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Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Posted at 11:24AM under IRL .

A brief interlude on the topic of insect intercourse.

ROCKY and MEL are at the phasmid cage at work. Several PHASMIDS can be seen within, getting busy.

Several PHASMIDS can be seen within, getting busy.

ROCKY: Man, these guys are just constantly getting it on.

MEL: Well, what would you do if you were trapped in a cage?

ROCKY: I would maniacally be plotting my escape.

MEL: But there are no leaves outside the cage. There's nothing to eat.

ROCKY: True.

MEL: I guess that's kind of like us here on Earth, huh?

MEL walks off as ROCKY'S mind is blown.


Friday, 19 February 2016

Posted at 05:32PM under Recipes .

Experiments in Noodle Preparation

About 6 months ago, I made it my mission to figure out how to make ramen at home. Because I'd been eating a lot of that stuff in Japan, and dang, it just tastes really really good.

Not, like, ramen from a packet. Real ramen. Well, more real. Real-ish.

This is how I did it.

  1. Research.

    I spent a good couple of hours scouring the internet for ramen recipes. A lot of them were pretty in-depth, going as far as making your own noodles and reducing your own broth. While that would be cool, it's not what I'm looking for. I'm happy to use off-the-shelf noodles, and I don't particularly want to buy a whole bunch of bits of pig to reduce over the course of many hours every time I want a noodle fix. So really, we're not looking for authentic ramen. We're just looking for something that approximates it.

    For reference, here are some of the recipes I poked through:

  2. Synthesis.

    So from this research there are a couple of components which really stand out as essential to the broth.

    First, it has to be meaty. I hadn't put my finger on this before, but yes - ramen broth is meaty. It's not actually a light soup - it has loads of protein and fat sort of suspended in it. Without actually reducing a bunch of animal parts this is going to be tricky to replicate, but I have a plan: bacon. Streaky, streaky bacon. Hopefully greasy enough to give the broth a bit of that meatiness.

    Second, it has to get the ingredients right. We're going to go with miso as the other component for the soup, but past that I don't know. It'll need something to sort of be the base, and something to sort of take the edge off all that salt. I ended up deciding on Vegeta veggie stock, mirin seasoning, and a little bit of sesame oil.

    Third, it's got to have the right bits in it. Ramen is nothing without its bits. Again, as a bit of a synthesis of all the ramens I've ever tasted and all the research I've done, I settled on noodles, a soft-boiled egg, spring onion, mushrooms (enoki, if you can get them), bean sprouts, tofu, and if and only if you're feeling fancy, nori.

    Finally - it has to get all of this in the right proportions. This calls for some serious, but not entirely unenjoyable, testing.

  3. Experimentation.

    I ran through probably six or seven iterations on this method before getting it right. I'm not going to bore you by transcribing every report - yes, I made a report each time - but there were a couple of things I learned.

    First, and most important, was getting the balance of stock and miso right. Too much stock and it was too salty, not enough and you couldn't really taste it.

    Second was the importance of something that wasn't stock and miso. I started off using a little bit of honey and ginger, and a little bit of soy sauce, which worked... okay. As a bit of a joke one time, I chucked some cider I was drinking while cooking in, and that improved things a whole lot - and then Grace pointed out the existence of mirin, which pretty much hits that flavour I was looking for on the head.

    Third was mise en place, as the folks on MasterChef call it. This whole thing has to come together really quickly, especially once you start working with egg and noodle, which you don't want to over or undercook. Having everything already prepped before you start cooking is really essential.

    And also, I learned that ramen is hard. Really hard. After this much experimentation, I still only have something that approximates real ramen. It's fine to eat for yourself, and if you serve it to other people they're (in my experience) pretty impressed, but don't be fooled. This is a shadow of the real thing, probably bordering on an actual travesty, and will only delay your thirst for the real thing, not slake it. If you want real ramen, go to somewhere that boils animal parts down to their component protiens and make their own noodles from scratch. If you want real ramen, go to Japan.

experiment 1 experiment 2 experiment 3 experiment 4 experiment 5

You will need:

For your kitchen:

For your broth:

For your bits:

Let's do it:

