Mug-cake-making for the camera
For the work virtual Christmas party I was volunteered to lead a 30 minute microwave mug cake session over zoom. I have an undeserved reputation as a baking superstar because I started the
#bread slack channel and used to take raisin & walnut sourdough rye loaves in every so often In The Before Times. People have asked a few times to run a sourdough or bread thing over zoom, but I’ve never really understood how it work as it takes 5-10 minutes every 30 minutes for basically a whole day, and then you bake it a day later. Someone made the suggestion of microwave mug cakes as something you can do easily and before I knew it I was on the hook to lead a session.
I’d never made mug cakes before though, so I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. I did a few trials the week before and on the day I set myself up in the kitchen and talked people through making either a chocolate or a christmas spice mug cake. People seemed to enjoy it, and there were a plethora of mug cake pictures shared on slack afterwards. I did have to explain what Treacle is to my colleagues who weren’t brought up in the UK which was nice given the number of US recipes I’ve followed and had to do the reverse translation for blackstrap molasses.
To run the session I joined the zoom call twice, once from my laptop, perched on a giant recipe book to capture my face, and once from my phone to capture the actual cake making. To keep my hands free for this I built a Lego Duplo phone rig to put my phone in. It had an integrated chicken coop, balcony for Elsa to watch what I was doing, and seating area for Anna to await the finished cakes. This is probably the bit I enjoyed the most. It’s all in the behind the scenes work.
A(n almost) daily puzzle
Spurred on by a colleague I took part in Advent of Code this year. It’s the first time I’ve done it so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It starts very simply, with puzzles that can be solved with a liberal application of a ruby stdlib method from
Enumerable, but fairly quickly ratchets up the complexity. By the time I gave up on the endeavour, I was spending several hours working on my solutions, and even longer thinking about them.
Now that I’m post-technical1 I enjoyed flexing my coding muscles every day. My default mode was to try and model the problem domain and implement as much of the world being described as possible; invariably the second part of the puzzle would then force me to toss that all aside in order to compute a solution in reasonable time. Often this meant that I would no longer be able to compute the full world described in the problem, only the optimised subset that would answer the specific question being asked. I’m not entirely sure how I felt about that.
A few things I realised while doing these puzzles are:
- I don’t want to code another x,y (or x,y,z) grid problem for a very long time - I made so many silly mistakes, geometry is clearly not my strong suit.
- I can’t really solve problems without the crutch of some unit tests. The solutions that took me the longest to solve were the ones where my unit tests weren’t low-level enough to drive out the bugs. If ever I needed proof that you need integration tests supported by unit tests this was it.
- I enjoyed the modelling part of solving the problems, less so the performance optimisation. I wonder if that’s the result of working on webapps for so long where performance isn’t really the major pain point.
- I enjoyed thinking about naming and structure - I guess what you’d call the aesthetics of the solution - even more so than the modelling. I wouldn’t claim my solutions were neat and tidy or anything, as I stopped working on them once I had the answer, but that’s the part of it I enjoyed the most.
It made me realise why I’ve never really got on board with kata-style coding websites. Simply grunting through a
for loop to get an answer hasn’t interested me for a while, and these sites have always seemed to push you in that direction once the problem goes beyond something you’d get for free in your stdlib.
I might try again next year, as despite my frustrations I did enjoy the little bit of coding practice I did every day. Does make me think if hands-on coding is something I’m happy to have given up as part of my day-to-day role.
A walk in Edmonton
R does a drama class after school on Fridays and this term was all a build up to the show they put on for Christmas. There were full dress rehearsals the Sunday before, but we hadn’t realised the show wouldn’t be in the same place as the class. The show was in a school in the middle of a residential area in Edmonton. Just far enough away to be annoying, and not convenient for any public transport. As the rehearsal was for 2 hours and it would take us about 40 minutes to travel there, I decided I’d stick around and wait rather than dropping R off and coming home. Being a Sunday, and being a very residential area, there was nothing open, so I ended up with a impromptu walking tour of Edmonton. Turns out, if I’d gone west instead of east I’d probably have found somewhere to sit in, but I managed to miss anywhere that was open (other than take-away kebab shops and barbers). I did trudge through a small wetlands on the side of a cemetery and take this photo of some crows in a tree that summed up my mood appropriately.
The Christmas Show
The following weekend we made the trip once more for the actual show. Given the ages of the cast it wasn’t too bad at all. R played a Cowgirl as part of the chorus which had us confused because Cowgirl’s aren’t a traditional Christmas character, but it all made sense given the show was A Christmas Story: The Musical2 which is set in 1940s America and the plot revolves around a boy trying to secure a western-styled BB Gun as a gift.
