Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Upsetting Doctors

It all started with an offhanded comment by the doctor.... "You haven't had a blood test for a while. Mind if I get you to have one?".

Uh-oh. A bit of anxiety and I'm starting to think I should probably start getting a little healthier. It's obvious by this stage that I've got some work to do. And if I know it, then I'm sure my blood's gonna know it too. Queue a diet change and more exercise.

Given that it's just a general kind of check up rather than a blood test for any particular problem I decide it's a great idea to use it as motivation. I know I could be doing a whole lot of things better. In fact, I hadn't really been looking after myself at all. There was the few weeks last year when I'd relied on canned dinners (you know the ones. Pastas that are mushy. Irish stew, also mushy. In fact, I reckon they should just market this stuff as mush in a can) because the time needed to get out of the office would interrupt work and the cost of ordering in was just too high.

So it's been a few months and of course, I've been blogging about the things I've changed. The diet. The exercise. And I finally had the blood test.

So yesterday the doctor rang me. My cholesterol is high.

"How's your diet?" she asks.

To which I respond I've made significant changes with a focus on fresh vegetables.

"Are you getting any exercise?"

Again I respond: "I've been going out for runs and putting an emphasis on my health since about new years."

Queue threat of medication for cholesterol....

So there's this whole conflicting thing going on. If you get asked to go for a blood test and decide to use it as motivation for changing your habits, the blood test is probably still going to show things are a little out of whack (given that the blood results don't reflect your current habits). If you get the blood test and use the results as motivation (or rather, a lack of motivation), then it starts to feel like a chore rather than something you should be doing which probably has a positive result.

Anyway, the threat of medication is dependant on a blood test the same time next year...

Result: I've still got great motivation to keep up this healthier lifestyle.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Reusing Bottles

So it's time to bottle my beer. Brilliant! I've been collecting bottles for AGES. I've got boxes of the things all over the place (though they're a little inaccessible at the moment).

Only... Well, I started bottling and heard that god awful crack of breaking glass. Uh-oh. It turns out that certain beer bottles - mainly those with twist tops - are purposely made to be difficult to reuse. Heinekein and Tuborg bottles (the ones I've got most of) have their ridge set just a little higher than usual to make using a twin lever capper difficult on them.

The last time I was in India (nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there) I found myself a little frustrated when buying a drink. It turns out that to have a glass bottle, you'd have to drink it in the store, and give them the bottle back. The alternative was to buy a plastic bottle, pay a little more for it, and be able to leave the store.

In fact, all of their glass bottles felt a little strange. Oddly thick. Scuffed to all hell. The bottles are reused. I know we've got a big thing for recycling at the moment but there's a cost to recycling. In the case of glass, it's a carbon footprint. The sorts of temperatures needed to melt down a bottle and reconstitute it as the same sort of bottle is massive - just "slumping" a bottle - melting it until it's flat - takes around 770°C, and that's without getting it hot enough to melt different pieces of glass together.

Sure, it's less carbon than making new bottles, but it's still huge. Compare that to the cost of making thick bottles that can be reused and washing and sterilizing them between uses... Of course there's a whole logistics thing in there but how hard would it be to have a collection centre? Perhaps utilize the local dairy?

Of course, we tend to be just a little bit precious here. We couldn't possibly have scuffed bottles... We all seem to be in this weird kind of commercial version of saving the environment. We're encouraged to recycle without any sort of mention about reuse or reduce. Think about some of those computer goods you buy. How much packaging does a microSD card or usb stick really need? If you go to the supermarket, there are other such goods. Things like porridge. Sure, you could buy the great big bag that would take a month to get through, OR there's the individually packaged servings... Even beer, despite coming in cardboard boxes, does my head in. Why? Look at the labels. Some brands use a plastic label.... just so that the bottle continues to advertise their brand well into the future (forever).

So there's this whole accepted lack of social conscience. It's perfectly okay for these companies to insist on bottles that can't be reused and it all seems to be hidden behind their need to advertise and sell to us.

Anyway, so with the whole bottling beer situation I stopped. Time to start experimenting. A few more broken bits of bottles later, a quick trip to the $2 shop for cable ties (I figured putting a cable tie on the neck on the bottle would change the spacing), looking at things like rubber bands,  tearing apart a rubber glove, trying insulation tape and we (I was doing this with someone else) had a solution. I wish I could take the credit of the eventual discovery (I at least contributed by suggesting insulation tape was an easier material to work with) but that credit goes to someone else. It seems that the problem is where the metal comes in contact with the glass. So a bit of insulation tape to the top of the jaws (pointed out in the image to the left), and I managed to bottle the rest with only one broken bottle.

How well the seals hold is a whole other issue (I'll find that out in about a week).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Congee

So I tried Congee tonight. The things I do for this blog (and for my own personal curiosity and research for my own life).

Congee isn't quite what I was expecting. While I was expecting a porridge like consistency, it was more of a soup. The one I tried seemed to be a mixture of seafood and chicken (note: The image to the side isn't the one I tried today - this is an image stolen from the net).

It looks awful right? There's not much that can be said about the presentation of it except to say it looks awful.

The taste? Well... it wasn't at all bad. BUT... well... the texture just wasn't quite right for me.

So it turns out that congee is a traditional Chinese dish for the sick. It requires no chewing and contains a whole lot of stuff that is good for you. So it's sustenance.

However... it has potential. My biggest complaint while we were walking back from the food court which I brought it from was the fact that it felt a little stodgy. While I know that it contains a whole lot of really good stuff, it just didn't give me the sort of energy boost that most of the meals I've been eating lately has given me.

It's the sort of thing that I think should probably be cooked in big portions. The bowl I got was HUGE and felt daunting and I was told that it was mostly water in which case, even given the big portion, it would probably be about the same as eating a meal the same size as the meals that I've been eating. The comment was made that it's probably best made for an entire day's food. So you'd make a big pot of it and eat it throughout the day. This works as it would mean that you could then take the number of meals you have in a day, multiply out the amount you spend on each meal, and spend whatever is left after the rice on things to make it interesting.

