Saturday, February 27, 2016

Chicken breast in tomato sauce

I haven't blogged about cooking for some time. In fact, I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks, either. This has mainly been due to a series of viral infections; the latest has made it very painful to swallow, along with an occasional blocked nose and headache. As I say, I must be very popular with the viruses this year; they are queuing up to spend time with me. 

I decided a few days ago to cook chicken breasts today. Originally I was thinking along the lines of a marinade with olive oil and balsamic vinegar then grilling, but this hasn't been too popular. Then I considered a tomato based marinade (a commercial product), but this was very messy the last time I tried and not particularly tasty. Then I thought that I would make my spaghetti sauce (onions, tomatoes, ketchup and oregano), then cook the breasts in the sauce. This is what I did, and along with the grilled potatoes and boiled cauliflower, the entire meal turned out to be very tasty. So here's the recipe.

Sauce: one diced onion, two diced tomatoes. Fry the onion in oil (I used canola) until the pieces almost turn brown, then add the tomatoes. Continue frying for a few minutes whilst mixing. Add oregano and a 'healthy dollop' of ketchup. I also added a cup of boiling water, which in retrospect was too much. Let this mixture cook for a few minutes.

Slice chicken breasts into strips, then place the breasts into the sauce and simmer for about half an hour (I covered the wide pan).

The results were delicious - and that's not me talking but rather my fellow diners. This recipe will enter the Saturday rotation. Had I been a bit more attentive, I would have taken a picture of the food as it was cooking to show here.

Next up will probably be a variation on shepherd's pie, made from chicken. Next Friday, I'll roast a chicken, adding extra potatoes; as only my wife and I will be dining, we'll eat the legs and the breasts will be left over . On Saturday, I'll take left-over meat, cut it into small pieces and place them at the bottom of a casserole dish along with some chopped carrots and peas; above them I'll place mashed potatoes, some of which were roasted and some freshly boiled. This goes into the oven for about half an hour at 120C, with a few extra minutes under the grill so that the top gets a nice colour. Everyone enjoyed this the last time I made it.

I haven't made meat balls for some time. This is because we have a new supplier of frozen minced beef, and the one batch which I made with this new beef didn't taste very good. Maybe I should try fresh mince (gasp, horror!).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Two films

The second half of February is a time that I love as our satellite tv supplier broadcasts many films which were nominated for Oscars. Some of the films are new (nominations from 2014 onwards) and some are old (some are very old!), but they're all high quality. An example would be Casablanca: although I've seen this a few times (not surprising, considering that 'Play it again, Sam' is one of my favourite films), I haven't seen it for years, and this time I was able to record it for posterity.

Two films which I saw on Saturday had, at least on paper, several things in common:
  • Keira Knightley appears in both, as does Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Both are set in Britain during 1935-1945
  • Both are based on books
  • Both were nominated for Oscars
The first film was 'Atonement', which is based on a novel by Ian McEwan (which I have on my Kindle, but have not yet read), whereas the second, 'The imitation game' is based on the biography of Alan Turing, written by Andrew Hodges. I bought this book maybe 20 years ago and know it very well.

Atonement: I didn't have any expectations from this film, and to be honest, I didn't watch it very closely at first. After what might have been a dodgy start, the film turned out to be very good in several respects. There is a scene set on Dunkirk beach which lasts for about ten minutes which seems to be shot in one go (without edits or cuts): not the sort of thing one sees these days. I had a brief look at the book, and from the little that I have read so far, the film seems to be a fairly accurate translation of the book (obviously the book is deeper and delves into the characters' thoughts and motivations). I shall enjoy reading this book.

On the other hand, I was deeply disappointed by 'The imitation game'. Whilst the gross facts are correct (Turing is a mathematician who was educated at Sherborne School and Cambridge, then spent his war years at Bletchley Park and died in Manchester in the early 50s), almost everything else is wrong, wrong, WRONG! The scenes at Bletchley are extremely annoying as that's not how they happened. What annoys me is that someone who does not know the story will assume that this film is the truth - nothing could be more wrong.

