Friday, 2 April 2010

Cairo - the good bits

All the cliches are true: the Pyramids really do look bigger from far away, they really are on the outskirts of Cairo city and reached through the squalor of back streets, and they really are astonishing.

But the camel-ride touts aren't as annoying as we were told; maybe they took it easy on us because it's the off season. So anyway, here are the cliched pictures of Cairo you were expecting.

Picking up the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

The start of the Sound and Light show in front of the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx, and the second Pyramid of Khefren (on the left).

Us in front of the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. This was actually the first pyramid, architected by a guy called Imhotep for Djoser, one of the first kings of Egypt. Before this, they just built tombs. Djoser's son built a couple of other pyramids, then his son Cheops built the Great pyramid.

And how did we learn all this?

Cam with our guide Mukhtar. The hotel (of which more later) organised a guide for us for the two days we were in Cairo, and he was pretty good: he spoke English pretty well, he knew a lot about Egyptian pyramids, and he taught us how to cross roads (of which also, more later). He did take us to a number of rip-off places which clearly gave him kickbacks, but that's to be expected.

So we knocked off the big tourist sites in Cairo. Anyone can do that. The real experience will be in the next post, as soon as I finish this beer in our lovely hotel room in Istanbul...

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Leaving Dubai for Larnaca, we flew over the coast and the Burj al Arab hotel, that famous hotel that looks like a sail. The atmosphere was so hazy we lost sight of it not long after I took this photo.

Emirates airline was better than I expected, although not quite as good as Air NZ; the IFE has hundreds of movies and games you can play between passengers (Cam beat the pants off me at Pong) but the constant interruptions for announcements drove me nuts. Not just the usual safety stuff pre flight but also a good twenty minutes on how cool Emirates was, how much duty free stuff you could buy on the plane, and so on. Really spoilt the fun.

But we made it through the 22 hours in the air without killing each other and now we're in Larnaca, drinking iced cofffee and waiting for Mike to finish his cycle race.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Busting my CO2 limit, and then some

At the end of last year I set myself a target of 3,000kg net CO2 emissions.

As of today, 24 March, I'm up to 2,490kg. Half of that is the 1200kg I "depreciate" the apartment by every year, but two trips to Wellington for work, and another eleven hours in the pilot seat of a Cessna 152, have been responsible for most of the rest.

And on Friday I'm going to embark on a wee trip* that will bump me up to over 9,000kg. Bang goes my original hope to get to my target without offsetting.

The flight emissions calculator at CarbonPlanet has been incredibly useful. It generated this list of emissions in about thirty seconds - they get ten out of ten for usability:

I'm going to have to look seriously into offsetting. Right after I get back from the three weeks away.

* The blog's going to turn back into a travelogue for a bit.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010


Here's a little experiment for you:

1) find a Kiwi teenager who was born here and has lived here all their life.

2) ask them to read out "the first worker shirked in the third term"

3) drop your jaw as you hear them pronounce all the internal Rs in those words as if they were from Gore.

What's happening to our accent? I don't know all that many teenagers, so I first noticed it on the bus and I thought it might be restricted to the kids attending the local grammar schools (Auckland and Epsom Girls') but I spent some time with my friends' kids over the holidays, and they're doing it too!

Other than the rolled R their accents sound just like ours (yours and mine, I mean - regular thirtysomething Kiwis).

There doesn't seem to be anything about it in the blogosphere. Has anyone else noticed this?

Friday, 1 January 2010

Making a turducken, part 5 - eating it

Sorry it's taken a while to post this. Food coma.

Once it finally finished roasting it looked like this. I think it looks a bit like a bog mummy.

On first slicing into it, while it was still hot, it looked like this.... it was enough to put a few people off eating it ....

But the next day, with PLENTY left, it looked a lot better. Good layering:

There's still quite a bit left in the freezer. Anybody for seconds?

Friday, 25 December 2009

Making a turducken... part 4: the photos of the birds

In order of construction, from the previous post:

Making a turducken... part 4: the birds

1:30am: waaa... what time is it? Time to put the turducken together!

