Sunday, 4 July 2010

On mentioning sports where they don't belong

Disclaimer: This is not a rant about hating football. But make no mistake I do hate football.

I've noticed a recent trend, although it may have been going on for some time but has only recently come to my attention. During programs which have nothing to do with a particular sport, the presenters mention what is currently occurring in a sport event. For example Chris Evans declaring the status of Andy Murray's semi-final against Rafa Nadal to an audience made up largely—I expect—of people who are on their way home to watch either a recording of the match or the highlights program. Or take QVC, a channel that I in no way condone or approve of—during the opening matches of the Soccer ball world cup event—advertised a Football free zone, but delivered updates to their audience on the events in South Africa every 5 minutes. Or perhaps during the Wimbledon Coverage on the BBC where they spoke for at least an hour each day about football.

If someone is not watching or listening to coverage of a sports event live, it is for one of two very good reasons. Either they hate the sport and are actively avoiding any mention of that sport, or they are unable to currently watch or listen to it and are waiting for an opportunity to watch or listen to a recording. So please QVC if you're gonna advertise a football free zone then don't mention football. Wimbledon program producers, if I wanted to watch football I'd watch it, I watch Wimbledon to see some tennis not an hour of discourse on Fabio Crapello's line-up.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Vincenzo Natali

Before I go any further let me make two things clear, I am a fan of Vincenzo Natali, and in no way is this a criticism of him or his work.

I've just spent the last couple of hours looking for even a tenuous contact email/postal address for Vincenzo Natali. 'Why?', I hear thee cry, well what a great question. It's because, I've seen his earlier films Cube and Cypher (which I got because they had David Hewlett in them) but want to see the rest. I'm sure Splice will be out in the cinema here in the UK soon, but in the mean time I want to see nothing. But I've been waiting a few years now, and still there is no UK release, even though it was shown at this year's UK Sci-Fi film festival.

The only way to get it is to get the US import and get a multi-region dvd player, but this seems a bit extreme for one film and for a person with basically no money. So I'm putting the message out in the only outlet I can think of, Please Vincenzo can you swing a UK region edition or a multi-region edition?

For good measure and in the hope that it will show up on google, whenever he or one of his friends googles his name, here is his name twenty times:

Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali
Vincenzo Natali

Oh and while you're at it a UK region release for David Hewlett's, A Dog's Breakfast.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Biscuits

Everyone likes biscuits, seriously everyone. Frankly if you don't, I don't want to know you, you're evil and disturbed. Not only—I hypothesize—does everyone like biscuits, everyone loves the biscuits I'm gonna teach you to make. They are perfect biscuits. A lovely crumbly texture, the perfect balance of sweet and bitterness. Not too rich, and just a little salt to make them extra delicious. They're also quite classy, you wouldn't be ashamed to serve these to the Queen. And what's more, I bet you she'd love them. Anyway that's enough up-bigging, the recipe:

Here's what you'll need:

285g Caster Sugar
225g Butter cubed (take about half a cm off a pack of butter and use what's left)
2tbsps Double Cream
2 Egg Yolks
285g Plain Flour
100g Cocoa Powder
2tsps salt
2tbsps coffee (can be ground or just instant it doesn't really matter)
100g pack of your favourite chocolate, I like Lindt Orange Intense

Here's how you make them:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or 180 for a fan.

Use a Kenwood mixer for all the mixing or it will take a lot longer and your arm might fall off.

Put the Sugar and Butter into the mixer and mix, gradually increasing the speed until well creamed.

Next add the Cream and Egg Yolks, mix until well combined.

Add the Flour, Cocoa Powder, Salt and Coffee, start the mixer off slowly so you don't get Flour and Cocoa flying everywhere, once it starts combining better increase the speed, it will be loud and shaky but just endure it, nothing will break.... I hope.

Take well heaped teaspoons of the dough and roll into balls, and place evenly spaced on baking sheets.

Next take the chocolate, if you're using Lindt break each square into 4, until you have 32 pieces.

There should be two pieces left over which you can enjoy at your leisure.

Push a piece into each ball of dough.

Put the biscuits in the oven for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes remove them from the oven and leave to cool on the baking sheets.

Try a couple just to make sure they're good, which they will be.

There you have it, I'll be honest I don't think they're great for dunking but they sure go down well with a really nice cappuccino. I really hope you'll enjoy these and I hope you'll share them and this recipe with your friends.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Bread

I really like food, nay I love it. It's the spice of life, literally in some cases. Not only do I love to eat food, I'm a fairly good chef, capable of inventing my own recipes. I'd like to share a couple of recipes for what I consider staples in my diet, and hopefully I'll share more in the future.

