Strawberry Jam

Way back in the 1990s my mum started making jam at home. Part of the reason was due to the rising cost of the sugary toast-topping, and the other part was the self-reliance bit. If a person can make their own jam, after all, why make the trip into town to give companies more of our hard-earned money? Also, with 8 people in the house, a "large" jar of jam would never last more than a couple of days. Making it at home just made logical sense.

Strawberry Jam

The boy is almost 18 months old now, and he's starting to enjoy a broader range of foods. That said, we're not too keen on getting him addicted to refined sugar just yet. Most supermarket jams, as everybody knows, is just packed with refined sugar. So I was quite happy while flipping through some old cookbooks to find a recipe for strawberry jam that used something different. In fact, the recipe is so simple, I wish I had found it a decade ago!

Ingredients:

  • strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • coconut sugar
  • lemon juice

Yep. I kid you not. That's all we'll need for this recipe. The amount is completely adjustable based on the following formula: for every 160g of strawberries you'll need 30g of coconut sugar and half a teaspoon of lemon juice.

The jar in the photo holds just over 300g of strawberries which equates to 300g of strawberries, 56g of coconut sugar, and a teaspoon (5 ml) of lemon juice.

Directions:

  • Put the strawberries into a large pot with a wide mouth and set the heat to medium high. Once the berries have started to show some juice, add the coconut sugar and lemon juice.
  • As the berries cook, mash them with a potato masher to make them smaller. Stir frequently to prevent burning. The jam does bubble quite a bit and can splash, so be ready.
  • Continue to cook for 15~20 minutes, until jam is firm and spreadable. You can take a bit of jam out and smear it on a cold plate to see if it remains firm. Keep cooking and testing until it's at the consistency you like.
  • Once done, transfer the jam into sterilised jars. So long as the jam will be fully eaten in a week or two, you will probably not need to can it. One of the goals of making this jam is for "freshness", so smaller batches can be your friend here.

And that's that! Tomorrow will be the big test. Will the boy like it or not?

Thinking Too Much of Work

Burnout is a very normal part of my professional life as it is something that has come aruond every 18 to 24 months since high school. I get into periods of high output creativity that sparks a great deal of work and motivates me to push hard to eke out as much as I possibly can. Unfortunately, pushing hard often results in pushing too hard, which leads to exhaustion. Exhaustion leads to reduced creativity. Reduced creativity leads to a loss of motivation. From here, I can either slip into a self-defeating, seemingly nihilistic attitude towards my efforts or extreme indifference ... which is quite similar to other1.

Earlier this year I was given the opportunity to be part of a project at the day job that involves dozens of colleagues from offices across the globe. The project is ultimately in line with the sort of things that I tend to do within a corporate IT department, but there's just something about this project that does not give me the satisfaction that I typically look for in my work. Yes, the people I'm working with are quite smart, meaning I can learn quite a bit while coordinating with them. The ultimate goal of the work is good for everyone within the organisation as well as our students. The payoff at the end of the project2 is also quite good. But I've lost interest.

All the Thinking. None of the Doing.

Some mild introspection helped me come to the conclusion that I'm likely worn out because I'm doing a lot of thinking, but very little doing. When creating things, a person will often alternate between the two, with a good deal of thought up front, then lots of activity with moderate amounts of thinking up until a task or sub-task is complete. Then repeat. This variation of work allows a person — such as me — to remain interested in something longer. With the current project, I'm not in a development nor data management role anymore. Instead, I am writing reports, outlining plans, defining requirements, and following up with people for as many as 14 hours a day. A vastly different set of skills where the feeling of accomplishment is much harder to achieve. When the start of every day's task list looks the same, how does one find the motivation?

In an effort to shake myself out of the mental rut, I've started to invest a bit more time during the day into 10Cv5. The core elements of the system are mostly complete and now what I really need is a series of tools that will allow people to interact with the service. This means native applications, not web apps. As these will be the first applications I've written in two years, dusting off the mental cobwebs should be good to help rekindle the creative energies that seem to have dwindled in recent months.

