15 September 2015

Greyhound Facts: All 110% True

Greyhounds are the fartiest breed of dog. It was believed this added propulsive boost. Currently 0.03% of greenhouse gases are produced by greyhounds.

Greyhounds are a type of sitehound. Sitehounds were bred by the Romans to protect building sites, especially wooden fortresses, from beavers and chipmunks. At the time, the now-extinct Eurasian Brindle Beaver (castor fiber celeritas) could run at speeds up to 37mph in open fields. With a top speed around 45mph, greyhounds were highly effective at varmint clearing, at least when they weren't napping.

Roman attempts to train greyhounds for battle failed first by the battledog squad spotting a squirrel half a mile from the battle site. Later attempts were foiled by enemies surrounding themselves with staircases.

Greyhounds can poop more mass than they take in, due to quantum effects that are not yet fully understood. NASA is studying this phenomenon as it may yield the basis for a form of low-mass space propulsion.

In Welsh fortresses, greyhounds were trained to sleep in hallways to trip intruders.

12 July 2015


Why does the AI engineer need to ask the CEO to run a test?
Why does the CEO not see the potential monetization of an AI breakthrough?
Why does the Hugh Jackman character, an engineer at a robotics company, wear a sidearm?
Chappie displays a childlike wonder and curiosity until he's dumped by the first black people he's encountered, at which point he's immediately afraid. Why?
Why does he stand still and take a beating when he could just run away?
Why does he refer to himself in the third person?
Why can't they just recharge the battery?
If the robots can't be updated without the single "guard key" plugged into each one's physical port, how was the remote simultaneous firmware upgrade possible?

Neil, we hear you want to make a new version of Robocop. What are you going to do with the satire and cynical humour?
 -- Replace it with cloying schmaltz.
Great! Robocop was a sympathetic character. What are you going to do to fix that?
 -- Our robot will be super annoying, babble constantly, and refer to himself in the third person.

Who's doing the soundtrack? 
 -- Die Antwoord. 
Cool. Can Ninja and Yo-Landi also act? 
 -- Not at all.
What if they just play themselves?
 -- Even then, still not at all.
Fantastic, let's have them star.

Neil, the first hour of District 9 was really good before it got kind of bad. Then only the first 15 minutes of Elysium was good before the lousy set in. Can you do better for Chappie?
 -- You mean make the entire movie bad from the beginning? Can do!

11 July 2015

CO2 production for Teslas

I was curious about the marginal g CO2 per km for average case of a Tesla here in the UK. 100 g/km is the threshold below which you pay no road tax. A midrange VW Golf petrol puts out about 110 g/km. The lowest-emitting (and also slowest) BMW 5-series sedan puts out 109 g/km. Neither of these are as roomy or as performant as a Tesla (not even close).

The biggest battery available on the Tesla is 85 kWh. The NEDC range estimate yields 5.9 km/kWh. That's pretty generous. The more conservative EPA estimate is 5 km/kWh. In the UK, the power generation mix has shown coal declining (predictably, but still good to see). In 1Q15 the mix was 22.3% renewables, 31.3% coal, 25.0% gas, 19.1% nuclear, and the remainder "oil and other".

For those, the blended rate of emissions for UK suppliers shows, for CO2, 910 g/kWh, 390 for gas, 590 for other, 0, obviously, for renewables and nuclear. Thus using a blended rate and the more conservative EPA range estimate the Tesla Model S would be putting out 80g/km CO2. Given the size and performance of that car, that's pretty impressive. Also this is contingent upon supply. So any reduction in CO2 output from electricity suppliers affects this number. Likewise if you charge your Tesla from homegrown solar or badger wheels, your nominal rate of CO2 production will be accordingly lower.

14 May 2015

CGI In Moderation

Heartened to see what I hope's a trend of the return of practical effects and the more judicious use of CGI.

In 2008, Roget Ebert said of the ambitiously no-CGI film The Fall, "There will never be another like it."

