Sunday, October 30, 2011

Succulent Sunday

I saw a new (to me) recipe for chicken legs the other day so I thought that I would try it on the family. Technically, this is a simple recipe: one takes chicken drumsticks and thighs, marinades them for a few hours and then cooks them in the oven. The unusual part is the marinade:
  • mayonnaise: three spoonfulls
  • orange jam: four spoonfulls
  • ground ginger: one spoonfull
  • sesame seed: two spoonfulls
  • soy sauce: two spoonfulls
  • onion soup powder: two spoonfulls
One mixes this seemingly random list of ingredients together then pours the resulting brown liquid onto the chicken pieces. One cooks them uncovered for an hour and a half at 150-175 degrees Centigrade, turning the pieces over at half time. When I turned them over, I sprinkled more sesame seeds onto the chicken, giving them a speckled appearance. I think that one can leave the sesame out of the marinade and only use it to dust the pieces, as they didn't seem to add any crunchiness.

When one of my children noticed the tangy aftertaste arising from the jam, they started asking what the ingredients were. I playfully included some fantasy touches, such as bat and ground unicorn horn; I have a suspicion that it wouldn't have made much difference had I included these, as the family were quite amazed at what I did include.

Yesterday I prepared deboned chicken drumsticks stuffed with cranberries and apple puree, cooked in the slow cooker. This was delicious. The drumsticks were larger than the previous batch of deboned drumsticks, making them easier to stuff and easier to eat. Even so, I'm not totally satisfied with them and will try and find a better source (these came from a butcher). The price was also surprisingly high; I normally buy frozen drumsticks at around 27 NIS/kilo whereas these cost 44 NIS/kilo with an extra 6 NIS for the deboning (they were weighed before the bones were taken out). The dog was disappointed that there were no bones left for her to chew.

Sir Jimmy Savile

Yet another one goes

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Firebird DB management tool (4) - Corrections

I was struck by an insight the other day: instead of using special buttons in my db management tool for inserting, deleting and updating, I could use the dbNavigator component. This is a component which I never use as it seems to be most effective when directly editing grids, an activity which I never program. So the component was far from my mind, but exactly what I needed for this tool. I didn't even have to program the navigator's buttons - they 'knew' exactly what to do. I define which buttons are active depending on whether the query is live or not.

It also turned out that there was a problem with the tokeniser in the parse routine: I hadn't really checked any semi-complex queries. This wasn't too difficult to fix but was rather annoying.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dennis Ritchie: The man who created Unix

Read this article:
It's funny how fickle fame can be. One week Steve Jobs dies and his death tops the news agenda. Just over a week later, Dennis Ritchie dies and nobody -- except for a few geeks -- notices. And yet his work touched the lives of far more people than anything Steve Jobs ever did. In fact if you're reading this online then the chances are that the router which connects you to the internet is running a descendant of the software that Ritchie and his colleague Ken Thompson created in 1969.

That's just the opening paragraph. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Getting ready for the Kindle

Even though I won't be receiving my Kindle for another few weeks, I thought it prudent to utilise my holiday time in order to start building an e-book library. It turns out that there are plenty of e-books available, if one knows how (and where) to look. I have managed to collect around 280 books, of which I own (or have owned) about 90%.

It will be interesting to see how my reading habits will change. I have managed to find books which I once owned and lost/gave away/discarded over the years; I wonder whether these books will find favour in the 55 year old me. A case in point is Philip Roth's "Portnoy's Complain", an archetypal book for adolescents. I was informed about this book by my History teacher whilst in the fourth year of secondary school, aged 14. I have no idea what happened to my copy of the book; it probably disappeared a few years after I bought it. I'll read the book and probably delete it immediately afterwards. This behaviour will be interesting from a psychological point of view. Should I keep the book even though I know I'll never read it again (regret)? Should I delete the book from the Kindle but keep it on my computer?

One very useful tool for the Kindle is the ebook library manager/conversion tool Calibre. It took me a few hours to figure out how to use this program effectively, but once on the right track, there was no stopping me. Apart from maintaining a database of my e-books (title, author, tag/style and other bits and pieces), the program excels by being able to convert a multitude of formats into a multitude of formats. As the native format of the Kindle is MOBI, I was only interested in converting to this format. The books which I have found have been in formats txt, pdf, doc, rtf, zip, lit, epub and probably a few more; Calibre had no difficulty in converting them. 

