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Grant

Food fanatic, IT professional, Cloud Computing Expert, Software Developer and Travel fan.

 

Saturday, 28 January 2012 00:59

Boniatillo - Sweet Potatoes for Dessert!

In the U.S. desserts usually fall under the categories of cake, pie or ice cream. I'm sure there are desserts that don't belong in these categories but they're the exception, not the rule. This dessert is a breath of fresh air and not (that) bad for you either. At least it has something in it besides sugar that your body can use including Vitamin A. It may seem strange to use a vegetable for dessert but we do it all the time when we make Pumpkin Pie (or Sweet Potato pie in the south). And what better than to use a tuber that purees nicely and is already reasonably sweet.

Boniatillo is a Latin American dessert described as a Cuban tropical sweet potato pudding. The Cuban version uses the white fleshed Boniato sweet potato. This rendition uses the more commonly available Jewel or Beauregard Sweet Potato most often mislabeled as Yam in American grocery stores. It also infuses the sugar syrup with lemon, orange and cinnamon creating a nice fruity sweet sensation along with pleasant Sweet Potato overtones. To add richness butter and egg yolks are beaten into it then whipped egg whites are fluffed and folded with the pudding to give it body. A sprinkle of cinnamon and a little cream and you have a nice tropical dessert pudding.

 Link to the Recipe: Boniatillo

Thursday, 26 January 2012 22:40

Bus Maintainance

There are times we get ourselves into situations where we're giving every ounce of our strength to those we're taking care of. This to us is a selfless act and we can't ever imagine doing anything else. We eventually get worn down to the point that we just can't go on and we eventually fail. This is not an uncommon occurance and usually happens to those single parents who have the world on their shoulders or maybe the "unevenly yoked" people who care not only for the children but the other adult in the relationship. We may even extend this situation to total strangers who need help, co-workers, people from church etc.

We help until we've nearly destroyed ourselves because if we were to do anything for us it would be selfish which goes against our very nature.  Or would it? That's where bus maintenance comes in. 

Bus Maintenance

Let's assume for a moment that you live on the edge of death valley and you own a bus. You make your living by carrying passengers from one side of the valley to the other in this bus. You care a great deal about your passengers and you'd do anything for them. In order to keep them safe you need to take good care of your bus because if you neglect it at all you and your passengers could end up stranded in the middle of the desert and people could get hurt or worse. 

Doing regular maintenance on the bus is a necessity to keeping those who you care about safe. Sometimes it's hard to put money into it because it's YOUR bus and it feels a little selfish. It seems like you're only thinking of your own possessions so buying parts and spending time tuning it seems a little self serving. However, you have to keep reminding yourself that if your bus breaks down people could get hurt so you keep it in as good a shape as you can.

The bus is you

This bus is YOU. You have to take care of yourself or the people who are counting on you will get stranded in the middle of the desert. YOU can't fail, it's not an option. The more people who rely on you the more you have to maintain your bus. 

What does maintaining your bus really mean?

Maintaining your bus means different things to different people. What does maintaining your bus really mean?. I personally have a desire for deep thought so I need to spend a certain amount of my time every week surrounded by people with like minds. This recharges me. For you it may be that you need to go shopping or go on a date or just get your nails done. It all depends on who you are and what you need to recharge but the point is if you don't do it you're bus will at some point break down.

Spending a little time on yourself is a necessary thing in order to be able to continue taking care of those who need you.

Saturday, 21 January 2012 22:29

the Man, the Myth, the Legend traffic progress

Last August I decided to get serious about SEO/SEF and getting rid of bottlenecks in my site. A fast site gets indexed and just now in January am I getting the site close to what I want it to do. The gallery's are still a mess and I have some other issues I need to deal with (disqus comments still don't attach to the old articles) but I'm working on them. The Disqus problem will get taken care of in the coming weeks. The Galleries I'm not sure what I'll do about. I'd really like to move away from embedded Gallery2 but haven't found a Joomla gallery that was anything more than a lightbox showing photos in a folder. I really don't think that will work for 6000 photos. 

Anyway here's the results of the work I've been putting into this. Let it be known that it took four years to get to my first million hits. Now I'm doing 200k - 250k per month. 

