24.01.12 Master Ngram Viewer
I tend to play a lot with the Google Ngram Viewer whenever I get tired of processing accessible data that are for my own consumption most of the time (and it’s probably boring enough for anyone else to take in). But you never quite know what mining Google Books’ massive corpus of 5 million English-language books would get you to.
It’s not exactly mind-blowing but surely the Ngram Viewer isn’t dishing at me Chinese New Year feng shui for the year?
- Data taken only until 2000 to cut down on insufficient data bias (as suggested by Ngram Viewer)
- Possible inaccuracies due to lack of information on books in other languages (Malay, Chinese, etc.)
- There are obviously different acceptable permutation of words for each person’s name, such as “Tun Abdul Razak” or “Tun Razak”, so phrase with highest score is used.
20.01.12 Kindle Touch
No frills, minimalistic, and green. This is going to be useful.
If you have purchased stuff from Amazon before, you would very well-acquainted with how their prices fluctuate all the time. Your targeted item could be $18 last week, suddenly $24 this week, and before you know it, it plunges all the way down to $15 for Super Deals week just before Christmas! What a bummer if you had already bought it…
Fortunately, there’s a nifty Amazon price tracker website with a very unfortunate name of CamelCamelCamel, which can provide you with price drop alerts and price history charts. You can set price alerts on any Amazon product and it will help you keep track of its price. Notifications will be sent via email or Twitter if your tracked product hits your designated target price. How cool is that?
OK, here’s an example of a historical price chart for the Settlers of Catan boardgame generated by the tracker.
Prior to buying the Settlers of Catan boardgame, I tracked it manually for a few weeks just to pinch it at a good price of £20 (plus free shipping with Super Savers), now knowing that the average price for the entire 2011 is £25.44. CamelCamelCamel (CCC) would have saved me the countless times I had to manually load the product page just to view its price, and having to jot them down and forget again later.
I see the price alert feature as a very great help, but perhaps the historical price charts contributed nothing except to inflict pain and agony into missed opportunities in the past!
Argh, £16 during pre-Christmas sales. How can that be?!?
Note: It’s possible that the prices of an item that you want to track are not available, or some problem with “insufficient data” when you attempt to search, but somehow CCC will get down to tracking it after you sort of… “indicated your interest”. Just check back a few days later. On-demand smartness.
12.01.12 La Traviata at Royal Opera House
Photo: Piotr Beczala as Alfredo and Ailyn Pérez as Violetta, taken from Royal Opera House’s Flickr photo set for 2011-2012 production.
Went for Royal Opera House Covent Garden’s 18-year-old production of Verdi’s La Traviata on the 2nd day of the new year. Some excellent singing were in offer, in particular from Ermonela Jaho’s Violetta, whom I thought had well-balanced clarity and coloratura (unlike the very popular but awkwardly out-of-sync Anna Netrebko here) and a very warm-spirited Paolo Gavanelli as Father Germont. The period staging was amazingly decorated, accompanied with tender lighting. What else to expect but a typically melodramatic ending to the show for the ill-fated, self-sacrificial Violetta.
Sempre libera! Here’s my favourite version. Angela Gheorghiu at the Royal Opera House in the same production of 1995. Love the great singing packed with Italianesque panache, acting not so great though, haha!
Libiamo (Drinking Song), Rolando Villazon and Anna Netrebko at Salzburg Festival 2005. An interesting contemporary production with a very awesome Rolando Villazon.
Accomplished with mixed-leavening method for dough, and simulated hearth baking. Artisan, savoury. Goes well with cream cheese or soups.
I took this recipe from the back sections of Peter Reinhart’s ever-popular Bread Baker’s Apprentice where there are some good suggestions of enriched breads that use the mixed-leavening method.
If you are a bread enthusiast and maker, I would have just enough time now to explain the techniques of mixed-leavening and simulated hearth baking, and their reasons and effects. On another note, I would be glad to do a more complete post another day on the basics of making bread at home, and why you would probably never return to commercial mass-produced “industrialised” bread after that!
Mixed-leavening method uses both wild yeast from sourdough/levain (cultivated naturally much earlier) and commercial fast-action yeast (you can buy them anywhere in stores). The most attractive thing about sourdough breads are their rich, slightly soured fermented taste, with very chewy and holey (basically meaning, lots of holes) texture. The holey effect is usually due to natural leavening action from the sourdough. And by mixing it with commercial yeast, it gives the dough the extra spike, with the total making time of 5-6 hours pretty much faster than the time needed to make a 100% sourdough bread with starters.
These days, nobody bakes bread at home in a stone hearth or fireplace. But, hearth baking radiates heat effectively and directly into the bread in order to create oven spring and a crispy, shiny crust. If you had baked bread in moderate temperatures (170-200°C), which is decent for most home baking, you probably get very little crust or a crust that does not keep the moisture inside intact. And, even if you don’t have large professional ovens like those found in bakeries, you still have one more option. Simulate it.
To accomplish hearth baking (280-300°C) with a conventional home oven (max probably about 250°C, and even that might freak you out as to whether your oven will explode anytime…), crank your oven up to about 240°C or 220°C fan-assisted. Place an empty cast-iron/heavy duty tray or pan either on the top shelf or on oven floor to be heated up. At the moment when bread is placed into oven, add hot boiling water to the preheated pan to create burst of steam, and immediately close oven door. That steam is going to escalate the temperatures to the level required. In addition to that, some bakers also constantly spray the walls of the oven in the next few minutes to create more steam for better effect. (This is also known as “double-steaming method”.) After 90-120 seconds, reduce the temperature back to moderate high levels (about 200-220°C) to bake until end. This will get you the wonderful rustic, stone-baked shiny crust that you have always wondered how.
Makes two 1-pound loaves
- 5.25oz unpeeled potatoes, chopped, boiled in 3 cups water until soft and cooled
- 2.5-5.25 fl.oz. potato water, lukewarm
- 7 oz sourdough levain/barm
- 12 oz strong bread flour
- 1 1/4 tsp instant yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 0.75 oz chopped fresh chives
- 3 oz Cheddar cheese (sharp or matured)
- Extra semolina flour and cornmeal for dusting