Burn out usually costs me between three and six months of time. Perhaps by switching things up a bit and not thinking so much about the day job, this round of negativity can be reduced to just a handful of weeks.

Bootnote

While it's true that a whole lot of good has happened in my life the last few years, mental exhaustion and a loss of motivation cannot be avoided. These things happen, particularly when people are sleep deprived or feeling constantly pressured for time.


  1. Some people don't call this burn out, but pedants are often as fun to communicate with as conservative religious dogmatists. Burnout is typically defined as a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment, and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
  2. It's not a financial payoff, but a career-development milestone. From here it's completely within the realm of possibility that I move into senior positions for the rest of my time at the day job.

Dog Days of Podcasting

Three years ago I took part in a little podcast challenge called The Dog Days of Podcasting where, for every day in the month of August, we are encouraged to release an episode. I went ahead and planned 35 episodes around a single theme and later published the episodes as a digital "book" on iTunes, complete with the audio scripts and some additional info that didn't make it into the published show. It was good fun for the most part, though a little difficult to maintain around the schedule imposed by the day job. As yet another August is fast approaching, people are thinking about the annual event and considering whether they'll participate or not ... myself included.

Despite the amount of work involved, I really enjoyed putting out a run of podcast episodes around a common theme. By having this on the Doubtfully Daily Matigo podcast, it allows for a certain amount of flexibility. There is no overarching topic nor a large audience with expectations to stick to, and that can leave a person free to experiment. To try new things. To remix old things. To fail and not get hung up about it.

At the end of the 2015 Dog Days run, the digital book idea was something I had kicked around as part of a Patreon perk. Because every episode was researched and scripted, I was able to quickly turn it out when the annual challange came to an end on September 4th. The book itself required less than a dozen hours to put together and, while the download numbers show it to be a spectacular "failure", the process gave rise to other ideas that I've helped other podcasters implement with much greater degrees of success. So it should come as no surprise when I say I would really like to take another crack at the themed podcast run which includes a supplimentary object, be it a digital book or something along these lines.

But on what subject?

WTF You Cookin'?

A few weeks back I joked about having a show called "WTF You Cookin'?" as one of the more recent post themes on this site has involved bread recipes. However, this isn't something that I could realistically do on a daily basis for the Dog Days of Podcasting challenge as eating an entire loaf of bread a day would be quite difficult. Baking something different every day and recording myself while doing it would also bring a number of challenges given the day job and the fact that there's a new little person who is often demanding attention from people while they're working in the kitchen. So a recipe-based show is not in the cards unless I start recording episodes every Sunday and release them only after I've collected a month's worth of shows ... which is silly.

Technology is something that I could certainly discuss, but that would likely be insanely boring for a lot of people. Rather than "read the news" about the latest gadgets or rant against the state of the Internet, I would use technology as a theme to examine current and future ethical questions that will arise as a direct result of the rapidly-evolving robotics and cognition engine projects around the world. This is a subject that I've given a great deal of thought to over the last few years, but could I put out a month of episodes on this topic? Would this be better as a series of examinations or a single, large essay that examines the theme and how we can approach some of the philosophical hurdles that must be addressed at some point? Is this something anyone would want to listen to?

How about one of the previous podcast concepts I dabbled with in 2014 and 2015, such as the "Thousand Words" podcast? This show sounds deceptively easy to create, but is incredibly difficult to get right. Essentially it boils down to this: if a picture is worth a thousand words, could I describe an image with enough detail for a listener to picture it in their minds before seeing it themselves? This is something that could certainly be done in both podcast and book form, but would it be "interesting"?

Does "interesting" even matter with projects like this? For all my talk about freedom with a show like Doubtfully Daily Matigo, I seem to put a lot of consideration into whether something would be of value to others rather than asking whether the attempt to try something different would be of value to myself.

I've yet to decide whether I'll take part in this year's Dog Days of Podcasting challenge, though I am leaning towards trying to participate. The hardest part of this endeavour isn't the technical aspects of podcasting, but the creative elements.

