Food Item of the Week: ‘Blizzard Warmer’

 

This is a very neat dish that one can whip up in a jiffy. Makes a great meal on a cold day; the spice will really warm you up!

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Ingredients

  • 6 Sausages (spicy!)
  • 450g Fusilli
  • 450mL chicken broth
  • Italian meatballs
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 tbs of oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp oregano flakes
  • 1 tbsp parsely flakes
  • 1 tbsp chilli flakes

Instructions

  1. Heat deep saucepan or pot, adding the oil to the centre.
  2. Place meatballs and chopped sausages into pan and fry
  3. When cooked and browned nicely,
  4. Add chopped onion, and cook on med-high until onions are semi-transparent
  5. Add 450ml of chicken broth to the pot
  6. Bring to simmer, using medium-high heat so as to avoid boiling
  7. Add the coleslaw mix
  8. Cook for 10 min, or until greens are tender
  9. Add in pasta and simmer until soft
  10. Drain excess broth.
  11. Add tomato paste, the sausages and meatballs, the seasonings and salt+pepper
  12. Toss the pasta thoroughly, and serve

Prep time: 10 mins

Cook time: 20 mins

Total Time: 30 mins

 

Trunk and Bookcase Resto: Intro

With my grandparents moving out of their house and downsizing to a condominium, lots of furniture and goodies came out of the rooms and crawlspaces of their large back-split that had to be sold or given away. My grandfather’s old medical equipment ( he was a surgeon and GP ) along with the Pharmacist’s shelves where they sat, and his “Steamer Trunk” from the Old Country are now in my charge.

The neat sliding glass and stacking Pharmacist’s shelves are in original condition; they are still wearing their original white oil (lead?) paint from the 1940s, and almost exude the atmosphere of sterility of a doctor’s office. The base shelf has a broken wooden front panel with cracked glass – when this is removed, the wide shelf makes for a perfect place to store my record collection. Now it’s down to finding an oil-based paint to paint the unit; since strict VOC regulations came into place in 2010, it’s been tough to find any oil paints, and putting latex over aged oil paint makes for a poor finish.

Edit: Turns out its not a pharmacy shelving unit after all! Despite being sold to my grandfather from a pharmacy, it turns out it is in fact a barrister’s bookcase. This particular stacking model has 3 levels, and is manufactured by Macey’s Canada Furniture Company, giving it a much higher value than I originally thought. Now knowing that it is made of quarter-cut oak planks, I will be removing all the paint and restoring it with wood stain instead.

The metal steamer trunk is an interesting find from the crawlspace. It still bears my grandparent’s waybill from Yugoslavia to Canada – dated May 10th 1959, showing that they rode the SS Saxonia, and were destined for Montreal. It’s an interesting piece of family history, and it should be a great conversation piece once refinished. Since I value the stickers and stamps attached to the chest, I’ll be trying to preserve the original finish of the metal chest, while also trying to clean the brass fittings and repair the metal edging which has come loose. For this it looks like a thorough cleaning and then laquering of the exterior metal should do the trick. For the interior, I’ll be using a steamer to do away with the smelly and tattered wallpaper lining, and then sanding and refinishing the exposed wood.

Quicksand Trapolines and Inukshuks

O’Malley and I took advantage of the great weather today for an impromptu bike trip to bluffs, to see how the construction on the breakwater was proceeding. Construction prevented us taking our usual route, but after a few rocky starts, we made it down the alternate (and much more rugged) trail down to the lake front.

Construction appears to have more-or-less halted. Grass and reeds are beginning to take over the mud flats formed in the area between the breakwater and the bluffs. When we went over to one of the sandy mud-flats, to our surprise we found that jumping would turn the solid-looking areas into semi-liquefied pancakes of earth!

Further investigation showed that it was actually a type of quicksand, the kind caused by “soil liquefaction’ (in fact, Wikipedia has an interesting article on it). Amused by the growing area of dry mud and sand which undulated under our feet, we decided to try jumping – with positive results:

 

 

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Jumping on the quicksand “trampoline”

After this, we went on to make some inukshuks:

 

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Whoops! Gain root in Ubuntu recovery mode

In the Live-CD/USB install of the popular Ubuntu and its derivatives, the installer easily automates the encryption of home folders – a good feature for security, especially on a laptop. Should your laptop ever get stolen, the thieves won’t be able to pull the hard drive out of your computer and be able to grab your personal information off of it. At least, in theory.

