Sour D’OH!

So how has your pandemic been?

At the start of “lockdown”, everybody scrambled for new hobbies and things to keep themselves occupied now that they couldn’t go outside or to work. I think the world became aware of a lot of office workers who proved they actually didn’t do all that much during their day, such was the newfound time they had to dedicate to other things.

I … worked. There has always been a ton of things to do in my job, and that didn’t change one bit. The lockdown just gave me the ability to avoid the commute and get even more done. This was great for a while, but burnout is a dangerous thing.
My friend Rob back home had started baking sourdough bread (along with a vast swathe of the population, apparently) and as a bread lover (and general detractor of America’s poor excuse for bread) I decided to have a go myself.

Making a starter, they said, was easy. It’s literally just flour and water. You mix it together, let it ferment, and you’ve got your very own sourdough culture to grow bread with!

Easy!

Simple!

BULLSHIT.

To this day I still don’t understand how or why ‘just mixing flour and water’ has a million different ways you can actually do it. I tried, and failed, using a ton of flour in the process. I even tried to make a loaf, which came out hilariously flat and solid.

That was Attempt #1. I tried again, but after a few days there was nothing happening, so I ditched the lot. We found some other videos, and tried again. Still no life, and the flour had run out … everywhere. Apparently everybody was baking, and it was impossible to find flour in the store, so that was that for a few months.

The only flour we had was bleached flour (again, America’s obsession with ruining foodstuffs is alive and well), which I was reliably informed was no good (of course, I mean … it’s been bleached, what the damn hell?!).

Once the stores had replenished themselves, I found some unbleached flour, and headed off on another attempt. By this point we’d found another helpful video that suggested, contrary to what we’d seen so far, that if your starter didn’t have many bubbles to just leave it another day! Other videos had suggested this would absolutely kill it, but we tried that.

After a couple of days, what I had was disgusting smelling mush and a layer of black water. I threw it away. Apparently even though this flour wasn’t bleached, it had been assaulted in some other way in an effort to make its shelf life longer, and so was entirely unsuitable for use in this way.

Seriously America, get your shit together and stop ruining food.

In a last-gasp effort, I picked up some flour from our Misfits Food box. We’ve been using Misfits for months now – every week we get a box of fresh veg delivered for very little money. They have weekly addons of various things, but the food is always tasty, clean, and seems to be locally or sustainably sourced.

In the interim, I’d also been advised to use bottled water, because tap water would kill the starter due to the additives in the water. This hadn’t occurred to me, having followed an Irish video in the first instance.
Killer water, bleached flour, I mean … well, you all know my usual refrain by now. I’m fairly convinced if I’d tried this back home with unmolested flour and tap water I’d have been fine, but whatever.

Armed with beautiful fresh unbleached wheat bread flour and a case of Evian (LIVE YOUNG!), I went to work.

Day 1 was magical. The bubbles, oh the lovely bubbles. The starter leapt into life, but I felt it still could do more. Day 2 was even better – it rose so much! The whole thing looked great and it felt like I was finally on the way to a successful starter and, in a few weeks, some great sourdough bread.

The next thing – which I still don’t understand – is to take this lovely lively culture and throw most of it away. I still don’t get it. But I followed instructions and did exactly that, then ‘fed’ the starter with more flour and water. The next day it … hadn’t really risen. There were some bubbles, sure, but nothing like the activity there had been before. Again I decided to leave it another day. A few more big bubbles, but still nothing like the activity from Days 1 and 2.

Undeterred, I halved out the mixture and threw it down the sink, then fed again. It’s now sat in the study (the warmest room in the apartment by far) and we’ll see if it grows overnight. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess as to whether it’ll grow or just die. The science behind this seems to be … not science?

What’s frustrated me most about this process is that everyone has a different way of doing it.
Feed it every day, don’t feed it every day. Feed it every few hours, don’t feed it more than once a day. Cover it! Don’t cover it! Keep it warm! Don’t keep it too warm!

Surely there should be one consistent method that works? Who knows, perhaps I’m just too analytical about it, and baking requires a more flexible approach?

Either way, it’s been about seven months since I first started this, and I’m still trying, so I’ve got until these two new bags of flour run out to get it right.

American Car Insurance is Bonkers

Almost three years into my “American Adventure” and I still don’t own a car. Quite frankly it didn’t make sense to get one – my girlfriend had one and it was barely used, as we lived in Queens and spent most of our time in the local neighborhood or else in Manhattan.
That decision has proven even more prescient as we now find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, where going out and about is really not well advised.

We do still have one, however, and so there are some procedural things that need to be taken care of. I discovered – to my surprise and honestly slight consternation – that the vehicle was still owned by my partner’s father and insured by him too. This was alien to me, having been the registered owner of my own vehicles from my early 20s, and also kind of a problem – I had no frame of reference of how things worked in this country compared to mine and, as it turned out, neither did she!

The issue was ignored until recently, when we discovered that in order to have the car inspected in Massachusetts, it needed to be registered here. Registering it here required insurance in the state, which had to include the vehicle’s owner … and so a game of pass-the-paperwork was begun to get my partner registered as the owner, in order to get her insured, and then to get the car inspected, as it’s due this month (August).

I ended up shopping for insurance because, despite having no idea how it worked here, I had at least done it for myself before in another country, so technically that made me the more experienced one.

What I discovered was yet more of America’s baffling attempts to appear helpful whilst actually trying to screw over the consumer, and make as much money as possible in the process.