Obviously, I thought R was great and the show was amazing, but, equally obviously, it was objectively bad. Primary school children aren’t very good at remembering lines, or singing in key, or dancing in time let alone unison. It was clear though how much fun they were all having, and how much they were trying to do everything right. Honestly, maybe that’s all that’s important? Is it enough to appreciate the effort in lieu of the output?
She’s signed up for another term of the class so I imagine we’ll have to attend more of these shows and even if they’re as shambolic, I think I’ll enjoy them.
Playing with Lego
While up at my parents for a pre-christmas visit once R had finished school I introduced her to a large bucket of “big Lego”3 that my parents had pulled out of their loft. I didn’t know this, but they’ve kept two giant boxes of Lego and technic Lego from when my brother and I were young. I got to have a nostalgia hit of raking through the Lego and particular combinations of pieces reminding me of this or that favoured set from my youth. I also got the joy of seeing R build her first non-Duplo Lego models. She was particularly keen to build a big car with lots of trailers. I like Duplo, but I’m excited to start her on “the good stuff” now she’s ready. Probably because, as my mum mentioned, I had at least as much fun as her building stuff, and I don’t really get that with Duplo.
Honestly, I think I might have even had more fun than her.
I was, however, fairly surprised by my reaction to some of the minifigs I found in the box.
The Fabuland figure is pretty much the same as R’s Duplo minifigs in terms of cuteness, but it has one main advantage – it’s big Lego scale. I remember enjoying Fabuland and then moving onto Lego for slightly older kids, but being able to incorporate all my Fabuland bits into the city, space, and castle Lego I moved onto. You can’t do that with Duplo, and it seems a shame.
With Benny from the Lego Movies and even before that there’s a lot of internet fandom for classic space Lego minifigs, but it always struck me that the 2nd wave space minifig was significantly cooler. They had visors, and their tops had a fancy zip effect. It’s easy to get a classic space Lego t-shirt and pretend you’re a space minifig, but I’d pay good money for a replica zippy space Lego top.
Weirdly, the original castle minifig had a cool visor and it took a few more waves before there were visors on the rest of the castle minifigs. I had a lot of castle Lego, but it was the couple of knights from my brothers older castle sets with the visors that I loved the most.
But also. I just realised:
This castle blacksmith is not, as I thought as a child, wearing a somewhat period inaccurate bright yellow top, he’s shirtless. Originally I think he came with a brown cape you put on backwards like a leather apron, but I couldn’t find that in the box. I never twigged that he was nude on top until now. I wonder if there are other nudist Lego figures that I just didn’t realise until now?
Comforts & Joys
For the last few years I’ve received the same presents from my parents and in-laws. My parents always renew my subscription to McSweeney’s Quarterly, and my in-laws always get me a Lindt Chocolate Santa4 and a jar of lemon curd. I’m not complaining at all, I love these gifts. There’s something to be said for traditions and how they say a lot about belonging without actually saying anything explicit. What’s interesting is that these gifts have become traditions without any words being spoken. I don’t say every year “oh can I get those again”, it just always happens, and for as long as these gifts are given I’ll very gratefully receive them.
Despite taking two trips north this month I didn’t pack my running stuff, so didn’t get to stomp around different routes. As it was, the weather was terrible for different reasons on both trips so I probably wouldn’t have run anyway if I had packed it. Still I mixed up my routes a bit in north London and visited some parks I hadn’t for a while and still managed to keep up some of my Wednesday morning runs.
An improvement from last month, but it’s a mixed bag. I didn’t make much headway on a novel I picked up and filled my boots with comics.
For two of these I dipped back into my Marvel Unlimited subscription to catch up on a fêted run from a while back, namely Jason Aaron’s 2012-2019 Thor run5. So far it has started out strong and I’m hopeful it’ll remain good. I’ve heard enough rumours that this run will provide some inspiration for the 4th Thor movie which bodes well. I also read the Rainbow Rowell volume of Runaways, which, as expected it kept up the outsider feel and avoided most trappings of other teen superhero team books, while still being obviously full of Marvel Comics Bullshit. Unfortunately, like some other volumes with these characters it is frustratingly truncated without wrapping itself up. Finally, I caught up on “Wicked Things” by John Allison6, which was great, if, again, frustratingly short - at least this time it was wrapped up properly and I don’t think it was expected to be longer, but it’s a real shame we didn’t get more of this.