2am ish: not looking at the clock too closely at this time in the morning, but here's the sequence:

1. turkey
2. seasoning mix
3. sausage stuffing... there seems to be a lot less of it now. The cat can't get into the fridge, can she?
4. duck
5. more seasoning
6. cranberry and pecan stuffing
7. chicken
8. more seasoning
9. the last of the stuffing

2:20am aaaaand.... roll it all up.

2:40am: how much can one turkey take? We're having to sew the edges together and then truss it with string. Lots of sewing, lots of string

2:58am: flipped! and more sewing and trussing required. The oven is up to temperature: 107 degrees Celsius.

3am exactly: and it's in the oven!

I'll put all the photos in the next post. Moving photos around between text is a pain in the bum in Blogger.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Making a turducken... part 3

9:10pm: Mmm. Looks delicious.

9:23pm: Stuffing A is getting nicely browned, with the sausage and onion and celery and stuff. And it's looking very American already. It's going to be pretty intensely flavoured. Now we've put in three cups of stock and left it to simmer... mmm, meats....

Meanwhile, my stuffing is done. That was easy.

9:38pm: both stuffings are done, and the birds are ready in the fridge. We're done for now - we have to assemble the turducken just before we put it in the oven, and we can't do that until midnight, because it needs nine hours to cook. Signing off til then.

Making a turducken... part 2

8:32pm: chopped and Ricked celery and four onions

Rick, above, is a Thermomix (he's named after the guy who sold him to us). He's like a blender on steroids and after plastic surgery to add scales and a stove element. He's a bit enthusiastic about chopping... we seem to have wound up with onion mousse.

And we're already deviating from the recipe - it calls for 3 cups of onion, but since we chopped it so fine we think it's packed down more than usual, so only putting two cups in.

Now we de-sausage the spicy sausage meat for Stuffing A. Americans seem to call what we'd call mince, sausage, so we've got spicy sausages which we're turning to mince. When I say "we", this part is entirely Bloke's job. As he says, he's a boy and doesn't mind getting his hands dirty.

My job is a lot easier... I'm making Stuffing B. From a packet.

Stuffing A:

* celery
* onion, browned together
* spicy sausage meat, browned
* paprika (yep, more)
* garlic (yay)
* chicken stock
* breadcrumbs

Stuffing B:

* two packets of stuffing mix
* water according to the recipe on the back of the packet

Quote from Bloke: "meeeeaaaaat".

Apparently calling him Bloke makes him sound like a bimbo. Should I ask him what he'd like to be called?

Making a turducken... part 1 of many

It's 8:11pm on Christmas Eve, and The New Bloke and I have started Operation Turducken.

It starts with two tablespoons of paprika. Not a typo: this is going into a seasoning mix which is going to have to cover three birds: a chicken, a duck, and a big big turkey.

The seasoning mix also has salt, black pepper (I don't think Bloke has ever ground so much black pepper in one go) and dried thyme. If you're going to make this yourself, it's:

2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1-2 tsp thyme

It's going to be rubbed all over the poultry later.

We're both first-borns, so we're organised to a degree that makes most people raise their eyebrows. So we've assembled the stuffing ingredients neatly.... for normal meals this would be dinner. Tonight, this is what's going IN dinner.

Bloke's chopping celery and my sous-chef skills are required to chop onions. Back later.

Flying solo

No, that's not a metaphor for anything. I get to fly this little plane around the sky all by myself now:

And for posterity, here's a bit of my logbook.

More detail to come, but first I have to help make a turducken...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Did I do better this year?

Last year I emitted (well technically caused the emission of) 12,792 kg of CO2. At the time I said I could do a lot better this year if I didn't spend half the year in the USA. I calculated that I would have emitted only 4889 kg if I had spent the year the way I'd originally planned to (live in NZ, take a holiday in Japan).

I spent the whole year living in NZ this year, so let's see how well I did.

Actually not too bad!