 

Friday, 20 January 2012 17:13

Point and Shoot Photography

I've always been a proponent of learning as much as you can about a subject before running off and buying more equipment and photography is no different. A lot of times people think they can't take great photos without having great equipment but I've found that you can do a great deal by KNOWING what you're doing first. Years ago when I skated we'd go to Woolworth's and buy a pair of Roller Derby Phantoms to which we'd replace the liner with a Reidel or Rollerblade version, replace the wheels and bearings then tear up the track. Whomever just got owned would always come up and ask what we were skating on which we'd respond with "Roller Derby Phantoms, I got them from Woolworths for $39". Perhaps this caused a few people to give up on their dreams and live out their days serving 7 layer burritos at Taco Bell if you believe in the Butterfly Effect - I don't know. Anyway my philosophy is this.

"Be as good as you can with what you have and only replace it when IT becomes the limitation"

I live this with my photography. Sure a DSLR will take better photos than a point and shoot, nobody's arguing that. However, if you can't aim a point and shoot at a subject and make art out of it then it's doubtful that something as complex as a DSLR will help you any. Most point and shoot cameras will take decent photos within context. That context usually has to do with lighting and depth of field. With a small sensor they just can't take in enough light so anything over about 200 ISO they're done. They also have a very wide depth of field and the recent trend of adding wide angle lenses to them has made this worse. It's nearly impossible to do those very dramatic narrow depth of field closeups using a point and shoot camera with a wide angle lens. Other issues they have depend on the make of the camera but I'll list the general ones and attack them one at a time

  1. Noise at any ISO above base
  2. Limited zoom
  3. Purple fringing
  4. Inaccurate white balance
  5. Color blowout
  6. Overexposure


1. Noise: Because of their small sensors they struggle at taking photos in low light conditions so don't. That's right, just don't do it. If you have to then manually set your ISO as low as it will go then place the camera on a tripod and fire the shutter using a timer. My Jobi Gorillapod has allowed me to capture some great nighttime shots because it will stick to about anything. At least two of the shots in the gallery below would not have been possible without it. 

2. Limited Zoom: get closer or take the cleanest shot possible and crop. That's really what it comes down to. A zoom provides optical magnification which your point and shoot may not have. Optical is always better than taking a large photo and cropping it because the magnification is being done in the lens thus leaving all your pixels to still take in light. If you take a photo and crop it to simulate a 4x zoom with a 10 MP photo you'll end up with a 2.5 MP photo that's not very sharp. This is the limitation so you'll have to live with it.

Purple Fringing



3. Color Fringing: There's not a lot you can do besides avoiding the types of photos where it's prevalent ie. leaves backed by sky. The photo to the right shows fringing around the leaves.

 

 

4. Inaccurate White Balance: Light metering in point and shoot cameras leaves a lot to be desired and has to do with the software in the camera more than anything else so two cameras using the same sensor may not be equal in this regard. There's a simple solution that most cameras allow. Take the whitest piece of paper you can find and hold that in front of the image you're wanting to photograph and select "Evaluate White Balance" in your settings. Even cheap point and shoot cameras usually have this. This will tell the camera to change settings so the sheet of paper is considered white. This works really really well and I can't recommend it enough. This is especially useful for taking indoor shots under artificial lights because they're all different. I recommend this setting over changing to the pre-configured Tungsten, Fluorescent or other settings. Just remember to change it back when you're move to a new lighting condition. You may even do this several times during shooting to let it recalculate. 

 

 

5. Color Blowout: What I mean by this is some cameras prefer certain colors over others. This is a designed in feature of the camera manufacturer to satisfy the point and shoot market. Manufacturers of cameras designed for the common non-photographer folks like to make cameras that output bright over-sharpened photos with punchy colors because this is what consumers want. However, seasoned photographers know this isn't a good base to start your post processing with. It's better to have an image closer to raw so you can do the processing yourself. 

Just keep this in mind when you take photos. The photo of a rose to the right was taken by my Canon S90 which is one of the best point and shoot cameras you can but. The rose is really peach colored so you can see how bad the camera mangled it.

