And Then The Warp Core Failed. With Hilarious Results

If you’ve heard my cries of anguish and terror that recur every Boxing Day, you’ll know I hate board games. Many years of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit have taken their toll and at the mere suggestion of a board game, I wilt and attempt to run to the nearest exit.

(I exaggerate. A little. But only a little.)

However, I have so many friends that extol their virtues. Even talking of worlds beyond the hateful realms of Monopoly. And I have, off and on, been reading Shut Up & Sit Down, an entertaining blog hosted by Quinns (formerly of Rock, Paper, Shotgun), which is all about board games and their various forms. I was rather intrigued by Risk: Legacy, but I couldn’t drum up the interest needed for a continuous campaign that it called for. But, for Christmas, I bought one of my friends, Tammy, a board game. And last weekend, we played it.

Space Cadets is slightly different from the traditional board games we’ve known and hated with pure fury of beings beyond the veil, shot through with venom and insanityloved in that instead of working against each other to victory, it involves everybody working together to die in the endless void of spaceachieve success. The players control a starship and have to retrieve crystals and defeat xenos filthalien starships out to destroy us all.

Now, Space Cadets has a bit of a reputation of being a touch complicated. Each station on the ship has its own mini-game to play, and these mini-games (mostly) all take part at the same 30 second time period. There is chaos, confusion, and inevitably hilarious consequences, which almost always involve the death of the entire crew.

As I was the only person who had seen anybody play the game before, the task of Captain fell to me. The datacorders may judge my decision to place the fate of weapons and damage control in the hands of children, thus breaking all sorts of Federation child-labour laws, but I think they did quite well, all things considered. We even managed to pick up a crystal before the Nemesis blew out our shields, caused a warp core breach, and I explained the core breach repair game to a wide-eyed group of Cadets. Who then died in a torrent of warp-fire as we failed miserably, of course.

So yes, I had fun. Playing a board game. Shut up.

Meanwhile, in non-board game related news, I should be in Boston right now, but all flights to Logan seemed to end up cancelled by mid-afternoon. So I’m back here in Durham, waiting for the next flight out. Which might be Tuesday. On the bright side, I will miss the big snowstorm…


Quick release this week: dustbin_lorry - a small piece of Rack middleware that will dump changes in the method/constant caches after a request to the current logger (rack.logger or Rails.logger if you’re running it under Rails). Hopefully, it will be of some use when debugging MRI performance issues (needs Ruby 2.1 or above to work).

Please Stand By

I spent most of the week inside with a bad foot, so:

This Week In Chocolate — White


Grinding (repeat this picture for 10 hours)



Poured into mold)


Tempered, with a firm snap!

This weekend, then: ten hours of running the grinder, and my first batch of white chocolate. You’d be surprised about how hard it was to find whole milk powder in Durham instead of non-fat (and non-goat, though I’ve got some goat powder for later). It is not the best white chocolate I’ve ever had, I’ll admit, but it’s pretty good nonetheless, and now that I’ve done white, dark and milk will follow as soon as I source the beans…

This Year In Chocolate

Wet grinder

If you’ve ever heard me talk about making chocolates before, I’m normally at pains to point out that I don’t make the chocolate myself; I merely melt, temper, and refashion chocolate into other forms, whether it’s molded bonbons, truffles, or bars.

And there’s nothing wrong with that - the vast majority of chocolatiers operate in this fashion, buying chocolate from companies like Valrhona or Callebaut. But I won’t deny that I’ve always wanted to go a step further and make my own chocolate at some point.

Above is a wet grinder. It’s the last big piece of equipment for the chocolate room. It has large granite rollers which are used to grind down all sorts of things into pastes; grains, nuts, and cocoa beans. Using it, I can grind roasted beans, add cocoa butter and sugar, and 48 hours of grinding later, I will have made chocolate.

So that’s the plan for 2015: full bean-to-bar chocolate production. I’m going to be working up to that process rather than simply grinding beans from the off; firstly, I’m going to make white chocolate (and perhaps a goat’s milk variant, just for fun), then I’ll purchase 100% chocolate liquour to have a go and at and milk chocolate. Finally, I’ll get hold of some cocoa beans and grind them instead of using the pre-ground liquour.

2015, then: beans go in…chocolate comes out. Fully-artisan, all the time!

2015 - The Year of Griff

Happy new year, everybody! I’m back in the US again after a good trip back home. Felt like it went by too quickly, but at least my family will be coming over to visit in April.

