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Archive February 2005
Thursday 24 February 2005
Super SkilletThe diagrammatical instructions from the 'Super Skillet' box
A couple of weeks ago I blogged about ordering a non-non-stick frying pan and wok. The wok was delayed by being out of stock, but the frying pan arrived some time ago, and has been used several times.

At first I tried using it as the instructions on the box suggested (see diagram inset to the right), but the food kept falling out, and the temperature of my abdomen wasn't really enough to cook by. Perhaps my forearms just weren't hefty enough, I thought.

But then I realised that the diagram on the box wasn't about cooking - it's how you wield the pan in preparation for Extreme Iron Chef Pan vs Pan combat. The stance is relaxed and non-tiring, yet ready for a variety of motions at a moment's notice. The non-handle hand can be used to speed the mass of the pan into position for an overhand smash, or rapidly flip the pan upwards for a defensive block with the base. A simple side-swipe requires only that the off-hand be moved aside. And before it even comes to combat, the stance is obviously appropriate for the rhythmic drumming panfighters use for pre-combat negotiations and intimidation. Panfighters practice with a banjo for hours at a time to get this stance right.

At least the box doesn't have any insanely obvious features of the pan listed as if they're special. The new kettle we got has a "hinged lid for easy filling". So if the pan had decided to market the same way, it could have a "rigid handle for non-spill lifting", "raised sides to prevent food loss" and "unperforated base for maximum liquid retention". But it doesn't claim to have any of these things.

Despite these glaring omissions, it is a great pan. Food sticks less to it than it ever did to its 'non-stick' predecessor, heat is distributed more evenly, and the food doesn't go into my eyes. Not that food went into my eyes before, but you never know what features you might need to mention. The only weakness I've found so far in the Super Skillet is that it's not very good for cooking kryptonite. You'd be surprised how rarely that comes up. [15:54] [2 comments]

Tuesday 22 February 2005
I've been meaning to blog a particular thing for ages, but I keep not getting around to preparing the required picture; thus I have ended up blogging nothing for a long time. Well, because of that and because of another Guild Wars beta weekend, which you might think would only cause three days of non-blogging, but then you'd be neglecting to take into account the fact that I would be doing three days worth of extra work in the four days previous, so as to not have Guild Wars result in decreased productivity. It's still a good game, and the new bit they've stuck on the beginning is nice, but it wasn't quite as compelling this time because I've already played through a lot of the quests, and didn't want to do them all again now only to have to do them all again when it's released before being able to move on to later things. So this time I was mostly experimenting with the players-versus-players combat arenas, which was fun too, but not in the same "must keep playing" way that a good (or amusingly bad) plot can be.

In other gamey news (note: the word 'news' in this context is not to be taken to imply the presence of news), I discovered that Yahoo have some reasonably polished shareware-type games for download. The downloads only let you play for an hour, but that's okay because by that point you're half way through the game and bored anyway so the $20 price tag to continue just seems ridiculous and you get to stop with fond memories. In decreasing order of preference, I quite enjoyed Betrapped, Mah Jong Quest, Magic Ball 2 and Fiber Twig.

I also discovered that Yahoo have a decent-seeming deal akin to those DVD places that post you DVDs as quick as you can watch them, only for games, in Games On Demand. It's via download, which is good in that it means you get the thing quicker than you would by post, but bad in that it means your internet connection gets saturated by downloading games. $15 a month for unlimited games from the list or $10 a month for three games a month seems like a reasonable deal, but it has one horrible flaw - if I got the $15 package my skinflintly Scottish nature would compel me to play the games constantly so as to get value for money, so I wouldn't get any work done at all until I'd played the entire selection and then cancelled the subscription. So on balance, I shouldn't subscribe to the service. Which is a shame, because I'd quite like to support services of that nature, and they do have some quite good games in the list (eg. Beyond Good and Evil and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time). But no. Unless perhaps I can persuade myself to pretend it's $1 per four hours of game, and thus arbitrarily limit myself to two hours a day. Hm. It would still be a far better deal than buying games, which generally have about 6-12 hours of play each, minus the "game might turn out to be crap" gamble which is eliminated entirely by a subscription-based system. I shall decide by relaxing my brain and see which way it falls - either convincing me it's a good idea next week or so, or forgetting about it entirely in a couple of days.

As you can see, I still haven't got around to the picture for the blog entry I've been meaning to do. And it's not even going to be all that good, I'm afraid. [21:34] [4 comments]

Friday 11 February 2005
I started watching season 2 of Blake's 7, yesterday (the DVD box set having arrived recently). It is such a fantastic show, it puts its modern progeny and its contemporaries to shame. After enduring the filthy sediment that is Andromeda season four and to a lesser extent five (as if season three wasn't bad enough), switching to Blake's 7 is not just like a breath of fresh air, it's like a breath of fresh air near a bakery in an agricultural rural village early in the morning when you've been living in sewers for a month and have just narrowly escaped from drowning in excrement. Firefly, Stargate and that bloody show that people keep harping on about with the pale blue girl and the hairy guy aren't much better than Andromeda's terrible seasons, if at all. Shallow characters whose idea of witty cutting remarks include such gems as "shut up" and "no, really, shut up", and despite that rubbishness you have to agree with them because the other characters just won't shut up.