Ubuntu and its derivatives by default do not give the root user a password, instead relying on the sudo command to perform tasks as an administrator. There are obvious benefits to this (a quick Google will give you a list), however this leaves open a massive loophole which effectively undermines any hard drive encryption. Without an explicit root password, a simple reboot of the computer into recovery mode will automatically boot into single user mode – as root.

HDD encryption only works to keep people who cannot log into your system from viewing your files. As soon as someone is able to boot the system and log in, the file system is mounted and the encrypted data becomes readable. As with many people, I have my browser save passwords to my email/blog/social media sites. These passwords are saved in each user’s home folder, but in plain text. Should someone gain root privileges, they would be able to pull passwords for these sites and steal your online identity. Bad stuff, that!

I was luckily able to catch this loophole before I had my previous laptop stolen. My data was secured by explicitly adding a root password. Whenever anyone tries to reboot into recovery mode, they won’t be able to get far before they are prompted to enter the root password – stopping would-be data thieves.

It is shocking that for a system touted for its laptop compatibility there is such a blaringly obvious security flaw. Hopefully Canonical takes step to inform users when installing, or lock down recovery mode more be default. In the meantime, if you have an Ubuntu laptop/mobile computer with an encrypted drive, you can remedy this security hole by entering the following command into terminal:

# become root user

sudo su

# now create a root password

passwd

And there you have it! Your mobile computer should now properly protect your sensitive information. 

Choosing a Frontend PC

XBMC is a really great piece of frontend software – that is to say, the PVR software with which the user will directly interact – which is available on many platforms, including windows, linux, and android. It’s what we use in my household, and it’s what I’m going to use in this instructional.

Along with the different OS options for XBMC, we have a plethora of hardware platforms, ranging  from basic and inexpensive, to fully-featured mini-PCs that cost upwards of $250. To simplify these choices, I will group some common options into categories, and also go over my own set-up.

  1. Decide on What’s Needed:
  • Ethernet or WiFi?
  • Will you use Hulu, Netflix or other plugins?
  • Do you need multi-purpose TV computer?
  • How important is power consumption?
  • Budget?
  • Will it be connected to a stereo/sound system?

Ethernet vs. WiFi
There are many ways to set up a mythtv system.

  1. If the server computer has built-in WiFi, it may be worth it to set it up as a hotspot and connect directly with client computers. This is a good option if your frontend computers won’t be located far from the TV, and if you have only a few frontend connections, as bandwidth is relatively limited.
  2. Alternatively, an ethernet connection to a router or switch will allow the server to connect clients directly from a wired connection, OR through any WiFi routers connected throughout your home. 

For our setup, we opted for the second choice, as we need to serve up to 3 TVs placed far apart. If we want to use our laptops to watch, WiFi also lets us watch anywhere in our house.

Hulu, Netflix and Other Plugins
These require extra computing power, and as such, only really work well on the moderate or higher-priced frontend PCs. That being said, they can be run on even a Raspberry Pi device, if you are willing to put up with a bit of lag.

Multi-Purpose PC
Of course, for this area, you’ll need to fork out some extra cash – you’ll be limited to higher-priced frontends, which don’t run Android, but instead are capable of running full versions of Linux (or Windows).

Power Consumption
Power consumption is typically affected by:

  • The number of hours per day you watch TV
  • The computing power of your frontend

Low-price and small Linux/Android boxes are a good choice if you will be watching a lot of TV, as they don’t usually require more than 5-8 watts of power. However, more powerful PCs such as Zotac’s Z-Box or the Aspire Revo draw upwards of 20 watts. Do some math to figure out how many killowatt-hours you’ll use in a year, and how much it will cost to run.

Note: it costs us approx. $32/year to run our myth server: 40 watts @ 24/7/52 = 350.4 kWh/year

Budget
This is pretty self-explanatory. Count your pennies and decide what you can afford! Check out Power Consumption to decide what a device will cost you to run in the long term.