  1. Put the bacon in the saucepan. Let it sizzle for a bit, until the pan is looking nice and greasy, but not so long that the bacon is crispy in any way.
  2. Add, as simultaneously as you can, your stock, miso, and water. Stir until the miso has stopped being a lump.
  3. Add mirin to taste. In my experience about a teaspoon or so does it. You want to take the edge off the salty stock and make it taste a bit more complex.
  4. The broth can safely cook for as long as needed, so - without letting it boil over or reduce to nothing, you can just leave it while you prep the rest of the stuff. Chop your onions, nori, tofu, etc now, and anything else that doesn't need cooking, and put them in the bottom of your serving bowls.
  5. The Egg. This is where the second saucepan comes in handy, though if you're feeling brave you could cook the egg in your broth, I guess. The egg needs about 7-8 minutes to be cooked, but still sort of soft in the middle. Once done, peel, chop in half, and add to a bowl.
  6. The Noodles. Again, using a second saucepan if you can - though I actually do cook mine in the broth and it works fine. Just be aware that if you do, it can result in mushy noodles if you're not watching how long they're in there for - remember they'll continue to cook once in the broth! Cook as instructed on the packet, and add to the bowls.
  7. Okay, back to the broth. If you're using regular mushrooms rather than enoki, they can benefit from a little time in the broth, so chop them and chuck them in now. Kill the heat, and add a couple (seriously, two tops) of drops of sesame oil. This stuff is strong, you don't want it to cook all through your broth, just to sit on top as a delicious greasy film.
  8. Serve by ladling the soup on top of the contents of your serving bowls. Eat immediately, and with chopsticks - you have perfectly cooked noodles, you don't want them getting soggy! For the same reason, if you're going to keep leftovers or whatever, store the noodles separately (or better, cook them fresh and just save the broth).

This serves between one and three people, depending on how much you put in a bowl. If you are cooking for two or more, remember to do more eggs! The rest is pretty fudge-able, but you really do want an egg each.


Monday, 15 February 2016

Posted at 06:46PM under IRL .

Experiments in Behaviour Modification

Somewhere along the line there I got a little foul-mouthed.

Something that I think people don't account for when trying to teach their kids not to swear is that swearing is super fun. The words are generally pretty fun to say just by themselves, and they give you an adrenaline rush every time you use them because they're just a little bit naughty.

And then that pretty quickly becomes a habit, and before you know it you're cursing like a sailor.

For me, this is bad for a number of reasons.

The first one is, of course, that I work with kids a lot. When you let the language flow fast and loose the chances of something slipping out in front of a crowd of kindergarteners is a significantly increased. Which, fortunately, I've never done.

Worse, though, is if you're talking to a co-worker, and forget that other people within earshot may actually pick things up as well. That one I have done a couple of times.

More interestingly though, swearing has more weight when you do it less. It has just a little more shock factor. I'm a pretty firm believer that, with the right comedic timing, a well-placed expletive can be very powerful, very illustrative, and hilariously funny - but that only holds true if you're not constantly working blue. Some of the best curses I've heard have come from people who are otherwise perfectly polite.

There's a scientific side to this as well. There's [some research] that suggests that swearing can reduce the effect of pain - and moreover, that such an effect is reduced when you swear more casually in your everyday life.

So this year, for the benefit of both myself and the children, I decided to cut back a little.

The traditional time to do something like this is New Years, but I decided to get a bit of a head start. Partly because I couldn't see the point of waiting, but also because I'm a bit of a non-believer in new years resolutions.

I made some last year and wrote them on coloured bits of paper and put them in a little baggie, which I forgot about until I started writing this. Clearly, even when you make the exercise of setting the things into a fun craft activity, they don't seem to stick.

To avoid this kind of situation happening again, I came up with what I think is a pretty cool system.

Every morning, I retrieve an elastic band from a big bag that I bought from Officeworks.


I slip it over my left wrist.

left wrist

If, at any point during the day, I happen to let slip an expletive of sufficient severity (you know the three I'm talking about), I transfer the band to my right wrist.

right wrist

And if, at the end of the day, the band is still on my left wrist, I get to add it to a rubber band ball by the side of my bed.

rubber band ball

I have no idea where the concept came from, but it does a lot of things right:

All of which could be done with apps or spreadsheets or whatever, but the advantages of this approach are: It's discreet - nobody notices a rubber band, and nobody notices if you fidget with it. It's fun. Because rubber band balls are great. It's fuzzy, with an emphasis on success instead of failure. Progress is slow, but noticeable, and if you mess up you don't have a big red cross to stare at or a start-from-scratch to deal with. But on a day-to-day basis, it is all-or-nothing, which means I'm actually thinking about it, on a low level, all day.

As a system, I really like it. I think it suits this particular project perfectly, because it creates exactly the kind of subconscious filter I'm trying to build. It forces me to consciously decide whether or not I want to swear, and if not, the restriction generates some truly wonderful off-the-cuff creativity.

Maybe I can even adapt it to next year's resolutions - but then again, maybe thinking of the system to do it is half the fun.


Tuesday, 09 February 2016

Posted at 12:01PM under IRL .

The Return

in the depths, something stirs

its crusted form shakes off the silt of months

it stretches langourously and, with a twitch of its fingers, makes its way towards the surface

that which has lain fallow and untended will bear life forth once more under the thumb of its master of old

it speaks


it types

"Well, it's been a while. Here's where I'm at."

