Saturday, 28 February 2009

Contes d'un buveur français de café

Thanks to Rob for spotting this -- pure genius! Hopefully I got the French title right (it should mean Tales from a French Coffee Drinker) but blame Babel Fish if I didn't as my French only extends as far as hello and thank you.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A Poem

I've done a couple of previous posts about random things I've seen in and around Sheffield; the building with the coloured rooms and the green Police Box. There are, however, quite a few other interesting things to see in Sheffield so I'm going to continue with this theme and do a set of (infrequent) posts to show you around the city.

So the next step in this photographic tour of Sheffield is this building belonging to the other university in Sheffield, which has Andrew Motion's poem What If? on it's side.

Update: It seems that depending on your screen size reading the poem can be very difficult. If you have problems try this version which should open at the original size and be readable.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Remember the Wine

Have you ever drunk a great bottle of wine and then not been able to remember what it was? This has happened to me quite a few times especially when I've had a good wine in a restaurant and not been able to write down what it was without looking rather strange.

The Hardys wine range has solved this problem with these ingenious little tear off labels. They are part of the label on the back of the bottle and easily peel off leaving you with all the details you need to find the wine later. Shame I've never seen them on bottles of wine from anyone else. Hopefully they catch on.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Proof Reading

Proof reading is a dull and tedious job, but here is a good example of why you should never let something go to print without it having been expertly proof read first.

And of course try and make sure it is proof read by a native speaker of the country in which you intend to publish!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Be Fed Recipes

I haven't blogged about cookbook in a while although I have been updating the version history post. Anyway I've added enough new features that I thought it was worth a separate post. There are two things I wanted to mention: comments and feeds.

Firstly comments. If you are logged in you can now comment on any of the recipes. A comment includes a star rating and some text. The star ratings from multiple users will be combined to give a rating for the recipe as a whole. Please feel free to cook the recipes and then rate them.

Possibly more interesting is the fact that you can now choose to be fed new recipes. I've added an RSS feed that will notify you when new recipes are added to the site. Most modern web browsers will show the feed icon in the address bar but if you want to access the feed directly then it can be found here.

Bon Appétit!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Universal Phone Charger

One charger to power them all,
... and in the darkness help them.

Sorry, couldn't help myself. Anyway the news that a bunch of mobile phone companies have joined together to create a universal phone charger is good news -- although it won't affect me too much.

For the last few years I have been very careful when buying portable electronic items to ensure that they all use the same charger/data port. This means that when I travel I can now take one power converter plug (assuming I'm leaving the UK), my laptop, one mini USB cable and then be able to power and/or access my phone, GPS track logger, and both digital cameras. The only thing that I take with me that doesn't use mini USB is the iPod but at least I can still charge that from the laptop even if I do have to use Apple's proprietary connector.

As long as the phone companies standardise to the same mini USB plug that all my devices use, buying a new phone should become a lot simpler. Shame they don't seem to be committed to doing this until 2012 though.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

What Not To Watch: The Break Up

I remember seeing trailers for the film The Break Up, back in 2006 when it was released, and thinking that it looked quite funny. Just so you know what I'm talking about here is the main trailer for the film.

Turns out the film isn't at all funny, in fact it was probably the worst film I've watched in a long time.

The two main leads (Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston) didn't really work and the film was depressing rather than funny. The only bits really worth watching listening to were the opening and closing credits (Queen's You're My Best Friend and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash).

My Rating: 1 Stars If I could recommend one film for everyone to avoid then this would probably be it.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009


I promised a fellow blogger some icicle photos so here we go. This is my favourite icicle photo from the last week (it was taken Sunday afternoon).

We have a wooden bench by the back door to the house and the inches of snow that had settled on it had slowly started to melt and melt water from the roof was dripping down on it as well. This seemed to make the ideal conditions for forming icicles as they were all over the underneath of the seat. The ones hanging from the diagonal support beams were the best though -- hence the rather odd angle of the photograph. Even if they were nice they were only small icicles (about 3 inches in length, maybe less). For large icicles I had to look elsewhere.

Here are the largest two icicles I could find. I haven't seen such large icicles in years. I remember as a child we used to get icicles hanging from the gutter of the garage but I honestly can't remember seeing proper icicles in at least a decade. In fact I don't know if I can recall ever having seen snow remain on the ground for this long. For those of you keeping track, then in Penistone, we have had a good amount of snow on the floor with no real sign of serious melting for a week and a half now. I don't think there is any more snow forecast now, so we just need a slight rise in temperature and it should disappear quite quickly. Then of course we just have to worry about where all the melt water goes.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

My Desk at Work

In a blatant attempt to make some of you jealous I thought I'd show you my desk at work as it looked this morning. Yes that is a 22 inch widescreen monitor! Both monitors are being driven by my brand new desktop machine (for those that care it's a Dell Precision T5400, Intel Xeon (2GHz Quad Core) with 4GB of RAM).

