For almost 15 years I have used 123-reg to host my website.  I started off with a simple static html website which I hand-coded in 2004.  Then I moved to a wordpress website with a 123-reg virtual server.  After that I moved to a 123-reg dedicated server, and this is the solution that I settled on for about 5 years.

I have previously been satisfied with the support and service of 123-reg, and would have recommended them, but lately I have unfortunately had cause for complaint in multiple areas and despite my best efforts I was unable to come to a satisfactory resolution with their support team.

Server Move

For this reason I have taken the brave decision to run my own server at home, and host my simple website from there.

I have purchased a HP proliant server and over the past few weeks I’ve been learning a lot about how to set it up.
I have transferred brianhoskins.uk to this new server.  It’s currently working, but there are significant teething troubles.

Outdated theme

I am using a custom child-theme which I wrote myself.  The parent is the standard wordpress twentyten theme, so that should give you some idea about how old it is!
I have noticed that recent wordpress updates have started to break functionality in my old child-theme, so it’s time to reinvent it.

It will take me a while to write a new theme.  In the meantime the site still has all my old posts but the rendering is somewhat unsatisfactory!
I could use a pre-written theme, and perhaps I’ll look into that, but based on previous experience I don’t feel confident that I’ll find something that does exactly what I’d like.  So I think I’ll end up doing another custom child-theme.

On the upside, the effort should generate fodder for new posts.  I have been meaning to sharpen my php, anyway.

Happy programming!

** Update 2018-06-24 **

My dated custom child-theme, based off wordpress twenty-ten, was performing so poorly that I felt I should simply switch to a default wordpress theme immediately and worry about putting my own modifications to it as a new child-theme later on.  So now I am running on the twenty-seventeen theme.

Flashing CyanogenMod onto Galaxy SII via Ubuntu


Install Heimdall

Visit the Heimdall home page, select “Linux”, and download the package for your distribution.  On Ubuntu variants you want the latest ‘.deb’ package.  e.g.:


Note that the “Frontend” packages are not required.  Everything can be done easily from the command line.

Install Heimdall using dpkg:

sudo dpkg -i ubuntu13.04-heimdall_1.4.0-0_amd64.deb

Install adb

Install adb from the Ubuntu repositories:

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb

sudo apt-get install android-tools-fastboot

Download ClockworkMod Recovery

Download ClockWordMod Recovery for the Galaxy SII (i9100).  I got it from here.

Download CyanogenMod

Download a compatible version of CyanogenMod for your handset.  You can get it here.

My personal preference is to stick with CM11 (Android 4.x) on the Galaxy SII.  CM12 (Android 5.x) is available too but it’s an old handset now so you need to consider if it’s ideally suited to the newer versions of Android.  CM11 runs really fast on it, so I prefer that.

Download GAPPS

Normally the best place to get GAPPS (Google Applications; Play Store etc) is via OpenGAPPS.  But in my experience the packages provided by OpenGapps are too large for the Galaxy SII.  If you took my advice to install CM11, then you need GAPPS version gapps-kk-20140105-signed.zip, provided here.  This one is small enough to install successfully.

Flash Custom Recovery onto the Galaxy SII

With the handset turned OFF, place it into “Download Mode” by holding VOLUME-DOWN, HOME & POWER.
You should see a screen which looks like this:


Press ‘VOLUME-UP’ to confirm and then you should see the Download Mode screen:


Connect the handset to your computer via USB.

Now, on your computer, browse to the location where you downloaded the CWM package (see Pr-Requisites section).  Extract it.  It should come out as a filename called “zImage”.  If what you get is named something a bit different don’t worry, just take account for that in the terminal command you’re going to enter next…

Open a terminal and ‘cd’ to the directory where the CWM package was extracted.  Then enter the following command:

sudo heimdall flash --KERNEL zImage --no-reboot

You should see a blue transfer bar appear on the handset download screen.  The transfer is complete when the blue bar has filled, as shown in the photo below.


IMPORTANT – Boot into Recovery Next

This next bit is a little important; you need to boot into the custom recovery you just installed next, before you do anything else.  If you don’t, the stock recovery might overwrite CWM.  The consequences of this are minimal; you’ll just have to start again! But to avoid this, boot into recovery as follows:

  • Disconnect your USB cable from the handset.
  • Turn the handset OFF by holding the POWER button.
  • Boot into CWM by holding VOLUME-UP, HOME & POWER.