Cinnamon Walnut Zucchini Bread

It's the weekend, so that means it's time for another bread-based recipe. This time it's the classic combination of walnuts with zucchini and the additional twist of cinnamon.

Cinnamon Walnut Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 300g sugar
  • 220mL olive oil
  • 250g all-purpose flour
  • 50g cinnamon ⇠ I kid you not
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 300g grated zucchini
  • 125g chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C
  2. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray
  3. Grate the zucchini with a cheese grater, then set aside
  4. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla until just blended
  5. In a separate medium size bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together
  6. Pour the dry ingredients, zucchini, and nuts into your sugar+egg+oil mixture and mix on low-speed until just blended. It's very important that you do not over-mix on this step.
  7. Pour everything into the loaf pan, filling it about 3/4 of the way full. Filling it too much will result in a mess at the bottom of your oven.
  8. Bake for about 50 minutes, or when the toothpick test comes out just a little moist — a few minutes from being completely cooked. Taking it out too late will result in some dry bread.

And that's that. Once cooled, grab something nice to drink and enjoy a slice of Sunday regardless the day of the week.

A More Realistic Look at the Role Robotics Can Play in Caregiving

Yet another article about robots has been published in The Guardian and it comes as no surprise that the common tropes about "AI" and "robots taking our jobs" are being raised yet again. John Harris, the author of today's article, describes attempts by various retirement homes in a handful of countries — including Japan — to use robots in the day-to-day care of the elderly or infirm. While John does put out a number of well-written pieces, his obvious technophobia is conflating what people see today as what will most certainly, absolutely, positively be seen in the future. And this is just nonsense.

Asimo Giving Directions

The idea of robo-care surely threatens some of the most basic principles at the heart of how we look after each other: empathy; altruism; the idea that if the way a society organises itself is to mean anything, there is an onus on younger people to reciprocate the care once given to them by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations (an unfashionable notion in these generationally divided times, but one worth restating).

— John Harris

This quote from near the end of his article stuck out because he assumes that with the advent of robotic caregivers, people will be living in isolation from each other, walled off and speaking only to the machines that feed, bathe, and entertain us. While there are certainly a number of people of retirement age who do very much live alone, to think that machines will be replacing the need for human interaction is absurd. The machines that are currently being trialled at retirement homes, hospitals, and other locations are in very early stages of development. These things are not meant to replace humans, per se, but to eliminate the mindless tasks that a human is generally too smart to do or to provide a distraction for people who may need one.

In an ideal world where robotic technology was mature enough, we'd like see situations where every caregiver at a retirement home would be assigned a robot assistant or two who would do a lot of the physical work that takes its toll on people. Lifting people out of bed, bathing them, or otherwise helping with general movement can put a lot of strain on a caregiver. Just as in construction, the most common form of injury for employees at care homes is back-related. Having a machine that can safely and reliably lift someone out of bed, take them to the bathroom, or give a bath in relative privacy would have a number of benefits for everyone involved. Just as we see in countless other examples around the world, we should let the machines do the jobs that are generally difficult for a person to do in a sustained fashion. That's why we have machines. People, on the other hand, are generally good at interacting with people. Ultimately this is where the human/robot assistant pair begins to make sense and is where the technology is logically leaning towards.

Will there be machines with algorithms that try very hard to mimic human emotions and failings? Absolutely. The mere existence of these things does not mean they will be used in every situation or scenario. Will there be retirement homes where a handful of humans neglect their duties to the residents while leaving every task to the machines? Most likely, and it will be in everyone's best interest if institutions like this are put in the spotlight and forced to change or shut down.

Having watched modern technology become what it is, I will not profess to be a techno-optimist, nor am I naive enough (anymore) to think that people will naturally lean towards a respectful, collaborative future as portrayed in Star Trek because of the freedoms made possible with the adoption of advanced technology. However, the trends are pretty clear. People who become caregivers are not in it for the money. They're in it because they genuinely care about people and want to help. Having a machine to support a caregiver with the tasks that can cause injury to the them or the receiver would be a huge win for everyone involved, and this is the direction the technology will need to go if there is going to be any mass adoption of the expensive hardware.