 

Over exposure

6. Overexposure: This is a real problem on a point and shoot because their sensors are so small and have very limited dynamic range. If your camera has auto-exposure bracketing (not likely) then turn it on. This takes three photos every time you press the shutter button at different exposures. This will allow you to choose the right one later or possibly even combine them in HDR software to make one High Dynamic Range image. If your camera doesn't have auto-exposure bracketing you might want to see if you can assign exposure settings to a hot button (ie. on Canon it's the print button) so you can take a photo, adjust exposure and take another quickly.  In more cases than not you'll be adjusting down and not up. I take most of my point and shoot photos at -2/3 exposure. Experiment and take lots of photos with different settings to see what works. You can always decide later what to keep.

 

With all of that in mind you can take decent photos with your point and shoot. I've had photos published in magazines that were taken with a 3.2 MP point and shoot camera with a 2x zoom. It IS possible. 

Why not just go to a DSLR?

I still carry around a point and shoot camera although a higher end one - Canon S90 because I can get it in my pocket. A camera that I have on me is a camera I'll take photos with. A bulky DSLR left at home will never get used. I will probably be replacing the S90 with an S100 or doing more research on the Canon G1X even though it pushes my envelope of what I want to carry around.

The moral of the story is learn how to use all the features of your camera and don't be afraid to experiment. The photo at the beginning of this article was taken using the gorillapod, a two second shutter and the exposure on the pre-configured Fireworks setting. 

 Point and Shoot Photo Gallery: click for lightbox

  

 

 

Thursday, 19 January 2012 01:38

Don't stop learning in cooking or photography

I was working on putting my Moussaka recipe back up on the new site and took one look at the photo I had on file for it and knew I couldn't do it. It's amazing how much of a difference just knowing a bit about what you're doing makes in many things. In this case it's both cooking and photography. My current camera is a bit better than my old one in that it takes better low light photos. However because of the wide angle lens it has a wider depth of field making it hard to get those really dramatic close-up images with the foreground and the background blurred out. However, how I took the new Moussaka photo I could have taken with the old camera too. I also don't have any more of a food photography studio than I ever did. One hundred percent of the difference between the two photos below is knowledge and nothing more. I'm still using a point and shoot camera, I'm still taking photos under fluorescent lights, I'm still using a couple of books and a $3.99 tripod from an outlet store, and I still don't have any flash, props, umbrellas or any of that jazz. So look at the photos below and see the difference. If you're one to run out and buy better equipment because you want to take great photos you may want to just get really good with what you have first THEN go buy new gear. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obviously the plate is different. I bought the one on the right for $6.99 for four at TJ-Maxx. The ones on the left cost the same per plate a an Import store. The recipe is of course different and I spent more time making the Bechamel sauce thicker (whipped egg whites then folded them in) but the real difference is lighting, subtle backgrounds and matching up colors with dramatic patterns lacking in color. You don't have to spent a lot on the background either. I layed a group of fake grapes and grape leaves back there and you can see something but it doesn't draw attention. It has a presence but doesn't introduce itself to you. The photo on the left is bland and plain. I'm too zoomed out, the food looks sad, the plate looks empty and alone. It's just blah.

Thursday, 19 January 2012 01:16

Moussaka! Kalí óreksi! How I've missed you.

I was going back through recipes from my old site to put up here and I was shocked at how poor my food photography was so I made Moussaka for the sole purpose of taking new photos. That and Fred Meyer had Aubergine for $1 each which is pretty good. 

 

Moussaka is one of my favorite Greek dishes to make even though I'm definitely not in the eggplant lovers club. The way I feel about eggplant is that if you could tenderize a slug but keep the sliminess you'd have an eggplant. However, the meat and flavorings in Moussaka are nice enough to overpower any anti-eggplant reactions I may have. My favorite part though is the Béchamel Sauce poured over the top. The recipe calls for parmigiana and feta cheeses but I did parmigiana and a cave aged Gruyère which worked out nicely. I also like Moussake with potatoes in it which I didn't have (and was snowed in) so that went. For meat lamb is best, 50/50 lamb beef is next and just beef being last. However, beef is still enjoyable because of the spices and red wine in it. I used a Ste. Michelle soft red blend that I had uncorked already. My favorite wine for this dish is a Côtes du Rhône blend of Granache and Syrah. If you don't put wine in it you'll definitely notice but I'm not sure the type of wine is as big a deal as in other recipes. I see recipes that use white wine though and I'm not so sure about that. This is a hearty dish with hearty flavors, red seems to go better.

