?meta title="Starting a Language Log" ?meta date="2011-11-03 20:06:35" ?meta author="Daniel Quinlan" ?tag language

The plan is to learn Spanish. I actually want to learn French but learning Spanish will be handy given that I live in California, more specifically The Mission in San Francisco. I've been told that once you learn a Romance language learning another is simple enough. So I'm learning Spanish first and taking advantage of all the native Spanish speakers around me.

I'm following Benny Lewis' Language Hacking Guide and starting this language log is part of the process.

Alternative Press Expo 2013

Tanya and I went to the Alternative Press Expo today. Our friend Casey Girad has a booth and you should definitely check out her excellent art.

It was really hard to not buy every beautiful thing we saw. I settled for collecting business cards from every booth we were enamoured with. I typed them all in, in no particular order, so I could easily check on them later.

AIDS/LifeCycle 2011

I've been training hard in preparation for the big ride. Some stats:

Lost:~20lbs (~9kg)
Training:25 rides
Distance:1,187mi (1,899km)
Elev Gain:54,367 ft (16,571m)
Calories:53,553 C (224 kJ)

I want to thank everyone for helping raise so much money for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I'm truly humbled by your generosity.

I'd also like to thank some of the awesome people who have supported me on this journey

  • Bespoke Bicycles SF
    • for my trusty steed, excellent support and service
  • Financial Distrcit Foot And Ankle Center
    • Dr Saunders and staff for custom orthotics for my cycling shoes
  • The Chiropractic Way
    • Dr Rob Murray and Tracie, keeping my spine in good shape
  • Studio GHB
    • Gib for aerodynamic hair improvments :)
  • Trisha Weir Fashion
    • for my glorious Betty Page devil outfit for the traditional day 5 "Red Dress Day"
  • Everyone that rode with me, all over the country side

and of course, my lovely wife Tanya, who put up with many early mornings and post-ride zombie evenings, and has supported me the whole way.

We leave on the 5th at 6AM and will be arriving in LA on the 11th. You can follow along with the webcast on the ALC website

I'll also be updating Facebook/Twitter along the way

Thanks again to everyone!

On A Knead To Know Basis

Most bread we've been able to find in the USA is packed with sugar or some other sweetner. So I've been wanting to make some myself.

I've never made bread before and most recipes seemed pretty daunting.

Then I saw this no-knead bread recipe that seemed so simple even I could manage it.

Mixed the dough before I went to bed last night and left it covered on top of the fridge. Checked on it this morning and it'd filled the bowl right up to the plastic wrap, bubbling away happily.

After dusting a cookie sheet with flour (way too much) I poured out the dough and sprinkled on some oregano and rosemary.

20 minutes in the oven and then a 10 minute rest and voila!

The whole kitchen smells of herby-starchy goodness.

The bread tasted delicious and most important of all it tasted great with butter and vegemite.

Blast From The Past

Marc-André Hamelin composed a classical rendition of Nokia's orignal iconic ringtone. I had a Nokia phone for many years and Trigger Happy TV's Nokia sketchs always crack me up.

I've switched from my corporate Blackberry to my shiny new Nexus One and haven't done much in the way of changing the default sounds. This seemed like an excellent opportunity.

I found all sorts of conflicting and useless advice on how to take the audio of a Youtube video (flv format) and save it as an mp3.

Turns out it's really easy.

  1. Download the video (I used youtube-dl)
  2. Install ffmpeg (sudo aptitude install ffmpeg)
  3. ffmpeg -i downloaded-video.flv -acodec copy audio.mp3

et voila

no need to transcode or mess with flags or anything.

Who wants to start a betting pool on how long it takes someone to strangle me for my annoying ringtone?

When Half Is Better Than All

Work booked out a seating of Wolverine at a nearby cinema today. Anyone in my department could grab a ticket and walk over for the 1:50 session.

So I cruised over on a bike to collect a ticket and then walked over, catching up with a friend on the way.

I hadn't had lunch and impulsively decided to recreate the childhood cinema experience with a slushee (they're called an icee here) and some popcorn.

I ran into Andrew and Sarah while buying my calorific indulgences. They were heading into the same movie and I asked them to grab me a seat.

