Author Archives: Paul

About Paul

I'm the geek.

He’s doing it again…

Time having faded my memories of getting out of the water and being colder than I could ever remember, I’m doing the North East Skinny Dip again this year. There’s a sponsorship page here, if you should feel so inclined, but I’d much rather people just came along and joined in. Maybe we’ll get in the record books this year…

(P.S. This year’s charities are the National Trust and Mind.)

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Posted by on Sunday 8 September 2013 in Uncategorized


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Proper Stotties

After making the suspiciously healthy-looking wholemeal stotties last week, out of necessity rather than choice due to not having enough strong white flour, I decided I should do it properly and make some stotties that really looked like stotties.

Despite one small deviation from the recipe (you’re meant to rub margarine into the flour before adding the other ingredients; I forgot, and substituted some sunflower oil in with the liquid later instead), they seemed to have come out about right. Certainly recognisable as a stottie by anybody born within spitting distance of the Tyne!

The only thing they’re missing is being filled with some nice thick pieces of bacon and a few lumps of decent black pudding



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Posted by on Monday 29 April 2013 in Cooking


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Not quite fast enough

The next thing I needed to try was check whether the network was fast enough to watch HD content on the Raspberry Pi, direct from the NAS. These are linked via 85Mbps Homeplugs, which should be fast enough, but I don’t seem to be getting anywhere even a decent ‘real world’ speed, never mind the theoretical maximum. At the ‘client’ end, the Homeplug is plugged in to one side of a dual socket, the other side being used for an extension that provides mains power to a router, the TV, HTPC, DVD player, PS2, Wii, Freesat tuner… that lot probably generates a fair bit of noise. I’ll rearrange the connections so the Homeplug is more isolated, when I can work up the enthusiasm.

At first attempt, the video I tried to watch was stopping to buffer several times a minute; completely unwatchable. Then I realised that the old HTPC was still powered up, with a BitTorrent server running and who knows what else going on. Turning this off seemed to be enough to make the difference, bringing the occurrence of buffering down to about once every five or ten minutes. Not good enough for the all-important ‘spousal acceptance’, but I was willing to put up with it for one show.

These problems should be solved after the weekend, as there’s a set of 500AV Homeplugs turning up, which should be more than capable of providing the necessary bandwidth. And I’ll have to rearrange a load of wiring anyway, when my broadband connection gets moved to BT Infinity, so it’ll be a good opportunity to optimise the network connection.

I was also hoping to be able to use a remote control directly via the TV without needing an IR receiver, but the TV’s too old to support the necessary standard (CEC). (Sounds like a good enough reason to buy a new TV to me…) I’ve got a USB-UIRT lying around somewhere, that should do the trick…

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Posted by on Thursday 18 April 2013 in Geeky stuff


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It lives!

Well, that was ridiculously easy. I’ve had DVD players that were more complicated to get working than that.

I followed the straightforward instructions at the Raspbmc website to put the installer on an SD card, plugged it all together, and… magic!


The Raspberry Pi powered up and warned me to grab a coffee while it downloaded things. Raspbmc started downloading the latest versions of everything it needed, rebooted a few times to install stuff, then sat at the main configuration screen waiting for me to choose a language. It’s a good job I didn’t need a coffee, I wouldn’t have had time to get one.


Now, I’ve just got to work out how to control the thing. Took me longer to find a USB keyboard and mouse than everything else. I’ve already got it connecting to the NAS so I can play music and watch videos; photos don’t want to display for some reason, that needs further investigation.

Next steps are to play about with the network settings to get it running fast enough to watch HD content direct from the NAS, and figure out how to use an infra-red remote control (although I’ve already got it working with the Official XMBC Remote app on my Android phone, which will do for now).

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Posted by on Sunday 14 April 2013 in Geeky stuff


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Raspberry Pi Media Centre

Note to readers: if you normally read this blog for the things about travel to foreign parts, or stuff about cooking, you probably want to give this post a miss. Most of this is mainly intended to be a reminder of what I was trying to get working, rather than an entertaining read. You Have Been Warned.

The media centre PC in the lounge has been providing fairly faithful service for something like eight years now, but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth. I think it’s on its third hard disk, and probably fourth cooling fan, but it just hasn’t got the processing power to cope with anything more than standard resolution video, and I’d really like to be able to play HD content.

Also, I’ve recently got a NAS with some big fat hard disks, and it seemed to make sense to let this do all the work of downloading and storing content, and just have something in the lounge that would play the files without any other concerns.