Stereo and Sound System Connections
Most cheap frontends won’t support more than 2.1 sound out via HDMI, and may have a simple 3.5mm audio jack for sound output in stereo format. If you plan on connecting to a stereo system, having more than HDMI is a must – otherwise the stereo set must be always on in order to ‘pass-through’ the HDMI signal, even if surround-sound isn’t needed.

SP/DIF optical output can be found on most high-end machines, and also on a few medium-price machines. The MyGica box is a notable exception, which includes this in the low-price range.

Inexpensive (<$50)

  • Raspberry Pi Model A – $25
  • Raspberry Pi Model B – $35
  • Your Android cellphone! – Free, if you have a mini-HDMI
Low-Priced($50-100)
  • Rikomagic MK802 – $60
  • *802 copies/clones – $50-90 (check them specs!)
  • MyGica Android Box – $70
Moderate-Priced($100-200)
  • Pivos Android Media Centre – $120
  • JynxBox – $120
High-Priced (>$200)
  • Zotac Z-Box (Nvidia) – $260 to $300
  • Acer AspireRevo (Nvidia ION) – $290 to $320

Ubuntu Phone OS: Initial Impressions & Comments

The Ubuntu Phone OS made a noticeable splash as its initial developer preview was released for public download February 21st – and rightly so, as the Unity and screen-edge-based interface set this smart phone experience apart. Though this developer preview lacked a lot of functionality – an ‘alpha’ designation would be appropriate – the preview demonstrated a lot of interesting features that show a lot of promise.

Initial Impressions:

The design of the unlock/welcome screen is well thought out, in that the reticule in the centre warmly greets the user back to their phone. Once up and running, an animated version of the unlock screen should be a visual treat. Definite strength here.
Once inside the phone, I really liked the unique layout of the separate screens: one for Music, one for Apps, and others for other content. It uses the page idea common to android and iPhone, but makes it so that one is specific to a type of content. I can see power users loving the ability to switch quickly between functionality, but this being a problem for organization of long app lists or long lists of music albums/artists/songs. Points for speed, but at this point (since it is not-functional), I can be unsure how large arrays of icons will be organized in this format.
The sidebar from unity’s dash is very well implemented here. It is well optimized, even in its alpha stages, for either one or two handed use – which I believed could be a problem. Holding it with one finger allows a slow scroll through the apps, and releasing the finger opens that app. This works well when only one hand is available. For two hands, quickly holding and releasing on the left edge of the screen opens the tray and keeps it there, until an option is selected.
The gestures supported by Ubuntu phone allow really speedy transitions between apps, with the unity launcher quickly opening new ones. Right-to-left swiping takes the user to their previous application. There is no ‘open applications’ tray in the style of Android – instead, a swipe back to the home screen lists open apps, just above the app list. I think this may make transitions between more than two applications a little slower. Again, until more applications become available, this is a toss up.

Comments

  • Swipe/gesture-intensive interface: Will be welcomed by power users, but the learning curve may mean many accidentally close apps and program switches before a user gets the hang of things. As Canonical states though, this OS is intended for professionals and power users, so perhaps this is well thought out.
  • Colouring: Unike Android’s white-text-on-black-background approach to much of their OS, Ubuntu phone makes no such effort. Much of the interface is vibrant, and their drop-down menus or keyboard is off-white coloured. While visually attractive, this poses some issues. In a dark environment, this light colouring may strain eyes, and it cuts down on visibility somewhat because of lower contrast. Another additional problem comes from OLED-screen devices (like the Galaxy Nexus), which actually use much more energy displaying white or vibrant images. Battery life could become an issue.
  • Keyboard: I did not enjoy the keyboard’s design. The roundedness of the keys meant that there was even less real estate for me to press the proper key with my fingers. An alternative to this keyboard, while still in keeping with the general ’rounded edges’ aesthetic of the design, would be to make the bottoms of the keys rounded, with flatter tops. This could make the keyboard appear a little less… small for users. Without some sort of remedy, I believe typing speed could compromised somewhat, as users feel less confident of their virtual keystrokes.
Other than these few minor gripes, I feel that the Ubuntu phone OS will be a very welcome entrant to the market, with many useful features being brought to the smartphone table. The OS will continue development over the next year, hopefully with a polish coming as it rolls out releases, just as Google has done with their Android 4.1 and 4.2 releases.