Continue reading “American Car Insurance is Bonkers”

Getting Away From Google

It’s been well known for a long time now that when it comes to Google, you are the fee. Their services are often free at the point of entry, and remain that way. All you have to do is allow their algorithms to parse though your data; what emails you send, what you watch on YouTube, the events you attend – where, when, and why. (OK not why, but by that point they probably already have enough info to surmise that anyway.)

Some people fundamentally disagree with this approach, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s pretty cool when your apps guess what’s happening before you do, but once you realize that it’s because some vast set of algorithms has studied you, and a thousand other people like you, and probably now knows you better than you know yourself … things can get a little creepy.

I am, of course, simplifying a more complex situation, but even I get creeped out when I open up the YouTube app on my TV and discover videos suggesting things that have only been discussed around the apartment, never searched for on any device.

Personally, I more or less made my peace with the data aggregation a few years ago, and even invested in a ‘Google Phone’ – the famous (in tech circles) Pixel XL 2. A great device to be sure, but I found myself missing the slick design, apps, and integration offered by Apple’s products. I’m particularly a fan of the Apple Watch, something no Android-powered device has come close to matching.

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All That Makes Us Human Continues.

Brian Transeau, aka ‘BT’, is my favourite musical artist. In the same way that The Matrix is my favourite movie, this is an immutable fact, unmoved and unchanged by age and time.

Whilst I was over in the UK recently, my girlfriend messaged me to ask which of his songs I’d recommend to somebody who hadn’t heard his stuff before and that … is a difficult question. The man remains firmly in the ‘electronic music’ category, but has evolved, experimented, and changed so much across his career that it’s a really difficult question to answer.

The BT of the mid 90s sounds nothing like the BT of today, though if you listen to his music as much as I do you can certainly chart the evolution in some cases.

I decided that I wanted to sit down and put together a tracklist for this recommendation; one song per album if I can get away with it (unlikely, there are many excellent candidates) to introduce the music in a ‘safe’ zone and eventually expand out to some of the more experimental touches (personally some of my favourite tracks are the more experimental ones that would never grace a primetime radio show).

So, without further ado, let’s dive in …

Continue reading “All That Makes Us Human Continues.”

It’s actually July. WHY JULY TO ME?!

I was in my blog settings looking something up when I discovered my previous un-published post a couple of days ago. Whoops! I’m not quite sure why I didn’t publish it at the time; obviously it’s unfinished but I don’t know why.

Either way, there you go. Not that anybody’s reading these anymore since Facebook disabled the ability to automatically share these things, thus making it entirely useless to me and bringing about my deleting of the account for good. The fact it’s become a data gathering machine for nefarious purposes and an echo chamber for old racist white people might also have had something to do with it.

Anyway, onwards and sideways! That’s right, I’m moving in a diagonal. Not sure what that means, right now it’s a stream of consciousness. You’re welcome.

PS: This is long. Get yourself a strong drink or tranquilizer.

Continue reading “It’s actually July. WHY JULY TO ME?!”

Hey it’s February

Sooo … yeah, obviously it’s not February, it’s almost the end of July. Looks like I wrote this and then bailed on it, but figured I’d post this anyway and then follow it up.


How did that happen?!

My last post was exactly three months ago. I was about to start a new job, and my mind was full of ideas and theories and stratagems about what might need to be done, how I might achieve it, and how I would justify my ideas.
The 2FA/MFA post came out of that and, I’ll admit, it ran on a little longer than I intended. C’est la vie as the French say.

“So what’s been going on in the last three months?!” asked literally nobody.
Well dear phantom reader, I shall tell you, while I sip PG Tips from my mug and persist in trying to shake the odd longing that I’ve had for the past few days to be back in England during Spring.

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Two Factors are Better than One

Information Security is a Big Deal these days, just as it should be. We are adding personal data (or personally identifiable data) to the internet at an unprecedented rate. Instagram alone sees 95 million new images  per day. Whilst most would – and should – agree that the level of technology now accessible to the world is an incredible, and incredibly powerful thing, it behooves us to understand the risks that come with sharing any sort of information, particularly anything that can compromise one’s live in the “real world”.

There was a time when the boundaries between the ‘Internet World’ and the ‘Real World’ were pretty well defined. Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s as technology growth exploded, I’ve seen the shifts from that world to today’s fully integrated one. Personally I think it’s amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time, but with ease-of-use comes ease-of-loss.

I can now buy almost any commercially-available item in the world from the palm of my hand, by opening up my Amazon app and using my pre-saved credit card information to have anything delivered to me in just a few taps. I can pay for goods and services (up to a certain amount) using the phone itself as a payment method. I can order taxis, buy airline tickets, send and receive money, all alongside taking pictures and sharing them with friends and family.

This boundless freedom and possibility is exactly why you should be practicing good Digital Security. It’s why simple passwords aren’t “easy to remember” but the digital equivalent of leaving your front door open and your valuables on display. It’s why using the same password for everything is like using the same key for every lock – and keeping the master key under your front doormat.

It’s why Two-Factor Authentication (often referred to as 2FA, TFA, or Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)) is incredibly important today, and why you should all be using it.

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Nine Months

If, instead of moving to America, I had gotten pregnant instead, I would be having a baby about now.

That’s a patently ridiculous statement – after all I don’t want kids – but it’s interesting to me as a measure of time. My last post on this subject was at the end of December, and it was very much a commentary on the sadness and loneliness that can take hold when relocating from a country that you’ve spent your whole life in.

Thankfully, the nine-month report is a much happier, healthier, and altogether bouncier child (sorry).

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