Okay, here’s where I willingly forfeit all credibility:

There’s nothing wrong with instant coffee. In fact, on average, it’s as good as “real” coffee.

I have had some mediocre-to-bad “real” coffees, including one memorable cup of gritty, oily swill which I refused to finish. Even drinkable “real” coffee is often somehow plasticy in taste to me. Is this what happens when coffee-snobs freeze their coffee to preserve its freshness? (My understanding is it actually ruins the coffee by changing the structure of the oils.)

There are some mediocre instants, of course. The worst I’ve had was Pablo, which was quite thin and sour. The “upmarket” instants are usually not as good as the generics. I think this is partly due to the granulated form which they impose to make the stuff look more authentic. In fact, instant coffee is coffee beans, cooked and ground to a dry powder. To granulate it may require a coagulant, which might alter the flavour.

Another thing to remember is that instant coffee should be made with water that is hot BUT NOT BOILING. Boiling overcooks the oils and changes the flavour. Otherwise, instant coffee is simply a brew made from roasted coffee beans – in other words, it’s coffee.

Perhaps you should take the above with a pinch of salt, though, as what inspired me to write on this topic was this: tonight I tried dry instant coffee powder for the first time. I’ve read about straight instant coffee being used in the military, and by students, and lately I’ve been annoyed by the extra minutes taken in the morning by the need to prepare and then drink my morning mug. So I stuck the teaspoon in the can, took out a medium size helping, and put it in my mouth.

I had wondered about how instant coffee could be swallowed, since it’s a dry powder – woud it stick to my mouth in an unshiftable film? Also, of course, I worried about the taste. Coffee is famously bitter – would pure coffee be “too much”?

Taste: I drink black coffee, with a little sweetener to take the edge off, and actually I found the powder no more bitter than the usual experience. More interestingly, the flavour had a bit more richness and complexity than the diluted form. It was not unpleasant; I didn’t go “Ick!” and instantly reach for the water. OTOH, I admit it’s not something I want stuck in my mouth for the rest of my life.

Dryness: It was not nearly as bad as I expected. The powder absorbed my saliva to become a paste not unpleasant in texture. A couple of swilled sips of water washed it down easily. There is a slightly deadened aftertaste in the centre of my tongue which I imagine would get a bit unpleasant if I did this frequently.

Caffeine: Well, I’m awake, aren’t I?

So, to sum up: The bad image of instant coffee is just that, an image. And taking the powder straight is doable, and indeed not unpleasant!

EDIT: I’m not sure if this is psychosomatic, but it does seem that eating coffee results in less efficient caffeine absorbtion. If I eat the same number of spoonfuls I would ordinarily put into a coffee drink, I do seem to end up with less of a buzz. Something to bear in mind.


I last took this test years ago, when it was on a different site, but my result hasn’t changed, right down to the equal bard-thief ranking. In the detailed stats, it’s nice to see I am not at all evil. 🙂

I Am A: True Neutral Gnome Thief Bard

True Neutral characters are very rare. They believe that balance is the most important thing, and will not side with any other force. They will do whatever is necessary to preserve that balance, even if it means switching allegiances suddenly.

Gnomes are also short, like dwarves, but much skinnier. They have no beards, and are very inclined towards technology, although they have been known to dabble in magic, too. They tend to be fun-loving and fond of jokes and humor. Some gnomes live underground, and some live in cities and villages. They are very tolerant of other races, and are generally well-liked, though occasionally considered frivolous.

Primary Class:
Thieves are the most roguish of the classes. They are sneaky and nimble-fingered, and have skills with traps and locks. While not all use these skills for burglary, that is a common occupation of this class.

Secondary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Callarduran Smoothhands is the True Neutral gnomish god of stone, the underground, and mining. He is also known as the Deep Brother and the Master of Stone. His followers enjoy mining – especially for rubies. Their favorite weapon is the battleaxe.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Detailed Results:

Lawful Good —– X (1)
Neutral Good —- XX (2)
Chaotic Good —- XXX (3)
Lawful Neutral — XXXX (4)
True Neutral —- XXXXXXX (7)
Chaotic Neutral – XX (2)
Lawful Evil —– (0)
Neutral Evil —- (0)
Chaotic Evil —- (0)

Human —- XX (2)
Half-Elf – X (1)
Elf —— XXX (3)
Halfling – (-2)
Dwarf —- (0)
Half-Orc – (-4)
Gnome —- XXXX (4)

Fighter – (-6)
Ranger — (-2)
Paladin – (-5)
Cleric — (-6)
Mage —- XXXX (4)
Druid — (-1)
Thief — XXXXXXXXX (9)
Bard —- XXXXXXXXX (9)
Monk —- XX (2)

I’ve read this complaint in a few places; I’m not sure if it’s the opinion of several different people or just one nut who gets around a lot. Basically, some people get very self-righteous about novels, movies, etc. that disobey the vampire “rules”: vampires should not go out in daylight! Vampires should be allergic to garlic! Vampires should not sparkle!!!!!!!!!!ONE

The first argument against this attitude is that we are not talking about the laws of physics here, but about fictional, magical beings. It doesn’t make a vampire less believable to say they can walk in daylight than it does to say they live on human blood. All that is required is for the story to be internally consistent.

The second problem is the supposition that artists should subordinate their imagination to the rule of an external judge. That’s a sure way to kill creativity, especially if the imposed standards are essentially arbitrary.

