Don’t go to Bulgaria

13 November, 2012

Here’s the latest news on the Australian jailed for “murder with hooliganism” in Bulgaria.

I’ve followed this story since it started: basically, Jock Palfreeman was a naive young traveller who found himself targeted by gangs in Bulgaria, and took to carrying a knife in self defense. In a subsequent attack, a Bulgarian ended up dead. Palfreeman was railroaded – abused by the police, who crudely fudged the evidence, which was nonetheless accepted by the court in what I assume was a manner of habitual corruption. The reparation payment increasing at 15-20% per annum is another example of gross unfairness. Sadly, much of Eastern Europe is like this, though Bulgaria may be the worst: racist, corrupt, brutal, dishonest, a 3rd world country with 1st world tech. I wouldn’t go there without a humvee convoy for backup.

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)

Potatoes and poisons

21 July, 2008

Idly thinking about gardening, and hoping to have the opportunity, if I can move to a suitable living situation, has led me to wonder about potatoes.

A friend surprised me a few years ago by opining that potatoes that were green, or had “eyes”, were poisonous and should be discarded. Well, if they were that bad I’d be dead several times over. Of course, I don’t actually eat the eyes, and generally peel potatoes that have gone green.

It turns out this is correct – potatoes that have aged, or been exposed to light, or temperature extremes, secrete neurotoxic Glycoalkaloids, and in particular solanine, in their skin and leaves. This is more dangerous to children than adults.

Googling reveals that some people eat raw potato in small amounts, or take its juice for (alternative) medicinal reasons. However, when potato starch is digested raw, it ferments in the bowel, and in significant quantities causes painful abdominal cramps and acute flatulence.

These factors in combination may explain why Europeans thought of potatoes as inedible for many years.

So it would be safest to peel and cook all potatoes before eating. If you are a gardener, you can try burying the peel eye-side up to grow your own potatoes! To do this, it’s best to peel with a knife, so there’s a good chunk of potato to sustain the new growth.

Note: I haven’t actually seen this much-hyped opus from wunderkind Nolan. But I’ve seen the publicity clips and heard a lot of the fanboy and critical praise. The problem I have with superhero films in general is their unbelievability, their tendency toward cliche, and their overwhelming urge to be “cool”. The first X-Men movie is the best I’ve seen in circumventing these problems, but the sequels got too much into goggling at cool costumes and awesome powers (and terrible acting from Halle Berry).

Batman is exceptional in the world of superheroes for having no magical or science-fictional powers. Okay, there are a few others, but they haven’t had one hundredth of the impact. Batman went several better than The Shadow in combining hard-boiled crime fighting with Gothic mood-setting, a sort of Phantom of the Opera burst out onto the dirty streets of the modern city. His portrayal has varied quite a bit over his history, from the primitive gun-wielding Bat-Man of the 1940s, through the cartoonish antics of the 50s and 60s, the noir-ish naturalism of the 70s and 80s, and the angsty kill-fest of subsequent years, famously kickstarted by Frank Miller and Alan Moore.

For me, the 70s and 80s are key. Firstly, because that’s the period I grew up reading, but secondly, and more importantly, because of that key word “naturalism“. Burton’s Gothic camp joined with the over-emotiveness of the Miller/Moore period to shape the current public image and expectation of Batman. However, I think what is most interesting and original about Batman is not his position as operatic super-hero, but the implications of his backstory, the basic elements that make him different from all the other adolescent fantasy figures.

What if a rich guy was screwed-up and crazy enough to spend his nights wearing a mask, trying to “stop crime”? (Never mind that crime is such a pervasive and far-ranging phenomenon that such an enterprise would be doomed from the start.) What would that look like? You can be damn sure it wouldn’t be the carnival show Nolan has staged, which, for all the hype, is a direct heir to Burton’s series and successors in terms of campness, and perhaps even worse in terms of childishness. (No, kids, violence does not automatically make for adult entertainment, if you consider what we actually mean by the word “adult” in its best and fullest sense.)

Another thing that I dislike about the Batman movies is the double- or even triple-teaming of villains. I think only Burton’s first film avoided this foolishness (but on the other hand it included songs by Prince, which is also pretty damning). Surely the drama of the story is diluted if Batman, a somewhat unbelievable figure already, is confronted by not one but several costumed grotesques, each with their own unrelated origin stories and personal issues. In conflict with one villain, Batman’s story has a Manichean quality that sustains its credibility, but if it’s “Batman versus the ultimate evil: the Joker – plus, also, the quite-nearly-as-villainous Twoface, who appears later in the show”, it descends to the circus level of the old Universal horrors, which sought to be “even better” by piling half-a-dozen villains into a picture. Those films are now regarded as trash, whose only value is nostalgia or camp. That will be the fate of the Batman movies too, Nolan’s included, until someone really has the courage to resist the worst fanboyisms of the comicbook culture, and make a film that is genuinely gritty, dark and real.

Terrible fan-fiction is compulsive:

Harry potter was on the interstate in LA dricing his cool 60s convertable and looking out at the dirty city of angels. it was getting dark and neon lights lit up the roadslike crazy colonoscopys by a crazy man.Its anuther tough day inn the city thought harry surly But

then he saw her its that girl!!!!!!! he shouted and truned and rode the car up on the sidewalk in alarm. Stopp!!! thje orlock hasd the flame of vengaence and used it to stop harry there, he was frosen and the girl cried out to save me!!! but harry he was better and used a spell his froend from school has found, that ina secret book staircaseand the baddy guy came all alight and screamed and smoke up into the sky and wirling clouds and thunder and the girl sauid I am safe now thank you harry potter, and then she BJD him to say thks.


13 June, 2008

Have you ever been so consistently sleep-deprived that you experienced dizzy spells while sitting at your desk? And this morning I had to get up early because I just couldn’t get back to sleep. I don’t think this will end well….