  

Wednesday, 18 January 2012 01:35

Stop SOPA!

For those of you who haven't heard of SOPA it's an act in Congress designed to stop piracy. This is a good thing however, it's designed in a way that will result in sensorship without review. For instance, if you have a business all a competing company has to do is accuse you of piracy and your web hosting company will have to drop your account. There is NO review process. This by far the wrong way to accomplish this. If you feel the need to speak out against SOPA you might want to consider signing Google's takeaction site. 

If you want to know more about SOPA check wikipedia. Be aware that today January 18th wikipedia will go off the air against SOPA. So check back tomorrow.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act

 

https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

 

 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012 00:36

The History of the Sweet Potato

This is the first in a series of "Histories of things" taken from a very tongue in cheek point of view.

The history of the Sweet Potato:

  1. 750 BC an unknown Peruvian digs up a root and starts gnawing on it. Sweet Potatoes become a big hit spawning massive population growth, a couple of ruthless rulers, a box with a diseased feather and some really unruly metal clad illegal immigrants who have very little respect for local customs of ownership but I'm getting ahead of myself.
  2. A man from Italy wants to go boating but doesn't have the means to purchase one so he turns to begging which proves successful. He immediately gets lost in his new boat and about a month later runs it into a mound of dirt. Hungry he digs up a root and gnaws on it to much delight.
  3. The local Taino people who were of course overjoyed to have been finally discovered told the Italian boater that the root was called batatas. 
  4. Not having heard of a batatas  and having a slight hearing and/or comprehension problem he erroneously called it patata (you know from the rhyme potato, patata). Since the nice couple who loaned him their boat were Spanish this became the Spanish name for batatas. 
  5. Later the English not paying much attention to anything on the stranded side of the English Channel renamed it potato. Keep in mind there wasn't such a thing yet so you have to give them some credit for their originality.
  6. One hundred years later another man (who due to his lack of accomplishments remains unknown) dug up another root in South Columbia (I mean America, don't get me started) drags another tuber back to Europe. It resembled the batatas but generally lacked flavor or any other discernible value so it was given to the Irish and also named potato.
  7. Since people then named things by shape nobody noticed that the tasty batatas and the untasty potatoes were not in fact related nor did it matter - they were similar in shape so too should be similar in name.
  8. One hundred years later some well meaning folks needed to get some shit done and since it was a bit early in the timeline to run by Home Depot for good hard working laborers they asked the Portuguese if they knew of anyone who might want a job where pay wasn't an object. They did and offered to provide the transportation. 
  9. The newly arrived people were famished and upon taking into their sight the aforementioned roots responded with the Wolof word  "nyam" loosely translated as "If you don't give me something to eat I'm going to open up a can of Chris Rock on you".  As a side note the same people used to say nyam back home followed by feverish gnawing on roots as well.  Food is once again named by shape. Do not confuse nyam with Miami which although has a similar amount of dirt and clingy things attached to it differs in shape on the southern end.
  10. Zoom forward another 100 years (thankfully history happens in nice round numbers) to the deep south when orange colored sweet potatoes were introduced. The folks there didn't want to confuse anyone by competing fairly so they decided to rename orange sweet potatoes to  "If you don't give me something to eat I'm going to open a can of Chris Rock on you" but that was voted down in favor of Yam, an Anglicized version of the Wolof word nyam. Miami doesn't factor in here so we'll skip it for now.
  11. Fast forward to another nice round number in history and you have the USDA whom with good intentions tries to rectify the naming situation and passes regulations to force everyone to put the name Sweet Potato on every box of Yams. They failed to define the size of the text thus a new industry was born for super small typesetters. 


