Archives for: 2007


Permalink 01:09:18 pm, Categories: Technology, Rant, 297 words   English (UK)

ISP Muppetry

I've just had to help a friend with here broadband email service. It was working on Monday, but at some point during the week it stopped.

It was complaining that it couldn't get a response from the POP3 server. So I double checked all the documentation and rechecked the password. No good.

I had a look through her existing emails and discovered that she'd been sent details of a new email service that she was being moved onto. So I checked through the settings for that.
There were quite a few settings changes and I thought that would sort it, but no.

So then I went to the ISPs extremely slow, and badly organised AJAX enabled website, where eventually I managed to get the help pages to open for me. There I double checked all the settings, still OK and then looked for more help.

"Perhaps your password has become desynchronised in the move to the new service. Go to this page and change your password." It suggested.

I eventually had to find a different computer to get through the website without the AJAX choking and then I changed the password.

It still wasn't working.

I logged into the provider's site again, to be sure the password was right.
I logged into the provider's webmail service, which I discover is now a GMail solution.

There I find, in my friend's inbox, sent after the changeover, a new, and subtly different set of instructions on what to do to get POP3 working. Now you have to log into the webmail service and ENABLE POP3 apparently.

IF you move someone to a new email service.
AND some changes are necessary for them to continue to use it as before
sending them instructions AFTER the changeover is NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!


Permalink 07:51:53 pm, Categories: Food, Recipe, 253 words   English (UK)


I made some fishcakes yesterday, very easy and extremely tasty.

This should make 4 fishcakes. Enough for 2 people as a main meal with a salad or a handful of chips.

Boil some potatoes, around 250g, until tender. I used new potatoes and then peeled them, but you can use any floury potatoes and peel them first if they have thicker skins. While they were boiling, I was able to steam 180g of fish fillet above the boiling water. You can use any firm fish, cod, haddock or salmon for example. I went for coley because I had some in. It's a little darker in colour than cod, but with a similar flavour, a little less delicate.

Take 2 handfuls of fresh parsley and blend with 15g of cold butter. Then mix with the hot potatoes and mash them with a fork until smooth. Flake the steamed fish into the mash, add two handfuls of fine breadcrumbs and combine thoroughly.

Form the mixture into patties and then chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. They will become a good deal less sticky as the breadcrumbs absorb some of the moisture, and the cooling potato congeals.

When you are ready to cook the fishcakes, beat an egg into a shallow bowl, dip the patties into the egg, coating both sides, and then cover them with a mixture of breadcrumbs and polenta grains. Shallow fry for a few minutes on each side until they are golden brown and the coating has become crispy.

Serve immediately.


Permalink 04:41:54 pm, Categories: Review, Books, 341 words   English (UK)

Louise Penny

There's not enough english language crime fiction featuring French detectives.

The French have a different approach to crime, their entire legal system operates in a way quite different to our own, and though you might not expect it, the difference shows through in the way that crimes are investigated. To be completely honest, Maigret by Georges Simenon is most likely the only French crime fiction that most people are aware of.

Louise Penny's work is set in Quebec a perfect excuse to reveal the Sureté in action within a english speaking world. And it's refreshing to see. Of course Quebec is bilingual but the French that creeps into the work is neither intrusive nor difficult and lends a authentic sound to the proceedings.

Her debut novel, 'Still Life' is extremely well executed. It has a confidence about it that belies the fact that it has a so far shallow background. Many debut's - especially those that introduce us to characters who will re-occur - are noticeably tentative when compared to the works that come later, but with this novel, you could be forgiven for going back to the bookshop to look for earlier works featuring the redoubtable Inspector Gamache.

Penny has created an entire microcosmos here, in one fell swoop. Not just the brilliant and caring Armand Gamache, but a beautiful setting - the village of Three Pines - filled with well fleshed out characters and in an audacious stroke, the monstrous Yvette Nichol.

The follow-up to 'Still Life' is 'Dead Cold' and brings Gamache back to the same village of Three Pines, little more than 1 year after the events of the first novel. Here Penny shows that she can keep up the pace, her richly drawn story brings out ever more detail in the characters and location. This book is everything that the first was, yet slightly more-so.

