Friday, 30 October 2009

Chopping Up A Courgette

There are two obvious ways to cut up a courgette: slice and dice. Unfortunately depending on what you are cooking both of these methods can be somewhat lacking.

For example, if you are making ratatouille, then dicing the courgette probably isn't a great idea as it just turns to mush in the sauce. On the other hand slicing the courgette tends to result in the middle turning to mush leaving you with polo mint like rings of skin. Surely there must be a better way?

When we were on Skye courgettes featured in one of the meals and I learnt a new and brilliant way of chopping them up. Basically you cut at 45 degrees to the courgette and between each chop you turn the courgette by 90 degrees. If that didn't make any sense then try the video which shows me cutting up a courgette for dinner earlier this week.

This method leaves you with chunks of courgette that have just about the right ratio of skin to middle and tend to hold their shape when cooked.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Lyon's Smallest Restaurant?

While I was walking around Lyon I stepped past what has to be Lyon's smallest restaurant. Unfortunately it doesn't actually serve food!

You can tell just how small the restaurant is by looking at the reflection of me taking a photo in the glass panel on the left of the photo.

Okay so it's not really a restaurant at all, but a miniature on display in the window of the Musée des Miniatures. As far as I could tell entry to the museum was free but unfortunately I didn't have the time to spare as I had to get across Lyon for my train. Next time I have to go to IARC for a meeting I'll go back and take a proper look.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Blog Comments

I often comment on blogs but I very rarely go back and read what others have then written in reply. I could subscribe by e-mail to those posts I comment on but for some reason I don't really like that approach much. It is, however, possible to subscribe to not just the posts on a blog but the comments as well.

What follows assumes you are using Blogger although I assume similar functionality is available with other systems such as WordPress.

You can subscribe to the comments for any Blogger blog using the URL

where BLOG_ID should be replaced by the (wait for it) ID of the blog. So for example, here is a link to the feed of all comments for this blog.

Knowing or finding the ID of the blog you wish to subscribe to is, however, a bit of a pain. If the blog is hosted by blogger (i.e. has a URL) then an easier URL to use is

where obviously BLOG_NAME is replaced by (yes wait for it again) the name of the blog.

A relatively boring post but hopefully it will help at least one person follow the comments on at least one blog!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A Year of Posts!

If you hadn't read this blog before and wanted to catch up by reading a post a day it would now take you a full year -- a leap year to get to this post. On reaching this rather arbitrary point I thought I'd look back on the blog in a similar way to the two posts I did marking the 100th and 201st posts.

As it turns out nothing much seems to have changed (other than the blog template). It still appears, from the labels, that the blog is all about photos (122 posts) of strange (76 posts) food (41 posts)!

Also based on comments the most interesting posts are still those about the random bits of software I've released into the wild through this blog. The post on embedding QuickTime movies in webpages is almost two years old and still regularly gets comments.

Since I last surveyed the blog I have of course stopped blogging about two things: books and recipes. I'm now writing a blurb for each book I read over on my Writing The Blurb blog. Recipes are not going on a blog as such, but on a custom built web based cookbook, although you can subscribe to the recipes just as you would any other blog.

I'm not sure when I'll next survey the blog but given the three totally unscientific surveys so far, I'm guessing that not much will have changed!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Coral Beach

The weather must have known that our holiday on Skye about to end as the last full day we had there was warm and sunny. We made the most of the weather and headed out to Coral Beach. Whilst it wasn't warm enough to sun bath it was very pleasant.
Whilst the beach looks like fine white sand it is actually not sand at all! Apparently the sand is actually the ground up bleached skeletons of a red coralline seaweed known as maerl.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

One, Two, Three... Quadriga!

A quadriga is a chariot pulled by four horses abreast. It was a word that I had never heard before my recent trip to Berlin. One of the most famous quadriga sculptures sits on top of the Brandenburg Gate and the person who showed us around Berlin actually referred to referred to it as a quadriga. The week after I was in Berlin I had to go to Lyon with work and guess what I saw there? I doubt anyone will need to be told but the photo on the left is from Berlin and the one on the right from Lyon.
The quadriga atop the Brandenburg Gate is quite traditional and based upon the only surviving ancient quadriga. As you can see from the photo the sculpture in Lyon is very different; a piece of art rather than a model of real life. Apparently it was sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi after he became famous for creating the Statue of Liberty and represents France as a female figure attempting to control the four major French rivers. It may not be classical but I definitely prefer the one in Lyon over the one in Berlin.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

With a Toot and a Whistle

As some of you may know our garden backs onto the railway line that runs between Huddersfield and Barnsley. There are two trains an hour past the house, one in each direction, and you quickly get used to the noise. The trains are only small and from inside the house they pass almost unnoticed.

So on Sunday afternoon when I was out in the garden I heard a train approach. Firstly it was going the wrong way and secondly it didn't sound 'right'. Then I saw the smoke! Unfortunately because of the slope at the back of the garden and the overgrown shrubs the smoke was all I saw, but I heard the unmistakable toot and whistle of a steam train as it approached Penistone station.

