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Tuesday 31 October 2006

The Filter [Spiny]

I'j just been having a play with The Filter. It's a rather neat addin to iTunes to automatically create playlists for you.
You select a few songs from your library the hit the F button. The Filter then creates you a playlist of songs that 'go with' the songs you had selected in iTunes. The results as you may expect are pretty skewed to genre but it does throw in the odd surprise.
I've been impressed enough to start using it regularly & find I'm listening to stuff I would have missed/forgotten about.
Oh yeah, it'll also pick up missing album art as it goes.
[Edit: Looks like it's from our favourite sledgehammer, Peter Gabriel.]

Sunday 29 October 2006

Recipe: Pumpkin Peon Soup [Lurks]

What with it being Halloween there must be a good few leftover pumpkins when the kids have finished with them and what with people starving/murdering eachother with machettes in Africa, it would seem wasteful to toss them away. Well stuff that, pumpkin soup is bloody delicious and that is reason enough. This here is a recipe that I came up with last year and we thought so much of it we wrote it down. As I write, I'm waiting for stuff to fry up for this year's batch. So henceforth, I shall unveil the secret of Lurk's Pumpkin Peon Soup.
Now since you're basically going to use a whole pumpkin, this is going to make a lot of soup so you should plan the ingredient quantities accordingly and make plans to get containers for it to freeze up portions or give it away. Unless you want to be eating pumpkin soup for a couple of weeks that is. Also you're going to need a pretty sizable soup terrine type thing. If you aint got one, I'd go out and buy one to frank.
As usual I wont be terribly specific about the quantity of ingredients because that's not how I cook anyway and if you can't work out an appropriate quantity, you probably shouldn't be in the kitchen anyway. Best reach for the pizza menu.
  • Bunch of Red Onions - chopped
  • Bunch of Leeks - chopped
  • Bushel of Celery - chopped
  • Large bulb of Garlick - chopped (coursely)
  • Big splash of oregano
  • Several teaspoons of coriander powder
  • Olive oil and butter

The above makes up your standard aromatic bulb mash that I use for pretty much all soups. This wants to be chopped up into a big ass fry pan and fried up with olive oil and butter until it's all soft and mashy. Don't skimp on the coriander and oregano. If you had access to some fresh that would be nice too but in the case of coriander, you want some dried powdered in there anyway.
  • Pumpkin - 1 whole, peeled, de-seeded and in big chunks
  • Tomatoes - several cans of chopped or entire 700gr jar of 'passata'
  • Potatoes - several large peeled chopped potatoes
  • Carrots - half a dozen chopped
  • Chicken stock - half a dozen cubes at least
  • Creamed coconut - entire block
  • Swiss Marigold Veggie Stock (rules for all soup) - a couple of good tablespoons
  • Chili powder - Easiest to get is Schwartz 'Hot Chili powder' - a tablespoon or more if you like a bit of bite like we do
  • Salt natch
  • Pepper - quite a bit, fresh ground. Same approach as the chili.

Slow cook the pumpkin, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots in the chicken & veggie stock (add plenty of water obviously) and bunk in the salt, pepper, chili powder and creamed coconut. This should simmer until the pumpkin is proper soft which will take a couple of hours most likely. Stir every now and again.
Then bang in the aromatic bulb mash from earlier and bang up the heat so it boils up for a minute or so, then set back down and simmer for a little while longer. This point you can get out your electric blender. The tip here is not to use too much water and blend while it's all still pretty thick which needs much less blending than if you simmered the pumpkin and goodies in too much water. As with all soup, if you can see that some bits of pumpkin are not blending in particularly well it's probably because they're not cooked through properly. Not a disaster, just stop blending, simmer for a bit longer, then blend up until it's smooth.
Then you'll basically be wanting to add water to the desired consistency. I think pumpkin soup should be pretty thick really. Tempted as you might be to bang in cream at the end, I'd resist that. If you like a cream soup like that, add a dash into bowls at serving time and let people blend it up themselves. Another quick grate of fresh pepper on top is just the ticket.
Accompaniment wise, I'd recommend a wholegrain seedy type bread torn in ragged chunks. Mmm mmm!

