Afterburner steak rub

This is a recipe for a steak rub that I made up last night. It came out pretty well and everyone enjoyed it. It slightly caramelises the surface of the steak infusing it with herby goodness and after you enjoy that flavour a nice kick of heat comes in the after taste.

  • 1/4 handful fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 1/2 handful fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix it all together in a bowl, rinse off your steaks and apply liberally to each side about half an hour before you plan to start cooking. These quantities should make enough for 4 small steaks.

Six hour chilli

I’ve enjoyed making and eating chilli ever since I was in university. It has a lot of appeal for your average student:

  • You can make it in bulk and live off it for a few weeks
  • You can make it spicy enough that you start bleeding out of your nose (and thus totally impress all your friends)
  • It’s dead simple and really hard to screw up

The great part is that really once you have the basic ingredients you can just go nuts, vary up the ratios, add extra bits and pieces, whatever you fancy. Eventually though I discovered that I was getting a bit too wild and really wanted to nail down a basic “good” recipe to work from. It took a couple of tries but here it is. It’ll take around six hours to cook, an extra hour for prep depending on how lazy/drunk you are.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2.5 lb lean ground beef

 

  • 56 oz diced tomatoes (canned works just fine)
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp chilli pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 cup cilantro leaves (I use dried but fresh is probably good too)
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle chilli pepper powder
  • 1/2 pint stout or other dark beer
  • 2 cups red wine (I tend to use merlot)
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/8 cup tomato puree or 1/4 cup tomato ketchup
  • ~3-4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

 

  • 3×12 oz cans of mixed beans
  • 2-3 large bell peppers (red and/or green), chopped

Instructions

  • Fry the onions in some olive oil until they start to turn translucent, then throw in the beef and stir until it browns all over.
  • Add into a large pot with the tomatoes, spices, wine, beer and broth
  • Cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring periodically (use the remains of the stout to help you get through this)
  • Drain and add the beans
  • Cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring periodically (it’s possible you’ll need more stout)
  • Add the chopped peppers
  • Cover and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring periodically
  • Serve with cornbread and the rest of the bottle of wine

Tips

  • This makes a lot of chilli, make sure you have a large enough frying pan and pot. You can try scaling it down but I find it works best when making it in large quantities.
  • After adding the peppers you’re basically simmering till it is about the right consistency, uncovering and/or adding some corn starch can help thicken it up at this stage.
  • This recipe comes out pretty spicy, you might want to drop the chipotle chilli pepper power if that isn’t your thing.
  • Unless you are feeding an army make sure you have tupperware to hold the leftovers. It reheats very well, if using a microwave throwing a little extra water in helps.

I made a thing to help with GPS in Lightroom

Yep, this post is totally not Mozilla related so I’ll keep it short, but a lot of people in Mozilla do take great photos and maybe they are stuck in my position: No actual GPS device and an compulsion to try to correctly GPS tag their vast collection. I put it off for a long while but finally this weekend wrote a Lightroom plugin to help ease a lot of the manual labour. Go check it out if you’re interested. It’s even on github!

Another 7 things…

Thanks to robcee you get to learn a little more about me. Much like him I’ve done this once before (perhaps it’s a sign of our age?) but it was over two years ago so let’s see if I can manage to rustle up a whole other seven things. I believe that the original meme said the facts had to be surprising things that most people didn’t know but I think I’ve used up all the surprising stuff about me already so most of this is probably common knowledge to those that follow my twitter stream.

Here are the rules:

  1. Link to your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
  2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
  3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.

