Monday 28 February 2011

365project: Day 3

Another hard choice today - I had at least one other serious contender. I chose this photo because I think I did well with the composition, and it's an interesting photo despite the mundane subject.

I've moved to Picasa for photo storage, as I seem to have started to hit the limits of Flickr's free accounts. Picasa has some annoyances with the conjunction between web interface and desktop application, but I'll see if I can work through those over the next few days.

Sunday 27 February 2011

365project: Day 2

Ducky Triumphant

I was feeling silly this afternoon, so I created a set of photos with my rubber ducky from LCA2011 and my cactus on my balcony. This is the last shot of four. Look at the others here.

Today was actually a really hard choice - I had two other major contenders for today's spot. I'll include them in my weekly second-place post.

Now, to bed - Monday comes early!

Saturday 26 February 2011

365project: Day 1

peek a boo purple

With the encouragement of friends, I've decided to do a 365project. Hopefully I'll stick with the taking-and-posting-a-photo-a-day ideal. I'm not doing anything particularly thematic, and depending on how I go, I might do a summary post of 'second-bests' once a week or so as well.

Today while waiting for a friend, I spotted a group of plants with the purple flowers hiding away amongst the leaves. I took a few quick snaps - this is my favourite.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Pictures galore

I've become sufficiently enthused by photography that I'm considering doing a 365 project. I'm not sure how far I will get, but I may as well give it a stab. Anyone done one? How did it go? What was it like? Did it make you love photography or hate it?

Here are some photos from yesterday.

Pinot Noir
A very nice glass of Pinot I shared with a friend yesterday.

Boardgames in King George Square
There were giant boardgames (and normal ones) in King George Square yesterday. I was bemused.

Giant chess
The giant chess set - I think I did okay for composition on this one.

red flower
A striking red flower near Cornwall St. There are a few more on my photostream of this flower, check them out.

wall and sky
This one probably needs a bit of cropping on the left hand side to really make it shine, but overall I think it was alright.

little blue flower
A tiny shy little blue flower. I'm tempted to see if I can get a better shot today.

green and traffic light
A bit of greenery and a traffic light. I took this while I was waiting to cross Juliette St.

banksia flower
A banksia flower. I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with how this and the other two shots I took turned out.

Of these next few, I really couldn't decide which I liked best, so I'm posting them all.
hiding red flowers

peek a boo red flowers

red flower buds

red flower buds

This one was just a bit of fun.
cat and mouse

And that's all for now.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Practicing photography

I've been taking more photos. Nothing like daily, but just once in a while. Here a few of the ones I think are okay. For these and ones I'm not so happy with, see my flickr photostream.

moss garden
I see this every day on my walk to work, near the start of the bikeway at Cornwall St. I'm not sure what the concrete thing is, or used to be.

Sunrise with clouds, taken from my balcony. There was a really interesting pattern in the clouds, which I didn't manage to capture, unfortunately. Nevertheless, I think it's an okay shot.

accidental souffle in action
An 'action' shot of my accidental souffles. They were delicious, by the way.

The souffles in the oven. I find this shot notable because of my reflection in the oven door. Other than that, it's not particularly interesting. I have more food shots in the photostream, but I have a very long way to go as a food photographer, I think. Oh well. So long as it's delicious to eat, that's the main thing.

dew on a leaf
Again something I saw on my way to work. I'm actually really pleased with this shot. This one and the moss garden one are my two favourites.

yellow flowers
Pretty yellow flowers. I rather like how the focus on this one turned out.

yellow flowers
Another shot of the same flowers, but I don't think the focus worked quite as well.

cactus against blue
My cactus against some of those stunningly blue skies we had on Monday. I think the shot would have been a little better if I had got it straight, but overall it's still pretty dramatic.

fuzzy purple flower
Slightly peeved at this one. I was trying to focus on the flower, dammit. This is why I want a better camera/software for my phone. I'm intending to find that flower and try again. Now I just have to remember where it is. I would have taken more shots at the time, but it was bright, and sunny, and the screen on my phone is small and low resolution. This is a persistent issue, I think.

And that concludes the show and tell for this unit time.

As always, critiques welcome and appreciated. I think these aren't too bad, but I'm still not sure if it's luck or skill operating here, although given the way my phone focuses, I think there's going to be luck involved for a while.

Monday 14 February 2011

Rediscovering the joy of cooking

It's no secret - anyone who knows me well enough knows that I love playing around in the kitchen. What many don't know is that I haven't had the energy or the will to cook for around two years now. For a hobby I loved to do daily, that's been pretty crushing.

