Miscellaneous notes 2012 part one

This document contains only my personal opinions and calls of judgement, and where any comment is made as to the quality of anybody's work, the comment is an opinion, in my judgement.

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These notes are my about miscellaneous (non-computing) topics, often brief informal reviews of products or shops or places ranging from canned food to pubs.

121013 Sat: Effective dehumidifier and its power consumption

A pretty annoying problem with living in humid cold places is that when heating is necessary, or when drying clothes indoor, a lot of condensation can happen on windows, resulting in quick formation of moulds on window sills. Also in general high humidity is sometimes uncomfortable.

There aren't many way to solve the issue completely other than moving to a drier climate, but using some kind of home dehumidifier can improve the situation. Some people use chemical dehumidifiers, but I have been recommended use of an electrical one, in particular an EBAC 2400.

It seems to work pretty well, preventing condensation on windows and also seems to improve air quality, points also made in a fairly enthusiastic user review.

The only defect I found is that it is somewhat noisy, but that may be because the unit I have is old and may need lubrication.

A relevant aspect is the cost of running it, and it seems to draw around 180W. It is about the same as a computer, and does not seem overly high. It may still be perhaps be best left to run overnight in areas where electricity is cheaper during the night.

121007 Sun: Powerful cleaning powder

Because fiberglass kitchen tops and sinks are porous, they easily become stained, for example by rust stains, and these stains can be difficult to remove.

After some searching I found Bar Keepers Friend which is a powder for stain removal. It is quite effective and removed those stains. It seems based more than on a sequestrant action like that of a detergent on a slightly abrasive powder, plus oxalic acid to attack rust, so after a while it does rub away the surface, so it needs gradual application.

While it works, because of the necessary mildness of the abrasive action it takes a lot of rubbing to achieve best results, so don't espect immediate results.

I haven't used a similar product called Bon Ami which is recommended for cases where a milder action is sufficient.

120519 Sat: Impressions of the book "Keynes"

This is a book that summarizes both the life and the works of John Maynard Keynes in an elegant and readable way. The first two chapters are about the life, and next two about his first major work Treatise on money and his next one The general theory of employment, interest and money.

It is written by an historian, yet the discussions about political economy theory and policy are well informed and plausible, and the author clearly delights in showing how contemporary propaganda about political economy recycles old and fallacious politically motivated arguments that Keynes had fought 80 years ago.

The main aspects of the evolution of the approach by Keynes to political economy are well illustrated in chapters 3 In the long run we are all dead and Animal spirits, that is from a view that the political economy is driven by bartering, under the veil of money, to one where it is driven by enterprise, which is fundamentally influenced by monetary conditions. In other words that the markets for saving and investment are disconnected.

This involves the point which is not emphasized enough and yet is perhaps the most crucial in the thinking by Keynes is that he loudly and repeatedly repudiated the absurd notion that the interest rate is the price of money that brings into equilibrium the demand of investment and the supply of saving.

One of the most crucial point by Keynes is that the interest rate is the price of liquidity rather than money, and that the demand for investment and the supply of savings are mediated by the market for liquidity, and this mediation can be strong or weak.

It is this point that gives rise to the repeated claim by Keynes that he wrote a general theory, that is one applicable to all economic conditions, not just depressions, and one of all three of employment, interest and money.

The other major omission is that the book does not emphasize the difference between ex-ante and ex-post levels of consumption and investment; a distinction that is captured by the term of effective demand where the effective is there by contrast to notional, wher notional demand is the ex-ante desire to spend, and effective demand is the ex-post actual amount spent. It is the difference between the notional and effective quantities that can give rise to deflationary or inflationary spirals, as Keynes illustrates.

The book however very usefully emphasizes most of the other key aspects of the approach by Keynes, which mostly descend from the discovery that interest rates are the price of liquidity and that the difference between notional and effective quantities, in particular as to spending levels, mattert:

I learned from the book to appreciate much more the difference between Keynes and American Keynesianism that Keynes emphasized the impact of spending on investment on the poltical economy, while American Keynesians tended to emphasize the impact of spending, and his preference for fiscal over monetary policy, where his recommendation was a passive steady monetary policy of low interest rates and relatively easy money, even if he thought that high interest rates would help more in restraining inflations.

It is overall a very useful book, to understanding both the background and the evolution of Keynes both as a political economis and as a man. As to the latter his private life evolved as radically as his political economy, from fashionable, popular homosexual promiscuity to unpopular and traditional monogamous heterosexuality.

120324 Tue: Two cheap mobile phones at Tesco

Tesco have been selling two unlocked cheap mobile phones, the Samsung GT-E1080 on sale for £10.00 and the Nokia 100 on sale for £15.