So pretty soon I'm going to start playing around with it. So the ways I think it could be improved:

More veges. This is probably the hardest bit for me. I don't like overcooked veges - especially when they've become grey. So I'm thinking of a more risotto approach. My approach to risotto is to make risotto blanco (white risotto) and then add whatever flavour I want. So for a chicken mushroom risotto, I would make the risotto and cook the chicken and mushrooms (I've got a few tips for mushrooms) separately and mix them through at the end. This allows me to have a starchy, al denté, risotto with mushrooms browned just right and grilled chicken thighs on the top.

Made a little thicker. Whenever I eat a soup I think of it as an appetizer. Before even the entrée (I mean the non Hell's Kitchen version of an entrée which comes before the main) a little something to whet the appetite. So, if this isn't for the sick, then it could have a texture a little closer to a porridge with veges and meat through it.

Writing this I'm wondering what would distinguish this from a risotto. Which was one of my initial thoughts about it (and something Renedox told me straight off about it) - it's kind of a risotto with overcooked rice.

While I would hesitate to put sardines or tuna in a risotto, I wouldn't do so with congee. Rice by any other name... So it's a chance to play with Asian flavours. For a more upmarket version, you could make it closer to a risotto (though with the rice over cooked) and top it with a few well cooked bits of pork belly on a plate with perhaps a bit of steamed bok choy on the side to give it a bit of colour.

It's going to be fun to experiment with this dish...

Monday, February 18, 2013

What's Really in that Drink?

I went out and brought a starter beer brewing kit today. A lot of it came across as silly. A beer enhancer - sugar + a few other bits and pieces that aren't really needed. Carbonation drops - sugar. But the one that had me scratching my head was "finings". So I looked it up on the Internet.

It turns out that fining agents are used to remove the murkiness from beers by making those bits that are murky more solid so that they sink to the bottom of the barrel. Cool - I can have a clear beer. What really surprised me though are the sorts of things used as finings.

Irish moss - a derivative of seaweed. Gelatin. Silica gel. Isinglass - a collagen based additive that's extracted from fish bladders. PVPP - plastic. The pack that came with the starter kit said "collogen (E441)" on it (gelatin). Great news for those who don't mind so much - you'll find sachets of unflavoured gelatin at the local supermarket at pretty reasonable prices. But what if you're vegetarian? Okay - sure, if you're brewing yourself, you don't need to use it (it's only used to get a clear beer - if you don't mind it not being that clear, then it's fine) but what about commercial beers? You would have to assume that they all use fining agent of some kind. The page I looked it up on said that isinglass is used mainly by commercial brewers...

It gets worse though. I knew there was something like this in wine. Never listed in the ingredients BUT you'll sometimes find a warning about traces of fish or eggs on the back of a wine bottle - which had me wondering. So I figured, given that I'm now writing this blog post, I should probably look it up.

The list of things that could be in your wine, and not listed anywhere on the bottle, is astounding. A lot of those things on the list - I don't really know what they are.

So while we trust in a list of ingredients on our food products, it turns out that the ingredients on some food items don't need to be on there which just feels kind of disrespectful to vegans, vegetarians etc.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Putting the Cat Back Into the Bag

I made a huge mistake. I signed up to follow Lynda's blog via email and realised that she had as many people following her via email as I get hits in a month. So I figured I should probably do something to increase traffic. It turns out that you can ping search engines to tell 'em that your blog's changed.

Suddenly everything changed. My little over-opinionated blog has turned into a bit of a nightmare. The spam is under control (I had to tweak an option or two) but the comments. Oh ye gods. The guy who talked about going to the gym when talking about poverty. The one who's just sulked away with a horrendously negative "You don't know anything you unemployed bum!". Some people just don't like their preconceptions being challenged...

The funny bit is that I'm feeling great about life in general. I've got work on. A life outside of work and computers. I'm gaining perspective. I'm starting to look great (though desperately need a haircut - it can wait). I even ended up having a long conversation with someone on the bus the other day (something very odd for me given how awkward I can with strangers). I got the sinking feeling that perhaps I was going to be relied upon a little too much (it seems the whole people approach is greatly appreciated by quite a lot of people). I even feel like I have some sort of sense of purpose...

So the question is, is there a way to stop it? Lower the hit count? Make it so that I'm just talking to myself again where people can get a view into what I'm thinking? Get rid of the strangely negative voices off the blog? (If I'm talking to myself, then comments are voices answering back...).

Or is this it? The cat's out of the bag and the evil little fornicator just won't get the *bleep* in...

Richard Prosser (A post about religion)

What can possibly be said about this guy? For those not in the know, Richard Prosser is a NZ First (a political party) politician, currently in parliament, who recently made derogatory comments, in an article for a magazine, about Muslims. More specifically, he claimed that men that were Muslim, looked Muslim or came from a Muslim country should not be allowed to travel on western airlines.

Holy crapballs on toast batman! I'm not Muslim but I often joke about my "terrorist good looks". It's a joke about racial profiling. (The picture to the right is me in 2009. Yep, the beard is real) How many people talk about turbans when talking about terrorists? Yep - yet's just paint the Sikh and Akurinu (a Christian denomination) faiths with the same brush.

Islam is the biggest religion out there (actually the numbers on this vary. This link shows it being the biggest religion second only to those who practise no religion. This link, also on wikipedia, shows Christianity as being the world's biggest religion). A friend of mine pointed out that Malaysia is a Muslim country. So he wouldn't be able to fly.

Given that Islam is one of the biggest religion out there (I hate when things become ambiguous), I'm guessing that most people look like they come from Muslim countries. Of course, we're only really talking males...

At coffee I suggested to someone that religion didn't matter quite so much as the intent behind the religion. Would Mohammed have ever imagined suicide bombers?

I've got a great big criticism about what I've seen of Hinduism. My father, when he doesn't know the answer to a question around Hinduism, will tell me "that's for the Brahman's to know". At various events, weddings, funerals, other religious celebrations, you'll see a bunch of people standing around arguing over the "right" powders to use and in what order. Very few people would talk about the cyclic nature of the religion and would instead talk about the importance of beetle nuts or fire. The intent isn't foremost in their minds.

Christianity, can at times, have similar flaws. Knowing a passage, at times, seems more important than the meaning and certain passages, when taken in isolation, can be taken as supporting a particular position (we've seen this time and time again) rather than taking the entirety of the works and seeing it as a whole with an intent which veers towards helping your fellow man.

