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Sunday 29 April 2007

BBQ variations [Am]

BBQ season is upon us. As is traditional on that first time for six or seven months, one enters into the usual look-under-the-lid-then-quail-mightily routine and proceeds to scrub all the grills like buggery under superheated water for about an hour. But with that, the long winter sporing season has gone and essential maintenance is past..... The temperature has ascended beyond 10 degrees Kelvin. Therefore and forsoothe, man must have meat and man must cook meat!
But - hold yer firelighters - swirling the essential BBQ accessory, a liberally dosed gin and tonic in the left hand while thoughtfully twirling this season's BBQ tongues in the right, it may occur to your average suburban outdoor culinerary warrior that, frankly, sausages again for 2007 is a bit lacking in ambition. Now there's nowt wrong with a decent sanger but surely there's more to life than pork in a cylindrical skin? Dear Ladies reading this blog, please do not consider *that* to be a disencouragement however....
So! Looking for a little inspiration, I picked up a Gordon Ramsey (Gordon Makes It Easy) and turned to the small section on BBQ ideas. Catching my eye was 'Barnsley Chops' so I proceeded to make it.
A Barnsley Chop is a double thickness lamb chop cut across the entire saddle. So unlike a normal chop it has the bone in the middle and meat either side. Bout the same thickness as a sirloin steak. Gordon's approach is as follows;
Get 4 to 6 Barnsley Chops from a good quality butcher. Lay them in a shallow dish and shout at them "so you fucking think you're fucking good enough to be cooked do you, you fucking pricks? In all my life I've never seen anything so fucking moronic!!!", throw the cat at the wall and go and do a monologue to camera in another room while puce in the face.
Next, drizzle at least a couple of teaspoons of thin pourable honey over the chops and spread it around. Then add a glass of red wine and several really good turns of black pepper over both sides. Let the chops marinade in there overnight or for a good few hours and turn / splosh the marinade over them a couple of times in the course of things. This is yer basic bbq victim, already prepared. Bosh.
To serve with it, you want to make some fresh mint sauce. It's a piece of piss and a revelation about how good this is compared to bought. Put 125ml of white wine vinegar in a pan with 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1 very finely chopped shallot. Heat to to the boil and let it bubble off til it has reduced by half. If you can do this by eye, good luck to you. I used a pyrex measuring jug and still slightly overshot. Quick tot of white wine vinegar and further reduction and it was all good. Take off the boil and then add a really good handful of very finely chopped fresh mint. Shout 'you're not fucking leafy now are you you fucking cock?' into the green mix and put it in the fridge to cool / leave out depending how far ahead you do this.
So it couldn't really be any more simple. When the time comes, get your bbq to a hot but not roaring heat and cook for 4-6 minutes on each side, dosing the chops with the marinade as you go. Since you have the inestimable good taste to check out electricdeath you are unlikely to be in the majority of moronity of manhood that treats a bbq as an instrument by which to *literally* carbonate the outside of all food into a 3cm black crust and an inner core without juices. However, I do find lamb an interesting one on a bbq - the meat is nice chargrilled but it's a fatty food and the fat blackens very heavily looking like it's over-cooked. So pay attention to the heat of the bbq and navigate the appropriately cooked but not charred to hell. I stuck the kids' ones on a couple of minutes earlier than ours and it seemed to pan out quite well. As always a good knife-thru-and-check is the key to getting it the way you like it.
I served ours with new potatoes, salad and the fresh mint sauce. It was pretty damn top. The marinaded lamb was quite subtle but a succulent addition. The mint sauce absolutely wonderful with it but quickly became added in little dabs so as not to overwhelm the marinaded flavour.
Now one caveat - it tasted great but the chops are a bit fiddly manually and well chop-like i.e. you are cutting round the bone and stuff. Great value, less easy - if you don't mind, get stuck in and give it a go. I can definitely imagine doing this with a more steak-like cut of lamb instead however if doing it for guests and stuff....
Given it's lamb you cannot really go wrong with most sorts of red wine (it is said that wine writers get heartily sick of lamb in each new year's release as all wine growers serve lamb with their new releases as it is the best complement to red wine possible), however, given the vinegar content of the mint sauce, an expensive or delicate red would be wasted. I would recommend Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon which is widely available in many supermarkets (Sainsbury today) and offies. Won the 'best value red wine in the world' in Wine Magazine's 2006 awards and puts out a great deal more than the 5.99 purchase price. A top slurp and glug. The Merlot's worth a go as well but the Cab Sauv is the win and, being less soft than the merlot will better mix with the lamb, the chargrill and the mint.
Well that's it. Mop the juice up with some warm crusty bread and shout 'that was fucking lovely wasn't it you fucking prick!' and settle back with a big ol' glass of the devil's own....