Unfortunately not long after I took the photo I decided to install Ubuntu and now have a machine that will only boot into text mode as X refuses to start properly.

Ah well, it all looks good even if it isn't currently very useful!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Design Flaw or Deliberate Act?

The headphones I use with my iPod died a few weeks ago and so I dug out an old pair thinking they would work just as well as the Apple headphones with the iPod. How wrong I was!

Headphones should be interchangeable as they all use a common 3.5mm TRS jack plug. It turns out though that many headphones on sale won't work properly with an iPod. In the photo you can see the jack plugs from both the Apple iPod headphones (on the left) and another pair of headphones on the right. They look the same (ignoring the colour of the cable and insulating washers) yes? Unfortunately if you use the pair on the right the iPod will keep randomly pausing. The iPod has a neat feature in that if you pull the headphones out then the music pauses. This means that as long as you don't leave the headphones connected it is hard to accidentally turn the iPod on and flatten the battery. Unfortunately just a slight movement when using the random headphones activates this feature.

If you look carefully you will see that where the metal plug meets the black plastic cable there is a small metal ring that is wider than the plug. This ring is missing from the iPod headphones. Very slight movement of the random headphones causes this ring to come in to contact with the metal case of the iPod and for some reason this triggers the pause feature. It seems to be a well discussed problem on the Internet. There are solutions but they all involve providing some sort of extra insulation around the headphone socket on the iPod -- cellotape seems to be a common suggestion. I found that pushing the jack plug through a small square of paper and then into the iPod did the trick without leaving a permanent mark on anything.

Now given that most headphones I've ever had have this extra little metal ring surely Apple knows about the problem. I would consider it a design flaw, but maybe Apple are quite happy with the problem. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who went out and bought another set of Apple headphones once I realised what was causing my music to keep on pausing!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

cookbook: Version History

As with TagME I think the time has come to stop blogging about every little change/improvement I make to cookbook. The number of comments with each successive post has dropped to the point where the last post (announcing v0.2) got no posts at all -- I don't mind but I also don't want to bore you all.

So from now on I'll simply update this post to reflect the new versions. Of course if there are major changes or things I do want to shout about then they will get their own post. So...

v0.6 - 22/02/2009: We now keep a track of the edit history of each recipe by puttig the XML versions and the photos under SVN. This should allow us to look at old versions or roll back should things get messed up.

v0.5 - 19/02/2009: You can now keep up-to-date with new recipes by subscribing to the RSS feed. There have been quite a few other changes behind the scenes that should make page loading faster and lead to new features in the future.

v0.4 - 13/02/2009: You can now customize the ordering of homepage items and give them sensible names. Added a whole bunch of URL rewriting which means images can now be cached better. The major change though is a comment system.

v0.3 - 04/02/2009: The major updates since last time are the ability for each user to set tags separately on the recipes. This should allow for more helpful filtering (i.e. show me all recipes that I tagged with chips). More importantly you can now customise the home page. Basically once you have crafted a suitable filter over the database (I still need good UI support for this) you can add the result to your home page. This allows you to create something similar to the contents page in a traditional cookbook but tailored to your needs.

v0.2 - 01/02/2009: Lots of updates detailed in this blog posting.

v0.1 - 28/01/2009: The first release with style -- detailed in this blog post.

v0.0 - 25/01/2009: The first very basic release, which was discussed in this blog post.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Skiing for Crumpets

The Ski Sunday theme tune is taken from the opening to a piece of music call "Pop Looks Bach" and if you don't know what I'm talking about have a listen to this excerpt. According to the BBC it conveys pure speed: close your eyes and you're whistling along on a pair of skis, on a dizzying descent down a mountain.

In contrast to the BBC's description I don't get any skiing related feelings when listening to the theme, instead I can smell crumpets. This has happened to me for almost as long as I can remember. Being a wintry pursuit I assume that Ski Sunday is only usually broadcast during the winter. As a child if we went out walking when it was cold and wintry then tea would often involve hot buttered crumpets in front of the TV -- hence the association between the Ski Sunday theme tune and crumpets. Knowing why the two things are associated doesn't though explain why I can actually smell crumpets when hearing the music.

One of my Christmas presents was the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee. Jeff Hawkins has devoted a lot of his professional life to thinking about intelligence. On Intelligence sums up his understandings of how intelligence works and how we could apply this understanding to build intelligent machines -- if you are looking for a book about cyborgs you will be disappointed his ideas are aimed at intelligence and not replicating human behaviour.