I've been working on an article about the various Sweet Potatoes and the differences and it occurred to me how humorous the situation is. Anyone in food knows that what is called a Yam in most cases is actually a sweet potato. This is fairly common knowledge but digging further it only gets worse and it isn't just sweet potatoes who are violated in the arbitrary naming process of food.  

Rest assured there is a plant called a Yam and it is edible but most American's have probably not even seen one let alone eaten it.  <big word alert> The Yam is native to Africa and Asia and belongs to the monocot family Dioscoreaceae.  Monocots are one of two major groups of flowering plants (or angiosperms) that are traditionally recognized, the other beingdicotyledons, or dicots. Monocot seedlings typically have one cotyledon (seed-leaf), in contrast to the two cotyledons typical of dicots. So in short a Yam is a monocot and a Sweet Potato is a dicot - not even botanically related at very base level of flowering plants. So what you see in the grocery store called Yam is actually a Sweet Potato no matter what color it is. There are yellow Sweet Potatoes labeled as such, there are orange Sweet Potatoes labeled as Yams and there are purple Sweet Potatoes labeled however the person wanted who put up the sign. It gets worse.

In addition to a "grocery store Yam" being in fact a Sweet Potato it's not even a potato at all. The potato's scientific name - Solanum tuberosum reflects that it belongs to the Solanaceae family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos. That's right, you say potato, I say tomato! Potatoes are related to tomatoes and eggplants. There are over 100 varieties of edible potatoes and the Sweet Potato isn't even related because it belongs to the Convolvulaceae plant family and is known by the scientific name of Ipomoea batatas. What's interesting about all of this is the genus is ipomoea and the species for Sweet Potato is batatas ie. phonetically potato which tells you how far back the confusion goes. Anyone who's seen a Sweet Potato flower may recognize it as another close relative in the same botanical family is the "Morning Glory" flower. <end of big word alert> 

To recap:

  • Yams are Sweet Potatoes
  • Yams are not yams
  • Sweet Potatoes are not potatoes
  • "Sweet" Potatoes have a lower Glycemic Index than potatoes
  • Potatoes are related to eggplants
  • Eggplants do not make eggs (irrelevant)
  • Sweet Potatoes are related to Morning Glory
  • Real Yams do exist and they're not from Miami (you'll understand in a minute)

So Yams aren't yams, they're sweet potatoes which aren't potatoes and aren't sweet? Pretty much. How did this happen?

The history of the Sweet Potato in my own words:

  1. 750 BC an unknown Peruvian digs up a root and starts gnawing on it. Sweet Potatoes become a big hit spawning massive population growth, a couple of ruthless rulers, a box with a diseased feather and some really unruly metal clad illegal immigrants who have very little respect for local customs of ownership but I'm getting ahead of myself.
  2. A man from Italy wants to go boating but doesn't have the means to purchase one so he turns to begging which proves successful. He immediately gets lost in his new boat and about a month later runs it into a mound of dirt. Hungry he digs up a root and gnaws on it to much delight.
  3. The local Taino people who were of course overjoyed to have been finally discovered told the Italian boater that the root was called batatas. 
  4. Not having heard of a batatas  and having a slight hearing and/or comprehension problem he erroneously called it patata (you know from the rhyme potato, patata). Since the nice couple who loaned him their boat were Spanish this became the Spanish name for batatas. 
  5. Later the English not paying much attention to anything on the stranded side of the English Channel renamed it potato. Keep in mind there wasn't such a thing yet so you have to give them some credit for their originality.
  6. One hundred years later another man (who due to his lack of accomplishments remains unknown) dug up another root in South Columbia (I mean America, don't get me started) drags another tuber back to Europe. It resembled the batatas but generally lacked flavor or any other discernible value so it was given to the Irish and named potato.
  7. Since people then named things by shape nobody noticed that the tasty batatas and the untasty potatoes were not in fact related nor did it matter - they were similar in shape so too should be similar in name.
  8. One hundred years later some well meaning folks needed to get some shit done and since it was a bit early in the timeline to run by Home Depot for good hard working laborers they asked the Portuguese if they knew of anyone who might want a job where pay wasn't an object. They did and offered to provide the transportation. 
  9. The newly arrived people were famished and upon taking into their site the aforementioned roots responded with the Wolof word  "nyam" loosely translated as "If you don't give me something to eat I'm going to open up a can of Chris Rock on you".  As a side note the same people used to say nyam back home followed by feverish gnawing on roots as well.  Food is once again named by shape. Do not confuse nyam with Miami which although has a similar amount of dirt and clingy things attached to it differs in shape on the southern end.
  10. Zoom forward another 100 years (thankfully history happens in nice round numbers) to the deep south when orange colored sweet potatoes were introduced. The folks there didn't want to confuse anyone by competing fairly so they decided to rename orange sweet potatoes to  "If you don't give me something to eat I'm going to open a can of Chris Rock on you" but that was voted down in favor of Yam, an Anglicized version of the Wolof word nyam. Miami doesn't factor in here so we'll skip it for now.
  11. Fast forward to another nice round number in history and you have the USDA whom with good intentions tries to rectify the naming situation and passes regulations to force everyone to put the name Sweet Potato on every box of Yams. They failed to define the size of the text thus a new industry was born for super small typesetters. 
That's pretty much it for yams. Now we have Sweet Potatoes who aren't related to Potatoes named Yams which aren't related to Yams and aren't that sweet.
 
