Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Reboot - How to avoid goofing 1 - Computer

There haven't been any posts over the holidays, but I've been busy doing things, and this blog unfortunately took low priority, however, now that term is nearly starting again, I find myself with renewed interest, and a concept for another series of posts.

Consider these short guides on life, how to get the most out of things, and, as the title implies, how to avoid epic fail.

The issues are going to be as follows:
1 - Computers, the software you need
2 - Video games, consoles and PC, things to play now, things to watch out for
3 - Cooking, general things you should and shouldn't be doing in a kitchen
4 - Sports and diet, how to not die
5 - anything else I think of...

So, without further ado:


How to avoid goofing 1 - Your computer and you, use protection

First things first, you get a new laptop/desktop, you open the box, it looks all cool and fresh, and you wonder where to begin. Well, power cable in, charge that battery, then boot up, and you're met with some horrific thing which may have once been a desktop, but is covered in 10 different apps that the manufacturer really thought you needed, but don't.

So piece of advice number 1, open control panel, find add remove programs, remove anything you don't need. If you don't know what it is, google it (using the default browser for now), if it sounds like something you're not going to use, then remove it.

Now some pieces of software may be needed to support things like fingerprint scanners, so if something stops working, then reinstall the last one you removed.
Once you're done, reboot.

Next, check for driver updates using windows update, and then using Device doctor.
It's the best driver finder I have used so far, and its free, what more do you want.

Now you have blank slate to start on, lets identify what we need:
  • Antivirus, very important
  • Web browser and associated, no one uses internet explorer, for lots of good reasons
  • Speed and stability, this covers quite a few things
  • Productivity tools, for whatever you're going to be doing with your new thing
Most important things are higher up the list, so lets start with the antivirus.

I have tested maybe 7 or 8 different antiviruses on systems running XP, vista and 7, and so I know from first hand experience which ones work well, and which ones will leave you with holes in your armor.

First off, you need Spybot S&D, install it, run it, and run immunisation, don't install the "tea timer" system settings protection, it only serves to annoy. You need to run this again every now and then, once a week or so is good.
Now you need the software which is going to actively protect your system, and you need to choose from 3 options:
  1. AVG Free, fast and powerful, a strong reccomendation
  2. Avast Free, maybe slightly faster, but can be more confusing to use
  3. ESET Nod 32, in excess of £20 per year, but the best available
Either of the first two options will keep you safe, but if you're going to pay for antivirus, don't bother with the premium versions of either of those products, if you want to spend money for that extra piece of mind, ESET is the only one worth buying.
So why do I recommend these 3? They all have the following key features:
  • Fast scans, you don't want to use any more time than you have to
  • Low overheads, your antivirus is always running in the background, so it shouldn't eat into your processing power
  • High detection rates, you don't want it missing things
  • Ease of use, they are ranked in order of ease of use, so if that's the main factor you need, choose AVG
There's no more to say on that really, apart from be sensible, if you're trying to view a video, and you click on it, and it says "video.exe" don't run it.

Web browsers, options are:
  1. Firefox
  2. Google Chrome
  3. Opera
Firefox is fast and sleek, and oh so customisable, does everything you want, won't complain, I would very much suggest using this one.
Chrome is in theory (slightly) faster and is simpler to use, also, it runs every tab in a new task, so if one tab crashes, you don't need to close the whole browser. But I found no speed increase, and in benchmarks on my system, it was slower on the whole.
Opera is nice, it looks nice, it feels nice, but unfortunately, it is the least supported of the browsers, and some sites just won't work, maybe in future, this will be the browser to watch.

Now to go with that, you need the basic internet tools, for watching videos and doing other stuff, you need all of these:
Just install them all, you will need them at some point.

Now, if you're using firefox, you need addons, I use Adblock Plus, Web Of Trust, Video Download Helper, Download Statusbar and Search Preview, check them out in the addons browser.

Speed and stability next, tricks to keep your computer running as fast as it should, all the time and long into the future.

Tip #1 - Disable windows indexing, right click on your drive in my computer, and find the button which says enable indexing, and disable it, the speed benefits to searching with this enabled are minimal, having said that, if you lose stuff all the time, leave it on.

Tip #2 - Buy Tuneup utilities, no, seriously, you need it, it does everything for you, all you have to do is install it, configure the maintenance to happen on a schedule, disable the defrag, and it will keep most things in check, removing broken things in the registry, removing broken shortcuts, and keeping your disk space available for important files.
It also has tweaks and suggestions which it makes when you first install it, listen to it!

Tip #3 - Ditch the windows file transfer, its slower than we want it, and has no support for verification of important files. Use Teracopy, and let it do all the work, your life will be easier.

Tip #4 - One last one, defrag, and often. Now I told you to disable the tuneup defrag, and this is because, despite the virtues of the rest of the program, the defrag leaves something to be desired. Instead, my favourite is Defraggler, but if you need something with more functionality, try Smart defrag. Either way, do it once a month, or just set a schedule, and forget about it.

Lastly, if you send files by e-mail lots, or you upload files to file hosting sites, you will be using compression. "Lol I know what that is, .zip right?", nope, .zip is the worst compression you can get apart from uncompressed, so you should be using 7-zip, it can uncompress anything you will come across in normal life, and makes .7z archives, which have the best compression you can get from any software which is not in beta (see KGB Archiver).

And so we come to our final category, which is very specific to the individual, so it will be hard for me to make a lot of general suggestions.

However, there are things that you will likely need to do at some point, retouch a photo, edit some video, rip the audio track from a video and write a document.
To do all this, you will need the following:
  • Avidemux, for video editing and audio extraction, it can also convert between hundred of formats of video and audio
  • Open office or Microsoft office, one is free and confusing, the other is expensive and sleek, your choice
  • GIMP or Photoshop, both are confusing, GIMP slightly less so, but if you need raw power and have money to burn, Photoshop may be the choice, or for a more casual user, try Ashampoo Photo Commander, cheaper than photoshop, and very easy to use, but not very versatile.
  • Foxit Reader, DO NOT use adobe reader, it sucks, period, if you need to read pdfs, which we all do, use this, and your processor will thank you.
  • Able batch converter, use this to resize, rename and retouch photos en-masse, it is very varied in what it can do, and it will make life a whole lot easier.
And thus ends my epic post about how to computer, follow these rules, and your life will be better on your computer, and you won't encounter the age old problem of "my computer isn't as fast as it used to be".

Final thing, no matter what anyone tells you on the internet, deleting SYSTEM32 will not make your computer faster, and will break everything, like dividing by 0, don't do it.

EDIT - Matt C has just linked me to this nifty little thing http://ninite.com/, which can install most of these for you, highly recommended as it will save you lots of time!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Cooking - Duck and raspberries

I have wanted to cook this dish for a while, but duck has always been very expensive, and raspberries are awful when out of season.

As it happens, I have been staying at my parents house in Yorkshire, and they have an allotment where they grow, amongst other things, raspberries, which have just been in season.  

So, the other day, on a jaunt out to get meat for our bbq which we had on sunday, we spotted 2 duck breasts on offer and I had to have them, they looked so delicious! On our way back, we picked a punnet of raspberries, and set in motion a sequence of events which led to: http://tinyurl.com/33ctvqa

 Sounds tasty no?