There will always be examples of sub-optimal uses of technologies that will be held up and exhibited as a reason to distrust or dislike a tool. However, at the end of the day, nobody in their right mind will pay the price a robot will cost just to have a modern-day Pinocchio with a two-dimensional conversational ability and a complete lack of contextual awareness. Looking at modern robotics technology and trying to extrapolate what the future will hold is like comparing a Tiger handheld game from the early 90s to a Samsung Galaxy S9.

Comparing a Tiger and Samsung

We can't even begin to imagine what the future has in store and it's bound to be completely different from anything we ever expected.

Brown Sugar Banana Bread

The boy loves both bananas and bread, so I wanted to try something fun that would both celebrate Canada Day and make the house smell great: Brown Sugar Banana Bread!

Brown Sugar Banana Bread

Ingredients:

Bread

  • 80g melted butter
  • 150g brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 eggs
  • 15mL vanilla extract
  • 4 pureed bananas
  • 250g unbleached pastry flour
  • 8g baking powder
  • 5g salt
  • 75g chopped pecans

Topping

  • 50g brown sugar (packed)
  • 25g soft butter
  • 5g kosher salt

Let's get the topping made first. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the topping and set it aside.

For the bread, pre-heat the oven to 180˚C and get a 25cm baking pan greased or (ideally) lined with baking paper. Now we can sift the flour, baking powder, and salt tother, setting them aside when done. Using a mixing bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar until evenly consistent, then add the vanilla extract and eggs. It's better to add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time to ensure everything is mixed together just right. Next up we add half of the flour mixture from before to the liquid mixture, followed by the banana puree. Again, scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure a consistent mixture, otherwise you'll get bits of dry stuff in your bread that is no fun to find. When everything is generally mixed together, add in the last of the sifted flour bowl and continue mixing until well combined. This is also the time to bring in the pecans.

Once this is ready for baking, pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Take the topping mix from earlier and spread that over the batter using a large table spoon or something that generally is not a finger. From there, place the pan into the oven and let it bake for a good hour, doing the "toothpick test" every so often after the first 50 minutes of baking. When the toothpick comes up clean, it's done.

Let the bread cool for half and hour and enjoy the look of envy your neighbours display while walking past the house, because you now have the freshest banana bread in town.

This recipe is something I've had in my notes for a while and it's gone through a couple of modifications over the years as I've gotten older and my tolerance for sweets has diminished. The original recipe called for 225g of brown sugar and 90g of butter in the bread, but that's far too much for me. Feel free to adjust the numbers to your liking.

Awesome Cinnamon Rolls

I am a sucker for cinnamon rolls. Enough of a sucker to willingly spend $2.50 for them in town whenever I get a hankering for the carb-loaded snack. Rather than give the commercial bakeries my hard-earned money for an ephemeral treat, I'd much rather make my own and get the flavour just right. This recipe is one of my favourites.

Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

  • 450g bread dough (either made in a home bakery or by hand)
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • ⅔ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ⅔ cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon milk
  • Dash vanilla

Instructions:

  1. Roll dough to a rectangle, about 45x18 centimetres. Brush with the melted butter.
  2. Combine brown sugar, chopped nuts, and cinnamon; sprinkle over dough.
  3. Starting at long edge, roll dough up, jelly roll fashion; moisten edges and seal.
  4. Cut roll into 18 slices. Place rolls, cut side down, into two lightly buttered round cake pans. Let rise for about 1½ hours, until doubled.
  5. Pour the cream over the rolls then bake at 180°C for 25 minutes.
  6. Combine confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla, adding more sugar or milk if necessary. Drizzle over rolls while still warm.

All in all, this is about a half-hour of work and two hours of waiting. The house will smell absolutely wonderful for a good 24 hours afterwards, too.

