Things that are neither here nor there.

I just finished The Farthest Shore, the third in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle. It is an ending of sorts, though there are a few more Earthsea books I’ll get to next. Though I enjoyed all of the Earthsea books, I think I like this one the best so far.

In The Farthest Shore, Earthsea is being sucked dry of life. Instead of this manifesting in nature, withering trees and that sort of thing, it is apparent in people’s behaviour towards each other and towards their professions. Though I’m not sure if she purposefully set out to do so, Le Guin paints an extraordinarily accurate picture of depression. She also demonstrates how dangerous and painful it can be to be exist without pride.

Ultimately, the deterioration of Earthsea has a single cause that is identifiable and fixable, with great effort and cost. Wouldn’t it be nice if the big problems we face in real-life were similarly solvable… Maybe they are.

So many passages in this book are worth remembering.

Ged giving counsel to a hypothetical king:

My lord, do nothing because it is righteous or praiseworthy or noble to do so; do nothing because it seems good to do so; do only that which you must do and which you cannot do in any other way.

Which is related somewhat to this part of the afterward, where Le Guin describes how she came to create Earthsea:

The poet Roethke said, “I learn by going where I have to go.” It is a sentence that has meant a great deal to me. Sometimes it tells me that by going where it is necessary for us to go, by following our own path, we learn our way through the world. Sometimes it tells me that we can only learn our way through the world by just starting out and going.

And Ged describing the way that a person’s actions can calcify their life:

When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are.

Reminds me of a very short bit from Bill Callahan in his recent Guardian interview, on how it is easy to forget about the importance of idleness when you are working and trying so very hard: “On your list of things to do, you don’t write: ‘Daydream’.”

Handwritten recipes by my paternal grandmother

My cousin kindly let me borrow my paternal grandmother’s cookbooks for the next few months until we meet again in August. One is a comb-bound cookbook assembled by the community of Worthington, OH. The other is more of a diary where she recorded her favourite recipes. I had NO idea that these books existed. I had always been told she didn’t keep track of her recipes, so this is pretty exciting.

It’s going to take a while to go through the cookbooks, so I took some rough photos of all of the spreads in case I don’t get through it all by the time I return them. It’s classic late 20th-century Midwestern fare. Most of the pages are dedicated to sweets of all sorts, and there are a fair few recipes that call for Velveeta cheese, Jello, or Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup. I’ll probably steer clear of the gelatine “salads” and sadly have to avoid the cheesiest of things, but I’m up for everything else!

I’ll share some of Nan-nan’s recipes in future notes as I try them.

Tuscan landscape from Borgo di Castelvecchio

This is the view north from Borgo di Castelvecchio in the Val d’Orcia. The poppies were blooming while we were there last weekend. We missed the last bus back to La Foce from our friends’ wedding and ended up walking back 4.8 miles in the early morning along the white roads and SP40. We saw lightning, shooting stars, a dead snake, and a few very lonely fireflies. I’d love to go back, particularly to eat and drink at Dopolavoro La Foce again.

This week has been absolute chaos. Good though! A few things to remember, and to follow up on.


I keep coming across Automate the Boring Stuff, and keep forgetting to look in to it. Python was the first language I learned back in college with Prof. Maxwell, so would be nice to revisit it.

Same thing with films like Idiocracy and The Skeleton Twins. Made a mental note to see them years ago and then promptly forgot, so I’m noting them here as an ever-so-slightly more effective reminder. Idiocracy seems particularly weird, on paper it should have been a huge hit but it got absolutely sidelined by Fox and was screened in the bare-minimum of theaters. The reviews are crazy mixed. Still, I’d like to see it.

Something I *have* watched recently on SB’s recommendation is the BBC’s Ghosts. It’s hilarious and completely charming, a lot of the same faces as the original Horrible Histories but a completely different format. I’d watch the whole thing again, hope they do another series.

Last weekend was Offprint book fair in the Turbine Hall at the Tate, and probably my last event with OP. It was nice to see a few familiar faces including the guys at Here Press. Richard Hollis did a talk to a full house on his newest book about Henry van de Velde followed by a book signing at OP’s table. It was nice to see him again. He was using a blue Uni-ball Air for the signing. I’m going to keep my eye out for that one in the stationery shops, it’s a ball point that writes like a fountain pen (line thickness varies with pressure, but very little risk of leaks). The price seems super reasonable, the web’s retail giant offers a three-pack for just under £5.

GC recommended The Mushroom at the End of the World, and if there’s anyone I trust to give me great book recommendations, it’s her. I’m just hoping it leans towards the glass-half-full end of things, I’m not sure I can take more pessimism right now.

I might have a little bit of downtime while travelling over the next few weeks. If I do, I’m hoping to spend a little time looking in to Commotion, “a free, open-source communication tool that uses wireless devices to create decentralized mesh networks”. Could use SiteSucker to grab all of the docs before I leave for offline reading. I came across Commotion for the first time via a link to Learn Networking Basics from Measurement Lab’s learning resources.

Big data? No thanks

Gandi published a long blog post titled “Mass manipulation and platform privacy: where we’re at”. It’s summarises some talks and Gandi’s perspective following a conference on “democracy in the face of cybersecurity threats”. I’d like to follow up on a few of the points from the post. I’d also like to find out what public educational efforts are under way. Surely someone is working on PSA-style messaging about the dangers of misinformation and how to identify it. It’s easy to be skeptical about that sort of thing, but it can stick. What’s the cyber-awareness version of “Only you can prevent forest fires” or “A slip of the lip will sink a ship”? James Bridle’s “Big data? No thanks” is related, but the version I’m talking about is more personal, about confronting your own confirmation bias. But not too ominous, also catchy and friendly? Tall order.