Hopefully not true, but since then the action/adventure film-making crowd has gone bonkers with CGI, with poor results, even for huge budget movies. Here's a nice rundown of complaints: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-expensive-films-end-up-with-crappy-special-effects/

The best answer to overuse of CGI is to make better movies without [so much of] it. JJ Abrams is going for lots of practical effects in the new Star Wars. And the love for Mad Max Fury Road is just warming up. After reading about how they filmed it with almost no CGI  and about all the cars, I can't wait to see it myself.

08 May 2015

UK Election Results 2015

The results are mostly in. Electing the UK parliament is done via what's the known as the "First Past The Post" [FPTP] voting scheme. The naming of this scheme enrages me out of proportion. It is a terrible name. The voting scheme should simply be called "Most Votes Wins" [MVW], which would be fewer syllables and also accurate. FPTP makes zero sense. What post? There is no post. A post is a fixed object. Majority is not necessary in FPTP voting, a simple plurality is all that it takes. And "first"? First what? First implies there can be second past the post. In a horse race, most or all of the horses pass the post. In the absence of time bonuses or penalties, the horse first past the post wins. This is nothing like a Most Votes Wins election. It drives me crazy. Seriously. I want to go to an alternate voting scheme just to get rid of that name.

Anyway, here are the headline results

party seats     votes  vote                   share seat share votes/seat
CON 331  11,334,920 36.9% 50.9%  34,244
LAB 232  9,347,326 30.4% 35.7%  40,290
SNP 56  1,454,436 4.7% 8.6%  25,972
LD 8  2,415,888 7.9% 1.2%  301,986
UKIP 1  3,881,129 12.6% 0.2%  3,881,129
Green 1  1,157,613 3.8% 0.2%  1,157,613

SNP gets a fantastic bargain with the lowest votes per seat. UKIP has the most to complain about on this count. Looks obvious that none of CON, LAB, or SNP would benefit from alternate voting so unlikely the voting scheme will change anytime soon.

21 December 2014


Saw the third Hobbit movie today. Wow was it awful. But not quite bad enough to be comical. Just boring.

Takes real... vision? to make a "Hobbit" trilogy and leave the main character out of the finale. Almost, anyway. The very few scenes with Bilbo actually in them were the highlights of the movie. None of the rest made much sense, including the 15-hour battle scene that my youngest aptly described as "like a 6-yr-old playing with miniatures."

I'm not actually bent out of shape that it differed from the book. I got over that after the first movie. I might be the only viewer who liked the long, slow start of the first movie, where the dwarves eat a lot and have some fun at Bilbo's expense. It kind of went off the rails after that.

I quite liked the second film. I fully accepted it as not at all the book and found it to be pretty fun -- a good adventure.

But this one. No fun at all. Just tedium. And for as long as the battle lasted (i.e. forever), including some interminable individual fight scenes, none of it made much sense.

(I also wondered where all the other mountains came from -- when we were approaching this thing for the previous 6 hours of film, "The Lonely Mountain" was a single mountain surrounded by plains,  but for the final battle, suddenly it was surrounded by additional mountains, including one that had towers and a frozen lake for some reason. Later they go back to drawing it as a solitary mountain in the middle of plains.)

(Also, how tall are orcs supposed to be, actually? Some are 5-ft tall. A few are 8-ft tall. What about trolls? Some are about 10 ft tall. Others are 30 ft tall. Inconsistent scale bothers me. Have a flying squid-orc-wombat-fungus-chicken hybrid monster for all I care, but it shouldn't change size from scene to scene.)

Ok, the forbidden love between elf and dwarf was (unintentionally) comical. Billy Connolly playing a dwarf leader as a Scottish bar brawler was entertaining. I liked his battle pig as well. And his beard. Martin Freeman was great in his 90 seconds of screen time. Not sure if there were any other bright spots.

Although I'd given up on it being in any way an adaptation of the book, the sad thing is that the book is a short and charming little adventure story, with just enough sadness and death at the end to make it a truly good children's tale.

Oh well.

22 November 2014

iPhone 5 Connector Problems? Clean Your Ports!