First up is a fail-proof bread recipe. Homemade bread is a joy, so much tastier and satisfying than anything you can buy in a shop. I also find making bread quite therapeutic and relaxing. The best thing about making bread is the amount of sitting down you get to do, because you have to leave stuff alone for long periods. You get to sit down while it does work for you. Here's the recipe:

1. First measure out 300ml of tepid water straight from the tap. Top this up with about 20-25ml of oil, or melted butter. I usually use extra virgin olive oil as it gives my bread a sort of italian bread texture. Add to this 1 and a half teaspoons of yeast, I use this stuff, which you can get from either their own website, Tesco or several other places. Finally add two teaspoons of caster sugar and give it a jolly good whisk. Leave this in a warm draft-free place for about 10-20mins until it has a big bubble of yeasty goodness on top. This is key.

2. Next weigh out 500g of flour, this is where you can get a bit adventurous. Use interesting flours, combine flours as long as you have 500g of flour you'll do fine. I usually do half and half of strong white bread flour and six seed bread flour. Dump this in a big bowl, don't bother sifting, anyone who tells you sifting is important has never not sifted. At this point you can also add dried herbs, seeds anything small that will blend well with the flour, even spices are cool. Make sure you add a couple of teaspoons of salt as well. Combine all this and make a big well in the middle.

3. Into this well, pour the yeasty water, and give it a jolly good whisk with a big fork to emulsify the oil. Using the big fork gradually incorporate the flour from the sides, combine until a uniform mix and incorporate more flour, keep going until it's too hard to move the fork through the dough. Scrape off the fork and proceed with your hands until all the flour has been incorporated.

4. At this point you should assess the stickiness of your dough, knead it a bit and if the dough is still sticking to your hands then it's too sticky. Dump it onto a lightly floured surface and knead (If you don't know how to knead, the basic technique is to hold the dough down gently with one hand and use the other hand to push away and stretch the dough a bit and then bring this back, then turn a bit and repeat. This is a skill that you will develop, keep practicing and eventually you will be doing lightning kneading!) until the flour on the surface has been incorporated into the dough. Keep lightly flouring the surface and kneading until your dough no-longer sticks to your hands, but don't go any-further or your dough will be dry and unmanageable.

5. Now you just want to continue kneading until your dough is silky smooth and elasticy. Keep going, you will get there. This, for me at least, is the best bit. I love the feel of dough at this point it's so nice to just play with and squidge about. But don't get distracted by the lovely dough. Shape the dough into a ball, lightly dust the big bowl with flour and place the ball of dough in it. Lightly dust the top of the dough and cover the bowl with clingfilm, tightly, top this with a tea-towel.

6. You need to get the bowl of dough into a warm draft-free place like a boiler cupboard or an airing cupboard. Personally I put the oven on 50 degrees C and put the dough in here, but it's important you don't go much higher or you'll start to cook the bread and kill the yeast. Leave the dough like this until it's at least doubled in size. This can take anywhere from an hour to 4 hours, be patient, take your time. This is the time when you can go do something else, just keep an eye on it. If you leave it overnight you'll have a lovely big molten rock looking bowlfull of dough.

7. Once the dough has doubled in size now is the time to knock it back. Remove it from the bowl and dump it on a clean surface—it may need a little persuasion. Make sure you get out any bits that may have stuck to the bowl. Now punch and squeeze and roll the dough until you've knocked out all the air, as long as you've done step 4 and 5 properly the dough won't stick to you or the surface, adding flour at this point can result in disaster.

8. Once you've unloaded your frustration on the dough, you can shape it. Now you can add fruit, chocolate, cheese, anything interesting that is a bit bigger and wouldn't have blended well with the flour. Shape the dough however you like, I like to divide it into submarine rolls.

9. Take a large baking tray and lightly oil it. Place the shaped dough onto the tray. Brush the top of the dough with a little olive oil and slash a few times on top so the bread can expand. Cover with cling-film and the tea-towel. Put it back in your warm place so the bread can grow, this is called proving. This time you only have to leave it for about half an hour.

10. Preheat your oven to about 210 degrees C for an electric oven or 190 for a fan assisted one. If you have been proving your dough in the oven make sure you take it out first! Once the oven is up to temp, remove the cling film and tea-towel and now you can top the bread with interesting stuff, herbs and cheese, seeds, anything you fancy. Some things may need a hand sticking, so brush the dough with either milk or a little egg yolk. Now once you're happy with the flavours you've got on the dough, put it in the oven on the same tray you proved it on and bake.