Anyways, after serving it to Louise, the following points came up, which I will be noting for next time, and if you want to make the dish yourself, you should also take on board:

- The duck breasts we had were maybe just over 1 inch thick and if you have similar thickness duck, they should be cooked for 7 1/2 to 8 minutes in the oven for rare, and 8 to 9 for medium, 6 was far too rare even for my taste, and I tend to have steak "bleu"

- The sauce was a little tart, even though I used some nice sweet vinegar, but this is likely down to the fact that the raspberry season is at an end. Take note of the time of year; at the start of season, raspberries tend to be sweeter, but near the end of season, and a few days after it rains, they tend to be a lot sharper, so taste them first, if they are a little sharp, add an extra teaspoon or two of sugar when cooking.

I served the duck with some simple steamed green beans, picked yesterday, and some slices of yellow courgette, fried in butter and oil (also picked yesterday).
Good eating.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Cooking - Okonomiyaki

After all the gripping DF posts, I'm sure you all fancy something else, so a good recipe to use up leftover veg, or to show off your pronunciation skills (o-ko-no-mi-ya-ki), or just because you fancy something different.

Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese pancake/omelette dish served with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonaise, or if you don't feel like making the sauce, you can always use worcestershire sauce and mayonaise, but I can tell you it is very much worth the effort.

I will link to the recipes to save me writing them out again, but I will add this:
- Use less cabbage, maybe 1 1/2 cups instead of 2 to 3, and make sure to finely chop it.
- I am thinking about blanching the cabbage a little bit before adding it in next time as it was very crunchy, but then again, I like it like that so maybe, but I'm not sure.
- The portion serves 2 hungry people well as a main course, maybe 3 normal people, and maybe 4-6 as a starter.

The pancake itself is found here (pancake) and the sauce is here (sauce). And if you care to make your own mayonaise (mayo), but I will fess up now, I did not.

Enjoy :)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

TOA - The End?

The beast was slain today by the captain of the guard.

He took it upon himself to protect the miners who had been caught by the beast, and armed with his legendary golden warhammer, he struck the creature a killing blow. In the end, the forgotten beast only injured 2 war dogs, who are expected to make a full recovery.

The miners continued their efforts with new pride, the death of the beast brought them new hope. Aristlitast was unstoppable with it's mighty military, the best trained in the land.

And soon they struck raw adamantium, praise to the miners! The fort would be the richest place in all Tadinramul, with it's hallways lined with the precious metal and a dining room made from solid gold!

But wait, the adamantium vein is hollow, and steam rises up from the depths, tainted in strange purples. The miners lean over the edge to have a look, and the shaft leads down to a chamber below, impossibly vast and with glowing pits in the floor of unknown depth.

Then they heard the screaming, wails of horror echoing throughout the cavern. But these were the brave miners of Aristlitast, normal mortals would have fled and activated the carefully lain traps, but they simply shrugged and started hauling the precious metal to the surface, signalling for the rest to follow suit.

Then the creatures came, some with names, others wihout, salt monsters, steam demons, magma men, and shapeless horrors of the depths, they all poured out of the shaft in countless quantities.

Now they fled, the miners and haulers alike, running for the passage to the surface. The dwarves ahead of them urged them on, sealing the great stone doors behind them.

"We must run for the lever room and seal them in for good, then flood the underground, it is our only option!" screamed the captain of the guard.
"Never, we are mighty, a few monsters won't scare us off our prize, send the military to bar the passage, we will stand and fight!" said the mayor, recently elected to his post after a bountiful trade with the elves.

And so it was, the military were sent down to the passage, they crept their way along, and slowly opened the doors.

What they met was a wave of flame, engulfing the whole passage, ripping the doors from their hinges and killing the military instantly.

The dwarves on the surface heard their screams and pulled the lever to seal the depths, but already 20 of the beasts were on their way up the main shaft and toward the fort.

The top most gate had also broken, no longer connected to its lever, and by the time it was fixed, the demons were upon the mechanics.

The flood was activated, but it only served to slow the flaming creatures, the volume simply not being enough to stop them. The rest of the monsters charged on unperturbed and tore through the carefully lain traps at the top of the shaft and into the fort proper.

There were no more defences, it had been assumed that all the previous defences would have been enough, and now the rest of the fort was entirely open plan, death would come quickly.

What followed was not pretty, dwarven men, women and children being torn to pieces by the demons, burned alive and eaten in front of their friends. Some of the dwarves managed to lock themselves in the farmland, and remove the flooding mechanism used to irrigate the fields. Others fled to the trade hall, only to be chased down by the demons.

The ones who escaped ran back into the top of the fort, their reasons unknown to me, perhaps madness had taken them, perhaps out of loyalty to their friends, perhaps trying to get their pets, we will never know.

But none ever left the fort, it may have been possible to seal the entrance if there had been less panic, but the mad running around meant every dwarf was lost.

The last to die was the mayor, chased into a corner, he begged for his life, but was shown no mercy. He was knocked unconcious in the trade hall, then dragged down a corridor and butchered.

Maybe one day people will return to Aristlitast, to find the fine crafts or to look at the engravings lining every corridor, maybe the demons will leave, maybe they will make it their own home, ultimately the future is unknown, but what I do know, is that the Righteous Picks, are no more.

END.

TOA - Ambush

It is now the winter of 1055 in Aristlitast and the last trade caravan is soon at arrive, the booze supplies are dangerously low as there is nowhere to store the booze, all the barrels having been used for food storage.

The carpenter works overtime to make more barrels, but the demand still far exceeds the supply, hopefully the traders will bring more.

And here they come, upon the Western cliffs a caravan is spotted heading for the fort, prepare the goods for trade!

But wait, something is wrong, goblins have been spotted springing from behind bushes, it's a trap! Send the militia!

But it was too late, by the time they arrived all the traders were dead and the goblins had fled.

The bodies were gathered and taken to the burial chambers in the shaft, and the goods recovered from the mountain, no sense in letting them go to waste, and the personal effects of the traders themselves can be returned to their families when the next caravan arrives (assuming it is better fated).

But now worse news, the scouting party in the depths has stumbled across something else, something big, something evil.

Lashid the forgotten beast has awoken, a great body covered in lidless eyes with thin wings of stretched flesh and poisonous fangs.

The underground is safe no more, the only way to press forward would be to build covered walkways through the depths, and even then there is no guarantee that Lashid wouldn't be able to break through, it is best sealed down there, or maybe trapped...

Friday, 18 June 2010

TOA - The Depths

Zan died from starvation, but in times of sadness, happy events have a way of coming forward, and two dwarven couples have been married, forgoing any formal ceremonies due to the circumstances. There is even a baby in the fort.

All is going well, the farms have once again started producing food, and the drink shortage has been solved so the fort is now completely self sustained, meaning we do not need the traders, and once an indoor water supply has been secured, the gate will be closed, Aristlitast will remove itself from the world while the project is completed.

The great stairway into the depths.

And now that stairway goes somewhere, four years since the founding of the fort, the stairway finally reaches nearly 150ft into the earth, and the miners have found a network of underground caves, filled with bugbats and troglodites, foul denizens of the dark. The militia was dispatched as the yelps of one of the miners dogs were heard and they arrived at the scene to find a bloody corpse and a blood splattered trog eating from it, the militia charged and made swift work of the creature, pausing to build doors as a barricade to any other unwelcome intruders.

While this was happening, one of the traps at the entrance to the shaft had been sprung, we had captured a trog, but what to do with the creature? They are humanoid in shape so it would be strange to eat it, and most of the fort believes them to be inedible, it cannot be trained and setting it free isn't an option. So we will keep it until we find a use, perhaps the militia can train new recruits with it.