I (through my activities) emitted 4445 kg of CO2 this year. I'm extrapolating out to the end of the year. For those that measure in tonnes, that's 2.2 tonnes. Given that the average I am now below the average for NZ residents (phew) but still well above world average (rats).

And if I hadn't taken up learning to fly (those 19 hours in the pilot seat of the Cessna have caused 752 kg of CO2 to go into the atmosphere...) and started driving a lot more, to get to Ardmore and to get to The New Bloke's house in the outer wilds of Auckland, I'd have emitted even less.

So now that I know how much effect I can have on CO2, I'm setting a target for next year. Heh, just like in Copenhagen.

My target for 2010 is 3000kg net CO2. Let's see if I can achieve that. I can keep breathing out, but it's going to require some big changes. But important things always do.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Cabin Fever Day Four - I'm free! plus celebratory cake

Free, free at last! The ADHB called late this afternoon to tell me they'd finally got around to testing my throat swab, and gosh, I don't have swine flu.

And they cleared up the 72-hour thing too: once the test result is negative, the five-day quarantine turns into a three-day quarantine. The purpose of still having a three day quarantine after the first Tamiflu is to cater for the 0.001% of actual swine flu cases which return a negative test result. Quite frankly I wasn't listening too hard to the explanation by that point.

I'm free! My 72 hours ended today and I rushed out of the house... to the supermarket.

You see, earlier in the week my friend Karl had sent me a Five Minute Chocolate Cake In a Mug recipe which I've been dying to try. But it needed an egg, and I didn't have any. This evening I got an egg. I tried the recipe. Here's a photo. Note the Elvis Presley mug; I felt it was appropriate to the occasion.

Now before I tuck in, I should fill you in: I did Google the recipe before trying it, because it looked a bit odd to me (as a baker) - no baking powder, no baking soda, so what's making it rise? and seriously, a whole egg for a cake that small? Google first pointed me to a forum overflowing with complaints from people who'd tried it... but then pointed me to Not Quite Nigella, who has a very pretty website and who had modified the recipe a bit, making it look more likely to work. I used her recipe.

And now, live on the internet, I taste the cake ...

nom nom nom ...

... and find it quite okay! Not awesome, and it would definitely be improved by adding the prescribed chocolate chips, and possibly some cream and raspberries, but a perfectly acceptable little cakey treat.

The only problem is that Not-Nigella's modified recipe actually makes two little cakey treats. Oh, this could be dangerous.

That concludes my Cabin Fever series. I'll be back at the office tomorrow. Thank you for your attention.

Symptoms present: hacking cough, still.
Symptoms missing: swine flu!
Boredom level: not at all.
Days to go: none!

Cabin Fever, Day 4

I've become invisible! Quoting from the Ministry of Health's swine flu media release for yesterday, 10 June:

"There are 92 people in isolation or quarantine and being treated with Tamiflu. This is down from 161 yesterday (Tuesday June 9 June 2009). The numbers of people in isolation vary according to when they complete 72 hours of the five-day course of Tamiflu.

After today, suspected cases and numbers of people in isolation will no longer be reported. Fewer reporting requirements on public health services helps to relieve administrative pressure and allows them to focus on the increasing number of calls on their services in response to H1N1 cases."

Two things strike me as interesting:
1) they say the isolation period ends after 72 hours of the five day Tamiflu course. That's not what I was told: I was told to stay in isolation for the entire five days.
2) they're going to stop reporting numbers! Does it really take that much effort to query a database and write a sentence containing the number? Or, and I believe this is more likely, do they not have a database, and have to collate all the data manually.

Given that I still haven't been contacted directly by the Auckland District Health Board, and that they still haven't processed my swab, I think the latter explanation is more likely.

Which makes me fear what would happen if this was a serious pandemic, not just a normal flu with added oinking.

