Not the boring SI units (although they do make a brief appearance so that they can be rightfully mocked) but rather those measures that we use in everyday life and have survived for generations as they make the most sense in everyday tasks -- like buying fruit!

My Rating: 5 Stars The writing style is informative and highly enjoyable. I could easily see a slightly expanded version as the Royal Societies Christmas Lectures it is that informative and entertaining.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Guinness Based Physics

A long time ago in a high school far far away... I studied applied maths. Like any other job teachers need some on the job training and we ended up with a student teacher. I don't think we were particularly nice to the poor bloke (I can't imagine anything worse than a room full of obnoxious 16/17 year olds). One of his lessons, however, forever changed the way we treated him -- he had somehow managed to make a maths lesson fun.

He was attempting to teach us the maths behind the centre of gravity in different objects. Rather than some random shape though he decided that the most relevant thing to us would be working out how steep a slope you could stand a pint glass on without losing any beer! Of course given a blackboard and white chalk it has stuck in my head as the Guinness based physics lesson. I don't usually reminisce about high school (not the most enjoyable period of my life) but something I saw the other day brought that maths lesson flooding back.

I read a review for a new independently developed computer game called Crayon Physics Deluxe. The game is described by it's developer as a 2D physics puzzle / sandbox game, in which you get to experience what it would be like if your drawings would be magically transformed into real physical objects. Solve puzzles with your artistic vision and creative use of physics. Drawn objects move and fall as they would in real life. No more maths to work out if that pint glass will topple over!

I downloaded and played all the way through the demo and thought it was so good I was quite happy to spend the $19.95 for the full version, especially as buying the game directly supports the single developer rather than going straight to the purse of some large games company.

My Rating: 5 Stars I think the idea behind the game is brilliant and it was well executed to produce a thoroughly enjoyable game.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Tame and Friendly

It turns out that it isn't just in the UK where Robins are very tame. They were quite happy to walk right up to me in Bled as well. Mind you there was a Nuthatch which was just as friendly!
While on the subject of friendly I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to anybody working on the LarKC project that may be reading this blog (Hi Frank!). You were all really friendly and went out of your way to make me feel part of the project. Thank You!

Friday, 16 January 2009

A Better View

When it snowed in Bled on Wednesday it actually became clearer. From the lake shore by the hotel I could finally see the church on the island -- just! Anyway here is the full lake panorama showing how much it had snowed. Of course unlike in the UK life carried on as normal (with the addition of a snowplough). This much snow and the UK would have closed for a week!

Venison Steaks with Pomegranate, Pepper and Cranberry Relish

As well as buying pheasant, partridge, wood pigeon and pies from Manor Farm Game we often buy venison haunch steaks. I've experimented with a number of sauces to serve with the venison but (as often happens) the simplest sauce to make turned out to be the best.

Simply place a large tablespoon of Pomegranate, Pepper and Cranberry Relish (from New England Cranberry) in a small pan with a glass of red wine. Gently heat the sauce until the relish dissolves into the wine.

The sauce is wonderful and as you can tell really easy to cook. Unfortunately I can't seem to find anywhere to buy more of the relish (the shipping means buying direct isn't practical). We bought the original jar from a company that doesn't seem to sell it any more. So does anyone know where I could buy more of this wonderful relish, a similar sounding relish, or does anyone have a recipe for making such a relish?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

It Snowed!

Well I'm now back home in the comparative warmth of Sheffield. I've still got a few photos from Bled to sort through so expect a few more blog posts on the subject over the next few days.

As I mentioned before it snowed quite heavily the morning of my last day in Bled -- here is the photographic evidence. And before anyone asks it wasn't quite that grey in Bled. Bryony thought the photo might look better in black and white and I agreed. Although to be honest if you look at it in colour there isn't much difference -- white snow, grey lake.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Cold Walk

Yesterday morning I decided to walk around the lake before breakfast. I'm quite glad I went yesterday as it has snowed overnight and I wouldn't risk the walk today. Even if there wasn't much snow on the ground it was very, very, very cold. In places the edge of the lake was frozen solid -- as much as 50-100m out into the lake. It was still very foggy but from the bottom of the lake you could at least see the church on the island.