You should see a screen like this:


  • Now, using the VOLUME buttons select “wipe data/factory reset”
  • Press POWER to enter.
  • Select “Yes – Wipe all factory user data”
  • Press POWER to enter.

If factory wipe is successful you will be returned to the main menu.

Flash CyanogenMod

Now for the cool bits.  Connect your handset back to the computer via USB.
Open a terminal and ‘cd’ to the location where you downloaded the CyanogenMod zip file.  Don’t extract the zip! We’re going to transfer it as-is to the handset and then the handset will extract it and install.

At the handset, use the VOLUME buttons to select “install zip” and then press POWER to enter.
Select “install zip from sideload” and select.

At the handset you should see a message confirming that sideload has started.  Using adb, you need to transfer the CyanogenMod zip file using a terminal command as follows:

adb sideload cm-11-20141115-SNAPSHOT-M12-i9100.zip

Adjust the command to suit the filename of the ClockworkMod you downloaded.

You should see some information in the terminal to confirm that the file is being transferred.  When it’s done, the handset will attempt to install the update, and you’ll see a screen similar to below.


Unfortunately you don’t get any obvious confirmation that it completed at the handset.  But one way to tell is to try the menu selection; if you have control of the menu using the VOLUME keys, it has finished.

Install GAPPS

This next bit is optional (maybe you don’t want any standard Google Apps on the handset) but without it you won’t be able to use the Play Store.

Using the same method as you used to transfer and flash CyanogenMod, ‘cd’ to the location where you downloaded the GAPPS package (see Pr-Requisites) and then enter the zip sideload function on the handset.  When ready, use adb to transfer and install GAPPS:

adb sideload gapps-kk-20140105-signed.zip

If the process fails you’ll be informed about it.  Otherwise, if you haven’t been shown any errors on the handset and you have control of the menu, it’s finished.

DONE! Reboot

That’s it! You’re done.  Use the menu to select “Reboot” and enjoy CyanogenMod on the Galaxy SII.
Note that boot-up will take longer the first time as the handset will install and set itself up.



The ‘Sexist’ Assumption

I came across this blog post, which claims to discuss sexism in the work place. The post centres around a bar owner (Jordan Gleason) who, fed-up with the “sexist” attitudes of some of his male customers towards his female employees, decides to take a stand and ban them.

I read the post and I find myself in total agreement with Jordan’s disgust at the behaviour of these particular male customers. And “good on him”, I say, for taking a stand against these people and barring them from his establishment. Such abhorrent behaviour should be fought wherever it is found, and I celebrate it all the more in this case because Jordan stood up to his own customers even though it meant turning down present and future business. That’s not a trivial decision for a small business to make. I applaud someone who stands up for important principals first, and matters of business second.

I do have a problem with Jordan’s post, though: I don’t agree that the behaviour of the men can be attributed to “sexism”.

The Behaviour.

First of all, I wanted to talk about the behaviour.  Here is a summarised version of what the male customers did:

  • Made lewd comments directly to female members of staff about their breasts.
  • Made similar lewd comments directly to the female staff about them bending over.
  • Attempted to defend his own comments based on what the female staff were wearing.

Of course, any reasonable person – men included – would agree that this behaviour is inappropriate, despicable, rude, lewd, and maybe even abhorrent as well.  For me personally, the behaviour became “abhorrent” (which I reserve for particularly disgraceful behaviour), at the point that the men – when challenged – chose to put the blame on to the very women they targeted and insulted.
A person who does something extremely distasteful, but is able when challenged to appreciate what they did; that’s one thing.  But a person who somehow manages to believe that the victim is to blame for the behaviour they themselves perpetrated… that’s something far more serious.

So yes, “abhorrent”.  I stand by it.


So I agree with rude, lewd, disgraceful, abhorrent, and many other negative names people would use to describe it.
I don’t agree with “sexist”, which is what Jordan primarily uses to describe the men’s behaviour.

First, I’ll quote a definition of “Sexism”, from Wikipedia:

Sexism or gender discrimination is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. Sexism can affect any gender, but it is particularly documented as affecting women and girls.