After much hunting around on the web I found that it was the Tin Bath Extra pulled by LMS Black 5's 45231 and 45407, otherwise known as The Sherwood Forester and The Lancashire Fusilier. If the scenery around Penistone looked at all like that near Blaenau Ffestiniog and I had been able to see over the fence at the back of the garden then I'd have seen something approaching the view in the photo taken by Flickr user gazzajo. I'm going to keep watching the Steam Tours webpage so that next time I'll be ready with my camera.

Our house currently doesn't have a number plaque and we have been debating what picture might go on one for a while. As we live near a railway I'd always suggested a steam train but Bryony had said that as we don't get steam trains going past the house that wouldn't work. Well now I might just get a steam train on the plaque!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Whole Pumpkin: Part 2

Yesterday I cooked a pumpkin. Not just a little bit of a pumpkin either. I cooked everything but the stalk, pith and skin. It was a long but worthwhile afternoon in the kitchen.
I toasted the pumpkin seeds, which I then used as decoration on top of pumpkin soup which we ate for starter. I also made a pumpkin pie which we ate for desert. The rest of the pumpkin was roasted and made into puree which I have frozen ready for making more pies or soup in the future.

Unlike last time I tried cooking a pumpkin yesterday was a success. Everything was edible and I didn't end up wasting lots of pumpkin or my time!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

The Whole Pumpkin

My most disastrous culinary experience was my first and only attempt at making pumpkin pie. I managed to misread the recipe and used mixed spice instead of allspice! I had one spoonful of the pie and threw the rest away -- a complete waste of a pumpkin.

So as pumpkins have started to appear in the shops ready for Halloween I thought I'd have another go at making pumpkin pie. I needed 1Kg of pumpkin but when I did the shopping online I could order large or extra large with no idea of weight. So I ordered extra large to be on the safe side and ended up with a 4.5Kg pumpkin.

So not only am I determined to cook an edible pumpkin pie I'm also not going to allow 3.5Kg of pumpkin to go to waste. I'll let you know how the pie turns out and how much of the pumpkin I actually manage to use in a later post. If you need me I'll be in the kitchen, listening to music and cooking a pumpkin!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Weird Pit Exit

This years Formula 1 championship ends in just over two weeks at the new Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. As it's a new track no one knows exactly how the cars will perform around it but this video of Bruno Senna driving a two seater F1 car around it should give us some idea.

That has to be the longest straight in F1 and I assume the KERS cars will have fun, but isn't that the weirdest pit exit ever? Who though putting a dark tunnel in the pit lane was a good idea? Maybe it will work just fine but I can envision an accident there completely closing the pit lane and needing the race to be red flagged so that everyone doesn't run out of fuel and grip.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Music To Cook By

As anyone who knows me will attest I'm not really a big fan of classical music. There are exceptions; the second half of the Last Night of the Proms, Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King, and I did once enjoy a whole evening of classical music. But these are exceptions.

My taste in more modern music, on the other hand, is quite eclectic and ranges through such varied bands/groups/artists as Green Day, Avril Lavigne Runrig, Billy Joel, Delta Goodrem, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Cast, Dire Straits, The Hollies, 10CC, ...

So what do I listen to when I cook? Well before our trip to Skye I would have definitely picked something from the pop list. Something I could play loud (or at least as loud as I could get away with) and sing along to. Since we got back from Skye though only a single CD has been played in the kitchen. It has been played loud and over and over again. And the CD in question? The Magic of the Mandoline.

I would never force myself into someone elses kitchen but I will always offer to help. Cooking is an art, and great food only leaves the kitchen if the chef is happy and enjoying his work (I was going to say relaxed but I doubt most chefs would say cooking for others is relaxing). So when I am helping in someone elses kitchen I try to fit in rather than force my ideas, hence I ended up listening to mandoline music. To say I was blown away by it was an understatement. I honestly don't think I've ever heard classical music quite like it (it's definitely classical, the composer of the majority of the music on the CD is Vivaldi).

So if you like cooking and listening to music then I'd suggest you find a copy of The Magic of the Mandoline and see if it helps the creative juices flow!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Lyon at Night

After a productive day at IARC in Lyon I was invited out for dinner. In case anyone wonders why I was at a cancer research institute it's because I'm working on a project that is attempting to use knowledge mined from biomedical literature in genome wide association studies.

It was one of the staffs birthday and I was asked to join them for the dinner they had already planned. I had a bit of time to kill before meeting at the restaurant so I thought I'd see a few of the sights. I headed towards the restaurant along the river which gave me great views of the Basillica Notre-Dame de Fourviere and the Cathedral St-Jean.
From the same bridge the view north along the river towards the foot bridge was pretty good as well.
I didn't want to be late for dinner so I headed off to the restaurant leaving the rest of the sight seeing for the following day.