But now the caverns, vast and filled with gems and fungi like you have never seen, and fine webs which could be spun into fine clothing. A scouting party was sent, and killed another trog on the way, they pose little threat to fully armed dwarves, and the group discovered a tunnel downwards, a series of ramps and small chambers leading deep into the earth. The route was followed a little way, but then news was passed down that traders had arrived. Not wanting to let them in on the potential wealth down below, the scouting party retreated, sealing the doors on the way out.

Perhaps next time we will venture deeper, perhaps we will find something interesting...

TOA - The Cold Winter

Winter has fallen again, much more so than last year, snow covers the ground, the water sources are frozen solid, and the sheriff of the fort has gone mad.

Zan had removed herself from society for a while, not telling anyone what was happening, but it seems that she had a desire to make something, most likely clothing or a glass item based on her skills, but lacked the workshop. If only she had told someone then the miners could have built anything she desired! The fool! Now she has lost her mind and runs around trying to gather equipment but being unable to carry it as she is too insane, poor soul.

Her condition is worsening as time passes, she now stands by the armor rack, grabbing and dropping warhammers, trying to do combat drills by herself. Beside her stand her 2 wardogs, faithful as always, hopefully if she becomes dangerous, they will be enough to stop her, as it stands, she is locked in the training room alone with them.

A long week has passed, the new farmlands are under construction, but still Zan is mad, the outlook is grim, yet the militia refuses to put her out of her misery just yet, she was a good friend to them.

The stone stores from the top of the shaft are being moved to the surface, an effort to allow the shaft to be cleared faster once building resumes, the preparations are now complete.

But wait, more migrants! This bring the fort up to 52 dwarves, a fine stronghold indeed! But new dwarves means more food need, more bedrooms to be dug, more beds to be made, it will be a slow process, but once it is complete, more workers for the dig, rejoice!

TOA - Madness!

The elves brought with them fine cloth and tanned hides from the forests, but unfortunately their foods were not to the taste of the dwarves. Yes they would provide sustenance, but they were not the fungi that they were fond of.

Still, the people gathered around the trade depot and watched the finest crafts being brought forward, shining scepters encrusted with gems, crowns, rings and a multitude of other things.

The elves were amazed and gladly accepted the offers, giving all the food they had, along with 3 animals, a mule, a horse and a tame fox. While not of much use for the militia nor for food, they would provide nice pets for some of the nobles of the fort.

The elves departed, the dwarves proud of their crafts having been praised so highly, and work recommenced on the shaft into the earth. The flooding mechanism was ready and with a flick of the switch, the whole lower level could be submerged.

But the winter had not been so kind to all the residents of Aristlitast, Dobar Sanreberith had fallen ill, and upon his recovery, he removed himself from the others, claiming a workshop and drawing pictures of shining metal bars and piles of cloth. Fearing for his sanity, and their safety, he was sealed into the metalsmiths. The dwarves would do all they can to bring him the materials he sought, though this means they must build a loom and mine for silver, they are just praying he will hold out until then.

Praise to the miners! Gold and silver veins have been found in the shaft, the ores will be extracted and refined then hopefully Dobar can begin crafting. The weaving has not yet begun, but hopefully in the time it takes the miners to dig out the vein, we will have something ready.

Unfortunately construction was too slow of the loom, the miners didn't prioritize excavating a room for it's construction, they were too caught up in the gold to notice that Dobar was almost at the point of no return. And now he is gone, driven mad by the lack of cloth, he has gone into a frenzy, he bangs on the doors of the forge, screaming to be let out so he can kill any he deems responsible for the lack of cloth.

After a day or so passes his screams turn to the sounds of crying, sorry for his madness, begging for forgiveness, and the dwarves tentatively open the doors, he is led away to his room, he will be watched closely over the coming weeks.

To lift the mood a little, construction of the shaft is paused, and the miners and mason team up to engrave the walls of the workshops and passageways, hopefully this will brighten up the fortress and lead to more happy dwarves.

The food crisis is also at an end, there is now breeding stock of 8 war dogs and several normal dogs, producing enough puppies to feed most of the fortress, hopefully the traders will bring plump helmet spawn next time though as should the war dogs be needed, this supply would soon end.

Dobar has died from thirst, it would seem he locked himself in his room and refused to drink, the fortress needs a new blacksmith.

Next - The shaft goes deeper...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

TOA - Migrants Abound

So after the long winter has passed, spring dawns on the fort again, still out of plump helmet spawn, but surviving on gathered plants and animals meat, hopefully our seeds will be replenished soon.

The thawing lake did nothing to the pillar, leaving the dwarves confused as to why it floats so, some think the lake may be magic, others realise that the rock they used is in fact quite buoyant, none the less, not what was expected.

But then hark! On the horizon travelers are spotted, the dwarves watch them come to the fort entrance and ask for a home with some sadness in their hearts, supplies were barely enough for the fort as it is, and the migrants are great in number, 18 of them in total, 1 more than the fort contains at the moment. But they say they will help out where they can, and The Righteous Picks will never turn a fellow dwarf away.

The miners gab their picks and strike the earth once more to make new rooms along the hallways of the second level, the crafters get to work, and the mason makes new doors, all will be well soon enough.

But the fortress is out of gems, the crafts will be much more valuable with them, and the fortress badly needs a lot of supplies next time the traders come. So the miners start a new project, to dig deep, deeper than ever before, deeper than the lowest levels of the mountainhalls themselves! But the miners are not foolish, they know of tales of things in the deep, so they are prepared.

A nearby lake is attached to the brook, then the lake channeled into the cliffside at the same level. Beneath this a passage is dug to the site of the main shaft, deep on level 3 of the fortress, and barred with a drawbridge, the waters will be freed against it, and in time of dire need, the bridge will be lowered to flood the shaft, and hopefully wash away anything that comes from it.

But what is this, a caravan from the elves, our struggles may be at an end!

Next - The shaft...

TOA - The First Winter

Winter set as the traders arrived, two caravans full of goods, heavily guarded and pulled by four mules, their journey across the mountain was tough, but upon seeing the entrance to the fort their eyes widened with joy, for soon they would have warmth and shelter.

They had come all the way from Tosid Igath so when they arrived, a fine barrel of Prickle Berry wine was brought to them, brewed by the master brewer as soon as the still had been built 7 months previous. Refreshed, they set to business immediately, not wanting to be snowed in for the season, offering clothing, armor and weapons for our gems and crafts.

But unfortunately Alath Evudakrul had been ill of late and had only one jet ring to offer alongside the uncut gems that had been extracted from the rock. Some wine and beer was brought forward as well, along with a crossbow that one of the dwarves had brought with him but no one had the skills to use. The traders were disappointed by the poor selection of goods, but they were assured that next visit there would be crafts a plenty, made from bone, rock and gems. The deal was made, and they began to pack up and leave.

Olin Olinulol took apprenticeship under Alath to make the crafts for next season and was discovered to have a natural talent for the art of crafting. Not a month after he started he made a masterpiece necklace from cow bone and presented it to Alath for his approval. With a tear in his eye, Alath praised him for his work, and said his training was complete, the best apprentice he had ever had, and left him the workshop. Soon the world would speak wonders of the crafts of Olin of The Righteous Picks!

Winter has also come in full force, the lower areas are mostly fine for the moment, nothing more than a thin film of ice on the brook, but the lakes near the fort are frozen solid. The dwarves know not what to make of this fact so tentatively place a pillar of rock in the center of the nearest lake, wondering what will happen when the ice thaws.

There is bad news from the farms as well, no plump helmet seeds can be found to plant, unless they have been misplaced, the fortress may have to rely on foraging and their few remaining animals until more can be procured. This is not helped by the roach infestation which has sprung up in the food stores, hopefully the traders will bring cats with them next time they visit. This winter may be hard on the fort.