OK, so sexism is about discrimination based on gender.  And to be totally clear, it is necessary to describe ‘discrimination’:

Discrimination is everywhere.  We all undoubtedly experience it multiples times every single day.  Discrimination is just a fact of life.
Many instances of discrimination are unwelcome in our lives, but just because discrimination is unwelcome – or even hurtful – doesn’t necessarily mean it is considered “unfair”.  Not all discrimination is considered equal in our society, and for good reason.  Here are some examples of fair discrimination:

“Fair” discrimination, welcome & unwelcome:

  • A boss interviews candidates for a job, and selects the person she feels is the best suited for the position.  You didn’t make it.
  • You ask a woman to go out on a date, but she doesn’t want to because she would rather go on a date with someone else.
  • You are picked first for your community football team.  Someone in the line gets picked last.  Others don’t get picked at all.
  • Your boss needs someone to negotiate with a customer.  He values you as an employee, but he thinks your colleague is better suited for this particular task.

These are all examples of fair scenarios in which you are discriminated against.  Notice that “fair” doesn’t mean “nice”.  We’ve all been on the wrong end of fair discrimination.  At the end of the day, it’s life.

There are some types of discrimination that we, as a society, have deemed to be “unfair”.  Most of these (particularly those regulated by law) relate to matters of the workplace, but there are examples to be found outside of the workplace as well.

  • It’s unfair to select a candidate for promotion based on gender.
  • It’s unfair to sack someone because you find out they are homosexual.
  • It’s considered unfair, and increasingly frowned upon, to deny children certain interests based on gender.

So we – as a society – have ring-fenced certain types of discrimination and decided it’s not fairand that people who are found to be engaging in unfair discrimination shall be held to account.  Sexism is an example of this.  Most people would agree that this is a positive thing in our society.

How does this apply to the lewd comments?

And here is my problem.  A man makes some lewd comments towards a woman.  I recognise this behaviour as despicable and wrong, of course.  I would also agree that his comments were sexually motivated.  But sexually motivated behaviour is not the same thing as sexism.  Sexism is unfair discrimination directly applied to gender.  Where is the gender discrimination here? Can I say he discriminated based on gender because he made lewd comments to the female staff but not the male staff?
So the guy is a pig if he does it to both genders but he’s a sexist pig if he does it to one gender? I would say no.  I don’t think that’s in the spirit of what gender discrimination stands for.

My Conclusion

I think these men are examples of pigs.  And it’s great that someone took a stand against it.  There isn’t anything “sexist” about it.  The behaviour was sexually motivated, sure.  But that’s something different to sexism, in my view.




New Car! MG TF

Both sides of the story


This is a truly horrific and very sad episode that has been told to us. But am I the only one who feels sad for both sides of this terrible story?

Yes, this boy acted horrifically. More horrific than can possibly be written down because there are no words to properly articulate it – it’s true. And yes it was cowardly, and wicked, and evil. All of those things, and more.

When you were young, did you ever think about what you wanted to be when you grew up? We all did that, right? I wanted to be an Astronaut, and a Scientist, and an Engineer. I pretended to be these things on the playground. You maybe wanted to be like that too, or be a famous singer, or a great speaker, or a racing car driver. We all had aspirations even as young children.
What do you think this person’s aspirations were? Do you think he ever said to himself, when he was a young boy:

“When I grow up, I want to be a coward and a murderer”

No, I think it’s fair to say he almost certainly didn’t think like that. So somewhere along the line, between the time when he was just an innocent boy and when he started to develop and became an adolescent, something went wrong for him. And now this is the _78717633_annmaguireresult; an innocent teacher who died in horrific circumstances and left behind a family that will never recover. And a young boy who will be forever brandished a wicked murderer and spend many decades – the entirety of his youth – and perhaps even the entirety of his life, in jail.

I feel sorry for the victims first, of course. But I keep some sorrow for a young boy who probably had innocent aspirations for life, the same as you and me, and then something went horribly wrong.



The Correct Pronunciation of “Geocache”

I’ve often been told that I pronounce the word “geocache” incorrectly.  Everyone else I have come into contact with pronounces it ‘geo-cash’.  The same pronunciation is used for the word cache on its own; everyone else seems to pronounce it ‘cash’.
Personally, I pronounce the word “cache” as ‘cay-shh‘.  And that’s because I’m right and all of you are plain WRONG.  Here’s why:

In english, words that end with an e and and have a letter ‘a’ in them are pronounced with the ‘a’ pronounced like a capital ‘A’.  Here is a link to more info.  Here are some examples:


There are a few exceptions, but only for words that did not originate in English.  A good example of this is:


Here we pronounce it ‘ca-ff-ey‘.  That’s because the correct French pronunciation is ‘ca-ff-ey‘.  So cafe is an exception only because it’s not an English word.

So what about ‘cache‘ then, is that not a French word too? Yes it is.  But the correct French pronunciation is ‘ca-sh-ee‘, not ‘cash’.