"My phone - my beloved Nokia - died just after christmas. And, well, I switched to Android. I'm on a Sony Xperia Z5 Compact now, and between the battery life, the waterproofing, and not needing to work around things like not having a banking app, I'm suffering significantly less phone-related anxiety. So that's nice. Nothing to do with the software, mind you, and everything to do with the available hardware. I don't know why you all want such gigantic slabs in your pants, but it's making it real tough for me, okay?"

"I took a week off to go down to Gracetown with Grace and her family. We swam at beaches and went to breweries (where Michael got me on to untappd) but generally just didn't do much. It turns out the south-west is a lot more fun when a) you can drink, and b) you have your own car. It was lovely, except for the bit where I didn't bring a jacket. I wouldn't have thought I'd need one in the middle of January, but there you go."

"Oh yeah, and I turned 23, and had a super chill barbecue down the beach. And..."

At this point, your author turns around. Behind him is an enormous, grey, trunk-wearing beast. It is, indeed, an elephant, and it is in the room with him.

"Oh yeah," he types. "That."

"I think I'm going back to uni."

Let's dispense with the framing narrative, shall we?

Yeah, so I appear to be going back to uni. Specifically, to study a masters in science communication.

You may remember, almost exactly two years ago, that I got a job at Scitech. Almost a year after that, I got a sidegrade to the Planetarium.

While both of these jobs have done an admirable job at both getting me paid and letting me try out this crazy one-foot-in-science-one-foot-in-language thing I seem to be set on, it's not great on the upward mobility front. It's very casual, very operations-centric, and it kind of leaves me too busy just keeping up with my shifts to work on anything that would help me kick that idea into a higher gear.

And, on paper, this degree gets me that. It gets me some background learning in a field I want to be in, a chance to meet other people with the same nuts ideas, and a big ol' project, if I choose, to work on for a year and then be proud of. And I walk out of it all one level higher on the Australian Qualifications Framework, with a wonderfully impressive MSc(comm) to put after my name. I can put the thing on my HECS tab, and with a little bit of help and a little bit of careful budgeting - no thanks to the government - I should be able to stay alive at the same time. Happy, even.

And yet.

Something is nagging at me, and I don't know what it is.

It could be that I've always said I don't want to go back to uni just for the sake of it. That I would never do a thesis unless I found a question I was passionate about. It could be that I've been pretty unimpressed with the quality of teaching and student care that UWA is providing these days, and I don't want to get back into that system. It could be that I felt like I'd finally taken a step into a larger world, and going back to student life feels like a step backwards rather than forwards.

It could be that this is a spur of the moment decision based on a flyer, without the momentum of post-high-school expectations and years of career advice propelling me forward. It could be that this is on me, and me alone, and I'm having difficulty taking responsibility for that decision.

And while all of that is a factor, I think the deep issue is something else.

Because as good as it looks on paper, the thing nagging at me is this: I'm not convinced I actually need the darn thing.

Ultimately, yes - this might qualify me to at least try for a bunch of entry level (with a masters - sheesh) outreach-y communications-y type positions in departments of this and centers for that. Then again, it might also not.

It's two years and a lot of money for something that isn't even close to a sure bet.

Would I be better off trying to spend that time freelancing? Or sinking some R&D-type time into my big long list of ideas? Am I better off trying to develop something cool, and spin that up into its own business? I have no idea.

This is what nags at me. Is it, when it's all over, going to have been worth it? And I just don't know.

So that's what's up with me right now. New phone. Fun camping. 23 years old. Filled with crushing uncertainty about the value of the higher degree I just enrolled in.

How have things been with you?


Friday, 01 January 2016

Posted at 03:45PM under IRL .

This Year In Selfies 2015

So 2015 happened. A whole bunch of stuff happened in it, too.

That's right - it's time for This Year In Selfies MMXV

2015 kicked off with a kind-of-impromptu trip to Niseko, Japan, with my dad and brother.


Then there was the new job. Well, sort of new. More of a promotion. A sideways promotion, in that I don't get paid any more, but definitely cooler. This job fits me like a glove, and it's hard to believe I've been in it for just 10 months.


And then, right as I had settled in, and even less-planned trip to the US with Grace, inspired by a bagel.

new york



I donated blood 10 times...


...had an absolute ball...


...and got away from it all at a glorious property in Bindoon...


...where we made at least one new friend, Tancredi. He hates you. He loves you. Shut up.


And then, just to top everything up, I popped over to Melbourne for a casual 3 days of gaming convention fun times

pax aus

It's hard to top 2014 as a year packed with all the things, but 2015 came pretty close. It's been a blast. Merry belated Christmas...

pax aus

...and come at me, 2016!


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