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Gastronomy Geekin’ – Heston style

Last night I was very fortunate to be able to go to Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck restaurant in Bray to partake of the tasting menu. I was there as a guest with @elemming‘s work colleagues who had agreed to celebrate a particular milestone. I have been a fan of Heston’s work on TV and have watched everything he has done. It is because it is not simply cookery but science and art combined. He talks about food experiences in terms of memories that they evoke not just the taste. He pursues ideas on the transformation of food in the same way many makers and tech geeks combine things just to see what will happen. There is a lot of snobbery and pretentiousness in food and drink, yet somehow for me he cuts through that with that youthful enthusiasm and passion, making the complex simple.
I am not going to attempt to be a “food critic”, I was there and in the zone enjoying and absorbing it all, like all wonderful experiences there will be bits and pieces of meal that will surface in memories over time. There were at least 14 courses over the space of the 5 hours we were there which is a little above the brains 7 +-2 things to retain in short term memory!
The evening started with a wine list experience that was such a weighty tomb it looked like a spell book from Harry Potter. I was driving and have decided not to drink at least until after my Choi Kwang Do black belt grading, but I still enjoyed watching the choosing experiences. I also was very impressed with the depth of knowledge and detail the sommelier had. Thousands of bottles of wine and he almost knew the GPS coordinates of the individual grapes by heart. It is not a cheap night of food but the wine prices put anyone thinking they are a bit flash back in their place. The most expensive was Β£8000. That was not one for our table!
I had a fruit juice to drink but the process to create it and the addition of Chamomile to the blood peach extract that was not squeezed but teased from the fruit over several hours was an instant eye and taste bud opener. Yet it was rather nice!
The menu does a explain a little of what follows but does not indicate the depth of attention detail and distilling down of flavours and textures that just keep coming throughout the experience. It isn’t supposed to be a meal, it is an art gallery or a concert. The day after I am left with ringing taste buds the same way I am left with ringing ears after a really good music gig.

Having an aperitif that is foamed, flavoured egg white that is poached in a vat of steaming liquid nitrogen at your table is not only fun but amazing science in action. The resultant spoonful had already got me interested and fascinated. It was the start of a theme of textures and transformations. The poached meringue had a solid structure, yet melted and almost evaporated as you put it in your mouth.
There were a number of things that on stopping and admiring the work it was amazing how things had not just crumbled, melted or shifted on the plate. Or jelly like layers that were incredibly rich reductions that a tiny taste of filled your mouth with flavour.
The Mad Hatter’s tea party presents you with a gold watch style tea bad. The watch and its gold leaf dissolves in the the clear tea put releasing a rich stock. It is fancy Bisto, but the mechanics are fascinating.
The Hot & iced tea just before the main dessert was a trick that uses unusual ingredients to create a very strange effect. The glass of tea is presented and you are asked to drink it in the orientation that it is deliver in. As you sip the tea, the left side of your mouth is warm , the right side is cold. It uses a non starch Gel to make an almost runny liquid but one that retains its form so it does not flow into the opposing temperature side. It is rather like floating cream on an irish coffee but not in horizontal layers but vertical ones. Wonderful stuff!
The main dessert was called Botrytis Cinerea and it is where I finally buckled and took a photo. I was trying to not get obsessed with taking snaps of the food. There were people in the restaurant with SLR cameras pointed at each plate that arrives, but you can’t consider that rude or weird in a place that is there be a multi sensory experience. (There is also not specific dress code, just a come as comfortable attitude).
So this dessert

looks like a still life sculpture of a bunch of grapes. It is the name of a fungus that eats into grapes a grey mould. So this dessert looks like grapes that have gone mouldy? Yet this mould in nature has two sides to it. One side destroys but the other called “noble rot” enhances the sweetness of dessert wines. Obviously we were not eating the rot, well I don’t thing we were, but it led to a really amazing dish..
Each of the ‘grapes” was a complex combination or preparation. The large green one had a crisp shell, had runny caramel inside but was also peppered with space dust so crackled as you ate it. Some of the others that looked solid were in fact delicate sorbets and ice creams. The meringue one again was solid to the touch but instantly disappeared in a puff of flavour on the tongue.
Every dish had had elements like that. The tapioca transformed into sand (with microscopic sardines/krill added to it) and the crab/fish flavoured froth of the “sound of the sea”. (This dish comes with a large conch shell with an iPod hidden in it and earphones so you can listen to the sound of the sea whilst you eat your way through a beach scene of flotsam and jetsam)
It wasn’t all “tricks” though. The main course was an Anjou Pigeon, delicately cooked so that it had a rich flavour linked to a soft texture.
So yes it was good. we all enjoyed it immensely.
In someways I wish I had not seen the dishes on the TV before so the shock and surprise would have been greater, however in other ways this was like when we went to see BB King in concert. A legend of the blues. I had heard the songs before, even tried playing them but nothing beats the live experience and the event itself after you are already immersed in that world. Rehearsal, practice and simulation are are brilliant but they also need to lead up to the real thing too.