  • If you’re going to use the correct French pronunciation of the word, please change your current pronunciation ‘cash’ to ‘ca-sh-ee’ or stop telling me I pronounce it wrong.
  • If you’re not going to use the correct French pronunciation, and instead treat it as an English word, then please change your current pronunciation ‘cash’ to the correct English pronunciation ‘cay-shh’ or stop telling me I pronounce it wrong.
  • If you continue to use ‘cash’ as your pronunciation then you’re just plain wrong whether you consider French or English pronunciation.  You’re in no man’s land!


Is Ebay worth it?

Recently I decided to sell my Xbox 360 console on Ebay.  I never use it, so it just sits there gathering dust and taking up precious space.  Meanwhile, its resale value is constantly dwindling.  In a few years a used Xbox 360 console will probably be equivalent to junk, such is the state of our throw away society.  You’d have to pay someone to take it off your hands, so that it can be shipped to China and placed on a landfill site.
So getting rid of it now, while it can still pay me back some cash, makes perfect sense.

This is the problem that Ebay tries to solve for us.  Using its extensive community of users, and coupled to its Paypal monopoly, it allows us to convert unwanted used items from door stoppers into hard cash.  The reason this makes business sense for them is that they charge sellers a percentage of each sale.  And with millions of transactions every single day, Ebay make a handsome profit indeed.

So what does this mean for a simple games console sale? Here’s how my transaction worked out:

I placed my used Xbox console on Ebay as an auction but with a “Buy It Now” price of £50.  The item was snapped up quickly using the Buy it Now option, and the buyer immediately paid me £60 using Paypal.  £50 to cover the item, and £10 to cover the postage.  Ebay sellers are forced to offer Paypal as a payment option, so we have no choice but to use it.

Paypal Fees

Paypal take 3.4% plus £0.20 of all money received.  So even though only £50 applies to my sale of the Xbox (the £10 is going straight back out on postage), the 3.4% + £0.20 cost applies to the full £60 received.  The £10 I charged for postage is literally what it costs me to send the package, so the extra charge here has to come out of my sale cost.  So, so far I am down from £50 to:


Ebay Fees

Ebay charge me a listing fee of £0.50, plus 10% of my item’s final value, plus 10% of my item’s postage cost.  I don’t really understand the latter; the postage costs are not a profit for me – so the 10% charged here has to come out of my item sale cost! This works out as follows:


The Bottom Line

So all of a sudden, a transaction for which I expected to receive £50 has now turned into £41.26.  Percentage wise, Ebay have effectively received 17.5% of my item sale price.  It’s like paying VAT, except in this case the seller pays it!

So on the one hand, I’ve generated £41.26 of useful cash from an item which was effectively useless, and becoming more and more worthless with each passing day.  On another hand, Ebay have charged me £8.74 for the privilege of using their service to sell my item, and I’m therefore £8.74 down on what my item was actually worth.  If I’d tried to sell it on gumtree or something else instead, I’d potentially be a lot better off.

In the past I’ve sold items on Ebay that had final sale values in the thousands of pounds.  When you’re dealing with numbers like that, the amount that Ebay takes off you starts to get really big.  Sell an item for £1000 and you’re probably looking at giving ~£200 of it straight to Ebay/Paypal.  That’s tough to swallow! But at the end of the day, Ebay have engineered a monopoly on the used sales market.  For some transactions, especially niche items, they’re effectively the only game in town if you want to shift your gear.  So I’ll probably continue to allow them to rip me off, and in so doing I’ll perpetuate the madness.



These silly analogies really bug me. People all jump on the band-wagon and say things like “wow that’s really clever” and “so true”. But is this analogy really all that clever? Is it really all that true?

The moral of this analogy is basically that if you ever do something wrong in life, and hurt somebody in the process, you shouldn’t bother to say sorry because apologies don’t matter.  They don’t fix anything.

But I think a genuine apology does matter. And more than that, I think in many cases it can repair a broken relationship. An admission of your own wrong-doing, an acknowledgement of the hurt you caused, and a promise to put it right, is a powerful thing.
Of course, it is easy to imagine some wrong-doing for which an apology (even a genuine one) is not enough.  Sometimes, as a result of the wrong-doing, trust is broken in the relationship.  Once trust has been broken, the road to recovery is long.  And uphill.  And riddled with swamp.  And sometimes, the road isn’t even open in the first place.  Yes, I know; another analogy.