I started having problems with my earphones for my iPhone 5 -- the controls on them stopped working even though they still worked fine on other devices. Around the same time, charging with the lightning connector started to get dodgy. It would seem to flip on and off at random. Baffled me for a while until I tried cleaning the ports out with a toothpick.

The amount of lint I pulled out of each was unbelievable. They must not have been seating well in there. It took longer than I would have expected before I was not getting any more lint out with the toothpick, then switched to the air duster. Everything working perfectly after that.

31 August 2014

Financial Press: Mostly For Entertainment Purposes Only

One of the fun things about looking at stock prices on Google Finance is the scroll of related "news" items on the right. Most of these should really be ignored. Here's an example of my favourite perpetrator of uselessness, Motley Fool UK, and their "coverage" of HSBC for only a single month:

SELL!  aug 1st: The Risks Of Investing In HSBC Holdings plc
BUY!   aug 4th: Better-Than-Expected Results Boost HSBC Holdings plc
BUY!   aug 6th: The 3 FTSE 100 Shares I'd Buy First: HSBC Holdings plc, GlaxoSmithKline p...
BUY!   aug 7th: The FTSE 100′s Hottest Dividend Picks: HSBC Holdings plc
SELL!  aug 7th: Standard Chartered PLC And HSBC Holdings plc Struggle In Asia
BUY!   aug 8th: HSBC Holdings plc: The FTSE 100's Best Bank?
BUY!   aug 12th: Is Now The Right Time To Buy HSBC Holdings plc?
SELL!  aug 13th: Why HSBC Holdings plc Will Struggle To Move Higher [ed: HSBC has traded higher than the aug 13th close every day since this pronouncement]
BUY!   aug 15th: Why HSBC Holdings plc, GlaxoSmithKline plc, Royal Dutch Shell Plc And J Sainsbury plc Are Better Than Bonds
SELL!  aug 18th: Regulatory Pressure Will Prevent HSBC Holdings plc, Banco Santander SA And Lloyds Banking Group PLC From Pushing Higher
BUY!   aug 20th: 3 Neil Woodford Fast Earnings-Growers: HSBC Holdings plc, NEXT plc and ...
BUY!   aug 20th: 5 Key Reasons To Buy HSBC Holdings plc
BUY!   aug 22nd: Are Standard Chartered PLC & HSBC Holdings plc A Bargain Right Now?
SELL!  aug 26th: Could HSBC Holdings plc's Dividend Be Under Threat?
BUY!   aug 27th: The Benefits Of Investing In HSBC Holdings plc
???       aug 28th: HSBC Holdings plc, GlaxoSmithKline plc, BP plc & BHP Billiton plc Are Holding Back The FTSE 100

21 June 2014

Opera: Season 1 Done

I've gone apeshit for arias, bonkers for bel canto. After seeing my first-ever opera in September I ended up going to eight for the season at the ROH, and I've already booked a couple more missions for next season.

orchestra stalls --> stalls circle --> grand tier --> balcony --> AMPHITHEATRE WOOHOO!

I did get to sit all over the place as well. The front row of the amphitheatre, way way up there, had astoundingly good acoustics. Unbelievable. Like the singers were mixed straight out in front on a platter. Crystal clear.

The cheeriness of the crowd when I went to see Figaro was no fluke. The experience was uniformly festive. No stuffiness and everyone always seems really happy: we get to see an opera tonight! What's not to be cheerful about?

And yes, I did use the cloakroom on several occasions and it's true, the ROH cloakroom is an amazement. Free, fast, friendly, efficient -- qualities so foreign to any area of service in the UK that at first it seems like a scam of some sort. But no, just a really pleasant surprise.

For the season I ended up seeing:
Marriage of Figaro
La Fille du Regiment
La Traviata

For me, opera is not just the music. There's acting! And a story. And staging. And even some dancin' -- notably the gypsy dance on the card table in La Traviata, the over-the-top ballet sequence in Faust, and Elektra's insane death-dance were highlights.

For most operas I went in cold -- deliberately knowing nothing about them. I found this heightened enjoyment of the story. For Tosca I listened to the full opera, without knowing the story, a few times before the performance. That seemed to work out well but not strictly necessary.