Thursday 26 April 2007

Evil Wi-Fi Mutates your Children [Lurks]

The idea that power lines and other forms of electromagnetic radiation such as microwave energy are health risks to human beings is not a new one. Then again the only real proponents of the idea are your usual crackpot pseudo-science groups with a marginal grasp of science. Powerwatch is one such pressure group that has leapt on board the issue with aplumb.
Naturally enough not a single of the many studies conducted has turned up any health concerns. The bottom line is simply this: there are two mechanisms by which some external radiation can affect us. Either by interfering with our central nervous systems by being active in low frequences or by ionising radiation possessing the the ability to create chemical changes in the the materials of our body. Electromagnetic radiation pretty much just doesn't interfer with the nervous system. A tiny tiny minority of people have sensitivity under certain specific and unusual circumstances. The subject has been examined a lot. On the second point, all electromagnetic radiation which is licensed for free transmission is of a firmly non-ionising frequency and hence the best it can ever do is heat you up a bit. Like a microwave oven.
There aren't any health risks. If there was, the sheer prevalence of all of these systems in our society would show up clear correlations. Consider how many people use mobile phones. Consider if the massive power transmitted directly next to the side of your head was a risk in even a tiny amount how this would translate to a large amount of observable health problems in heavy mobile phone uses. The correlation doesn't exist. All it does is heat the side of your head up almost imperceptively, and certainly well within the body to cool itself via normal means. These are the facts. They're concrete and well understood.
However where facts start to get to be a bit of a problem is when you combine it with the cocoon of illogical hysteria that surrounds the subject of children. Now it's one thing having ignorant hysterical parents demanding that Wi-Fi be removed from schools but it's quite another having the Professional Association of Teachers (a Union apparently) coming out and writing a letter to the Education secretary to demand a "full scientific investigation into the effects of wi-fi networks in schools".
This has all the hallmarks of your standard illogical non-scientific thinking. Apparently bad behavior in schools is up and Wi-Fi is the new thing in schools isn't it? So it must be due to that. One doesn't even know where to begin with this crap.
A Wi-Fi device transmits generally a fair whack less than 100mw of power in the microwave band. There's more power in the visible light knocking about in the room and that's actually more energetic than microwaves by a long shot. It's massively massively less power than mobile phones and of course it's not placed on the side of your head either. Any which way you examine it, there is no case to answer here.
Person gets headache. Must be Wi-Fi! There's this classics teacher that claims he's sensitive to Wi-Fi and can tell if it's on or off. He also claims he's developed sensitivity to other EM fields. Now that's actually possible. There are people who have an EM sensitivity generally to fairly powerful magnetic fields in low frequencies from 1Hz up to a couple kilohertz. Here's a study that gives some reproducable examples of some EM sensitive people and what conditions those were. This falls into the realms of low frequency signals interfering with the central nervous system, which we always knew was a possibility.
The bottom line is that there's basically infinitely more danger of mains cables with their substantial electromagnetic fields at low frequencies which there are reported cases of sensitivity to. Other culprits are CRT displays and flourescent lighting (particularly battery powered by an inverter) illiciting the kinds of reaction from people but that couldn't be more removed than Wi-Fi. There's no study showing any effects at all at microwave frequencies because they're far far too high to interfere with our central nervous system. The only real effect is that having being absorbed by common water molecules, microwave radiation dumps it's energy and heats up the absorbant material (such as us) which is how microwave ovens work. So this teacher that claims he can tell whether Wi-Fi is on or not? Bullshit.
There is some concern that things like Wi-Fi and mobile phones often tend to issue bursts of radiation in frequency patterns which are much much lower and that those bursts again fall into frequencies which can affect EM sensitive people. You're probably aware of that sound you get on any sound gear when a mobile phone checks in or you get a text. You're hearing the low frequency component of the pulsing of transmissions rather than the microwaves themselves. The microwaves can, and do, induce an electromagnetic field in conductors and that's what you're hearing. It is therefore conceivable that people with EM sensitivity could be sensitive to mobile phones due to the power.
However the actual low frequency component of the bursts is actually very low indeed. You've heard it right? That's not generally associated with EM sensitivity issues. If someone with EM sensitivity was sensitive to these bursts from mobile phones, they'd almost certainly face severe reactions from the similar frequency EM from mains cables and lighting on a constant basis.
Wi-Fi on the other hand is such a low power it doesn't have this kind of ability at all, that's why you've never heard your Wi-Fi inducing weird sounds on your amplifier. It's 10-100mw of power rather than several watts. Those are the facts and yet... if you want to be fully depressed on the subject, you can read the amusingly titled Dispelling the Wireless Myths on the Powerwatch braindrain site completely with some impressively sounding and massively flawed mathematics.
The problem is to most people Wi-Fi or radio in general is basically witchcraft they don't understand. That leaves itself open to any random correlation such as the fact it killed your cat because the same day you installed Wi-Fi the cat got run over.
Fortunately, in this case, about the only thing these crackpots can end up influencing is deployment of school networks so that they use wired networking instead. Which is hardly a disaster.

