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So, this week I have been cooking Sri Lankan food from Charmaine Solomon's excellent book. I had some delicious pork curry leftover, and ate it at my desk for lunch. These two things then happened:

1. An asian colleague came into the office and said "Mmmm, that smells so much better than the canteen."

2. The former acting head of department came into the office and said "Chaps, what's causing that smell of mouldy socks?"
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One of these gas energy savers recently came into my possession, and I have to say - don't bother getting one. I tested mine using the Awesome Power of Science(tm) and can confirm that using it makes water take a repeatable 33% longer to boil. Stick to sensible kitchen gadgets, like the apple peeler/slicer/corer.

Edit: Oh, and if it really catalysed unburned gas, then surely it could keep itself hot when previously heated and then placed on top of an unignited but hissing gas ring?
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Is it just me, or have the Royal Society of Chemistry got a new publicity officer or something? First it was perfect Yorkshire Pudding*, last week it was that exam standards are eroding, and today it's a competition to discover the best possible ending to The Italian Job. Accusations of lazy press-release journalism and the fact that I agree where exam standards are concerned aside, I can't help but think that all of this is a little peripheral to scientific research...

*incidentally, the recipe given in the RSC press release originally failed to mention what kind of milk to use (and still is pretty ambiguous IMO); when John Emsley was interviewed on the Today programme, he declared skimmed milk to be "essential".
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So, I finally got sufficiently annoyed by Ocado arbitrarily deciding to stop me choosing whether or not to store the password for their website to write a trivial Greasemonkey script to enable the functionality again. You can get it here, if you would find it useful.

code also under cut )
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So, my blushing fiancée and I went to The Teddington Cheese to build a prototype wedding cakecheese pile. I took some photos for the benefit of florists, parents, future in-laws etc, and so I thought I'd post them here for the benefit of cheese fans, wedding fans and the happy intersection of the two that form subsets of my readership. Click through for annotations and the full set.

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Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is a legendary figure in gastronomical literature; a cursory scan through my cookery shelf sees him cited by Harold McGee, Hervé This and Jeffrey Steingarten, to name the first three that came to hand. An English translation of his masterwork, "The Physiology of Taste" is still in print. I was given a copy for my birthday, and I have written a few thoughts about it here )

To summarise, I think any foodie with an appreciation of history would enjoy the book, particularly one who is enthusiastic about the current fashion for more scientific cooking, and wants to see where it all started.
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WTF? Surely if you want an environmentally-friendly boat, you should just pick one with a sail?
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So, it seems to be universally agreed that the 0.75% base rate cut announced today by the US Federal Reserve Bank was an attempt to stop global stock markets from continuing their recent sharp downward trend. It also seems to be agreed that the size of the cut is unusually large, and unusually timed, in that it didn't follow a regular meeting of their "Open Market Committee". My rudimentary understanding of economics leads me to believe that by making it less attractive to invest your money with the US government, investors will preferentially buy shares, increasing demand and hence prices.

So far, so good. But I found this article interesting. It seems to be agreed by those quoted in the article that cutting the base rate by 0.75% is very significant. There also seems to be agreement that the action is "risky". But what I don't understand is people asserting that the decision is evidence of "panic". Do those commentators actually believe that the committee made their decision in the throes of gut-wrenching terror? That the decision was not the result of rational decision-making nor of reasoned argument? Do they have inside information on the mental states of the committee members? If they don't have any evidence for their assertions, aren't they acting irresponsibly by baselessly contributing to the fall in investor confidence?

I think I have previously analogised bankers and traders to a troupe of monkeys encountering fire for the first time, egging each other closer and closer until one of them gets burned, whereupon they all run away screaming. This kind of negative commentary strikes me as being the equivalent of shouting "fire!" at the first imagined whiff of smoke - dangerous; unhelpful; irresponsible.
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Since we (well, [livejournal.com profile] terpsichore1980 purchased a new bathroom from Dolphin, which was installed just before Easter 2007, the following things have happened:
  • The grout and adhesive securing one of the floor tiles have cracked, leading to a pronounced wobble. (Now fixed by YT, but there are cracks around other tiles that need dealing with.)

  • The radiator has come loose from the wall. AFAICS this can only be fixed with the application of "No More Nails" or by replacing the wall mounts, a job involving minor plumbing.

  • The completely inadequate extractor fan has required us to keep the door propped open for several hours every time someone takes a shower, otherwise black mould grows on all the silicone sealant.

  • In consequence, some of the silicone sealant has already had to be replaced. More will probably follow.

  • The vanity cupboard under the sink was installed two inches from the side panel of the bath, rendering the latter non-removable, and preventing the last foot or so of panel from being sealed to the floor tiles.

  • A puddle several millimetres deep forms at the tap end of the bath whenever someone takes a shower, forming a sufficient head of water to leak under or around virtually any shower screen, pooling on the floor. After several attempts I'm finally close to solving this one, but when I do I expect said puddle to form a haven for pond life, no doubt including black mould.

Strangely we didn't choose sister-company Moben for our kitchen...
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I discovered the delightful inclusion of a "map" function ("ARRAYFORMULA") in Google Spreadsheets today. Those of you with experience programming in functional languages will appreciate the elegance of this, and of the other higher-order functions (HOFs), none of which have yet made it into the world of spreadsheets as far as I can determine, Google or otherwise.