To be honest, I haven't looked at the output so I don't know how good the conversion engine is. I imagine that there should be little problem in converting lit or epub books to mobi, but I understand that doc files - with tables and diagrams - are liable to be problematic. Fortunately I don't think any of the books I found fit into that category.

I also discovered that the Edinburgh Business School, in whose MBA programme I am enrolled, does offer its course material (to registered students) as PDF downloads, so I downloaded the material for the Finance course and converted it. This will be useful to look at the closer I get to the exam (first week in December).

From a programming point of view, Calibre is interesting because it implements a database without a traditional database manager. I think it does this via text (or similar) files but I haven't been interested enough to examine this yet. The interface is also interesting; the conversion part of the program seems to be implemented as a separate thread whereas the rest of the program typically used modal dialog boxes only.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A new dish makes its debut

I related how my daughter cooked us roast beef for our New Year's dinner two weeks ago; she used a cut of sirloin and cooked it in the oven. I made a rare appearance in a local supermarket and noticed that they were selling cuts of frozen beef (apparently the cut is "cross rib pot roast") for about a third of the price of the sirloin. I make an instant decision to buy such a cut (just over 1kg) in order to cook roast beef in the slow cooker.

I had found a suitable recipe a few weeks ago which I tried on this cut. Yesterday, I took the defrosted cut of meat and made stab holes in the sides which I then filled with chopped garlic. I placed the entire cut in a marinade of olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper and paprika; this I placed in the fridge for 20 hours. Early this morning, I placed the marinaded meat in the slow cooker; I added diced carrots, green beans, onions and potatoes (the usual suspects) and turned the cooker onto high for five hours. As opposed to the oven method of cooking, there didn't seem to be any need to let the meat rest, as five hours in the slow cooker should have let the heat disperse equally throughout the meat.

The results were very good, so much so that I am adding this dish to my repertoire. It's not too expensive, and the rest of the family enjoys a cut of beef (I don't care for beef myself, and normally bits get caught in my teeth, but today, my teeth seem beef-free). I'm doubtful about the garlic and marinade; next time, I think I'll brush the cut with olive oil and sprinkle the spices onto the oil. 

It would have been nice to have a little gravy; maybe next time, I'll remove the liquid which forms in the cooker, add a little corn flour and prepare a separate gravy. My father and my wife spread mustard on the beef slices, a taste which I didn't care too much for.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dieting has a number of destructive side effects

On the first of September 1993, I wrote the following in an email (slightly edited, mainly to correct the English):

I receive a weekly newsletter at work, written by a sort of computer consultant (he's actually a retired priest), focusing each week on a different subject. Sometimes it's not interesting, normally it's worth reading, and every now and then there's an issue which is really interesting. So it was a few weeks ago when he wrote about self-improvement, and in connection with that, he wrote about the psychologist Martin Seligman, who has written a couple of books, "Learned optimism" and "What you can change ... and what you can't " . I was very interested by what I read, and checked these books out at Amazon, which has 20 sample pages from each book. So impressed was I that I ordered "What you can change" there and then.

The book came a few days ago, and whilst it was more academic (or less populist) than I had expected, its message was still very strong, and in certain respects, surprising. One of the main thrusts of the book is that many of our behavioural patterns are genetic and cannot be changed; most of these traits derive from our prehistorical days, when the main goal of the human being was to survive and protect itself. But also there are patterns which can be changed, and it's important to recognise what can or cannot be changed, in order to concentrate one's efforts at self-improvement in an area which stands a chance of being improved. Thus he writes at great length about dieting, how the body settles at a certain weight, and how the actual process of dieting causes irreversible biochemical changes in the body with regard to fat metabolism, which causes people to put more weight on when they cease dieting.

That book was the first in a long series of purchases whose subject matter varied from psychology to neuroscience, with a great deal of interest in the brain. I've stopped buying such books, partially because it's difficult to find a book which is both interesting and well written, and partially because I am less interested in the subject now (or maybe I've read enough).