 
Tuesday, 17 January 2012 02:39

My take on Linux Distribution choices

 

You might say I have a long distro history so I'll add my 1.7 cents (it was 2 cents before the recession).

 
Loved Mandrake until it got buggy. 
Mandriva came from Mandrake but never recaptured the glory.
  1. Both had very easy to use but powerful administration tools. 
  2. Wonderful menu structure
  3. Looked good
  4. Excellent hardware discovery. It could load the drivers for your blender if you could plug it in.
  5. Package management from the Gods when mortal man was painting on cave walls.
Why I stopped using them
  1. unstable repositories. Software was constantly broken. 
 
CentOS for servers - it's just the most stable feature rich distro for servers (from the commandline). 
 
SuSe for servers if you insist on using a GUI to manage it. Has the best GUI Server admin tools.
 
Ubuntu 8.04 - 10.10
  1. Tons of software packages
  2. Gnome2 became usable for bipedal primates with large frontal lobes.
  3. Install process so easy a baby stuck in a mineshaft could do it. 
  4. Everything just works and when it stops shaking a rubber chicken seems to help. If it doesn't work on Ubuntu it probably doesn't work on anything that runs Linux including orbiting brain lasers and fembots with a penchant for evil.
Why I'm looking for a replacement
  1. Software packages broken.... sounds familiar.
  2. Got tired of looking at desktop color themes best reserved for a 1970s kitchen with accompanying man cave with wall to wall shag carpet.
  3. Moved to the Unity desktop which is targeted at a branch of hominids possessing much smaller brain functionality that have been extinct for roughly 4 million years. Possibly as a result of a poor market study with limited subject availability to question and those who they could dig up didn't have much to say.
  4. Including the word Ubuntu in my online dating profile has not improved love matches. In addition translating the original Swahili meaning to English only leaves me looking a bit creepy.
  5. Ubuntu sounds like something my kids used to say when they were a year old and needed changed. Looks like it too.
 
Distributions I'm interested in but haven't made a decision about
 
Linux Mint DE
  1. Based on Debian so the software packages may actually work
  2. Uses the XFCE desktop so any sane human should feel comfortable with it.
Possible downfalls:
  1. A bit rough
  2. A bit ugly
  3. Linux Mint DE with a port scanner vs. Clint Eastwood with a Bowie knife would be a good fight.
  4. Having the same name as another distribution that has broken packages gives me the shivers.
 
Mageia

  1. So far every single package in the repository works. Ex Mandrake developers who must have learned their lesson.
  2. Doesn't talk to me like I'm a baby   

Possible downfalls:
  1. Only two packages in the repository.
  2. Just when I learned to pronounce Ubuntu this comes along.

 
The nice thing about Linux is you can try them all for zero dollars. I think a good practice though is to have a shared network drive where you put all of your stuff so if you choose to wipe out your machine you don't lose anything. Actually this is a good practice on any OS.