Computers getting smarter?

It’s time to share another edition of the Flush the Fashion magazine and this time I have written an article inspired by the apparent passing of the Turing test a few weeks ago. As with all my articles it is just a starting point and a look at some of achievements and current state of the art created by the company I worked at for 20 years IBM. Deep Blue and Watson. The article is titled “R U Intelligent like what I am?”, it finished with a bit about Timeless Decision Theory and Newcombe’s Paradox so it is probably the freakiest article yet πŸ™‚
Huge thanks once again to @tweetthefashion for another very full and exciting edition of the magazine and the really great layout and pictures to go with my words.
A direct link to the article is here
It’s on page 125 πŸ™‚


There is also the iOS version and a google version linked here
I hope you enjoy it, and the magazine. It’s great fun to write like this, and there always seems a subject to get into and explore making itself appear through serendipity.

In the night garden

Our garden at home was experiencing some odd activity. The predlets had planted some spinach and some corn and carrots. One morning the spinach was looking a little flattened. The predlets then started an investigation. It was a bit like CSI Basingstoke. They found (and photographed) what they thought was evidence of an animal. So the hunt is now on.
Having watched lots of wildlife shows I wondered how easy it was to get an outdoors camera with an infra-red trip. I had never bothered looking before as I assumed these were quite uncommon. It turns out trail cameras are very prevalent πŸ™‚
So I bought one.

This LtL-6210M has all sorts of interesting features.
It has a zero visible light LED flash to enable the night camera to work, it has side sensors to get the camera ready and waking up before something moved in front of the lens. It can take stills up to 12Mp! and HD video too.
It has lots of timer settings and also is able to just do time lapse shots.
Apparently it can last 12 weeks on its 8 AA batteries which is pretty amazing too.
In the base is a small screen and control set so it can be operated and used without needing to take the SD card out of the machine.
So we set it up overlooking the veg patch last night. I had run it during the day to see if it worked at all, and it spotted us in the garden.
At around 9pm when it was dark I popped down to see if it was still working.
It did catch me approaching it

However, I am thinking my checking may have meant that turned it off or reset it as this was the last picture it took πŸ™‚
So I think I need to do a few more experiments before I become wildlife photographer of the year!
Still, these things all take time, but it is a cool bit of kit to try out. What we really need it a weather proof Kinect 2.0 ?

Rocksmith 2014 – Now that is clever learning software!

A few days ago my a new version of my favourite console application arrived Rocksmith 2014. I had seen the press release video of some of the new things in Rocksmith and they did look interesting. For once my expectations have been exceeded though. Rocksmith 2014 session mode is probably the best piece of software I have ever seen or used. That is a pretty big claim to make but it makes playing the guitar just feel right.
They have improved a lot of other things about the regular tune learning too. Just in case you are not aware this is a guitar “game” that you plug a real electric guitar into you console/PC and the device acts both as an amp but also as a guide. It knows the notes you are playing.
So to learn a tune the notes stream at you indicating the fret and the string (colour coded as well as positional). If you hit the note, great, it will start adding more notes and chords in to level you up. Miss and it will start to make life simpler. This is with real music, the original versions in every style under the sun.
The new version provides challenges in each song and coaches you through, there is less focus on the score, though score attack mode still exists. It is about the playing and about it feeling and sounding right.
The previous version had a way to isolate a section or a riff and repeat it, first slowly then speeding up. The new version has this but with lots more options about the number of repeats, the initial speed the level jumps etc, all easy to adjust. It also lets you just hit a button whilst playing the whole song and jump to riff repeating where you are in that song. Something that was awkward to navigate to before.
All the old DLC from the previous version is ported to the new version, though…. they rather cynically charge you another Β£7 or so to do so. If you have bought a lot of tunes then I would have expected some loyalty bonus. The additional tunes are now also Β£1.99 which seems steep, but then they are not just the music but the structure of the song and how to learn it. If you think how much guitar lessons might cost it is minimal really.
The real extra star of the show though is session mode. However it has been built it provides, to me at least, a fantastic backing band for any guitar noodling I feel like doing.