The fact is that most conventions of vampire fiction were invented by writers over the last couple of centuries (as opposed to coming from folklore), and many are silly or at least outdated: Fear of crucifixes makes little sense in our irreligious age. And are you going to demand that vampires not be able to cross running water? In that case, that’ll pretty much put an end to the genre, thanks to modern plumbing and drainage. And then there is the lore that vampires have numeromania and if you throw a handful of wheat the vamp must stop to count the grains – a story that consistently enforced that rule would be a comedy, not a horror.

The best thing is to judge a work by its success or failure in dramatic terms, not by its adherence to formulaic rules. So I have no problem with any variation on the vampire myths. Sparkly vamps aren’t personally my thing, but whatever floats your boat is fine by me.


Bound to be controversial 😀

En dash versus em dash

The en dash is wider than the hyphen but not as wide as the em dash. An em width is defined as the point size of the currently used font, since the M character is not always the width of the point size. In running text, various dash conventions are employed: an em dash—like so—or a spaced em dash — like so — or a spaced en dash – like so – can be seen in contemporary publications.

Various style guides and national varieties of languages prescribe different guidance on dashes. Dashes have been cited as being treated differently in the US and the UK, with the former preferring the use of an em-dash with no additional spacing, and the latter preferring a spaced en-dash. As an example of the US style, The Chicago Manual of Style still recommends unspaced em dashes. Style guides outside of the US tend to diverge from this guidance. For example, the Canadian The Elements of Typographic Style recommends the spaced en dash – like so – and argues that the length and visual magnitude of an em dash “belongs to the padded and corseted aesthetic of Victorian typography.” In the United Kingdom, the spaced en dash is the house style for certain major publishers, including the Penguin Group, the Cambridge University Press, and Routledge. But this convention is not universal. The Oxford Guide to Style (2002, section 5.10.10) acknowledges that the spaced en dash is used by “other British publishers”, but states that the Oxford University Press—like “most US publishers”—uses the unspaced em dash.

The en dash—always with spaces in running text—and the spaced em dash both have a certain technical advantage over the un-spaced em dash. …


As Australia tends to British rather than US customs – and there is a monopoly that essentially prohibits retailers from importing US books – I recall seeing the m-dash on the printed page only once in my life. It looked very strange to me. I still don’t like it – rather than separating words, it seems to draw them together like an extended hyphen. It also seems visually less “airy” than the UK format, somehow more oppressive on the eye.

The m-dash is rarely seen on the internet, except on websites of certain highbrow US magazines, used in an effort to duplicate the look of the printed version. The n-dash might appear then to have won – except that it is very often (almost always?) substituted with the hyphen, which is easier to type. Deceptively, WordPress is smart enough to understand my usage and correct it as required.

Revisited two outliers from the Alien universe:

Alien Resurrection DVD cover

It’s interesting to think about why the later films are less successful than the first two. The first two are thematically very basic, 1. Old Dark House, 2. War movie. Any moral ambivalence lies in the human shenanigans.

The later two films tried to go deeper, in a way Hollywood isn’t set up to bring off. 3 is about acceptance of death (symbolised by the Alien), with the planet location being purgatory/hell. I basically like it, and it’s on my list of films to re-edit.

4 – they never quite figured it out. The overall plot motivation seems to be “We want another Alien movie.” There are ideas about the merging and crossing over of alien and human identities, but these are dropped into the plot sporadically, in amongst the action set-pieces and humorous interludes. The humour generally undermines the tone of the movie, and seems to be the film-maker winking at us, rather than something emerging naturally from the characters (as in the previous films). Weaver plays the human/alien hybrid character with a lot of smirking and artificial gestures, and is not particularly believable. Also, one thing that really bugs me, and always has, is Ripley providing a mercy killing – with a flame thrower! Surely a bullet to the head would have been kinder?

Thinking on the deceptive simplicity of the first two Alien films, I dug out my copy of

Alien vs. Predator DVD cover

In terms of achieving its aims, this is a much more successful film than Resurrection. I just wish there had been more grandiosity and sense of plot direction in the later part of the pyramid section. In comparison with the earlier film, we could say this one is a tasty take-out burger, while Resurrection is a high-grade steak that is half raw, half burned to a crisp.

Next up, another viewing of Pitch Black, which David Twohy developed from his proposal for an Alien sequel set on the creature’s homeworld.


It occurred to me recently that the moral sense and the aesthetic sense might be related, or possibly even be the exact same thing.

Experiments with infants have shown (debatably) that the “fairness instinct” is indeed inborn. Somehow from this simple base all the diverse and mutually loathing moral systems of the world are grown. We disagree about what may be called right, or wrong, but either way we sure feel strongly about it, because it’s in our genes.

Now look for example at internet forums, where matters as trivial and unprovable as the validity of a musical interpretation can stir us to righteous fury. It is an aesthetic issue, but it can stir emotions as strong as any political or religious debate. It is in fact a moral response.

If we accept this premise, where does it take us? Well, for a start it validates moral relativism. (I mean that in a philosophical sense, not a prescriptive sense.) It also suggests new methods of social influence. We already use aesthetic considerations to influence moral judgements, e.g. calling someone “crooked” or “dirty”. Possibly this approach could also work the other way. For instance, if the populace is exercised by a political issue, they might be diverted from action by a related aesthetic issue, e.g. a debate over the design for a new flag.

Possibly this idea has been developed before, and by someone with more substantial credentials than mine. But I’m less interested in producing material for a thesis, more in developing better tools for understanding human thought and behaviour.

Somehow this is so telling. A WordPress blog called “People are Garbage” has one “Hello world!” entry (full text: “Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!”) – and 316 comments consisting entirely of robospam.