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On Finding an Excuse to Buy an Arduino or: How I Finally Got Myself a Theremin

In my last blog entry, I talked about theremins. I've known about them for a while, and I've always found them fascinating, but I've never actually taken the plunge and bought one, despite being being tempted on many occasions (they're not that expensive).

At the same time, I've known about Arduinos for a long time, and I've always wanted an excuse to buy one, but I've never actually taken the plunge and bought one. As I'm fond of saying, an Arduino is a solution in search of a problem, and I just never found the right problem for one.

That is, until I found this website: http://www.gaudi.ch/OpenTheremin/

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On Pulling Musical Notes Out of Thin Air

I am an unapologetic Downton Abbey fan. The series is full of memorable scenes, but one in particular has stuck with me. Daisy, one of the scullery maids, is asked if she turned on the electric lights in one of the rooms and she replies "No. I daren't".

It seems like such a minor, throwaway line, but I feel like it succinctly captures how the uninitiated must have felt about electricity back then. Daisy is downright afraid of it. Steam and fire are very direct and literal sources of energy, but electricity is much more abstract. You never see the electricity moving or burning, even as the motor spins or the lamp shines.

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Blogging with Emacs and Pelican

Pelican is my blogging engine of choice these days. Given that Emacs is usually (though not always) my text editor of choice, it made sense to try and streamline the process of writing blog entries for Pelican with Emacs. What follows is my attempt to document such an endeavour, partly because I think it might be useful to the (undoubtedly tiny) cross section of people who use both Emacs and Pelican, but mostly so that I have something to refer back to when the need arises.

Note that this blog entry does not cover things like actually setting up your Pelican blog. It also doesn't cover my reasons for using Pelican in the first place; for that, feel free to peruse my other blog entry on the subject.

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Static Typing, IDEs, Automated Testing: An Eternal Golden Braid

I've been a programmer by trade ever since I graduated from University. This is a fairly long time, as these things are measured. I still consider myself on a learning curve, but that's a separate conversation.

My career, such as it is, mostly sidestepped the whole static versus dynamic typing debate that roiled in the early 2000's. School, when it veered into software territory, mostly consisted of C and Java, two statically typed languages. My professional life, until fairly recently, has been mostly in Java (with a bit of C++ thrown in for good measure) and hence has almost exclusively revolved around statically typed languages.

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Thoughts on Blade Runner 2049

I saw Blade Runner 2049 recently. I have some (not very original) thoughts to share. Spoilers ahead.

The original Blade Runner only really caught my attention in my adult years. Unlike, say, Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Superman, it was not one of my "childhood movies". I saw it once when I was very young, found it boring and weird, and then promptly forgot about it until I was made to watch it sometime in my 20's or 30's with my eyes fully open.

Once I did, though...wow. That movie drips atmosphere. I'd be lying if I said it's one of my favourite movies of all time - I feel like that kind of designation is less about the movie itself and more about my frame of mind at the time I see it - but it's definitely up there as one of the movies I admire most from a visual standpoint. It's still beautiful 35 years later.

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On the Irony of Using Static Site Generators

As I've mentioned before, I've recently switched to pelican as my blogging engine.

Pelican is a static site generator. This means that it generates static HTML files using templates and content as input, which can be then uploaded (via rsync, for example) to a plain vanilla web server (I use nginx).

So far the experience has been fairly smooth. The web server setup is much simpler, since there's no application to run. And it's forced me to re-think what kinds of information I want on my pages. For example, in an effort to avoid regenerating the entire site every time I publish an article, I created standalone index pages for tags, categories and archives rather than display the counts on every page.

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Not Invented by Monks

Continuing in my attempt to document the mixers and liqueurs I've been sampling recently, I will now focus on Benedictine, a French, brandy-based, herbal liqueur.

The name conjures up images of secluded monks guarding secret recipes handed down for generations (see my article about Chartreuse, another monastically themed libation, for a similar background) but according to Wikipedia the real story is a bit more prosaic: it was apparently invented by wine merchant and industrialist Alexandre Le Grand who later tried to link his concoction with the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy to boost sales.

So...not invented by monks, then. Oh well. I still think it's pretty good, even without the cute backstory. Like most liqueurs, it's extremely sweet, and it has a fairly subdued, herbal flavour that is not, for once, dominated by anise. In this way it contrasts sharply with Chartreuse, which is assertive and very dominated by anise.

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It's Not Easy Being Green

About a year ago, I bought a bottle of green Chartreuse. I bought it because I stumbled upon something called a Bijou cocktail and decided that I wanted to try it.

Chartreuse is a liqueur made by French monks from a secret recipe purported to be hundreds of years old. It's usually described as tasting "herbal", but I find that's about as useful as saying that something tastes like "chicken"; it's the word you use when you can't think of anything else to say. For my money, I find that it's very sweet and tastes strongly of anise (which I don't mind; I like Drambuie, which also has a strong anise flavour) but also has a kind of "vegetable" aftertaste that I find a bit off putting,

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Life is Bitter

The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, David Embury's classic, is notable for being somewhat rigid in its definition of a cocktail. He basically divides all of cocktail-dom into two camps: the aromatic ones (Manhattans, Martinis, Old-Fashioneds), and the sour ones (basically anything with lemon or lime juice in it, though never enough to overpower the main liquor).

For Embury, a cocktail is consumed before dinner, stimulates the appetite, and isn't very sweet - or it isn't a cocktail. As such, though mixed drinks like the Brandy Alexander and its cousins do show up on the pages of his book, they are (justifiably, though somewhat condescendingly) classified as desserts when made the traditional way (equal parts brandy, cream and creme de cacao) or grudgingly allowed to stand alongside the real cocktails when made according to his modifications (basically upping the brandy by four times the usual amount relative to the other ingredients) - though with a loud admonition that the result is vastly inferior to his tried and true favourites.

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It Started with the Vesper

Lately I've been experimenting with "mixers". By "mixer" I mean aperitifs, liqueurs, and digestifs that almost always appear as secondary ingredients in a cocktail, but that one almost never thinks of drinking on their own. The intention here is to write a series of articles about each one.

It started with the Vesper, a mixed drink well known in cocktail circles. The recipe comes from an iconic scene in Ian Flemings's Casino Royale, where Bond instructs the bartender as follows:

Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?

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