After waiting in line to pay I ambled over to the board with the movie list on it and headed into cinema 6, playing Wolverine.

It'd already started and I figured I'd futzed around in the food line longer than I thought. I couldn't see anyone so I just found a seat and sat down.
Munching happily on my popcorn I was suprised that the movie got off to such an action packed start.

I really wasn't expecting much. Unfortunately that's what I got. Most of the good fight scenes had already been overplayed in the trailers, the dialog and characters were dreadful and the plot had holes that even CG explosions couldn't cover up.

Then it just sort of ended.

I knew there'd be something after the credits but I just didn't care. As I was heading out of the cinema I realised it hadn't seemed like a very long movie. I checked the time on my phone and only an hour had passed. An hour long movie? That seemed unlikely.

I checked my ticket...I'd gone into cinema 6...my ticket was for cinema 8, on the other side.

I missed the first half of the movie and, honestly, I think it was for the best.

But Koolaid Is So Tasty

My Mum started her own soft furnishings business, IQ Rooms, about two years ago.

At the time Google Apps For Your Domain was fairly new but it was perfect for a small business. Tanya helped Mum setup the trademarks and business name. Once that was done I registered the domain with Enetica, who I use for all my domains, and used their free, simple DNS hosting (which they apparently don't do anymore).

Once the domain had propagated I created the GAFYD account and then after pointing a few CNAME, MX and A records at Google it was all running.

Mum had gMail, gCal, Docs and gTalk all with her shiny new domain name.

The website...that took another 2.5 years :)

I put a quick placeholder up using Google Pages with the intentions of updating it once Mum got me some copy. Which never quite happened...

During our recent visit to Oz I got Mum and Dad a new PC to replace the ancient frankenstein I'd built them eons ago (it was an overclocked PentiumII with 256Mb RAM). The new box was a Lenovo ThinkCentre m57e which was on sale for $299. Throw in 2Gb of RAM, a 500Gb HDD and a DVD burner and the whole thing was still under $500, with a 4 year warranty! Crazy.

I put the latest version of Ubuntu, Intrepid Ibex, on it and copied all the old data over. After I got Picasa setup and the digital picture frame sorted, I sat Mum down to work on the website.

Since the first placeholder went up Google bought JotSpot which later relaunched as Google Sites and is available as part of GAFYD. That meant we had an easy way for me to create a website for Mum that she could later update.

Tanya and Liam worked on a better logo while I futzed with setting up the site and getting some copy out of Mum.

I was pleasantly suprised by all the integration between the various Google products.

Sites has a Picasa album widget so we were able to easily add some shots of work Mum had done to the front page. Now all Mum has to do to put new photos on the site is add them to that Picasa album.

Enabling Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics to track the site was simple, both available as options in the site management screen.

Adding the business to Google Maps via Google Local Business Center was also really straight forward and the entry shows up for searches like "blinds toowoomba" and "curtains toowoomba".

So it would seem I'm drinking the Kool-aid in grand style. :)

PS. if you're looking for curtains, blinds or other soft furnishings and you also live in or around Toowoomba, give IQ Rooms a call. :)

Wonton Acts of DIY

I was oncall this weekend and rather than spend two days working on my computer we had cunning plans for making things with our own bare hands.

Cody and Ellie came over on Saturday and Ellie taught us how to make wontons.

They were quite simply the most amazing wontons I've ever had. Tangy, sweet, savoury and with a wonderful texture. Damn, I'm hungry again now, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Ellie's Awesome Wonton Meat Filler Recipe


  • 2 pounds of ground pork
  • 4 chinese sausage finely diced
  • 1 pound of medium sized shrimp (shelled, deveined and cut into 6 pieces)
  • 1 medium bunch of scallions diced
  • 2 tablespoons of finely diced fresh ginger
  • 16-20 good sized water chestnuts peeled and finely diced (preferably fresh rather than in a can)
  • 5 tablespoons of oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons of garlic salt
  • 4 tablespoons of white pepper
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch


Chop, chop, chop... Everything goes into a big bowl and mix with hands. Need lots of wrappers. Feeds at least 10 people.


  • 1.5 liters of water
  • 2 chicken bullion cubes
  • sliced fresh shitake mushrooms
  • baby bok choy hearts
  • 3 thin slices of ginger

To hell with measuring utensils. These wontons are Ellie-mother approved as of this morning.