What would Jesus do?

Anyway - this post does kind of have a point... It's not the religion, but people like the "honourable" (There's an objection to be made about job titles that make an ascertion about a person's character) Richard Prosser, who corrupt the intent behind religion...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Computer Security

Geek speak alert.

On Solstice day I had a bunch of friends over and after they left my mother remarked on the fact that no one was competing and doing that whole "one-up-man-ship" thing. One of the things I love about the FLOSS community is the fact that we tend to work together where we can. We respect each other for our respective skills and we can leverage off each other to come up with some really cool ideas and solutions. We share ideas - that means being able to listen to each other.

I mention this because in the last couple of weeks I've come across 2 people who have just ... well .. pulled it out and swung it about as if they're the only ones with 'em (Given that I know that kids read this blog, I'm being a whole lot more... polite than I want to be here). Rather than be curious and actually think about the evidence in front of them, they've boldly denied a bunch of facts and gone with some weird conclusions that support their own swingin' position. What really irks me is that they come from a default position of disrespect.

So this post is for one of them. I know - I shouldn't bite. It's validating their own need for attention - but sod it. This is probably a pretty good subject matter anyway.

Imagine you have a house which you want secured. You don't leave the front door open right? So you lock the front door. Only, a certain number of people have keys. It is hoped that those people all share a common goal and won't trash the place, steal the silverware etc. Even with no malicious intent, there's the chance that they may use and drop a glass - argh! Damage!

So your number one threat:- The user. There's no real way to protect against this unless you were to put safety rails up around everything (Are you sure you want to run this executable?) and glue anything that can be glued down (Locking the user out of certain things). Of course, if the person is now no longer able to drink a glass of water, find cutlery, reach their bed, or watch TV in the lounge the house isn't all that useful. If they're able to sit but can't adjust the cushions, then your users are just really uncomfortable. You've affected the usability of the house - is the trade off of usability worth the safety and to who?

Often the benefits of security is focused not on the user but on the I.T. technicians. If the user can't actually do anything, then the system is secure and the I.T. don't need to do anything (but will probably still find ways of extracting money for making other people's jobs hard).

So the front door is locked and so are the windows. But then you decide your key is too simple and so you file it down a bit so that it needs jiggling in just the right way in order to open the door (over complex password criteria). The users, well and truly fed up, then leave a key in just the right position so that they're not having to jiggle (a post it note on the side of the monitor with their login credentials).

Not only are your users the biggest threat, but if they turn against you, you're in for a world of hurt.

One of the occupants likes to eat on the front steps so when he/she goes to get lunch, they want their silverware on the front step - where anyone could grab it. Alternatively, someone comes by the door and says "I'm a silverware inspector, show me all of your silverware" and so your occupant gives that person all of the silverware.

Your security is only as good as your users. This is a piece of advice I don't think is taught anywhere but is oh so very important. If you care at all about security at all then your number one priority is to work with your users - not for them, not lording it over them. With them. No two ways about it.

You decide that you want a warning when someone who shouldn't be there is there. So you install an alarm. Intrusion detection, while it doesn't stop someone from coming in and stealing the silverware, at least it informs you that it's there. BUT what if that intrusion detection doubles the power bill? (A virus scanner). You're using up all of that power, but what if you've assessed that that threat is actually pretty low given the design of the house? Is wasting that resource on the possibility that MAYBE someone might get in all that important? This becomes a fairly simple cost benefit analysis. How important is your silverware really?  Not silver at all but it has sentimental value because your mum used to call it "silver" jokingly? Is it just silver plated tin? Real silver? Not silver at all but gold?

You decide it's time to look at the design of the house. There are two builders.

One charges a little bit more but builds something that has thus far shown to deter intruders. However, while it doesn't need a lot of maintenance, the few people able to competently maintain this style of house are kind of expensive. The builder does share these plans with you and you're able to get advice and other people's input into how this design could be better.

The other builds something that seems to be quite fragile BUT there are loads of people around who are able to fill gaps with plaster. The builder refuses to show you the plans at all. You will just have to trust in him.

Thus far, Windows, while Windows advocates will tell you that every system has vulnerabilities, has a proven bad track record. Linux, while it does have a couple of viruses thus proving the fact that every system has vulnerabilities, actually has a pretty good track record in comparison.

The house has several occupants and you're afraid that a conflict between them will cause problems (smashed plates and the like). So you decide it's worthwhile isolating these occupants. So you build a bunch of other houses and put each of the occupants in. Suddenly though, you realise that while you're not getting conflicts, you're paying for smaller (no bulk buying power) portions of food, several lots of line maintenance on the phone line etc. Furthermore, the occupants barely talk to each other. You have to go through great pains in order for them to communicate on some small level.

Virtualization/isolation has a price. That price needs to be offset by the benefits. A friend went into a flatting situation with a network engineer whose set up involved around $300 / month on power - due to running multiple servers all running a small piece of the total setup - one for DHCP, another for caching, another as a firewall etc. All for a flat network (domestic situation).

In order to protect the house further, you and your neighbours decide to form a walled community. So you build a great big wall around the community and have a security guard verifying people - using a complex barcode - in order to get in. In order to hold a barbeque, you have to generate a barcode for each of the guests, make sure the security guard recognises those barcodes and then make sure that those barcodes can only be used for a limited time. By the time any of the guests arrive, they're grumpy by the whole ordeal of just getting in. (VPN)

Security almost always has a usability trade off and the level of security needs to be appropriate for the situation. If people are going to frequently hold barbecues, then a walled community is probably not the best solution.

One day someone discovers that there's a tunnel going under your house. In fact, it turns out that to get into your house, someone just needs to grab a hammer and give one of the floorboards a good whack and they're in. (The unseen vulnerability).

Being paranoid, you know that this possibility may exist (even if you haven't found the tunnel yet) so you go about trying to nail down every floorboard, put bars on the windows, secure every roofing tile etc. Meanwhile the occupants are getting sick of all of the noise and you haven't realised that they're now leaving the front door open.