We had a wonderful dinner at Léon du Lyon. Even on the last day of September it was warm enough to sit out at the street tables and enjoy the relaxed multi-cultural atmosphere. Around the table were (I think) one Swede, two Brazilians, one Russian, two French and me the only Brit. Given the range of nationalities it should be no surprise that the conversation was all in English, although I did need help dealing with the French menu (thanks Mattias). Thanks to everyone for a great evening!

Out of Sync

Well I spoke too soon when I wrote the last blog post. While the encoded videos had the right framerate when I actually tried to watch one, the audio and video were out of sync. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

So the ffdshow filters may not drop frames but something was still going wrong so I decided to have another look at the InterVideo codec that is used by the DVD player software (I use WinDVD, specifically version 8 which was developed by InterVideo although new versions are now branded as Corel) and which was originally decoding the MPEG-2 files before all this trouble started. My wild guess was that there would be a way to force it to output all the frames even if that meant running slower than real time. I couldn't find anything on the web so instead started digging around in the registry.

I eventually came across the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\InterVideo\DVD8 registry key. This has a DWORD value called NOVideoDrop which was set to 0 which I assume means false. Changing this to 1 didn't make any difference during the encoding but I felt I was getting closer to a solution. Next to the key for WinDVD 8 there is a Common folder which contains sub folders called AUDIODEC and VIDEODEC which I assume stand for audio and video decoder. The VIDEODEC folder contains sub folders for a number of programs including Windows Media Player and Windows Media Encoder. So I took a guess and added the NOVideoDrop entry to the folder for the encoder and hey presto I now always get 25 fps and the video and audio are in sync!

So to summarise, to make sure that the MPEG-2 decoding does not drop frames when using the InterVideo MPEG-2 codec add the following two DWORD entries to the registry, setting the value of both to 1.


The first entry makes sure that the command line interface (which is run via cscript) encodes without dropping frames. The second entry does the same for the main graphical interface to the Windows Media Encoder. Of course if you are using a different program then you may need to add the NoVideoDrop DWORD in other folders as well.

Monday, 5 October 2009

A Realtime Headache

UPDATE: The solution in this post was actually flawed in that the audio and video in the compressed videos ended up out of sync. See this post for my, hopefully, final solution.

I've spent a lot of time over the last few days banging my head against an annoying computer problem. I seem to have finally figured it out and so I thought I'd blog about it in case anyone else has a similar problem.

I've been slowly transferring a whole bunch of old VHS tapes on to the computer using a USB MPEG-2 encoder (specifically a Dazzle USB capture device). This produces large MPEG-2 files which are ideal for burning as a normal DVD. Sometimes though I'll have a bunch of short clips that are not really suited to putting on a DVD. As the MPEG-2 file format is relatively uncompressed even short clips can be quite large and so further compression is a good idea.

Now for reasons that are too complex to go into here I've been converting the MPEG-2 files to Windows Media Video files (actually to the VC-1 standard, using the WMV9 codec, which is the basis of the encoding on HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks) using a command line interface to the Windows Media Encoder. This has worked flawlessly for well over a year and then mysteriously broke about a fortnight ago.

Living in the UK the videos are in the PAL format and so I've been producing 25fps MPEG-2 files and keeping the same framerate when compressing further. When the encoding finishes the command line script produces a summary of what it has done, which includes the expected and actual framerate. They should both be 25fps -- 25 frames coming in each second and 25 frames going out. Strangely about a fortnight ago the actual framerate started fluctuating wildly. I tried encoding the same file a number of times and saw framerates varying from 8 to 19 but nothing approaching 25. Such weird framerates meant that the resulting videos were completely unwatchable.

I assumed that the problem was with the encoding of the video given that I could watch the original MPEG-2 file without any problems. So I reinstalled the Windows Media codecs and the encoder software all to no avail. I tried reinstalling the DVD software as I know that is used to read the MPEG-2 files. Still no joy. In the end I decided I'd do a complete format and reinstall of Windows. Annoyingly that still didn't work.

It turns out that the codec I was using to decode the MPEG-2 file works in realtime. That is it drops frames to make sure the video and audio are in sync. Now I can play a DVD (and hence MPEG-2 files) on the computer without any problems. But when encoding the files I'm both playing and encoding at once and that pushes the CPU usage high enough for frames to be dropped. What I can't figure out is why it suddenly became a problem. I'm assuming that something had switched the codecs being used but from what and why I don't know.

Anyway the fix was to find a non-realtime MPEG-2 codec. Fortunately the free ffdshow codecs will decode MPEG-2 fully irrespective of CPU load. So finally after about two weeks of banging my head against the problem I can get back to encoding videos again at the correct framerate.

The only problem seems to be that if I open an MPEG-2 file in Windows Media Player it no longer respects the aspect ratio and so plays wide screen footage as 4:3. Maybe there is a setting in ffdshow that I'm missing but it's a small price to pay especially as I can watch the files using normal DVD software at the correct aspect-ratio.