Saturday 28 October 2006

New lows [Am]

Also found on the lappie I submit the sort of thing you can only write when you have too much time on your hands. Two things written in a pub when rain stopped play in Padstow, Cornwall and then 3 haikus written at dinner while listening absolutely horrified to this appalling sloany couple who were so bad it was almost good....

The Holiday at One Forty
Speckled windbreakers, not with sunshine, but wet Cornish air
Close mist against the harbour
Grouping families look out from the wood decked pub
Breathing fabrics rustle round the glasses as passed glances check out…
… bags.…brollies….pumps….
Shall we eat more, drink? Where did he get those shorts?
We could have gone to Crete….
“The beer’s delivered by Arthur, he has a neck two foot wide,
He married a girl called Molly and would, he says, again”
Outside the seafood van glistens.
Is the white air thinning?
The brass lamp blinks
Straighten out the Goretex
Lift you glass and drink
Territorial Fishings
The novelty postcard with stern Victorian dame says
“Arbeit macht frei!”
Not round here my loves
There ain’t much liberty hauling lobster pots
Paulie regrets the fore-arm tatts from summer, seen on every pull
Should have gone to Penrith with that girl from Trill
It’s a fiver a lobster or thirty five up that restaurant
So forgive I if I spit or hawk
If they clean it off right then what’s the harm?
Just local dressing for their fork
3 Haikus for the Sloany Pony
Blonde hair, black eyebrows,
The Sloany Pony holds forth
*So* your daddy’s money
She can talk and talk
And talk and talk and talk and
He thinks… just fuck me..
Looking at the sweets
“Eat chocolate off my tum”
Cocoa rug munch ho!

Ever gone longhaul? [Am]

Longhaul is one of those weird things where I reckon you time out from reality. When you do longhaul with the flu, its another thing altogether. A while back I did a trip in which I apparently wrote the following, found this evening on my lappie. I put it up for the hell of it....
Rock and roll flying. The spittle thrown over a microphone and the straining of valves breaking razors n cream distortion through your headphones seems to me to be entirely the right stuff for a long haul flight. I sit in business class among the politesse, the cock sucking damn politesse of the middle aged middle classed and let the music drag me back to something that might possibly register as the rage of living.
The airhostess doesn’t want to like me and indeed I suspect she probably shouldn’t. I do know me after all. But anyway it took a couple of hours to crack through the permagrin and get her on the Am-agenda. Will I be a screaming nightmare? No m’am. Do I require extraordinary attention and pliation of large amounts of alcohol? Yes I fuckin do.
When I was 17 I went on a transatlantic voyage where we got ripped to the tits on a transatlantic voyage – economy note – where the crew just bibed us up and that was it. Now here I am, several thousand pounds into a return trip to the other side of the flying rock on which we sit and I have to beg for a top up!
So I smiled at Georgia, my cabinista, and it did fuck all. So I fixed her with the Sir Gerald grin which is to say something like a normal grin but with the pre-supposition of purchase power but also most crucially of all the look that says “listen sweets, lets get an *understanding* going here”. I’m not sure how this comes over on a waggle of the eyebrows but I do seem to reach a decent accommodation with such staff after a couple of hours.
So in the end there we are. Georgia brings me a brandy inna glass as I’m tooling over Tehran en route Hong Kong. She says “this is a double double”. I believe we’re talking each other’s language. Jane’s is playing on the headies - Ladies clink their glasses sending out their signals – amen.
I am a twat heading out to the other side of the planet for a meeting that probably matters not very much whatsoever. But pays.
You you really should have have known. Oh you, you really should have know, just because, just because……
Now so it’s 22.45 and Georgia has told me that I should be asleep. When did stewardesses get to be your mum? I got her to fetch me another brandy and contemplated that 30 years ago I’d probably have sent her on her way with a resounding TWANG on her tush. I’m not suggesting this would have been appropriate, considerate, reasonable, admirable or in any way advisable. But it would have been fun. Not these days though no.
I hate the fucking Blazer Boys. What is it with Blazers? What is it with the cocking hair loss and chinos? The ingraining of semi-facile brains into a wardrobe of cockhood? You sit in business and it’s honestly like a battery farm of conservatism with a couple of outlier crim suspects. There’s these fellas that you look at and think “oh my. Oh my fucking god you must be having at least a *fun* life. What given the scars and the lopsided eyebrows and shit”.
And the rest……. I swear….. Sweaters, nice fucking sweaters, sweaters marked with geometric shapes and shit. Blazers and pimped out geometric sweaters. Die, die, die.