Every time I sit down on the tube I wonder about what other people see when they look at me, what they perceive about me precisely because they are *not* me. There is this slippery divide when it comes to understanding yourself. There are elements of yourself that you can never understand since it’s impossible to get outside your own head (one of the reasons that talking to someone else about a problem can be so helpful). There are other things about yourself that only you can ever understand, no matter how much time you spend attempting to express that thing. I have trouble articulating why this feels like a catch, but surely someone out there has tried. Just need to find them.

Front of a NemID card

Last Monday, I met with some friends at the Cock in Hackney. One of them had just returned from Copenhagen and mentioned having to sort out something related to his NemID. I’d never heard of it before.

Apparently NemID is a common login tool that Danish residents use to access online banking and services offered by public institutions. It’s a little credit card-sized booklet of 148 key pairs that you use alongside a user ID and a password. It’s like an analogue version of two-factor authentication. Each time you log in to something with NemID, the key pair you use is invalidated and is never used again. When you’ve used up all of your key pairs, you’re sent a new NemID booklet.

It seems like a great system. Unlike biometric data, it would be easy to replace if it were compromised. Unlike most other two-factor authentication methods, it doesn’t require an additional (usually smart) device of some sort.

There are downsides though. NemID is administered by a single organisation, Nets DanID A/S, and all of the data seems to be held in one place. This was a problem in 2013 when a DDoS attack knocked it offline temporarily. The oversight also seems pretty iffy, see this January 2016 blog article: “NemID is not cryptologically secure – and the authorities do not care”.

It’s also hard to say how this could be rolled out in countries with larger populations… Denmark’s population is around 5.7 million. That’s a bit more manageable than the UK (~ 66 million), Brazil (~ 209 million), or India (~ 1.3 billion).

Apparently NemID is going to be replaced by MitID in the next few years, so it will be interesting to see if the Danish government forces any changes to make the system less centralised.

And it makes me wonder (again) if something like Dark Crystal could ever work on a national scale.

We made some vermicelli (rice noodles) for dinner the other day and came across a recipe for seviyan kheer on the packet. I’d never heard of it. Since we had leftover noodles and wanted something sweet, I gave it a try following this seviyan kheer recipe on vegrecipesofindia.com. Differences: I omitted the almonds and rose petals, used oat milk, and fried the leftover, chopped-up cooked noodles instead of broken raw noodles. It was really tasty! A lot like rice pudding, but better IMO.

Raised wallpaper in Rebecca’s Flat at Raven Row, London

Saturday was an Agorama Server Co-op workshop day. A bunch of us spent the afternoon getting Homebase set up on various Raspberry Pis, a lot of trial and error! The main reference material we used was the README from Agorama’s ansible-raspberry-server repo, Agorama’s Dat Server Node Tutorial, and the brainpower of some of the more knowledgeable people present.

I learned a *lot* from the process and the people there, particularly Max, Ali, and Harry. I’m in the process of writing it all up in to a series of tutorials, will add it here.

Read tutorials

Falafel wrap with chili sauce, lettuce, cucumber, pickled onion, and hummus

We made falafel wraps for lunch today using this falafel recipe from BBC Good Food. It was a decent, simple recipe that I’d be happy to use again with a few caveats:

  • The title says “spicy” but there is no heat in it… might actually be good to add some cayenne next time
  • Use the softest canned chickpeas you can find; East End brand is the softest I’ve found in London (and super cheap)
  • Use all of the parsley, stems and all, and chop it super fine
  • Chop the onion very fine, and cook the onion and garlic in olive oil instead of veg oil
  • Add a good pinch of salt (it says “seasoning to taste” but it’s kind of easy to miss that)
  • Half a beaten egg is plenty, any more and it would be way too wet
  • Use two large-ish spoons to ease decently-sized dollops in to the pan since the mixture is too wet to shape in to patties

We had it with pickled red onions (red onions + red wine vinegar + sugar + salt), shredded lettuce, diced cucumber, yogurt, this hummus, and some leftover chili sauce from the best Turkish place in Leyton.

Maybe not quite up to the standard of the guys on Ridley Road Market, but pretty good! To get closer to theirs, we’d need a spicier chili sauce and more tangy pickles.

These blondies are sort of inspired by horchata. I wanted something that was dense and fudge-y, that could be cut small and still be a satisfying treat. A friend said they taste a lot like the gooey centre of a stroopwafel, which is pretty accurate. To get these closer to horchata it might be good to use a lighter sugar, and maybe use pepitas instead of pecans in the topping.


Cinnamon blondies

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F) and line a 20×20cm (8×8″) tray with parchment paper.

In a small pot, gently heat 250 g (1¼ c) light brown sugar, 113 g (½ c, 1 stick) butter, and a pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter) until the sugar is just dissolved. Let cool about 10 minutes.

While the sugar mixture is cooling, in a large bowl blend 95 g (¾ c) plain flour, 45 g (¼ c + 1 T) rice flour, and 2 t cinnamon.

Once the sugar mix has cooled, beat in 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture, blending just until incorporated.

Pour in to the prepared tin, then make the topping. In a small bowl, combine a small handful of pecans, crushed in to crumbs, a pinch of flakey sea salt, and a few tablespoons of Demerara sugar. Sprinkle the topping over the batter to cover.

Bake about 30 minutes at 175C (350F) until a skewer or toothpick comes out clean. Let cool mostly in the tin, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Cut in to roughly 2.5cm (1″) squares. Good with vanilla ice cream.