29 January 2006
On Friday, Suzy and I celebrated the fact that she’s managed to put up with me for five whole years! To show my appreciation I bought her some red roses and two sprays of carnations from Sainsburys. They’d been reduced to 99p each as they were all on their last day.
You’re probably thinking that I’m a real cheapskate. But I’m not. I also got Greenhouse to deliver a huge bouquet of flowers, which included five red roses – one for each year we’d been together. Despite Suzy claiming that I never buy her flowers, this is the third time I’ve got her some from Greenhouse! (I’ve tried other places in the past, like Interflora, but the quality of their flowers and bouquets simply don’t come close to the ones that Greenhouse deliver.)
Anyway, the point of this post is to let you know about the fantastic restaurant that I took her to for a lovely posh meal last night...
I’ve really got Christian to thank for recommending The Supper Club (previously known as Carriages and Brown’s). When I read his review in November, I immediately decided that I’d take Suzy there for our anniversary. After reading a few more reviews, I was still convinced that it would be something a bit special. We’d been to Cary Brown’s Slammers seafood restaurant on Ecclesall Road a few years ago and that was excellent, although it’s been closed for quite some time now, so I was really looking forward to trying another incarnation of his.
I’d booked our table a couple of weeks ago, so I was impressed when they called me on Friday to confirm my booking. However, this did make me a little sceptical. Were they calling me because they were so busy that they’d got people waiting for cancellations or were they checking that we’d still be going because they’d had some cancellations and were wondering if it would be worth opening? Well, they were certainly busy enough, so I had nothing to worry about at all.
We arrived early and had a drink at the bar. The staff were friendly and asked if we had any questions about the menu. As usual, I was spoilt for choice, so I asked them for their recommendations. For starters, Suzy decided on the Duck Breast with Pear and Walnut Salad whilst I went for the Chicken and Applewood Smoked Cheese Spring Rolls with Plum Chutney (although I was really tempted by the King Prawn ‘Pizza’). For main course, Suzy ordered the Seabass with Chorizo Gnocchi and I went for the Sirloin Steak with its own ‘Daube’ and Shallot Puree with some baby roasted vegetables to share. I had no idea what a Daube was, so I asked; it’s basically cubed beef braised in red wine. We also chose a bottle of South African Chenin Blanc to wash it all down with.
Before the food came, we were brought a selection of bread. I’m not sure if it was homemade, but it was warm and tasted great. When the starters arrived, the presentation was excellent – and they definitely tasted as good as they looked. I generally don’t approve of fruit being served with meat (with a few exceptions) but the flavours in each starter worked really well together. One of my garnishes tasted like a plant, but I’m not sure I should’ve eaten it!
The main courses were equally impressive. Having two different cuts of beef cooked in two totally different ways on the same plate really worked; the Daube melted in the mouth and the steak was perfect. I’d usually grab the horseradish sauce and mustard when I have a steak, so the shallot puree made a nice change and really complemented the flavours of the beef. I was worried that Suzy might have ordered the wrong main course as she doesn’t really like gnocchi. However, instead of having the usual slimy texture, this gnocchi was pan-fried with the chorizo which gave it a slightly crispy coating. Even the gnocchi we tried in Italy wasn’t this good!
For desert, I enjoyed the Lemon Tart and Lemon Sorbet whilst Suzy struggled to finish the Assiette of Chocolate with vanilla ice-cream. Both were served on the same triangular plates that my starter had been served on and both tasted great – the perfect end to a perfect meal.
Before we left work on Friday, I heard that someone had been to The Supper Club and said it had no atmosphere, small portions and they were in and out within an hour. Had I heard this a few weeks earlier, I might have considered cancelling our reservation. Needless to say, I’m very glad I didn’t. If you decide to visit The Supper Club, I would recommend that you book your table for no earlier than 8:00 PM (otherwise you might be the only ones in there) and you definitely order some vegetables to accompany your meal (which aren’t included). And be prepared to spend some money; we paid just over £90 for the two of us including a couple of drinks at the bar. Whilst expensive, it was definitely worth it for a special occasion.