Friday 27 October 2006

When will they learn? [Lurks]

I'm firing up this Dark Messiah: Might and Magic game right, which I leeched via Steam. Now, you know, on one hand downloading it off Steam is kinda handy right and it just downloads direct to my PC. On the other hand it's 7GB so it's not a small leech. So it's pretty much a toss-up whether to buy it in the shops or off Steam. I buy it off Steam and then they go screw me further and don't unlock it to play until after lunchtime on the day of release. Had I bought it from Gameplay, I would have had it yesterday and no download necessary.
The point of this digital distribution stuff is supposed to be that it's better, not worse!
Oh and to add insult to injury, despite this apparently being a Source-powered game, they've seen fit to disable alt-tab. So I can't just nip out to check my email or whatever else I need to do. Meaning I'll clearly get to play it less often, confined as it will need to be, to times when I can know I wont have to do anything else with my PC. That is, quite frankly, pathetic. They must have actually gone and disabled/broken this feature from Steam as it works perfectly fine in Half-Life 2 games.
Gah, why don't they test this stuff form an actual end-users perspective?

Thursday 26 October 2006

What the hell is in the water in New Jersey? [Am]

Early 05 I bought an album on a whim which I put in the car and instantly turned off about half way through the first track. This should have been a clue as a fair few of the albums I have come to love the most gave me the same first reaction.....
Actually, as it turned out a couple of months later and subsequently, I just don't like the first track all that much. But from track two onwards.... now we are rootin' tootin' talkin'.
The album is Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge by My Chemical Romance and it became pretty much my favourite rock album of 05 and 06. I've probably played it more than anything else in that time. Well definitely. Apparently the band might be considered to be a bit 'emo' but that all seems a bit pointless as a desciption to me. There is some absolutely slamming rock in there which probably reached its highest validation when Kerrang voted them Best Rock Act in the world earlier this year. Quietly the album turned multi-platinum even though no single ever threatened to do much at release in the US - I think the highest was a 30 and previously a 60 in the Billboard Top 100. But the album turned multi-platinum. Pretty much one of those albums that has spread by dint of its inherent quality. They even come from New Jersey for heavens sakes. This is not an LA band blowing up on the LA rock scene.
Forward-wind to a couple of weeks ago and you can see the Sun and other redtops going "who on earth are these weirdos" as the single Welcome to the Black Parade went straight in at No.1 in the UK. This monday the album the Black Parade was released and it is one of those albums that I am gonna raise to the collective conscious and say you *have* to listen to this.
The Black Parade is an album by a band who have obviously reached mind-bending levels of self-confidence where the band have just taken off for another level again and probably left 'contemporaries' like Panic at the Disco (a very pale reflection and different) and older alternative muso's like Billy Corgan from the Smashing Pumpkins pouring themselves a very stiff carrot juice indeed.
If you don't like the type of music you'll probably find yourself on one polar end of the reaction against this. If you do, I think you'll find one of the rock albums of the decade so far and a work that is getting compared to a number of classics from a very long time span indeed. Its punchy, its melodic, as I say it's ridiculously confident in the way it just hares about all over the place doing whatever the fuck it likes and it's just damn good.
You have to have some planetary sized cahonas just to come up with the idea in the first place; it's a concept album about 'The Patient' who lies ill on a cancer ward with the songs about his life and the illness but it is not some dark horror movie as much as a lot of punchy driving music interspersed with some very fine melodic pieces and massive stacked voices. The themes that are cropping up are weddings, funerals, hospitals, childhood, mardi gras, festivals, vaudeville, murder, cabaret. There's a modern rock take on a very long standing tradition in just the same way that the film Cabaret is dark and twisted but not miserabilist. And then as if just to underline the point in the middle of one of the most rock tracks on the album, Liza Minelli turns up - not as a sample but doing a cameo vocal written for the track!
This band released their first album in summer 2002 - I Brought You Bullets You Brought Me Your Love. It was on an indie label and to be honest it's mostly a mess and quite ill formed.
In Summer 2004, we get Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge with an exponential leap in quality which is like watching a gangly awkward teenager suddenly coming out for the ball as the hottest thing around.
Now we have the Black Parade which I am pretty sure, whether you end up enjoying it or not, is not just one of but probably the rock album of the decade so far. As much as I enjoy this and the previous album, the one thing that leaves me really absolutely, totally agog is just how far this band have come in a measily four years. I honestly cannot think of another trajectory like it in a band's career at the moment. Possibly Radiohead from Pablo Honey --> Bends --> OK Computer. Now for heavens sake don't think I am comparing these two bands - I am just looking at the trajectory of improvement. But to be honest Pablo Honey was a lot better relative than MCR's first album so the MCR climb-rate is still a lot faster.
So whether you end up liking it or not there is something pretty extraordinary going on with this band and I recommend you bend your head around it at least a couple of times - this is a complex record that could take a bit of getting into - but for those of you that like it, I reckon you'll like it really a lot....