My new things:

  1. I like creating fractals. I guess this says that I have an artistic side but fractals are kind of cheating, you can create beautiful images mostly by tinkering with numbers in equations. I haven’t had chance to do it much lately mostly because the better software is Windows only and rebooting my laptop into Windows is tedious.[flickr size=”small”]4715418159[/flickr]
  2. Another part of my artistic side which has grown in the past couple of years is photography. I’ve liked taking photographs for some time but for a lot of that I was really just playing with simple point and shoots. Since moving onto the excellent Canon Powershot S90 and now the Nikon D7000 I like to think I’ve been able to get some really great shots. Of course I throw away more than I take. During a recent weekend trip to a lake I think I took around 1000 shots, kept about 90 of those and uploaded just 35 to flickr.[flickr size=”small”]5766449103[/flickr]
  3. I am engaged to the gorgeous Tiffney. We’re going to be married at the start of September, just five months after I proposed. We took the easy route of paying for a mostly pre-packaged wedding. I think some of our friends who are also getting married at the same time are a little jealous of how easy it’s been for us.[flickr size=”small”]5777718954[/flickr]
  4. We own a cat, Loki. He is curled up next to me as I write this. We named him before we knew just how appropriate it was. We had to buy sheets of plastic to lay by the sides of the bed to stop him scratching the mattress in the middle of the night. We used to also have a second cat, Ripley, but sadly she passed away at the start of the year from cancer.[flickr size=”small”]5870075150[/flickr]
  5. I have just bought a condo with my fiancée, the first place I’ve owned. It feels nice to no longer be answerable to a landlord though I guess we still have to answer to the homeowner’s association. Since we only just moved in we don’t know where any of our stuff is including the TV remote which is quite irritating.[flickr size=”small”]6015887571[/flickr]
  6. For a few years while I was at university I answered to the name Andy. This started because in my scuba diving class there was a large number of Andys and our instructor decided to just start calling us all Andy. I was one of the few from that year’s novices who got more involved in the club afterwards and so the name stuck. In fact I got so used to it that one evening in a noisy pub someone was trying to get my attention by calling “Dave” and when that didn’t work they called “Andy” which I heard right away.
  7. My IRC nickname (Mossop) originated in college. There was a childrens TV show on at the time featuring extremely badly modelled puppets. Someone in my physics class claimed that I looked like one of them, the nickname stuck and I’ve been using it online ever since. One bonus is the name is so unusual that I mostly get away with using it wherever I go.

Now for the tags, hopefully many of these are new to the game:

  1. Myk Melez who always has something interesting to say and hasn’t blogged enough lately.
  2. Dave Mason who needs to get his blog syndicated on planet.
  3. Jeff Griffiths who has only recently started at Mozilla and needs to get his new blog syndicated on planet before he follows through on this.
  4. Blair McBride, my chief partner in coding for the grand Add-ons Manager redesign for Firefox 4.
  5. Daniel Holbert, his blog title makes me laugh and the second coming of this meme needs to branch out into other teams.
  6. John Ford, so he can get the build and release teams in on this.
  7. Philipp von Weitershausen, I can’t pronounce his last name and I’m sure he’ll tag lots of the new services guys.

 

Professional photographer for a day

A funny thing happened last weekend. I got to pretend to be a professional photographer and did a photo shoot. Ok it wasn’t highly paid (actually it wasn’t paid at all so technically I wasn’t professional!), but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

I had only just got my new camera (the Nikon D7000 for those interested) so this was my first chance to really play with it and as it happened my girlfriend needed some shots taken of t-shirts and things that her company were selling. Luckily her sister (who is ridiculously photogenic) was also in town and agreed to be a model.

Now to tell the truth I don’t think I’m a great people photographer, I tend to concentrate more on places and things, but I must say the new camera really made a world of difference to the kind of shots I can get of people. It took me a little while to get used to ordering my model around but by the end of the shoot I was almost convincing myself that I was acting like a pro.

It was only after I got the photos onto my laptop (which I had forgotten to take with me) to view at a decent size that I realised my fatal mistake. I had spent all of my time focused on the model, getting the framing and lighting right. Lots of things except the one I should have been focusing on, the t-shirts that were the whole point of the shoot! The goal was to show off the designs on the shirts and in a lit the designs were obscured either because of the angle of the picture or because the shirts were too rumpled.

Well you live and learn. It was an interesting experience and you can see some of the results on flickr. Thankfully many did come out well enough to be useful and it was kind of nice to play with photography in an entirely different setting to that that I’m used to.