The entire sequence of events is upside down: Turing almost immediately begins to build his decoding machine (with the opposition of his colleagues) and only later does the penny drop that the messages that they are trying to decode have words which repeat frequently ('Heil Hitler'), which could be used as cribs. In fact, the Poles had done some work before the war in decoding Enigma message via semi-mechanical means; all kinds of cribs were used in order to simplify the decoding work. On later on were the bombes used to decode, and these were a joint effort, building on the original Polish work. If I were Hugh Alexander, I would be deeply offended by my portrayal in this film.

It's interesting to note that the actor playing Alexander - Matthew Goode - and the actor playing John Cairncross - Allen Leech - both appear in the sixth series of 'Downton Abbey', which is being broadcast here on Thursday nights. Cairncross may have been at Bletchley Park, but he didn't work with Turing and MI6 did not know until several years after the war's end that he was a Soviet spy.

In the film, Turing et al. discuss how much information they can release without raising the Germans' suspicions that Enigma has been broken. There is a documented case in which Prime Minister Churchill became aware of a planned bombing raid on Coventry via Enigma decrypts ("Ultra") but decided not to intervene in order to continue breaking and reading Enigma. I'm sure that Turing and his colleagues did not make any decisions regarding the distribution of the Ultra material: in fact, they didn't decode the messages themselves but rather figured out what the daily key was. There is  a crossover with Neal Stephenson's "Crytonomicon", which features Turing as one of his many characters: unit 2882 was formed in order to disperse German suspicions that Enigma had been broken.

The film also ignores the fact that as the war progressed, Turing had less and less to do with Enigma. Instead, he developed with the help of Post Office engineers what would today be called  an Analog To Digital encoder, which eventually allowed Churchill and Roosevelt (later Attlee and Truman) to have discussions via the telephone in the knowledge that no one could eavesdrop. Such an encoder (and equivalent decoder) is in everyday use with our smartphones.

The IMDB goofs page lists several anachronisms in terms of speech; one which they missed was when Turing realises that Cairncross is a spy; Cairncross says to the other person present in the room "Can Alan and I have a minute, please". No one spoke like that in the 1940s.

Changing source material is a charge that I have previously laid at the feet of the producers of the DCI Banks TV show. The series has resumed being shown here and so far I have seen two complete stories: Strange Affair and Dry Bones That Dream (aka Final Account). Some of the changes are due to production decisions (such as which actors appear) and thus are acceptable, but some are completely gratuitous and make no sense (thus annoying me). For example: the fact that musician Pamela Jeffries is Bangladeshi in the book but white on television slightly rankles, but why did they change her instrument from viola to clarinet???The fact that she plays the viola only becomes important when the thugs beat her up and break two fingers in her right hand, the bowing hand (better than breaking two fingers in her left hand). So why the clarinet? What difference does it make? It's not as if she plays during the programme.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

ERP thoughts

Despite today being Saturday, my internal alarm clock woke me as usual at 5:30am. Also as usual, my mind was filled with abstract thoughts, initially about a question which had been asked on the 'English Language Learners' stack exchange site about the difference between 'I forgot' and 'I forget'. From there, it was only a short leap to thinking about my DBA submission (I suppose I should get used to calling it a thesis).

A few days ago, I wrote on a DBA forum that one should include - as I neglected to do - answers to the following questions:
  • What is this research about?
  • What does it hope to achieve?
  • What is its value?
From there, my mind started dealing with an expression which I sometimes use: ERP deals with the past whereas spreadsheets deal with the future. This sounds quite good, but it's not entirely accurate: ERP can deal with the future, whereas spreadsheets can deal with the conditional, or as I learned in Latin grammar so many years ago, the subjunctive.

Fired up, I went to the computer - this is at 5:45 am, before taking the dog for a walk - and wrote the following. It probably needs a little polishing for the thesis but it's clear enough for here. It's also a fragment and taken slightly out of context, so it may seem incomplete.