Among its rough contemporaries, there's Doctor Who and Star Trek (yes, I realise Kirk Trek predates Blake by about ten years, but from a 2005 perspective it's reasonably contemporary). Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy both Doctor Who and Kirk Trek - but not in the same day as Blake's 7. I watched what is apparently one of the better Tom Baker Who episodes a few hours after a Blake, and it was dreadfully disappointing. In comparison, the music is all jumbled, the dialogue is bland, the characters flat. It wasn't a horrible painful experience like watching an episode of Andromeda season 4, but still, I was wishing for Avon to come in and save the day by bringing some competence to the universe and then insulting everyone humorously.

Really, Blake's 7 has everything you could possibly want from a space opera series unless you're criminally insane - it has ongoing plot continuity (others: Babylon 5, Farscape), it has all episodes functioning pretty well as standalones (others: All Treks, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica), it has interesting characters with a bit of depth (others: um?), it simultaneously has fantastically cliché characters (others: okay, everything), it has really well placed music (others: I don't know, but certainly not Andromeda season 4 which plays what is clearly victory music for the heroes being chased), it has delightful yet mostly non-ridiculous costumes (others: hm, maybe Babylon 5?), it has genuinely witty dialogue (others: ha, not bloody likely. How about Andromeda season 5's "give me your ship!" "I think you're confusing me with someone who gives a ship." No, I didn't think so.), it has effective conflict within the crew (others: Andromeda season 1, Babylon 5, maybe Farscape but I hate Farscape so I couldn't tell you), it has occasional competent baddies (others: only by dint of baddies somehow having survived long enough to assemble vastly superior technology, never by intelligence), and it has comically crude special effects (others: Doctor Who is the only real peer, but Kirk Trek and Battlestar Galactica get an honourable mention).

The two things Blake's 7 really does lack for is enough episodes, and DVDs releasing quickly. I've nearly run out of shows to occupy my pre-work toast ritual, and was thus forced to place orders for DVDs of old Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers (how long before they do a remake of that, d'you reckon?) and Knight Rider. Next week I'll be shaking my zimmer-frame at you all and extolling the virtues of making one's own entertainment. Now go and get yourself some Blake's 7 and Monkey DVDs. [01:34] [2 comments]

Sunday 6 February 2005
Today I went hunting for a decent frying pan or wok, our old one having become completely useless due to shedding Teflon into our food over the last few months. Based on a small amount of research, I had decided I didn't want pans involving Teflon, since apparently Teflon gives off poisonous gases sufficient to kill birds, at high temperatures (not far above the smoke-point of grapeseed oil, and apparently temperatures often reached in cooking bacon). Also apparently professional chefs don't like non-stick coatings because they don't brown foods properly (and certainly I don't like them for that reason).

So, I went to a specialist cooking supplies shop, after staying awake for several hours until they opened because it was Sunday again like it always is when I want to buy things, and asked them about pans without non-stick coatings. The shop had two such pans, both cast iron, and both of a stupid useless shape - one extremely shallow wok, and one extremely shallow frying pan with low-angled edges for maximum spilling. And both insanely expensive - the Internet tells me that cast iron cookware is cheap, but the shop tells me that (after a 33% discount!) it's $250 for a completely useless wok.

Presumably the logic of cookware sales goes something like this - on the one hand, we can offer Teflon, which can't be used at high temperatures, will fall apart in about six months, gives off poisonous gases, and won't actually cook your food properly, and on the other hand OH WHAT THE HECK WHO NEEDS ANOTHER HAND, NOBODY WOULD WANT ANYTHING DIFFERENT FROM THAT!

I didn't buy anything, obviously, and came home and asked the internet for cookware instead. I found some delightful cookware via Yahoo's Australia and New Zealand directory - some of the delightful cookware was in New York, which has 'New' in the name so it must be part of New Zealand, and the other good site was in Texas, which is obviously part of Australia for a very good reason. Eventually I found a cast iron wok and a stainless steel skillet at reasonable prices that were in the real Australia, not the crazy Yahoo Australia. Fuck you Yahoo, I'm not putting your stupid exclamation-mark on that's part of your stupid name until you get your countries straight. [18:32] [21 comments]
I want the world rearranged into a better accord with graph theory. If you tried to map relationships in a graph of nodes, with physical distance being reflected in the distance between nodes, the graph would be an impossibly stupid mess. There must be thousands of nodes (people) between me and any of my 'close' friend-nodes after the nearest two. And it's not just internet-happy people who are in this sort of state - people go off to universities far away, move for jobs and the like, and so do their friends, until everyone's all far apart and it's a pain in the arse.