Monday 23 April 2007

Hidden iTunes trickery [iTunes]

I hate it when my connection goes south when downloading podcasts in iTunes. The Get button dissapears & there seems to be no way to resume the download. The good thing is, I've found a way of restarting broken podcast downloads.
  • iTunes will whinge when syncing and you'll see an circle with an exclamation point for podcasts with missing audio files.
  • Delete these episodes from the podcast then colapse
  • Colapse the podcast by clicking on the down facing triange.
  • Hold the shift down and expand the podcast. iTunes will fill in the entries that you deleted and the get button will re appear.
  • By now you'll have probably realised that you just click Get again

Why they couldn't just add "re download" to the context menu is beyond me, still that's Apple faggotry for you. I don't know if this works on a Mac as they suck and I obviously I don't have one.

Friday 20 April 2007

PC Build - Call for help [Spiny]

I'm looking at building an HTPC into a rather nice case to go under the TV (see below). The trouble is, this isn't as easy as building a desktop. If anyone has any suggestions to my conundrums below, I'd appreciate it. I guess the troubles alll start with the mobo...
  • Motherboard : Abit Fatal1ty F-I90HD ATI Micro ATX (+ HDMI Radeon 1250 with AVIVO, - 1x PCI). Seems to be the only decent C2D board I can find with a half decent graphics processor and HDMI.
  • GPU: I'll be adding an nVidia 8600, probably fanless at a later date as I don't anticipate the need until the bluray drives come down to non mortgage levels. These look great in principle and nVidia reckons they'll take 100% of H264 decode away from the CPU as well as provide all the other Purevideo trickery.
  • Sound card: There's on board sound in the mobo, but to get 2 channel over the optical out will I need an add in sound card? I may want to do this anyway in order to take advantage of Dobly Live to convert say AAC 6 channel to ac3 on the fly.
  • TV Card: With the PCI slot left I'll need a PCI-E TV card. there's this Terratec one, but it dosen't work with the Vista media centre. Hauppage only do PCI.
  • RAM: 1Gb should do but Wendel's Wonder dosen't support x4 device width RAM. Whatever that is. So do I get "CAS 5-5-5-15" or "CAS 3-3-3-12"?