Also also… I wanted an excuse to play with a Raspberry Pi, and this seemed like a good reason, and potentially a cheap solution. If it works, I can buy another one to stick in the bedroom for those times when we each want to watch something different.

The first step was to get the required hardware:

  • Raspberry Pi (obviously);
  • Suitable power supply (I’m sure I’ve got a spare USB charger lying around, but you can never have too many);
  • HDMI cable (I don’t have a spare. I’ve got lots of SCART cables now, but hardly anything uses that any more);
  • Box for the Pi (just a plain one; I’m hoping that it can just be tucked up behind the TV, out of the way);
  • SD cards (two: one for raspbmc, the other for “playing”).

This little lot arrived from RS last week (the SD cards were actually some bizarrely cheap special deal from PC World):

Doesn’t look like much, does it? You can get an idea of the scale from the charger and SD cards. I reckon you could just about fit one inside a packet of Cook’s Matches, which might make a nice ‘disguise’ for hiding one in a kitchen.

In theory, the next step is to copy the desired operating system on to the SD cards, plug it all together, and it should mostly Just Work. In practice… well, I’m not holding my breath.

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Posted by on Sunday 14 April 2013 in Geeky stuff


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I thought it was about time I tried making some stotties, something I’ve never tried baking before despite eating them on a semi-regular basis.

As an added complication, it turned out that I hardly had any strong white flour, so I had to make wholemeal stotties… sounds suspiciously healthy.


They certainly look like stotties; the real test will be what they’re like inside, but we’ll have to wait and see…

[Later in the week]

I’ve been eating stotties for my lunch every day, and they seem good to me; at least, they seem like wholemeal stotties should do, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one to compare it with.


Quite a dense texture, as you’d expect, but not too heavy that it’s hard work to eat. Must remember to get strong white flour before I try it again, and maybe some with a mixture of wholemeal and white.

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Posted by on Sunday 14 April 2013 in Cooking


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Christmas-ish Bread

As I needed to make some bread, I thought it would be a good excuse to try out a couple of my Christmas presents: a baguette tray and an oval banetton.

Rather than being fancy with the ingredients, I just used a straightforward dough: strong white flour, yeast, salt, and water. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Mix, knead, rise and knock-back a couple of times, then split the dough: half for the banetton, three sixths for the baguettes.

The baguettes were formed by just flattening and rolling up the dough. I wasn’t sure what the best way to form the bread for the banetton, so I went for the ‘stubby cylinder’ method from the River Cottage bread book: flatten, roll up, flatten, fold by thirds and flatten to a square, then roll up again.

Everything got a nice coating of rye flour, then left to prove before having the tops slashed and placed in the oven.

The results look pretty good, although I think I need more (or possibly deeper) cuts, especially for the loaf from the banetton. Not bad for the first go, though!



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Posted by on Sunday 6 January 2013 in Cooking, Uncategorized


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Old Man Patterson had a Farm…

After spending a long Saturday in the big city, I decided that Sunday needed to involve some fresh air and a bit of a walk.

I couldn’t be bothered getting in the car to go anywhere, and I already explored some of the nearest wildlife refuge whilst running, so the only alternative was Ardenwood Historic Farm, which is just the other side of the busy junction nearest the hotel.

After taking my life in my hands to negotiate the slightly-incomprehensible American pedestrian crossing system, I was on a nice quiet road through open fields of cabbages for the walk in to the farm. Apart from Mission Hills being very obvious in the background, I could have been in the English countryside.

I saw this little guy hopping around one of the trees. He wouldn’t quite keep still enough, close enough, for long enough to get a decent photo, but at least it was good enough to identify him later as one of the subspecies of Western Scrub Jay (not a Blue Jay, as I originally thought).

I also saw this slightly bigger bird, much further away. Some kind of buzzard, but I think buzzards in California tend to be Turkey Vultures, and this one looks like he’s got a feathered head… points awarded to the first person with an accurate identification.

One member of the local wildlife was much more photogenic, and seemed to be happy enough to pose while I got some decent pictures. I’m fairly sure he’s a Fox Squirrel, but I’m happy to be corrected if someone know better.

The farm was originally owned by a “forty-niner” who didn’t find gold in the hills, but made money from agriculture instead. It was passed down the family until being handed over to the City of Fremont in the 1970s, and is now operated as a working example of a turn-of-the-century farm.

The main farmhouse, which started life as something quite small, but had three different extensions added.