But there is some good news, the mysterious lever room has been completed by the chief mechanic, his motives unknown to all and all the levers made from the darkest jet, but an accomplishment none the less; and the bedrooms have been finished, sleeping for 24 dwarves, the stones are just being smoothed then engravings will be added recounting the history of the mountainhomes.

Next - Spring and then great design...

TOA - Departure

#Note TOA = Tales Of Aristlitast#

After the departure from the mountainhomes, the brave explorers came to a valley with a brook flowing through it, steep cliffs were broken up by 2 large plateaus, one in the south at the level of the water, and another in the north set 15 ft higher. The upper plateau had trees and plants a plenty so they crossed the river and climbed the banks and there they would strike the earth to afford shelter for the coming winter, and to found their new home.

The digging was hard work through solid kaolinite and magnetite but the miners pressed on, supported by the rest of the dwarves bringing them booze and food from the limited stocks they had with them. Once the upper layers had been excavated, the supplies were moved inside, and a grand stone pile was made outside the entrance, it's purpose at the moment unknown, but it will surely be useful in future years.

Logging and foraging began until the farming area had been cleared of boulders, but a preparatory channel was dug from a nearby lake to irrigate the soil once the area was ready. The masons and carpenters were soon to work making doors and mechanisms to defend the fort, and building barrels to store the food and booze. Supplies were now at a low and the farmland would need to be ready soon else the dwarves would have to work hungry.

The farmland was sealed and the channel opened, water gushed into the chamber and spread perfectly over the area, the planning was done well, and the dwarves in charge would eat like kings as their reward. A wall was built to prevent any further influx of water in case of heavy rain, and the seeds were sown, the plump helmets would be numerous and all would eat well soon.

The miners, now better supplied, dug out the workshops and stores and a small still was constructed, the fort was taking shape. The area was being cleared constantly by the remaining dwarves, eager to have places to rest and eat, and so the fort took shape.

The dogs who had come on the journey had given birth to 6 wonderful puppies, the parents were trained into powerful war dogs to protect their young and the whole fort, their might equal to that of 2 men each and their loyalty, unwavering. An upper floor with the entrance was expanded via a passage a layer down to include a trade depot and dining room, the entrance itself was rigged with cages and rock fall traps to protect the fort from thieves and wild animals. The layer below which connected the depot and entrance was also home to the workshops and stores, where many dwarves were hard at work preparing for the traders which might visit, and in the far end was home to the farm. The final, lowest, layer of the fort was home to the bedrooms and offices, fine places for the hard working men and women to sleep.

And so the fort was ready, self sustained and productive, Aristlitast was founded!

Next - Winter falls and 2 trade caravans arrive at the same time...

Games - Dwarf Fortress

Been a while since my last update, so I thought I'd start up again with a bit of a story.

Now, Dwarf Fortress is not a game for everyone, I've shown it to Louise, and she is unimpressed (she doesn't mind when I explain the epic tales, but the lack of graphics is off putting), but if you get into it, you get trapped.

The lack of graphics and unintuitive interface are the two most off putting things, giving it a learning curve like a brick wall covered in angry cats, but I somehow managed to overcome this, and now have a fort going.

The following posts will be the tales of Aristlitast, and the brave men and women who live there.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Cooking - Muffins, 3 ways

Wanting to bring Louise something tasty this weekend when I go to visit her, I decided to make muffins/cupcakes.

So what should I make? I thought to myself.

I had several recipes for muffins that I wanted to try, so I lined them up and sent them to Louise over skype to see what she made of them, asking her to choose one.

She said to make whichever one I wanted, however I was still at a loss as to which one I'd prefer, so gears started churning, and being quite ambitious, I decided to make my 3 favourites from the set of recipes I had.

The issue I met when reading through the recipes, is that they all made different quantities, and one of them didn't indicate how many muffins this was O_o

So with some clever calculations, I scaled all 3 recipes to make 12 muffins per batch, 36 in total, I also adjusted sugar, salt  and butter amounts to more sensible levels than in the originals.

So with some reconfiguring, the final recipes start below here.

Common to all recipes:
- cream the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla extract, then the eggs and mix to a smooth consistency
- combine the dry ingredients in another bowl and sieve them
- when mixing together, mix the milk into the egg butter mixture in small quantities, alternating between adding the  dry mixture and the milk (and for the banana ones, the banana as well)
- using two spoons works well for extracting the mixture into those cute little muffin cases, for these recipes I found I had two spoonfuls in each
- all of them were baked at 190C, for about 20 minutes, but basically until they looked done

In the blueberry muffins, remember to gently fold in the blueberries so as not to break any of them.

Right, the quantities are as follows:


Ingredient

Blueberry

Chocolate

Banana
Butter (g) 60 100 60
Sugar (g) 70 200 100
Vanilla (tsp) 1 1 1
Eggs 1 2 1
Flour (g) 320 120 190
Salt (tsp) 1/4 1/4 1/4
Cream Of Tartar (tsp) 2 1/2 1/2
Baking soda/Bi-carbinate of soda (tsp) 1 1/2 3/4

Lastly:
2 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork.
1/2 cup cocoa powder.
1 1/2 cups blueberries.

Any issues then drop me a line :)

And a snap of them all decorated:

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sports - Slacklining

A balance sport gaining in UK popularity, apparently, not that I've seen anyone doing it anywhere other than the internet.

None the less, it is gaining in popularity among my friends, Mike recently having come back from Manchester, declared it was awesome fun, and bought some kit for it, slowly getting everyone else on it.

It is however, very very hard to start out.

I never quite appreciated how hard it would be until we started playing with them at least twice a week, I now realise that even with lots of practice, it's going to take even more before I can say I'm competent at it.

There are just so many factors that affect the difficulty of the line:
- The width of the line determines how easy it is to place your feet on it, given you need to look ahead while walking, though a really wide line adds rotation in the line itself, another obstacle
- The length of the line, affects how much bounce there is, how far you have to go, and often how high you can get it above the ground (too high, legs either side = unfortunate accident)
- The tension of the line, as above, affects how much bounce there is, but in a different way, a short loose line is hard, but in a different way to a short tight line, same for a longer line at different tensions
- Wind can also mess you around (http://goo.gl/cAJh) on the line (the only rick roll, I promise :P)
- Whether you have shoes or not, the verdict is unknown on this so far, but I feel it is easier without as you can feel the line better

So, general premise, walk from one end to the other, try not to fail, if you do fail, get on again, repeat until you get further.

Which gives quite a steep learning curve, quite off putting for a lot of beginners, you really have to stick at it and just accept every inevitable failure as it comes.

Another thing to note, slacklining kits can set you back about £80, or a lot lot more, but you can achieve exactly the same effect with webbing and a ratchet http://goo.gl/3lYj for £40 or less, depending on how long you want the line.

There you go, a disjointed summary of slacklining, suffice to say, I love it and it is a great way to chill out with friends, maybe some beers and a bbq, so if you see anyone around with one, just ask for a go, I'm sure they won't mind, and if you're interested in starting, grab a kit and play around.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Bumper cooking post!

Daily updates may have been over ambitious, it's not that I lack the motivation, just that I get distracted and cook more things, and it's kind of hard to type while your hands are covered in dough.

Still, even if it wasn't delivered when promised, this post should make up for any I've missed, a bumper post of all the things I've cooked over the last week, so pick one out and try something new, if variety is the spice of life, then life may well be better over seasoned.

A quick note about the following recipes, I have not listed the details of most of them as the original posters of the recipes got it bang on so I changed nothing, just visit their websites, and hopefully you'll find some other things you'll like too.