I love playing the blues scale, in the past I have tried playing along with famous tunes on CD’s and tapes, obviously that never gets to the standard of the stars of the blues world that are playing those tunes. I have also had backing tracks with books etc they are fine if you are trying a fixed thing to play. Session mode lets you load a band, lots of styles and types. Blues has 5 or 6 specific types on its own let alone Rock, Metal, Indie etc. In the set up you can pick a key, a scale and things around tempo and the relaxed or rigid nature of your backing band.
Session Mode
Then you start to play. Initially the band are doing nothing, but the first few notes on the scale you have chosen (which is highlighted on the fretboard on screen) starts to set the band in motion. The drummer and bass kick in at the sort of pace and intensity you start. Even just playing the scale slowly gets them going. Before long you find a little riff to play and maybe some chords and before you know it the other instruments keyboards, and guitars are joining in filling you room, in this case, with the blues. If you have set it to a more formal structure the band will start making the changes as in a 12 bar blues and the the onscreen scale suggests the notes that work in those step changes. Of course you can play what you want. Speed up slow down the band goes with you and it doesn’t just feel like a load of loops being triggered. There seems to be a more complex analysis of the notes you play that gets the band doing their thing. You can almost nod to them when you want to step it up or hit a quite solo. It is stunning.
I am not a musician by any sense of the imagination, but I have tried guitar many times. The previous Rocksmith taught me a lot, something that it continues to do in learning songs. However session mode is the delight. It is a very clever, very patient, non judgemental band. Experimenting with riffs and scales in lots of styles is truly enlightening and relaxing. It is not about trying to hit a note, keep up, make a score, copy a sound but instead find a self expression through making music.
It is not without it’s downside but one does have to suffer for one’s art darling
Ow #rocksmith2014
My fingers have now hardened a bit again, you just have to soak blisters in lemon juice and keep playing on them.
There was something else very cool about 2014. It is even better for 2 guitars now. Predlet 2.0 plugged his little electric guitar in and we jammed in session mode. He explored what happened as hit hit notes fast and slow and we even did a bit of riff turn taking. A right noise for everyone else in the house but we had fun. We then moved on an made more racket playing Billy Idol White Wedding which is a bit go a fave tune of ours πŸ™‚
I am not on their payroll, just a very enthusiastic fan. If you like guitar you have to get this !

Flush Magazine 10 – Airbags and ice skating

I took inspiration from @elemming recent fall ice skating in which she broke her wrist for this months article in Flush Magazine. It seemed a few things came to mind around safety and in particular the use of air bags in all sorts of places.
You can read it and see the really nice layout, once again great job making my words and ideas look awesome on the page. Thankyou again @tweetthefashion for all the hard work getting this issue out there.
The direct link is here


As usual its quite a mix but does share a common theme, mars landings, motorbikes and ice πŸ™‚
I hope you enjoy the article, and the rest of the excellent magazine.

Heading into space. Tweet me from there?

This months issue of Flush magazine is out online and there is a slight departure subject wise. It is a travel special, lots of great articles to read. I was thinking what can I do for a travel issue and then it dawned on me that space tourism was a great future tech platform. I had in my mind things around the Virgin Galactic craft but then many more things flowed from that including a rather surprising project involving social media and Mars.
Thankyou once again to @tweetthefashion for putting together another great magazine.
You will find my article “Ground control to ” on page 92 (just a few down from an interview with Raymond LeBlanc πŸ™‚


It grows my little portfolio of “proper” articles which makes me happy anyway πŸ™‚
It just goes to show there is a lot of tech out there and a lot of ways it impacts us emotionally too. When you hear about some of these projects and think what would that really be like to be part of it, all powered by human endeavour, it fills you with hope rather than focussing on the negative vibes that permeate our lives. We are not here to just grind away, counting the cost. We are hear to further knowledge and experience.

