Something Going Down

I feel like I didn’t do enough this week; though I know that my list of things to do was more ambitious given the time I had available. I got my eyes tested and walked back home from the opticians in near-blindness, watched an awful lot of The Wire, and read up on some of the things I’m likely to be doing in the coming week at my new job. Eeep. I also made a lot of chocolates. Marshmallows, caramels, aero blocks - there’s been a lot of sugar work, to the point where I’m starting to run out of both chocolate and sugar again. Oops.

There might be a post on Durham gentrification coming up. I’m letting it build up in my head for a little while, and then I’ll probably discard it, so just think of what that post could be in the meantime…

Where Is My Heart?

Where Is My Heart - The Last Puzzle

One thing I’ve been quite interested in over the past year is the rise of video games like JS Joust, where the computer/console is a very small part of the game experience (in Joust, it’s only there to keep score - all of the game interaction takes place on the PS3 Move controllers and the people playing). Although I haven’t actually played any of them, they do seem quite enjoyable, and I’ve been trying to make a few myself. Where Is My Heart? is my third attempt, and the first one I’ve finished (the other two - Shout To The Top and The Bull Run aren’t quite done yet.).

Where Is My Heart? concerns the tragic tale of KLF-73, a droid returning from deep space only to be raided by Space Pirates. All it wanted was to return home to its companion droid, but the pirates stole its heart module. The task of the players is to receive the incoming messages from KLF-73 and work out the location of the heart, avoiding traps set by the Space Pirates.

At its heart, it’s little more than a simple scavenger hunt; KLF-73 gives out clues which lead to codes, and when all the clues have been found, the final location is revealed. But the method of delivery is slightly different; KLF-73 is actually a piece of code sitting on the Internet, a bot that can respond to questions and sends out SMS messages via Twilio to all the players in the game.

Then there’s the final piece - a trap sprung by the pirates in one last attempt to prevent KLF-73 from getting the heart. In the real world, this presents itself as a box containing an 8x8 LED matrix, an Arduino UNO, and four coloured buttons. The LED matrix responds to button pushes, either displaying an X when an incorrect combination of buttons is pressed, or a flashing heart animation when a player enters the right sequence and completes the game.

Behind the scenes, there’s a rudimentary admin interface that shows a log of all SMS messages sent and received, as well as some buttons to send ‘fluff’ to the players, and a textbox for detailed replies in case the a player asks a question that the bot can’t answer (if it can’t work out what to say, it just sends a message saying ‘Processing’ and leaves it up to the admin to work out a suitable response. This only happened a few times in the course of the game).

It also helps and hinders when it’s snowing heavily. Makes set up annoying, but does add an air of magic to the proceedings. It does make you worry for the fate of the increasingly-sodden electronics package. Initially, the codes decrypted to ‘THEGREENWALL’, but I sent messages for people to come to Blue Coffee Café instead to play the final part of the game.

If anybody is interested, I’ll throw the Ruby and the Arduino code up on GitHub, though I’ll add in advance that I threw it together in a few hours, so both are rough and the bare minimum to get the game going!

I’m hoping to get Shout To The Top and The Bull Run (for the latter, think of a cut-down Knightmare and you’ll have some idea about my plans) as well as a few whisper board games whisper in time for April. Maybe have something fun going on for my birthday…

Cremè Brûlée

cremè brûlée bars

I’m pretty proud of these bars (and the heart-shaped ones too, for that matter). For one thing, the tempering is just perfect, and combined with the speckled look that the vanilla seeds add, they look like something you’d buy from a shop. A rather expensive shop at that. Secondly, the idea sprang out of my head on a walk yesterday morning; by the end of the day, they were wrapped up in boxes ready to be taken to work tomorrow. Which is satisfying.