Wednesday 25 October 2006

NHS Crisis First Hand [drdave]

Serious blog time...
As you may or may not be aware, the NHS has recently introduced the so called "two week rule". A simple measure that states that any patient presenting to a GP where a cancer is suspected or likely will be referred to and seen by a consultant within two weeks. Any treatment thereafter will be treated under the same rule. The idea been that the earlier you catch these things, the better.
Sounds good right?
Back in mid-June I was taking a bath and I noticed a new feature on my body. I'd never noticed it before, it was large (about 1cm), dark brown and, to say the least, it put my hackles up. Having seen my grandad ignore the obvious symptoms of cancer for far too long, then pass away in a most unpleasant way, I wasted no time in seeing my GP. The next day in fact. She agreed that it was suspicious, though probably benign, and said she would refer me to the dermatologist with urgency.
Happy that I was safely in the hands of the professionals, I went home and awaited notification of the appointment - within two weeks, according to the guidelines.
By mid-august, two months later, I was still waiting. Eventually, the appointment came. August 28th, over two months since my GP referred me! The dermatologist took a look at it and immediately recommended surgery to remove it. The procedure was booked for the following week, September 7th. Quite quick and painless, under local anaesthetic and I now have a two inch scar to show for it.
Anyway, I went away thinking that the results would be processed quickly and I'd be notified in due course. However, no-one told me how long this would take or how I would be told. I started to ring them every week, but each week was told that the results hadn't come back. Two weeks ago, I was told that the results had come in but the consultant hadn't had chance to look at them. Last week I was told that the results had been looked at, and they would be sent to my GP in about a week. No-one would tell me what they were, I'd have to wait another week.
Finally, this morning I saw my GP and got the results. Mercifully, the lesion was not malignant. It was a dysplastic nevus, which is kind of a mole gone wrong that has a small chance of becoming cancerous later on. For that, I am profoundly grateful. I still need to have another small procedure to make sure the whole of the lesion is gone, but the urgency isn't there anymore. In total though, this whole process has taken four fucking months to just get a diagnosis! Does this not strike anyone as worrying? Maybe not if you haven't just spent that four months wondering if the universe is going to have to get used to not having you in it.
In case you need convincing of how serious a four month wait in this case is, here are some facts. Melanoma, the worst kind of skin cancer, accounts for a relatively small percentage of cancers (3%), but it is a disproportionally large killer. This is because the metastases of melanoma, the secondary tumours, are notoriously resistant to radiation or chemotherapy. When a primary site melanoma spreads, it gets into your bloodstream and spreads to your lungs, brain, liver, anywhere really. If left untreated, a melanoma that undergoes metastasis will kill you in months rather than years.
However, if you catch it early, melanoma is extraordinarily survivable. At stage 0 (where the tumour is in situ and hasn't yet spread downwards) the survival rate is 100%, you're effectively cured. Stage 1, with a 1mm invasion of deep tissue, has a 10 year survival rate of 95% - good odds I would say. But it needs to be caught early. I understand that in Australia, suspicious mole removals have become commonplace procedures, precisely because they recognise the need to get them off as soon as possible.
Somewhere, the system has failed me, but thankfully I might get away without paying the ultimate price. I'm lucky enough to have just started a private healthcare scheme with my employer (which started, ironically, just after I finally saw my dermatologist) so hopefully I won't have to suffer the failing NHS again. And failing it does seem to be... I'd previously defended the system, saying that it might not be particularly efficient when dealing with bad backs or stubbed toes, but that it was fantastic when your life was on the line. Maybe it is, maybe my case is just an isolated case, but I hear far too many scare stories to be complacent anymore.
If I have one piece of advice to impart at the end of this, I would say only one thing: use sun cream, please, you really don't want to go through what I've been through the last four months!