Symptoms today: hacking cough, sore stomach muscles and throat from coughing incessantly all night.
Symptoms missing: all other flu symptoms. this is definitely just a cold.
Boredom level: nil. Actually not bored at all, but craving human interaction.
Days to go: one and a half.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Cabin Fever, Day 3 - updates

Catherine the sender of lovely soup and milk said I should see who else was in quarantine, and set up a Twitter group. I haven't succumbed to Twitter yet but over at Stuff, Guy MacGibbon is in quarantine and blogging incessantly. I have borrowed his idea and started to anthropomorphise my Wii (not a sentence you'd want to read out loud).

Cabin Fever, Day 2 (Tuesday)

I had been thinking about sneaking out to the shops in the early morning, to get some milk. But I'm glad I didn't - even though I am sure I don't have the flu, I don't fancy being arrested and fined. Besides, it was raining.

I was really busy today. I believe it's called displacement activity. All those little household chores.... I planted out some new herbs, which have been languishing in their little plastic pottles since I bought them over a week ago:

I defrosted the freezer, for the first time in years (I'm not a domestic goddess). It took ages:I studied for my exams:

And I did some paid work, although not as much as I should have. My workstation at home is not very ergonomic:

I miss proper coffee.

My friends are finding this quite entertaining. The lovely Catherine sent me some delicious pea and ham soup with bread and MILK, YAY!, and the New Bloke's workmates ginned up a very authentic-looking health warning containing our names (he's fine).

Symptoms present: cough, rusty voice
Symptoms not present: sniffles, aches, headache, fever, curly tail.
Boredom: actually lower than yesterday - I'm more alert and have lots to do
Days to go: two and a half

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Cabin Fever, Day 1

As at 8 June, 56 people in the Auckland region are isolated with flu-like symptoms, awaiting the results of tests to confirm whether they've got it or not. One of them is me.

I'm pretty sure I haven't got it. In fact I don't think I've got flu at all; I think it's just a bad cold. But I've just come back from a fabulous Melbourne holiday with the New Bloke, and the doctor couldn't rule out swine flu, so here I am, stuck at home for the next five days, taking Tamiflu and waiting for my test results. (I'm not completely quarantined, just can't go to work or spend lots of time around people.)

Visual representation of my first day:

Finished the top book, read the middle one start to finish (but... it's a children's book, and a re-read), started the bottom book, and did the small amount of work on the scribbled pages. Pathetic.

In my defence, I am actually sick. I spent about half the day asleep, trying to escape the headache and cough, and my brain's pretty much non-operational. I've nearly lost my voice, but it's amazing how this isn't an issue when you're stuck at home alone.

After the bird flu scare, I'd made half-assed plans for what I'd do if I had to stay at home for a while. So I've got a whole lot of canned food and so on in a box, and that's about it. This will be a good test of my readiness for a real emergency.

If I feel better tomorrow I'm going to get better organised about this. How often do you get a chance to test your disaster plan AND get all those odd jobs done around the house?

Symptoms present: cough, sore throat, blocked nose, headache, tired, stupid.
Symptoms missing: fever, aches, oinking.
Boredom level: moderate. Too sick to be bored, really.
Days to go: four.

Friday, 15 May 2009

First signs of spring

The daffodils think Spring is near. They've started pushing up through the soil.

I like daffodils, they're so optimistic.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

It's strange, so it must be art?

In the square below my apartment there's a closed, locked, shipping container. There's a fireworks display going off inside it. No, really. I am not making this up.

There is a small crowd of people watching it, in the square and on balconies in the building. What we can see is: smoke leaking from the edges of the container. A very few flashes of light and coloured sparks squeezing out below the doors. What we can hear is: bangs of various sizes and tenors.

It's finished now. Applause. We drift away. It's cold tonight.

Apparently this is art. I think I am a fogey. It doesn't make me think or feel anything in particular... and it's not beautiful. So is it art, just because an official artist made it?

Although, I guess, it did make me blog.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

High Flight

Did my first take-off today. Still shaking.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless falls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, nor eer eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high, untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

`High Flight,' a sonnet written by John Gillespie Magee, a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the Second World War.