Saturday 14 April 2007

Berezovsky gone Mad [Lurks]

Readers may recall blog 1093 where we discussed the remarkable case of the London poisoning of the Russian asylum Litvinenko. I found the subject to be facinating enough to dig into a bit and familiarise myself with the background and it was there I first came cross Boris Berezovsky. He's actually linked to Litvinenko in a way which isn't being widely reported today and may be easy to forget.
In essence Litvinenko was a a Russian FSB agent who came forward and publically split ranks with the FSB (the boss of which was, note for the record, none other than Vladimir Putin) and informed the Russian heads of state (Yeltzin at the time) that the FSB was planning on killing Berezovsky. Met with limited response Litvinenko held a press conference and told the world, which meant Russia wasn't very happy with him and locked him up for a good while. Net result both Berezovsky and Litvinenko end up in the UK after being granted assylum.
Now, the interesting thing is that Berezovsky actually helped Putin get into power. Back then, as the Russia was making the transition to a capitalist economy, massive public assets were sold off. This ended up with the Ogliarch situation where a few tycoons ended up owning a heck of a lot of stuff, rich beyond imagining and all the power to go with it. However Putin didn't just doff the cap, he came to realise that the Ogliarchs held too much power and set about rectifying that. Either was a matter of the good of Russia or to cement his absolute authority is a point of debate.
Net result though, we have Berezovsky in London having been granted asylum since 2003. Now, Berezovsky has once before said some disparaging things about the Putin regime in the sense that he told a Moscow radio station last year that he would like to see Putin overthrown. The Russians then applied to have Berezovsky extradited, as this is a clear criminal offence either which way you look at it. This failed in the courts because he has aslyum status.
Now despite the fact that at the time Jack Straw, foreign secretary back then, said "advocating the violent overthrow of a sovereign state is unacceptable" and specifically warned Berezovsky that he faced having his refugee status revoked, it looks like he's up to his old tricks again.
In an interview with the Guardian he openly claimed to be essentially funding a Russian government coup. This is on the face of it remarkable because it will sorely test the patience of the UK hosting him as an refugee. The interview was telling in that because of the previous court defeat of the extradition attempt, he states that he doesn't think the decision to strip him of his refugee status is something the government can do.
Furthermore with Livinenko, he implies that the assassination of his political dissident chum is ample proof that he would be in grave danger by being returned to Russia. He's probably right too which basically makes any attempt to repatriate him quite difficult to do in a court of law.
However what I don't think Berezovsky has thought about very carefully here is whether harbouring this guy and appeasing our legal and moral obligations to provide safe heaven for a refugee is worth risking our entire International relationship with Russia. Clearly it is not.
So I expect right now some sort of negotiations will be going on. Following research to see if the legal situation can be circumvented, and then high level negotiations with Russia probably involving seeking an assurance from Russia that Berezovsky will not face capital punishment. And of course, the end-goal of allowing his extradition back to Russia.
If that's not happening, I think it should be happening. It's just not cricket for us to be habouring someone like Berezovsky who clearly has some self-preservation gene missing and an infinite capacity to anger an entire super power. I've no love for Putin's regime either, really, but clearly he's not going to go away any time soon and it would be better for this country to influence Russia diplomatically as friends than it would be to piss them off over something so trivial as harbouring a deposed ogliarch.
Send Berezovsky back to Russia and salvage an important relationship. Then next time someone seeks assylum in this country they might give it a little more respect than he has.

Home Networking Done Right [Muz]

So, Ser Gerald Amnesiah made a half arsed attempt at a home network blog some time back. However, being a bit of a woofter, he decided to go with 'ethernet over power cables' or some such shit. (Please also note that he's yet to actually do anything yet).

I've been giving this some thought, as we're going to be redoing the electrics in the house this summer, which presents a perfect opportunity for a blog: "Home networking for Real Men(TM)."

So, when it comes to home LANs, there's two main approaches. Wireless, and wired. Let's dispense with wireless first.

  • Lack of cable-age
  • Not being tied to a wall socket
  • Errrr....

  • Security
  • Performance (signal strength is variable based on location)
  • Subject to interference
  • Throughput
  • Potential costs: most lappies have onboard wireless - most desktops, however, don't.

Basically, fuck it off. No one cares. We're all geeks: we expect shit to work, we don't want to worry about nosy/leeching neighbours, we want to be able to stream HD por^H^H^H movies without worrying about the microwave causing interference.

The ups and downs of Ethernet using your mains has been discussed in Am's blog already, I won't bother going over it again.

