It's top of my "make stuff work post-LJ-ditching" list to get it all behaving properly.
It's top of my "make stuff work post-LJ-ditching" list to get it all behaving properly.
Recently, I had the honour and privilege of being Best Man for a friend’s wedding. Which meant, amongst several other things, I was required to provide a stag do.
Easy, you might think. Piss up in a brewery level of ease.
But no. Not unless breweries come in teetotaller friendly form.
Low Tea and Mocktails
Yes, a stag do for a non-drinking groom. So we went for low-tea at the luggage room , followed by returning to my place for an evening of mocktails – and it’s that last bit that I’m going to post about here. I have, at various times, for extended periods, been off the booze . I’m just embarking on another of those right now, in fact, so this was particularly timely for me also.
But mocktails have an annoying tendency to become a load of different fruit juices in a bucket with some ice and a pole. They tend to lack the punch and the fun of their more boozy siblings. I wasn’t going to have that, so I found a few weird and wonderful ingredients as well as the basics, and threw them into the mix. I also pulled together a bit of a guide for the event: The Mocktail Guide (created for the stag do) (.pdf download)
There were remarkably few failed mocktails, and I think the approach taken of everyone taking turns (a couple at a time) trying to come up with something, and everyone else then getting to try it out. With a bit of guidance, people really did start to experiment.
The only real crash-and-burn of the evening was the cocktail which became known as the “Toilet Block”, a new legend in it’s lifetime, able to reproduce the scent of urinal cakes as a taste in beverage form. It will live forever in infamy.
We experimented again with Seedlip Spice 94 (which still, despite sounding amazing, lacks a punch) and for the first time with Seedlip Garden 108… which was somehow delicious despite tasting very much like peas.
But mostly, we experimented with various ratios of the following flavours:
…with a touch of something else to add a bit of oomph. With cocktails, the strong would normally be alcohol, but with that off the table, you have to get your strong somewhere else… and that sometimes comes in a bundle with the sweet.
I’d started out making some extra “sweet” ingredients ahead of time – sugar syrup and a few flavoured syrups as well – mostly one-to-two parts sugar dissolved in one part boiling water until invisible.
One of those was a chipotle chilli syrup, which turned out to make a pretty decent “strong” component for cocktail purposes, whilst also being a “sweet”. I’m still working on how to make a dry “strong” component that works well in mocktails without being full of sugar, but I’m sure ideas will happen.
As it turns out, the chipotle syrup was a star ingredient… and I had some luck with using strong-brewed and cooled Lapsang Suchong tea as a whisky alternative – it has the smokeyness needed, anyway.
Ratios, mixes & Cocktail Families
With cocktails, things tend to boil down to the ratios and flavour combinations. The ratio tends to determine the kind of cocktail you’re making. Ratios vary massively, but I’ve seen all of the following
For a Sour:
- 2 part strong flavour : 1 part sweet flavour : 1 part sour flavour is traditional
- 8 : 3 : 3 (aka: 2 : 3/4 : 3/4) is more common these days
For an Ancestral:
- 1 cube Sugar and 1 dash of aromatic bitters of some form (enough to soak through sugar cube), with enough water to dissolve it – this makes up 1 part sweet and 1 part sour
- 2 parts Strong – build up the drink with a stronger flavour
For what would be a “spirit forward” if it was boozy:
As Ancestral, but with 2 parts strong : 1 part different strong: 1 part sweet : 1 part sour
There are meany, many more. But because non-alcoholic “strong” doesn’t have quite the same kick to it as booze does, you need a little extra to give the kick. That’s why the Chipotle syrup worked so well – it added the oomph missing from other non-alcoholic ingredients
Take a look at other cocktail recipes, and look at how they’re assembled. Swap out the “strong” for alternatives, and try to sneak some extra punch in via variations on one or two of the other ingredients.
Tea & Chipotle Sour
Make as if making a whisky sour, but swap out the whisky for lapsang suchong tea which has been strong brewed and then cooled. Also swap out the simple syrup for chipotle syrup to give it the kick that the whisky would have had, but the tea lacks.
- 60ml Lapsang Suchong tea – strong brewed & cooled – 3 parts strong (ish)
- 30ml Lemon Juice – fresh squeezed – 2 parts sharp/sour
- 30ml Chipotle syrup – 2 part sweet (with a hint of strong to bolster the tea by being strong as well as sweet)
2. Shake with ice, then strain to remove the ice.
3. Add some egg white – I’d go with a tablespoon or so.
4. Shake again to get a bit of foam, strain & serve with a dash of bitters on the foam.
Other Ideas for Mocktail Bolsters or boosters
The chipotle syrup was a good way to add some kick back into mocktails, to get the away from the “bucket of fruit juice” flavours… but it can’t be the only one.