11. It's tricky to say how long it will take to bake. Baking time depends on the size of rolls, thickness, how much stiff you've put on them, and more importantly your oven. Keep an eye on it every 5 minutes, but it should be done after about 30 minutes. Remove it from the oven once it's crusty and springs back when you push it gently. A sure way to test it is to insert a skewer into the middle of the bread for 5 seconds, if when you touch the skewer to your top lip it is too hot, then you know it's cooked. There you have it you have made bread, I bet it tastes amazing. Mmmmm bread, yummy. Now eat it.

Coming up in the next week yummy biscuits, which I decided to do in a separate post because this one is already quite long. Any questions, post to the comments, Happy cooking.


Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Harry Potter/Star Wars thing

I've recently started re-watching the Harry Potter films for the 20th time and re-reading the books for actually only about the 3rd or 4th time. It's no news or secret that there are striking similarities between Harry Potter and Star Wars, it's called something like the Hero's Journey or something and is a well known story. The fact that these stories are almost identical isn't necessarily a bad thing though.

I've seen Star Wars more times than I've seen Harry Potter so I didn't need to refamiliarise myself with them to notice the obvious similarities this time round. For those who are a little slow on the uptake here's the gist of things. The first two Harry Potter films/books are almost irrelevant, they're like a prologue. Prisoner of Azkaban is Phantom Menace, Goblet of Fire is Attack of the Clones, Order of the Phoenix is Revenge of the Sith, The Half Blood Prince is A New Hope, and the last book; Deathly Hallows, is split into two; Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Even further than that, the individual characters are highly comparable, Harry is Luke, Ron is Han, Hermione is Leia, Dumbledore is Obi Wan Kenobi, Snape is Vader, Voldemort is Sidious heck even Hagrid is Chewie, they're both big and hairy for Christ's sake.

But like I say this isn't necessarily a bad thing and it certainly doesn't undermine Rowling's books. In-fact—and this is news—I actually prefer Rowling's telling of the Story to Lucas's, because—SPOILER SPACE BEGINS—Harry and Voldemort's Relationship is more significant than Luke and Sidious'. And also because some of the stuff Sidious does seems to be a little bit of an accident, whereas Voldemort's plan was way more sophisticated. I mean sure it's impressive that Sidious hid in plain sight of the Jedi for a very long time, and also managed to turn the greatest Jedi of all time to his cause. However, Voldemort, made a Horcrux of the one person who he knew the good guys wouldn't kill because he was the one prophesised to destroy him. Genius, absolute genius, he forgot one thing though, Magic, which to be honest is a bit of an epic fail in the Harry Potter world. SPOILER SPACE ENDS

So there you have it, my two cents/pennies. Unfortunately if you skipped over the spoiler parts this post won't be entirely interesting to you so read the books and then read this.

Monday, 1 February 2010

I am Colourblind


No it's not just a lyric that Adam Duritz wrote. I am actually colourblind. People who aren't colourblind find it very hard to understand what it is, or have preconceptions. I could explain the science which makes someone colourblind quite easily. But actually describing what it's like is near impossible, I've always been colourblind so I have no point of reference. No I do not see in black and white, it's not that bad. Although some people do, those people are profoundly colourblind.

I'll try to describe it as simply as possible I get what I consider similar colours confused. First and foremost is red-green, if you're colourblind at all these will be the colours you most often get mixed up. One time I had this beach ball, with green stripes and when I spun it, the colour would actually flash green and red, that was quite trippy. I however am slightly worse. My brother's are colourblind but I think I may be a step beyond them. For example I have no concept of Purple or Brown, they're just Dark Blue and Dark Green, respectively, as far as I can tell.

I've never thought it was really that bad though. Apart from some trouble in art class with telling colours, asking friends for help and them setting me up to paint someone orange. But I try to take stuff like that in my stride. I'm not a painter so it's not going to affect me, and I like a bit of banter between friends. I generally try not to let things I can't control bother me, and I can laugh about it most of the time.

I've always known since I was quite young that I could never fly a fighter jet, because of my colourblindness. Even though this was and still is one of my dreams, I accepted it and tried to move on. However recently it dealt me a blow. I've recently graduated from University, and to be honest it's seemingly impossible to get a job. I didn't put in enough effort with my final project. I have an aptitude for exams and require less than a day's worth of revision. However despite my good grades in my exams, my failed project brought me down to a 2:2 and almost every graduate employer wants a 2:1 minimum. I can't tell you how depressing that is.

