The Tastiest Hobby

When I lived with my parents years ago, I was blessed to have an oven with a stable temperature and a working fan. I didn’t realise it at the time, but moving out of home marked the start of more than five years of walking through a culinary desert. Cooking just wasn’t fun any more – and eating out was so much more adult and sophisticated!

Last August I moved into a house with an amazing kitchen, and slowly my desire to cook has come back. It’s not a desert I’m walking through any more, it’s a dessert. Here’s a selection of the things I’ve made, just in the last week:

Apple and Rhubarb Crumble
Apple and Rhubarb Crumble
Chocolate Fudge
Chocolate Fudge
Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Pie

Amazingly, despite the above evidence, I’m actually fitter and healthier than I was – I’m exercising more, and I’m eating out far less than in the past.

Win win!

This Week In Links: 2013-04-07

  • 5 Things You Should Be Doing If You’re Unemployed – I’m not unemployed (far from it, this week has reminded me of that), but it is always important to keep in mind that even the things that seem most certain can still surprise you. With the possible exception of number 4, you should be doing these things even when you’re fully employed. So I am, and so I will be.
  • I’m sure everybody has seen this by now. If you haven’t, don’t click on the link before making sure you have nowhere to be in the next hour or so.
  • Paul Graham’s ‘How to Do What You Love‘ was certainly an interesting read. It made me think about what I enjoy doing in my spare time (playing around with servers and programming), and what I do at work (playing around with servers and programming). The two match up, so I must be doing OK, right?
  • R&D-I-Y certainly looks like an interesting concept. Like the open-source cola of many moons ago, this seems like another good attempt to use the FOSS methodology to create real physical products. And the idea they’re working on, to create farms that will fit in a small apartment so that individual people can grow food! I found out about this through a pretty cool TED talk.
  • Speaking of indoor farming, I thought these instructions to grow celery from its leftover base is pretty cool – and could probably be applied to a lot of vegetables, if we were creative.
  • And one of my favourite ways to waste time on the Internet: reading about time management.

Thoughts on the Philippines

I spent two and a half weeks in the Philippines in March 2013 for work (upgrading the network infrastructure in our office over there). As a country, there are a lot of things both similar to and different from Australia. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • It’s a coffee country, not a tea country. You can find coffee everywhere, but tea is hard to come by, and good tea is almost impossible. I’ve discovered the horror that is American-style creamer, and I don’t like the world quite as much any more.
  • Tasmanian drivers really are terrible. Drivers in the Philippines have a huge amount of skill, able to squeeze two cars past each other in ways that I figured should be impossible. It’s terrifying if you’re not used to it though. On arrival in Manila, I spent two hours in a taxi for a 8km trip from the airport to my hotel, and the traffic was abysmal (a later airport->hotel run took 10 minutes). People would drive down the wrong side of the road at full speed, with both drivers only moving out of the way at the last minute – making the most of the limited space on roads. In terms of condition, width, and congestion, roads in Manila are very similar to Sydney – or at least my experiences within the CBD areas of both cities.
  • In terms of how expensive (or rather, cheap) the country is to live in, there are two ways of thinking about it. The first is “oh wow, I can live like a king!” I found frequently that apart from electronic goods (which had the same price tag, once currency conversion was done, as in Australia) that I could afford pretty much anything I liked. An hour massage cost me less than $5, including a generous tip. I took ten people out to lunch at a fancy restaurant and ordered everything we liked, total was $100. It’s simply amazing – and the thought was constantly with me: what if I could earn at Australian rates and spend at Filipino rates? How awesome would that be!
    But there is a second way of looking at the country: “The contents of my backpack are worth more than everything these people own in their entire lives!” This way of looking at things becomes incredibly confronting when in the country areas, as I found (in my limited experience) that they were much poorer than metropolitan Manila, especially CBD Makati where I was 90% of the time). People had houses built out of coconuts leaves and corrugated iron sheeting. The “rich” houses were made out of unpainted concrete blocks. You start to feel guilty for even owning your own computer, let alone the three or four that I have. I’m also certain that there are a lot of locals (especially in metropolitan Manila) who are insanely rich – the dealerships for BMW and Mercedes will attest to this fact. It seems the country is owned by the very rich, who really control things (like in Australia) and then the poor are very poor. Maybe there is a parallel to be made with Victorian-era Britain here?
  • Cabling contractors are fabulously useless. Something that would take a contractor 4 hours in Australia takes 4 people 3 days each in Manila. I’m not sure whether it was the contractors we were using, but I wasn’t impressed. While I’m not a licensed cabler in Australia, I do know vaguely what I’m doing with network cabling, and I could have done the job myself in Manila had I not been doing a million other things – about twice as fast as it took 4 people to do it. We also went through three sets of cabling contractors within two weeks, as the first two contractors just stopped showing up. Surely I can’t be that hard to work for?
  • Some of the food is amazing, but generally Tasmanian food is much better. In particular, fresh seafood is fresher in the Philippines than it is here, and therefore tastes absolutely amazing. Mango shakes were another favourite of mine. Because mangoes are a tropical fruit, they grow easily there, and as such are very cheap (along with most other vegetables and fruit, I guess due to the labour prices). A mango shake (mango and ice in a blender, sometimes mango and icecream in a blender) costs between $0.50 and $2, and they are the perfect way to refresh yourself after being the intense heat. With that said, there is a lot of terrible food in the Philippines, especially Manila with it’s plethora of takeaway restaurants (which were welcome the first day or two, but quickly grew tiresome). Local food is good, and very cheap, but without a heap of variation – most Filipino food is curries and stews of various sorts.

