Jul 21
hardware We moved into our new house in January 2013. There was, and still is, plenty of remedial work to do in the house, but by the end of 2013 we had renovated the main reception room that we "live" in. This is the middle floor (it's a three floor property) and immediately above the wired, AC doorbell in the hall downstairs. The thing is, when we get into that room and close the door to stop any noise disturbing Matilda, you can't hear the doorbell below at all. It's largely easy to hear from other parts of the house. I didn't want to replace the good working doorbell, especially since in my experience outdoor switches last longest when there is AC current going through them.

So I began researching doorbell extenders but found they were quite pricey and typically required batteries. I did find what looked like a suitable system for US voltages and sockets but nothing for the UK. So I bagan to wonder if I could just rig something up from a cheap wireless doorbell to have an additional sounder. Basically to wire the voltage from the existing wired door bell to a switch of a wireless one. Because I usually search for solutions on the Oracle of Google before such undertakings, and didn't find anything quite like I wanted, I'm adding this to the mix.

My first problem was trying to convert the 12V AC I had metered in the bell box to something appropriate in DC. I looked at the components to build my own circuit for this, but remarkably discovered I could buy something from eBay from China for £1.60 (including postage) that performed the AC to DC conversion with a pot to allow the voltage to be calibrated. I will leave you to search for your own.

The AC to DC Converter
The AC to DC Converter


I then bought a pretty cheap wireless bell from Amazon. It cost £12.40 for a bell that would plug directly into the mains (so no battery), so this Kingavon wireless door bell did the job.

The Kingavon wireless bell. Nice and cheap, reasonable feature set.
The Kingavon wireless bell. Nice and cheap, reasonable feature set.


The bell push normally takes a 3 V battery. My plan was to supply that voltage directly from the AC to DC converter to avoid the need for a battery at that end too. If I could rig up the 12 V AC that was produced in the wired bell box when the push was pressed this might work. So I took the bell and push into work and finally in a free 30 minutes grabbed two colleages and headed to the lab. We connected the AC to DC converter to 12 V AC (as it would be in the bell box) and calibrated the pot until we had a 3 V DC output.

The microswitch in the doorbell push was soldered closed (so that in effect the button was always pressed down). Finally the DC output was soldered to the battery pins on the door push.

Note the short circuit across the micro switch (just to its left).
Note the short circuit across the micro switch (just to its left).


In bench tests we then tried turning on the supply to see how quickly the wireless doorbell push came up and activated the bell. As I suspected if the power was "jabbed" on there wasn't enough time for the transmitted circuitry to get its act together, but when "pressed" for say just under a second (simulated by supplying the AC) the wireess bell went off. I figured this was the downside of going to a battery-less solution, but given that I had guests trying to ring the bell repeatedly (since they knew I was in) I figured this would work.

So I used a multi-meter to work out which terminals in the bell box went to 12 V when the bell push was pressed, hooked up the leads into the AC to DC converter and bingo, the set-up works. At the time of writing I still consider it to be in testing so the components are literally wrapped around the bell box, but since the box doesn't contain batteries, there will be room to place them in later, once i get them properly insulated - and I get a new glue stick for my glue gun to fasten them in.

Wired up inside the box, but still trailing during extended testing.
Wired up inside the box, but still trailing during extended testing.


So this approach works, but it won't be for everyone - the wireless bell can fail to go off if someone really jabs the outdoor bell push, but for us, it's a workable solution for £14 and the cost of some wire.

Posted by Colin Turner

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Jul 25
martial arts A few months ago, Allen Baird wrote to me courteously to tell me he had written a book about some experiences running a Jedi Course at Queen's University, that I was tangentially involved in. I discovered the book was available about a week ago, and obtained the Kindle copy and read it over a few days. This is partly a review of the book as I see it, and some ideas the book triggered me to discuss.

TL,DR?

The book "The First Jedi", due to its title, runs the risk that the course did of instant derision and dismissal, but that would be a mistake. This is not some sort of fanboy gushing excess, but some quite serious content lurking under a whimsical title. It contains significant quantities of psychology and philosophy than can be applied to daily life, delivered in a vehicle of story telling based in real events surrounding his training courses in Northern Ireland and alluding to the "jedi / sith" archetypes from the Star Wars universe. Big ideas in a sugar coated pop culture shell if you will. You don't have to be a geek to read it, or to fully get that dynamic, but I would imagine it helps to fully get it. It is both funny, educational and serious in appropriate measure, and I imagine most people will very much enjoy it.

Still Here?

Allen runs his own training, writing and coaching consultancy business alongside his partner Dawn. Some years ago he ran a "Jedi Training Course" as a one day event at Queen's University, Belfast. Again, note that this whimsical title belies some serious content. This is a tactic I fully approve of, and one I have used myself. My own talk titles tend to be a bit whimsical too. There's plenty of dry stuffy, self-important nonsense already. The world doesn't need more. Allen relates the story of running this course, and the media frenzy the title caused within the book. He also manages to get across much of the material.

As I mentioned before, you don't need any detailed knowledge of the Star Wars universe to get this. I think Allen would be the first to acknowledge that plenty of people know more detail about that universe than him. Indeed, checking again, I find he describes himself in the book as a "Minor Star Wars fan". This is a vehicle, a metaphor. And of course it's exploring the fact that the Star Wars universe did not grow in a vacuum. You can find likely inspiration for its ideas littered all around in classical philosophy, and sometimes religion too.

Allen approached me for some help in bringing a martial arts element to his successor course. He covers his initial meeting with me in his book, and I'll perhaps decline to comment on that overmuch. I wasn't put off by the whacky title, because I bought into the usefulness of the underlying material, and I could see the linkages to aikido very clearly. Plus, I was supportive of his ideas to bring people to continuing education who would otherwise not think twice about it. I may have been more enthused, but cautious, than he realised ;-).

The book is semi-autobiographical in the sense that the plot is based upon real events, but with some added fictional aspects. Early on in the book Allen talks about a technique called the "Gollum Effect" to describe how one can have a conversation between the two halves of the brain. Largely you could describe this book is being delivered by that conceit. There are two characters who give a "jedi" and "sith" perspective on the events and concepts being discussed. One voice is the largely factual voice of Allen - to what extent this aspect is fictionalised I cannot tell - while the other is presumably largely fictional. I could say that I cannot tell to what extent this other character represents factual thoughts and feelings too, if at all.

Having established this groundwork, the main portion of the book explores the course, its genesis and construction, which is both amusing and interesting. A fair amount of time is given to the media treatment of the course, and this is worthwhile and amusing, though it does inevitably lead to some minor amount of repetitive information being conveyed. I think this has been done to help anchor the book in the evidence of the original course being a real entity. He links this in nicely with the Jedi census phenomenon in the UK, which aside from the humour of it, reveals some underlying attachment to these ideas at some level. Star Wars, like it or not, is a major cultural influence, resonating with other more ancient ideas from both Western and Eastern thought.

Sensitivity and Flow

The book then moves on to the initial course, and submerges the reader in it. You get the course itself for free with the price of the book. It talks about the idea of the Highly Sensitive Person, and the psychological idea of Flow which is integral to education and which I have delivered talks on myself. This idea of flow is, incidentally, alive and well in aikido (and other martial arts no doubt) where it is often described as "moving meditation".

Assertiveness

Here again we move into territory that underlines why aikido was an excellent choice to convey the concepts of the course. Assertiveness, as an important part of every day life, is a vital part of aikido, and obtains a good treatment in the book.

As an aside, and response, I will note that Aikido is often described as a defensive martial art. I think that's fair. However, many will conflate the ideas of defence and passivity. In fact, to become an excellent aikidoka, one has to learn that point of assertiveness that is beautifully described in the book as lying between aggressiveness and passivity. Neither of these latter states will help in aikido, one's mind must remain clear and free of aggression (since otherwise, neglecting any other aspects than the physical for the moment, the adrenal response will rob the body of fine control and the mind's ability to see the whole situation clearly), while passivity will rapidly end in disaster. You must enthusiastically meet your opponent with neither reticence or an urge to dominate them.

Synchronicity

Allen next explores the Jungian idea of synchonicity exploring how the mind has a tendency to conflate events that are not causally linked. I've explored this a little in another long article on perception and especially how it can link to the martial arts.

He discusses practical ways to overcome fear. He misses, I feel, a golden opportunity to link in another great Sci-Fi franchise, covering the Bene Gesserit litany against fear. Perhaps the Bene Gesserit training course will be next. The similarities of idea are huge, and possibly even more aligned to Allen's content.

This material reminded me somewhat of ideas I have taught in aikido classes to deal with pain. When pain is inflicted upon you, there are two aspects, the physical underlying pain, about which you can do little, but there is also an overlay - the mental expectation of pain. Learning to relax into that can greatly reduce the amount of apparent pain felt.

Control over one's mental state, and attempting to overcome adrenal response, is a big part of aikido for me. While aikido is not Chinese in origin, Chinese martial arts masters have described aikido as an internal martial art for that reason, and I agree with them. The late Alan Ruddock describes in detail in his memoirs how the ancient story of Monkey is a parable about how the various aspects of one's mind can be brought into harmony, even if control is too strong a word. The Star Wars generation may know this story better from its TV series, which might just occasionally have been light on philosophy and heavy on action. The book is well worth a read (both Alan's Memoirs and Monkey incidentally).

Fear turns to Anger

It would be hard to talk about the Jedi/Sith dichotomy and not write about anger. Allen treats it well, working in some Aristotelian Ethics which is hugely pertinent to life, and reinforcing the importance of assertiveness as a midpoint. I cannot recall if this is the point where he also introduces a bit of Stoic philosophy, perhaps the school of Roman thought that resonates with me most. Marcus Aurelius, one of my favourite philosophers gets a pertinent mention. You can read his meditations at a browser over lunch time.

Mindfulness

And so we come to mindfulness. To me, this is the concept most obviously born out of Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism is in many ways more of a philosophical system than a religion as we often describe it, but in any case, there is no need to consider the whole cosmology and religion to cherry pick some its good ideas. Though, in passing, when I first watched the Phantom Menace, I was very taken with the idea that Qui-Gon Jinn was somewhat based, in name and concept, on the Bodhisattva Guanyin.

References to Jedi being exponents of compassion reinforces the feeling that some Buddhism is behind the scenes. I have written before about the apparent dichotomy of compassion in a martial setting.

Anyway, mindfulness brings us back to those ideas of Monkey, and Meditation (whether in movement or not). I think the book implicitly emphasises a truth often overlooked by the want-to-be-spiritual; that mindfulness can be practised as you sit in the lotus position in a silent dark room, but it doesn't really matter a damn if your thinking all goes to pot as soon as the outside world becomes disturbed. One can practice mindfulness anywhere. Indeed, it's the only practice worth doing in my opinion. (Much to learn, I still have).

For some more thoughts about this in the martial arts, you can look at my article on the concept of fudoshin.

Shadows and Darkness

The book explores, the again, Jungian idea of our Shadow selves, and the extent to which our failure to acknowledge the truth about them can lead to greater problems.

It also explores the ideas of attachment, which is one of the bits of Buddhist philosophy I think is the most interesting and emotionally understand poorly. I would be interested to chat to Allen about this bit some time.

The Sequel

Allen then deals with his attempt to produce a more ambitious version of the course, along with Rory O'Connor and myself. Rory to bring some thoughts about the "Force" into it (or at least real-world parallels) and myself to bring some aikido and potentially some kumi-tachi work too (sword to sword). This isn't as weird as it sounds since many of these ideas are present in both physical and "normal" interactions and confrontations between people, and sometimes some people can learn through the body more effectively. I roped in John Donaldson, a far superior swordsman to myself, and also something of a Star Wars fan. This was years before John would take to dressing up as a storm trooper or the best Captain Jack Sparrow this side of the Atlantic. Possibly Allen's second course would have been more successful otherwise.

We did a certain amount of planning for this new version of the course, and everything was good to go, but it was not to be. Things did not proceed as we had foreseen. Allen talks about this and wraps the story to an interesting conclusion, taking the Jedi / Sith conversation to its final conclusion and bringing a nice sense of closure to the proceedings.

But of course, I won't give away the ending, you'll have to read the book!

Posted by Colin Turner

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Jul 14
martial arts There's been an “elephant in the room” on my blog for quite a while now, and it has prevented me completing a number of articles that I have had in draft for some time.

A bit over a year ago, my friend and mentor, Alan Ruddock died. I've been trying to articulate what that meant for me, and what I thought about Alan, but I have repeatedly failed. This doesn't fully resolve that issue, but at least I can put down some thoughts about Alan here now, or at least about Aikido

Disclaimer: this post probably badly needs some photos, and I'll try to retro-fit that at some point.

I was kindly asked to present an hour at this year's Galway Aikido Summer School, where Alan Ruddock and Henry Kono traditionally taught together for many years. This year Henry continued with his excellent classes in the morning and other instructors that knew Alan took an hour each in the afternoon. I confess I was a bit daunted by some of the others teaching in these slots, particularly the inestimable Lorcan Gogan of PSAC, with whom I shared a session. When I said to him I would have to follow that, he simply replied "Hey, I had to follow Henry!". A fair point. But I did find myself more reticent than usual in my teaching style.

I chose to try and present some thoughts that have arisen from Alan talking about his “dead straight line”. That is that Aikido is often thought of as being circular in nature but Alan was keen to stress it was not at its heart.

In Aikido, we often see uke (the attacker) whirled around nage (the defender) in circles. There are beautiful diagrams about this, and allusion to circles everywhere. Our own club is called the “Belfast Aikido Circle”. So it's impossible to deny circles don't appear. Indeed, there are semi-physical, semi-mystical links to squares and triangles too.

But what Alan meant, in my opinion, (all disclaimers apply) is that you always behaved as if you were operating in a dead straight line.

Aristotle believed that objects, in a perfect (celestial) environment travel in perfect circles, but many centuries later, Newton thought otherwise.

“A body will continue in its state of rest, or uniform motion in a straight line, unless acted upon by a resultant force.”

is better known as Newton's First Law of Motion. In Aikido terms its consequences are simple, if an attacker comes along a straight line, and is subsequently diverted off that straight line, Force, and Energy has been added by someone. Not in some kind of mystical sense of the use of these words you might see in other places, but in their elementary definitions in Physics. So the Force has been added, the big question then is by whom, followed up by why, and an analysis of the consequences.

Let's look at the question of “whom” first. In a previous article, I wrote at some length about the spectator problem in Aikido. Sitting at the side lines you can never know for sure just who is doing what to whom. You can see the nage's hands rise, move or turn, but you cannot know, from outside, whether this is nage initiating these things, or a reaction to uke's movements and attack.

In fact, we can take it a step further than this and say that at best only the two involved can fully know, since it is entirely possible that neither of them will fully know either. In other words, the problem of “whom” is a really knotty one – it's altogether possible that no-one knows.

In theory, at the beginning of a “technique” the nage first moves to a position of safety from the immediate attack and then “blends” with the attack. Even this is an over simplification since nage can be more proactive, but let's set that side for a moment. This moment of initial blending is pivotal. Alan used to tell a story about O-Sensei coming to watch a class of aikido at the Hombu dojo, and after watching, smiling, for some time, he announced “you are all doing a wonderful job, after having your heads cut off.” The analysis of this could be that, especially when facing an armed attack, even if the blend if a “bit out”, there may be more than a “bit” of you missing by the time you start your technique.

Aiki means the harmony of ki, or “energy”, so your blend is the moment where you, and your attacked end in a position of aiki, where both your energies are pointed in the same direction. If the uke's energy was directed at you in a dead straight line, as it often is, then in theory, you should both be pointing in the same dead straight line.

But this is often not the case. You can immediately see deviation from the straight line. Why is this? From Newton, the answer is obvious, one or both person(s) have put extra force into the situation.

This may have been uke, who immediately realising things are not going as planned, starts to react and often turns towards nage to strike them; this being the case nage has to move off the original straight line too to provide space for uke, and to keep the “aiki” principle, continuing to move with the uke. If that's all it is then this is fine. The force and energy being contributed by nage are minimal, it is necessary and sufficient.

But all too often, the honest truth is that as nage, we anticipate the move from uke, or worse don't even think about it, and just start whirling them around us. It may not be immediately clear why this is a Bad Thing. There are two reasons; one is that the aiki principle has been immediately broken, you are no longer in harmony with the attacker but attempting to direct them. The second is why the aiki principle itself matters; when you inject force and energy into the situation a skilled opponent can make use of it. In fact that's practically the central principle of aikido. Probably 90% of the time, particularly in training, your opponent may not even notice, so we all get away with it, and we probably never learn.

So here are some thoughts on training to enforce honesty on this.

Try and do some techniques along a straight line on the mats. You'll need your uke to be initially very well behaved. Don't even think of it as an attack, imagine that you meet a friend at the gates of a park. You see them as they approach and you walk backwards, then sideways, then alongside them as you extend your hand to shake hands with them. They key here is not to make it a conflict. This is astoundingly easy to do when you aren't worrying about having your head punched – just practice the naturalness of this first.

Then, as you walk along your straight line, just allow your hand to rise across the line, the analogy I used as if you are pointing at a squirrel in a tree. It's a simple, gentle irimi-nage that requires a compliant sensible uke who just has to keep walking straight, even into the “throw”.

It's a silly exercise, and you can play with greatly shortening it, but the big deal is, practising doing the throw along a straight line.

The next phase is to allow your uke to, once every so often (and without prior warning), lifting their free hand and turning to – well - lovingly caress your face shall we say? This changes the dynamic, the uke wants to move off the straight line, and so you have to as well. But the key of this exercise is:

  1. do you actually pull them off the line on occasions where they do not turn;
  2. can you really convince yourself you don't move off the line with a little extra force?
It may be a useful exercise.

Another example worthy of note is Shomen Uchi, Ikkyo (tenkan). Or – that when your opponent tries to strike your forehead, you turn, contact their arm and bring it, and the uke to the ground.

Traditionally this is often done by grabbing the arm as it descends and whirling your uke around you. There can be real consequences to this because their other fist is being whirled around you too. There are other problems too – you can have a tendency to pull the arm so closely into your space that uke can merely step behind you and topple you over their leg. It isn't a nice fall. It also provides , ironically, a slow descent of uke into the ground, since you provide them with a lot of implicit support.

So try, from the moment of “Shomen Uchi contact” where your hands meet, to step to the side, and without gripping contact the arm with both hands (the other hand at the elbow). Let your uke continue on their straight line straight forward and downwards. Potentially this is a hard fall, you are providing no force or breaking but just allowing them to sail majestically (potentially teeth first) into the mat. Some care needs be taken with this initially! It is most important that you do not push them down, just act as a ratchet so as they descend they cannot rise.

Again, in real life uke will often start heading towards you early on, trying to recover their balance, and also because in aikido, the tendency for uke and nage to start running around in circles is ever present, and once again, that's fine, the issue is not to interfere with this, but also not to seek to amplify it by hauling them around.

At an early stage you may find it useful not to grab their wrist – this can, in any case, cause all sorts of postural problems – and once you grab something the urge to pull it in is not far behind.

A suitable training for this can be found at your local Supermarket. Find yourself an empty trolley, and as you move it around, you will probably grip it with both hands and pull in one while you push out the other. If you are really mindful to your body you may notice muscles in your abdomen and spine taking the strain. But then fill the trolley to the brim, you will rapidly discover that this trick is not so easy. It's also not so wise, your muscles will shriek in protest at you, and if you do this kind of thing with a large opponent you will likely both be unable to move them, and injure yourself trying.

These are some simple thoughts on the Dead Straight Line that Alan used to talk about. There should always be a delicate positive pressure in that straight line in front of you, so that as things move and the gap appears there you will be immediately slot yourself into it. It is the spike in O-sensei's “Ki” calligraphy; it is the imaginary sword held in front of you that tells you always where you want to go.

Your curved movements are still a succession of Dead Straight Lines.

There is a nice, and relatively elementary parallel from Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. The curved paths that objects like planets make, as commented on by Aristotle appear circular and curved, but actually they are Dead Straight Lines (geodesics) through curved space-time. When the Moon travels around the Earth, it does so in a series of Dead Straight Lines so that it keeps missing the Earth and it perpetually falls towards it. If you do decide to have uke orbit around you, then this is the same principle you need to prevent them spiralling into you, complete with their body weaponry.

But anyway, try playing with Dead Straight Line. I hope you will find it rewarding.

Posted by Colin Turner

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Jun 20
Free Software Ok, so I used Gnome Shell before it was officially released. I stopped using it because I thought it was intriguing, but awkward to use in its beta stages. Then Gnome 3 was released and gnome-shell was no longer an interesting option, it was the compulsory way to use the operating system; and I wrote at the time about some of the problems. Many were solved, but the underlying troubles in the design of Gnome Shell were a problem for me. And I've really tried to like it, I really have, and I don't. I hate it. It makes almost every workflow I have tedious and exasperating. It has damaged my productivity. It looks pretty, it looks stylish, but it's frankly slow and painful to get things done. I tried lots of other window managers and was frustrated at having the leave the good things of Gnome behind.

Until someone told me about Cinnamon. I looked at the website and thought it might be just the ticket. Unfortunately it's not officially packaged for Debian (yet), and I currently lack the time to start building my own packages. Fortunately someone else has done it. I installed the packages on my laptop and breathed a sigh of relief (once I diagnosed a problem with the settings dialog). I installed it on my other boxes (that have GUIs), and now, well, the best thing is I am enjoying all the great things about Gnome 3 now. I'm even enjoying the great things about Gnome Shell, since Cinnamon is actually a fork, but all the stupid bits are gone.

There is a nice, elegant panel, so much cleaner than the Gnome Fallback mode. It looks like it belongs in Gnome 3, it does. Notifications are more subtle, coming up in out of the way bits of the screen. The screen effects are subtle but pleasant. In short it is what Gnome 3 should have been, or at least optionally. The "new" interface of Gnome Shell may suit many users, many devices, many workflows, but it most certainly does not suit all.

I have my nice comfortable desktop and workflow back after many months; kudos to the Cinnamon team, and kudos for them really showcasing all the excellence of Gnome 3 rather better.

If you want to try it out on Debian, follow the instructions here, and note the possible problem with the settings dialog.

Posted by Colin Turner

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Mar 5
Free Software Last Sunday morning I tried to access my mediatomb UPnP music server using the radio in my kitchen to be told it was offline. After messing around at the radio end a bit, I went to check on the actual machine, and found that mediatomb was not running. Attempting to restart it looked OK, but it was segfaulting almost immediately.

After trawling around a bit on bugs.debian.org I finally found this little gem. Basically mediatomb has been removed from unstable, partly because it's (ahem) unstable. I can't disagree with anything Neil says here; it's been a pain to keep mediatomb working, and there have been many problems. Nevertheless, after solving these and generally having it working (till Sunday) I was frustrated that was the end of the road. Obviously Neil has had a bit of a backlash too.

Anyway, life goes on and I looked in the Debian archive for alternatives and found minidlna. I wasn't too optimistic from the package description, but thought I'd give it a whirl. It has no web interface, but I don't care about that. Anyway, I installed it, reconfigured the path, forced a database reload, and was very pleased to find it all worked out of the box. Far less hassle that mediatomb has proven.

Only a tiny grumble so far, while all the playlists appear, and are in the correct order, if you browse by Albums, or Artists, the eventual track list is always alphabetical and not track order. I've read some claims that this is due to the client, but every single client I have used to get the lists from mediatomb in track order, and every single one now gets in alphabetical order.

Time to dive into the source at some time...

Posted by Colin Turner

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Feb 15
Cooking This Sunday it's the birthday of both Bruce Wayne and my better half, Tamsin. I figure Bruce will have a birthday breakfast sorted, so I thought I might look at having a special breakfast for Tam. So it's French toast on order, and pancakes for Aimee etc.. Recently I had tripped over this image of bacon and egg cupcakes. A bit of research revealed lots of recipes which seemed a bit overly convoluted, so I thought I'd try my own ahead of the big day.

You will need:
  • A muffin baking tray (it needs to be deep, so not the shallow bun variation);
  • Decent quality back bacon, well, the important bit is the shape and size of the slices;
  • Eggs, since it's a cosmetic recipe, I used organic eggs that tend to have great colour as well as flavour.


I tried two different variations of bacon, which you can see below.

First of all, just grill the bacon normally. I know you know what that looks like, but to get an idea of the size of the slices I used. (Click on any thumbnail to enlarge)

Grilling bacon
The normal slices I used.


But I also tried another variation of back bacon without the fatty "tail":

Lean bacon
More lean version


If, like me, you only have a single oven, turn off the grill, and put the oven on at around 200 degrees centigrade (probably 180 for fan assisted ovens, and that's around 400 Fahrenheit for any Americans). Give the grill element some time (only about 5-10 minutes) to cool down, so you will be baking the eggs later and not grilling them.

Now, you need to simply put the bacon into one of the cups in the tray. Don't do what I did and use an edge, working from the centre probably makes a lot more sense. For the "normal" bacon I simply put the slice round the edge, and it covers almost everything. I actually took the most fatty bit off the second slice and placed it on over the hole. I didn't bother to do anything special with the tray, and I didn't use cupcake cases or bread as I've seen in some of the more complex procedures. You don't have to worry about the odd small gap, but cover what you can.

Wrap two, or one and a half slices into each cups
Wrap two, or one and a half slices into each cups


My second variation involved using three of the lean slices to make a flower petal kind of effect.

The leaner bacon version.
The leaner bacon version.


Now you simply have to carefully crack an egg into each cup, trying not to rupture the yolk.

Eggs cracked in.
Eggs cracked in.


So now bake in the centre of the oven, for around 15-20 minutes. I found the second variation seemed to take more time to cook because the egg was further away from the metal most likely. Then use a silicon spatula or similar to easy the edge of the bacon away from the case, lift out, and serve warm.

The end result.
The end result.


You can see one cut in half. Tam and I tried the results and we feel the original version (with the regular bacon) is the best, and I think it looks the best too. At just under 20 minutes I found the white totally set, but the yolk still had a good moist consistency. The saltiness of the bacon infuses the egg in a really pleasing way. I hope you enjoy trying it. I will be making them again on Sunday.

One cut in half.
One cut in half.

Posted by Colin Turner

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Feb 4
hardware We have a nice Swan Heated Tray courtesy of my Mum. It's useful for lots of things, heating plates for dinner and then placing serving dishes on it, or for keeping a stack of pancakes warm on Sunday. Unfortunately it stopped working recently. The red power LED still lit when power was applied but no heating. Google produced no answers (which is why I'm writing this for anyone following a similar trail). The helpline couldn't help, and theoretically the tray was under warranty, but with no receipt we couldn't follow their advice to return it to the store. So I had to fix it myself.

You should obviously think twice before messing around with something (a) electrical and (b) which generates large amounts of heat. Please don't kill yourself or burn your house down, that will make us both feel really bad.