[livejournal.com profile] terpsichore1980 (whose job requires her to be an Excel wizard) informs me that Microsoft have gone down the road of implementing custom functions for every combination of HOFs they think their users might need (eg COUNTIF, which is equivalent to FOLD(ADD(),(MAP(IF(condition, 1, 0)))) in some vaguely spreadsheety functional pseudocode, or ARRAYFORMULA(SUM(IF(rangecondition, 1, 0))) in Googlese.

Anyway, it made me happy, and I thought I'd share it.
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Something that's been bothering me for a while (but particularly around Christmas) is that I don't have a sensible way to store contact details for people. I had an address book at one point, but it got out of date, then it started running out of space in popular sections, and now I think I've lost it. I've also used a variety of personal organiser/PDA/smartphone things over the years, but the data has survived about as well as the devices that stored it, since the manufacturers of such things seem to assume that you use Windows and only want to sync with Outlook. (And in the case of the Psion 3c, that you wanted to pay extra for a serial cable for it.) So, given that this is the 21st century and I have a phone with an "uncapped" data plan, some kind of web-based system seems like the way forward. Except I don't know of any existing ones, either web services or software I could install on my web server.

So, I turn to you, oh livejournal friends list. How do you store people's contact details - especially physical addresses? How should I do it?
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"For that reason, net neutrality is a pipe-dream. We believe it is vital to put the customer in control of what takes priority on their line and we're already developing that capability," he said.

No, you're developing the capability to impose arbitrary restrictions on the way people access the Internet. Giving people the option of paying you more money to stop is not "putting them in control".
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This article talking about Google's plans (or otherwise) for the upcoming 700MHz spectrum auction in the US has the fantastic line, "Google has hired game-theory specialists to help plot its auction strategy, say people familiar with the matter."

Now, wouldn't it be the best strategy ever if, in its entirety, it consisted of leaking that rumour? :-)
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Any fans out there of theories of everything?

I've never been good enough at HEP theory to do more than skim this stuff, but I particularly liked the end of section 5: "The theory has no free parameters. The coupling constants are unified at high energy, and the cosmological constant and masses arise from the vacuum expectation values of the various Higgs fields..." - the guy is simply reeling off desirable features from the GUT ticklist.

I eagerly await the results of some peer review, and about a decade of LHC running. :-)
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So, it seems that the Star has gone downhill again. The beer is still fine, but there's no way that Fullers would risk the reputation of a pub that's been in every edition of the Good Beer Guide, so that's no surprise. The disappointment is the food. The steaks have gone up in price again, to £14. I don't mind paying £14 for a steak. But I do mind paying £14 for four measly ounces of overcooked ribeye. It could just be that the kitchen was busy, or that they were trying to eke out a dwindling supply of meat (neither of which would be acceptable, but would at least suggest that standards hadn't plummeted), but the continental meat platter we had as a starter was pretty mediocre, too. It's under new management again.

My disappointment was so bitter (and the portions now so meagre) that I bought a fillet steak from M&S at Victoria, and cooked it rare and ate it just with wholegrain mustard when I got home.

Avoid for another year, I suggest.


Oct. 19th, 2007 11:41 pm
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I join you fresh from the celebration of [livejournal.com profile] rjw1's birthday. Any Circle Line pub crawl is inevitably something of a bacchanalian excess, but [livejournal.com profile] rjw1 is the first person I know of to have completed it on pints. I am moved to assert that, when a man's first action after quaffing his 27th pint of beer is to call for a 28th, the only honourable response is to buy him it.


Oct. 13th, 2007 11:17 am
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So, [livejournal.com profile] terpsichore1980 and I are back from an exciting almost-a-week touring Emilia-Romagna and eating lots of big dinners. You may, if you so wish, peruse my photos, which contain some pretty landscapes, some dull photos of mediæval and renaissance architecture and several instances of [livejournal.com profile] terpsichore1980 looking uncomfortable at being photographed. A few observations:
  • Italian driving (at least in Emilia-Romagna) isn't as scary as it's made out to be, as long as you're prepared to adjust to the local rules, eg about the permissibility of pushing out at junctions. If you drive at the speed limit, people will sit on your tail and then overtake on blind corners, but at least they won't honk and gesticulate rudely in the process. Be mentally prepared for sections of road unaccountably missing any form of tar, let alone macadam, sharp ninety-degree bends round blind corners on cobbled streets only a couple of inches wider than a small car, and the fact that the outside lane of the motorway is reserved for cars that are larger, newer or more expensive than yours.

  • If you're looking for somewhere decent to eat in Ferrara, we cannot recommend better than the Ristorante "Big Night", hidden away down a little alley facing the West side of the Castello Estense. Never have I seen so much truffle on a single plate, nor drunk from larger wine glasses. It's the restaurant of the "Hotel Ferrara", which is also recommended.

  • If you're flying back from Bologna, then consider staying the previous night at the Albergo "Antica Locanda Il Sole", in a small village nearby. As hotels go it's an undistinguished 3-star affair, but it shares its premises and name with a Michelin-starred restaurant, which is unsurprisingly pricey but superb.


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