You're more likely to be caught out on the known and manageable vulnerabilities than the ones that might exist. Simple time management would suggest that you try to put more time into those known vulnerabilities that you can do something about rather than the ones that you can't. Furthermore, if people aren't just swinging their bits around and are instead working toward a common goal, then there's a fairly good chance that people will point out the vulnerability rather than using it to steal your silverware.

You then decide that it just isn't worth trying to secure your house yourself. You get a property manager.

You've now outsourced the problem out. When's the last time you heard of a system being too secure on the news? The default position is to start with nothing and open things up depending on job descriptions.

The problem with this for me is that it implies a sort of repetitive, job never changes, mentality. This is where I normally depart from most I.T. people's views. For the most part, your information doesn't need the security given to it. If your user doesn't realise the reason something doesn't work is because it's been locked down, then they don't know to ask their I.T. person to open something up. In which case, we've suddenly limited someone (the very definition of retardation).

The task of security is a balancing act involving a really fine line between usability and security. The WINZ case earlier this year went too far on one direction. But we've also all experienced things in the other direction - where something that should be simple is insanely difficult.

So security 101 - understand the flaws, understand what you're protecting (i.e. in a school a child's work is probably a bit less sensitive than the information pertaining to their home life), mitigate where you can (you can't protect yourself from accidental or malicious damage caused by those within the system but you can mitigate the risk by making sure your users know you and respect you). Given that it's a fine line, it's better to have a kind of partnership (yep - that means getting along with people and respecting them for their respective skills) rather than trying to go at it yourself and finding the users AND external people turning against you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why Not Just Get a Job?

A friend of mine posted a post by the title "Why not just get a job?". It's a terrible question. There are oh so many reasons why. It's rather an arrogant question which dismisses the fact that jobs don't just fall from the sky, and as I've said previously, the whole employment process is rather screwed up.

I can't name a single time when I've gotten a job from showing my CV. Either my CV just plain sucks or, what I've been told about them is all wrong. The examples on the Internet and what people tell you is that a CV should be short (around 3 pages) and that it should be boxed off into sections - work experience is separated from education and those personal statements always sound so dross.

Having gone through other people's CV's to decide who we should and shouldn't take further, the criteria by which I had to do this was superficial. The CV just didn't tell me anything useful about their attitude and how they approached problems or how quickly they learned.

The other thing that struck me from "Renedox's" post that he mentioned was interdependency. Let's expand on that for a second. I'm in a privileged situation. Everyone around me works. My mother, father, neighbours, friends etc. Jobs come up occasionally (though normally it results in me rolling my eyes) through the people around me. Looking at a state housing area the situation is very different. Jobs are far and few between and they're reliant on a flawed employment process even when they've managed to get through the flawed education system (doesn't cater to different methods of learning and is designed to a particular demographic - commercialisation of education is something that seriously needs looking at).

But what really strikes me as unproductive is people's attitude around finding a job. I heard someone with anxiety issues (medication to deal with panic attacks) being given the advice "just take any job. You can make it relevant to any other job you might apply for". The problem with this advice is that it is completely dismissive to his needs. His job, for the time being, is to look after himself. To get to a point where he's actually happy with himself and his situation. In which case, "any" job just won't do. It has to be a job that works for him and his needs.

But this shouldn't just apply to his situation. Getting a job is not an aim unto itself. Sure, you have to pay the bills. But should your mental health and confidence be the sacrifice? Of course, the problem now becomes how do we go about doing this?

It's difficult. Others out there are being disingenuous about the jobs they want and given that applying using CV's and the like is a bit of a lucky dip, will probably take that job that was perfect for you. What's worse is that advertisements for jobs are often dishonest.

As a 16 year old I was a part time "Office Assistant" which translated to doing dishes, vacuuming, emptying bins, cleaning walls, some gardening and occasionally stuffing envelopes. It turns out there's very little between being an office assistant and being a cleaner (except that a cleaner probably gets paid more than youth rates).

I still have email notifications for a few employment websites - those for individual companies. EVERY job that comes through is looking for a "manager" of some sort (just like EVERYONE should be a millionaire although value is a finite thing in which case, if people are extremely wealthy, there are ALWAYS going to be people at the other extreme). By this mentality there are no entry level jobs (so what good is an education really if you need the experience?).

So we enter into a troubleshooting phase. Imagine how things should be, try to discern the paths to get there.

So it would start with organisations being more honest about what they want and how much they're willing to pay - because let's face it. Not all of those "manager" jobs could possibly pay manager rates. The tools would be available for organisations to make more informed decisions on applicants. Applicants being able to express themselves in ways that actually reflect themselves (i.e. everything a CV is not).

And how to get there? I'm not entirely sure.... As Renedox always says "I come up with the ideas". With any luck later in the year I'll be looking toward part of the solution (though it's a little up in the air at the moment) which I'll write about if and when it happens.

The $2 Project - Inspiration

So I've been looking around for inspiration. My father's been a little surprised that I've been asking him about his eating habits when he was growing up in India.

So the basis of cheap meals seems to be (probably because both items are so relatively cheap and healthy) rice and pasta.

Rice is fantastic! Cook it with stock and it becomes something more interesting. Use a different method to create a base - risotto or congee - for adding just about anything else to it. Or have it plain. And you've got the different textures (and fragrance) such as a long grain or short grain, the ever so starchy arborio and fragrant jasmine and basmati. Hell - you can even make desserts out of it. Anyone who says that rice is boring is just lacking in imagination.

Pasta is one of those things that just seems to be done badly for quick takeaway meals in your local foodcourt for lunch. But it's soooo much more. Agli olio is about as simple as it gets - oil, garlic (which can be expanded out with onion), perhaps some chilli (in the form of dried flakes), parsley, salt and topped off with a little parmesan - and a great excuse for some sardines (for a bit of oily fish in the diet). A ragú is really simple too - there's nothing to it and hell, it's easier to use canned tomatoes (which are cheaper than their fresh counterpart).

Which means, at the moment, my inspiration is coming out mainly from Asian and Italian cuisine.

A lot of those things that we pay top dollar for were actually considered peasant food. The classic example of this is pizza - where it's not that unusual to pay more than $15 for one. I'm thinking about doing a recipe for pizza - assuming that a serving is half a pizza that I can spend a total of $4.50 on (actually surprisingly challenging as I like using cheeses such as blue vein and feta on pizza).