Do I need a new camera?

It’s been about a year since I last went through this. The result of my last plea for help was a number of recommendations and I ended up buying the excellent Canon Powershot S90. It really is a great point and shoot and I think pretty much exactly what I needed at the time to help me learn a little more about photography. I always figured it would be good test to be able to play with and figure out whether I eventually needed to move onto something more. I guess the main thing that disappoints me a little about the S90 is its slow speed, it can only take about a shot a second in RAW. I often could do with something faster. Also while its low-light performance is better than anything I’ve ever used before it still isn’t as good as I’d like. I could certainly do with a longer optical zoom but that’d have to be combined with something that used faster shutter speeds I guess.

So I’m starting to get a little itch again, fueled by people talking about cameras across twitter all this morning and planning a honeymoon visiting an active volcano in Hawaii. So I’m starting to wonder if its time to look for something more, but I confess I don’t know whether a DSLR is really for me yet. I don’t know enough about lenses to really know what I’d be looking at right now and I’m pretty concerned that I’d just never actually carry a DSLR around enough to make it worthwhile. Micro 4:3 seems like a smaller yet still more powerful option but again I don’t really know what I’m looking at. What actually are the benefits of these over my point and shoot?

So I am asking my good friends of the internet to once again help me out. Should I look for something new or stick with what I have for now? Are there any good books that it might be worth reading to learn more about photography or is a learn-by-doing approach as I’ve been using for now the best way?

Sad news today

As I blogged yesterday, today Ripley got a CT scan and biopsy of the mass that is growing in her left shoulder. The biopsy results won’t be back for a few days but the CT results were really all that were needed to confirm our worst fears. Ripley has cancer and it’s large and aggressive.

We got to look at the CT scan and it was frankly terrifying how large this thing is. In certain cross sections it looked to be taking up a full third of her body and it curves all down her left side and up over the top of her spine. It was taking up the contrast solution they inject which means blood is running through it. This both increases the odds of it spreading and makes it much more difficult to remove. In short, there is basically nothing we can do at this point.

In one respect the diagnosis left me a little relieved. I had pretty much prepared myself for the bad news and at least we don’t have to make a horrible decision between paying lots of money for treatment which would could itself cause her a lot of suffering with an unknown chance of success.

Thankfully, at least right now, it doesn’t bother her at all aside from a slight limp. She is in no pain and is still active and playing. The doctors said though that we probably have a couple of weeks before it starts to effect her quality of life. All we can do is try to enjoy the time we have left with her and watch out for when she starts to be in too much discomfort. To that end we let her sleep off the drugs this afternoon and then curled up on the couch to watch a movie this evening, with a few drinks to help soften the reality.

[flickr]5329339616[/flickr]

Kontemplating Kitteh Katastrophe

Well that’s certainly a nicer way of saying that you’re trying to work out just how to decide how much money and trauma it is worth putting your cat through to keep her alive.

Just before we flew home for Christmas (yes, that flight) we spotted a small lump on Ripley’s left shoulder. We rushed her to the vet’s fearing the worst but they allayed our fears, finding it was just a blood filled space, likely the result of a trauma (though what we couldn’t fathom) and blood tests showed no irregularities. They said it should shrink over the course of a few weeks. We had to put her up at the boarders while we were travelling of course but we managed to put it out of our minds and have a good trip with family.

After we got back the lump was clearly larger than it had been before we left and so we rushed back to the vet to get a second look. They were very concerned, the lump was now feeling mostly solid and spread over a large area under her shoulder blade. Although tumors in cats this young are rare they can still happen for a number of reasons and though they weren’t sure they weren’t suggesting any other options really. They couldn’t do any further diagnosis there, we had to get a surgical consult. The surgeon had basically the same opinion but wanted to do some more tests before suggesting a treatment.