Anyway I was thinking about how to get a job one day and I considered the people who travel around the world transporting goods on ships. I realised that's the Merchant Navy. I thought that would be a really interesting job. I could travel round the world on a big ship. I could see some amazing things, meet some interesting people. The pay must be quite good; it's a job with some risk, and since you're on a ship for months at a time you can save all the money you make.

I did some research, it turns out, in the UK there is an organisation called the Ship Safe Training Group. They basically organise the training of new officers for the merchant navy. They interview you, and if they think you're suitable, they get in touch with sponsor companies who are members of the Merchant Navy, and they pay for you to go to university and get a degree. And when I say they pay for, I mean everything. They pay for your tuition, your accommodation, your transport costs, and food. They even pay you a small salary, you're merely expected to put some of that salary toward some of your food costs and study equipment.

I thought great, If nothing else it will keep me busy for a few years and when I come out I'll have another degree with a load of other qualifications. I'll have a job paying at least £20,000 and have prospects to become a Captain if I was good enough meaning I could earn around £65,000. If that wasn't enough, once I decided I had galavanted around the oceans of the world enough, I could get a shore job teaching or something, and settle down.

I was all set to apply, when my brother mentioned to me that his best friend from School is in the Royal Navy. He is also colourblind, and as such is restricted to being a supply officer, meaning he isn't allowed to do any of the actual sailing. That sounded bad, but I remained optimistic. I had been e-mailing this guy from the SSTG about joining and decided to ask straight up about the colourblindness. I e-mailed him late on a Friday so I knew I'd probably have to wait until the following Monday to find out.

So I talked it over with my best friend Tom and another good friend Sven, who were both encouraging and said, as long as you're happy do it, or words to that affect. I tried to forget about it for the weekend, or it would just make me anxious, but I remained optimistic. I woke up this morning went to my inbox. I saw the message there, and tapped my iPhone screen. Up it popped, "I am afraid I would have the same restrictions... not allowed to be on the bridge alone... not allowed to use coloured ropes".

For the first time in my 21 and a half years living on this planet my colourblindness has stopped me from doing something that I not only wanted to do but really felt capable of doing, and something positive for my future. I felt like there was this whole bright future for me and now it had been swept away. And by such a tiny thing as a couple of missing neurons in my eyes. I've been quite depressed by my job hunt, it seems to go nowhere and nothing ever seems to change. I saw a piece on the news a month or so ago saying that there are more young people unable to find work in our country than ever before. And that some are turning to drink to deal with the resulting clinical depression. Thankfully I don't think I have that gene, and won't become an alcoholic.

This though is a setback, nothing more. If I get depressed I'll become apathetic and give up, I can't let that happen. It's upsetting, monotonous and tedious, but I have to just keep on looking and hope that I find something.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Wii

The Wii is stupid.


I get that for people who aren't gamers it's a great way in because it's not just pressing buttons, this is fun for old and young alike but not for me.


I'm not what I'd call a massive gamer, so don't think of me as some pretentious loon when I say that I hate the Wii. I enjoy video games and I like to write about them, but that's just a human giving an opinion on what they do in their spare time. And I don't know why anyone would not want to do that for fun.


Just examine the Wii, the idea of it's controller when you get down to it, is that it is supposed to replicate the movement you would perform if you were actually doing what your video game avatar was doing.


But it just isn't that at all. It's just an arbitrary movement, so arbitrary that you might as well be pressing a button, but it's not as easy as pressing a button it's waving your arm around looking like a twat.


Let me give you an example. I was playing Wii Grand Slam Tennis with my best friend Tom. He and I both play tennis in real life, and while neither of us are the next Andy Murray—me least of all—we definitely know how to hit a fairly decent forehand and backhand and how to direct a ball around the court. Every time we play this game I get ridiculously frustrated because it just doesn't seem to be doing what I tell it to. I end up screaming at Tom, 'Look this is how you do a forehand across court in real life, is it not?',

to which he will reply something like, 'Yes' or, 'Affirmative',

and I say, ' And is it not the concept of the Wii that it replicates real life movements?',

to which he will reply, 'Yes',

'So why does it not do an across court forehand when I do this',

'Because you have to learn how to do it the way the Wii wants it done',

'Then how is that replicating real life movements ARRRRGGGHHHH!',

Stuart's head explodes and his lifeless body flops to the ground,

Tom shrugs and says, ' dude the Wii guys head won't explode if you do it like that, you have to do it the way the Wii wants you to'.


Yeah that's right Tom in your face I dissed you in my blog, what you gonna do about that.


P.S I'm so sorry about New Years, please pass on my apologies to your Parents, I will never do that again I promise you.