Does this mean you shouldn’t bother with your apology? That ‘sorry’ doesn’t matter? No!

The apology in these cases is just the first step on a long road towards earning back trust.  Sometimes, regardless of the apology, the opportunity to earn back trust and fix what you did is simply not open to you, and nor will it ever be.  These are the cases where the plate stays broken.  It doesn’t stay broken because apologies don’t matter, though.  It stays broken because it’s not possible to earn back the trust, or because the victim of your behaviour doesn’t want you to earn back the trust.  Even in these cases, an apology is not useless.  Surely it can only help to show someone that you take responsibility (or at least a share of the responsibility), and that you admit what you did wrong? Even if the plate is destined to stay broken forever, the apology at least offers some closure.

These silly analogies bug me.

It won’t be a second!

I can’t help but notice, recently, the number of times I encounter someone who will say to me “it won’t be a second, ok?” or “I won’t be a second, now” or some other slight variation upon the same theme.

I was at KFC the other day ordering a quick takeaway.  After finally getting through the operator’s strict fast food script, I finally managed to communicate my order to him.  He took my money, gave me change, and then announced “It won’t be a second, now” before disappearing off to work on his orders.
I stood there, change in hand, and considered what I had just been told.

I have just been told that my order won’t take a second.  But that’s all I’ve been told.  So either my meal will arrive in <1 second, or it’ll arrive in >1 second.  But what I know for sure is, it won’t arrive in exactly 1 second.  More than 1 second has passed in the time it took me to consider what the statement meant, and my meal hasn’t arrived.  With that possibility already spent, I can now say with certainty that my meal will arrive at some time greater than one second.

If the operator delivered my meal to me in 5 billion years time, he will still have kept his promise.

What is your profession?

Cause for Complaint

I have had cause, recently, to excogitate what constitutes a true ‘profession’.  This cause of mine was instigated by what I consider to be a widespread hijacking of the term within our society.  And we’re not just talking semantics here; it’s not only the meaning of the term that is being misused, but also the spirit of it as well.  I really would go as far as to call it an insult.


Consider, for example, a snooker player.  I pick on snooker for this example only because the 2014 World Championship series happens to be in play at the moment so it is at the forefront of my mind.  I do love a good snooker match.
I was watching the Championship earlier this evening, and the commentator remarked that “Trump” (one of the players) was at the very peak of his profession.

I almost spat out my tea.

Does snooker really qualify as a profession? Seriously? I beg to differ! But let’s check out my trusty Oxford English before we go any further with this argument.  There are three definitions for the word in my dictionary, but the only one that applies to us is the first – as follows:

“1. A paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.”

Well, Judd Trump ticks the first box for sure – he earns a healthy living playing snooker, and I’m almost certainly safe to presume that his pay packet (in terms of match win earnings) dwarfs my annual salary as an electronics engineer.  I go to work and solve problems for a living, contributing directly to the betterment of our society, and Judd hits some balls around a table.  Can you begin to see what I think is wrong with this picture?

Even though Judd ticks the first box, I still don’t think he qualifies.  Not by a long shot (sorry, I had to slip that in there).  After all, everyone has a paid occupation.  But you wouldn’t call every paid occupation a profession, would you?


Let’s imagine we were shipwrecked on a desert island, a thousand miles from civilisation.  Nobody knows where we are.  A self-proclaimed leader of the pack gathers us together and asks us, one at a time, “What is your profession?”

“I’m an Engineer”, I say.  “I solve problems for a living.  And see that smashed radio over there? I reckon I might be able to do something with it.  Maybe send a call for help.”

Fantastic! Who else?

“I’m a Nurse”, someone else claims proudly.  “I save lives for a living.  I care for people.  I can help that poor girl with a broken leg, and I can stop the wound from becoming infected.”

Brilliant! Our plight is diminished in your presence!

“I’m a builder”, says another volunteer.  “I create for a living.  I can build us shelter – protect us from the sun, and keep us safe from predators.  I will turn this barren land into a temporary home.”

Excellent – please get to work right away and you will have whatever support you need!

“I’m a snooker player”, says a useless contributor.  “I hit balls around a table for a living.  I’m the best in my field.  I’m the World number one.”

Useless job = no profession

In the case of this Snooker Player, he is worse than useless.  Worse, in this context, because now the rest of the group are going to have to feed him, home him, and protect him.  They are going to share their very limited resources with a member of the group who is incapable of bringing any tangible benefit to their table.
Perhaps he can contribute to someone else’s input – become a labour man for the builder, for example – and in so doing he will at least spare himself the shame of becoming a net-loss to the group’s plight; a negative draw on their micro-society.