The framework he has developed is called the Memory-Prediction Model and in essence can be summed up as follows. Sensory inputs are used to make a prediction of what we should sense next. These predictions are passed back to our senses and then compared with what actually happens. Discrepancies are flagged as unusual behaviour. For example, if you see a cat you could predict that it might miaow. If it did, this would be normal and you wouldn't think anything of it as reality matched your prediction. If on the other hand instead of miaowing the cat barked you would be very surprised.

I think this feedback of predictions is what is enabling me to smell crumpets every time I hear the theme tune to Ski Sunday. In my memory model hearing Pop Looks Back allows me to predict the smell of crumpets which is fed back to my olfactory senses and when I don't actually smell crumpets my mind flags this as odd.

Do any of you experience (or suffer from -- smelling crumpets without being able to eat them is just cruel!) such sensory illusions?

Clearly I didn't do the memory-prediction model justice with my three sentence description, but if you find ideas about (artificial) intelligence interesting then I would highly recommend On Intelligence.

My Rating: 5 Stars A thoroughly interesting and thought provoking book that, given it's subject matter, is remarkable easy to read.

Snowy Scenes

I didn't get chance to post all the snow photos I took yesterday so I thought I'd show you them while the snow is still on the ground. Firstly we have the view of Mount Garden from the back door taken just after Bryony had set off to work at about 9am.

At lunch time I scaled Mount Garden (rather stupidly in trainers rather than hiking boots!) to see what the view was like across the valley.

As I mentioned before there is, as yet, no sign of the snow melting in Penistone (other than where the snow plough has been and gritted the road). There was still plenty of snow at the station as well as icicles and ice spikes on some of the station buildings and equipment.

Hopefully it won't snow any more otherwise life really could get interesting!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

More Snow

Well it was still snowing when I went to bed last night, but by this morning it had stopped. While it had stopped the problems were only just starting. It really is amazing how much trouble a little snow can cause. Mind you I suppose 7 inches isn't a small amount of snow. And for those that don't believe we managed 7 inches I give you exhibit A.

Monday, 2 February 2009

It's Snowing!

It's actually been snowing since late yesterday, but it's now snowing very heavily and building up on the roads. I was actually delayed on the train this morning while the driver went out to clear the snow off a set of points!

I'll probably take some more snowy photos before it melts but I quite liked this one so I thought I'd interrupt the cookbook postings with it.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

cookbook v0.2: Now with Shopping Lists!

So just four days after I announced v0.1 of cookbook I'm back to blog about the changes and new features that you can now play with in v0.2. So in no particular order we have...
  1. More sensible printing support: If you print any of the pages you will no longer get the common banner and footer on the printed page. I may do more work to change the layout etc. for the printed page so if you have any suggestions you know where the comment form is.
  2. Favourites: You can now mark a recipe as a favourite (click the little heart below the recipe title), and can view a list of your favourite recipes.
  3. Customise how many a recipe serves: You can now change how many people a recipe serves using a drop down list. This updates the ingredients list and the directions so you don't have to calculate the new amounts.
  4. To help with the customizable serves feature I've added a new markup symbol to the recipe editor. Any amount that changes based on the number serving, but that isn't an ingredient, should be surrounded by ~. So for example, "divide the mixture int ~4~ equals amounts".
  5. Shopping List: You can now add recipes to a shopping list which will combine all the ingredients into a single list (for shopping, obviously). This also makes use of the customisable serves feature so when you add the recipe to the shopping list it uses the amounts currently displayed.
  6. Free text search: There is now a search field in the banner which you can use to search over the recipe titles and directions. It currently isn't too accurate due to a feature of the database. Words that appear in over 50% of the records don't appear in the index. So because there is only a small number of recipes searching for chicken returns no results as 4 out of the 7 recipes involve chicken. This feature will improve and become more useful as more recipes are added (hint, hint).
  7. My Account: Currently the "My Account" page is just a place holder but it should soon allow you to update your personal details and customise your home page.
  8. Lots of database changes that are not apparent yet but should make adding the remaining requested features easier -- so watch this space!
  9. All the ways of filtering the recipes (tags, user, free text, and favourites) get displayed using the same page which allows for any combination of filters. This is implemented on the server but I haven't figured out the best way of doing the interface yet (you can play with the URL though and see what happens).
  10. More layout changes, although many of the pages still have only a very basic layout.
Well, I think that is all the changes I have made. As usual let me know what you think and feel free to start adding your own recipes and making use of the site.