Monday, December 31, 2012

Gently-Baked Salmon with Cabbage, Bacon, and Dill

This is the "Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cabbage, Bacon, and Dill" recipe from serious eats.

It's quite quick and easy to prepare and tastes fantastic.

I wouldn't have thought it'd be possible to make salmon come out so soft and succulent, but baking it at low temperatures works wonders.  And the mild sweetness of the cabbage cooked with bacon really compliments it.

  • savoy cabbage, 1 head (halved, cored, and roughly chopped)
  • bacon, 6 slices
  • onion, 1, diced
  • water, 1 cup
  • salmon fillets, 4 (4-6 ounces each, skin removed)
  • fresh dill, chopped, 1 teaspoon (plus more for garnish)
  • olive oil, 4 tablespoons 
  • butter, 2 tablespoons
  • lemon juice, from one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 120 degrees celsius (250°F).

Cook the cabbage
  • In medium saucepan, place bacon and heat over medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered from bacon and bacon is beginning to crisp.
  • Add onion and cook for an additional minute, then add cabbage and water.
  • Bring to a boil, then simmer until cabbage is tender, 20-25 minutes, adding more liquid if necessary.
  • Once very tender, season with salt, pepper, and half the dill.

Prepare and cook the salmon
  • In the meantime, season salmon fillets with salt and pepper and place salmon on non-stick sheet pan.
  • Drizzle olive oil over fillets, top with half the dill, and finish with small knob of butter.
  • Cook 15-18 minutes for medium rare, or up to 25 minutes for medium, depending on thickness of fish.
  • Remove from oven and drizzle with lemon juice.

  • Divide cabbage and salmon among plates and garnish with more dill, if desired.
  • Serve immediately.

Books I read in 2012

The best:

Wool - Omnibus edition, by Hugh Howey
Great bit of storytelling


Ones that were decent:

We Are All Weird, by Seth Godin
A touch wishy-washy but an interesting, brief look at broad cultural currents.

Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge
Fairly good, but mainly as a plausible near-future (c 2025) world of pervasive augmented reality & wearable computers.

A number of Kindle Singles, all of which were decent:

My Seinfeld Year, by Fred Stoller
Memoir. A couple of interesting insights into how the writing process for Seinfeld worked.

Gutenberg the Geek, by Jeff Jarvis
A look at Gutenberg as an entrepreneur

Cautionary Tales, by Stephen Tobolowsky
Memoir of bad (but funny) mistakes the author made.

The First Light of Evening, by Mark Ernest Pothier
A day in the life of a guy 3 years after divorce and still dealing with it. Pretty nicely done.

Shakedown, by James Ellroy
Pretty sharply written. Somewhat salicious.

A number of books on ancient Rome, all pretty decent. Working on slowly building up my understanding of history.

Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker.
Decent, readable basic overview. Focus mainly on politics and major political figures

The World of Rome, by Michael Grant
This one was a bit less readable than the others, but fairly informative.

Rubicon: The Triumph and the Tragedy of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland

Julius Caesar, by Philip Freeman

Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician, by Anthony Everitt

Antony and Cleopatra, by Adrian Goldsworthy

Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor, by Anthony Everitt


Ones I really didn't like. I'd avoid these: 

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, by Roger Williams

Accelerando, by Charles Stross


And several that I read bits of but didn't around to finishing. Not because I didn't like them, just didn't get time:

Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin

The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction 23, by Gardner Dozois
I read about 5 stories from this, and didn't think much of most of them.

Pro Git, by Scott Chacon

Poems of Emily Dickinson, series 1, by Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sweet Red Onion Pasta

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe.  I photocopied it from one of his cookbooks years ago, but I don't know anymore which cookbook it was.

The original recipe is vegetarian, but if you want to include meat some chicken thighs would suit the flavour.  You could add 2 chicken thighs, cut into thin strips.

  • Olive oil
  • Butter, 2 large knobs
  • Onions, 2 white, 3 red (i.e. five in total).
    • Peel and slice
  • Garlic, 1 clove
    • Peel and finely slice
  • Red chilli, 1
    • Finely slice
  • Potatoes, 200g
    • Finely slice
  • Cinnamon, 1/2 a stick
  • Thyme (fresh), small handful
    • Pick the leaves from it
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Nutmeg, a grating of
  • Fusilli or spaghetti, 450g
  • Chicken or vegetable stock, 250ml
  • Parmesan, grated, 2-3 handfuls of
  • Flat-leaf parsley, a handful of
    • Finely chop

Get a casserole-type pan

Put a drizzle of olive oil and the butter into it.