Here are some ideas – I’ve not tried them yet, but think they’d be worth a look. Let me know if you try them.
Other chilli syrups – There are a surprising variety of chilli flavours out there. I’m tempted to try with Kashmiri Chillis (for indian fire), De Arbol (for clean mexican heat) or Habanero (slightly fruity spice).
Peppercorn syrup – I’ve not tried this but I could see it working
Ginger syrup – I really want to try this with fresh root ginger
Cinnamon syrup – You know how strong cinnamon has a kind of burn? I’d like to try that in a cocktail.
So far, most of the non-alcohol based tinctures I’ve encountered have been quite mild, and the flavours have been easily lost, but I’m sure it must be possible to make stronger ones without using alcohol…
I’d be interested in herb or spice tinctures from things like rosemary or cinnamon.
Let me know by commenting!
It’s actually been a while since I read these books – my time has been eaten by a pile of other things, including but not limited to: Christmas, birthdays (not mine), holidays, moderately punishing work schedules and getting married on two continents (one wedding, to the same person, but with one half of the wedding in the UK, the other in New Zealand) and having a supporting role at a friend’s wedding.
This means that I’m going to struggle to say much – partly because of time and partly because of spoilers. But I’ll say what I can. There will be some spoilers, though – particularly for the second book.
I’m going to start with “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet” and then move on to “A Closed And Common Orbit”, both by Becky Chambers.
The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet
In my mind, this is the weaker of the two books than I’m reviewing here. That’s not to say that it’s in any way weak – just that, whilst I thoroughly enjoyed The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, I was incredibly impressed with A Closed And Common Orbit. They’re books with quite different feelings, whilst still being surprisingly tightly tied together.
The Long Way To a Small Angry Planet is, at heart, a road movie. The focus is on a set of characters who are on a journey, each with their own reasons for the journey but also tied together for a common purpose and travelling together.
In this story, the travelling together comes as being a diverse starship crew, fulfilling the role of navigational engineers – creating new wormhole routes to distant and farflung places. In the immediate sense, this is a job they are doing for money… but in a wider sense they are each on the ship for their own reasons and motivations and a large part of the story is spent exploring both these and the dynamics of a fairly rag-tag, yet close-knit crew through the eyes of the newest member.
As they travel, we are gradually introduced to the crew, their lives, the worlds and societies they came from. We are introduced to the history of the setting, but always through interaction rather than exposition. For example, we’re shown how humanity has changed and split over expansion into the stars, with new divisions and conflicts, through the incredibly natural flow of the narrative, rather than having it plot-dumped on us early on.
Over the course of the book, a number of different plot-lines unfurl and evolve in an engaging way, but ultimately, it’s a book about people, about character, about what drives them and makes them who they are… and in turn, like much good SF, it’s about what drives us and makes us who we are.
It enjoys and revels in the differences between the cast, without making those differences lead to conflict every time. It’s chock full of wonder, excitement, confusion and understanding, and ultimately, it’s a beautiful story about life. Which is populated by humans, aliens (including some very alien aliens – not just humans in masks) and AIs – and opening up a huge scope for a lot more stories to be told.
A Closed And Common Orbit
First things first, this has a very different feel to it than it’s predecessor.
Whilst that was a bit of a slice-of-life travelogue on a ship bouncing between locations… this one is largely in a fixed physical location. The first spoiler is that it jumps about in time instead.
I don’t mean that it includes time travel – just that it looks at events from two distinct places in time, following two main threads, but with certain commonalities about the viewpoint characters.
One thread follows Sidra , previously Lovelace the Wayfarer’s AI – but now (illegally) in a fully autonomous body and without any of her prior memories. She is now “passing” as a human, assisted by Pepper – a minor character in the previous book who helped her come out the other side of the climactic events therein.
I use the term “passing” with all it’s connotations, and the feelings and fears that go with them. She isn’t comfortable being something which her mind doesn’t fit with, despite wanting to be. So many things are different from what she was designed to be. Going from being near-omniscient and omnipresent within your domain to having a fixed location and viewpoint isn’t exactly a small change, and this is thoroughly addressed. On top of that, being hardwired to serve others and make them happy doesn’t fit so well with suddenly being an autonomous, free thinking person with nobody else to care for.