Also, I will now be adding hyperlinks instead of plain text links, just to make things even easier.

---

Onion bhajis

As long as you don't mind hot oil, onion bhajis are as easy as you like, just don't make the mixture too moist or too doughy, you want the onion to be the main feature (unsurprisingly) so don't add more dough if you think there's too much onion no matter how it looks, the recipe is perfectly weighted. Once you scrunch a ball of it up and drop it in the hot oil, it all holds together perfectly, promise.

Excellent served with brinjal pickle though I haven't been bold enough to make my own yet.

Link - http://goo.gl/ISQy

Photo (pictured with bean patties, make as falafel http://goo.gl/0GEB, substitute chick peas/garbanzo beans with mixed beans)


---

Tropical grilled chicken with pineapple salsa

I love this salsa! Seriously, after dinner was done, I tucked in to the rest of the bowl, but my housemate wrestled it from me before I got all the way through so he had the final extra juicy bit to himself.

A perfect combination of the warm spicy chicken and cold, fruity and crunchy salsa, a must try, if you need to, substitute the chicken, but please at least try the salsa.

Link - http://goo.gl/H76P

Photo


---

Thai chicken satay served with authentic thai peanut sauce

In the photo it is sadly only with normal boiled rice, but I would have loved to have done this with coconut rice, all you have to do is cook the rice in 1 part coconut milk to almost 3 parts water instead of just in water, and it absorbs so much tasty flavour.

The link for the chicken satay does include its own peanut sauce however, the separate link is superior, trust me on this, this peanut sauce is to die for!

I've been getting it out of the fridge and just eating big spoonfuls of it when I wanted a snack but it's sadly all gone now.

You will need thai red curry paste for this, and I strongly suggest making your own for that truly authentic flavour, see my earlier post for links.

Link - http://goo.gl/3hGH (satay) and http://goo.gl/qxbB (sauce)

Photo


---

Rice crispie cakes

They were all over the local co-op at easter and I just couldn't resist making my own, and yes, they did get eaten very quickly.

Make sure to use fairtrade chocolate!

Link - http://goo.gl/Rjv4

Photo


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Thai prawn cakes served on spring onion pancakes, drizzled in chilli sauce

Making your own chilli sauce is extremely satisfying, and I can think of nothing better to show it off that these prawn cakes and the pancakes, the flavours just work perfectly together with neither overwhelming the other, just remember to omit the fish sauce from the prawn cakes, it makes them too salty.

It is sometimes nice to have a sit down lunch as well, and as you'll see, that thai peanut sauce appears again.

Link - http://goo.gl/HPIv (prawn cakes) and http://goo.gl/YMze (pancakes) and http://goo.gl/kjAA (sauce)

Photo


---

Truly vegetarian mushroom risotto

Most risotto uses chicken stock, as does Jamie Oliver in this recipe, however, I found that this one works perfectly using oxo vegetable stock, just dissolve 2 cubes in 1.3 litres of boiling water and use that instead of the 1.5 litres of chicken stock.

Link - http://goo.gl/8P0r

Photo


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Vegetarian/Vegan lentil burgers

There is a slash in the title of this as you have a choice in the recipe, you can add an egg and have the patties hold together a little better, or omit it and just be more careful cooking. It is entirely up to you, and I can assure you that they are delicious either way.

What's more, this is entirely my own recipe so feedback on this one would be most appreciated.

Recipe -

1/ Cook 1 cup lentils in 4 cups water, boil vigorously for 5 mins, gently simmer for another 10 mins, drain
2/ Dice 1 1/2 onions (shallots work nicely too), 2 sticks of celery, 1 large carrot, crush 3 cloves of garlic (omit if using garlic sauce)
3/ Fry the chopped veg in a little oil, until soft, not discoloured
4/ Take about 1/2 cup to 1 cup breadcrumbs, crush a handful of nuts (optional, you can experiment with any type of nut you like)
5/ Add all this to a blender with 1 egg
6/ Season (I'm adding himalayan hot garlic sauce, otherwise, 1tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 2 tsp cumin, fresh parsley, pepper and lemon juice)
7/ Add more breadcrumbs if too moist, add some liquid if too solid, but make sure not to blend too much, we still want some substance
8/ Form into patties and toss in flour, I made 4 large ones
9/ Pan fry until golden and delicious, or bake at 200C (180C fan) until they again look golden on the outside, just remember to grease the tray adequately


Photo (masked by lettuce, not because they're ugly or anything, but because I started building the burgers before I got my camera out, and by this point they were covered in mayonaise anyway, omit the mayonaise as well if you would like them vegan by the way).

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Cooking - Sweet potato, spinach and lentil curry

Very easy to make, very tasty (as all things sweet potato should be), and nice and filling, exactly what you want!

Just a few things to remember, rinse the lentils thoroughly, chop the sweet potato finely (evenly doesn't matter so much as in the cooking time it'll all work out alright) and don't overcook the onions, nice and soft, not all crispy and brown.

Now I'm not going to post a step by step here, as the instructions on the site I took the recipe from are excellent, and the proportions are excellent, and it is in fact just generally excellent.

So bear in mind my tips, make this http://goo.gl/vSWX and enjoy it!

Feel free to contact me if you have any issues as well, I'm here to help :)

And a quick snap, an expect another post later this evening.



Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Cooking - Thai Stir Fry on Coconut Rice

To start this recipe, you'll need thai curry paste and coconut milk, which can be quite expensive/hard to come by.

But fear not friends, if you can't/don't want to buy them, follow the links here and make your own (and as always, these have all been tested and work):
Coconut milk - http://goo.gl/f8hQ
Thai red curry paste - http://goo.gl/KijD
Thai green curry paste - http://goo.gl/DGBd

1/ Mix 1 part coconut milk to 2 parts boiling water in a pan, then add 1 part rice (make as much as you need, bearing in mind you'll want about 60g rice per person)
2/ Bring this all up to the boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer, remembering to stir often to prevent rice sticking and burning.
3/ The rice is done when the moisture is all gone and the rice is no longer crunchy.
4/ Top and tail a handful of green beans, then slice them in half.
5/ Slice about twice the volume of mushrooms into nice chunks.
6/ Rinse some (200g) prawns, small ones work best for this.
7/ Grab a handful of spinach, and put some cashew nuts in a bowl at the side.
8/ Halve a lime.
9/ Add a good tablespoon of curry paste into a frying pan, and mix this with 3 to 4 times the quantity of coconut milk (it depends on your paste).
10/ Bring it up to a high temperature so it's bubbling, then add the beans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
11/ Add the prawns and mushrooms now, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, still on high heat.
12/ Add the spinach, and cook for 3 minutes until it is nice and wilted, then add the juice of half the lime by squeezing it out into the pan through your fingers (to catch any seeds).
13/ Cook for a final minute to remove some of the sharpness, then serve over the rice.

I promise that this is delicious, and it may seem like a lot of steps, but that's just to make things nice and clear, in reality, this took me 20 minutes tops to make from start to finish, and so I'm sure you can make it too.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Post Exams - A simple yet perfect meal

Now that batch 1 of exams is out of the way, I promise daily posts!

Yes, you heard me, well, up until the next exams at least, then more hold am afraid, but, for the next 4 weeks you'll have a lovely dose of me every single day :)

So without further ado, on with today's post:

Tonight I was quite tired, the result of an exhausting weekend of caving and Louise being up to visit.

I was also quite injured, I can't quite recall how it happened, but I appear to have pulled a muscle in my lower back, something I noticed on the way to my morning lecture.