In conclusion, my only criticisms of The Supper Club are that we didn’t have any side plates for the bread, nor did we have a butter knife for the butter, and our tablecloth was plucked. (As you can see, I’m really struggling to find anything wrong at all!) They also failed to leave a saucer on our table for tips after I’d paid when they returned my credit card and receipt. Since I don’t like to pay for tips on my credit card, as the staff often don’t get to see them, and I don’t like to leave money on the table. As a result, they didn’t get any tips, which I do feel a little guilty about. Let’s just say that you can’t put a price on excellent food and excellent service...
Labels: food, personal, restaurants
23 January 2006
Here I am, banging on about Google and their new stuff all the time, whilst forgetting that the company I work for has got a pretty cool tool of our own. (No, I’m not talking about myself; whilst many people might call me a tool, I’m not sure how many would call me cool.)
FreeTranslation.com has been around since 1999. If you’re between 13 and 21 years old and living in the USA, you’ll probably have used it to translate some insults into a foreign language before emailing them to your friends. (For some reason, most Europeans use another website – but we won’t talk about that here!)
Today we quietly released the FreeTranslation.com Blog. There’s only one post there at the moment, but there are plenty more to come and they should make quite interesting reading. Some people might think that we’re jumping on the blogging bandwagon a few years too late – I think that if you’ve got something to say, it’s better to say it late than never! (Also, trying to justify working on something that isn’t going to make you money is always difficult!)
The fact that I’m posting about something work related like this makes me feel like I’m trying to be to FreeTranslation.com what Matt Cutts is to Google or something! As if... (Well, I can dream can’t I!?!)
Anyway, if you’re interested in translation, add the FreeTranslation.com Blog Feed to your feed reader or aggregator. And if there’s anything you’d like to know, post a comment here or there and we’ll do our best to answer your questions.
BTW, this was going to be an exclusive post but I thought I’d let Chris have the scoop since he’s been so patiently waiting for its release so he could be the first person in the blogosphere to post about it!
Labels: links, personal, translation
16 January 2006
On Saturday night we decided to try out Jabu on London Road in Sheffield for some Chinese dumplings and fondue with Jon and Amanda. I’d heard some good reports and read some great reviews of the restaurant on BBC South Yorkshire’s Greedy Cow website and Sheffield Forum, which also helped to prepare me for what we were about to experience...
First of all, the place is small – there are only six or seven tables in there – but that wasn’t a problem for us because we’d booked earlier that day. (There were quite a few disappointed groups arriving throughout the night that hadn’t booked and had to be turned away though.) The next thing we noticed was how helpful and polite our waitress was. In today’s world where hardly anybody in the catering and hospitality industry cares about their jobs, it makes a refreshing change to be served by someone who’s willing to calmly talk you through the menu, explain how much you should order and answer any questions you might have. (Obviously, this is essential in a place like this as not many people have been to a Chinese fondue restaurant before!)
For starters, on our waitress’s recommendation, we ordered just two portions of dumplings, which was easily enough for four people as there were twelve in each portion! There was a good selection, but we opted for one portion of chicken, mushroom & Chinese leaves dumplings and another of beef & chilli. Our waitress brought them to the table and even demonstrated how we should eat them by cutting each one in half with a fork and pouring some soy sauce/vinegar/sesame oil (or whatever it was) over them.
For main course our waitress had recommended that we should choose ten items, so we ordered: chicken (twice), beef balls, scallops (we got four in our portion), fresh tiger prawns in shells (we got twelve in our portion), pig skin (i.e. pork scratchings), Chinese mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bean shoots, udon noodles and vermicelli noodles. We then had to select our soup bases in which we would be cooking everything – we could choose two out of the four – and our dipping sauces. We opted for the Chinese herb soup base, the hot soup base and one of each of the dipping sauces; garlic, sweet chilli, wasabi and sesame satay.
The next part was where all the fun started. The soup was brought in a huge stainless steel dish, split into two sections, and placed on a Chinese (really, really) hot plate in the middle of your table. (The temperature gauge said it went up to 400° – we assumed this was in Fahrenheit but the way the soup was boiling it could have been Celsius!) The waitress then came over and showed us what to do. Basically, she just divided our raw ingredients into two and threw half into each soup! She then explained that we had to wait until the soup was boiling again, at which point we could serve up the meal and drink the soup once we’d finished cooking.