Anyway, something reminded me of the book and its chapter on dieting, so I pulled it from the shelf last night and read it again. Here are three concluding points:
  • Weight is almost always regained after dieting
  • Dieting has a number of destructive side effects including repeated failure and hopelessness, bulimia, depression and fatigue
  • Losing and regaining weight itself presents a health risk comparable to the risk of [being] overweight
I'm not being fanatic about my diet and there's no way that I'm going to become bulimic nor depressed, neither about my current weight nor the possible failure to maintain a lower body weight. 

I notice that in the past two days my weight has increased slightly, from 80.0 kg on Monday to 80.4 kg on Thursday. Again, it will be interesting to see what happens after next Sunday's acupuncture treatment. I only have three treatments left in this series; I may return for another series in January.

The fact that I am writing so much about my weight indicates that the subject is currently important to me; I would like to eat normally without having to calculate whether I can afford the calories. Actually, when I am at work, things are easier as I only have a very limited supply of food available and my mind is distracted with other matters (such as work, which is very much a cerebral activity in my case). It's harder when I'm at home - and as this is currently the holiday season, I worked three days this week and rested four days. Next week will be the same.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I must admit that I am not a gadgets man. I imagine that this is because I am (at times) a computer programmer and so am more interested in programmable devices than those that are set up to provide one function. Also, my close eyesight is slowly getting worse, meaning that I can't see these small devices properly in order to operate them.

Despite the above, I have decided to buy an Amazon Kindle. Introducing the new 'Fire' model has caused the simpler models to be reduced in price, so much so that the basic, international Kindle edition now costs 'only' $109 (Americans can buy an even cheaper version which displays adverts). I priced this model being sent to Israel; shipping and taxes cause the price to double which seems to be extremely uneconomic. But it so happens that a relative of a friend will shortly be coming to Israel, and said relative is amenable to bringing the Kindle with her.

A colleague told me that his daughter in law, who lives in Israel, has a Kindle, so I phoned her and asked what it is like using the device in Israel. I was worried that the download mechanism (via wifi) wouldn't work, or that there would be some restriction because I would be using an American bought device in Israel (so does she). It turns out that my fears were unfounded.

The pricing of Kindle books seems to be slightly erratic, but even if a book costs 10-12 dollars,  this might be cheaper than buying from the Book Depository. For example, I am considering buying 'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell. The Kindle version costs $11.29, whereas the same book at the Book Depository would cost only $8.75 (there are several editions available, but that is the cheapest). On the other hand, 'What the dog saw' by the same author costs $13.84 at the Book Depository but $11.99 for the Kindle.

Buying e-books means that my shelves will cease to be overloaded with books, and also means less trees will be destroyed (although I imagine that books will still be printed and my minor contribution will be meaningless).

One is not limited to the Kindle store; there are other sources of PDF files, mainly free, which can be mined (the Kindle can read PDFs). There is Project Gutenberg, which has classic books available for free, but I have read that many people download the classics then never read them. I am also hoping that my MBA course materials will be available in PDF form, so that I can read them anywhere, but this seems to be unlikely.

There seems to be a bug with the Amazon Associates gadget, which would have enabled me to post a link to the Kindle and to the other books.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Watching the weight / 2

A week has gone by since I last wrote about my weight. Interestingly, my weight stayed constantly at 80.6 kg all last week, even after fasting on Yom Kippur. What is more interesting is that yesterday afternoon I had my regular acupuncture and massage sessions and this morning, when I weighed myself, I had reached the psychological barrier of 80.0 kg.

I am making a tentative hypothesis that I am maintaining a constant weight during the week and that the acupuncture session itself (not the magnets in my ears) is causing an immediate loss of half a kilo, presumably by 'revving up' the stomach (yesterday I had four needles over my stomach and one on my foot). This hypothesis accounts for the weight loss patterns of the past two weeks.

One could argue that it doesn't matter what the cause is; the main thing is that I am losing weight. We shall see. I still have another three acupuncture treatments before the series comes to an end and it will be interesting to see what happens during those weeks. It will be more interesting to see what happens after I finish the series.