I have been toying with the idea of doing a cremè brûlée ganache for a few months now, egged on (hohoho. See me after — Ed.) by a few people around town. After getting a litre of vanilla paste on Friday, I thought it was time to do something with that idea, but I was stuck on how to incorporate the sugar shell — a rather important part of the brûlée. My mind kept on returning to the idea of an isomalt tuile broken up and dispersed around the ganache. Which would have provided a crunch, but isomalt doesn’t turn a caramel colour, so it wasn’t quite working in my head. Then I started thinking about Crunchies. Although the colour would be right, the problem with them is that once they set, they break messily and would be a pain to incorporate in the ganache. Plus, I wasn’t sure how well they’d keep their crunch as they’re rather hydroscopic.

Then I wondered. What would happen if I flattened the honeycomb after I poured it out? And instead of a ganache, I’d just use white chocolate, but adding dried vanilla seeds in to give it the creamy vanilla flavour. After an experiment, I discovered that this approach allowed me to create a set of flat shards that I could easily portion out between the bars and the bonbon mold, and the solid chocolate should preserve the crunchiness of the honeycomb. Although I have yet to really test that, as they’ve been disappearing pretty fast.

All Change (Again)

A week in Durham: another driving lesson, bourbon liquid caramels, an incredibly stylish gift from a friend in London, dinner at a restaurant that has already ceased to exist, and, oh, yes, a new job.

Okay, so yes, I did announce it on Twitter first, but I will be starting a new job at the end of this month. I’ll be moving to ReverbNation, as a DevOps Engineer. Quite excited at the prospect of having a ten-minute walking commute and working at a high-traffic web outfit.

Next week: taxes. Less fun!

Four Counties

Things might be afoot. You will hear it here first. Well, okay, you’ll probably see it first on Twitter, but my Twitter feed is included here so you’ll see it in all sorts of places first and this will be one. Or is it? Or IS it? OR IS IT?

Last week, I suggested that people should slap me if I hadn’t booked driving lessons by this weekend. To disappoint many, not only did I book lessons mid-week, but today I spent almost three hours behind the wheel of a car, driving across four counties and doing just under one hundred miles. Plus I-40. And I didn’t kill anybody! Or myself! I am as surprised as everybody else, to be honest. The instructor even told me that I should start researching cars. I want a sm@rt car so, so much. However, I know it’s not all that practical, so any suggestions would be welcome.

It was a bit chilly today for this month’s Food Truck Rodeo, which probably contributed to it being a smaller event than the previous one, with slightly shorter queues. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing given how long the queues can stretch when it’s warmer! Ended up trying Deli-icious and another cupcake truck. Not a bad way of spending a Sunday. Saturday seemed to consist mainly of Adam Curtis, ironing, and waiting at Fiction Kitchen for a table. Still, the ‘chicken’ and waffles were worth the wait.

Now, though, it’s cold and I have to get up early tomorrow, so early to bed and hopefully the wake-up before dawn won’t seem so bad. Hohoho. Though at least I have chocolate hobnobs now, thanks to Luke!

Attaching and Bashing

One day, you may find yourself sitting at a terminal trying to send an email with a MIME attachment. Easy, you think to yourself. Only you can’t install anything onto the server without triggering a long-winded QA process, and it’s then you discover that the machine only has /bin/mail and sendmail available. Oh, and no base64 tools like mpack.

You may ask yourself, how do I work this?


BODY="This is the text body!"

ATTACHMENT=`perl -MMIME::Base64 -0777 -ne 'print encode_base64($_)' < $FILENAME`

/usr/lib/sendmail -t <

Never let it be said that Snappish Thoughts isn’t a full-service blog. Okay, yes, it does depend on perl being installed with MIME::Base64, but this server had them, so there. If you want to write a base64() function in bash, consider that an exercise (you can, of course just use quoted-printable instead, but that can get you in trouble, whereas base64ing is much safer. And yes, you want to be careful you don’t run this on a 10GB file as it’ll do fun and interesting things as bash/perl run out of memory, but for attachment-sized files, you should be fine)!

Another Week

Not quite sure why I’m quite so melancholy on a Sunday night at the end of a week where a lot of fun things have happened. Maybe it’s the last dark tea-time of the soul taking effect.