Nothing serious it would appear, but painful enough that I couldn't walk to my afternoon lecture (on which I have caught up on the notes should anyone worry).

So I wanted something quick to eat, but being me, it had to be tasty and homemade, I also couldn't walk to the shops to get more things so it had to be done on things I had in the cupboard.

So, after some searching, assisted by Luke and George, we found our core ingredients to be:
- Half a bottle of wine
- Half a pot of double cream, about 200ml
- 2 chicken breasts

After thinking for a while I decided we needed to make:
Baked coated chicken breast served on pasta with a creamy white wine sauce
w/ homemade focaccia

Easy peasy, so here's how to do it:
1/ Make your focaccia, you can do this at any point during the day, though we made ours so that it was done at the same time as the chicken, I made mine from the following recipe http://goo.gl/Uo9K
2/ Make a sauce for the chicken, combine 3/4 teaspoon garlic granules with maybe 4 tablespoons of mayonaise (I wasn't measuring the mayo), and mix this with about half as much parmezan (though you can use any cheese, just grate finely)
3/ Cut the chicken breasts in half lengthways, and lather in the sauce
4/ Roll the chicken in breadcrumbs (we used powdered jacobs crackers, put them in a bag, hit them very hard, LOTS, then use)
5/ Bake at 220C for about 20-25 minutes, until the juices run clear from the meat and the topping looks all golden and tasty.
6/ While this is happening, cook the pasta, it needs to go in 10 minutes before the chicken is done.
7/ Mix 200ml double cream with 150ml white wine in a pan, add to this 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of parsley and then sieve 1 1/2 tablespoons flour into this while stirring.
8/ Gently heat the sauce until it thickens up to a nice consistency, this will only take a few minutes so do this last just before you drain the pasta.
9/ Assuming I didn't miss any steps here, you should now be ready to serve, dish out the pasta into a bowl, drizzle the sauce over (don't drown it, but don't be too stingy either), gently place the chicken breasts on the centre of the dish, and tear some focaccia and place this alongside.
10/ Enjoy! And remember, the remaining focaccia goes excellently with bread and oil, so you could have this as a starter instead of with the pasta.

Unfortunately, I was quite hungry, so nommed it all before I got my camera, however, Louise has sent me a nice photo of Matt G (with me in the background) from the cave we did on saturday, Juniper Gulf.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Exams

There are likely to be no posts over the next week and a half as I have revision to do for my exams, and then my exams, and then a weekend of relaxation.
After that expect some cool things :)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cooking - Easy Enchiladas

Enchiladas are delicious, and slightly better for you than most mexican foods.

Now I know you can buy kits for things like this, but why would you? I assume most of you have a basic spice cupboard and the ability to get fresh veg and meat, so don't bother.

The only special thing you need is tortilla wraps (traditionally corn wraps, but as you'll see below, I am not using these). Now you can buy these from most major supermarkets, however, it seems like more fun to make your own, and if you have the time, go for it, I've be meaning to do it for a while now, however, due to kitchen restraints at this point in time, store bought it is (recipe to make your own here: http://goo.gl/LaTH).

So then, if any of you are in the dark at this point, enchiladas are chicken and veg, fried, and rolled in tortillas, placed side by side in a baking tray, smothered in tomato sauce, with cheese on top, and baked to finish them off.

Oh yeah, remember to use free range chicken, though that goes without saying really.

So, an account of how to do it, and I promise it's easy as pie (remember to be tasting all the time and adding more salt and pepper IF needed, only don't lick raw chicken, not a great idea).

1. Chicken and veg: (you can marinade the chicken if you like, up to you, if you choose to, oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, chilli powder, paprika and a dash of tabasco will do the trick) fry the chicken in bite sized piece until browned, do the same with some peppers, onion and mushrooms (remember that mushrooms don't take long to cook at all, and are better in a dryer pan than soaking in water).

2. Tomato sauce: leaving the fried ingredients to cool, open a tin of tomatoes, add a finely chopped chilli, some crushed garlic, paprika, chill powder, tabasco (preferably the new chipotle variety), salt and pepper, a little ground cumin and some tomato purée. Heat this gently to a simmer and allow to reduce a little, remember to add a little more water if it looks too dry. Taste, and adjust as necessary, we want a little spice and heat, but still some sweetness coming through from the tomato, you can always add heat with some hot sauce, but not take it away as easily!

3. Make: divide the chicken and veg amongst the wraps, roll them up and pop them in the baking tray (which you should rub with a little oil beforehand). Now smother them with the sauce, nice and evenly, then grate a little cheese over the top to give a nice topping.

4. Bake: in the oven at maybe 180C for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is all golden and delicious looking, bear in mind that everything in the wraps is already cooked and this is just bringing it all together so nothing will be raw if you undercook it.

5. Eat: my favourite part, share the delicious with family friends and loved ones.

Happy cooking guys!
edit: photo not to follow, my camera is out of battery and I didn't bring the charger, bad luck, promise lots of nice pics in future posts.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Food - Restaurant Review - El Gato Negro

Delicious, authentic food, but with a salty twist.

Staying away from the food itself for a moment, the reception and table service are excellent, with a warm friendly welcome and attentive table staff. The overall decor of the restaurant is simple and pleasant, and the food presentation is exquisite.

The dishes are served in tapas style with cold dishes being brought first, and hot meat dishes towards the end of the meal (also usually starting with any bread dishes), and I find this style of serving a lot more enjoyable than a more rigid, formal setting, making the whole atmosphere of the place a lot more relaxed.

The food on the whole is very good, with authenticity and a creative flare going into every dish on the menu, using some interesting combinations of flavours which work really well together.

Unfortunately this is somewhat hampered in at least 50% of the dishes by that fact that they are over-salted, something which it seems I have become almost used to in restaurants, but Louise picked up on more acutely.

I find this a great shame as the ingredients used are of excellent quality and don't need to be masked with the excessive seasoning, were their natural flavours allowed to surface more in the dishes, it would have been a superb meal instead of just a very good one.

But still, the positive aspects definitely outweigh the overzealous use of sodium, and the restaurant is worth a visit, just don't eat any crisps the day after.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Movie - Pandorum

I was quite excited about this after having read the synopsis:

"Two astronauts, Bower (Foster) and Payton (Quaid), wake up from suspended animation to find themselves alone, with no memory of who they are, what they are doing, or what has happened to the crew of their 60,000 passenger sleeper ship, the Elysium. They are unable to access the ship's bridge and cannot communicate with any other members of the crew, including the flight team they are supposed to relieve." (http://goo.gl/eiRA)

Sounds good no?

So I grabbed a copy of it and have had it sat on my hard drive (which I keep all my movies on for ease of access) for the past several months.

I mean, I wanted to watch it straight away, but movies are always better with other people. I suggested it to Louise who was not overly warm to the idea of watching a horror film (she hates them), I suggested it to Luke and George and no one sounded too excited, so it stayed unwatched until I came home to my parents.

My dad loved the idea, and so 2 nights ago we watched it.

I am kinda glad I've saved it until this point as my parents have a nice TV, which definitely makes horror movies a lot better, and this film deserves good viewing quality.

It starts out with a scene of the ship departing at the start of its journey, but quickly the mood changes and we're taken inside, now I can't really say much more about the plot here without spoiling it.

What I will say, the film is gripping from start to finish, if predictable in places.

There are some scenes that were quite gory and made me cringe a little, but packed out with good fights, truly terrifying monsters, some interesting psychological aspects, and some clever camera work that really keeps you on edge, and the ending really is a surprise.