Throw in going dairy free, and more recently gluten free, and I've been even less able to do this one of my favourite things.

When I have made food it's generally been as an obligation, or in one of the very, very rare flashes of feeling not-tired. It hasn't been a part of my daily life, and I have missed it horribly.

That's changed in the last two weeks. I have been able to think about cooking, and experiments, and carry them through. To theorise and test my theories. What can I say? I'm a geek in the kitchen, as much as I am anywhere else in life. I stand there and I think about the chemical processes going on, and how it would change if I did something else, or used a different ingredient, or a different process, or whatever.

Occasionally I get a surprise, as I did on Sunday when I made my breakfast quiches. Well, they were supposed to be quiches. They ended up being souffles instead. Apparently, mayonnaise is a very effective raising agent. I'm not quite sure why that is, but it certainly seems to be the case. Originally, it was supposed to be substituting for cream, to give them a better texture. It changed the texture, all right. Just in a bit of a different direction to what I was expecting. I've tacked the recipe on to the end of this post, suggestions for flavour combinations and tweaks would be great.

I want to start making my own mayonnaise for use in my quiches too. Anyone got a good recipe?

I still haven't debugged my mini meatloaf, which are my lunches during the week. Being dairy and gluten free, and also doing a lot of physical exercise, relying on cafes and food courts for lunch is expensive and risky. So, I DIY. I like a hot lunch, too. Thus: mini meatloaf. Anyway. They're lovely and moist and ... fall apart. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong there, really. Maybe less egg? More breadcrumbs? Oh well, I'll give it a try next time I make a batch.

Quite apart from the meds (which have had a vastly positive impact on my outlook and mood), I think that making more of my own food is making me feel healthier. I get bugger all preservatives in my diet now. Lots of fresh veg and good quality protein. Very little starts off looking like something not recognisably of plant or animal origin. On top of that, it's fun. And delicious! I say without shame that I am a very good cook. I can count the number of fail meals I've made in the last decade on one hand (I'm up to 4). I make food that is far, far better than what I can buy in a packet and is usually better than what I can buy in a cafe or restaurant. Part of that is, I think, that I have been doing it long enough - about 20 years - so that I have a good 'feel' for it. Part of it is the way my brain is twisted towards curiosity and experimentation, followed by analysis, theories, and theory testing. This is helped along by a very active sense of taste - I love food, food tastes awesome, and there is no faster way to give me an endorphin high than to feed me a wonderful meal.

In a slight change of subject, I'm considering adding to my list of hobbies doing formal reviews of gluten and dairy free products. Especially for baking, flour in particular, it is a right royal pain in the posterior to get together, mix, and keep on hand all the little bits and pieces needed. Also, packet products are a good place to start a new set of experiments - it tastes good, what's in it, can I make it better? Or simply have around as convenience foods. I guess I'd have to contact various companies to find distributors in my area, although I suspect I already know where most of them are within a 10km radius. It will improve my writing and food photography skills, as well as providing at the very least a self-reference for various products, and potentially a resource for others.

This post is probably long enough, so I'll leave it there. Please comment on anything that interests you, and let me know if there's anything I can improve in my writing or anything else.

As promised, the recipe:

Crustless Individual Quiches or Souffles.

8 eggs
2-3 cups finely chopped veges (shallots, fresh asparagus, capsicum,
tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, mushrooms, caramelised onion, etc).
Saute hard veges first.
200g meat filling (bacon, salmon, chorizo, etc)
spices to taste (pepper, garlic, chilli)
herbs (basil, thyme, dill, rosemary, mixed herbs, etc)
2-3 tbspn whole egg mayonnaise (4-5 tbspn for souffle)

1. Preheat oven to ~180C.
2. Grease six-cup texas muffin tray.
3. Whisk together herbs, spices, eggs and mayonnaise in a 2L jug,
until smooth. ~30secs.
4. Mix together meat filling and veges.
5. Divide meat/vege mix into muffin tins.
6. Pour egg mix over meat/veges. Fill cups to nearly full.
7. Bake for around 30min, until golden brown on top.

Makes six texas muffin sized quiches or souffles.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Photos taken recently

I've been taking some photographs recently. Images that struck me, I thought were interesting, whatever. Certainly nothing like daily, but now and again, something. The default app on my phone is crap, though. Can anyone suggest anything better?

stick insect

Saw this cute little fella on my way out the door one day.