So what does constitute a profession?

Quite simply, I think a profession has to be something that contributes directly to society.  That includes the builder who makes a career out of creating.  It doesn’t include the labourer who carries the bricks, because the labourer is only an indirect contributor to what the builder already brings to the table.
It’s the same with our snooker player, or football player, or formula 1 driver.  We are fortunate, within our developed society, that we can afford the resources to create entire occupations around the entertainment business.  Thanks to our rich society people who enjoy these activities are afforded the opportunity to choose it as their occupation, and rightly or wrongly some of the luckier ones earn a fortune in the process.  Earning a fortune is their right, but calling their job a profession is not.

Go and find something useful to do with your life.  Something that contributes positively and directly to our society.  Then I will say you have a profession.  Until then, all you’re doing is hitting balls around a table for ridiculous amounts of money.

…but I’m not bitter!



Happy Pi Approximation Day 22/7!

Happy Pi Approximation Day 2013!

If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, then allow me to explain.  In mathematics, science & engineering, π is regularly used in descriptions of circular motion.  This includes electrical waveforms and A.C. theory.  Today is the 22/7, and mathematicians commonly use the fraction 22/7 as an approximation of π.  Put it into your calculator and you’ll get roughly 3.14.
The true (exact) value of π is unknown – it cannot be expressed as an exact decimal number.  The key here is ‘decimal’ number, because after all our decimal number system that we choose to use is actually arbitrary! Computers have had a fair crack at it and they’ve managed to compute π to thousands of millions of decimal places using various types of algorithms! But, ultimately, it’s not possible to express it as an exact number.

π Approximation Day, held each year on 22/7, is an opportunity for number nerds all over the world to celebrate their favourite irrational number.

Behold the Pi Pie!

The traditional way to celebrate π approximation day is to bake a π pie.  That’s my kind of celebration, so this year Nerys John and I collaborated on a batch of scrumptious mixed berry pi pies.  Here’s how we did it:

What you’ll need

What you'll need
What you’ll need


  • A roll of shortcrust pastry (amount depends on how many pies you want to make)
  • A package of fruits – we chose mixed berries (Tesco Summer Fruits)
  • Apples (you can add apples or not – your choice!)
  • A jar of granulated sweetener
  • Flour
  • A small amount of milk (for brushing onto the tops of the pies for browning)
  • A small jar of cinnamon


  • A rolling pin
  • A light brush
  • A small pie baking tray
  • Small foil pie cases
  • A large dish
  • A sharp knife
  • A large pie cutting stencil (for making the pie bottoms)
  • A small pie cutting stencil (for making the pie tops)
  • A suitable π stencil.  We used a home-made π stencil that we cut out of cardboard.

First, the berries

Pouring the filler

The first thing we need to do is pour the berries into a mixing dish.  If you’re adding apple, you’ll also want to slice the apple up into small pieces and add them into the dish as well.

Add the cinnamon – with flippancy

Once you’ve added your chosen filling to the mixing dish you need to sprinkle some cinnamon onto the top of them and mix.  Personally I’d like to be able to offer you exact amounts here, because that’s how I like to work, but apparently when it comes to baking it’s better to be flippant with your measurements – much to my dismay.  Add an arbitrary amount of cinnamon such that your bowl resembles that of the photo on your right, and then mix.

Sugar coated! Mmmm

Next up, it’s time for my favourite bit – the sugar.  Again, the Engineer in me wants to give you specific measurements here but unfortunately a good cook has to be skilled in flippancy so you’ll need to throw an arbitrary amount of the sweetener onto your mixed berries such that they vaguely resemble the photo on your left.  If you’re thinking that baking is a lot like being tortured right now, then you’re not alone.  My solution was to find someone experienced in flippancy to cast the ingredients – I recommend you do the same.  Somehow certain humans have managed to build a resistance to this kind of chaos (shrug).

Mixed Berry Filling

Right then, now it’s time to mix everything together.  Be careful here; you want everything to be nicely mixed, but you don’t want to pummel the berries into oblivion.  If you do that you’ll end up with a soppy, watery mix and apparently that’s not good for the final result.  The best way to do this is to find a nice large spoon and just turn the mix over and over gently until the ingredients blend together nicely.