Spaghetti Bolognese probably fits into this category to some extent i.e. what quality of meat do you really need? And hell - chances are, it's even cheaper to do it in a slow cooker rather than using mince (in which case, you could use cheaper tough meat that, after a day of cooking, should practically melt in the mouth). Of course, I would have to find a good butcher in order to try this.

Risotto and congee have something in common - you can add just about anything to it. So they're both recipes that just keep on giving (though I'm pretty sure congee takes an insane amount of time to cook. I'm going to try it at a food court to get a feel for what it's supposed to be like).

But what's even more interesting is the way various cultures approach food. This is a hell of a lot harder as I'm currently using my father's first hand experience, and what cooking/travel shows have told me. So I assume that the Italians had nothing better to do than sit around for hours at a time gestating food for example - cause that's what TV said. I'd love to find sources of information on this sort of thing. Any hints anyone?

So I've got sooo much further to go. And winter's going to be interesting. Seeing as I'm sticking to seasonal things, then vegetables are going to change. I'd love to do a Ratatouille as it's just a delightful vegetarian dish that seems to stick to the ribs on cold winter nights. Of course, this is dependant on the price of egg plant.

In other words... watch this space. I'm starting to think that there may be an opportunity to get a sort of collaborative "keep it cheap" recipe site going. After all, interdependence is a way out of poverty...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The $2 Project: What I've learnt so far

I'm really enjoying this. Okay, so I haven't been nearly as strict as I should be on it, but it has changed my perspective significantly.

I'm enjoying quite a bit more energy - something that goes hand in hand with my new exercise buzz. I had decided that I would get some exercise after new years in an attempt to save me some money. Wait... Save money? Yep. Save money. I was having back problems and seeing a chiropractor who was charging me near on $50 / visit. I realised that all I really needed to do was to get out there and allow my back to sort itself. So $50 / week saved - just by getting some exercise. Of course, I went for a free option - plugged into a pair of headphones while jogging around and up and down Mt Eden. I've even gotten the rowing machine out - so that gives me an option for winter.

The kitchen was getting painted and so I found myself without a kitchen for a little under a week. Sod it - I can pause the project for a week right? Only it was REALLY difficult. The way that I eat has changed significantly. A burger and some chips from Burger Fuel one day for lunch cost around $15 - and I felt like crap afterwards. It wasn't that the food was particularly bad. It's just that my body has adjusted to meals that have a focus on fibre and nutrition (I think). I don't eat nearly as much as I used to and the meals I've been making don't really have a great deal of fat.

Funnily enough, I haven't been losing weight as you'd expect. The combination of the change in food and exercise has me building muscle. I'm hoping for a bit of weight loss soon though I'm kind of enjoying having the muscle tone.

What really surprised me though is that I'm not struggling with this. Okay, so I could do with a few more recipes. But the food is satisfying. I'm not missing the expensive ingredients (I watched an episode of Master Chef Master Class where one of the chef's was talking about anchovies and claimed the reason people don't like them normally is because they're eating cheap anchovies. He then went on to say that at his restaurant they use anchovies that cost $1.60 / fillet. That's almost a meal!) TOO much.

But what's really surprised me is the contrast between $2.25 / meal and what people see as reasonable. Someone said to me that they'd brought a huge (2 litre container) amount of salad for $18! She was horrendously excited about it. $18?!? While I've got to admit it was an okay salad (I prefer my beetroot to be in smaller bits - small cubes or grated), that's ridiculous. A few years ago I considered anything under $10 to be a bargain.

Which brings me to an interesting point. I didn't realise that I had gone to a primary school that was considered "decile 10". Basically, in a wealthy (The decile system also has letters associated to it. So decile 1A is the poorest of the poor while a 10Z - I don't believe this actually exists - would be scaringly wealthy) area. It turns out that no one around me considers themselves to be well off BUT they live in an area that's considered well above average in terms of income. What do I conclude from this? That we're taught to live outside of our means and to view ourselves as not as good off as the next person.

So what would happen to the weekly grocery bill if we all started to look at what food items we're actually buying and buying more... appropriately? Would we still all look for that $15 steak? Would a "price of a cup of coffee" still be used as an indication of how inconsequential an amount was?

Oh - one bill has increased. Given my exercise, I'm now having to wash my clothing on a heavy cycle rather than just regular. So a bit more water and electricity. Still, given the benefits, that's a sacrifice I'm perfectly willing to make.

While we're on the whole diet discussion - I always hate it when the news comes up with a story about how some food item is unhealthy for you because someone was an idiot consumed stupid amounts of something. The latest in that vein has been the Coke death. The woman in question had had health problems for months leading up to her death and didn't consider up to 10 litres a day of Coke to not be in her own best interest. She had fair warning and STILL didn't do anything about it. I remember a few years ago there was something similar said about smart drinks. ANYTHING consumed in stupid quantities will kill you - Too much oxygen (concentrations above 50%) will kill you. So will too much water (drowning and water overdose).... This warning's been given before.

Super Size Me was spurred on by lawsuits against MacDonald's about their food being unhealthy. People should know better... or listen to their body's warnings.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Into the Æther

In the last couple of weeks I've had a friend complain that his comments just aren't showing up on the blog. I'm not getting any sort of notification for it and moderation is off (something that has caused me to cringe at times knowing that there are a few impressionable kids reading this blog).

Anyone have any suggestions on how to fix this? I know some comments do go through the normal thing - Someone posts a comment, I get an email which gets me all excited and dreading the worst all at the same time (dreading the worst i.e. some intelligible message that would send me into a state of indecision as I tried to make a decision on whether to remove the content and essentially "censoring the man" or leave it up there and try and make sense of it. But some just don't get far at all. My Spam folder is also completely empty - something I find mildly disconcerting.

So for a few months I've been having a good old whinge about the one way nature of blogs. I really am talking to myself and I know there are people out there (this reminds me of an episode of Doctor Who where they're marking themselves every time they see an alien that they instantly forget) but... if no one speaks (types) a word, and there is someone there to hear (read) it, are they really there? Really?

