Life

May 19th, 2014

Freeing NEPTUN’s maps

Countryside map

The University of Namur’s library has some wonderful building, local, regional and national maps on their NEPTUN site. They provide a Google Map like pan and zoom functionality using a commercial Flash program called Zoomify. It’s unfortunate they chose to pay for functionality that’s freely available from OpenLayers or Leaflet. Regardless of this the data is not downloadable as a large file. I do not see why data such as this is not made easily and freely available. As a University it seems that it should be encouraging the sharing of past knowledge. In order to help them, and because a colleague asked me for a map, I have created a script that downloads all the tiles and reorganize them into one image. The script and instructions are on github. It’s obvious why it’s called Poseidon right?

May 19th, 2014

Fougasse

Top half of bread

It may not surprise you that I greatly enjoy bread. I made my first Fougasse a few months ago and haven’t stopped with various toppings. A Fougasse is a bread, typically with some design, containing and topped with seasonings: olives, sun-dried tomatoes, meats, artichoke, jalepenos, etc… A frenchman’s pizza equivalent if you will. I cannot do the flavour and texture justice by describing it. Just try it.

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March 29th, 2014

Quark Loaf

Quark loaf

I first had this as muffins at a friend’s house a year or so ago. It is rare that I have a craving for something a few weeks or months after eating something without having thought about it since. The tart yogourt flavour is what makes this simple cake so special. Unfortunately I have been unable to reproduce the flavour with anything but quark, a typically German yogourt made using sour milk, isn’t very accessible outside Europe as far as I know. The great appeal of this loaf, besides the flavour, is the complete simplicity of preparation.

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April 20th, 2013

Magnificient Meringues

MagMeringues

I have been making meringues for a very long time – since I was ten. It has always been a bit of a surprise as to how they come out. Often they are sticky like caramel on the inside, or soft like the top of a key-lime or lemon pie. Ideally they should be crunchy throughout without any large bubbles. Recently I was given some key tips for making more uniformly crunchy meringues.

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November 29th, 2012

Baltrum: A car-free community

An island guaranteed to relax you

As you leave behind a car park and, after a 40 minute ferry trip, arrive to a much more peaceful wagon park, the car-free contrast is jarring. Not only is the setting calmer but the people have also relaxed. No one is in a rush to find parking, get luggage from the car, get on the ferry before it leaves. Each family walks down the rows of wagons looking for the one with their house number on it. These transport wagons sport a hitch to be mounted behind a bike but also two hand grips so they may be hand-pulled. These wagons are large enough to fit a couple large suitcases and some tired children. So begins the walk from the ferry terminal into town and to our rental home. The ferry traffic quickly spreads down the road as those with bikes or in horse taxis pull ahead.

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June 21st, 2012

Jule’s Sun-dried Pesto

An amazing pesto

Julia knew someone who worked in a restaurant with a great sun-dried tomato pesto. It’s been buried in our recipe book for too long. It’s amazing.

Servings: Pasta sauce for 8
Preparation: 20 minutes

Ingredients

Base

  • 300 g sun-dried tomatoes (in oil)
  • 150 g almonds
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 100 g tomato paste
  • 1 cup olive oil
Granular

  • 1 bunch of basil
  • 100 g roasted pine nuts
  • 300 g parmesan
  • pasta water (before serving)

Directions

  1. Drain the sun-dried tomatoes from their oil and combine with the other base ingredients.
  2. Blend until homogenous.
  3. Roast pine nuts and add to the granular ingredients and stir (do not blend!).
  4. Right before servings mix in some of the water in which the pasta boiled until it has a creamy consistency.

Enjoy!

November 23rd, 2011

Infographic failure

Infographics serve to simplify the communication of complexity by showing shapes, relationships, metaphors, hues, flows and symbols to represent values. A visually clean and attractive layout is common. We are more quickly able to compare visual values such as areas than numbers. Numbers and words require a more steps: deciphering (reading), translating to meaning and finally absorption. Visual symbols are directly absorbed.

Last year I purchased the book Information is Beautiful (IiB) by David McCandless. Its premise made me add it to my virtual shopping cart instantly. The book is strictly infographics about all sorts of serious, curious and funny topics. I was rather disappointed when reading it and discovered many incomplete pages. I became frustrated with the book and glossed over it a little quickly after that, admiring more the designs than the actual data. McCandless calls it a “freak printing error” but I wonder if it wasn’t partially from the last minute rush. I’ve watched his TED talk and I feel he may be a bit full of himself.

Infographics can fail at many stages. There can be an error in the research as in McCandless’ vitamin supplements graphic. These require you to know well the data to detect errors. There are also representational errors where the values researched are not represented correctly relative to other values. These are easier to detect if the author/artist also displays the values that the graphics are trying to represent. I browsed through IiB a few months back and looked at the data theft infographic. I quickly saw many representation and design errors. I admire his listed source materials / bibliography but I do not think he took to heart Tufte’s lessons.

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November 16th, 2011

Les Gougères

Gougeres close up

Gougères are puff pastry with cheese. While the ingredients are few and common, the labour of mixing the pastry dough is physical. I sit and place the pot between my knees so that I can stir with both hands using a strong spoon. I have broken a wooden spoon before. The cougères are great with soup as a side dish or as an appetizer when you have guests over. I often make a double batch and freeze 2/3 for future meals.

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November 2nd, 2011

Alternate Clock Designs

Three different clocks

A day has 24 hours in it. That’s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds. If you wonder why Americans don’t understand the need for using the metric system then ask yourself why you use this inconsistent time measurement system.

What if we could design a better time system that is easier to read and convert between units? Would it still have the same number of hours, minutes or seconds in a day?

Explore the designs.

October 25th, 2011

The unobfuscation of credit card statements

I don’t use credit cards as means of delaying payment over a longer period of time. I like their ease and simplicity. Swipe and go. I pay no fees. Life is simple. Of course when it’s time to view my credit card statements online it’s a big pain visualize my recent transaction history. Perhaps this is simply with my bank but it seems they want to make it as hard as possible or simply don’t care about user experience. If I want to view past transactions my only option is to download a PDF for each month. If I make a partial payment of my credit card balance owing, the system will only ever show me the total and never update to what remains. Only when the payment due date passes will it update and tack on interest and the remaining balance. I decided to create an interactive mock-up of what could be done to provide a more informative and usable experience when trying to understand the situation of your credit card debts.