Everything tasted fantastic! Despite throwing most things in together, you could taste each ingredient perfectly. However, I have a few pieces of advice:
- DO NOT WEAR A WHITE SHIRT or a posh new top. Not unless you’re an incredibly careful eater, a black-belt chopstick user and / or you take a bib with you!
- If you order the hot soup, there are a few really small hot chillies in there and lots of black peppercorns which you need to look out for. I can handle hot food – and this wasn’t too hot – but crunching on chillies and black peppercorns isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.
- If you order the hot soup and the fresh prawns, make sure you count all your eyes after cooking the prawns and before drinking the soup! Prawn eyes look suspiciously like black peppercorns!
- If you order the fresh tiger prawns in shells, you’re going to get messy! Also refer to the first point, above.
- Make sure that you visit Jabu!!! If you love Chinese food and want to try something a bit different, it’s great!
Jabu doesn’t currently have a license to sell alcohol, so you have to take your own, which helps keep the cost down, although all four of us ate plenty and it cost less than £50. (Whilst they charge £1 for using a credit or debit card to pay, you can’t really grumble about that because everything else is perfect!)
Excellent service, excellent food, excellent atmosphere and excellent value.
Jabu is simply excellent!
Labels: food, personal, restaurants
12 January 2006
A long time ago, I used to record Radio 1’s UK Top 40 on a Sunday evening using my radio cassette recorder. I could then take the songs everywhere with me on my portable stereo system. (It wasn’t made by Sony, so it technically wasn’t a Walkman.) Imagine being able to take a full ninety minutes worth of music with you wherever you went! The fact that the UK Top 40 went on for three hours meant you had to edit out Bruno Brookes and cleverly select which songs you wanted to record in advance. Of course, you could always carry more cassettes if you wanted to really go wild... but those days are long gone. You can now store more than 500 times that amount of music on a device that’s not much bigger than an old audio cassette. Amazing!
But just carrying music around with you is so 1980s. We want to be taking music videos, full-length feature films and TV series everywhere we go – just like they used to do in the future! Well kids, we’re living in the future now...
The other night, I finally learnt how to convert movies and DVDs to a format which would play on both my PSP and Suzy’s iPod without purchasing any software. Forget about buying Sony’s Image Converter 2 (£13.90) and Apple’s Quicktime Pro (£19.99) to convert your movies into a format that your PSP or iPod will recognise. You don’t even need to spend money on UMDs that you can only play on your PSP when you’ve already got the DVD. All you need is DVD Shrink and PSP Video 9. (Yes, despite the name, you can also use this to create videos for your fifth generation iPod Video too.)
DVB Shrink enables you to “backup” your DVDs to your computer (or another DVD), removing any unwanted menus or special features along the way; you can then use PSP Video 9 to convert the movie to a number of formats, depending on what encoding or quality you require. For more instructions on getting your videos onto your PSP, read Getting Started with PSP Video 9. If you’re converting your movies for use on your iPod, make sure transcode them using a compatible profile. I used the following:
Once you’ve transcoded the movie, you should be able to just open iTunes, add the file to your library and update your iPod.
Cheap and easy.
On a related note, Google recently added PSP support to Google Video. However, if you’re getting “Unsupported Data” error messages or having problems viewing the video after you’ve downloaded it to your PSP, you might want to check that you’re:
running firmware 2.00 or above – it seems the PSP downloads on Google Video are in AVC format, which apparently isn’t supported in earlier versions
naming the file correctly – i.e.
MAQ10001.MP4 – where the
MAQ#####.MP4 naming convention is used for AVC format movies (and SP format movies use
copying the movie to the right folder - i.e.
E:\MP_ROOT\100ANV01 for AVC format (and
E:\MP_ROOT\100MNV01 for SP format) where
E:\ is the drive letter of your PSP
(I’ve only tried to download a couple of movies from Google Video, so let me know if I’m wrong about any of the above points.)