All in all, an excellent film, and something you could enjoy even if you don't like horror films that much, (evidence of this is that even my sister liked it!) so go ahead and watch it.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Games - Now Playing/First Impressions - March

A quick round-up of the games I'm playing right now n my laptop with a mini review of each, nice quick post, I'll put some longer stuff up later in the week.


Action:
Biology Battle - It's geometry wars but in cells, and with cool special abilities, not played enough to say more at this point.

Call Of Cthulhu, Dark Corners Of The Earth - Atmospheric, dark and so damn scary, I find it hard to start playing this game as it is quite a deep experience, but once I do, I remember just how good it is, and then remember just how scary it is.

Osmos - Guide cells around in some kind of fliud world, eat smaller ones, avoid bigger ones, simple formula, and quite well executed.

Psychonauts - Great fun, back to classic platforming adventure action which I haven't seen since crash bandicoot (before it went all kiddy on us) and ratchet and clank, and very funny in places.

Shatter - Breakout-ish game, but done really well with enough differences to actually get me playing it, even when I don't usually like breakout games.

Tomb Raider Anniversary - An amazing series, and a graphically superior remake of the first game I loved so much? Sold.


Racing:
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing - Like mario kart for people who aren't nintendo fanboys, adds little to the genre, but well made and fun to play.

Trackmania Forever - Trackmania is exactly what I want from a racing game, realistic physics, crazy stunts and tracks, excellent to just drop in and play a few tracks.


RPGs:
ADOM - Roguelikes are a long standing obsession of mine, the detail and imagination, the horror of running from a green S, google it, play it.

Dragon Age Origins - No I haven't finished it yet, yes it's amazing, probably the best traditional RPG I have ever played (and it takes a lot for me to say that).

Lilly and Sasha Curse Of The Immortals - Trad RPG at it's finest, think 2D world, tile based movement and graphics, turn based combat and zelda like puzzles, a well made game, though the dialogue and quests are a bit forced at times.

Mass Effect 2 - With everyone and their dog playing this, I thought it was time I did, I didn't enjoy the first game, I love this one. Quality shooter with some good RPG elements, very detailed universe and dialogue that is very well scripted and actually affects gameplay.

Spellforce 2 - I've not played much of this, but it controls well, and seems to have things I like in RPGs, a bit dated though, just a question of whether the faint sparkle of promise is enough to get me playing it.


Shooters:
Borderlands - I finished it, and now I'm back to play it again, I love it, even if it has repetitive quests where you have to revisit some areas, I love the looting, I love the promise of better guns and I'm liking the first DLC very much indeed, only a shame my friends aren't playing any more, as it was more fun in multiplayer.

Halo CE - That's custom edition, quality LAN gaming with a huge variety of user made maps.

Metro 2033 - Looking like STALKER very much, and playing a lot like it but with a strange weapons system, this game has an immersive story, good acting, and gripping play, it's just a shame the controls are a bit dodgy in places.

STALKER Call Of Pripyat - The first game in the series was very well put together with only a few annoyances, the second was awful, now this one has put things right again, immersive, scary and with some good RPG elements, out of the shooters I'm playing at the moment, this is my favourite.

Team Fortress 2 - See my longer review on an earlier post, good multiplayer fun.


Strategy:
Defense Grid The Awakening - Excellent tower defence clone with great graphics and detailed gameplay, worth a look.

Demigod - In single player, worthless, in multiplayer I've had some good matches, if you have some friends who want to play together, definitely worth a go.

Galcon Fusion - Not really a full game, but having the odd game of multiplayer with a friend is good fun, wouldn't say it's worth getting though.

Heroes Of Might And Magic 5 - Easily the best in the series, amazing multiplayer value leading to some very involved matches over several days sometimes, just a shame there's been no announcement of a sequel.


So there you go, want to hear more about a specific game? Leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Game - Team Fortress 2

A game I avoided playing for a long time, TF2 has never really seemed like my kind of game, striking me as a twitch shooter like quake, which I hate.

But I've been wrong about things before, so I thought I'd check it out.

Overall verdict, it rules, and for a variety of different reasons.

Now generally I hate online gaming, the faggotry and obsessiveness of some people is unbearable, making the games unenjoyable and ruining the play experience. Or, you start playing a game, avoiding a mechanic you hate, only to realise that later on the game forces you to start playing with that method (offline games are guilty of this too).

TF2 fixes the latter by giving you the 9 classes, tailored to player types, and never forcing you to choose a class you hate (well, unless the server has a limit on types, but you still get another 8).

To give an example, love dicking people over randomly and hilariously?
Play a spy.

Like big guns and shooting them at everything that moves?
Play heavy.

Want to actually help your team?
Medic.

So you see it can be quite cool where a different bunch of people come together and your team forms with representations from these classes based on the personalities of the players themselves.

I quite like playing the medic and helping out on the front line, retreating when near death to charge the uber, then helping someone in need at the last moment, and by doing so being a credit to the team, other people prefer to "rambo", usually getting themselves killed, but sometimes being skilled enough to actually do some damage, then they themselves being "credit to team".

Equally a spy can destroy troublesome engineer buildings, then becoming credit to team, and probably dead too.

Still, online gaming has flaws, and although this is a team game, and better than any other I've played, quite often people won't work as a team, and won't aim at the objectives, getting caught up in personal vendettas. I've seen 2 entire teams come head to head at a choke point and sit there and battle it out, leaving me to walk around the other way, which not a single person was watching, and start murdering them from behind.

Another common flaw apart from the "rambo" and "vendetta" types is when one of your teams sits and camps a location which is of no benefit to the team at that point, like sitting in the intel room, though the enemy are pinned in spawn, and their help is needed.

So you see there are still problem players, but to be honest, you get people like that in things like lazer quest and paintballing in real life, some people are just a bit retarded.

Moaning about noobs aside, TF2 has brought me hours of fun with my housemate Luke and our friend George, because gaming is always better when you have friends in the same room as you., we can watch each other's backs, combine pushes at the enemy, but actual playing aside, just banter and have a laugh.

This kind of gaming I more think as being a LAN game which has joined an online server, fun with friends, but with the added carnage of droves of other players, less as an online game with us being individual players on it.

Play TF2? When you see Foxtrot_YES on a sever, start running maggots.
Also, if you're a YES member, add the _YES tag to your name and be credit to clan.

Life - Heart Cake

I love my girlfriend, a lot. Anyone who knows me will probably be quite aware this is not a fact I keep well hidden.

So every now and again I do something/make something/cook something which has no real purpose other than to be overtly romantic.

With easter coming I was thinking of things to do; buy an easter egg, make an easter egg, make some chocolates or bake a cake. I was erring towards making an easter egg then I saw this http://goo.gl/vJfE
Inspiration!

I decided it was time to bake.

I won't go through the exact details here, you can read those on the original site, but suffice to say it was the hardest thing I've ever made, I even made myself sit and watch tutorial videos on how to ice cakes (being quite willing to admit I am not an expert in this field, or at least wasn't before starting this project).

Yet through adversity, lots of burns, 6 loads of washing up and hours upon hours in the kitchen, I succeeded, and just to see the look on Louise's face, it was worth it.


Impressive no?

In addition to the recipe described on the earlier link, I also used some pink icing and some marzipan dogs (bought I'm afraid, but had I had more time, maybe...) to finish the cake off.

So why is it a heart cake? You painted a heart on top, wow.

Nope, this is why:


You cut it open, and it reveals a chocolate cake heart.

The original recipe had a red heart in the middle, but I didn't want to use all that food colouring, and I know Louise loves chocolate, so this worked a lot better.

