Settling down in the Inner West

On Saturday I did some farting about in the house. Got flyscreens made for the windows, improved the window security a little, toyed around with my new Internode ADSL and Nodephone VOIP stuff. I also did my Driving Knowledge Test down at the RTA and got my learner's license. The test was bloody easy, and I can't believe you could fail it!

Sunday I went and (re-)joined Alfalfa House, a food co-operative on Enmore Road. I used to be a member before I moved over to London and it's changed a fair bit. It's no longer compulsory to do work, though you get an extra discount for one shop if you do a two hour shift. The range of foods has also improved, with lots more reasonably priced organic fruit and veg. Though in one area the selection has reduced: muesli. There used to be a great range, now there's only two. I might have to make my own.

Then I wandered down King Street and picked up a yummy Burek, got a hair cut, dropped into Fiji Market and bought some spices, then headed home.

I'm enjoying being back in the Inner West. Especially liking having a garden!

In Search of Perfection

I've been working my way through Heston Blumenthal's book In Search of Perfection, which accompanies the TV show of the same name.

Blumenthal is something of a food obsessive, to put it lightly. His three-star restaurant, The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, England, is a palace of high-concept, creative and weird food. He uses new ingredients and techniques to inspire traditional and brand-new foods. He's most famous for his snail porridge and his bacon and egg ice cream, but there's more to his food than just flash and frizz.

Holly and I ate at the restaurant a couple of years ago and the only regret is that we opted for the cheaper lunch menu rather than the (£80 + wine + service) tasting menu. The food was just incredible, with a range of courses exploring different ideas and amuses bouche between courses. The most intriguing dish was a beetroot crumble served as a side. Only after you start eating do you realise it also has those pop-rock crystals which pop and crackle in your mouth. This gives you some idea of the playfulness of his food.

In Search of Perfection, Heston

In Search of Perfection is somewhat more serious. Blumental has taken a eight classic dishes and attempts to find the perfect recipe for them, but using techniques that don't necessarily require a food laboratory or inaccessible ingredients.

He's often written in the Grauniad about brining and long, slow, low-temperature cooking as a technique for cooking meat without losing juices or tenderness. He takes this to a serious extreme in ISOP. His recipe for steak requires about thirty hours of cooking, including using an industrial blowtorch (a creme brulee type won't do) and cooking at 50° for eight hours! And this is one of the simpler, easier recipes in the book.

It's kind of daunting, seeing these kinds of recipes, but I'm also intrigued to know the results. Along the way he develops techniques that a home cook can actually do, such as the aerated chocolate layer (think aero bar) of his Black Forest Gateau. In his lab he'd use a special vacuum machine, but he demonstrates how to do it at home. Melt chocolate and butter, then quickly put it into a pre-warmed cream machine and charge with four bulbs. Squirt the chocolate into a plastic container with a hole in the top, place the whole thing into one of those vacuum storage bags and very quickly extract the air with a household vacuum cleaner. The dissolved gas from the cream machine expands as the pressure drops and you end up with a very light chocolate. Quite incredible!

I particularly appreciated his exploration of Napoli-style pizza. This is pretty much impossible to make in a standard oven, as the pros use pizza ovens that are at least 350° and you just can't get that in your domestic oven. When I finally own a home, I plan to build a pizza oven in the garden that also doubles as a grill and southern-style indirect-heat barbecue.

At some point, when I've got lots of time, I'm going to attempt some of these recipes. It should be fun. I only hope my oven can actually do temperatures that low!

Oh and if you're in the UK, make sure you get out to Bray and try The Fat Duck. Go for the tasting menu, yes it's expensive but you won't be disappointed. You can get to Bray by catching an overland train to Maidenhead and a taxi to the restaurant.

Congratulations to Mohammad Yunus

Mohammad Yunus has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He's notable for starting the Grameen Bank, which was notable for designing a system that allowed poor people to borrow small amounts of money and pull themselves out of poverty. The concept of microcredit has boomed and helped an enormous number of people.

It's an interesting idea and I've followed it for a long time. Basically it's pure capitalism, except that Yunus designed a different model for lending. They charge commercial interest rates and pay investors competitive rates, so it's not a charity, but the effect is to put power into their borrowers' hands.

One of the key enablers for Grameen's success is that most of the loans go to women. Women seem to be more responsible with money, and the loan default rate the Bank gets would be the envy of many a western bank.

So congratulations to Yunus and the Grameen Bank. Yunus' acceptable speech is here.

I guess I can now say I've met a Nobel Peace Prize winner. W00t!

Word of the day: Confusopoly

Discovered this great word coined by Dilbert author Scott Adams: Confusopoly where instead of competing, companies instead try to bamboozle customers.

It's a great term and applies in so many areas. Banks, insurance companies, telcos. You can spot a confusopoly by the number of * and other symbols in the main text of their ads. A huge block of impenetrable legalese in 5 point font is a dead giveaway.

ADSL on at last

Just got this message from my ISP: Provisioned: DSL Service is fully provisioned!

Very nice, but due to Telstra fuckwittedness I can't get the lovely ADSL2+ speeds I wanted. Also still waiting on the ADSL modem to arrive before I can ditch the appallingly bad Unwired service.

Server hassles

So over the weekend I started to work on getting my server running. This is an NEC system I bought off eBay, dual-Xeon, 2 gigs RAM and a big fat RAID array.

It doesn't seem to cope with me plugging in a PCI USB 2.0 card. Just fails to boot and gives an obscure error beep code indicating, according to the user guide, FRB failure: Contact your sales representative to replace the processor or system board.. Useful!

What's more, it seems that booting to use the DAC960 module for the RAID controller requires some obscure stuff. I've tried with Ubuntu, no joy. There also seems to have been a bug in Debian, though when I get home tonight I'll try some more options I've discovered.

So no movement on the server just now. The PCI problem is going to be a real pain, as it could also indicate I won't be able to use TV capture cards in it. That would really suck, though I guess I can use one of the IBM thin clients just to do the capturing, but I'd prefer a single-box solution.

Any ideas what "FRB failure" might be referring to? Googling for the acronym comes up with Federal Reserve Board, which fortunately I'm pretty sure hasn't failed.

When did futons get expensive?

When I moved out of my parents' house, my room was about 50cm longer than a double bed, and about 10cm wider. Still, I needed a bed and wasn't going to be very successful with the laydeez if I had a single bed, so I went and bought a nice, cheap futon matress and base. The company even came to my place and set it up.

I like futons, but the main criteria at that point was price. Futons with a rudimentary wooden slat base were really cheap.

Having returned from our sojourn in London for six years, our spare room has taken over my (much newer than the above) futon sofa bed base. We're trying to find a futon matress for it, but they've really jumped up in price! Cheapest we've found is $319. Ouch!

They're a weird mob

These Australians are a bit weird. Just got back from the supermarket and nearly all the sausages are beef sausages. That's just wrong! Especially when they say things like "traditional" on the packaging.

Sausages are made with pork goddammit! Would love a Porkinson about now.

Bugger, can't do

Just looking through the programme for and unfortunately I'm not going to make it. As a contractor it's quite expensive for me to take days off, so I was thinking a single day. Friday's programme looks great for me! Problem is, it's $300 regardless of how many days you come for. That makes it a very very expensive day.

So I think I'll come along for the Open Day which is free and I can get to by getting into work early and bunking off early.

Still, I should be able to get some info from Janet and Kim who will be staying at my place.