Hmmm… Upgrades

After nearly 4 years of faithful service my first Macbook Pro seemed to be getting very slow and very full. It was the machine that I bought on Day 1 of Feeding Edge and it has been to some very interesting places. Not least it sports the Cool Stuff Collective logo as we had to cover up the Apple logo for the TV show.
I have replaced it was another 15″ MBP but not the retina display. They are lovely but it seemed a lot more money for a screen. I ended up with the 2.6Ghz Quad Core, 8Mb RAM and a 720gb Hard drive, plus the dual gfx cards of the intel 4000 and for real performance the nvidia GT 650M 1GB.
It is the first time I have swapped a machine and then migrated. All the previous machines back in the corporate world the transferring of applications was a tiresome job usually involving reinstalling things on windows.
Fingers crossed
I had a Carbon Copy clone ready just in case but I used my incremental backup with the very useful TimeMachine and set up the new machine to be pretty much like the old machine πŸ™‚ This continuity feels like a refurbishment of a much cherished machine rather than a replacement. It’s like the old machine has found new life from somewhere.
There have been the odd thing that needs its licence renewing or signing in again but its been a very simple, very user friendly experience so far.
Next is to flatten the old machines OS and data and make it a vanilla Macbook Pro again so that the predlets can have their own machine too. That looks nice and straight forward as a recovery option just Cmd R on startup.
I really was dreading moving machines, I held off for a year at least because I couldn’t face the hassle. Now I know it is easy and it just works, like most Apple things, then who knows this may get to be a bit more regular. I do try and get kit at the top end so that it does not make itself too obsolete too soon. Mac’s are expensive compared to a windows laptop but for years windows and the machines around it have given me nothing but trouble. The past 4 years has been almost perfect and seamless in the way I get to just do what I need to do.
Well done Apple. πŸ™‚ Hello old friend in a new body.

Generating music from an emotion curve

I just came across this interesting looking web application called MusicFlow. I am always fascinated by things that make the creative process more open to anyone. Clearly fully fledged composer and musician is better than a generated algorithm but…. Here you draw a graph on a time line of the sort of rise and fall of emotion you need and it creates a piece of music for that.
There are several video demos, but before I watched these I just had a quick go and straight away had an interesting piece going.

We have some similar things now in iMovie where it generates a score based on the pace of the film, the cuts etc, but it is good to see a more generic one hit the web.
I was also reminded of the old Instant Music program on the Amiga again, as that was the first one I saw that was able to allow an in tune jamming using the mouse which is similar in many ways to drawing an emotion curve. Anyone else remember that?

Let me in – Bitnami, Keychain and SSH on Mac

I have ended up looking at a couple of bitnami created servers both running on Amazon EC2 (Part of amazons cloud service). Bitnami create open source bundles, preconfigured and ready to run in various operating system flavours and with common applications like Drupal and wordpress. With services like Amazon EC2 the cloud service is able to bring up a virtual server for you based on a pre bundled configuration and you are ready to run on seconds. Both these servers required a little bit of extra to and fro to get access to the file system and use the various tools I have for things like Databases. They rely not on user name and passwords but on ownership of a key file called a pem. In a time when most people are getting used to rich user interfaces, touch displays, gesture control etc there is still a time when you have to drop to a much more archaic, but much loved by techies, command line. Yes you type commands in, whatever next? πŸ˜‰ These can be hard to remember and also tricky if you miss out implicit little pieces of knowledge that you only retain by constantly performing the tasks.
This level of security is important for servers of course, but it does make life awkward when you are have not been tapping away long incantations of linux commands for a while.
Photo on 03-05-2012 at 10.07

 

To connect to one of these servers I had to first of all get the pem file (the key) on my Mac. However then in order to use it you need to startup the terminal. In order to connect to a server you have to first of all use the terminal and type something along the lines of

ssh -i whateverthekeyis.pem ausername@aservername.amazonaws.com

That opens up another terminal command line but this time a secure encrypted one to the actual machine where the -i indicates which key file you are using. Oh, but it is of course not that simple, no the file permissions have to be tightened up, again with a command line. Chmod changes the read/write access to the file so that only certain users on your machine, i.e. you can use the key at all.

chmod 600 file.pem

This is great if you are just doing command line but if you want another useful Mac application to be able to connect, something like Expandrive (which just makes the file system look like it is part of the mac) then you have to do some other incantations.

My initial thought was that sure the keychain application on the Mac is the place that it will keep all these keys for all the higher end applications to use. When you have something like expandrive and it is expecting to type a user name and password into it to connect you can’t easily tell it to use this PEM file instead. The same goes for Sequel Pro. So I tried to import the PEM file into the keychain, something it does automatically if you double click the PEM. it failed though.