Both are low-cost no-frills devices, and they are both decent, but the Nokia is very much better, and indeed it costs 50% more, even if that is only 5 pounds.

The main difference is that the GT-E1080 has not so good audio quality, and the Nokia 100 has fairly good audio quality.

The Nokia 100 also has a builtin FM radio, and comes with included wired earphones and microphone for hands-free usage. It also has a LED to use as a torch while the GT-E1080 can only blank the screen so it emits white light to use as an illumination device.

The biggest defect of both devices is that they have a colourful user interface, that is garish, and even offputting, and on the GT-E1080 one cannot even disable the screen wallpaper, which is usually distracting.

Both phones have long battery life, and work well and seem quite robust (the Nokia 100 more so).

120207b Tue: Impressions of the book "Critical Mass"

A good friend who is a physicist working on related topics has given me Critical mass by Phil Ball.

The book is about a similar subject to The tipping point that is abrupt changes in aggregates made of many small, similar and globally independent parts. The subject is related to catastrophe theory which is also about abrupt transitions, but the latter is about the shape of the transition, not how it is caused.

The sudden transitions in Critical mass are caused by local interactions among the elements of an aggregate having global effects when some threshold is reached, usually when a certain percentage of the elements.

The book is quite interesting and shows that the concept can be widely adapted to situations quite far from its origins in physics, because there are many aggregates composed of similar small elements which interact locally.

It seems a decent introduction to interesting concepts like emergent behavior and phase transitions that happen in many aggregates.

120207 Tue: Tiles as kitchen boards

The top of my kitchen counter is made of so-so plastic and even a granite counter-top should not be used directly as a cutting and preparation board. I have used plastic and wood boards and they are cheap or traditional, but they scratch easily and can soak a bit. I have tried glass ones, but I have decided that they are quite ugly, an stone ones are very heavy and also expensive.

After some trials I have switched to glazed ceramic tiles, for example 25×40cm glossy white tiles that I found for £1.79 each in single quantity at Homebase.

I have two concerns with them, and one is that they are not explicitly rated as safe with food. Of course nearly identical looking ceramics are used to make dishes, so it is not ceramic per se that I am worried, but that wall tiles be made with heavy metals in the glazing for example. But I have decided not to be too worried as the glazing is extremely hard and there is very little chance that whatever is in the glazing or ceramic will leach into food.

The second concern is that precisely because the glazing and ceramic are so hard they might damage knives used for cutting on the tile; indeed if plastic or wood board get quickly scratched is because they are softer than knives. Overall I don't worry about dulling knives, and if I were using glass or stone boards they would have part of the issue. Also the smooth and unscratched glezed surface means that washing the tiles is extremely easy.

120206 Mon: Microwaving pork

I tend to microwave the food I eat cooked, in part out of laziness, including being able to cook food in their dish and thus dispensing with wasahing up pans; but also because I can cook food in a microwave without oil or fat or sauces to keep the food from drying up under heat or to add flavour.

In effect microwaving is somewhat similar to boiling or steaming, even if but drier in the result (no immersion). As a result microwaved food is a bit bland in texture and flavour, at least compared to fried or baked food.

I have found that this is actually welcome in the case of naturally flavourful food, and that in particular many pork based foods can be microwaved and come out fairly well without any need for flavourings, as pork meat has a distinctive flavour of its own, and it is often cured or salted or spiced. Also pork meat tends to be fatty and during microwave cooking that fat melts and helps cook the meant too, so it is ends up not being entirely similar to boiling or steaming.

Even microwaved sausages are suitable for example, while cutlets sometimes come out a bit too dry, and I have tried gammon and it seems particularly suitable, in both rasher, steak or bulk form. The resulting flavour is even sometimes a bit too strong, and the texture is not as crispy as frying or baking or grilling, but it is not soggy either; another difference is that the result is rather uniformly cooked, without a gradient from outside to inside. Overall I like it enough.

It is convenient too, and probably rather healthier than frying. Perhaps not healthier than grilling or baking, as less of the fat and salt in the meat gets sweated out during microwaving.

120201 Wed: Afternoon deal at Wetherspoon's, fish and chips

I have mentioned previously the afternoon gammon dish at Wetherspoon's pubs, and I have also had the similar fish and chips (and peas) afternoon dish. That also seems pretty good value for the same reasons.

120116 Mon: Afternoon deal at Wetherspoon's

Just been for an afternoon break at a Wetherspoon's pub and they have a special offer between 2pm and 5pm on weekdays of gammon with eggs and chips and a mug of tea for £3.49 which is quite satisying and excellent value. There is a more substantial standard gammon meal but the afternoon one seems more substantial for a late quick work lunch break.