Coffee Induced Hallucinations

A Durham University team are reporting that heavy coffee drinkers are three time more likely to experience hallucinations then other people. Maybe this explains the topless coffee shop in Maine.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Blejska Kremna Rezina

I don't really know any Slovenian but I do know that Blejska Kremna Rezina translates as Bled Cream Slice (or possibly cake I've seen both written down). As you can tell from it's name it is the local speciality. In fact it was first cooked in the Park Hotel, which is where I am straying, back in 1953.

I'm tempted to try and make these slices when I get home. From a quick hunt of the web this looks like a promising recipe.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Miscellaneous Random Facts

I know a lot of random facts that are usually only useful for entering quizzes! For example, the state flower of Hawaii is the yellow Hibiscus -- I told you the facts I know are random. Maybe this explains why I find question answering research so interesting. Given this interest it should come as no surprise that I really enjoy the miscellanies and almanacs compiled by Ben Shott. Unfortunately this caused a slight problem this Christmas and I must start by apologising to my mother -- sorry Mum!

When we went away in mid-November we had lunch at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes (I waxed lyrical over the cheesecake). In the gift shop we saw a copy of Tom Holman's Yorkshire Miscellany. Not only did the book sound interesting but it has been published so as to perfectly match the Schott's Miscellanies. Unsurprisingly we bought it there and then. Unfortunately my parents went for lunch at the creamery about a fortnight later, saw the book, thought it would make an excellent Christmas present for me, and so also bought a copy. You can of course now see where this story is heading.

Obviously my parents didn't tell me what my Christmas presents were going to be and the fact that I had bought this interesting little book didn't come up in conversation, well not until two days before Christmas anyway! Having eaten dinner we were washing up in the kitchen and rinsing out the beer bottles we had already drunk when I remarked upon the fact that I now had a new mission in life -- given the list of all the small breweries in Yorkshire I was determined to try beer from them all. This instantly set alarm bells ringing in my mothers head and she knew that was one of the pages in the miscellany -- when the truth came out boy was I in trouble.

Fortunately both my parents also liked the look of the book so we came to an arrangement -- they kept the book and gave me some extra money instead. I've since spent the money on the Lake District Miscellany also written by Tom Holman. Whilst I haven't had time to read through this one in detail yet, it looks just as good as the Yorkshire miscellany and the Shott miscellanies that inspired it's dust jacket.

My Rating: 5 Stars If you like random facts you will like any of the books mentioned in this post, I promise.

View, What View?

When I arrived last night it was dark and I didn't really get an impression of the weather other than it was cold and dark and there was some snow on the ground. When I went down to breakfast this morning it was so foggy I couldn't see the lake from the dining room -- it's about 50m from the hotel to the lake shore. By late morning the weather had cleared a bit.

To give you an idea of what you should be able to see here is the full panorama from last year:
Here is a similar view from lunch time today:
You can even see just how cold it is here from this photo. It is so misty that unless you knew there was an island with a church on it you wouldn't know it was there. You can't even see a faint outline through the mist!

Maybe the view will be better tomorrow.

F60: The Ferrari 2009 F1 Car

I complained last week about the launch of Ferrari's 2009 F1 car. Well the car has now been launched and it definitely looks different -- that rear wing is really narrow.

For a full set of images and videos take a look at the F60's official website.


While I am a computer person and enjoy playing computer games I also quite like playing board games. For the younger (or future) generations that may read this post these are games that do not require electricity or a screen!

Over Christmas we bought a new board game as Bryony thought the description sounded interesting. The game is called Carcassonne and involves trying to build and own more farms, cities and roads than the opposition. For those who enjoy computer games think Settlers or any of the Age of Empire type games, only without any fighting. We really enjoyed the game and Bryony started to look see if there were any expansions or other games by the same game designer. It turns out there are quite a few expansions to the game. It was in the description of the catapult expansion that we found the sentence: "Knock out tokens try to remove meeples, seduction tokens try to swap meeples". Taken together Bryony and I know a lot of obscure English words but we had no idea what a meeple was.

It turns out that meeple is a portmanteau word (an interesting word in itself) that merges me and people. Given that the game is played with small wooden human shaped figures this should probably have been obvious but for some reason it wasn't. Interestingly it must be a word mostly associated with the Carcassonne game (even if many other games use similar styled pieces) as the Wikipedia page for meeples simply redirects to the page on Carcassonne.

