Saturday, March 11, 2006

Pancets

Flat like pancakes and ruffled like crumpets, crunchy toasted and served with strawberry jam.

Lonesome fun on my birthday alone while my family drive home after another long business trip.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Birthday!

It's my birthday tomorrow, but it's not going to be very exciting. My family is due to arrive some time in the evening and we'll go have dinner together. It is going to be a good meal.

My mum already sent me a parcel full of really fun art supplies. She sent some glass markers that have been very useful for writing Schroedinger equations all over my window in the absense of a whiteboard.

So my jobs for today are to catch a bus into town and submit my physics assignment, then go do some paperwork like drop receipts into medicare and walk out with a big wad of cash, then come home, tidy up and start my maths assignment which is due on Tuesday.

But before I get into the homework, I've got some time to celebrate getting my physics assignment done, and I think I'll jump on the sewing machine and make something cute! (I'll have to take a picuture of my previous project to post here, too.)

Now I'll be going to bed happy...

...because there's nothing like a nice crisp, newly finished quantum physics problem sheet. All I need to do is slap one more footnote and a bibliography on it (referencing the SOS Math pages of tables), sign the cover sheet and put it together in a nice sleeve ready to slip into the assignment box!

So, that's one down and three currently active assignments to go!

Call me weird, but I feel my sense of accomplishment diminished by the fact that problem sheet 3 is already available. I guess it's the sense of being snowed under by all the work. However, I'm elated to have this finished on time (especially since I thought I wouldn't and had to ask for an extension) and can't wait to get started on my maths assignment tomorrow!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Another hour I'll never get back

My mentor told me that I desperately had to go to a public lecture by a guy called Robert Fisk who wrote a book about "the conquest of the middle east". Sounds like so much sensational ranting, any amount of which is available at a moment's notice via the BBC for my entertainment, and I've got a huge quantum physics assignment that's supposed to be submitted tomorrow morning, but since it's apparently vital for my education, I planned to go along and arrive early to get a good seat.

What a zoo!

First problem was parking. I knew I was in trouble when the big public carpark was totally full 10 minutes early. I eventually parked over in physics (not too far to walk, but a long way away by the roads, so there was plenty of parking) and ran over to try to find the lecture.

On the way, I was assaulted by the usual group of passionate green left anarchist socialists (the protest-everything club) trying to get my signature on a petition, attendance at a protest of Tony Blair (does Canberra have an excess of hot men I wasn't aware of?) and something about "say no to racism" (because fascists embrace lesbians and gypsies and there's a large risk of me saying "yes" to racism) ...but I pushed through the mob to find the lecture.

It was in the largest theatre at school, which holds 496 students comfortably. But every chair was occupied, the stairs were filled, and so many people were standing at the back that it was considered to be "unsafe in case of fire". I didn't determine where the dumpy chick at the door expected a fire to come from.

I was faced with a choice: call "who wants a model wearing a boob-tube to sit on his lap?" somehow elbowing into the crowd and squeezing my slim hips into the crush, or give up and go home to do my huge quantum physics assignment...

So here I am facing my copy of Griffiths with the alive cat on the front and the sleeping cat on the back, getting ready to calculate the uncertainty in the position and momentum of the particle with wavefunction Nx(a-x)e^(-i(omega)t). Despite my irritation at having that hour fraudulently taken from me by and Mr. Fisk his padded out book, I look forward to an entertaining and stimulating evening!

(Anyway, if it turns out to have been any good, I'll be able to get the recording.)

xx
Rocket

Hello! I'm back!

It's been a stressful and draining time for me. I've been fighting with the bloke and myself. I've been VERY sick. But my latest blood test came back that I'm totally healthy - not even anaemic! and I'm totally busy at school and having a great time. Stay tuned for regular comments!

xx
Rocket

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rocket=schoolgirl

I enrolled yesterday. I realized that the main thing that's keeping me down is my lifestyle. I have spent a lot of time around the university and city and it's great!

Last time I studied, I went about it wrong. I was interested in the parties and that scene is mainly there for depressed people who don't want to engage with "good clean fun".

Well, parties are fun, but getting drunk and falling off a balcony then failing is not so fun.

So I'm going back to do lots of maths and I'll still be doing music and I'll get organised to do my recording (I've written a lot now) during the holiday. Yay!

There's heaps to organize so I'm going to get everything together this week and start making some decisions. Accommodation, family, money, loans, other expenses...