Three Pines is a glorious setting for a fresh approach to the village murder mystery, and I look forward to the third in the series, 'The Cruellest Month' when it hits the shelves this autumn.


Permalink 02:02:18 pm, Categories: Food, Recipe, Books, 266 words   English (UK)

Bramble Delice

This weekend I cooked what's probably the most complex dessert I've ever attempted.

I got a copy of James Martin's Desserts for my birthday and it's a sweet looking book.

On Thursday, a friend brought round 3 boxes of blackberries, a bottle of Creme de Cassis, some double cream and a jar of glucose syrup - along with a birthday present of a cake ring. A not exactly subtle hint that she would like me to make the Delice au Cassis recipe.

Well it's not really the right time of year for fresh blackcurrants, so the blackberries had to do instead and I didn't need to alter the recipe to make it work. I suspect that the blackcurrants would have given a greater intensity of flavour to the finished pud, but it worked a treat.

Sometimes a complicated recipe has just too much going on for you to get to grips with it first time. This took me a large part of one day to complete, but despite the marathon it worked flawlessly. This is really the sign I think of a good cookery book. My first recipe from the book, the most complex recipe in the book, and it just works.

This was the first time I've used a sugar thermometer, real vanilla, leaf gelatine, stock syrup or Italian meringue and yet the step by step instructions did the job.

This is a really good book to drool over, it's proper food pr0n. But it's also a very practical and workable recipe book.

Try it. And when you've got a day to spare, try the Delice.

Permalink 01:52:26 pm, Categories: Review, Books, 139 words   English (UK)

Artemis Fowl - and the Lost Colony

My my, I managed to finish two books this weekend.

The Lost Colony is not brand new, but it is the latest in the series of children's books that began with Artemis Fowl

This time, child genius Artemis Fowl may have met his match. A young girl who might just be cleverer than he is. She's determined to get her hands on a Demon and if she does, it could cause untold havoc above and below ground. Only Artemis, his bodyguard Butler and fairy private eye Holly Short could possibly stop her. But can they?

Eoin Colfer has created a fantastic fantasy world, richly populated by a hidden world of fairies, trolls, dwarfs and such like. This immensely readable book is a thrill-a-minute ride from beginning to end.

It will be a sad day when Artemis finally grows up.

Permalink 01:41:10 pm, Categories: Review, Books, 266 words   English (UK)

The Death of Dalziel

Amongst my ever-growing collection of crime fiction, I have an extensive catalogue of Reginald Hill. One of the best British contemporary crime writers; his most popular characters are Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe. Almost his entire back catalogue featuring these two policemen has been translated to the screen with great success, and since the point where they ran out of novels to dramatise, the on-screen and paper based lives of these two have diverged somewhat.

The Death of Dalziel is the latest novel from Hill and although his output seems to have slowed somewhat these last few years, the work that he's produced has grown increasingly complex and his knack for tight and intricate plotting has twisted ever tighter.

This book draws heavily on our contemporary fears of terrorism and the competence or otherwise of our security forces - or ‘the funny bu***rs’ as Dalziel calls them.

A gripping story has Andy Dalziel's protege Peter Pascoe struggling to stay objective while he investigates the terrorist explosion which has left the big man comatose and dying.

But - as ever - one of the strengths of this series from Hill is that this is never just about cops and robbers. Everyone we have met along the way is important to Hill, colleagues and families are not just bit part players. The fallout from crime is never limited to those firmly on the side of good or evil, it spreads - and the author is careful never to let us forget that.

A terrific read and a welcome addition to the story of this most popular crime fighting duo.


Permalink 12:12:26 pm, Categories: Review, Film, 476 words   English (UK)

Bicentennial Man

I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch this or not.

On the one hand it's based on work by Isaac Asimov
On the other, it's got Robin Williams in it.

Let's be honest, his career so far has been a bit hit and miss. He's very very watchable in some films, and then completely mawkish in others. This film struck me as having the potential to be firmly in the latter category. But it wasn't that bad. In fact I think it was quite good.

It was billed as a comedy; I'm not sure it deserves that at all. It is gently amusing throughout, but it's not played for laughs and it is extremely sentimental. It never dissolves into mawkishness, nor does it tug too hard on the heartstrings. On the whole I think it finds a good place to sit and works well.