The other thread follows Jane 23 as she finds her way out of servitude in a sweatshop like hive . Similar to Sidra in the other thread, she has secrets she must keep which would see her treated as somehow less if they were out in the open. Where Sidra is an Artifical Intelligence forced into pretending to be a human, Jane 23 is an illegal clone – manufactured for unethical slave labour and designed as a cheap interchangeable part rather than as a resilient individual. Which causes some problems when she accidentally escapes – not just because she’s an illegal clone, but because if you can build cheap replaceable slaves and already don’t care about that ethical quagmire… why bother building them to last?
As the two threads start to mingle together, it becomes apparent that they’re not starting to mingle. They were always mingled – right from the start.
If you like stories that focus strongly on identity – both the identity we construct for ourselves and the identity that is imposed upon us, then this is up your street. If you want sympathetic treatments of body dysmorphia, this is for you. If you want stories that touch on what it is to be an “unperson”, where your very nature promotes fear, disgust or even disbelief from the prevailing culture… you could do a lot worse than this book.
But much like its predecessor, at it’s core, it’s a positive book . Sure, it’s chock full of people dealing with some internal (and external!) trauma and major life changes… but it’s ultimately about moving past them and taking ownership of self rather than wallowing in the problems.
It’s a book in which three (well, kinda…) characters come to find their places in the world.
I loved it, and think it deserves a lot of praise.
next eventually :
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, 14 by Peter Clines (although I still don’t know how to enthuse about it without spoiling it) and the audiobook of Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (which at the rate I’m going, may well be joined by the upcoming next volume – Waking Gods, due in April).
Probably something else which I’ve forgotten
After listening to the ” What is Wrong With UX? ” podcast (from Kate Rutter and Laura Klein ) for a while, I recently picked up the book the hosts have been relentlessly shilling (and writing or contributing to) since the
dawn of time start of the podcast.
But to start with, before I get onto the book ( Build Better Products by Laura Klein), I’ll mention the podcast a bit more.
They introduce it every time as “The podcast where two old ladies yell at each other about how to make products suck slightly less”, and typically conclude by complaining about how they’ve run out of booze.
If you’re a UXer who likes talking about UX a) in a frank, open manner and b) in a pub, this might be a podcast for you. They have a cynicism which is oddly refreshing in this particularly shiny and glossy field, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to workshops presented by one or both of them at some point. One of them probably helped me get into sketchnoting… which you might have noticed included in some of my other posts.
So. The book.
It’s a no-nonsense, clear and straightforward guide to UX processes, which (for a nice change) acknowledges that some of us are in-house UXers working in the enterprise space, and so have to live with our work for years (decades!) in a way that just doesn’t happen the same way in the consumer world.
There are parts of if which I’d describe as leaning towards “my first UX” or “teaching grandmother to suck eggs”, but they’re wrapped in a mountain of useful advice and sane ways to make some fairly weird and wonderful UX practices actually make sense to business users and developers .
Really, I ought to wait until I’ve finished reading the book before blathering on about it, but this time I decided not to. Why? Because it’s that good. Because not only does it make sense to me in the UX field, but it’s also written in a clear and concise way that managers, directors and developers will understand and find useful as well.
It’s not about putting some UX next to your product, or trying to smear it on at the end. It’s about baking UX design thinking in throughout the life-cycle of the product. From identifying user needs, through promoting behaviour that supports and addresses them and on to validating assumptions, measuring outcomes and then iterating based on what you find .
I’ll be making sure a copy gets added to our office library, and quite possibly demanding that our product management team, senior developers and architects get locked in a room until they’ve read it. If you’re a UXer who works with other human, read it. It’s a breath of fresh air. Written with the same combination of capability, realism, pride and self-effacing humour that the podcast has, it manages something that most UX books have utterly failed at: It provides an enjoyable and memorable reading experience .
If you work with a UXer and don’t really know what they actually do or why they keep asking weird questions and going off sideways from problems, you could do a lot worse than picking this up.
Stepping away from writing about my recent reading, I’m going to talk about some recent viewing .
Arrival . Based on a short story by Ted Chiang (“The Story of Your Life”), this is a film built around the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis – which I’ll summarise as the idea that languages you learn shape the way you think and perceive the world.