I really enjoyed them all. Figaro I loved. Wozzeck I liked a lot more than I expected to. Likewise ElektraTurandot was probably my least favourite, although the staging and spectacle were quite impressive, as were the two leading ladies. But the story was pretty bad, and the leading man had a couple issues. One is that although he did a fine job as far as I could tell (I'm not sure I can tell yet, one way or another), the women were rattling the rafters and pretty much overpowering him. The second issue is Nessun Dorma, which is now known for Pavarotti's renditions. That's a hard act to follow.

But it carried a bit more emotional weight for me because I remember [and I hope this is not a false memory] Gramps really liking Pavarotti. All those years ago I recall not understanding it, and rolling my eyes at The Three Tenors. At the same time Gramps was rolling his eyes at my music, so fair play. But now I get it. While I'd never go see something like a Three Tenors concert, I get it now. Here they are hamming it up, charmingly, in the last minute of O Sole Mio.

Fortunately Dad is still around, and tickled that two more generations have gotten into opera. If Gramps were still with us he'd be mighty pleased as well.

22 May 2014

PaleoCat Life Plan

PaleoCat on Fridge: a performance-art piece offering an unironic, melancholic comment on obligatory subservience to industrialized technology as required by neolithic sustenance practices. Or trying to get to the catnip.

Our cat recently had to go in for surgery due to blocked urinary tract & bladder stones. I'd been feeding him what I thought was a decent dry food but with this problem we've put him exclusively on "wet" [meaning real meat] food. Best quality I can find.

He lost a lot of weight in the hospital. When he first adopted us he was half-starved. Greedy little guy plumped right up pretty quickly. Now he's at "ideal" weight according to the vet. He's been home for six weeks now but has still maintained the lean figure. He's also peppier and his eyes seem brighter and bigger somehow.

You might think the lesson from this would be that animals, including humans, do better on species-appropriate diets, but you'd be wrong. The real lesson is that we should all live just like this cat.

I'll go first. My day will consist of 22 hours of lying about, interspersed with wandering around looking for an even better place to sleep. Giant pile of socks? Sure. Comforter? Of course. Inside a suitcase? Maybe.

The remaining two hours each day will be spent eating, frolicking, and begging for drugs.

21 April 2014

BurgerWeek 2

Not quite two years ago we did BurgerWeek (links for original at bottom). We decided it was time for another. We bracketed it with two from the previous BurgerWeek but tried five new (to us) places in between.

Day 1: Lucky Chip
We kicked off BurgerWeek2 with a sunny Saturday lunch at Lucky ChipThe chips were even better than last time -- properly dry and crispy on the outside. Burgers were fantastic as expected. I got the El Chappo. With fresh spinach, blue cheese, garlic mayo, roasted jalapenos, and bacon, this would be a normal-person sandwich even without the burger. But the thick, pink-in-the-middle beef patty held its own against the strong flavours in play and the whole worked beautifully together. Savoury, garlicky, crunchy, juicy, beefy. Yeah, this is the one I get every time we come here when it's on offer. Hard not to. 

Later we had homemade doner kebabs for dinner. We can use bacon burgers this week to ensure we sustain weekly minimum pork fat levels, but we were worried about not getting enough lamb fat. The DIY doners did the trick nicely.

Day 2: Honest Burgers (Soho)
Honest Burgers: GBK for adults.
There are now five instances of the growing Honest chain. This was our first ever visit but won't be our last. The Soho branch is small but comfortable and very relaxed and cheerful, with friendly and just-attentive-enough service. 

So, the food? Well, the onion rings were the best we've had in the UK. They were the best because they were just normal batter-dipped onion rings done right, and the bar here is really low. 
Most London onion rings taste like rings of wound cling film coated in oil-soaked paper towel. For a nation that can do fine dipping pieces of cod into batter and then the fryer, onion ring mastery seems oddly elusive. The basket of rings came to the table piping hot, dry, not at all greasy, with a lovely dark golden crust. Beneath the crunch the onions were sweet and tender. They were what onion rings are supposed to be.  
excellent onion rings, Honest
The chips were similarly cooked well. We both appreciated the dusting with rosemary salt. For the burgers we both got the special "BrewBurger", a collaboration with BrewDog that the brewer describes thusly, "150g aged beef patty topped with Comté cheese, then piled high with 5am Saint candied bacon. Oh yes. Then on top of that, we've got beer fried onions, made with Punk IPA, and for the icing on the burgery cake we've developed a BBQ reduction with Paradox!"