In other news, I've decorated my house for Tinsels festival. Yay again! More on that later.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Natural disaster: Storm with gale and tornado

Canberra's in natural disaster mode. You can tell because PM has been canceled and Louise is still on the radio dealing out the info.

In short, there's power out in several suburbs. There's a tree on a house just around the corner.

There has been wind over 100 km/h and even a "mini tornado" throwing trees around all over the place.

Triple J was reporting that a man may have been killed, but 666 isn't reporting that news. But many buildings have been damaged including the hospitals, a primary school, and many houses.

It actually passed by my house with a bit of a rattle on the windows, some rain, distant electrical activity, and nothing to suggest any of this was happening... so no dramatic stories from me. But Johnboy's the-riotact was down for a while this afternoon while power to his server was out (still out at the time of writing) and I'm told it was very scary for people who were caught outside.

The main storm front is gone now, and everyone's out cleaning up. There's expected to be rain all night, but not much more storm activity. The weather is officially "unstable", though, so the warning is still current.

Update: The death has been confirmed. The tornado ran from Belconnen through the city to Fyshwick, and another ran from Gunghalin to the New South Wales border. It's quiet now (20:47) so I guess that's it. The emergency crews expect to be up for the next 2 days.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Perfect Espresso

There are some areas where art and science form a natural synergy to create a thing of true beauty. Motor racing, photography, rocket science... we're all familiar with the engineering detail and artistic flair needed to bring these fields into their full potential. But nowhere is this more true than in the act of drawing espresso into the world.

From the point of view of an engineer, espresso comes from a machine. It requires proper operation and correct maintenance. But the artist feels all these factors, operates the machine by touch and sound. While the engineer is carefully scrutinising the cup and the stream of foamy espresso to determine the instant at which the pour is complete, the artist is anticipating the flavour of the cup, the sensation of the crema, the jolt of awareness inspired by the first taste.

The making of espresso begins long before you ever see the beans. Somewhere in the world, they are grown by a farmer who picks them at the right moment and sells them to coffee roasting factories. These green beans may travel around the world, or a short distance from Papua New Guinea to Brisbane.

The best beans in the world, hands down, came from Sumatra. For those of you with short attention spans, tsunami covered the coastal areas of Sumatra twice at the beginning of this year; if you can get Sumatra beans, they're at least a year old. We wish them well rebuilding their agriculture and their beautiful island, but at the moment, the best option for single origin beans is back where it all began: Ethiopia and Africa.

Some prefer to roast their own beans; this will insure freshness, but if you have the luxury of a coffee roaster and wholesaler nearby then it's best to enjoy the expert roast done by others with a great passion for coffee and a sensitive understanding of the subtleties of the roast.

Espresso roasts are dark. Among dark roasts, flavour will depend on the beans used and the roast itself. A very dark roast of a very high quality bean will not be unpleasantly bitter, but rather will have a sort of purity to the flavour. Blended beans can further refine that flavour, giving it form and shape. As with brandy, there is no correct choice; coffee drinkers try many different beans and blends before they choose their favourite. Blended coffee has polish, but single origin beans have personality - these are brought out by the roaster/blender and you should choose the one you prefer.

When you go to the grinder with fresh beans (1 week old is considered about perfect) you will notice that the ground coffee holds together well, as if slightly moist. It comes out in bursts, rolling around into the group handle of your espresso machine. As you press it down, you will see how compressible it is - it can be necessary to tamp three times before the coffee is ready to pour.

The quality of the grind is crucial. Espresso is made by allowing the ground beans to become barely damp, and then forcing the water out of them with steam. A very fine espresso is made by allowing the surface area to become as high as possible. The limiting factor is that as the coffee becomes more powdered, it interferes with the metal filter at the bottom of the group handle and prevents the espresso from pouring. Although some pressure will produce a rich crema, too much will mean that the coffee comes out in little drops that sit in the bottom of the cup deteriorating in quality. The ideal grind can be sensitive to minor changes in room temperature and humidity, but usually, once set, the grind should only be changed if a new batch of (possibly older) beans requires a different grind.

Ground coffee starts to dry out and oxidise after just a minute - by ten minutes the crema will be non-existent and the flavour will be bitter. To ensure only the freshest coffee, it is appropriate to grind the coffee for just a second and discard the grounds resultant - this means the machine will only have fresh ground coffee left inside and the grind can begin again.