Williams plays the lead very well, a sustained performance that conveys the character and his hopes and dreams perfectly. He's ably supported by Sam Neill and Embeth Davidtz. In fact, all the roles, are well played. I can't find anything wrong with it except...

Pages: 1 2 3


Permalink 01:12:16 pm, Categories: Food, Review, 238 words   English (UK)

Cafe No.8

I share a mutual friend with the proprietor of Cafe No.8; so I heard about it when it first opened. I didn't find an excuse to go there for quite a while but I used to recommend it to people when they were looking for somewhere nearby, and they always came back to me with good reports.

Since then I've managed to go a few times - for lunch usually - and it's never disappointed.
It's a small, slightly cramped bistro with around 6 tables. The atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant even on a damp day with the heavens pouring forth and the place is packed with customers and damp shopping. Today was fine and although the place was never overflowing, it did a brisk trade. I've never seen it empty.

The menu is a pretty traditional bistro mix of sandwiches and heartier meals; all delivered with style and a high degree of emphasis on the quality of flavour. The prices are typical for this kind of menu, but the balance and quality of the food easily pushes those prices into good value for money.

It's just on the edge of town, right next to the city walls, so it's not a bad place to stop for a shopping lunch, but be warned that on any day when town is busy, I'd expect to struggle to get a table here. On a quieter day, it's a reliable source of good food.


Permalink 02:29:26 pm, Categories: Technology, 160 words   English (UK)

An idea

Last week I saw something, a visual effect and I thought "ooh, I must remember that, I could use it in a website design".

But I don't have a particular project to use it in right now.

By the time I do, I'll have forgotten the idea.

So here's my suggestion. Make yourself a sourcebook, a scrapbook if you like. Set aside a directory on your PC, or a junk space on your website. And then when you come across a cool visual idea, or something like that, clip it, or create an example and put it in your scrap book.

In years to come, when you are looking for inspiration for your current project, you can look through your sourcebook for ideas that you would otherwise have forgotten. Probably a lot of it will look dated, but you know, 'what comes around goes around' It'll come back into fashion eventually, and you'll be ready for it when it does.


Permalink 10:36:44 am, Categories: Comics, 105 words   English (UK)


I hope you've had a chance to look at Order of the Stick over at Giant in the Playground.

There's another comic over there that's worth a good look as well. Called Erfworld, it's also set in a gameworld but it has a very different style and direction. It's up to page 40 right now, so it's a good time to get a run up to it. There's enough there to see if you're going to like it, but not too much to catch up on. Don't try to read it from the end though, that's just going to be so confusing. Start at the beginning.


Permalink 09:38:24 am, Categories: Food, Review, 409 words   English (UK)

Vanilla Black

The second time I went to Vanilla Black I knew what to expect. Potentially this leaves room for disappointment, but there was no disappointment to be found.

I'm not a vegetarian, and sometimes I struggle to be enthusiastic about vegetarian dishes. Looking at the menu I thought that there was nothing on there I really fancied. The best option for the main course was almost but not quite the same dish that I had last time. I plumped for some stuff that I thought I could bear.

The truth is that this meat-eating savoury thing is just in my head. There were five of us, we each chose something different, and we all tasted each others food. Everything was gorgeous. I could have had anything from the menu and liked it. The choices I did make were probably the best choices for me that night, but on another night I would have had something different.

To put it bluntly, this place does stuff with vegetarian food that Cranks can only dream of. They have a Michelin recommendation and they fully deserve it.

I had a deconstructed lentil dhal to start. Even having tasted it, I can't say that it sounds inspiring (the menu does go into a little more detail than just the title). Lentil dhal is probably one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of a vegetarian restaurant, but this was incredible. The deconstructed part just means that they cooked everything separately and then put it all on the plate at the end. (Does that sound lazy to you; It's not, it's inspired.)

My main was a crispy vegetable 'lasagne' a rich and sweet tomato and onion relish bound together an aubergine and cucumber filling sandwiched between layers of something that was a cross between a flour pancake and a rosti. It was all topped with a good ball of shepherd's purse cheese, rather like a fresh mozzarella.