The farm has a collection of old tractors, the better examples being kept as a proper exhibit, the others being left to look unloved under a cover outside, where I found this Caterpillar with what I think is a Prairie Dog who’d made his home underneath. Cat… dog… see what I did there?

There are several animals on the farm, including chickens, goats, sheep… and cows. Of course, I had to have a photo of at least one cow, or I’d never be forgiven… (If you don’t understand why, don’t worry about it: it’s a family thing.)

This building is known as the Tankhouse. The top is a water tank, filled by a wind-powered well, and the two floors below it were used as a house.

The farm has a working railway, which you can ride on in some open carriages, giving a great view of the area of eucalyptus trees where tens of thousands of monarch butterflies come to spend the winter.

After all this walking around, and a run round the nature reserve, then a swim in the hotel pool and an all-too-brief lounge in the spa, I’d managed to work up a bit of an appetite… a good job too, as we decided on the Texas Roadhouse for dinner. You might not believe it, but we really tried not to order too much. The photos here only show the main course (yes, that’s steak and ribs on my plate, and a rather large beer next to it) and the dessert (Big Ol’ Brownie, and that’s pretty accurate). They don’t show the bottomless bucket of shell-on peanuts that are left on the table, the unlimited supply of bread, the combo starter that we shared, the rather large bowl of salad that was included… just when I thought I’d got rid of my “rice baby” bump after China, I think what I’ve got now can only be described as a “too-much-food bump”. I think I’ve put on a stone since I got here. December may need to involve a diet.

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Posted by on Sunday 25 November 2012 in California


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The Streets of San Francisco

Saturday was scheduled for our somewhat-postponed trip to San Francisco, now that we’d realised that you really did need to buy tickets in advance for Alcatraz, even out of season.

This has turned out to be a bit longer than I expected, so if you just want the executive summary, it goes like this: train, Alcatraz, beer, rain, food, Lombard Street, beer, beer, rain, wine, train, beer.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on Wednesday 21 November 2012 in California


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Geek Tour

After a big day out on Saturday, we didn’t want to go to far on Sunday. We needed to get lunch somewhere, so decided to pop across to Palo Alto, just on the other side of the Bay.

Palo Alto pretty much defines Silicon Valley, with most of the big Internet-related companies having at least an office there, if not their main headquarters. The first place you see once you get to the west side of the bridge is the big thumbs-up ‘Like’ sign outside facebook’s HQ.

Palo Alto seems to be much more civilised than the Newark and Fremont area on the west side of the Bay; it even has proper streets with shops and restaurants on them, rather than being a load of strip malls joined up with dual carriageways.

After a brief visit to the Apple store, where I was given some misinformation by one of the lower-ranked droids, we picked up some lunch from a fancy French-style pastry shop called Paris Baguette, then tried to decide where to eat it. Since I knew we weren’t far from Moffet Field, I thought it might be worth heading over there to see if NASA had a visitors centre, and we could perhaps get a closer look at Hangar One.

Unfortunately, “due to the unique way in which NASA is funded”, there is a visitors centre, but it’s not very big, and you certainly can’t get very close to Hangar One as a regular visitor. You get a much better view from the freeway, but you’re not allowed to stop there, so I had to content myself with wandering around near Moffet Rail Station (the best place we could find to park), and taking photos through the barbed wire fence like some kind of industrial spy.

As we were in the right sort of area, we thought we might as well continue doing some geek-style train-spotting. Next stop, then: Apple’s headquarters, at One Infinite Loop (geek humour). This was smaller, duller and  more corporate than we expected, but apparently they’re building some kind of new spaceship-style offices at a much larger site nearby.

After Apple, the only place we could go had to be Google. After a few missed turns, we eventually found some of the interesting bits of the (huge) Google campus. First interesting sight was the conference bike; I hope whoever’s steering doesn’t have to take minutes too! The appropriately-coloured Google bikes were parked all over the place, for employees to use to get between different parts of the campus. Then we spotted one of the most photo-worthy areas, the building where Android is “developed”, with models outside representing each release, each of which is code-named after a sweet or dessert: Cupcake, Donut (not in these pictures), Eclair, Froyo (frozen yoghurt, hidden behind Cupcake), Gingerbread (same barber as me), Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich, and Jelly Bean.

We thought about stopping at facebook for a photo on our way back to the hotel, but our mutual decision was ‘meh’. Although we did wonder if it would be possible to turn their thumbs-up sign upside-down…

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Posted by on Wednesday 14 November 2012 in California


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