Once you’ve mixed the berries and the flavouring you need to heat the filling up in the microwave for a short while.  How long? Well, it’s a chef’s measurement again I’m afraid.  Just try them in for a minute or so, stir, then try again until eventually you’ve got a pretty warm and well mixed filling.  It’s normal for the filling to go a bit more watery during this process – the point is for the filling to become a bit more gooey (all fruit pies are gooey, right?) but not too gooey that the whole thing turns to water.  You still want the filling to be stodgy with recognisable berries in the mix.

Now the pastry.

The rolled pastry
The rolled pastry

Cover your work surface with a dusting of flour so that the pastry can be moved around on the work top without binding and sticking.  I’ve always been taught to use WD40 in this kind of scenario, but apparently that’s a bad idea here so I guess we just stick to the flour.  Roll the pastry out to a flat sheet as shown in the photo on your left, whilst being mindful that the thickness of the rolled pastry will be proportional to the thickness of your pie casing.  You want it thin, but not too thin.  If in doubt then use the force, Luke.  Let go.
Once the pastry is rolled it’s time to cut out your pie tops, pie bottoms, and π symbols.  Using the larger pie stencil for the bottoms and the smaller pie stencil for the tops, cut as many pie bottoms and tops as you can afford to make whilst at the same time allowing enough room to make your π symbols.  We’ll worry about the pie symbols in a moment, but for now just cut out your pie tops and pie bottoms, then peel them away from the pastry and put them to one side.

The Pi Symbols

Making Pi Symbols!
Making Pi Symbols!

It would be really cool if we had a π shaped pastry cutter, like the ones you’ve used to cut the pie tops and bottoms.  Unfortunately I didn’t have anything of the sort.  I considered ordering some thin sheet metal (maybe copper) and making my own π-shaped pastry cutter, but perhaps that’s an improvement for next year.  For this year we simply drew a π shape onto cardboard (crap artist? Me too – get someone

Don't cut your fingers!
Don’t cut your fingers!

skilled to do it), then we cut out the card board shape, and used it as a stencil from which to cut around the pastry with a sharp knife.  Something like that shown on your right.  Depending on the amount of pies you’re intending on making this part can be a bit laborious and that’s where a decent home made metal (cutting) π stencil would come in handy.  But persevere and the end result will be worth it 🙂

Preparing the bottoms, the filling, and the tops

Preparing the pie bottoms
Preparing the pie bottoms

Nearly there – it’s time to prepare your pies for baking.  Carefully press your pie bottoms into the pie foils as shown in the photo on your left.  You want a snug fit but don’t force the pastry too much or you’ll never get them out of the foil in one piece afterwards.

A filled pie!
A filled pie!

Once the bottoms are in, it’s filling time.  Spoon a generous amount of filling into the pie bottom (drain off any watery content beforehand) but be aware that you need to be able to comfortably fit the pie top on afterwards.  If you fill them up too much then the filling will breach your pie tops a little bit when they’re in the oven.  In my experience some of them breached and some of them didn’t.  That’s what happens when you’re flippant, I reckon.  No consistency.  But good luck trying to persuade a chef to optimise their process! I think Engineers are banned from most kitchens.

Press fitted pi pies!
Press fitted pi pies!

Finally you’ll need to press-fit the pie tops.  Just drape the pie top over the filling such that it’s centralised, and then pinch all around the edges of the pastry where top meets bottom (if top

Brushing milk so that the pie browns.
Brushing milk so that the pie browns.

doesn’t meet bottom, you’ve screwed up) so that the finished pie is sealed all the way around.  Once you’re happy with the sealing you can place your π symbol on the top (you don’t need to press it on, it’ll adhere during the baking process) and then you just need to brush a small amount of milk over the pie for browning.



The hard bit is over, but this is perhaps the most crucial part of the job in terms of getting the best possible result.  Set your oven to 180 degrees centigrade (Fahrenheit? Pah – use proper units) and make sure it’s nice and hot before you put the pies inside.  Once the oven has thoroughly warmed through then you can put your finished pies in for baking.  It’s tempting to leave them in until they are nice and brown (like you do with a meat pie, for example) but in the case of fruit pies it’s better to watch them carefully and bring them out when they’re just lightly browned.  If you leave them in too long the filling gets really hot and then you’ll end up with a breach of the warp core.  It’s all over after that, and not even Geordie La Forge will be able to help you.  So basically just be careful.


