More on Sour Cocktails

I've posted before about sour cocktails, but I felt that the subject deserved a bit more elabouration. The material here, as before, is quite heavily inspired by (some might say stolen from) David Embury's classic taxonomy from The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

Embury's basic approach was to define a sour cocktail template. In his mind, a sour cocktail consisted of:

  • a spirit
  • a sweetener
  • lemon and/or lime juice

Different combinations of spirits and sweeteners lead, of course, to different cocktails. The exact ratios obviously depend on your personal taste and the actual ingredients you decide to use. My preferred ratio matches Embury's:

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Thoughts on Modularizing Flask Applications

I've been playing around with the Flask web framework for a while now. It's the basis for YAWT, the CMS/blogging system I'm currently developing (mostly as an exercise in familiarizing myself with Python)

With Flask, it's dead simple to get a very basic web application up and running:

from flask import Flask

app = Flask(__name__)

def hello():
    return "Hello World!"

def blah():
    return "Hello Blah!"

if __name__ == "__main__":

Put this in a python file called, mark it as executable, and run it. You should be able to access the web application on locahost:5000. It does not, admittedly, do anything even remotely interesting, but it's enough to get the basic idea.

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The Plural of Book

I just finished a book called The Unfolding of Language by Guy Deutscher. It's pretty awesome if you're interested in a) how grammar evolves over time and b) how the very notion of grammar (verb tenses, prepositions, etc.) emerges in the first place.

The author describes, for example, the Latin case system, where nouns can have different endings depending on what role the noun is playing in the sentence. You say "cactus", for example, if it's used as a subject, but you use "cactum" if it's used as an object.

This was the first time I'd ever heard of such a thing. It means that you can pretty much place the words in your sentence in whatever order you like, without changing the meaning, because the subject and the object are identified, not by word order, as in English, but by the endings on the word. Cool. Insanely difficult, but cool. Apparently Russians still do it. They have my sympathy.

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On Billiard Balls and Scorched Cats

I once got into a relatively lively email debate with a friend of mine concerning the nature of free will. One of us argued that we had it and the other argued that we didn't. The exchange ended when he sent me an email explaining that he was agitated and losing sleep over the matter.

My life is weird sometimes.

People hear that story and often assume that my friend was the one who believed in free will and that I was one who didn't but in reality the reverse was true. I believed in free will; my friend did not.

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Charter Ramblings

Many years ago I read a book called The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson. The backdrop against which the story occurs is a relatively near future society where traditional notions of country and state have been largely supplanted by notions of "phyles" - tribes or groups having similar ethnic or cultural characteristics. One of the main characters, a Mr. John Hackworth, belongs to the Neo-Victorian phyle who, like their namesake, are a somewhat prudish lot who follow a rigid and absolute moral code.

The book is good, but one scene in particular has stayed with me. Hackworth is having a conversation with a few of his fellow Neo-Victorians. One of them asks him what he thinks about "hypocrisy". Hackworth doesn't quite know what to make of this question but eventually concedes, somewhat half-heartedly, that it's a "vice" - something that should be avoided. This eventually leads to a discussion about our time (the past, from their perspective) which, according to the Neo-Victorians, is characterized by a rampant moral and cultural relativism. It's a time where all philosophies, no matter how depraved, have equal value. In such a world, it's obviously unacceptable to criticize another person's beliefs because doing so would require some sort of objective standard of morality which, in their view, our age sorely lacks.

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Being an Emacs User in the Cloud Age

I'm a long time (15 years) Emacs user. Please don't draw too many conclusions from this fact. I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, an Emacs "wizard". I don't know how to make my Emacs buffer do amazing things with a single key stroke. I'm embarrassed to say, for example, that I've only recently learned the keystroke for deleting am entire line.

I'm not a Lisp hacker, and even less of an Emacs Lisp hacker. While I wouldn't say my knowledge of Lisp is non-existent, I would still firmly categorize it as "novice-level".

The question of why my knowledge of Emacs is somewhat primitive considering how long I've been exposed to it is a topic for a separate conversation but, briefly, I think it's a combination of my tendency to "plateau" quite early when learning a new skill, and my high tolerance for pain. When I figure out how to do something, I tend to stick with it, even if it's not a very optimal way of doing it. So, for example, deleting a line in a text buffer is doable by pressing the backspace key several times, or by highlighting the line in question with the mouse and deleting it. I never really tried to find a faster way to do it (though now that I'm aware of!)

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Oatmeal Stout Under the Watchful Eye of Abandoned Silos

For a long time I've been trying to gauge my personal feelings about this building:

This is the old Canada Malting factory. It's in the heart of Saint Henri, in Montreal, next to the McAuslan brewery on Notre Dame, right on the Lachine canal. I live about a 20 minute walk away. It's huge, intimidating, in extreme disrepair and very well-graffitied. It's been abandoned for decades.

Ferreting out my reaction is not as easy as one might imagine. Introspection, at the best of times, is a tricky business.

But, hey, I can try. My immediate reaction is to be in awe. It looks like something out of a dystopian future - like there's been some horrific war, or we've run out of oil, or the Machines or the Apes or the Party have taken over. You vaguely expect Mel Gibson to show up on a motorbike.

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Jaffa Cakes for North Americans: an Odyssey

Evelyn and I found a polish bakery in Point St Charles. One of the things we saw (aside from the actual pastries) were packages of Jaffa cakes for sale. I'd never had one before, but they looked good, so I bought one. Indeed, they're pretty awesome. They consist of a sponge-like base, with orange jelly and chocolate on top.

A friend of mine referred me to a web site that showed how to make them. It claimed that the process was dead easy but that's a lie. Specifically, I had a difficult time making what British people call "jelly".

To a Brit, "jelly" is what a North American would call "jello". So when a Jaffa cake recipe calls for orange jelly, what they're really calling for isn't the stuff that you spread on toast, but rather the stuff that you eat for dessert. This is an important distinction - one that I was aware of, thankfully, before I started on this odyssey.

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Another Batch of Tonic Water

I made a batch of tonic water syrup a couple of years ago and, though it was a success, there were a couple of things I found slightly off-putting in the result. Specifically:

  • I didn't really like the all-spice.
  • I didn't really like the lemongrass
  • I thought there was too much citric acid.

So I tried another batch of tonic water this year with no all-spice or lemongrass, and a bit less citric acid. I also simplified the recipe somewhat, using plain sugar instead of agave syrup and omitting the citrus juice (though keeping the zest).

Here's the one I ended up using (the bark is still from Herboristerie Desjardins):

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In Defence of the Dark

I'm addicted to a site called It's basically a catalogue of various literary and artistic devices used in various forms of media (books, movies, TV). It's fun because the site gives names to practices that you already recognize but haven't bothered to identify in any specific way. Examples include Genre Blindness, which explains the tendency of Bond villains to reveal their entire master plan to the spy rather than just shooting him, and Lampshading, which is an attempt to diffuse an obvious plot hole by having a character draw attention to it.

Another one of these articles is called "Darker and Edgier", which describes a "a Tone Shift that seeks to make a work of fiction 'more adult'." This should be familiar to anyone who has seen a recent superhero or science fiction movie. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, for example, is a grittier version of Tim Burton's Batman - which is itself a much grittier version of the awesome campfest that was the 1960's Batman TV show. Battlestar Galactica is another notorious example - it's a remake of the campy 1970's TV show and is, at times, extremely depressing.

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