Conveniently there were five dishes on the desert menu, so we just ordered one of each. I got mostly a belgian chocolate pudding with white chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream. By far the least inspired choice on the menu, but it was just what I was in the mood for. Everyone else got something much more interesting and again everything was delicious.

The atmosphere is quiet, informal and the service attentive but not fussy.

so far this place is 2 for 2. Keep up the good work.


Permalink 04:49:51 pm, Categories: Technology, 229 words   English (UK)

Google Personalised Home Page

I've had Google's personal home page product on my home page for quite a while now. It was quite flaky at first, but it has gradually become more stable and more useful. Usually without my noticing.

I tried the MSN page briefly, but as Google and Microsoft worked on updating these products, the advantages and bugs swung back and forth until I got fed up and decided to choose the stick to the path of light and avoid the dark side for ever more.

Last week it occured to me that I could save some of my browsing time, but actually doing something with the homepage. I added a new tab and then I added the RSS feeds for most of the comics that I tend to try to keep up with.

Now instead of trying to remember 10 different urls and to remember to visit each one a couple of times a week, I can simply check the comics tab to see what's new.

It's made life a whole lot easier, but certainly take some element of fun away from it. There used to be a frisson of excitement as I waited for a site to load so that I could see if todays' comic was different from that I saw yesterday. Now all of that excitement is condensed into one single page.

Still, must move with the times.


Permalink 10:22:31 am, Categories: Comics, 74 words   English (UK)

Order of the Stick

If you've ever played Dungeons and Dragons, or pretty much any rules based role-playing, then you should find this comic a hoot.

It follows the antics of a party of adventurers known as the Order of the Stick and despite it's simplistic appearance, it's one hell of a cleverly constructed strip.

It's been running quite a while, so there's a lot to catch up on, but there are some priceless gems along the way.


Permalink 09:13:14 am, Categories: Food, Review, 413 words   English (UK)

The Wharf - Teddington

We went out for dinner the other night to The Wharf, right next to Teddington Lock. The atmosphere on arrival was pleasant, although it was early and the dining room was virtually empty. There was a brisk chill in the air outside and the space heaters in the dining room had brought the temperature up nicely, it wasn't long before people were asking to have them turned off.

Things didn't get off to a brilliant start with the menu however. The only vegetarian main was off, and they obviously hadn't thought through anything to replace it. They were however prepared to consider variations on anything on the menu. In the end, we made do. There were 4 of us; we started with a Mezze plate between two, a pressed ham hock terrine and I had a caesar salad with chicken and bacon. Service was unexpectedly swift and the starters were all generous and very satisfying. My salad was simple but very well balanced and the Mezze plate contained pitta with a herd and garlic dressing, houmous, spicy baba-ganoush and a chunky guacamole, alongside that, feta and artichoke hearts.

To follow, I had a steak burger and my companions had corelli with chicken and chorizo, spiced rump of lamb, and a large plain caesar salad. The burger was tasty and succulent, presented with cheese, bacon, tomato and a tasty tomato relish. There was a mountain of fries on the plate, but they were a little underdone and somewhat anaemic.

We washed this down with mineral water and a very pleasant Laiback Pinotage from the Stellenbosch. Service was prompt and attentive almost but not quite to the point of intrusive and the staff were very helpful.

As our meal drew on, the room began to become quite full, it's obviously a popular place and my companions have failed to find a booking in the past. It didn't seem excessively noisy or crowded as things filled up, but we did notice a lot of cigarette smoke drifting in from the bar, despite having an ostensibly no-smoking table, and by the time we were leaving, the not-so-delicate sounds of a Gwen Stefani track were beginning to punctuate the hubbub.

I wasn't paying, but the prices on the menu seemed very reasonable and I think the whole experience was value for money. It's difficult to judge a place on a visit like this, but I would go again, for an early table, probably after the smoking ban comes in.


Permalink 04:33:35 pm, Categories: Food, Recipe, 368 words   English (UK)

Braised Venison Steaks

I got a pair of venison leg steaks at the weekend. It seemed to someone like a good plan. Then I had a good look through my collection of recipe books to figure out how to cook them.