Look! Durham is awesome. So says the pinko-commie liberal NY Times

If I haven’t organised a driving lesson by next weekend, you all have permission to slap me. I only have a month left before my learner’s permit expires.

Tomorrow, though, I will try to make homemade ramen. Wish us luck…

Things I Don't Want To Forget In The Morning

I really don’t want to forget this in the morning, so forgive me.

  psmove_get_magnetometer_vector(move, &qx, &qy, &qz);

  printf("orientation: %5f %5f %5f \n", qx, qy, qz);

  heading = atan2(qx, qz);
  heading -= 0.157;

  if(heading < 0)
      heading += 2*3.14;

  if(heading > 2*3.14)
    heading -= 2*3.14;

  printf("heading: %5f\n", heading * 180/3.14); 

Yes, I know that’s a horrible approximation. I’ll include math.h tomorrow. And then fire those figures into Redis. Turns out that my entire problem all along is that you have to worry about magnetic declination in America, whereas in the good old land of tea and plenty, you can ignore it. THIS IS GOOD NEWS, PEOPLE.

I wandered around Durham today, after spending the traditional five hours making chocolates and cleaning the kitchen. Firstly, it was 21˚C. That’s not right by any measure. I want snow! Or at least a good frost here and there. Of course, saying that, I see that back home, you’re all going to freeze, so you have little sympathy for me. Sorry about that. Anyway, I was walking, then sitting and reading. Then walking, and then walking again when it turned out that I should eat something. The not walking part of that really wasn’t much longer than the comma in the preceding sentence.

Anyway, after being complimented on my accent at a new-ish food truck (hello Big City Sandwiches!), I was struck that some of my British obsessions are rather interconnected - Lindsay Anderson, it turns out, ran thick and loose with members of the Independent Group and those that would eventually be known as the Brutalists. And the Independent Group’s apex was the This Is Tomorrow exhibition at the ICA, which of course was appropriated by Saint Etienne many decades later.

This justifies all the architecture and film books in my bookshelves, obviously. As well as those ones on playground design and typography. And car parks. And shopping malls. And my ever-growing Penguin/Pelican collection.

I may be trying to justify myself at this point.

Though I do say that anybody who turns their nose up at my pretty-much complete collection of B.S. Johnson novels (yes, including Travelling People) has problems of their own. And every household needs four different complete collections of The Invisibles, right?

Abebooks will tell me when a copy of The New Brutalism drops below $100. AND THEN YOU WILL ALL KNOW MY POWER.

Or something like that. Secretly ironic for those of you who followed obscure BBC comedy programmes that inexplicably went out live on a Sunday morning.

Start The Week

As ever, I look back on my time off over the holidays and curse myself for not doing more with the opportunity. Though I suppose I did get Redis Weekly off and running, and I created a Sinatra implementation of a [REDACTED] publication. As well as playing Trivial Pursuit with my family four thousand miles away. So that’s not too bad.

This weekend was supposed to be a relaxing weekend where I turned my attention onto some of the projects I want to spend the year working on. Instead, I spent all day Saturday using all the pans in our kitchen, as well as all the fancy stuff: Vitamix, sous-vide waterbath, chemical baths, and grits. As I got to spend the evening (and a lot of the early morning, it turned out!) with friends old and new that I haven’t seen for quite a while, I think I made the right decision to not do any work.

And who knew? I really can make yogurt boba. This will lead to even scarier desserts as the year progresses, you realise…

Redis Weekly and other things

First new thing of the year, then. Redis Weekly is a free email newsletter that will be delivered to your inbox every Wednesday featuring all the news you could possibly want about Redis. Of course, for most of you reading this, your Redis needs are probably close to zero, but I thought I’d mention that it’s now available. Just stick your email in that textbox and get lots of NoSQL news! No? Well, stay tuned, because hopefully I’ll be announcing something in the next couple of weeks that has an even tinier audience! You might even say that it was _Little_…