All in all, it’s a country I’d really like to go back to – there’s a lot more of the country that I would like to see. I wouldn’t want to live there (the pollution is terrible) but the really friendly people make it a pleasure to visit.

30 Days of Geek #6: Primary geek fuel (snacks/drinks)

I’ve decided to partake in Jethro Carr’s 30 Days of Geek challenge, so I’ll be writing a post a day on my geekiness for an entire month! You can find all the posts in one spot here.

My ‘normal’ geek food:

The food and drink I consume in the course of my daily life is much like any normal, healthy adult. I drink tea:

A cup of tea in my NCSS mug!
A cup of tea in my NCSS mug!

The food I eat is whatever happens to be around. I eat quite a few peanut butter and jam (and sometimes brown sugar and sultanas as well) sandwiches. These are good energy food. In another life I probably would have been a pastry chef, so I make quite a lot of these biscuits and other cakes:

Peanut Butter biscuits on a cooling tray.
Peanut Butter & Choc-chip Biscuits

I also eat fruit, but nowhere near as much as I should.

My ‘I need to be awake’ geek food:

When the going gets tough, I get out my twin food addictions: Coca-Cola and chocolate. Specifically, 600mL bottles of Coke and packs of Nestle Crunch that I buy in vending machines at university:

Nestle Crunch (Flickr: wizetux)
Nestle Crunch (Flickr: wizetux)

Trip to Berlin: Part Four

This is part four of my trip to Berlin. For part three, click here. This is the wrap-up of the trip.

Firstly though, the trip home. It was a bog standard 40 hour plane trip, with the only two things of note the really nice girl I met in Singapore airport, and the delay on the last leg. Just after landing into Singapore airport for refuelling and so on, a girl (well, woman, about 25 or so) came up to me and asked if she could follow me because she didn’t understand what she was supposed to be doing (and I must admit, it was confusing). I said yes, and so together we trundled off the plane, looked lost in the middle of a big hall full of shops and no chairs, and then back into the gate through security. We talked, mostly about the country we were from (in my case, Australia, in hers, Serbia). She was travelling to Melbourne to meet her aunts and the rest of her extended family.

The Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hobart was delayed by the fact that the controls for the air conditioning in the cockpit weren’t working. As the pilot said, “we don’t care, but it’s not legal to fly”. The flight time from Melbourne to Hobart is 65 minutes, and we spent almost that much time in the plane on the ground. Apart from those things, and the crappy reruns on the in-flight “entertainment”, it was all fairly normal.

There are a lot of differences between Tasmania and Berlin that I’ve noticed. The first difference was in the public transport system. In Berlin, it’s functional. The trains and buses run perfectly on time at predictable intervals (3 minutes past the hour, 23 minutes past the hour, 43 minutes past the hour and so on for all of them), and are clean and always large enough. They only service the areas where it is profitable to run (not having bus stops and routes in the middle of nowhere). Compare that to Tasmania, where buses come at random times, don’t run near enough in peak hour times, and services areas where there is obviously no profit, which doesn’t help the bottom line, degrading central city performance.

The other huge difference was when talking about buildings. The whole of Australia has had an architectural history of just over 200 years. In Berlin, a house can be “only” 100 years old. In Australia, a 100 year old house is covered in protection acts. They also have a lot of efficient heating, solar panels on a significant portion of rooftops, and double glazing is everywhere (even on some of the trains, as far as my bad eyesight could tell). In addition, recycling was a lot better organised than in Tasmania: bins in the street were organised into 4 sections for rubbish, glass, packaging and paper. A big difference from a single bin for “rubbish”, into which is thrown everything under the sun.

I’ve tried a few new foods too. Sauerkraut was one that when placed in front of me I was a bit skeptical of, though is actually rather nice (it basically tastes like less-harsh vinegar). I’ve tried cherry-banana flavoured yoghurt and cherry-banana yoghurt soft drink, neither of which were very nice. For breakfast, new items included chocolate-covered muesli and scrambled egg spread (bought in jars from the supermarket). Last item of note was the large pretzel, which tastes exactly the same as the small pretzel I am used to. Meal structure was different too. Although occasionally using the large evening meal structure, most of the time it was a smaller evening meal and a larger lunchtime meal (which I quite enjoyed).

Overall, my trip to Berlin was brilliant. Since July last year I’ve been talking to Stephanie online through IRC, MSN, and eventually Skype, and the chance to meet her in real life was awesome (so much so, I can’t even think of decent words). As soon as I can afford to do so I’m going back there for another trip. I’ll make an effort to try and see a bit more of Germany, perhaps staying a bit longer to do so. I’ve convinced Stephanie to visit Tasmania in July, so that should be interesting too.