Tomorrow Ripley is booked to go in for a CT scan and a biopsy to try to give a final diagnosis. This will cost us around $2k and I have to admit to feeling very conflicted. I hate to say it but a part of me is questioning how much money I’d be willing to spend on getting her healthy. If $2k is just the diagnosis then I dread to think how much the treatment could be. To complicate matters we were considering giving Ripley away to a new family as she does not get along with our first cat and they are both basically stressed out while they are living under the same roof. How much money is it worth spending on a cat that you’re thinking of giving away anyway?

I love her very much and don’t want to lose her for any reason so it feels very callous of me to be thinking like this. I guess tomorrow we’ll get some answers and have some hard decisions to make.

Shooting fireworks on New Year’s Eve

There are many blog posts on the subject of how to best set up your camera to shoot fireworks but I was so surprised at just how well it worked out for me that I thought I’d add mine to the pile. Also I wanted to make sure I remembered what I did right and wrong here for next time I try. You’re going to need three things really:

  1. A camera that is up to the job. Perhaps surprisingly you don’t need a full SLR for this, but you do need something that will let you manually adjust the aperture, ISO and exposure times. Shooting in RAW is vastly preferably. I was using a Canon Powershot S90.
  2. A basic tripod. Exposure times will need to be long so you won’t be able to manually hold it steady and you’re shooting upwards so not much other than a tripod will do the job.
  3. Lots of luck. How much really depends on the fireworks display. The longer it is the more time you’ll have to refine your timing and aim. In my case our display was at home one with just 4 fireworks going off, ridiculously I managed to get the setup pretty much right first time.

The basic setup is straightforward. You want a small aperture, apparently somewhere in the range of f/8 to f/16 is golden, my camera limits at f/8 though so that is what I used. You want a fairly low ISO value too, I shot at 100. In an ideal world you’ll want a camera where you can manually hold the shutter open for however long it takes the firework to fire off. I didn’t have that though so instead I just manually set an exposure of 10 seconds which I figured was a long enough to capture a full rocket. Then set up on the tripod, point in the direction you think the firework will go and hope. Remember that fireworks go quite far and your camera will probably capture a decent area of the sky so chances are you’ll get it in frame, whether it is way off to one side is pretty much luck the first time though.

I was astounded though that the first shot I got was pretty much perfectly framed. I started the exposure on a 3 second timer triggered just after the fuse was lit. This meant the exposure started shortly before the rocket went off. In retrospect it might have been easier to just do a longer exposure, the timer adds an additional variable into the guesswork that is really unnecessary. Still I managed to capture the launch of the rocket and the initial explosion. A longer shot might have captured more of the explosion but then I’m pretty satisfied with what I got. This is after some additional processing (this is where shooting in RAW becomes really important):

[flickr]5313126321[/flickr]

Although with no processing at all the shot showed off the firework pretty well I found that when I turned up the fill light something surprising happened. I had been shooting through trees and when the firework went off all the trees got illuminated faintly with the red glow which the camera was able to pick up. It wasn’t just the trees though, rockets let off a lot of smoke as they fly and that too had been illuminated giving the final picture something that almost looked like an aurora. Frankly I’m continually surprised at how much light even my non-SLR camera is picking up and how much Lightroom can make use of it.

The next firework we let off was a Roman candle. These shoot for long bursts so maybe it would have been better to turn down the exposure length some but I wasn’t playing with any settings while I was shooting so my shots got multiple launches and explosions in a single exposure but this still got me a fantastic result. Again pushing up the fill light revealed the trees, looking even more ghostly this time:

[flickr]5313127389[/flickr]

The second Roman candle that went off I managed to capture twice. As well as triggering off a 3 second timer I had also set to take 3 consecutive shots. In this case that paid off with two different views of the same firework however for the others it mostly got in the way as it would keep shooting long after the firework was spent and we were waiting to set off the next. It didn’t help that with long exposures my camera has a serious delay between the end of one shot and starting the next making it pretty unlikely the second exposure will be worth much.