I had no joy there. The closest thing I could find to a useful recipe was for venison loin, courtesy of Elizabeth David's 'French Provincial Cooking'.

So in the end I had to make something up.

Take 1 small red onion and two rashers of back bacon, chopped medium fine. Saute in olive oil until golden. Lift out the onion and bacon and put to one side for later, then add a little more oil if necessary and bring the pan up to just about smoking point. Add the 2 venison leg steaks and stand back. Let them brown and turn them over to brown the other side. Then I turned the heat down to a little below medium and added a half ounce of butter. (You can probably do without the butter, but I was making it up as I went along.) When the butter is melted, pour in a good glass of robust red wine, a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. Season and add a stock cube. Put the onions and bacon back in, along with a handful of small peeled shallots. Cover and leave to simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and turning the meat over half way through the time. If it looks as though the wine might all boil away, add a splash more.

At the end of the hour, the wine should have produced a nice rich dark gravy, remove the lid and carefully push the ingredients to one side of the pan, to make a bit of room. Take care with the shallots and they might be very delicate by now. Add a splash of cream to the pan and stir it into the gravy. Cook it through until it thickens slightly. Now serve, take the meat out onto two plates, carefully place the shallots on top and then spoon the onion and bacon and gravy over the top.

I served this with a gratin dauphinois, steamed purple sprouting brocolli and more of the lovely red wine.


Permalink 01:49:57 pm, Categories: Review, Film, 426 words   English (UK)

Hot and Fuzzy

I don't get to the cinema as often as I would like. I don't want to go on my own and my tastes in film don't often coincide with those of others.

I did get to see Hot Fuzz this week. And I have to say that I was mightily impressed.

=> Read more!


Permalink 11:58:41 am, Categories: Review, Books, 632 words   English (UK)

Books of Magic

Magic is having something of a revival at the moment. There are two films about magicians doing the rounds, The Prestige and The Illusionist. I've not yet seen either, this is a book review.

I recently read two books about magicians:

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

=> Read more!


Permalink 01:36:24 pm, Categories: Review, Television, 422 words   English (UK)

The hooded man

Over the years there have been many tellings of the legend of Robin Hood. 23 years ago, British television saw the arrival on screen of 'Robin of Sherwood'. ITV3 has started showing the entire 3 series again, and they are repeated once more from tonight.

Although I have all 3 series on VHS, it's been more that 10 years since I last saw any of this; but it's not lost any of its impact. Since then we've had Kevin Costner's lengthy mostrosity and a ridiculous and bizarrely anachronistic 'Robin Hood' from BBC1. Nothing since its original airing has come close to 'Robin of Sherwood'.

The storytelling was simple and truthful, not laced with modern day references or post-modern tricks. The write Richard Carpenter wove into the traditional and familiar storyline, a magical thread full of saxon mysticism which well befits the raw strength of the legend itself. In Carpenter's hands Robin becomes not only an people's hero, but an instrument of the forest god and a force of light against the Dark forces of the despised King John.

The casting was perfect, the relatively unknown Michael Praed taking the lead role, supported by a ensemble of Merry Men including Ray Winstone and Clive Mantle. Judi Trott portrayed Maid Marion, an ethereal saxon beauty who I was surprised to realise reminded me a great deal of Francesca Annis.

Nikolas Grace's Sheriff of Nottingham was no pantomime villain, as seen so often. He was a cunning man, failing more often because of a betrayal, or the incompetence of his own men rather than an overreaching self-destruction. His brother Hugo, the abbot providing a fine interplay, showing the competing politics of church and state, each side in it for their own ends, neither side with the slightest regard for the common folk. Finally, Gisburne; here the casting and writing came together with a perfectly balanced character. Not a buffoon, but not as clever as he thinks he is, headstrong and arrogant, with a belief in the superiority of the Normans that frequently causes him to underestimate the saxons.

Yes, it's 23 years old and it shows, the gradient filters on the camera stick out like a sore thumb, but that's a complaint you can level at pretty much every film from the 80s. Despite its vintage it still stacks up and even the soundtrack by Clannad is as haunting as ever.

If you remember it, or if you've never even heard of it, give it a look. I promise it's so much better than any recent retelling of the tale.

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