Making the wontons


  • wonton wrappers - we used two packets of premade ones
  • bowl of water
  • a spoon


  1. put a wonton wrapper in your hand
  2. dip your finger in the water
  3. wet two connected edges of the wrapper (ie. make a V)
  4. use the spoon to scoop a small ball of filler from the bowl the ball should be small enough that you can fold the wrapper over
  5. fold the wrapper in half to make a triangle
    • the filling should be in the centre
    • the two edges you wetted should stick to the other two dry edges
    • use your fingers to pack down the filling and get rid of any air bubbles
  6. grab the middle of the two joined edges and bring them together and press down. this will make a sort of crown shape with the filling at the bottom. Ellie said there's no set way to do this, people do all sorts of stuff.

making wontons is a fun group activity. you can chat while your hands are busy.

Cooking the wontons

  1. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil
  2. Add the wontons
  3. When they start to float and "look like tiny brains" add some cold water
  4. Once the boil starts again they're ready to take out with a slotted spoon

Cook them in batches rather than crowding the pot

We used about 2 packets of pre-made wrappers. I don't recall how many was in the packets but at a guess I'd say ~30-40. Even though they were deliciously moorish we didn't eat them all and ended up freezing a bunch.

I'm looking forward to cooking them on my next oncall shift.

Sunday True Brew

On Sunday we brewed our second batch of beer, a honey wheat beer. The intent was to try to replicate an Australian microbrew called "Beez Neez". On further investigation at the brew shop it turned out Beez Neez is a lager. That's not really a beer style for a rank amateur.

Luckily the superbly helpful chaps at MoreBeer in Los Altos had a plan. They took their Honey Pale Ale recipe, substituted the malt extract for wheat extract and then swapped the yeast for a German ale yeast called Kolsch. Kolsch ferments like an ale yeast (same temperature range, lag time etc) but has an end result similar to a lager yeast (clear and dry).

I have no idea if it's going to work. It tasted very sweet before we pitched the yeast, which is not too suprising considering it had 3lbs of honey in it. The expected Original Gravity was spot on (we remembered to check this time) so hopefully the yeast do their thing and we'll have drinkable beer in a few weeks.

You've Been Framed

One of my projects for our trip home was to setup the digital picture frames I bought for the family a while back. The idea was for each household to have an online photo album (eg. Picasa) that supported RSS. The picture frames would be configured to read all the RSS feeds and display a slideshow of everyone's photos.

After a bit of research I had settled on the Samsung SPF83V, as it supports WiFi and RSS. The marketing material was a tad misleading however. It claimed the SPF83v supported WPA (it doesn't) and multiple RSS feeds. The device does support multiple RSS feeds...just not at once. What I'd expected was for it to merge multiple RSS feeds but that was a bit optimistic of me.

Not supporting WPA was a royal PITA. I ended up biting the bullet and downgrading each of my families WiFi to WEP. None of them are in high density areas and they don't have byte charged internet accounts. So worst case some twit piggybacks on their network for a bit and we change it back to WPA.

The frame's woeful RSS support was a much larger sore point. I threw together some quick python code to do the RSS merging but the frame would just crash when reading it. I debugged for a bit before realising I'd rather be spending time with my family than coding. So I poked around on the net for existing solutions and they all crashed the frame too.

Then I remembered Yahoo Pipes and the sun broke through the clouds and a beam of golden light shone down upon me.

Yahoo Pipes is awesome. It reminds me of a graphical processing app I played with called Cantata (sp?) on a Sun SPARCstation in 1992. That supported working on images rather than text but it was the same concept.

A few minutes later I had a merged, sorted and pruned RSS feed that had all of our picture frames happily loaded and displayed.

Next step was to install/upgrade everyone's computers to Picasa 3 (which I must say is really slick) and show them how to upload photos.

Now when my sister adds more photos of my adorable niece Madison they automagically show up in my parents house.

Say Uncle

I got the call from Mum today. My sister, Jesse, had a beautiful baby girl. So she's an Aquarius, the first one in our side of the family.

They haven't decided on a name yet but both Jess and the baby are doing well.