Some interesting news on the chocolate front to come this weekend, by the way…

Home Again

Red-nosed Casper

Yes, Casper would rather be with the reindeer than inside in the warm with me. Possibly because we made Misty wear a Santa hat yesterday.

Counting Down, Time Goes By So Slow

As it gets closer to going home, there comes a point where I start making mental countdowns in my head and lock myself away in an attempt to speed time up. Unfortunately, I started that process last weekend, and I still have another five days until I go to the airport. And I’ve been packed since Tuesday (and I’m not kidding: I have to put my Advent Calendar in the case on Friday morning, but that’s about it). So, er, to everybody I’ve essentially disappeared from in the past fortnight: sorry.

(I have just discovered that X-COM: Enemy Unknown is now out for the iPad too, so that’s not going to help one bit, really. Though at least I know what I’m doing on the plane home to the UK now!)

Next update: hopefully from Oxfordshire. Are We Festive? has cleared 100k tweets, though I’m wondering if I should add some additional keywords to the tweet filter in the next few days to see how festive things can get…

Public Service Announcement

This is mainly a warning to all those currently residing in the Colonies, but if you are travelling abroad, it could be a vital piece of information. Consider this photograph:


Yes, it looks like a bottle of HP Sauce. But there’s something odd about it. The layout is wrong, the label is the wrong shade of blue, and it is labelled ‘Steak Sauce’ in an attempt to gesture that it may be used as a substitute to a product on these shores known as A1.

You may ask yourself: well, it’s still HP Sauce, isn’t it? What could possibly go wrong?

Dear Reader, I once thought the same as you, standing in the middle of a supermarket, mourning the lack of dark chocolate digestive biscuits. And I thought, ‘it has just been relabelled, surely.’ It went into my basket, and then into the fridge, until later that weekend it was pressed into service for a bacon sandwich. A typical task that HP Sauce excels at (there will be no digression into Daddies’ sauce here).

The first bite.

Instead of the sour taste of classic HP, I was hit with a sense of sweetness that made my teeth itch. The rest of the sandwich was consumed with increasing resentment as the cloying sugar taste spread across the bread and the pointless sacrifice of crisp bacon. I attempted to seal the accursed bottle up, but as the cap is half the height of the proper version and about a quarter of the weight, it ended up flying across the kitchen, leaving a trail of sweet brown ooze as it skipped along the tile.

Incensed, I looked at the ingredients, contrasting it with the empty UK bottle I was about to throw out:

UK: Tomatoes, Malt vinegar, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, spirit vinegar, sugar, dates, modified cornflour, rye flour, salt, spices, flavourings, tamarind.

US/Canada: White vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, tomato puree, molasses, dates, orange juice concentrate, spices, onion, tamarind concentrate, apple juice concentrate, garlic, ground chili peppers, caramel color (sic), mustard flour

Well, that explains things, doesn’t it.


Thank goodness for returning home next week so I can stock up on supplies. Including digestives.

Are We Festive?

Are We Festive?

The idea came from me thinking how I was going to wind my sister up this year. I like amping up my FESTIVENESS every year, and I’ve only got worse since I left the UK. Now, I’ll be back in BIcester in a few weeks, and I have a few extra surprises to come, but I thought I would construct something that would show Bonnie that the world is quite festive and she should let go of her inner grinch. And a website would be just the thing!

Behind the scenes, it’s pretty simple. I’m hooking into the Twitter Streaming API, tracking every mention of ‘Christmas’ and sending a few bits of information from the tweet into a Kafka cluster. After that, I have a few scripts that run the tweets through a sentiment analyzer, classify them according to date, and produce daily and total sentiment averages. Everything then gets sent to Redis to be pulled out by a simple Sinatra server for the webpage.

Said webpage is a smattering of D3.js to create the two gauges displaying the averages, along with a simple polling function to update the page with the latest information. Plus snowflakes!

It didn’t take too long to put together, which is good, as I’ve found myself pretty busy these past few weeks. Everything got assembled as Docker images, which meant developing and uploading to AWS was a breeze (no fun surprises between development and production!). Sadly, I didn’t have enough time for all my original plans, so I had to drop my idea of having a world map and populating it with regional data, allowing us to see the most festive country as Advent unfolds. But that, along with a re-write of the processing logic in either Storm or Samza, could be a project for next year!

Meanwhile, Bonnie’s response after being sent to the website:

You need help.

She might be right.