Slowly fry onions, garlic, chilli and potatoes with the cinnamon stick.  If adding chicken, add the chicken thigh strips now.

Cook slowly for 5 minutes

Then put the lid on and continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes until lightly golden (I found I had to cook a lot longer than this).

Add the thyme leaves and season carefully with salt, pepper and a light grating of nutmeg.

Bring a separate pan of salted water to the boil

Add the pasta and cook according to the packet instructions.

Try one of the potatoes to check that it is soft (if not, you've made the slices too thick, but no worries -- just add a little water to the pan and continue cooking until softened).

Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water.

Add the stock to the onions and mush up about half of the potatoes.

Discard the cinnamon stick and season to taste.

Working quickly, toss the pasta with the onions and potatoes, loosening if necessary with a little of the reserved cooking water and add one or two handfuls of Parmesan and the parsley.

When it's all nicely mixed together, serve in warmed bowls.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

An authoritative source of current scientific opinion woud be useful

[update: I've written a newer post that contextualises the kind of idea outlined here, as a way of helping truth spread in our 'information ecosystem']

I was talking to someone the other day who believed that Quantum Mechanics (QM) basically equated to the Copenhagen interpretation of it -- you know, the one where an observation collapses the quantum wave.

As far as I know, this interpretation is not very popular among working physicists.  But I can't recall anymore where I got this detail from.  No doubt it was from books I've read or things I've read in discussion forums, but I just can't remember.

I would have liked to have been able to point the person towards something online that showed that in fact most physicists don't believe the Copenhagen interpretation, but it's just not easy to find something that will tell you the current scientific opinion on a particular topic.

And if I can't reference some sort of reputable source, the person I'm talking to has no particular reason to believe what I'm saying.

Being able to easily find out, and link to, the current scientific opinion on topics would make it easier to address common misconceptions.  A better informed public can on-the-whole only be a good thing, and surely this would also be helpful for matters of public policy where scientific opinion is relevant.


I'll explain what I mean by a source outlining current scientific opinion.

Imagine that a high status journal like Nature did a biannual survey of working scientists to gather their opinions about various topics, such as which interpretation of QM they believe.  They could survey scientists in different fields, asking them about topics specific to their field.   For example, Cosmologists could be asked whether they believe the big bang theory is true.  Biologists could be asked whether they believe evolution is true.  And so on.

Obviously a lot of thought would have to go into the questions they asked.  Since the results of the survey would be for the general public, the media and the government to use, you'd want it to cover the sorts of questions these people might have a use for.

They could put the survey results up on a web-site that you could search and find answers such as (to make up a statistic) "99% of surveyed biologists believe in evolution".


The goal would be to have an authoritative source of such information.  First, a reasonable proportion of practicing scientists would need to respond to the survey, so you know that the statistics it provides are representative. Hopefully scientists would be willing to respond to the survey, as a kind of public service.

Second, it would need to be a "brand" that was known to be reputable.  So that if you presented a fact like "99% of surveyed biologists believe in evolution", linking to this source, the people seeing it would recognise that site and know what it's about and believe that it is reputable.  (obviously this is just an ideal.  It couldn't just start out with that reputation, and it could never have that reputation for everyone in the population).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

There's learned philosophers but not philosophical experts

I posted the following to reddit/r/philosophy:

It seems to me that the notion of expertise can only apply to fields in which there is an established body of knowledge. By that I mean fields in which we have (empirical) grounds for believing our knowledge is at least an approximation or heading in the right direction. Physics or genetics or how to fix cars are examples of such fields. You can be an expert in physics.

Philosophy seems different. What makes philosophy interesting is that it's about things we don't understand well. In philosophy we're not even sure that existing approaches to problems are heading in the right direction.

Philosophy is pretty much by definition about things we don't understand well. Once a philosophical topic is understood it ceases to be part of philosophy, and becomes part of another field like physics, biology, economics, etc. (or alternatively, the problem may be dissolved and seen as a kind of misunderstanding.)

I would say the kind of knowledge that exists in the field of philosophy is more of ways of describing problems, or particular arguments for or against a view of problems. It's more like a discussion.

