Category Archives: Personal

San Francisco

Spent a very pleasant couple of weeks out in the Bay Area, seeing friends, going to a Rope Dojo and then some trips out of the city. Some more pics up on flickr.

A few highlights:

The computer history museum in Mountain View is worth a half-a-day trip. Relatively accessible via CalTrain and then the Googler’s Shoreline Shuttle (just check the times the bus runs). It’s pretty huge and encompasses a wide range of stuff from punch cards, ancient storage, pong, Crays and the original rack Google ran from.


A trip up to the Marin Headlands is also worthwhile if you’re vaguely interested in military history, bunkers and the like. Especially great is the Nike Hercules missile site (check hours) complete with working missile lift, but sadly without the nuclear pits.

The California Academy of Sciences was ok – it certainly had very impressive biodomes and aquarium, but did feel a little short-changed given the cost of the ticket.

Amalanic alligator

For the more, ahem, alternative a trip around the SF Armory was fun and certainly impressive in places (pics slightly NSFW):

SF Armory (

Beetroot gels

It has been a very long time since I posted here – sorry!

I thought I’d share some lessons learnt in the past few days having made what should have been very simple golden beetroot gel for Heston Blumenthal’s recipe of orange and beetroot jellies (the trick is that it’s blood orange and golden beetroot).


It transpires that the betalin compounds in beetroot (both red and golden) discolour easily under a variety of conditions including pH, oxidation, heat and light. The result is that the bright yellow colour of golden beetroot rapidly turns greeny-brown. Heston does not mention this fact in his recipe. Bad Heston.

To avoid this problem you need to do the following:

Keep the beets chilled prior to juicing.

Immediately mix in 2-5g ascorbic acid.

Pass the resultant juice through a chinois to remove any green particles.


Use about 8g leaf gelatine / 200g juice. Rehydrate the gelatine then heat with a small amount of water until thoroughly dissolved. Gelatine dissolves around 50C and solidifies around 25-40C. Betalins discolour above 30C. Do you see the trouble brewing? Allow the juice to warm up slightly to about 15C. Whisking all the time reduce the gelatine mixture to about 30C then add  the beetroot juice slowly.

Set in an airtight container in the fridge.

The Fat Duck

I was 30 last week. Great. The good thing was that we got a last minute cancellation The Fat Duck in Bray and were there like a shot for dinner service on my birthday itself.

Everything was just perfect – the food utterly out of this world (and I think would have been even more amazing if I didn’t know quite a lot of the courses already), service impeccable, decor was muted yet somehow suited the mentalness of everything else.

I didn’t take pictures of every single course (most people did take cameras though) but I snapped a few. You can see other peoples’ up on Flickr.

Why you should FriendFeed

FriendFeed is hard to explain – it’s like a cross between a forum. twitter and facebook. But it’s better than that: FriendFeed draws in all your content from all the other places you hang out including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, your own blog (via RSS) and presents it in one place. People can then comment on those posts and you can follow other people’s content.

I admit that it has a bit of a geeky leaning (mostly IT losers like myself and photographers) but the cool thing is that you can get to see content the friends-of-friends like too, exposing you to whole new range of people. It’s fun!

Why you should use FriendFeed if you use:


Do you share stuff (links, notes) on Facebook? FF is a damn easier to do that with (they have a funky sharing bookmark tool). Oh and that commenting / liking thing Facebook has? Where do you think they nicked it from. There’s even a FF app for Facebook so you can share your FF stream with FB.


Not only is the FF / Twitter integration instant, but FF makes a much better Twitter client. FF is also real time, so you see posts scrolling past as they happen. FF also unpicks shortened URLs and embeds twtitpics automatically so you see it all in one place. FF can also “Tweetcast” your FF posts/comments/likes so you can still reach out to your Twitter followers.

Google Reader:

I know reader has some social networking features, but they’re pretty late to the party. Why not post your reading matter into FF for all to see rather than have people guess at obfuscated URLs? Now that reader and FF use PubSubHubbub, your shares and likes in reader show up instantly in FF.


You don’t even need to create an account if you use Twitter, Facebook or Google – just sign in with the account you already have. What’s to lose?!

Lastly, I’ve found the team behind FriendFeed to be the most receptive and responsive bunch of developers I’ve ever come across. New features come out regularly (like groups and friend lists recently). There’s a neat new API for people who like to tinker (my mini blog on the left there is driven using the v1 API).

Oh, and there are never any spammers or trolls :)

If you do signup, be sure to follow me and I can point you in the direction of some good people to follow too (another new feature: suggested friends!):

Has anyone seen my bike?

Last seen on the back of a Land Rover in Hammersmith. It seems the universe doesn’t want me to ride bikes.