Anyway, there is of course an alternative way to get in touch with me (though I still haven't tested that it works) if you might have a solution for me... Check out this post.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Breakfast

So one of the big things that I've realised doing this $2 project is that breakfast is little more than a profit making business. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then why do we spend so little time on it? Think about the amount of space taken up by cereals at the local supermarket and the rituals around it. What we see as breakfast options... We're lead to believe that healthy should be textured like cardboard and taste horrendous. Or that people are too busy and so we have products like "Up and Go". Sugary cereals, fat filled corn flakes, pancakes/flapjacks/pikelets, the good ol' fry up or the unfulfilling fruit.

Furthermore, these options seem excessively pricey. A couple of years ago I was in a cafe in Parnel when I noticed that they had porridge on the menu. $10 for a bowl of porridge. Probably one of the cheapest breakfast items on the market (so long as you don't go for the speciality items like individual serves, "instant" porridge or various flavours - you're better off buying dried fruit to flavour it yourself) and it was being sold in a cafe for an amazingly excessive price.

And all for the sake of saving a few minutes in the morning. I'm convinced that you can both make and sit down and have an enjoyable sit down and even do the clean up all within 1/2 an hour (10 minutes for each) - probably less time than it would take at the local cafe. What's more, the energy from a proper meal should be greater. Going out with the fibre from rice or pasta in your stomach means that you're probably not going to start fading half way through the day.

Stop reaching for that can of soup, pasta cup, muesli bar etc. and have a real meal with vegetables, carbohydrates and protein...

So as part of my $2 project (it just has a better ring to it than the $2.25 project), I've been, not exactly skipping breakfast, but thinking of breakfast as just a meal. So I've been cooking. Carbonara is a particular favourite. Although... traditionally carbonara was a breakfast thing anyway. Recipe to follow (once I've brought some bacon - there's a conversation there to be had about picking bacon). There's something to be said here about what's considered breakfast in other parts of the world. Asking my father what they used to do for breakfast in India, it was either left overs with a wholegrain Indian bread (a kind of whole grain version of Roti) or that same wholegrain bread with yoghurt. We're talking about the 1950's. Mr Breakfast.com lists out quite a few breakfasts. Look for the links on the left for different regions.

The Asian-inspired pepper prawns also work quite well. In fact, it seems that with this whole effort, just about any $2.25 meal would work - given that they're all (thus far) fairly quick to make.

So let's get onto a recipe - but first... bacon. Bacon comes in horribly diverse quality. Personally I like a rindless middle bacon but it's horrendously expensive. You can use quite a bit less in most recipes as it normally has a slightly stronger flavour than the cheaper stuff. So as part of this project I've been looking at cheaper options. I started by buying the cheapest pack I could possibly find. It was a fairly large pack, had an expiration date (something you don't normally see on bacon) and looked nasty. It was nasty. It kind of had the texture of luncheon and right on the expiration date, it kind of turned into a mushy mess. Hint: if it doesn't really look like meat - like off a pig - and has an expiration date on the packet, it's best to avoid it. Cooking it was horrid. It would stick and wouldn't crispen up unless it had been turned to charcoal. AND it had absolutely no flavour.

Why would I be so against an expiration date? A friend of mine brought "smoked salmon" and found that it went off on him. Smoking is supposed to extract the water and with a little salt should result in a preserved product. He enquired at the supermarket and it turns out it's not actually a smoked meat but rather, a smoke flavoured product.

Bacon's supposed to go through a similar process - smoked, salted and cured. So if it has an expiration date, it's probably a bacon like product rather than bacon.

Tonight I've brought a small pack (4 rashers. 200g) of bacon - of the Countdown supermarket brand, Signature Range. Opening it was a pleasant experience - it smelt like bacon. A little smokiness with just a hint of Manuka honey.

Carbonara

Ingredients

A note about the ingredients. You should be able to buy a lot of these things on special. Pasta, if in a sealed bag, should last years. Bacon, if it doesn't have an expiration date, will probably last a few weeks without any problem - if done right, it should last longer.
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (no real need to get picky here though I think that one of the biggest advantages of an expensive oil is that you're conscious of how much it cost in which case you're less likely to use too much).
  • A pinch of chilli flakes (This can probably be omitted though I think it works better with - it lends the bacon a little smokiness and gives the overall dish a little kick. Some Italian cooking uses quite a bit of chilli anyway, so it's still fairly authentic. I guess you could use a smoked paprika but add it a little later in the dish - burning your paprika wouldn't be good).
  • 1 rasher of bacon ($1.05 normally though I brought it on sale at $0.85 a rasher).
  • 1 clove of garlic. (I normally forget to put the garlic in).
  • 1/4 of a 500g pack of spaghetti ($0.575 - though on special, it was $0.50)
  • 1 egg
  • A palm full of parsley (finely chopped) - preferably home grown Italian flat leaf parsley. I also think that this could be filled out a bit using a little bit of spinach just to get your greens in there.
  • A palm full of grated parmesan or romano cheese (I need to quantify this as parmesan and romano are horrendously expensive. I spoke to Baillie about this the other day who said that you can buy big 1kg bags of ready grated stuff from places like Gilmours or Toops though I want to keep this project to things that I can buy without accounts* and the like). I would love suggestions on places to get romano or parmesan from OR suitable replacements - for both texture and flavour.