Ubuntu Phone OS Install for Users w/Flashing Errors

*Edit: Somebody has posted the .zip files for the Galaxy Nexus, for those who wish to download them directly. Link.

Ubuntu phone OS has *just* come out, and for those frustrated because using the flashing commands provided don’t appear to be working with their phone, there is another way to accomplish the goal.

I encountered this problem myself when I attempted to flash Ubuntu phone onto my Galaxy Nexus running Cyanogenmod 10.1 — the flasher refused to properly wipe /sdcard and overwrite the previous OS. Instead, I performed a successful install by using ClockworkMod recovery environment, doing a factory reset, and then installing the two Ubuntu zip files manually.

What to do:

  1. Make sure your Android phone/tablet is rooted — this tutorial relies upon this.
  2. In your Android phone/tablet, download and install ROM Manager.
  3. Within ROM Manager, navigate to the “Install ClockworkMod Recovery” option, and press it. Follow the instructions to install ClockworkMod. Make sure you have root privileges!
  4. Turn on your PC and boot into your Linux distro. I did this on Ubuntu 12.04, but it should work with any Debian-based disribution that has Aptitude. Windows users will have to find a way to download the install .zip files (find a friend!) and then skip to step 9.
  5. Run these commands in your terminal (skip to step 8 if you have already tried flashing):sudo

    add-apt-repository ppa:phablet-team/tools

    sudo apt-get update

    sudo apt-get install phablet-tools android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

  6. Connect your tablet/phone to your PC, making sure ‘ADB’ is enabled – the Android Debug USB connection.
  7. In terminal, run

    phablet-flash
    which will download the installation .zip files.

  8. Navigate to ~/Downloads/phablet-flash/ and enter the folder there. 
  9. Copy and paste BOTH zip files found here into your tablet/phone, in an easily accessible folder directory.
  10. Disconnect your tablet/phone, and shut it down. 
  11. Reboot into the bootloader. On the Galaxy Nexus, this is done by holding down the volume rocker and power button simultaneously. Select the ‘Recovery’ option using the volume rocker and power button once in the bootloader. This should start ClockworkMod.
  12. In ClockworkMod, select ‘wipe data/factory reset’, to wipe the Android OS completely.
  13. Return to the main menu and select ‘install zip from sdcard’, and then ‘choose zip from sdcard’. Navigate to the folder where you copied the .zip files.
  14. Select the .zip file ending with armel+phonecodename.zip and install this BEFORE the other .zip file.
  15. Now, select the other .zip file. This should end with phablet-armhf.zip or similar.
  16. Once done installing, navigate to the main menu and restart the phone/tablet. You should now boot into Ubuntu phone OS!

On Android: Ubuntu OS Review Coming Feb. 22nd!

The new Ubuntu Phone operating system is set to arrive February 21st — a little less than 4 days away. For those who aren’t familiar with Ubuntu, it is an extremely popular Linux operating system, who is now aiming to expand their territory into the mobile market. Android itself is Linux-based, and so the move from desktop to mobile isn’t unprecedented. The OS will likely hold its own against custom Android ROMs — such as Cyanogenmod and Android Open-Kang Project (AOKP). 
The Ubuntu Phone OS promises a number of interesting new features. Image Credit: Canonical

Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth has stated in a video published on the ubuntu website (click the “Watch Video” button) that the operating system will be:

  • Buttonless — all the edges have functions which replace the standard 3-button tray in Android
  • Run Ubuntu applications — what features and programs will be available at launch in the mobile version are still up for debate
  • Have Ubuntu One integration
  • Designed for quick interaction — it will have the Unity-style dash and a neat swipe-to-get-back application switcher
  • Mobile screen optimized — removing buttons and making the dashes all touch-sensitive will supposedly make screen real estate appear larger 

In any case, as soon as it comes out, I expect to be flashing the new operating system onto my own Galaxy Nexus phone, to replace the current Android Jelly Bean with some Ubuntu linux goodness. Stay tuned for February 22nd, when I expect to post my initial reactions to the operating system.