Labels: gadgets, google, ipod, personal, psp
8 January 2006
Back in November, we had two free movies put through our letterbox. One was a copy of Spider-Man 2 on UMD which I received for registering my PSP. The other was a DVD copy of Life’s Story: The One That Hasn’t Been Told which was accompanied by a leaflet from our local church explaining:
[S]cience, through the idea that everything including ourselves evolved spontaneously from a big bang, has given us a reason to reject the whole idea that God is a reality. We have no need to believe in Him anymore because there is another explanation of why we are here.
But what if some scientists have made a mistake? What if they have got it wrong? The DVD with this leaflet scientifically demonstrated that the latest DNA research proves that evolution is impossible.
Could it be that the Bible has been right all along?
We would like you to accept this DVD as a gift to keep and to consider honestly these important questions.
We finally got around to watching the DVD tonight and I’ll summarise the main points of the elaborate story for you below (and I’m paraphrasing here):
- If a cow tried to turn into a dolphin, it would drown. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- If a mammal ‘waited’ for its fur to turn into scales so that it could live underwater, it would freeze to death before it could get in the water. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- We’ve not seen any new types of animals be created, only new species of the same types of animals. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- Some lions have darker manes than others. This natural variation in DNA is useless in evolution, which means there must be a creator. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- Giraffes give birth standing up and the newborn falls to the ground feet-first. This must have been the result of some kind of Intelligent Design because the youngster would die immediately of a broken neck otherwise. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- When animals are born, they know how to do everything. When humans are born, they need to be taught how to do everything. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- There are no fossils showing any evidence of evolution. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
- Science is made up. It’s more like “Science Fiction” than “Science Fact”. The Bible is full of hard facts. Therefore, evolution is impossible.
I’m sure you’ll agree that there are some interesting ideas there. Not only does Mark Haville (writer and producer) give the impression that the evolution process happens over the period of a few hours or days, but he even tries to argue that all animals on Earth today are exactly the same today as they’ve always been. He also argues against himself at several points throughout the DVD.
For example, he states that giraffes give birth standing up because they can’t rise to their feet as quickly as other animals, which would make them easy prey for lions when they give birth. Fair enough. However, he then tries to prove his point that evolution is impossible by saying that since giraffes would probably die if they didn’t give birth standing up, there must be some sort of Intelligent Design going on! Well... I’m not a scientist, but perhaps giraffes now give birth standing up because all the ones that gave birth lying down in the past were eaten by lions!!!
Trying to suggest that animals know everything when they’re born but humans need to be taught everything is also ridiculous. Humans only need to be taught things (like how to set the clock on the microwave – although even that comes naturally to some people) because we’ve made everything more complicated for ourselves. The key skills we need for survival come naturally; my niece apparently knew exactly what she needed to do when she came to have her first meal outside the womb – and nobody ever taught me that I have to pull my hand away quickly whenever I touch something hot!
Also, I thought that the natural variations in living creatures are what make evolution possible. Suggesting that it’s down to the “artistic flair” of their creator is quite literally incredible. And I’m only guessing here, but I reckon that cows didn’t simply turn into dolphins overnight...
Anyway, maybe I’m wrong. I know plenty other people have their own theories on evolution. In fact, Chris Hill recently made an interesting argument supporting Darwin’s theories in his post titled Intelligent Design Vs When Stunts Go Bad. (Personally, I’d like to hear what Mark Haville has to say about that – and if he wants to post another free DVD through my door trying to convince me that stunts don’t go bad, I’ll watch it with pleasure.)
If you want to see Life’s Story for yourself, you can buy it online from NPN Videos (for £12.95) where you can also watch trailers and buy other Christian DVDs such as Beyond Seduction (whatever that might be about), A Woman Rides The Beast (I didn’t think that sort of thing was allowed in Bible times) and – coming soon – Life’s Story 2: The Reason For The Journey!!!
Labels: personal, rant
6 January 2006
Everyone else is posting about it, so I figured I’d add my €0.03 worth... and for those of you who don’t know what Google Pack is, read some of these.