For info it’s a black Specialized Rockhopper Comp Disk ’08 with Shimano XTR SPD peddles and a crank brothers pump. And a few brackets for computers and such like.

Utter swines.

Peak District

I spent the last week up in Derbyshire with some friends, although it mostly comprised an entire family clan. The weather was perfect for lots of walking and biking.

Stupidly I pushed myself too hard on one of the days and ended up with some eye trouble. Many hours in various hospitals later I was diagnosed with a Branch Retinal Venous Occlusion – essentially a small stroke leading to haemorrhaging – by the fantastic people at Sheffield Hallam’s eye casualty. This isn’t in any way normal for someone that isn’t crusty so I’m now being seen by Moorfields. Hopefully the haemorrhages will clear in the next couple of weeks and restore the vision in that eye.

MovableType 4

Not posted for a while, not least because I’ve been putting off doing the upgrade from MovableType 3 to 4. I came across problems with the DB migration (UTF-8 please), new templates, conflicting CSS – nightmare.

Many tears later it’s roughly complete. Please give me a shout if something seems bust.

I give up trying to stay up to date with technology.

Lactose free Walkers products

Walkers recently changed their Salt & Vinegar flavour to include milk-derived lactose, which is a bit of a bummer for those of us that are lactose intolerant (mine is Crohn’s and not hippy related you understand) as it was one of the very few fattening snack products that were.

I emailed them and they’ve changed the formulation to exclude MSG (why?) and added lactose. Anyway, they were fairly good at responding with a list of lactose free products, which I shall share with you now.


Walkers Products suitable for Lactose Intolerants

May 2009


Walkers BBQ Rib Flavour Crisps
Walkers Pickled Onion Flavour Crisps
Walkers Prawn Cocktail Flavour Crisps
Walkers Ready Salted Crisps
NEW Walkers Roast Gammon Flavour Crisps
Walkers Steak & Onion Flavour Crisps
NEW Walkers Sweet Cumberland Sausage Flavour Crisps
Walkers Worcester Sauce Flavour Crisps
Walkers Salt & Shake Crisps
Walkers Lights Simply Salted Crisps
Walkers Sensations Balsamic Vinegar & Caramelised Onion

Flavour Crisps

Walkers Baked Mango Chilli Flavour
Walkers Baked Ready Salted
Walkers French Fries Ready Salted Flavour
Walkers French Fries Salt & Vinegar Flavour
Walkers Quavers Prawn Cocktail Flavour
Walkers Quavers Salt & Vinegar Flavour
Walkers Sensations Oriental Crackers Peking Spare Rib Flavour
Walkers Sensations Poppadom Bites Lime & Coriander Chutney Flavour
Walkers Squares Ready Salted
Walkers Squares Salt & Vinegar Flavour
Walkers SunBites Original
Walkers SunBites Sun Ripened Sweet Chilli Flavour
Walkers Wotsits Flamin’ Hot Flavour
Doritos Chilli Heatwave Flavour
Doritos Lightly Salted
Doritos Sizzling BBQ Flavour
Smiths Chipsticks Ready Salted
Smiths Chipsticks Salt & Vinegar Flavour

Please Note:

This list is published using the best possible information that is available at the time of compilation. Whilst we take every care, Walkers Snack Foods cannot accept liability for any errors that may inadvertently occur. Recipes may change so always check ingredients on the pack.

Windows 7 Media Centre


I did an in-place upgrade of our living room media centre to the Windows 7 RC last weekend. I was a bit hesitant, not least because it’s our main TV and therefore has to have a high wife-acceptance-factor (WAF>90). I had updated to Vista TV Pack a few weeks ago and found some issues with reception of a few channels (C4 mostly) so I felt that things probably couldn’t be any worse.

The upgrade went amazingly smoothly and things pretty much "just worked". I had to update my network card drivers as they blue screened on standby, but they were 2 years old. The iMon LCD display also doesn’t work as their app crashes on startup. I presume an updated version will emerge sooner or later.

But, down to the good bits:

– If you hadn’t already gone to Vista TV Pack, then you’ll get interactive ("red button") on DVB-T and subtitles.
– Speaking of subs, when you mute media centre, subs get turned on automatically. Neat.
– TV quality looks better, a bit sharper perhaps.
– I love the new screensaver of your favourite pics / cover art when TV is paused or stopped.
– In the guide, hold down the arrow keys and you’ll super-speed through the days.
– The now/next mini guide is much improved for browsing around channels.
– The new movies section automatically categorises and grabs cover art for any movies you record from TV or play back via DVD.

The only thing I don’t like is the media centre startup noise. It sounds like Fox News’ jingle or some American anthem. At least you don’t have to hear it that often.