The film focuses on a first-contact situation in which a number of alien vessels arrive on earth, and the efforts made by both us and the aliens to both understand and be understood.
Those efforts are made more complex by some differences in perception which are not apparent at the start of the film, but gradually become so as things progress.
Amy Adams does a fantastic job of portraying somebody who is struggling to understand and come to terms with grief, whilst also working to understand a literally alien language… a written language which is changing her perception as she learns to understand it and use it to interact with those who use it as their sole meaningful medium of communication.
It’s a slow paced, cerebral science fiction film. Whilst is has aliens (two onscreen), gunfire and explosions (well… explosion), it’s about as far from Independence Day as it’s possible to get. If you go in expecting an action-fest, you’re not going to come out with that expectation fulfilled.
This film has a small but strong core cast (Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker) who all do a fantastic job of being who they’re meant to be, but it’s Adams who really shines in a role that needs to display a more complex emotional state than is immediately apparent at the start of the film.
It also has some well thought out production design. The alien-ness interior of the extraterrestrial vessel is cleverly portrayed, and the way that the story moves between the vessel and the research camp built up around it helps keep things tight and a little claustrophobic whilst also injecting a bit of comprehension and decompression time into the film.
If you like smart, earth-based, first-contact SF then you should absolutely go and see this at your first opportunity. Avoid plot summaries. Hopefully my description above is vague enough to avoid being too spoiler heavy.
If I had to give a rating, I’d give this a full-on 10/10, with a note that I want to see it again to see how my perception changes. I suspect I may find it rewarding.
After my recent(ish) post about Ninefox Gambit , I mentioned I’d be back to write about some other books. It’s taken a while to actually get back to the “add new post” screen of my blog, but I’m here now.
Slightly awkwardly, before I had a chance to write about Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff , they squeezed the sequel out of their brains and into mine via the publishing industry. So I’m going to write about Illuminae and Gemina at the same time.
I’ve not posted here for ages, it seems. Probably because my efforts have been going elsewhere, but I thought I might post something now.
A while back I posted about books and reading; what they mean to me and how I’d had some problems but was getting past them. I’m still not reading anywhere near as much as I did before my brain chemistry decided to go onto a long, drawn out spin-cycle… but I am reading a lot more than I was when I first started to recover.
So I thought I might start to write a bit about a few things I’ve read recently.
I’ll start with Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which might be a challenge . It’s a book I liked, but I’m going to really struggle to explain the book itself or why I liked it. But I’ll give it a go.
It’s a military SF space opera where the weapons are ideas and the armour is convention and consensus. Essentially, the story is based around an insurrection against a rigid and dogmatic understanding of what reality is and the time in which is happens… by a slightly different rigid and dogmatic understanding of the same. It’s about how the powers that be go about trying to stop it without being tainted by it – how to fight against a differing perspective and a different understanding without acknowledging to society that it’s even possible for it to exist .
Our view into this story is via Kel Cheris – a name which is one part person, and one part role or caste. Cheris is the individual, whilst Kel is the role she inhabits.
As a Kel, she’s essentially disposable infantry, trained to act on formation instinct – which is basically programming to follow orders and behave according to certain pre-defined formations which prioritise tactical results over personal safety or comfort. For the Kel, combat is all about using well established techniques en-masse to achieve set goals for the collective rather than to ensure personal safety.
Having a slightly unusual history for a Kel, Cheris displays a bit more free and individual thought than expected… and is highly (and unexpectedly) successful in battle as a result. Which results in her being benched pending a reprimand, but also noticed as being effective .
So when the aforementioned insurrection begins she is asked, along with a few others, to put forward a plan to stamp it out with the minimum collateral damage and the minimum resource expenditure.
Her plan involves freeing Shuos Jedao – a disgraced, brilliant, insane and (more importantly) undefeated general from… well, essentially from death . It’s worth noting that if Kel means something between “infantry specialist” and “disposable meat shield”, then Shuos Means something between “strategist” and “two-faced sneaky bugger”.
She plans on using his strategic mind to win the battle, and then putting him back into the library of available resources afterwards. It’s a plan which only involves one extra resource and a bunch of disposable Kel, but less than some of the other plans proposed as they’re going to be lead by the infamous Jedao.