At the moment, the Google Pack install page is still redirecting to a login page with the service name “tester”. However, it looks like it could be released soon; Paul Prijs posted a link to the About Google Pack page. (Although, we all know how long it took to launch Google Base after it made its first appearance!) Anyway, I’ve taken a screenshot just in case it disappears like new Google product pages often do. (This page also contains a learn more link, but that also redirects at the moment.)
Although there are rumours about what software Google Pack will contain, this page confirms that the download will include at least:
- Google Toolbar for IE
- Google Pack Screensaver
- Ad-Aware SE Personal
- Adobe Reader
- Norton Antivirus
From the screenshot of the Google Updater, it looks like the installer might be web-based, meaning that you’ll only download the items that you require.
Update: 6 January 2006 (20:43)
Eric Baillargeon has a complete list of the 14 software packages to be included. He discovered them in a .js file that he downloaded from the Google Pack site.
Also “live” is the Google Pack Knowledge Base. This is labelled as copyright Neotonic Software Corporation and powered by Trakken. It seems a little odd that Google is outsourcing things like support – unless that software is open-source or they just acquired another couple of companies. Whilst the Knowledge Base is currently empty, it does let you ask a question. (I just asked “When will Google Pack be released?”)
Update: 6 January 2006 (21:03)
Something I forgot to post about earlier was the blog I discovered that Philipp mentions in his post update. When I heard about Google Pack, I used Google Blog Search to find the earliest post containing the phrase [Google Pack]. The earliest one I could find was the Surf Nicaragua! blog by some guy called Micheal Lopez. (It was being hosted by Blogger but it’s now gone.) However, I just trawled my browser history and made these screenshots of his posts:
It seems that he’s the designer who created the Google Pack icon, the Google Video icon and also the Google Zeitgeist 2005 graphic. No wonder he’s taken his blog down – unless he was asked/told to by Google – if he really is the guy who created these icons, publishing them publically in the middle of December probably severely broke his contract with Google!
So, why is Google doing this? Continue the discussion over at the Google Blogoscoped Forum...
Update: 7 January 2006 (11:45)
Google Pack was made live last night. It seems the Google Pack Knowledge Base I mentioned above has now been rebranded as Google Pack Help and lost its links with Neotonic and Trekken (suggesting that all Google’s support is probably being powered by Trekken behind the scenes).
[Via Google Blogoscoped]
3 January 2006
I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I’m totally incapable of keeping them. Previous years have seen me try to stop biting my nails (several times) and give up kebabs (which is actually impossible). This year, however, I’m going to try and do a couple of things: chew my food more thoroughly and post to my blog more frequently. Only time will tell whether I’ll keep to either of them, but since it’s the third day of the year already, it must be time I posted something to my blog. (Especially since the extra food chewing hasn’t been going too well over the last couple of days...)
Anyway, it seems fitting that my first post of 2006 should review what happened to me in 2005 – i.e. all the things I probably should have posted about at the time but couldn’t usually be bothered.
Warning: anyone with a low boredom threshold should probably stop reading now as I’ve just read the post before publishing it and I have definitely rambled on a bit too much...
I’ve been researching my Ruscoe family tree for around five years, but over the last year or so I’ve started to take it more seriously and decided to visit Shropshire Archives in January 2005 to help fill in some blanks. Whilst we were in the area, I took the opportunity to have a look at where my ancestors would have lived back in the 1800s. If you’ve got the Ruscoe surname in your family tree, you might want to look at my photos from the trip, my Ruscoe Family Genealogy website and the Ruscoe Family Genealogy Google Group.
I received a letter from a popular men’s magazine threatening legal action against me unless I removed photos of two TV celebrities. The images showed how the celebrities looked before and after they were photoshopped for the magazine. I received them by email and made them into Flash movies so that you could hover over each to see the differences. Needless to say, the magazine’s legal team didn’t like this, so I kindly agreed to remove them. I now get hundreds of disappointed visitors looking for the photos on my website each month.
I also made a gingerbread house for my sister’s birthday and Suzy helped me to build a snowman.