Would "Serverless" Be Better for an Indie?

This blog, matigo.ca, has been online almost continuously since October 19, 2006. First under a terrible dyn-dns domain, then japanadian.net, then j2fi.net, then jasonirwin.ca, and finally here. In that time over 2,600 blog posts have been published and a host of other post types have also been added and made available. On an average day there are roughly 24,500 pages served to 3,700-odd visitors and a handful of search engines. With the average page being served in 0.18 seconds, this means my site sees just over an hour of work every day. For the other 23-odd hours it is just sitting around and waiting for someone to stop by. As someone who pays for a server to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this can seem both silly and wasteful. Why wouldn't a price-sensitive or cost-conscious individual want to go with a hosted solution? Not only would it be cheaper, but it would be a better use of resources. In a world where people are actively trying to reduce their energy consumption, this seems like a logical choice. However, when it comes to digital sovereignty or just wanting to have more control over a website, is it the only choice?

This is something I've been thinking about over the last few weeks as I continue work on 10Cv5, the next big update to my publishing platform that will hopefully encourage people to consider saving words and images to their own site before sharing them with closed systems such as Twitter and Medium. Fortunately for me, the servers I have 10Centuries running on see anywhere between 3.8 and 113.2 requests per second every day of the week. There are hundreds of websites with thousands of posts and millions of links that are in demand. The average independent blogger, however, does not need to have a server (or collection of servers) operating every second of every day. The reason we do this is because "that's how it's always been" since the dawn of the Internet. A computer somewhere is on, idle, and waiting.

There must be a more ecologically responsible way of doing this.

Serverless Websites

An idea I've been kicking around in my head involves the concept of "serverless computing". This is essentially using the cloud to host code that only runs when someone specifically requests it. Serverless providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, and CloudFlare all have slightly different ways of doing this, but the end result is the same. You're only paying for the resources that are actually consumed. If a website has 100 visitors a day — which is true for many lesser-known blogs — then why pay for 24 hours of operation when you really only need 20~30 seconds of compute time?

So how would all of this work for a blog? It's pretty simple ... in principle.

Serverless code would be uploaded to a service. A domain would be pointed to the right location. A database and/or flat storage location would be set up to store the content. People would visit, and content would be served when requested. For people going "full Indieweb", things like WebMentions would be completely supported. For people using apps that make use of RESTful APIs, everything would run as expected. With the modern web, things are very much request based. Things only happen when you ask for them to happen.

Is this something that people would want, though? When people have asked me to help them set up a server for a website, I generally try to keep things simple. Nobody wants to hear about how to configure Apache or nginx, how to set up a SQL database, or what to type to install the software prerequisites. Fewer people want to hear me encourage they SSH into a server to apply regular software updates. Serverless could get around some of these issues by abstracting the details away, allowing a person to simply upload functions and open a browser.

Of course, I've been playing around with this idea myself, using Microsoft's Azure service. The idea has potential, and hosting 10C on a platform that can easily scale from 3.8 requests per second to 1000+ requests per second without needing to maintain a bunch of idle servers or spinning up VMs that need to first have their software updated before being added to a service pool would be nice. My costs of operation would remain the same but, for a person who is not hosting hundreds of sites for thousands of visitors to make hundreds of thousands of requests against, an incredible amount of money could be saved. Operating a website for $81 a year (not including the cost of a domain name) is incredibly attractive. Add to that the "green cred" of having a website that uses only the resources it needs and not an iota more, and the merits shine further.

Would people find value in this, though? Or am I once again thinking of a tool for a market that simply does not exist?


  1. this cost was calculated using Microsoft's Azure serverless offerings, flat files to store content, and an average of 1000 page loads a day for one year.

Courtesy

Earlier today I fell into a conversation with a neighbour about Japanese foods that visitors to the country often struggle with. They will be playing host to an entourage from parts of the US and wanted to know what not to offer them. The standards like 納豆1 were known, but they wanted to know if there was anything else that might not sit well with people more accustomed to North American cuisine. The first thing that came to mind was 仙崎活きイカ, otherwise known as Senjaki live squid.