Leaves against sky 2

Looked up and noticed the pattern of the light through the leaves while waiting for officeworks on Adelaide St to open.

early morning balcony

About 6am or thereabouts, went out to check on how my chilli plant seedlings are coming along. I liked the shadow cast by my balcony fence.

start of a new day 2

Taken slightly earlier, perhaps 5.45am. The clouds made a really interesting effect across the sky. Taken from my study.

There's other stuff on my flickr stream, but not much. Have a gander if you're so inclined: flickr stream.

Friday 11 February 2011

Calling for inspiration

This morning I wanted to write a post, here, but I'm lacking in interesting things to talk about. Everything in my life seems to be midway, on hold, or otherwise not write-worthy material.

I haven't really had any new or interesting wines lately, so I can't write reviews. That said, want me to review a wine? Samples gratefully accepted, and shared if you're in the vicinity.

The Ardvino is waiting on more research into current devices, as well as mailing a few winemakers and viticulturalists I know to get their opinion on the utility and interest of such a device. If you're a winemaker reading this, please read this blog post and give me some feedback.

The get healthy/fit/strong/well project is waiting on time, mostly. Workouts are happening, changes aren't yet. I do need a week or so more before I write about the DOMs that was plaguing me earlier.

I could review 'Player of Games' by Ian Banks, but I'm not sure that I'm good enough to review a book like that meaningfully yet. I haven't finished reading 'Excession' either. Hell, I might do it for practice, but I'd rather have interesting material around it first. Oh, and constructive criticism welcome for my review of Max Allen's 'The Future Makers' that would be wonderful.

My ex-NaNoWriMo dungeon campaign is also currently stalled, for want of time.

Clarinet playing is waiting on me getting into a shop and buying some 1.5 reeds, as all mine have perished. Blasted organic products.

Photography is waiting on better software - I'm running CyanogenMod on my phone, and the inbuilt photo software - I can't zoom, I can't fiddle the light balance, zip. Need to find a better app.

I want to get knitting on my Lyra and my shawl again, but I need to find my bits and pieces, and again, there's a time constraint. Anyone interested in perhaps a Sunday or Saturday afternoon knit-in group? Possibly in aircon, with chill tunes. And wine.

I can't write about uni, for two reasons. Semester hasn't started yet, and when it does start, I seriously doubt there will be anything interesting to write about - 2nd year statistics and market research just don't do anything for me intellectually. Climate and weather might be interesting, but as a low-level subject, I'm not sure there will be anything particularly groundbreaking there. Perhaps I should go back over my course material, and write up some of the more interesting aspects I've found about wine production and similar and post them here. It might be pretty dry reading, though.

So, readers: suggestions for topics? Preferably something I only need to throw a couple of hours at to get traction on and write something interesting.

Meanwhile, I'll be out playing laser tag with my workmates. Pew pew!

Sunday 6 February 2011

Book Review: "The Future Makers", Max Allen

I read this book this afternoon, having just got my paws on it. I've been itching to read this book since I heard about it coming out, and now that I have, I'm intrigued.

The book's focus is on biodynamic viticulture techniques, and their usage throughout Australia. Organic viticulture and environmental sustainability practices also feature prominently. The book is pretty much divided into two parts: an historical and current state-of-play overview, followed by a breakdown by region with reviews of specific vineyards/winemakers/labels. Throughout, there is a resounding theme of stewardship, terrior, and the need to make long-term decisions in order to cope with climate changes, as well as Australia's natural challenges.

As someone going into the industry, it gives some food for thought. Interestingly, many of the winemakers I already know and have deep respect for were mentioned in the book - Wayne of SmallFry, Ewan of Symphony Hill, De Bortoli, several others, held up as paragons of environmentally sustainable and thoughtful practicioners.

Overall, it was an enjoyable (although not essential) read. It gives some interesting context to current practices, but I don't think I'll be using it as a reference.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Ardvino is born!

I attended last week, and it was awesome. One of the talks that got me really inspired was Sarah Sharp's Gardino talk, on implementing an automatic watering system.

It occurred to me at that point, as someone who is intensely interested in a certain plant, Vitis vinefera, which is notoriously poorly understood, that this was extremely relevant to my interests.

As a winemaker, a passing knowledge of viticulture is an important part of my knowledge base. What's also important is that whilst most viticulturists have a good grip on the macro climate of their vineyards, they generally don't have a clue about the microclimate of a given vine. Given the sorts of measurements being used in research vineyards, for instance, it's pretty obvious to me that a lot of environmental characteristics simply aren't measured, with respect to the microclimate of any given vine. There's a good reason for this - rarely are viticulturists handy with soldering irons, and the commercial solutions (even if they're available in Australia, which I'm not at all sure of) are horrifically expensive.