And here’s the finished result.  They were bloody lovely too! Thanks to Nerys John for directing the kitchen process.  I could never have been this skilled on my own, and that would have meant that I’d never have managed a decent result.  In some rare cases, Engineering isn’t the answer.  This might be the only time I ever publically admit that!


Super Moon Sunday

Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been born in a developed country are blessed with learning opportunities that no society on Earth has ever enjoyed before.  The information age has made it possible for rational human beings all over the developed world to discover and learn about any subject of their choosing.  The amount that we learn, and what we do with that information, is limited by just two things:

  1. Our imagination.
  2. Our will to persevere.

Blessed as we are with this web of information and opportunity for learning, it is easy for most of us to ridicule the ignorance (I would rather call it stupidity) of the Flat Earth Society  who, in spite of all the available information and evidence, still choose to peddle the ridiculous idea that the Earth is in fact flat.

So, we can set ourselves up on a pedestal, right? We’re better than those flat earth ignoramuses because we take pride in our learning opportunities and we delight in the power of evidence based discovery.

Well… not quite.  It’s surprising how many other elementary science based misconceptions are in regular use among our rational society.  People like you and me; people you work with, go to school with, your neighbours, your close friends, your spouses and children – any of these can potentially be guilty of them.  They seem to slip under the radar in terms of ridicule, but I think some of them give the flat earthers a run for their money.  In honour of Super Moon Sunday 2013 , try these common Moon based misconceptions on for size.  Some of them will make you cringe!


Thank you to http://www.rogerhighfield.com/ for the link.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

2012 was a tough year for me personally, and I only set myself one goal for the year which was to start (and continue) giving blood.  I achieved that goal and have given blood 3 times so far with my 4th appointment in just a few days.

Here are my goals for 2013:

Learn to play the guitar

Tanglewood Discovery Purple
My Tanglewood Discovery electro-acoustic guitar

This all started when I literally found an acoustic guitar in my attic while I was clearing out a load of junk.  Unfortunately it didn’t last very long; the bridge (this is the part that holds up the strings on the base of the guitar) snapped shortly after getting it down from the attic.
The bug had bitten though and so I’ve decided to try learning the guitar in 2013.  I have bought myself this lovely electro-acoustic guitar from Bridgend Music Store:

So far I have managed to learn a few chords and toughen my finger-tips up a little bit.  I am told that this is a very important part of learning the guitar because unless perseverance is shown at this stage then I’ll never be able to progress with the more interesting stuff (learning to play actual songs) later on and I’ll end up getting nowhere.

Here’s to 2013 and learning to play a musical instrument!


Design and sell my first electronics product


Beagle Bone computer
Beagle Bone single board computer

It has been my ambition to start my own electronics design business for a little while.  It’s a tough industry to get into because to make good money you need to have quite a bit of money behind you as a budget for development, parts, PCB ordering, etc.  I don’t have any real money behind me, and I’m in a bit of a catch-22 situation because in order to get some money behind me I really need to be doing some extra work in addition to my full time job.  But to do the extra work I need some money behind me!

For this reason I’ve decided to start small.  I want to design some expansion boards for the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone single board computers.  These will be relatively low quantity products targetted at the electronics hobbyist market.  I have no idea if it’ll make me any money, but it’ll be fun designing them and I have an end-application of my own in mind for the boards as well so the effort will not be wasted even if the project never gets off the ground in terms of selling them on the market.

So far I have the following expansion boards planned:

1. Precision temperature and humidity measurement board with RTC.
2. GPS real-time tracking board with SMS command module.
3. Radio communications module.
4. Camera control module (not sure about this one yet)

 Launch my HAB project

Near Space photo
A photo from near space

Another goal I’ve had for a number of years is to design and build a working flight computer for a high altitude balloon and launch it.  This has been done many times before by other enthusiasts, and I’d like to have a go at it too.  This project ties in to my first electronic design products for the Raspberry Pi and Beagle Bone computers; the expansion boards I’m going to design for them will be used in the flight computer I am planning to build and launch.

If you can think of any cool science experiments you’d like to see conducted at near space altitudes please get in touch in the comments below with your suggestion!

Continue my 2012 Give Blood goal

Give Blood
Give Blood

I plan to continue to give blood in 2013 and I would encourage you to do it too.  For years I considered giving blood but didn’t end up making the time to do it.  And that’s an important point; you need to make the time, because unless you do, you’ll never end up doing it.  Once you make your first appointment and get into the routine it becomes easier to stick to the plan, and giving blood has been a rewarding experience for me.  Make it your New Year’s resolution!