Thursday 19 October 2006

The UK and the veil [Lurks]

Something needs to be said about this muslim woman, Aishah Azmi, who basically was told not to wear the niqab full veil in class in which she taught. Well, it transpires that common sense has prevailed and she lost the case on the major points although she was still awarded a grand for victimisation. That baffles me still but anyway...
It's hard to avoid saying the obvious stuff about this such as the fact that you are in our country, this behavior is extreme and unwarranted if if you feel so strongly about it that you are prepared to cut yourself off with your blatant demonstration of seperation, then why in shit don't you piss off to another country? Bizarrely I have to show some appreciation here with France's hard-line attitude on the issue. No religious symbols in school. At all. Ever. We're far too PC for that here, examples recently manifesting as politicians coming out with their absurd fawning PC shite denouncing Jack Straw's perfectly sensible comments. However if Aishah Azmi has achieved anything, it's by raising the awareness of her annoying give-an-inch-take-a-mile behavior, exploiting our willingness to pander to these people and causing us to re-evaluate our position.
Which is, of course, what the redtops have been doing in a tabloid feeding frenzy which really isn't helping matters. As I intimated, props to Jack Straw for his original and perfectly reasonable request and corresponding statement of fact, Eg. this stuff does not help the much vaunted integration into the community which we have been generous to offer people of these faiths in the United Kingdom. Suddenly, however, our screens are full of issues like this.
The right wing brigade most recently were jumping up and down about some woman who was suspended by British Airways for wearing a Christian cross. In fact wearing of any religious symbol is banned, and rightly so. If you're an international air carrier, you're coming into contact with multiple faiths and some of them clearly don't get on. That's the employment rules, she was asked politely to take it off and would not comply. This is no different from the woman in the classroom asked to remove her veil so she could do her job right. We're insensed because this is a Christian country but this woman has a job in an organisation which behaves more like an ambassador than a local chip shop.
Still, the veil thing does get my back up. I wonder if any of you saw the excellent documentary recently of that asian (muslim) woman who won The Apprentice (I dunno her name, I don't watch reality crap like that) getting stuck into the veil issue including confronting veil wearers and asking what on earth they could find useful about it. In fact the best response this particular veil-wearer could manage was "I find it liberating because I'm not being judged by my appearance". Oh right, so it's nothing to do with God telling you in the Koran then. Basically you are, as we all expect of full-veil wearing women, a bit of a munter then.
Well, you stupid cow, if the goal wasn't to be judged by your appearance then you really don't get it at all do you. Listen up you religious whack-job muppet, there are other ugly people in the world and somehow we manage to get on alright with them without them shoving a garbag over their puss.
Oh and incidentally, the Koran really doesn't tell you to do any such thing. I think of God wanted you to wear a tent, he might have been a little more clear with the phrasing eh? Thou Shalt Crown Thyself with Millet's Finest or something.
You have to wonder though, what if I turned up to the office in a ninja suit and then when asked to remove it said "Sorry, I insist on wearing it when there's women around." I'm sure that'd go down ace, and so would the resulting employment tribunal. Oh well, if nothing else I'll apparently get a grand for victimisation.
If there's one thing I find positive about this whole situation it's the sheer number of decent moderate muslims standing up and saying sorry, the niqab is absurd. Just when the muslim community is gaining some ground in understanding and respect... it must feel like going backwards when this comes up and bearded loons fill the televisions, waving plaquards on the streets again.
Don't they have some sense that we might be nearing the point of having enough of their bullshit?