However, the arduino platform is relatively cheap, and I'm pretty familiar with solder. Thus, the Ardvino. I'm not entirely sure as yet which bits and pieces I'll need. At ground level (about 15cm down), moisture, temperature, acidity/pH; at canopy level/s humidity, temperature, light levels (visible and UV),  gas mix (O2/CO2). I'll be checking with people more knowledgeable than I to see if I've left anything out, or if any of those isn't really relevant. Ideally, I'd like it to transmit the data over wireless, or possibly download the data from the device at regular intervals via USB/ethernet. Constant wired connection is out of the question, as quite simply it's a long way (often kilometres) from any door to any given vine, usually. I'll be using my balcony garden as a testbed initially, and if I can get support from my lecturers at USQ, at one of the research vines out in Stanthorpe later on. I don't know if it's possible to make this rugged enough for commercial use, considering it should probably be in the ground for a few years. I'm hoping I should be able to create this thing for about $300, although as yet, I don't know how realistic that is. I need to do a lot more research, and get my paws on some bits. I think I'll be spending a bit of free time at the Brisbane Hackerspace. I'm hoping also to be able to write a paper or three on various observations (and how they interact with yield, sugar/acidity levels in berries at harvest and over time, timing of veriasion, etc). There's just so much that isn't known, especially about Queensland vines.

It looks like I'll have a talk to give next year in Ballarat, at any rate.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Acquiring a label

Last I posted, I noted my lack of energy.

The whole thing started back ... well, I suppose in around September 2009, when the symptoms first started to ramp up beyond what I could dismiss as simple depression or apathy. By January 2010, I had been through 3 doctors, each of whom told me there was nothing wrong with me, despite me sleeping 20+ hours a day, every day, and feeling increasingly unwell (sick, nauseous, faint, dizzy) when I was awake.

In April 2010, I finally found a doctor who took my issues seriously. She helped me discover my casein intolerance, which improved things somewhat - I was feeling well (if sleepy) while I was awake, and I was awake for something that was kind of normal - sleeping 14hrs a day. But the sleepiness didn't go away, no matter what I did, so I did a sleep study in August 2010. The results from that test came back, showing that my overnight sleep wasn't so much good, as pretty near medically perfect. With sleep like that, a normal adult would be full of life and energy during the daytime, not barely staying awake like I was. I was referred to a sleep physician, who after talking to me, recommended that I do a Multiple Sleep Latency Test to determine my actual level of daytime sleepiness. This is not a test that can be faked; you either go to sleep, or you don't. Your brainwaves reflect this, or they don't. You do an overnight sleep study first - to make sure it's going to be an accurate test - then during the day, you're asked to try to nap at several intervals. I did this test in December 2010. On Wednesday, I saw the doctor, and got the results of this test. He was very sympathetic. 'I can't imagine how you can live like this, it must be horrible' were his exact words. Apparently I'm a very bad case. Even for people with my disorder, it is relatively unusual to have someone who, after a full night of excellent quality sleep, can fall asleep at 8am, 10am, 11.30am, and 1pm - that last being within 30seconds of being told to try to nap.

I was given a formal diagnosis, and medication. The diagnosis is Idiopathic Hypersomnia, which is a polite way of saying 'We know you sleep far too much, but there doesn't seem to be a reason we can pin down'. I don't have narcolepsy, hormone imbalances, endocrine imbalances, sleep apnea, restless movement, or anything similar. It's a somewhat wishy-washy diagnosis, but it at least comes with medications which will alleviate the issues I experience every day. It does mean, though, that I'll be on said medications lifelong. Or at least, the parts of my life where I want to be awake. The medication is ... problematic. Highly restricted, used illegally as a recreational drug, that sort of thing. It's going to make travel interesting, that's for sure.

My overwhelming emotion is relief. Relief that there is some diagnosis at all. Relief that there's a good chance I can function like a normal person, even if it does mean taking pills for the rest of my life. Sheer joy that I will have an extra 12 hours a day of alertness.

I do worry that the side-effects of the medication might cause me issues, especially since it's prone to causing emotional issues. I am worried about the reaction of people to the exact medication I'm on. I'm worried about the paperwork I'm going to have to carry around. I'm worried that it won't work.

But for all of that, I'm glad. Glad to finally be done with the testing, glad to finally have a way forward, glad to have a chance to get my sparkle and life back.