Method

  • Put your spaghetti on to cook. A few tips: make sure your water is REALLY hot before putting your spaghetti in. Add some salt to the water. It's better to have a large pot with your pasta swimming around rather than crowding your pasta in a small pot. To test if it's ready, it's kind of fun throwing it a wall. If it sticks, it's ready. If it bounces, keep cooking it. It should be a violent boil. It should take around 10 minutes to cook.
  • Chop up your bacon into small bits. Crush your garlic (i.e. crush when peeling, chop up into small bits. DON'T use garlic from a jar or from out of the freezer if you can avoid it. If you use a garlic crusher, you tend to use a bit of texture).
  • Put your oil, chilli flakes, garlic and a pinch of salt into a frying pan. When it's come to heat, throw in the bacon. Turn down your stove to a low heat. You're trying to infuse those flavours into the bacon while dehydrating the bacon to make it resemble pancetta.
  • Mix up your egg with the parsley and cheese in another vessel (I just use a cup). It'll be kind of thick.
  • When the pasta is ready, turn the heat off on the bacon. It should now be crispy.
  • Pour in 1/4 of a cup of the water from the pasta onto the bacon. Drain the pasta and throw it in on top of the bacon. If you have too much water in your pan (It should just sit on the bottom and sit about 1/3 of the way up the pasta), burn it off NOW. Give it time to cool down (3 minutes should be okay) before proceeding.
  • Add your egg mixture to the bacon and pasta and mix (I like using tongs here). If the temperature of the water is just right, the eggs and cheese will combine with the water to become creamy. Some recipes will tell you to use a fat in this step as well - olive oil, lard or butter, or even, cream. I think this is completely unnecessary. Choose your battles. There are better places to use fat to richen up meals and really - who wants to start the day with craploads of fat?
  • Chuck it on a plate and you should be sweet. Top it off with a parsley leaf or two.
I was going to add a photo but the sample I made had too much water which lead to a soupy like texture instead of creamy. If this happens you've got two choices - quickly whisk up another egg and throw in with some more grated parmesan, OR apply a little heat (keeping to budget) which results in a scrambled egg texture AND a soupy mess... In other words. the water is really important. That teaches me for not paying attention.

Another suggestion - the lost comment - came through to use a little flour to help thicken it up. I made it again today and so have a photo though this one was also a little thin - this time the water was a little cold. Flavour was great. Texture mostly okay. When you get it just right it's like nothing you've ever eaten before.

* Is there an opportunity here to buy in bulk and sell to friends and neighbours? A kind of communal (oh so very hippy of me) bulk buying agreement...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Does Virtual Stop Being Virtual?

It seems the online world is now not so virtual. We've seen things like Youtube celebs turning into real life celebs. The likes of Justin Bieber and PSY (Gagnam Style. Apparently he was already famous in Korea as being a kind of equivalent to Weird Al Yankovich). But it goes deeper than that.

"Unfriending" someone on facebook results in people avoiding other people in real life. During my time on Google Plus I kind of realised this when I thought that someone's online presence was kind of dumb (an obsession with the service) and apologised for removing her from my circles (in meatspace). The article linked about also says that females are more likely to avoid someone in real life after being unfriended.

This goes into the whole difference between communication in the different genders. I've decided that us males are quite aggressive in the way that we communicate. I remember having an argument with a friend about the best way to deal with boxes of stuff. I quite like the "put the box out of the way. After a certain period of time, chuck the box out". The reasoning being that if you've gone through the effort to find stuff, then it's stuff you'll use. Anything that's still in the box after that predetermined amount of time is obviously not all that important. He thought the being tough, made for TV style was better - go through the box and form 2 piles - chuck out, keep. No inbetween. We might as well have been yelling at each other. It was dumb. But we still had a coffee together. We knew it was dumb...

Meanwhile, last night on TV, during Hell's Kitchen, there was an interesting example of this same communication style - only applied to a female. The blue team now has a female and when it came to putting someone's neck on the chopping block, one of the guys said something to the female character which most males would dismiss and probably tell the guy to go fornicate himself. She cried. The funny bit was the men's reaction to this. They genuinely didn't know what to do or why she was crying.

But back to the matter at hand. Back in 2007 a 17 year old was arrested for stealing virtual furniture from an online social media game called "Habbo Hotel". In 2010, the Finnish police were again searching computers for stolen virtual furniture. In 2009 a man was arrested for "stealing" avatars from a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG - I kid you not). Also in 2009, a man made off with 200 billion kredits, the legal currency of "Eve Online" - another MMORPG. Those kredits were then sold and the proceeds used to put a deposit on a house. This list could go on and on.

It turns out that they take the theft of virtual stuff brought with real money seriously. But where are people's values? I remember being at a friend's and their son was practically hyperventilating in his quest to find the hidden room in a level of a game. When he was sat down and told "It doesn't matter. None of it has any meaning" the child became more inconsolable. When I ask "Where are people's values?" I'm not talking about immoral behaviour, but more, what people find important. If you're playing a game, do you then go and spend craploads of money on a sword? Do you spend a little bit more for that virtual couch that's a little more comfortable than that other virtual couch just so that your virtual self can be a bit more comfortable? And if you're running this sort of thing and find out someone has stolen a virtual couch... well the manufacturing costs are pretty low - you could "give" them a virtual couch and fix up the security flaw that allowed the theft to happen. You've got to wonder about the sort of person who buys kredits - paying enough that the proceeds can then be used on the deposit on a house.

Facebook is a little bit harder due to their use of language. You can friend someone or "unfriend" them. You send out invites (This is a cause of distress to me. I won't go on Facebook but as a result I miss a whole lot of invitations. There are some people I haven't seen for years as a result. Being stubborn has its sacrifices) and people can RSVP (or apply a "maybe").

Speaking of the good ol' maybe. Back in the day - before cellphones and the various bits of technology around them, we'd have to make plans and then keep them. Standing someone up was an offensive which couldn't be dismissed with a single text. The way that we communicate and how we take things like changed plans (or ambiguous plans - although, meeting at a cafe wasn't so hard because they weren't chain stores with the possibility of 2 or 3 on the same street) has changed dramatically.

So I arrive back at the question "Where are people's values?". My own values don't see games as terribly important and the fact that people spend stupid amounts of time and money on it is, to me, their fault/problem. A less moral version of me would probably be looking for ways to leverage the fact that there are people out there who are willing to throw lots of money towards these thigns. The virtual social world of facebook/myspace/google plus etc., while can be used for social aspects (getting invites, making plans to meet up in person etc.), doesn't reflect how I feel about people. There are people who I've blocked on email, not because I don't like them, but because I don't like the content they send me (Various virus warnings. Ways of making money online. Religious chain mails etc.). I get that people probably don't always appreciate my roguish ramblings challenging them not to see money as "all that and a bag of chips" (go on... become a hippy with me).

Unfriend me.... see if I care (Just try not to mess up my stats on your way out).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Now Without Ads!

I'm kind of obsessed by my stats on this blog. Sure, it's not a terribly popular blog but I find myself fascinated by the various trends. For example, when I started this blog, it was very obviously a New Zealand audience. In the last few months my audience has become predominantly American.