So go and try it yourselves if you too want to:

  1. Impress a loved one
  2. Start a massive project which will use 2 days
  3. Have a cake with over 12500 calories
  4. Make something which weighs 3kg in total
Did I mention you also get to eat all the offcuts, or in Luke's case, make them into another cake:


Pro indeed.

Peace out guys, and have a cool easter.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Recipe - A quick fruity couscous lunch

Having some left over pineapple salsa from last night, I decided to make it into some lunch.


I could well have just eaten it on its lonesome, however I thought I could make something more substantial with some couscous.

Best of all, no cooking required, you can cook couscous by putting it in a bowl, adding a little boiling water and letting it stand, simple.

So here's the blow by blow of the procedure, including what I did last night to make the salsa (recipe adapted from http://goo.gl/bjwj a website which is very much worth a visit).

1. Take half a medium sized pineapple, skin it and remove all the hard brown bits, also remove the core.
2. Dice the pineapple, how small is up to you, do it however you'd like to eat the chunks, I like mine fairly large and juicy.
3. Dice 1/2 a large orange pepper (cored and de-seeded.
4. ONLY if in season, add 6/7 peeled and finely diced radishes (if they're not in season then don't bother adding these, you will barely taste them, however if you can get hold of some good ones, they add a lovely subtle peppery taste).
5. Mix all of the above in a large bowl.
6. Add 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh coriander (called cilantro in some american recipes, and they call ground coriander seeds just coriander for some reason...).
7. Add the juice of half a lime (more if you like).
8. Sprinkle a little salt and a generous amount of pepper into the bowl, mix well.
9. Taste that bad boy, and adjust salt, pepper and lime juice amounts until perfect then set aside.
10. Cook your couscous however you like, bear in mind you'll need about 45g of dry stuff per person.
11. Once done, mix in with some lemon juice (I added a little chilli as well, you could add a splash of tabasco or something if you like).
12. Mix your couscous and the salsa together, and if you want to do something about presentation, you can tear some fresh coriander over the top of the bowl.

Hope some of you find this interesting and tasty, and stay tuned/subscribe as over the next few days I'll be posting plenty more stuff including a blow by blow of the heart cake I made for Louise :)

Oh yeah, a quick snap:

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Recipe - Corned Beef Pie

Classic stodge from the north of England, spuds, onion and meat in can.

I've never been a huge fan of corned beef, but in our house at the moment I'm living with a guy called Luke, who seems to accumulate the stuff. No joke, every time he goes home, he comes back with:
  1. Some crazy pasta in a bag thing
  2. Fray Bentos pies (do not eat these! They are one of the worst things to go in my mouth, ever)
  3. Big soup
  4. and you guessed it: Corned beef
So I was fishing through the cupboard and I noticed that it was becoming somewhat full of the nasty pies and tins of corned beef; having no desire to do anything about the former, I thought, what can I do with the pile of corned beef.

The only two things that came to mind were corned beef pie, or corned beef hash, and the hash option is no go, a pointless food in my opinion. An opinion contested most fiercely by Luke, none the less, I wasn't going to make it.

Pie it was.

So, step by step:
  1. Take 240g plain flour (though self raising will work, and gives a fluffier top), 60g of butter (or lard, I used butter), a tiny pinch of salt, and set aside a glass of cold water
  2. Mix the first three ingredients by rubbing the fat into the flour until you have a fine, breadcrumb like mixture.
  3. Slowly add a tiny amount of water, and mix, Repeat adding tiny amounts of water until the whole mixture comes together.
  4. Place the pastry in the fridge.
  5. Take 1 tin of corned beef, 1 medium onion, 2 medium potatoes, 2 small eggs, a tiny amount of salt, some pepper and some thyme and rosemary (the last 2 are not necessary, but by adding a scattering of each in you increase the flavour, use whatever is available).
  6. Peel the potato, then finely dice, do the same with the onion (the finer you dice, the more dense your pie will be).
  7. Extract the corned beef and mash it until there are no more large chunks.
  8. Beat the 2 eggs in a bowl.
  9. Mix the diced veg, corned beef, seasoning and about 3/4 of the eggs together, this is your filling.
  10. Set the oven at 200C and remove pastry from fridge.
  11. Split the pastry into 2 uneven parts, one slightly larger than the other, and roll out this larger half on a floured surface.
  12. Roll until you have enough to fit whatever pie dish you are using, grease the dish and place the pastry inside.
  13. Add all the filling into your base and squish down with a wooden spoon (or whatever you used to mix it, no point making more washing up).
  14. Roll out the second ball of dough into a top, but before placing on the pie, brush the top edge of the base with some of the remaining egg (helps the lid stick).
  15. Prick the pie with a fork, knife, whatever, and add random decorations if you wish.
  16. Chuck that bad boy in the oven for 30 minutes or so, basically until it looks done (golden brown on top is a good sign).
  17. Serve slices up with gravy, have it on its own, even eat it cold, so versatile...
Done, one pie, and because no recipe is complete without a photo of the food in question:



And yes, we wrote "pi" on top of it, we are physicists after all, you're lucky you didn't get a Schrodinger equation.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Music - Hollywood Undead

A quick album review of Hollywood Undead's latest album, Swan Songs, no dl links, though check the youtube link at the bottom of this post.

Having never heard of this band before, I was dubious about getting it, given the other comments about the album that I found around the web. People said everything from "this is disgusting" to "best album ever", which only means one thing, controversial. Which the album is, very much so, just search out the lyrics to "Everywhere I Go".

Some of the songs have generally good morals, not letting yourself get pushed around by authority etc. but others are just about carnage and house parties, so you get a pretty mixed bag. A bag I would like quite a lot if it weren't covered in songs about "loving LA", which is kind of like letting the fat kid with the ice cream getting his sticky fingers into a bag of your favourite marbles, very annoying and putting a slight taint on the rest of the bag's contents.

Still, the first track, Undead, is excellent, packing a heavy beat, catchy chorus and some sweet lyrics.
"You know I don't give f**k what you think or say!"

So if you like your rap/nu metal, or just wonder what the hell that is, I can recommend grabbing a copy and having a listen.

Said it was a short one didn't I ;)

The video below is one of my other favourite tracks from the album.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Intro

A new state of mind, a fresh start, a new blog.

Why not I say, I do plenty of cool stuff, I am on the internet for a good portion of my day, I have time to spare, so why not tell people about my life in a blog.

I mean, we all have facebook, some of us have twitter (I'm not one of them I might add), but I kinda want to share some more interesting and maybe deeper things than I can post on that kind of site, plus I want full control over my content presentation.

So what have I got to post you wonder, well, as and when I feel like it:
  • Recipes, things I've found on other sites and tried myself, complete with links to OP and my own comments, I do LOVE food
  • Comments (pseudo-reviews) on recent games, I play a fair few, online, solo and multiplayer and sometimes it's hard to sort through the mainstream sites to actually find good stuff
  • Music, either stuff I've discovered, tracks I've been sent, or on rare occasion, things I've tried to mix myself
  • Thoughts on all manner of topics, I tend to have a view on most things, so drop me a message and I'll share, and sometimes I may share without prompts based on random banter from my house
  • And lastly, random stuff that makes my life anything but mundane, caving trips, rock climbing, or my experiences with physics, whatever I happen to do and may be of interest
So there you go, I'd like to think I have something interesting to offer you, and through your feedback, I may learn a few things myself.

I'll close by simply saying;
I hope you find what I post interesting, tell me if it isn't, so grab the RSS feed, bookmark the page, tell your friends, and let's look to the future!
Alex