What she didn’t quite plan for was for his revival to involve her mind and his mind getting joint custody of her body for the duration of the misson…
Needless to say, things don’t go 100% to plan. If I’m totally honest… I’m not sure I could give a blow-by-blow of the plot, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here anyway. This book requires the reader to be able to do a couple of things to be able to get along with it: First, you need to be able to just accept and read on – when the characters are operating on what feels like a fundamentally different understanding of reality… you need to be able to accept that reality and run with it. Second, you need to be able to cope with the idea of two personalities sharing a body, and how those two personalities can have different perceptions of the same events.
Throw in some artful plans-within-plans, a dash of dire machinations and a bucketload of things going completely off the rails when things come to a head… and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s a challenging but fun read, if slightly arcane and obtuse every once in a while.
If I had to pin it down as being similar to anything else, I’d say it’s what happens if something like The Forever War were to get down and do the dirty with an Iain M. Banks novel… after a) reading a library full of fairly esoteric physics & psychology books and b) trying to understand timecube (which is apparently gone, alas… but the wayback machine has it ).
To sum up: I loved it, but can’t really explain it.
It’s well written. It’s well paced, with compelling characters in a compelling culture in a compelling universe. The way the whole thing fits together works , even if it frequently leaves your brain just saying “wait a minute – run that by me again, please?”. If you pick it up, expect to wait for explanations for concepts that, if they come at all, don’t really help… but fundamentally don’t matter if you just accept them and keep reading.
If I manage to keep up posting, I’ll also be writing about Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman , A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers , Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and 14 by Peter Clines (if I can work out how to write about the last without spoiling it utterly – which so far, I can’t).
- Tue, 17:50: RT @msdwrites: If you're not reading @newscientist, you're missing gems like this: https://t.co/EoRiLHYiys
- Tue, 22:54: RT @Strange_Animals: Tardigrades can survive temps of -270 up to 150C, survive for 10 years without water & can survive in space! https://t…
- Wed, 10:19: Okay... I'm working from home today after a few days off ill, but I'm seriously pining for the office aircon. #melty
A few days ago, I returned from Nine Worlds 2016, aka: London Geekfest.
This was the third Nine Worlds convention I’ve been to, and true to form I enjoyed it a great deal. That I enjoyed it in spite of a spot of sub-optimal health says a lot about the quality of the event.
As has become my habit at these things, I made some sketch-notes at pretty much every panel I went to. I say “pretty much every…” because there were a couple that were either too dark or too crowded, and because I spent a couple of sessions lounging on beanbags watching… well, I’ll come to that.
Some of the sketch-notes aren’t up to my usual standards. In my defence, I wasn’t well and I was a bit out of practice. But all the same, I’m uploading them here so you can see them.
- Wed, 16:17: Hmm... the fact that I can measure the UI response time of my work PC in minutes suggests I *might* have too much running on it right now.
- Thu, 07:45: RT @MrsTad: My kind of place https://t.co/p95dLL9G6b
- Thu, 10:23: After a non-trivial length email outage, I finally connect. One new email. Paraphrased: "By the way, email's down".
- Tue, 17:15: This is actually kind of cool - a quick RPG character generator: https://t.co/l4bRozMz2G
- Wed, 08:46: @London_Geekfest The person who ran the Fanvid Show said they'd put the recs list online somewhere - do you know if that's happened?
- Wed, 14:42: Okay, this is kind of an awesome retelling :) https://t.co/OaymEBKmKX
- Wed, 15:39: Spent a while this fixing defects only visible in MS Edge. It'd be easier if I could get Edge and my Dev VM on the same network somehow!
- Tue, 09:15: Bah. Inexplicably feeling a bit "side-effect"-ish today. Queasy, drowsy, wobbly & unfocussed. Bleurgh. Hopefully it'll improve.
- Tue, 10:30: Spent most of yesterday and today thinking a design change I was making wasn't going to be enough. Purely a cosmetic change, IxD unchanged.
- Tue, 10:31: I'd planned to do more extensive changes today. It was enough, no more needed. Not sure what to do, now...
- Tue, 16:45: Still have the UXer's equivalent of writer's block. Come back ideas, I don't REALLY want to eat you and digest you into designs, honest!
- Tue, 15:52: Brain cheese now. This particular job is a long, slow, slog.
- Tue, 18:06: So far this has been a 2-bottle-of-water train journey. Sweltering.
- Tue, 18:06: RT @SoVeryBritish: Getting on the train a solid person, getting off it a puddle in a shirt
- Wed, 05:35: 5:30am and I've still not slept. Too hot. It was 26 degrees in the coolest room in the house at 4:30am.