It's a little bit strange. There are people who I talk to on a regular basis who sometimes reference something I've said on the blog. I think I've said it before - writing a post is a bit like me talking to myself - so when someone references a blog post I find myself in a small panic wondering if I've thought out loud... which of course, I have.

Something in my stats has me scratching my head. For whatever reason, there's a link to this blog on a site about making money from your blog! The first listing on that site in fact - or rather, single page. Wait... Okay, so if I could make a living from being an egotistical ranter with a belief that everyone should be a hippy (a reference to something that Baillie said to me) I probably would. There's something really liberating about taking a subject that's been plaguing you and being able to put it down in writing and hoping that it makes some sort of sense.

And of course, sometimes it does! and there are some times where I'm looking at a post thinking "Well... that was pointless". For example, I don't think I did the whole poverty line bit justice.

I'm still trying to figure out a few more meals. Carbonara might be a starter - on the condition that you're growing your own parsley (or can get some from a neighbour/friend etc.) and you don't go overboard on the parmesan (though if I could find a replacement to parmesan....) then it might just fit in.

And a risotto is ALWAYS a win. Take frozen peas and make an incredibly vibrant green risotto. Thrown in prawns and use fish stock (or alternatively, a small splash of Thai fish sauce) and you've got a fantastic "seafood" risotto.

Agli-Olio with sardines is a brilliant way to get a bit of oily fish in your diet but needs some consideration when buying sardines (and still needs parmesan).

This is also an opportunity to look at the ways that different cultures treat food. Someone commented to me about the oiliness of Indian food. But from what I learnt of my father, a curry was something that was shared from a single dish with others with Indian bread (roti) - there was a limited amount of it and it was really just enough to get a taste. After that they filled up on rice. So the meal could be oily and the sweets horribly rich and sugar filled... because there was so little of it.

But I digress... I'm thinking out loud again. So I'm a little astounded. Some random person by the name of "Mary", who wants to show you how to make money from your blog, links to my blog - where I'm often talking about living frugally rather than looking for obscene amounts of money...

Of course... I have my price. If my blog ever got seriously popular I might be tempted. So, while I'm still not horribly popular (but surprisingly popular all the same), enjoy - this blog. Now (and previously) without ads!

Just before I finish this post, I should probably mention that I've invited Lynda (the author of that blog I've been ranting about for a few posts now) to ramble. I have no idea if she'll actually take me up on the offer (after all, she does get paid to write in which case, it might all seem like work) but if a post does appear from her.... well... I've warned you.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Should you use a virus scanner on Linux?

I've just been reading a whole lot of dross about virus scanners in schools. I call it dross because it's one of those things that always had me incredulous about MS Windows. When buying a new machine, normally with Windows unfortunately (I still value the choice of machine over the Redmond tax), the sales man offers to sell me a virus scanner which isn't just a virus scanner! It'll take care of spyware as well!. They often give me a blank look when I tell them that the first thing I'll be doing is getting rid of Windows. They normally make the offer again.

It feels to me that I'm buying a leaky bucket and a patch kit. Why is this considered normal?! Every now and again I get asked about virus scanners for Linux from Windows users trying Linux for the first time.

Most of the viruses I know of in Linux attack very specific versions of a particular distribution of Linux. Things like the Ramen worm. And thus, I've been able to take it as a point of pride that my a great deal of my system's resources don't need to go into running a virus scanner. I remember turning off the virus scanner in order to play certain games which needed those resources.

So not only, when running Windows, do I find people spending money on a virus scanner, but also they're having to pay for the computing resources to run it. Hardware, running costs (electricity) etc. It's the leaky bucket that keeps on giving!

So when should you run a virus scanner? I'm of the opinion that it's great for mail servers. But what about your standard desktop? Wikipedia have a list of malware for Linux here. The Mac OS X list is pretty small too - though it seems to mainly center around "social engineering" - that is, relying on the user to get past security (those pages that tell you that you have a virus and should install X piece of software to get rid of it).

I've heard the argument, time and time again, that Linux and Mac OS X enjoy a certain reprieve as they're not as widely used as Windows. What has become obvious to me though is the growth in viruses hasn't been in proportion with Windows.

And now conspiracy theory time... It's normal to buy a virus scanner for Windows and without a few scares, it wouldn't be quite as lucrative a market. What if the only people who had an interest in virus' on platforms were the ones making virus scanners? Selling software for the Linux platform has never really been easy and given the income generated by corporate Windows users, would targeting what is essentially a niche market (Mac OS X) make any sense?

The funny bit though, when computer talk about virus scanners, they talk about all 3 platforms. I'm not convinced. I think it's really hard to justify on both Mac OS X and Linux. But it's the norm right? ISP's everywhere are telling you that you should install a virus scanner. Hell, I'm sure Netsafe carry the same line.

What if people just swapped their leaky bucket for one that worked?

Amendment 4/2/2013
I just had a thought. Tonight at around 10:30 I had one of those silent calls that eventually ends in a "goodbye" in an automated female voice. A quick search on the Internet reveals that it's an approach used by scam artists - apparently the dailer does all of the hard work of finding someone at home willing to pick up the phone. Once the phone's been picked up, it attempts to find an operator on the other end. If one's available, you're connected to an "operator". Online reports show that it's most frequently those MS virus scams - claims that they're technicians and they've found a virus on your machine which they'll gladly fix for you remotely for a couple of hundred dollars.

How many times have you received a virus warning via email only to:

  1. Look at the format of the thing - if it's got more than 2 different fonts and about the same for font sizes - and uses bold in the middle of the text it's almost definitely a fake though I did at one stage inquire about getting my LPIC (Linux Professional Institute Certification) from Seek learning and got an email back that didn't pass this test - and think this is hinky?
  2. Did a little bit of research on the Internet to discover it's a hoax?
  3. Forwarded it, being a "conscientious" (gullible) person,  only to get back a reply back saying it's a hoax and to stop forwarding such rubbish?
Viruses have a much worst effect - they have people installing crap (Win7 Defender), willing to pay stupid amounts to get rid of suspected viruses (otherwise the MS virus phone scam wouldn't be successful) and of course, Hollywood has people looking out for things like screen glitches...