It was sweet and tangy and beefy and hit the spot. We're hoping for more Honest branches. We put Honest above Byron (which we are quite fond of) in this category (and well above GBK).

Day 3: Bleecker St. Burger, Southbank
Food truck on Southbank. Bit disorganized but cheerful and pleasant. I got a double with cheese,Garvey got the blue cheese burger. Thick patties with decent beefy flavour. Chips were tasty enough but limp. Overall not terrible but pretty run of the mill. Not worth a special trip. A very large step below Lucky Chip. And in the area it's worth the extra 10 minutes walk across the river to go to MeatMarket. Unless you're baked out of your mind I'm at a loss to explain the overenthusiasm this place engenders.
We were far too sober for this one

Day 4: Comptoir Gascon
Holy mother of duck! Change of pace night. Comptoir Gascon used to be a deli until they turned it into a nice but casual bistro with the deli bits relegated to a small display in the corner. Food is Gascony focused, as you might guess. The space is inviting and comfortable, service warm and relaxed. We were here for the duckburgers. We nearly started with duck rillettes and crispy glazed barbecued duck neck, but instead got the irresistible "piggy treats". Amidst the charcuterie was a warm rectangle of the most perfect black pudding we've ever had. It was pure melting satin inside a crisp salty shell. Unbelievable. I seriously considered asking for some for dessert.
oh the black pudding
And the burgers? Duck burger topped with a generous slab of foie gras ("the deluxe"), covered in a nicely glazed bun. It was as savoury and as velvety rich as I'd hoped it would be. A warm ceramic bowl filled with luxurious chips cooked in duck fat matched perfectly. Looking forward to return visits.

Day 5: Patty & Bun
Calm down, it's just a burger
Queue up. Or don't. I don't like waiting in lines. Shockingly, this place had a 30-minute queue outside the door. I would never have eaten there but the youngster got there 45 minutes before I did and didn't mind waiting. So by the time I got there my wait was around a single minute. But seriously, no burger joint is worth a wait like that. MeatLiquor is about a three minute walk away. Within 30 minutes there are easily 10 decent burger places to go. Queuing up for food like that is really dumb, unless you'll be meeting your heroin dealer in the restaurant. Then it's ok.

Patty & Bun is a bit of a hybrid -- it's got table service but has more of the feel of a food truck or a takeaway shack. It's bustling, high-energy, positive vibe. Also noisy, small, packed, elbow-to-elbow. Service was super quick without being too aggressive. Despite the queue, the ladies next to us felt comfortable spending a lot of time just talking. They were already finished with their food before we sat down, and were still chatting away after we'd left. I was curious to see if the waitstaff would try to hurry them out, but they just accommodatingly left them to it.

a bit gloppy
The burgers were large and mighty. The patties were excellent. Thick, beefy, and cooked a perfect medium rare. Really outstanding. The buns, too, were top notch. The whole burger was a bit mixed. Bright orange cheese works better on thin diner-style patties. For a thick burger with quality beef, a better quality cheese is needed. The lettuce wasn't shredded. The tomato slice was too thick. The sauce was a bit too sweet. But it was enjoyable. Once the beef is perfect it's hard to not have a good time. It went quickly. The chips were very good. This is one obvious difference from BurgerWeek two years ago. Average chip quality seems to have improved across the board. The beer selection was worrying at first. The only regular beer on the menu is Red Stripe. There's a craft beer boom in London, why bother importing a crappy lager from Jamaica? [The only reason people think Red Stripe is good, and it really isn't, is because they associate it with pleasant warm-weather holidays.] Happily they had a few other beers on offer, including Founders All-Day Pale Ale, a hoppy session that went really well with the food.