The world is all arranged like a millions of times more complicated version of the graph to the left, node lines crossing all over the place even though pretty much nobody wants it to be that way. You want to live near your friends, yes? Everyone prefers to live near their friends. Graphing diagrams prefer to have related nodes near to each other.

The image to the right is the how things should be (only, still, millions of times more complicated, of course). The nodes with the closest relationships should be closest together. If 2 also liked 7, the 3-4 pair should be swapped with the 7-8 pair. Obviously it wouldn't be possible to have a perfect arrangement for every node, but surely we could do better than nearly all of my connected nodes being in different continents. Most of my friends are also friends with others within the same sub-group, so a fairly tight sub-graph would be perfectly plausible.

But noooo, the stupid world is instead arranged according to stupid pragmatic things like where people have employment, or which governments won't refuse to let them in their country, or where they can afford a house. Which last factor is especially annoying - even if a sub-group of nodes wanted to become proximate and didn't have any restrictions of employment or legality, they would still have a difficult time of it because abodes are mostly only ever sold one at a time. So if our hypothetical Adam and Beth, nodes 1 and 2, want to move near their friends Agnes and Brian, nodes 3 and 4, they either need to wait until the unrelated unfriendly Arthur and Beatrice, nodes 6784324 and 6784325, decide they want to sell the house next to Agnes and Brian, or all four of them have to move at the same time to some new place that's still in construction so that none of it has been sold to Angela and Bertram yet.

Which is even more stupid when you consider than there's a good chance, metaphorically, that Arthur and Beatrice want to live near to Angela and Bertram. If everyone weren't so attached to their current location, and a massive organised rearrange was scheduled to position everyone in a manner better suited to them, we'd all be a lot more pleased with the new arrangement (assuming equivalent accommodation).

Thus, I propose that everyone in the entire world be assigned a unique ID number, and then enter into a database numbers representing the strength of their relationship to each other unique ID number where their relationship is non-zero. A huge clever graphing program can then sort out where people should live in terms of proximity to their friends and suitable employment, and reposition us all appropriately. With a really fast computer, the calculations would be complete about 3000 years after we're all dead, since optimising graphing is notoriously computationally expensive even with a small number of nodes and joins. The killer robots of that time will then be asked to shuffle our corpses around into the appropriate arrangement. Problem solved. [03:40] [4 comments]

Thursday 3 February 2005
Bees!I've recently finished making an online Java version of a board game I designed some time ago, Bees! It can be played (and the rules can be found) here. People who are familiar with boardgames fairly quickly make the statement that it's like a cross between Abalone, Chess and Go. I'd add maybe a dash of Shogi to that. It's been tested a few times, but not extremely thoroughly so you may find a bug, in which case I'd appreciate a report of it - after you've checked the rules to make sure it's not just something you didn't realise was supposed to happen.

To play it you will need an opponent. Anyone who knows how to contact me is welcome to do so for a game of Bees!, assuming I'm awake at the time. Anyone is more than welcome to grab a friend and play against them. If you have two people at one machine who wish to play, you can just log in once and jump back and forth between the red and yellow seats depending whose turn it is.

The layout of the site is a bit sparse and unfriendly at the moment, and is likely to stay that way for the indefinite future. To get to the Java you'll need to log in (which just involves entering a name). Once logged in, you'll need to either create or join a table. Once at a table, you'll need to sit in one seat, and your opponent sit in the other (seats are marked as either red or yellow). Movement is performed by dragging the bee to be moved. [19:03] [0 comments]

Monday 31 January 2005
The other day, as I often do, I purchased a kilogram bag of baby onions. The most recent bag of baby onions, however, contained an anomaly.
thalidomide baby onion
Depicted there, on the right, is a common baby onion. On the left is the anomalous onion, significantly larger than an average adult onion. What sort of freakish onion mother gives birth to a thalidomide baby onion like that? I hope it was at least delivered by onion-C-section to spare the onion-mother the agony that such a birth would entail. Unless she was an onion-ogre, in which case no doubt such onion-babies are normal and can be delivered naturally.

Or perhaps the onion-collector somehow mistook an adult onion for a baby onion, much as a lunatic might mistake this 'baby' from the unlikely movie 'Vampiyaz' for a real baby. Or an onion.
I would like to make it clear at this point that I did not watch the movie 'Vampiyaz', merely read a review of it at SomethingAwful. I did, however, eat the mutant baby onion.

Unrelatedly, the movie Nothing is quite good. Delightful macabre design, the sort of thing Tim Burton is credited with but not actually very good at. Shares creative talent with 'Cube', but is better. Worth seeing, but not worth going to a cinema for. Which is unlikely to be a problem, since it's not a cinematic release. [16:44] [6 comments]