A quick bit of googling later and it turns out that these ones have to be done manually with an

ssh-add -K whatever.pem

That pops the key in a mini cache that anything that is doing SSH under the covers will look at for a userid. Dead simple, once you know or expect to do it. As with all these things it is the not knowing what to ask, or why you would even bother asking that gets in the way.

Once added it meant that I could simply access the file system in a normal finder tree. Whilst I could tap away linux commands in the command line it is very much quicker and easier to have a visual clue as to where things are as you bounce form server to server. As much as a like typing file transfer commands and lots of paths and dots and dashes (It reminds me of the techie I am) I also just want to get on with things.

The same goes for the database. On bitnami the mysql database was accessible with the web tool PHPadmin, but… in order to access the web front end, again for secure reasons you had to create a tunnel on the command line. Again on the command line you had to try something along the lines of

sh -N -L 8888:127.0.0.1:80 -i bitnami_hosting.pem bitnami@xyz.bitnamiapp.com

This is telling the Mac to map and route certain network requests through a secure connection. It will last as long as the terminal window is active. So the command will just hang there. The net result is you can then use a web browser to talk to you own machine, but the tunnel passes you onto the remote machine

http://127.0.0.1:8888/phpmyadmin

So using 127.0.0.1 mean this machine, and port 8888 means a different communication channel really, so the web browser thinks what it is using is on a web server running locally when in fact it is off in the cloud.

This seemed a bit of a pain when I had a great tool like Sequel Pro. This lets me access multiple tables and pieces of data and structure in a similar but less clunky way to phpadmin. Luckily with the key added (as above) you the pem key will automatically be used. However it did not work first time. I had to go into the file system and edit the MYSQL config file my.cnf that was in MYSQL directory to comment out the local binding to that machine.

bind-address = 127.0.0.1 becomes
#bind-address = 127.0.0.1

I found/was reminded of that in the bitnami documents (which are great when you know what you are looking for) but I initially comment it out with a // not a # as thats what lots of code is. Yes I know it’s obvious as its a Mysql config file, except its not when a little detail like the comment character to use is missed out. This then let the Mysql client on my Mac connect to the database using the secure key doing all the tunnelling etc itself. So once set up things are quite straight forward and identical to the way I access the same things on my local development server.

All techies have different preferences and ways to get to things. If you are a constant sys admin the command line, and all the variants of clever piping of commands work. I used to tend to do that too. When you are an occasional user across multiple different flavours of system (I have slicehosts/rackspace servers too) then it gets difficult to remember it all.

In addition when you are also building and maintaining the applications on top of that, remembering how to configure and administer Drupal for instance, what your application is doing, how the git repository is accessed etc, or providing extra code and modules that drive those applications. Mixing that up with richer front ends like unity3d and running open source virtual worlds like Opensim the number of “all you have to do is this simple x,y or z” balloons.

It is one reason that in large companies there is a separation of systems admin, database admin, architecture, software development, testing, runtime production, design, research and development and project management. However as a small company it is important to be able to do a little bit of all of that in order to major on any one of those for a project.
So whilst I really don’t like sysadmin, mainly because things are never quite the same in each place, especially in opensource land, I do find I have to do this to remind me of the complexity of the tech we have to deal with and how great it is that so many things can hide this away from us when we really don’t need to know.

I wrote this all down here a I know I will bump into this again and will have forgotten, so in making notes for future confused self I thought it may help anyone else who is stuck and googling for similar things. Of course the hardcore techies will probably laugh at my apparent lack of knowledge (which was less lacking and more filed away and need to be recalled from HSM.Β Something we had in the olden days when I started on green screen terminals. You would ask for a file and you would have to wait for a mechanical arm somewhere to find the right disk/tape and spin it up, a sort of mechanical cloud)Β Anyone else who feels worried about doing any deeper techie stuff may also be put off. However those who wander the technical plains finding adventure may just benefit.

 

Kinect robots from microsoft

I was researching some robot options for The Cool Stuff Collective and I bumped into the Microsoft Robotics at home (US based) competition. It would appear there is now a MS Robotics software dev kit (Developer Studio 4). However the really interesting part is that there is a reference design for some hardware that is based around using the kinect for the machine sensing and vision.
Parallax appear to be taking orders for a piece of kit called Eddie
eddie
It comes assembled or in kit form and I have to say this looks really interesting.
I have not found any UK references to this yet. So it looks like I will need a windows 7 laptop as well now then!