Of course, I have to do my part as well - heavy walking in the evening and maintaining the diet.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Rest in peace

Within 24 hours of each other. Neither touched me personally, I must admit, but I have been influenced by the influenced. The world is a colder place this morning.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Firebird DB management tool (3) - Bells and whistles

After using the new tool for another few weeks, I discovered a problem with updating live queries. If the query returns more than one tuple, then an edited tuple will be automagically updated when one leaves the line. But if the query returns only one line, then there is no way of updating the tuple.

In order to address this issue, I added a speedbutton whose function is to call the 'ApplyUpdates' method of the query and so force the update. After doing this, I added another speedbutton whose function is to call the query's 'Delete' method, and after a few more minutes contemplation, I added an 'Add' button as well.

Once the brain was actively thinking about improving the program, a few more simple hacks popped into my mind. Double clicking the 'fields' combobox will add to the query text the current table and field combination (eg ACTIVITIES.NAME), whereas double clicking the 'tables' combobox will add the current table name only. These hacks will be useful when building queries - they save typing.

Here's a screen capture of the program as it looks at the moment

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Watching the weight

When I started dieting, my weight was slightly over 85kg. I bought a digital weight scale (my mind wants to say that I bought a pair of scales, but scales now come as single items) which arrived at the beginning of last week, and my first measurement on the scale was 81.1 kg. Well done!

A few days later, I weighed myself again and noted a further 200g decrease; good. Then there were four days at home when the temptation to eat was presumably greater, and my weight returned to 81.1 kg on Sunday morning. Today is Tuesday, two days later, and my weight is now only 80.6 kg. Either I have lost half a kilo in two days or the previous measurement was wrong. I tend to believe the latter possibility, but the main point is that my weight is steadily decreasing.

There won't be any temptations to eat this weekend as it is the Yom Kippur fast. It will be interesting to see what my weight will be on Sunday morning.

As the logic puts it, the only real way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. I have been doing this religiously for the past five or six weeks and the results are clear. It is doubtful how much of this weight loss can be attributed to the acupuncture treatment which has been focused on two areas: pins in my ear for a week, and pins in my stomach for half an hour. The latter leaves me with a slight stomach ache all week; I don't know whether this ache is muscular or a sign that my stomach is working overtime (or maybe trying to adapt to less raw material on which to work).

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Holiday cooking

We've just come off a four day holiday, celebrating first the Jewish New Year, and then a normal Shabbat. As a result, I've been cooking every day and it's about time I shared some of what's been going on in our kitchen.

For the first night of New Year (we get two nights), we had decided in advance that my daughter would cook roast beef. After checking a few recipes, my wife was dispatched to the local supermarket to buy a joint of sirloin steak. As the supermarket was very crowded (this was on Monday morning), she in turn delegated the task to a friend that she met on the meat counter. Only when she came home did she discover that the butcher had cut the sirloin into slices, presumably so that we could cook them as steaks. Disaster! After explaining to her why this ruined our plans, she returned to the supermarket. Initially, the head butcher was very angry and unwilling to receive the meat, but after my wife turned on the waterworks, he changed his attitude. They didn't have any sirloin left in the supermarket, but he ordered some more specially for us and my wife picked it up the next day. After the cooking the joint in the oven for about an hour, we let the meat 'rest'; whilst this apparently improved its taste, it also caused the meat to cool down.

The next day, I whipped up meat balls which I cooked in the oven, along with a delicious tomato sauce.

Friday night had us eating pineapple chicken, cooked in the wok, accompanied by rice. I like this very much.

For Saturday lunch, I thought that I would try something new and experimental. I asked my wife to buy deboned chicken drumsticks with the intention of stuffing them with something suitable for the occasion, such as apple and cranberries. The drumsticks turned out to be very small and I couldn't put much stuffing into them, so I took a complete chicken breast and 'stuffed' this as well. I had to tie the breast with wire in order to hold it together; the drumsticks were held together with toothpicks which did the job admirably. My wife had baked an apple pie a few days earlier so I asked her to save the peels; these I put at the bottom of the slow cooker and on top I put the stuffed drumsticks.

The dish turned out to be very tasty but there are a few things which need improving should I do this again. First of all, I have to find a better type of meat; maybe a deboned turkey leg will be better. Secondly, it would be nice to have a rack within the slow cooker, so that I can put the chicken pieces on this, raised above the apple peel, instead of placing the chicken directly onto the peel. I have found something on the Internet but will look for a local supplier.