ERP systems excel at answering the question “What happened?”. They are also good at answering the question “What needs to be done?” (by customer, purchase and work orders). But they fail to answer the question “What if …”.

One reason for this is that ERP systems are fixed in terms of their programming and parameters, and it is unlikely that the programmer could be able to predict every parameter which a user would wish to change. An example: the researcher wrote a report which shows the cost of a manufactured product according to its bill of materials; the report shows the cost at which the constituent parts were purchased in the past. In order to answer the question “What if there is a change in the dollar or euro rate of exchange?”, parameters were added to the report allowing the user to define fictional rates of exchange, thus allowing the question to be answered.

But the report would not be able to answer the question “How much would this product cost if we used 10% fewer widgets, or reduced overhead by 15% overhead, or …”; such a question is open ended as the programmer cannot foresee which parameters need to be changed. The report could be changed ad hoc but this would require programming skills and also means that report runs could not be duplicated. Thus ‘what if’ questioning is traditionally found in the realm of EUC [End user computing, normally meaning spreadsheets].

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Intermediate submission not accepted

I don't seem to have written this specifically, but just over two weeks ago, I sent my 'intermediate submission' to the research committee. This document - just over 60 pages, not including references or questionnaires - contains the background to my research, the literature survey, the literature synthesis, hypotheses, methodology, pilot study and ethics. It will comprise at least 50% of the final thesis.

Like the research proposal, the submission is sent two weeks prior to a meeting of the research committee; two members read the document, make notes and present their findings to the committee which then decides whether to accept or reject the document. A candidate is allowed to submit this document three times; based on this, I adopted a strategy in which the first time I submit what I think is good but probably not good enough. Based on the feedback from the committee, I can see which areas need improvement, and so I can add whatever is necessary to create a better second submission. I expect the second version to be accepted, but even if it is not, I still have a third opportunity.

So, as per my expectations, the submission was not accepted. What did surprise me in the feedback was that the reviewers did not know what I was writing about. I quote one section ad verbatim: On page 42, more than half way through this intermediate submission it finally says "The major finding of the literature review with regard to the stated topic of this research, feral system usage in SMEs which have implemented ERP, is that this subject has not been studied." So at last we know what the research is about.I have gone to the effort of going back through the entire submission up to this point and while feral systems were mentioned in subsections up to this point there was no clear indication of where they fitted into the research, let alone that this was the topic of the research. One reviewer even mentioned that he did not know what the title of the thesis was.

Clearly, a certain amount of explanatory material will have to be copied from the research proposal to the intermediate submission; I think that one of the reviewers even suggested this. Obviously, this will not be a problem as the material has already been written.

The section on methodology needs to be strengthened; I'm not sure where to include it. There was also mention of the data analysis section; I will have to read the remarks closely in order to establish in my mind what needs to be done.

The next meeting of the research committee is in six and a half weeks' time (they meet once every seven weeks), and work has to be submitted two weeks in advance. So, if I want to make the next meeting, then I have about a month to improve the submission. There is no pressure on me to make this a solid deadline, so I will take however much time is necessary in order to improve the submission according to the reviewers' feedback.

I am continuing in my efforts to find companies who are willing to participate in the research. I will be meeting next Tuesday the CIO of a pharmaceutical company who use Priority (they are located next to our offices in Haifa bay, so getting there is no problem); this will be an interesting conversation. I am well aware that a pharmaceutical company should be extremely painstaking in its data collection which makes me wonder why they use spreadsheets.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Problems with blogging

I have been unable to access my Blogger account for the past few days from two of the three computers that I use (home and mobile computers). For some reason, the web page keeps trying to redirect and gets stuck in an infinite loop. This is not a problem of Blogger but rather some definition connected to my browser. I have tried with both Firefox and Chrome but the problem exists.

Fortunately, my work computer is not affected by this problem so I can happily blog away when I am at my usual work place. This week I traveled a few days which is why I noticed the problem.

Hopefully, normal service will soon be resumed.

The problem was fixed by changing the shortcut from to https://. I am writing this from my mobile computer, so obviously I've fixed the problem.