120114 Sat: Lunch deal at InShanghai

The InShanghai chinese-style buffet restaurant in Durham has a £5.99 deal for lunch, and myself and some friends occasionally go where during lunch break and it is quite good. If one goes early in particular, as the buffet food is fresh out of the kitchen. The selection of dishes is unusually ample for a buffet place, and there are several non-fried options, which usually keep feeling good for longer.

120105 Thu: Croissant instead of bread for sandwiches

It is not common to see, but it is a nice alternative to use a croissant as the wrapper for a sandwich instead of bread. It is particularly suitable for salty cured meat like salami or even tasty cheeses, but also for Parma ham.

120102c Mon: Ways of eating Parma ham

Parma or similar cured hams are salty yet subtly flavoured tender chewy meat and they can be eaten to best effect in some apparently little know ways:

The general idea is to complement the ham with something of milder flavour, and possibly with a different texture, like breadsticks.

Parma ham should be sliced really thin, something that is sometimes forgotten outside its original country.

120102b Mon: Proper way of making garlic bread

The better and proper way of making garlic bread is:

  1. Toast a slice of bread.
  2. Peel a fresh garlic segment and cut it in half.
  3. Rub the wider part of the half garlic segment on the toasted bread. Since it is toasted its rough surface will consume the garlic.
  4. Spread some olive oil on top, perhaps adding some salt.

Diced garlic and butter, and toasting the bread after spreading them onto it, are quite a different thing.

120102 Mon: Proper way of eating tinned anchovies fillets

It has come to my attention that proper way to eat tinned anchovies fillets is not widely known, and it is:

  1. Toast a slice of bread.
  2. Put on it sparse thin slivers of cold butter.
  3. Put a sparse number of anchovie fillets on top.

This packaging is essential for best appreciating the flavour and texture of the fillets, as they are usually very salty and chewy. The crispness of toasted bread provides a favourable background to the chewy texture, and its blandness and the coolness of the slivers of butter soften the saltiness of the meat.

120101e Sun: Impressions of Tesco teriyaki mackerel

As recommended by a friend I have tried Tesco Mackerel In Teriyaki Sauce and they are interesting. The tare sauce works well with the mackerel both as to taste and flavour, and help make a quick toast or sandwich. The sauce flavour dominates that of the fish meat, but the latter is not particularly interesting.

120101d Sun: Impressions of some tomato passata cartons

I have become partial to the 500g cartons of passata for example Tesco Sieved Tomatoes Passata 500G cartons both because passata in general is useful (it can added as a sauce to just about anything and the specific product is fairly cheap and decent.

It has added salt and is a bit less dense than the co-operative food shop, which also seems good. I slightly prefer the Tesco one because by being a bit salty and less dense it can also be drunk as a kind of heavy tomato juice and is refreshing especially when it is hot (and curiously a lot cheaper than tomato juice).

120101c Sun: Impressions of CAT Interchange shoes

I have bought a set of CAT Interchange shoes after trying a pair for a little while because they are well built and fairly rugged as per the brand value.

They are fairly good for bad weather and they still look conventional enough for an office environment or even a suit attire. The build details are good too.

120101b Sun: Impressions of ASDA Living woolen socks

It is sometimes difficult to find in the UK woolen heavy clothing, as most clothing seems cotton and light, and while layering is a good idea, layering cotton especially in wet climate is not something I like..

It is therefore fortunate that ASDA Living shops carry some moderately cheap (£2 per pair) thick socks with around 1/3 wool and they seem to be (after a few weeks of testing) fairly resilient and warm and tolerate machine washing well. Since they come in sedate solid colours like shades of blue they are also suitable for most business dress styles.

120101 Sun: Impressions of the book "The Volatility Machine"

I haven't yet finished reading The Volatility Machine by Michael Pettis (published in 2001 by Oxford University Press) and I yet I feel the need to review it now.

The parts that I have already read are already exceptionally interesting and relevant to understanding an important political and technical side to the evolution of the international economy in the past several decades.

The main observation in the book is that the capital structure, that is the composition (and not just the size) of the portfolio of financial assets and liabilities of a country is important just like for a company, and it can be shaped to dampen or amplify the effects of events in the international credit markets.

The other main observation is that events in the international credit markets are mostly driven by monetary policy in big economies, and in particular the floods of money that they periodically create, usually in response to major policy changes such as wars, and secondarily driven by temporary panics.

A third subsidiary argument is that financial events in minor countries, whether booms or busts, are often unrelated to policies in those countries, but that country policy can make a difference as to the impact they have.

The argument is that by structuring the capital of a country for dampening country defaults can be minimized in the case of events caused by major policy changes, and essentially eliminated in the case of temporary panics.

The main things I liked about the book are:

What I did not like: