Monthly Archives: February 2007

I'm Feeling Lucky – Good News for Camera Phones

Camera Phones and Grotty Pictures

Whilst being able to take photographs with my mobile phone is very convenient (a truly pocket-sized camera at last), my inability to hold such a flimsy little thing still, poor imager sensitivity and crappy optics don’t make for particularly good photographs.

Having said that, I downloaded my phone to my laptop today and fired up Google’s Picasa to rotate all the non-portrait images (most of them). After wincing at the awful colours of my recent shots, I tried the I’m Feeling Lucky control. Picture after picture – about 80% of those I tried – were miraculously corrected to very true colour. I was very impressed. The image accompanying this post is a self-portrait, taken with the phone and post-produced with Picasa.

I have also been saved a lot of time and energy; over the last three years, I have been mucking around with some (Perl) code for rotating, scaling and annotating digital images. Whilst Picasa doesn’t handle all the metadata that I would like it to, it’s good enough. At least I will be able to find images by keword now, without having to resort to renaming every single picture that I take.

In and Out the Windows

Sadly, Picasa was written as a Windows-only programme – I would have thought that with the brain-power available at Google, someone might have considered writing a multi-platform application, say in Java. However, us Linux users have not been left out, as Google has bundled Picasa with a Wine wrapper, allowing it to run fairly seamlessly on Linux, under X. There are a few odd quirks, especially in file management, where sensible Unix paths are seen represented as those awful, neolithic, Microsoft drive letters.

One thing that does not work is access to my phone. I mount it – as with other USB memory devices – under /mnt/usb. As soon as Picasa tries to browse this directory it simply dies, which is a bit of a nuisance, as it renders the import facility useless.

I Wish…

The announcement that I would really like to hear would be that Google were open-sourcing Picasa. Unlikely, though.

Oh, and if you are wondering why the photograph is in black and white, I prefer monochrome portraiture.

Pork, Shitake Mushrooms with Amaranth Pasta

Pasta Senza Glutine

My first attempt at making gluten-free pasta used maize flour, egg, guar gum and water. On the second attempt, I had this just about the way I wanted it and, until today, had done no further development since. A disturbed night, unable to sleep, had me thinking about menu ideas; one thing that came to mind in my half-awake state was to try to find a use for the amaranth flour that my wife bought recently. Pasta came to mind, so today saw the realisation of this half-dream.

A taste of the flour told me that I might be dealing with a fairly strong flavour, so I decided to use a blend of amaranth and rice flours. After much fiddling around and adjustment to get the right "feel" from the dough, I arrived at this formulation:

The Mix

  • 1 cup amaranth flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon guar gum

If I were doing this again, I would probably cut back considerably on the water, and only add rice flour until I obtained the right consistency.

After getting a mixture in the bowl sufficiently dry to handle, I kneaded it by hand, adding rice flour until things felt right, giving me the mixture listed above.

The resultant pasta had little elasticity – I attempted to extrude it as spirals, but these just sagged and looked rather pathetic, so I changed dies to a medium maccharoni, which came out reasonably well.

Cooking

The pasta was left to dry for an hour or so, and was added to a pan (I use a sauteuse) in which I had cooking a couple of pork fillets, a medium-sized brown onion, a medium-sized clove of my own garlic, a punnet of shitake mushrooms, a few dried porcini mushrooms, olive oil, salt, pepper and – of course – water.

After about five minutes of cooking, I tasted the pasta to see how it was getting on, and found it was actually overcooked to my taste – quite different from my maize-based recipe.

The Verdict

Apart from the pasta being done the "English" way (overcooked), this was a very pleasant dish, enjoyed by us both. My wife preferred the flavour of the pasta – which was not unlike that of buckwheat – to the maize recipe, somewhat to my annoyance. (The maize forms better and doesn’t make such a mess of the pasta machine.)

Footnote

Pasta senza glutine is the Italian for gluten-free pasta.

Doping Meat – More Medical Lunacy

I’ve seen it all now. This news item, from Adelaide Now, tells of the disappearance of lamb shanks from a healthcare facility. These had been used to practice injecting and suturing – fair enough. However, they had been injected with Lignocaine (a local anaesthetic), rendering them toxic.

This begs the question – why? In case the lamb shanks are capable of feeling pain? Or is water now so precious that it is now better to use drugs for practice?

To me, this makes about as much sense as the armed forces conducting all exercises with live rounds.

If ever I needed confirmation that the healthcare profession has its share of total idiots, now I have it. Our life in their hands? Scary.

Fish and Chips, Gluten Free

Tommy Ruffs and a good beer batter make for great fish and chips, but not for the gluten-intolerant.

Having not had and fish and chips since my wife went gluten-free, some months ago, I thought that we were long overdue for some.

Chips

These do not come out of packets, they are made from a type from the tuber of the potato plant. Washed, peeled (only if the skin is daggy), and cut into chips, these are fried in deep fat at 180°Celsius.

For those who buy their chips in packets, beware – there is a good chance that there is wheat/gluten in there. If you are going to have chips, do them properly!

Battered Fish

When using wheat, I would toss the fish fillets in a freezer bag of durum wheat semolina (pasta flour), prior to battering. As a gluten-free substitute, I used corn flour (maize starch). Another caveat: some things sold as corn flour actually contain wheat. The term corn is dangerously ambiguous, which is why I tend to use the term maize.

For the batter, I used one cup of rice flour, a heaped teaspoon of guar gum, an egg, a large pinch of salt and just over a cup and a half of chilled water. This produced somewhat more batter than required, so could be scaled back.

Cooking

Chips were cooked first, then popped in a bowl in the oven to keep hot.

Floured fish dipped into the (thick) batter and lowered slowly into the deep fat. This slow introduction stops the fish from sinking straight to the bottom and the batter from sticking to the basket. I did the fish in two batches, keeping the first batch in the oven until the second was complete and then combining the batches for a few seconds before taking out.

After the fish has been removed, back into the fryer with the chips for a few seconds.

Results

Rice batter lacks any particular flavour but has good adhesion, crispness and is quite light, and – of course – is gluten-free.

Important Footnote

If cooking for the gluten-intolerant, do not fry in fat that has previously been used for gluten-containing foods. Bear this in mind as well, when eating out; if something is deep-fried, has that fryer/fat been used to cook breaded or wheat-battered foods? If you cannot get a quick and positive answer, avoid like the plague, unless you want to spend the next day or so looking at the back of the lavatory door, or worse.

British Parliament Debates Coeliac Disease

British coeliac sufferers can take heart at this parliamentary debate, as reported by Hansard.

Gordon Banks, parliamentary member for Ochil and South Perthshire, himself a coeliac suffer did well to raise this debate, and I hope that we see this go somewhere.

Whilst Britain may be behind Italy (as would appear to be all other nations) in awareness of and facilities for coeliac disease/gluten intolerance, dialogues like this can only be seen as progress.

Not-quite Sir James Gosling

From CBC News:

The man credited with inventing the Java programming language commonly used on the World Wide Web has been appointed to the Order of Canada.

Good on you, Jim!

I do wonder if CBC is not getting Java mixed up with JavaScript, whether they have heard of AWT/Swing, and all those J2ME applications running on mobile phones. Maybe they should have a look around http://java.sun.com/.

Aussie Thyroid

As a sufferer of a thyroid disorder and also being married to one, I am pleased to announce the creation of a new patient-to-patient site, AussieThyroid.

This site is still in the early stages of development, but features forums, feed aggregations from related sites and links to other online thyroid resources.

Whilst this site is primarily aimed at Antipodean thyroid patients, visitors and contributors from the international community are, of course, always welcome.

Update

This post has been preserved for posterity – the AussieThyroid site never achieved the promised support and is now defunct.

Web Accessibility – A Small Part of a Jigsaw

Where does Accessibility start, and where does it end? For most,Accessibility is about creating Web content that can be accessed universally, with reference to whatever version of the WorldWide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

Even for Web Accessibility, things do not end there. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are part of a process that also includes the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG).

The ATAG has a two-fold purpose: "…to assist developers in designing authoring tools that produce accessible Web content and to assist developers in creating an accessible authoring interface."

The UAAG "…provides guidelines for designing user agents that lower barriers to Web accessibility for people with disabilities…".

So, not only do we have pathways for creating accessible content, but also for having an accessible means of creating that accessible content and of rendering that content. Developers of Web content would do well to familiarise themselves with ATAG and UAAG, as these can both impact on what happens to their content, and how it comes into being in the first place. (Badly coded user agents and authoring tools are NOT, in the authors view, an excuse for producing bad content.)

This is, however, still only a small part of a jigsaw. accessibility does not stop here. Close your user agent (browser) and your authoring tool – be it a sophisticated Content Management System or a lowly text editor. What are you left with? The computer's operating system. And just how accessible is that?

Those who have spent considerable time testing and repairing the accessibility of their content, should open their minds and apply a similar process to the operating system as a whole. Just how accessible is it? Does it make unexpected sounds and movement that might confuse? Can it be operated with a keyboard or pointing device alone?

Also have a look at other applications on your computer. How intuitive and accessible are they? Would they, if presented as Web content, pass the test?

Then move a little further back (literally). Look at the computer itself, the positioning and ergonomics of the display, keyboard and locator. Are these as fully accessible as they could be for you? Or for another person?

The further away from which we look, the more we can see of the jigsaw puzzle that is accessibility. It neither starts nor ends with Web content, but Web content is nevertheless a crucial piece, without which, the puzzle would be incomplete.

Now that we have seen the shape of the puzzle (and looked at the picture on the lid of the box), we should be better placed to fit in our little piece of Web Accessibility – in the right place and the right way around.

Smiffy 2007: A Day in the Life Of

Preamble

For those who do not know me, I am an Information Technology professional of English origins, in his fortieth year, living in South Australia. I suffer from what might be called, in general terms, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, in vaguely technical terms a malfunctioning endocrine system (thyroid, adrenal and more), and, in subjective terms, a total pain in the bum.

Early Morning

Up at about half six, my wife already being on the go due to the call of the doggies. Before getting out of bed, I take my basal temperature. Shower, apply first medication in cream form. Wash hands, dress, take blood sugar reading. Record temperature and blood sugar reading. Read over-night emails. Take various other medications by mouth. Prepare scrambled eggs and espresso. Consume scrambled eggs and espresso. Record time of consumption of scrambled eggs and espresso.

Do any minor chores, like turning irrigations taps in vegetable garden. Brew tea. Feel knackered.

Check logs on hosting servers. Work on client or own programming projects.

Mid Morning

Take and record blood sugar level. Brunch – tea, sprats in buckwheat pancakes. This delightful combination can be a major highlight of my day. Now probably too tired to do much more in the way of work, but struggle on, regardless.

Noon

Take and record temperature, take noontide medications. May still be working, if this is a good day.

Mid Afternoon

Snack – probably cashew nuts. Time for afternoon snooze.

Pre-Teatime

Summon up energy to prepare the evening meal. This is never a good time of day for me.

Teatime

Prepare meal, take temperature, try to remember to take medications (important dose). Possibly a blood sugar sampling here.

Serve and consume meal. Generally too tired to do much between now and the end of the day.

End of Day

Further temperature recording, taking of medication and consumption of my good-night pickled herrings – the latter seems to help my fasting blood sugar.

Conclusion

For anyone who has enjoyed (or worse, taken for granted) reasonable health for most of their life, this may sound pretty grim. Whilst I got used to using a CPAP machine, my "nursing home" medication dispenser and its contents, can still be quite overwhelming; I assume that this too, in time, will become such a part of everyday routine that I will not even notice it.

Whilst I get depressed on a fairly regular basis, I know that this is just a physiological thing, even if it is rather unpleasant. I am striving to turn my depressive episodes into something creative, as I know that others do.

Not working, as such, tends to make me feel fairly worthless, but I am still productive, just at a lower level than I am used to or might like – I am still cooking meals, with the new and extra challenge of making them gluten-free, as well as interesting and nutritious. I am learning the Java programming language, and probably setting myself a bigger-than-necessary challenge in this by working on both desktop and mobile applications at the same time.

Does This Sound Like You?

Have you just found yourself in a position like mine, with a chronic and debilitating illness? Take heart – whilst some fairly radical adjustments to lifestyle may be required (or just happen), life goes on. You may not be able to engage in the activities that you used to and would like to, but there are new ones to be discovered and the Web is big help in this.

Above all, remember this: you are not alone!

Real Coconut Ice

Having only recently acquired our ice cream machine, it seemed a bit of a blow that my wife now has to trial a dairy-free diet. Sorbets are fine, but we both prefer the more fatty dish. As a diabetic, I would much rather indulge in something containing protein and fat than just a frozen sugar syrup.

Today’s essay in the craft of ices is based on coconut cream, an emulsified form of coconut milk. I figured that emulsified coconut fat might go some way towards recreating the texture of a milk-based ice.

Ingredients

  • 400ml can coconut cream
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small espresso
  • Small shot of Captain Morgan rum

Ingredients are whisked until thoroughly mixed; due to the slighly granular consistency of the finished product, I feel that I may have under-done the whisking a little. Mixture is then introduced into the ice cream machine, which is run until it looks ready.

A quick taste-test whilst transferring to the freezer container was very promising indeed – to me, a better flavour than my milk/cream-based coffee ice cream, but then I am not normally keen on any milk/coffee combination.

Update

My wife was rather taken with this. I tried it myself, but did not like it for the same reason that I do not like coffee ice cream – coffee is fine as long as it is served as espresso, but as soon as it is adulterated with anything, for me, it gains a huge yuck factor.

Regarding yuck factors, there have been some comments regarding the use of raw egg in this dish. We are in the fortunate position that, like our meat, our eggs are of known source and known quality, with a very short supply chain. I have no more qualms about eating these eggs raw than I would about making steak tartare with beef fillet from out butcher. Having said that, if either eggs or beef were coming from a supermarket, there is no way that I would use them raw.

For those who cannot or will not eat eggs, or cannot source good quality, fresh eggs, adding some lecithin to the mix may be an option. Please note that this will reduce the protein content to virtually nil. People with soy allergies should also check on the source of any lecithin that they might use.

Also on the nutritional front, whilst I have calculated that the fat content of the coconut based dish is similar to that of the dairy based one, it should be noted that the type of fat is different – I believe that the coconut version would contain more saturated fat than its dairy counterpart, for anyone who worries about that sort of thing. (You should be worrying about the sugar content far more than the fat.)