[flickr]5313721018[/flickr]

Slightly disappointingly I only got a glimpse of the second rocket we set off. For some reason its fuse took longer to burn and so my first shot just caught the streak of its launch but ended before it exploded and due to the delay between shots the second exposure saw nothing. Still technically I managed to capture all four fireworks that we launched and I ended up with four pretty good pictures which for a first attempt I am pretty proud of.

I was at a small personal display which both meant that there were very few chances to get things right and that I didn’t really have any time to look at the result of one shot to adjust my technique for the next. However on the up side there was just a single firework going off at a time, I could watch the fuse being lit and time my shot accordingly and the others were happy to wait between fireworks while my camera stopped taking shots. Considering that at the start I didn’t expect to really get anything I’m really happy with the results. Not sure when I’ll get the chance to try this again but even if I don’t hopefully some others will get some ideas from this.

British Airways ruined my Christmas

To be clear I don’t blame BA for having to cancel flights into Heathrow when the airport cannot run at full capacity. That is certainly not their fault, you can’t change the weather (though you could buy more snowploughs!). What annoys me is their incompetent response to the situation and then their attempts at being nice with fakey emails from the CEO.

I wanted to go and see my family for Christmas this year. We were booked on a direct flight from San Francisco to Heathrow that was due to leave about 4 hours from now but due to the snowstorms in the UK it has been cancelled. The first we heard about it was an email from my dad at 9:30am yesterday morning, he had been keeping track of the flight status better than us. I don’t understand this. They have my contact details so why wasn’t I the first to hear about the cancellation the moment it went up onto the website. In fact I finally got an email from BA about it at 3pm, at least five and a half hours after it went onto the website. The email contained this boldfaced lie:

We have sent you this information as quickly as possible by automated email and hope it reaches you in time to allow alternative arrangements to be made.

Who knows what our chances were of re-booking onto something sensible had we waited for that to arrive. Thankfully we had been working hard, talking to Egencia who we had booked through and looking up what options were open to us. The good news was that Heathrow wasn’t totally closed, just running slow so only a few flights were actually getting cancelled so there was still the possibility of getting home in time. Egencia were saying they couldn’t see any economy seats to book us onto before Christmas but there were some business class seats and maybe if we spoke to BA directly and made use of some of our miles for an upgrade we could get those. The problem is that we couldn’t get through to BA by phone. This afternoon I received a laughable email supposedly from BA’s CEO which had this to say:

Throughout this period of disruption we have extended our call centre opening times and added extra phone lines to deal with the 150,000 calls we’ve received

There is even a nice video of him saying how they have kept their call centres open 24 hours a day. That would be nice if true except every time we rang them yesterday we received a recorded message saying they were too busy and to try again later and then hanging up on us. Yes, they cancelled a bunch of people’s flights, told them they’d need to rebook, then shut down their phone lines and then released statements proudly announcing how they’d managed to keep their call centres open.

So we were running out of options but then we spotted that BA’s main site was still showing availability on a number of alternate flights albeit indirect ones. In particular a flight via LA was available and didn’t make much change to our flight times. We spoke to Egencia and they said they would try to get us on it (why they hadn’t seen it before I don’t know) but because it included one leg that wasn’t BA (SFO to LAX was run by one of their partners, American Airlines) they had to speak to BA to get approval to change our booking. BA being the kind-hearted souls eager to embody the true meaning of Christmas and help out their disrupted passengers denied the request. We couldn’t even just swap the SFO-LHR flight to the LAX-LHR flight. Apparently when Willie Walsh says “we have not been able to help all of our customers in the way that they, or we, would have liked” he means “we couldn’t be bothered to help customers take alternate routes home for Christmas because we were all outside having snowball fights”.

Eventually we got a new flight booked. We get to spend our Christmas evening in the air. We’ll finally get to my family on Boxing day evening, jetlagged and probably not feeling fantastically Christmassy. I guess it’s an exaggeration that Christmas is ruined, but this will be the first year that I haven’t been with my family on Christmas day, if it was just because of the snow then that’d be ok but BA had the opportunity to get us there with minimal disruption and they chose to refuse us that option.