You can be an expert in the different positions about a philosophical problem, but I would distinguish this from the idea that someone can be an expert on a philosophical subject.

For example, someone can be an expert on the various problems and arguments associated with consciousness, but I don't think anyone can claim to be an expert on consciousness (at least the hard problem of consciousness) because we just don't understand it.

So rather than saying there are experts in philosophy I would say that there are people who are very learned in philosophy.

Why does this distinction matter?

When there isn't established knowledge, we're less certain that existing approaches are correct. The fact that an existing approach hasn't been able to solve a problem for long time may mean that it's the wrong approach. It is more likely in philosophy that someone who comes from outside of the field, who isn't well versed in the existing approaches, can add something of use to the table. The fact that they aren't familiar with existing arguments may even be a virtue.

If there aren't philosophical experts, then there aren't experts to challenge.

Yet it seems to me that philosophy seems to hold greater reverence for 'experts' than most other fields.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Improving 'use by' labelling on food

Here's a pretty basic suggestion for improving 'use by' labelling on food.

Even food that's properly packaged and uncontaminated can still go bad well before its use by date.

For example, once a tub of tomato paste has been opened it needs to be used within a few weeks at most, even if its use by date is still more than a year away.  And of course, it needs to be stored properly, in the fridge.

'use by' labelling unfortunately suggests that the food is ok to consume as long as that date hasn't passed, regardless of any other details.  (the same applies for 'best before' dates).

Here's my suggestion for how the labels could look:

    Use by:
    7 days after opening
    and before 31 Mar 2012
    Refrigerate after opening.

Packaging does often show 'time after opening' information and storage info, but they're usually in some fine-print separated from the (much more prominent) use by date. I think all this information should be shown right next to each other, as in the labelling suggested above.

With the way it currently is, you can easily just see the use by date by itself and draw the conclusion that if today's date is before then the food is ok.


You might think it'd be obvious how food needs to be stored, but people often put condiments that according to the labelling should be refrigerated in the pantry.

And even if you have stored it properly, the sight of the use by date being still months or years off can make it feel like the food must still be ok.  I've seen someone who has, for this reason, used tomato paste that's been put in the fridge but since gone mouldy (first scraping the mould off).

Of course labelling is never going to *stop* people from doing anything, but that's not the point.  It's to try and help reduce the chances of it happening, even if only by a relatively small amount.

Keep in mind, also, that it's not just about the one-off effects of eating unsafe foods, but whatever the cumulative effects of this may be.


Warning: the following is a bit rambly... where I try to think through some of the issues to do with human perception and psychology that underly labelling.

Labelling concerns human perception and psychology.  It's not a matter of what information is, strictly speaking, available.  It's about what information we'll notice and how we'll perceive it and how it can effect our actions.

The thing is that people aren't going to devote much time or effort to checking food safety info on labels.

The amount of time and effort and concentration we devote to a task tends to be proportional to how important it is to us at that point in time (and this is not usually the result of a conscious choice).

We don't fully consciously process the smaller things.  To some extent we're always handling certain tasks on automatic, rather than giving them full conscious deliberation.  We're creatures of habit, as they say.

While we're doing the little tasks we usually have our concentration focused more on the bigger tasks and concerns on our minds.

We're unlikely to ever devote that much time or effort or conscious thought to food labelling info.

As soon as a person finds something that seems like its telling them the whole story (the "use by" date) they're likely to stop their search.


Think what it'd actually take to actually find and process the other food safety information in addition to the use by date.

We'd have to think to look for it.  We'd have to find it on the packet, then take the effort to read it.  And then we'd have to reconcile that information with the use by date information.  The latter is harder than it sounds.  It took me a fair while to get clear how the use by date relates to the 'time after opening' info.

And we'd have to overcome our natural inclination to stop our search once we have found an answer (you can find a description of some research on this here.  I can't recall where I had first heard about this, but I do remember that Dan Airely describes it in his book Predictably Irrational).  We make swift, relatively sub-conscious judgements.

Where's the motivation in a normal situation to do these things?  There doesn't seem to be one.  There's always heaps of things you could be doing, but unless they're relevant to what you are doing or want to do they don't come to mind.

It may seem so "obvious" as something to focus upon because that's what we're doing right now in this bit of writing.  Which is the 'paradox' of discussing aspects of tasks that you wouldn't think of when you were actually doing the task - when you're discussing it you're making yourself to focus on it.