Rounding out our meal was an order of wings. One of my pet peeves with UK restaurants is the usual laziness when it comes to wings. Almost no one sections them. A wing has three sections. cut them at the joints -- you can finesse this or just brute force it, very easy in either case, even for a home cook -- use the tip for stock, and use the other two sections for your dish. It's really not hard. And professional cooks should be embarrassed to put an entire wing on a plate. So when I order wings I start mentally preparing to be annoyed. I was delighted to see these were properly sectioned! A hearty cup of them. Gold star. Also a gold star for tenderness. These were slow-cooked or something because they were succulent and easily falling-off-the-bone tender. The chicken meat itself was flavourful as well. Unfortunately, they were spackled with a thick, sickly sweet sauce. Just covered with the stuff. Ready to build a retaining wall out of wings, pre-mortared. The sauce had a pleasing tangy base and a hint of heat, ruined with huge amounts of sugar. It's a shame I couldn't just get these with a splash of hot sauce, or even a salt and pepper rub. As hyperglycaemic blindness set in, I started to think of them as dessert wings. It was the sweetest ostensibly savoury dish I've tasted since the infamous Canadian maple syrup salmon incident of 2009.

Another huge downside of Patty & Bun: location. I had to spend a good 30 seconds on Oxford Street in order to make my way there, which is at least 31 seconds too long.

So… it was great and not so great. Not worth queueing for and we won't go back. HOWEVER, a second branch is opening on Liverpool Street, and we will definitely give it another try when it does.

Day 6: Elliott's Cafe 
Nice place, great looking menu. Only one burger choice, their cheeseburger. Almost elegant. Thick burger, cooked to the rare side of medium rare using wonderful-tasting beef. Bit of cheese and grilled onions. Could have used more cheese, it was almost like a condiment. I think the onions were trapped in between the melted cheese and the burger, which is a nice way of keeping things together. There were no chips, just "fried potatoes" -- lazy hunks of potato, err, fried. We didn't care for them. Nice place to sneak a burger in if you're with a group not on a burger-specific mission.

Day 7: Hawksmoor 
Still the king! Wow, what a treat. The beef, the cooking, the stilton… yeah. I just love it. Fabulous chips, fantastic starters (perfectly roasted scallops before burger? sure!), lovely creamed spinach, inviting cocktails, good wine list, improving selection of beers, this place is always worth the trip. And the sugar fiends in the family swear by the cornflake milkshake. Great finish to the week.

We did still enjoy and make use of BurgerApp to plan this round of BurgerWeek, although we certainly differ on a few rankings. Looking back, the big winner from our original BurgerWeek has been MeatMarket, as it's the one we've returned to most frequently.

The original BurgerWeek writeups/links:

Day 1: Lucky Chip
Day 2: MEATmarket
Day 3: Rivington Grill
Day 4: Bread Street Kitchen
Day 5: Byron
Day 6: Hawksmoor & restaurant wrapup
Day 7: homemade

20 April 2014

Confit Easy

Yesterday we had the confit[ed] legs from the Christmas geese. Usually I wait months longer but I've been hoarding duck legs so immediately had a new jar's worth of waterfowl. Confit is really simple:

(1) salt
(2) poach in fat
(3) save it in fat
(4) wait several weeks or months
(5) eat and reuse the fat for next batch of confit

That's it. A lot of chefs use the word "confit" to mean only #2 -- gently cooking something in fat. That's a fine way to prepare some stuff but it's not really confit in the traditional sense.

Salt: rub goose legs or duck legs or pork belly or any piece of meat with a bunch of salt and let it sit in the fridge for a couple days. Just salt is all you really need, but you can add more to the salt rub if you want -- e.g. chopped bay leaves, garlic, fresh thyme, black pepper.

Poach in fat: cook gently in goose fat or duck fat or lard or probably any decent quality fat, at any temperature from 100-150C. I generally do 120C but this is an old and unfussy way to preserve food so precision is not paramount.

Save it in fat: jar it in the fat and it will keep quite a while in the cellar, or even longer in the fridge.