If you ever find you are short of meeples then do not despair! For all your meeple shopping needs visit As well as being able to buy meeples in any number of colours, you can also buy meeple shaped cushions and pillows, meeples on beer glasses and meeple themed t-shirts. My favourite t-shirts (in no particular order) are: got meeples?, evolution of gaming, and meeples with human game pieces.

And if you don't fancy a meeple t-shirt how about trading wood for sheep?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

It Really Is Cold Outside!

While we may have been complaining in the UK over the last week or so about how cold it has been nothing has prepared me for the cold I have just experienced.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while may remember that I spent a few days last January in Bled, Slovenia with work. Well while I have changed jobs since then somethings don't change and here I am again in Bled (even staying in the same hotel). Last year it was cold and crisp but there was no snow (other than that on distant mountains -- see my photos from last year). This year there is snow everywhere and it is exceptionally cold.

Imagine if you will the scene from the film Cool Runnings where the four athlete step out of the warm airport into the cold weather of Calgary and almost instantly freeze. Well believe me it can happen. I don't know the temperature inside Ljubljana airport but I do know (thanks to the cabin crew) that the temperature outside is a balmy -14 degrees centigrade. Believe me when I say that it really is cold. In fact I'd hazard a guess that if I stepped outside I could possibly spit icicles!

Friday, 9 January 2009

Expensive Coffee

We often have problems at work funding the replacement of kitchen items. We used to have lots of kettles but as they die they aren't replaced. We have a fridge in the office but this also isn't currently working and a replacement hasn't been ordered yet. Now I'm not complaining, I'm sure money in the University is just as tight as it is in the rest of the economy, I'm just setting the scene.

One Chicago school district was obviously not short of money (or maybe they were but the manager didn't care) as they spent $70,000 on just 30 coffee machines! What is even worse is that five months after they were ordered 22 of the machines were still unopened.

You can read the full story on the website of the Chicago Tribune.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Green Rooms

Whilst the rooms in this building, near Sheffield train station, may periodically be green I very much doubt that the light show is good for the environment!

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Ferrari (Probably Not) First to Launch 2009 F1 Car

As an avid fan of F1 I have been looking forward to the launches of the new 2009 cars. The new rules that come into force this year will make the cars look radically different although as yet I'm not sure how different as the teams are all still to unveil their new cars. So I read with interest the BBC news article entitled Ferrari first to launch 2009 car in the hope of some clues.

It seems that Ferrari will unveil a car on the 12th of January, however, it certainly won't be their 2009 F1 car. Buried towards the bottom of the article is the sentence: When Ferrari present their 2009 car in Maranello next week it will not meet race specifications for the opening Grand Prix in Australia on 29 March. Now as far as I'm concerned a car that won't be eligible to enter the first race of the season can't really be a 2009 F1 car and so the entire article is a fallacy -- Ferrari NOT first to launch 2009 car would have been a more accurate, albeit less exciting, title.

Monday, 5 January 2009

New Job

For those who don't know yet I start a new job today having allowed my previous contract to expire (I choose not to take up the extension I was offered). Now those of you who keep telling me there are more employers in the world than the University shouldn't get too excited -- I'm still working in the Natural Language Processing Group, in fact I am keeping the same desk.

I'm simply moving from working on X-Media as part of the WIG group to working as part of the GATE group. I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing but I'm heading to a LarKC project meeting next week so I should probably get back to doing some reading ready for that.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Batty Bat

The bravest animals in the land
Are Captain Beaky and his band.
That's Timid Toad. Reckless Rat.
Artful Owl and Batty Bat.
March through the woodland Singing songs
That tell how they have righted wrongs
For the rest of Captain Beaky & His Band visit Captain Beaky's official website.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Health and Safety

From the Department for Stating the Bloody Obvious comes this health and safety sign seen at the Chestnut Centre. Given that the centre is located in a woody valley I would have been surprised had the ground not been uneven with exposed tree roots! I'm guessing that this sign is only aimed at those of us who need Caution Contents Hot on coffee cups, or Warning: May contain fish on a can of tuna -- I don't know any of these people and I really can't imagine what they would be like as a conversationalist.

For those who need warnings about coffee being hot have a look at SmartLids. Everyone else can enjoy this list of ridiculous warning labels.