The tray is fitted with triangular screws which reinforces my comments above, but not having previously purchased some triangular screwdrivers, these were next to be acquired. I figured they might come in useful for something else in the future.

Taking the device apart shows that basically it's quite simple, there are some blocks through which elements do the heating, a lot of glass fibre (so wear gloves) to protect the underneath from the blocks.

The inside of the tray
The inside of the tray. You can see the connections on the two right most blocks where I removed the section of cabling that was not working.
There are also a number of polythene covers to hold the corners of the blocks, though it seems a few were missing. There was no obvious fuse much to my surprise and irritation. A bit of testing with a continuity tester showed that a particular loop of cable was no longer doing its job. I pulled it out, and pulled back some insulated sheathing to reveal the culprit fuse.

The culprit
The culprit
Replacement fuses can be obtained here. I teased upon the crimps with a precision screw driver and fitted the replacement, crimping it very firmly back in place. Then it was a matter of putting it all back together and testing it was appropriate safety measures in case of problems. All working again.

Posted by Colin Turner

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Oct 30
Free Software I use the Debian operating system on several computers. My "main" computer (Imladris) runs Debian unstable (Sid) while the others mostly run on testing. I've been anticipating the Gnome 3 upgrade for some time, mainly because of the switch to Gnome Shell which is a completely new way of using the desktop. I had played with Gnome Shell a while ago, and was kind of impressed and worried by it in equal measure, I decided it wasn't ready for prime time so stopped using it. Naturally I assumed it would be much more impressive upon release; especially since Debian is not (by far) the first GNU/Linux distribution to include Shell.

A while ago a big upgrade came through on imladris, and it was clear it was the Gnome 3 upgrade. I share this computer with three other users, two of which are children for whom I have implemented password less login (locally only). I can only say I think Gnome have significantly mishandled the upgrade. Here are some reasons why.

Login is seriously slow

The display manager can take up to a whole minute to display the list of users (and often doesn't display the icons). There are some bug reports about a possible race condition that causes this, but seriously on a reasonable spec computer this is unacceptably slow. The same problems occurs when switching user.

I couldn't login

My, admittedly old user account simply wouldn't launch a working desktop. I had to (at a command prompt) delete configuration directories to get my account working again.

Absolutely zero support for the user in transition

So the average user does the upgrade and suddenly their entire desktop has changed. But when they first login there will be some guidance about where everything is gone... right? No. Having already used Shell, I knew, but I had to try and show everyone else how to use the machine again. It's not that spectacularly intuitive.

Actually, a lot of functions have just gone

There's a huge removal of existing functionality. All your carefully tweaked panels: gone. All your applets: gone. And bizarrely often with no working alternative.

Not friendly for children

It was possible to set up a Gnome 2 account to make it easy for kids. Low res graphics, and big panels with big select icons. The new paradigm completely ignores all that in favour of a sleek minimalist environment which is probably not that easy for young children to understand.

Dictatorial design choices

It's been decided that we don't need minimise buttons or maximise buttons. It's been decided not to honour old desktop backgrounds. It's been decided not to honour existing resolution settings. It's been decided not to show anything on the Desktop (much to the confusion of many users). It's been decided we can't right click on the desktop.

Some of this kind of nonsense is exactly why I don't like some other operating systems who believe they know what's best for you with Messianic Zeal (I'm looking at you Apple).

All in all I find this transition very disappointing. There are lots of basic things no-one seems to have thought of, and years of desktop customisation have been swept away with an extraordinary arrogance. Don't get me wrong, I support the idea of trying a new Desktop paradigm: but, for instance, if people used to have applets on their desktop for the weather, or for system monitoring, it's because they needed it. Rolling out a new desktop that simply ignores these things in favour of how some people thing everyone should use their desktop is exasperating.

I'm seriously hoping that Gnome Shell improves significantly and fast. I won't hold my breath.

Posted by Colin Turner

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