Friday 13 October 2006

Bill Goes In Dry [Spiny]

According to the EULA for retail Windows Vista, you will only be able to transfer the licence to another machine once.
Yes you read right, once, for a retail copy, not OEM.
This royally shafts those who choose to build their own machines. Upgrading the motherboard & a few other things meant that re-activation under XP was a pain, but at least it could be done.
Feel free to leave your vitriol here. You may have to register for technet (link in top right of that page) but it only takes a few seconds & there is even no email confirmation of the email address you supply.
The more I hear about Vista, the more I like XP.

Thursday 5 October 2006

The God Delusion [DrDave]

The God Delusion is the latest work by Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and (in)famous, outspoken atheist.
To someone familiar with his previous works, The God Delusion seems to be the book that Dawkins has been itching to write for 30 years. Earlier works, such as Climbing Mount Improbable and The Blind Watchmaker skirted around the subject of the existence (or rather non-existence) of a creater, but in a respectful manner, relying instead on weight of scientific argument to convey their point. This book, on the other hand, is a no-holds barred, unapologetic, unrelenting attack on all forms of organised religion. Dawkins is cutting lose here and apparently loving it.
His early disclaimer that theists will take offence at what he says, but that it really isn't his problem, is refreshing and a welcome break from today's religious apologists who go out of their way to avoid critiscising theism. He makes it very clear that the time of appeasing religion is over - why should religion be deserving of a special respect that you wouldn't afford to someone who believed in, for example, fairies at the bottom of the garden?
He goes on to systematically, rationally and amusingly destroy virtually every pillar of religion (with specific focus on Christianity). St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Ways are demolished, the ludicrous ontological argument is rightly ridiculed, even Pascal's Wager, that irritant of rationalists for so long, is shown to be rather ridiculous. His treatment of the nativity uses quotes and references from the bible itself to show that it couldn't possibly have happened how we were brought up to believe. And the brief, yet comprehensive, dismissal of Intelligent Design's Irreducable Complexity myth is one of the finest summaries of natural selection I've ever read, and should be required reading for anyone who is fond of quoting the eye as an example of design.
This book quite rightly never out-and-out claims that a personal god, even less a deist god, doesn't actually exist. Instead, it devotes most of its time on this question to what it calls "The God Hypothesis". Dawkins makes the bold move of claiming that the existence of an interested god is a scientific hypothesis. He's right of course, a universe with a god would be quite different from a universe without one, and it should therefore be subject to scientific method.
Dawkins proceeds to use theist claims against them: If life is too complex to have emerged spontaneously, that it must have been designed by an intelligence, then who designed the designer? By appealing to the absurdity of infinite regress, and invoking anthropic principle, Dawkins concludes that while we can't say a god doesn't exist, we can certainly claim that one probably doesn't exist. It is an interesting argument that works by wielding a weapon creationists have themselves used for centuries.
There is a danger in this approach however, that theists will seize upon this idea of god being a scientificly testable entity and attempt to use it to muscle religion into the science curriculum - of course they would be spectacularly missing the point, but when has that ever stopped them?
I found it enlightening to absorb all of these arguments set out so clearly and logically, even for a dyed in the wool atheist such as myself. Dawkins presents arguments and ideas that many of us have probably suspected, but didn't have the required perspicacity to express. It is also bewilderingly brave. The book's conclusions and the use of ridicule and incredulity along the way should be as offensive to theists as they are appealing to rationalists. It wouldn't surprise me if the Children Of Abraham (Middle East Branch) don't take this somewhat personally.
In conclusion, having blitzed through most of the book in an uncharacteristic three day marathon, my verdict is that The God Delusion will be viewed alongside other classic popular science books like A Brief History of Time or Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. It is that good. It should certainly be required reading for atheists, agnostics or theists with doubt. I'm not sure it will convert any believers, but it would certainly test their faith.