Tamping coffee is a controversial issue, mostly because so many home espresso machines have very little pressure and can't overcome a little pressure in the coffee beans. Good coffee will compress easily and for a high-quality machine, you should give it as much pressure as you can - even if that means jumping up and down. This gives a good even pressure throughout the mass of coffee in the group handle and ensures that the water that is pushed through it interacts with all the coffee.

Good quality water is essential for the process. Strong pollution or chlorine odours can ruin your drink. Coffee is known to be a good filter for heavy metals, but many other types of pollution will simply go through and end up in your cup, unbalancing the delicate mix of subtle flavours. Additionally, the chemicals typically found in domestic water supply can lead to lime build-up within the machine - not tasty and not good for operation! A simple charcoal filter jug can make a very big difference, especially if the water is also allowed to boil and then stand for a few minutes. But a ceramic filter is the best way of ensuring pure water. If the machine is not piped in to the water supply in the building, then the water should be replaced every day so the water doesn't become stale. It's also very rude to serve a Hindu a coffee made from week-old water.

The cup should be very small; Maxwell Williams make a good cheap coffee cup small enough for the task. Most espresso cups available at homewares shops are far too large to comfortably drink espresso without depositing the crema all over the side of the cup instead of in the drinker's mouth. If you have plenty of money and no children to break them, the small, thick cups available from good roasters are excellent to drink from. The cup should be warmed on the top of the espresso machine, or if it's only just been turned on, by filling it with boiled water.

When pressing the group handle into the espresso machine, it should go on easily and offer just a little resistance at the last moment - this is a sign you've just the right amount of coffee and the espresso machine is compressing the coffee just a little so you can get the group handle on. If the handle doesn't go on all the way, then you've put in too much, and you should scrape a little off the top with a teaspoon. Make sure the top of the group handle is free of ground coffee so that you can obtain a good seal. The water and steam should go through the coffee, not over the top of it!

As the coffee comes out of the group handle and into the cup, watch the colour of the coffee pouring from the espresso machine, with some attention to the colour of the crema in the cup. This stage is very difficult, with many fast decisions to be made.

Ideally, the coffee should be pouring out slowly, not dripping, but not running either. It will first be a line of thick black coffee, then settle into a very dark brown crema. If one side is noticeably better than the other, it is correct to move the cup to only collect the good coffee. Depending on the size of the pour required (ristretto or lungo), this might happen straight away or towards the end.

The pour is over when the coffee is a good size and the crema is still quite dark. How dark depends on the coffee beans, the machine and the taste of the drinker. The experienced barrista weighs all these factors while looking principally at the crema as it falls from the espresso machine. A good strong bitter ristretto is poured very quickly from the first side that the coffee first falls from; it's finished when the colour turns from dark brown to tan.

Once poured, the coffee needs to be consumed immediately. It takes a few seconds for the crema to settle, but by ten seconds after pouring, the bitter flavours begin to bite into the creaminess of the espresso. This can be somewhat counteracted with a tiny quantity of sugar (just a few grains on the edge of a small teaspoon can do the trick).

I serve coffee with a small almond flavoured biscuit, but I'll tell you about that some other time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A few words

Well now I've finished my big silly exam and I feel like I've been worrying about nothing.

I'm not sure if I've passed - I'm reasonably certain that I haven't. But this ranks as one of the best performance experiences of my life.

I was very nervous to start, so I totally ruined my first movement with shaky hands. Only one or two other real mistakes, and the examiner was a really nice guy who likes helping people to play better music. I think I'll get some very good feedback and it was lovely how he thanked me for my performance and let me know that he enjoyed the things I did right.

I'll be continuing to improve my performance - I'd like to get to the point where I could hold a small recital without feeling like a total goose! In year 12 I had to arrange an audience for a recital and invited a bunch of teachers, neighbours and friends to my house to listen. It was really weird playing piano to my maths teacher, but the hardest part of being a musician is learning not to be intimidated.

I like that I've found new things in the music I've performed. I'm disappointed that my fingers don't have the strength and that I was nervous. I think my mark will come down to whether he will look at judgement criteria or overall impact.

For the future, I look forward to expanding my repertoire, honing my current work and learning more about strength and accuracy.

I hope to have the time to once again pursue my other interests.

After piano exams, there's a month of absolute brilliance - I plan to take full advantage of it!

Thanks to everyone who sent words of encouragement. I was in there feeling many good vibes from everyone and it helped me to have the courage to play it my way.

Big thanks to my teacher and of course the examiner, who was just absolutely charming and made it all very easy and even enjoyable.

Now I'm going to relax and go to bed early and try to get rid of this cold/flu/hay fever.