We managed to get some tickets to go and see The Games being filmed in Sheffield for Channel 4 and watched a few celebrities compete in Olympic style sporting events. The line up included Craig Charles (comedian/actor/presenter), Princess Tamara Czartoryski-Borbon (model), Danny Foster (former member of Hear’Say), Kirsty Gallacher (presenter), Mel Giedroyc (comedienne), Chesney Hawkes (singer), Lisa Maffia (singer), Jonathon Morris (actor), Philip Olivier (actor), Kevin Simm (member of Liberty X) and Anna Walker (presenter). There’s not much else to say about this really. Chris posted an equally brief description at the time.
We went to see Richard Herring at the Lescar. I’m not really a fan of his but I thought he was very, very funny. Chris Hill covered it at the time, so there’s no need for me to say any more.
During the first Bank Holiday weekend, I built myself a brick barbecue in our back garden. It’s something I’d had planned ever since we moved into our house and, even though we only got to use it three or four times, it was worth the five trips to Wickes, sore arms, aching shoulders and the sunburnt neck!
I also finally updated my website (again) to use XHTML & CSS, moved my three-year-old weblog to use Blogger and was kindly given a Flickr Pro account, which I really should be making more use of. (Maybe that should be another new year’s resolution...)
I travelled more in this month that I’d travelled in my entire life. First of all, we went camping in Malham, North Yorkshire for Andy’s birthday (like we did the previous year). Then we went on holiday to Florence for a week, also visiting Pisa whilst we were in the area. About a week later I then made a business trip to Montréal, Canada. (You can read a bit more about these escapades in my Around the World in 25 Days post.)
Chris and Dawn tied the knot and I had another birthday, which was when I played Singstar for the first time. (Sadly, this was when we also introduced Chris Riley to the game and he now takes it quite seriously...)
A surprising number of rather large spiders made an appearance in this month. I’ve not seen many of them since then, so I can only presume that they’ve been beamed back up to the Planet of the Rather Large House Spiders by their mothership.
Suzy and I visited Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park in Devon with Lil and Chris (see my photos) and I got to feed a lemur for the first – and probably last – time!
Google released their Gmail button for Google Toolbar, which enabled me to figure out how to add custom search buttons to the toolbar. They then released Google Blog Search which would later result in my website traffic increasing considerably as people found my blog posts much more quickly than they would through the normal Google search.
October was an exciting month (for a geek). First of all, I wrote a script to check for Google Subdomains and found a few that people hadn’t seen before. One of these was purchase.google.com which might have inspired the folks over at WebmasterBrain.com to dig a bit deeper, resulting in them discovering the Google Purchases (AKA Google Wallet / Google Payments) sign-up pages. Incidentally, almost three months on and this new service from Google still hasn’t been released yet.
I decided to run the script again after reading a comment by Wouter Schut and discovered the Google Base subdomain. What happened in the days following my post about this discovery was remarkable. Within 24 hours, Google-watchers all over the world were discussing a new service that they didn’t even fully understand. As screenshots started to appear on the Internet, people were speculating what the new service would be capable of, which caused eBay’s stock to reportedly drop by as much five percent at points during the day! The Guardian and The New York Times – amongst many others – referenced my website and I was even interviewed by Business Week magazine! Incidentally, the title I chose for my post – All your base are belong to Google – was used all over the Internet, with some people even posting it to their blogs without even knowing why they were doing it!
I finally went to see The League of Gentlemen live in Llandudno (as I’d mentioned earlier in the year) and the show was absolutely excellent, completely exceeding my expectations. It was well written, well performed and well worth the wait. My only real gripe was that it wasn’t long enough; the two 45-minute acts just went far too quickly! For any League fans didn’t get to see it, I’d definitely recommend buying it as soon as the show is released on DVD.
I also held my school reunion and bought myself a PSP. I actually posted an update around that time, so you can read more about all that if you like.
T’was the week before Christmas and my sister gave birth to a baby girl, making me Uncle Tony and ending the year perfectly.
If you’ve read all the way to here, you deserve a medal! Please accept my most sincere apologies. When I started writing this post, I only intended it to be a brief look back at 2005 but then I got blogorrhea and I couldn’t just hit the delete button after spending so much time on it...
Happy New Year!
Labels: gadgets, genealogy, google, personal, photos, psp, ruscoe.net, theatre, travel, tv