Now, how someone would do a Real Network (TM). Firstly, it must be physical (i.e. wired). This means:

  • Future proof (ish). Cat5e cable is rated for 1Gbps Ethernet over short distances (100m). Unless you live in a castle, you're going to be fine.
  • No security concerns.
  • Spastic throughput (1Gbps = 1 gigabit per second = 125 megabytes per second).
  • No interference.

On the downside, you do need to run cable and shit. Now, this is either a big problem (for the average peon), or a minor annoyance (for the leet). Since the readership of this blog is exclusively the latter... errr.... never mind. I'll tell you how to do it anyway.

What you need is a reel of cat 5e (£25), a bunch of RJ45 plugs (£5 for 50) and a crimping tool (£13), at an absolute minimum. Total cost ~ £40. That will allow you to make cables up to the length you need. (There's stacks of guides out there relating to the actual construction of cables: here's the first one I found in Google.)

However, since most of EED are now married and such, having cable tacked to skirting and hanging from the ceiling a la {Hou|Am|Lurk}LAN probably isn't a goer. Loose cable coming out of the wall also sucks a bit. And finally, there needs to be some provisioning for messing around with your network topology.

All of this leads to... structured cabling. So, how I'm going to run things (assuming things go to plan).

Currently: single runs of Cat 5 from my room, sister's room, downstairs study, and by TV (for future media centre PC) all run to upstairs study, where the cable modem lives. This is a pain for various reasons. The two biggies are:
  • Router currently has to live in the study. So, if I want to start messing around with enterprise kit, or using a *NIX box as a router/firewall for learning purposes, we have a problem.
  • If I want more than one device at a given location (e.g. my desktop + lappy), I need to put a switch in at the end, which wastes a power socket.

So, new plan - clear out some room under the stairs (sister/mother have far too many shoes for their own good), stick a patch panel in there. Have two cable runs to each location (using a double keystone faceplate). This allows cable modem to stay in study where it is and makes upgrading to gigabit a bit easier. (No gigabit routers at the moment, so it'll have to be a router + gig switch. There's already a lot of tat in the study).

So, in total, we're talking 5 locations x2 runs of cable = 10 end points. Patch panels generally come in multiples of 12, so 24 seems reasonable. Why the excess, you ask? Since I'm making room under the stairs, I may as well plug in some extra shit like a server or two, a NAS, a Squeezebox and maybe some enterprise routers/switches. Who knows. This is probably overkill for most people; 12 ports will probably suffice in the majority of home cases.

So, additional cost, if you want to neaten things up a bit:

For me then (assuming I don't have the cable, plugs and tools already, which I do), the price works out something like this:
  • £40 for cable, RJ45 plugs and crimping tool.
  • £7 for punchdown tool
  • £37 for patch panel
  • £8 for the mounting boxes and face plates
  • £20 for the keystone jacks

Total = £112.

That's for potentially gigabit Ethernet to 5 locations (two endpoints per location), with proper wall sockets and structured cabling. If you're happy to have the cables hanging loose out of the wall, you can knock £70 off that price. Compare this to £60 per endpoint for powerline, which is only going to give you 200mbit if you're very lucky - you know it makes sense.

Is this for everyone? No. If all you do is browse the web, then wireless is clearly going to suffice. However, if you're going to use your network for shovelling lots of data back and forth (e.g. streaming HD video from a NAS, for example), then more bandwidth never hurt anyone. When I finally get around to doing this, there'll be another blog with an idiots guide to the execution. Watch this space readers.

Thursday 5 April 2007

Ola [Am]

Course, as you sit in the low 70 degrees heat, chomping thoughtfully on a large beer with a small amount of ice crystals noodling around in the head at the very small internet cafe, it would be natural to log in to talk to ones clannies on irc. However I am getting g-lined due to naughtiness espanola style on this piece of shit isp (no no idea wot it is).
Could have sworn there used to be some useful java irc applets on ukgamer and even eurogamer but buggered if I can find em. If anyone knows of one that will circumvent isp-lameness straight into quakenet, blog it up. That is the short term fix. Beej - I think you should get on with the medium term fix eh bud :)
There is a blog or two from this little sojourn in the sun but pending better cummuniçation, that will have to wait eh.
Adios. De nada. Muchos graçias. Una palermo blanca. La plume de ma tante. Fuxyas ;)