Day 8: Montalcino

The two day stay in Siena was just enough time to tour the local sites and take a bit of a break to recharge for our next cycling ride to Montalcino. 

Looking over our off-line digital map and planning the cycling route with its elevation profile in advance of the trip made us a little nervous; we would be setting new personal records with our climbs.  Again being mentally prepared for the trip helped.  The ride turned out to be not as difficult as we had anticipated –  even though we ultimately climbed to an altitude of 610 meters by the time we arrived in the town of Montalcino itself, we managed to avoid steep inclines for the most part.

We had a very steady climb on the way out of Siena for about an hour and a half.  We then took a break at the crest of the climb to nourish ourselves with a nice lunch that we had purchased and packed from an alimenteria before leaving Siena – fresh pane ronde con sale, local Italian pomodoros, soft formaggio and some proscuitto.  For desert we had lots of fruit – pechi novi and apricots.

After lunch and a couple more hours of riding, we arrived at the base of Montalcino.  When we saw the road that we had originally selected for our ride up into town, we quickly decided to remap our route.  The road was gravel with an incline of between 15 and 20%; too difficult and treacherous to try to climb with loaded bikes. We weren’t really up to walking our loaded bikes a kilometre up a steep hill, especially not after having had a taste of doing that up a similar grade for 200 meters at Monteriggioni.  We decided instead to ride the extra 5 kilometres up the main road which gradually wound its way around the hill up and into town.  Slow and steady gets the job done.

We were still hot, sweaty and dirty by the time we arrived in the town proper, and so we followed our ritual of quickly checking-in to our hotel, rejuvenating ourselves with hot showers and changing into some clean clothes before doing a quick tour of the town and seeking out a place to enjoy dinner. 

The hotel room


Since it wasn’t quite dinner and the restaurants weren’t serving yet, we enjoyed some aperativi in a patio on town square. The “Tuscan Rewind” car race was under-way as we enjoyed our drinks, and the cars were revving and preparing to start their race in the square. An hour later, we began walking the town in search of a restaurant, and got to see a little more of the beautiful town and the race cars as we searched.After passing down a few side streets, we settled upon the relatively innocuous-looking Albergo Il Giglio restaurant for dinner. 

Tuscan Rewind racer, rolling into the town square
Another Racer


What a treat that was! By all measures the Albergo was a fantastic dining experience, with a really nice atmosphere and run by a wonderful family. We had veal served with vegetables in brunello wine sauce, with a decanter of brunello on the side – the bread plate that came with the meal was so fresh that it almost outshone then entrée itself. The best meal of the trip — if you ever visit Montalcino, we wholly recommend you have a meal at Albergo Il Giglio.

————–

The following day, we woke up early and prepared to finish sight-seeing, and do some wine-tasting; this *was* the location of the famous Brunello di Montalcino, after all. 


A very large number of wines ready to taste, in Montalcino!
The town’s fort/castle of Montalcino stands out prominently on the edge of the town, overlooking the fields below the hilltop. We visited the fort, and deciding that we couldn’t pass up the tower-top view, paid the 5 euro fee and walked up the keep’s staircase to the top of the walls, where we were able to see the entire valley and a few distant towns.

Inside the fort

On the fort walls

Valley View
Road into town, view from fort walls
Part of the town, from fort walls
Located inside the keep was a wine shop, which we visited on the way back down. Steve and I (Ryan) had a few samples of the varieties of Nobile and Brunello, and bargaining for a good price, ordered a few to be sent home. 

Not too tipsy to ride, we returned to the hotel and packed up for our ride out. Against our better judgement, we decided to try the gravel hill out of town, only to find it washed out near the bottom, and being so steep that Steve had a wipe-out – ouch (he was OK, though)! We begrudgingly walked the bikes back to the city gate, and began to follow the road out of town and onward to Montepulciano.


Just outside town gate, ready to roll down gravel road
Onwards!