Senjaki Live Squid

Imagine, if you will, eating dinner while your dinner watches you, suffocating and writhing in agony the whole time. For a long time this was something I couldn't imagine eating but, after learning of the significance of the dish, my initial revulsion of the idea completely evaporated.

It is no secret that we eat things that are — or recently were — alive. While growing up in Canada, I knew that the meats I ate came from animals, some of which I would see and feed at neighbouring farms. That said, I was quite sheltered in that I've never had to kill a chicken, pig, or cow and prepare the carcass for consumption. Meats came wrapped in styrofoam and plastic. Fish often came breaded in "stick" form. Other foods were dried in boxes. Fruits were in bags. Vegetables came from the garden in the summer and autumn, and from the supermarket the rest of the year. Everything was very clean and neat.

Things in Japan are sometimes a bit different. While a lot of the food we consume here do follow standard western distribution patterns, seafood is generally served intact. A fish is clearly a fish, complete with bones, fins, and a head. Octopus is clearly octopus. Squid is clearly squid. When you go to a good sushi or sashimi restaurant, you see the food being prepared right in front of you. The fish is fresh, cut open, and turned into dinner right in front of you. While the fish is often frozen when it arrives at the restaurant, it's thawed just enough to be sliced and served for that day's dishes. This is a sign of its freshness and quality. It's a sign that you can trust the food your eating will not make you sick2. When a Japanese person wants to do something really nice for someone, be it a guest or anybody else, they might order some live squid for the table to share. People here will say it's a "courtesy", and this is where something often gets lost in translation.

When I hear the word courtesy, I think of politeness, civility, and a degree of respect. I don't think "squirming squid on a plate". However, when you think about the culture around seafood in many Asian countries, this begins to make sense. People can get sick when eating raw fish that is not absolutely fresh, and anyone who has ever had sashimi at a North American restaurant where non-Japanese chefs were in the kitchen can probably attest to having a sore stomach once or twice after eating there. The same can happen here if you go to a "discount" seafood restaurant that is better known for its 75 Yen sushi plates than its quality or flavour. So by ordering live squid that is cut up and served as an entire cephalopod that is so fresh it's still trying to breathe and escape the plate it's dying on, someone is being shown an incredible amount of respect:

You are my guest, and I am treating you to food so fresh you will not get sick.

Wrapped up in the single word of "courtesy" is an unspoken lineage of custom, respect, and deference that stretches back centuries and has origins involving some of the most regarded figures in Japan's long history. Unfortunately, when some people are confronted with Senjaki live squid for the first time, it can be a little difficult to explain the significance of the dish and why it was ordered. Many of my expatriate colleagues have told stories about when they first encountered this dish and their reactions. More often than not the night is derailed after the squid arrives.

My neighbour found this hard to believe.


  1. Natto, a foul-smelling, awful-looking, fermented bean-based "food" that looks like someone sneezed in a dish and called it breakfast.
  2. Mind you, having wasabi with sushi and sashimi will help your stomach kill most germs that might be in the fish unless the food has already gone rotten.

Blueberry Corn Muffins

Blueberry Corn Muffins

Why must every recipe from my mum's cook books be in imperial units? This weekend I decided to try something new and found a recipe that piqued my interest. Blueberries and corn bread are foods that I've enjoyed separately, but never together. In the famous line from the Blendtec promos; will it blend?

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen or fresh blueberries

How To:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Mix almond mix and apple cider together. Set aside
  3. Combine all dry ingredients (including sugar) together in a small bowl
  4. Add almond milk mixture and coconut oil to a mixer.
  5. Using the whisk attachment, add in the dry ingredients all at once and mix until just combined
  6. Portion batter into muffin cups and top each one with blueberries
  7. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean

This was quite a bit easier than last week's cranberry bread to clean up, and the results were quite lovely. It's probably a good thing that there are no (decent) bakeries within walking distance of the new house. I have reason to make things myself.

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