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I heard that in The Matrix!

A number of years ago, whilst listening to Kerrang! Radio, I heard Rob Zombie’s Dragula, and I loved it.

I also knew I’d that song before, way before I listened to that station… in The Matrix, one of my favourite films. I was pretty certain at least, so I put in my DVD of that film and eagerly skipped ahead to the relevant scene… the one where the guy comes to Neo’s apartment to pick up the disc and he subsequently gets invited to the club (and obediently follows the white rabbit).

Now a change to a different radio station and different genre of music with the Classic FM Chart, which I have taken to listening to on Sunday evenings. Currently at number three is Vltava by Bedrich Smetana.

Towards the end of that 12 minute-long piece, just a minute from the end, is a sequence I recognise, like deja-vu, or perhaps it’s a glitch in the Matrix. I recognise it from near the end of The Matrix.

The thing is, I’m not 100% certain of it, I’ve not found a direct mention of it – I can just hear the similarities in both.

 
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Posted by on 3 August, 2015 in Films, Music, TV & Video

 

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Bikes and Cars

Bike

As I cycled the short distance round to my brother’s place yesterday, my concerns about the gear cable on my right-hand shifter grew. “Concerns? What Concerns?” you ask. Well since the few years I’ve had this bike I’ve got through a couple of gear cables (whereas on my old bike, which I had for 15 years, I never once had to replace a cable) and with this bike I’m now sensitive to the tell-tale signs of impending doom. If this post sounds familiar to you, regular reader, fear not – I did indeed write about my gear cable snapping the last time it happened ;)

gear_cableThe last time.

Anyway, the signs began again a couple of months ago, and I peered inside the shifter then to inspect the cable and confirm my suspicions – the cable was starting to fray, I wasn’t going to replace it until it snapped though, I wanted to get as much use out of it as possible – who knew how much longer it would last?

Yesterday the shifter was sounding and feeling particularly iffy as I changed gears and when I arrived at my brother’s place I mentioned this to him and aired my suspicions about it being about to snap (I didn’t look in the shifter again, there was little point – it was a Schroedinger’s cat).

When it doesn’t change gear smoothly on one click up or down I have to nudge the lever again to persuade it into gear, or sometimes click it in twice and then back the other way once to get the gear I want. Admittedly this sounds like my gears aren’t quite dialled in right, or the dérailleur isn’t moving smoothly, but even with everything all cleaned up with WD40 and the cable adjusted as best as I can get it, when the cable starts to go it will not shift well. And when it does go the chain drops down to the smallest gear on the rear cassette, and I have to shift to a smaller front chain ring to keep moving (but this causes the chain to make a nice clattery-clattery noise as it runs at an oblique angle), unless I happen to be gunning it down a hill at the time, which is unlikely as it’s most likely to go just as I change down to ascend a hill! That last bit of tension put into the cable to pull the dérailleur over to move the chain up onto a bigger gear is more than it can take. It’s not that it’s a lot of effort for it, it’s just that it does this many times throughout its life – I live in hilly Wales.

I have learned my lesson since the first time the gear cable snapped and I’ve kept a spare cable in my pannier since then (luckily I had my panniers on my bike at this time!) As I got about a mile away from my brother’s place and the cable snapped I was pretty well prepared for it – I could have carried on riding (as I have done before) but I had a mountain to climb, so I pulled over and got to work: old cable off, new cable on, simple, I just didn’t have a pair of snippers with me to cut the cable to length… but no worries – I happened to have a left over cable-tie in my bag from a previous computer job, so I just neatly gathered up the excess cable until back at home later to finish the job properly.

gear_cable

It’s still a bother as to why the cable to this shifter keeps snapping like this. It breaks in the shifter itself, just next to the end. I don’t think there is anything wrong, from what I can see, in the shifter itself, nothing snagging it, I just think it’s the way the shifter has to repeatedly pull the cable when changing down (up to a bigger gear), and then maybe nudge it back, causing a slight kink, when changing up (slacking the cable so the dérailleur drops the chain down to a smaller gear). I haven’t been able to find anyone else experiencing this repeated problem so I suspect that if the dérailleur isn’t moving quite as freely as it should, or the gears aren’t quite set up right (so I’m having to give the lever an extra nudge every now and then), or the cable isn’t running quite as smoothly, all coupled with the many gear changes I make through rural Welsh terrain, this is all causing a repeated slight kink in the cable at this particular point, and leading to its premature demise.

gear_cable2

Original gear cable = 1+ year
2nd gear cable = -1 year
3rd gear cable = 7.5 months (2,600 miles)

Ho-hum.

That was a lot of waffle about my gear cable, and if you will recall, the title of this post mentioned cars too. So, my day of vehicular fun was not yet over!

Car #1

I cycled into town to pick up stuff for my brother’s car – he did the silly thing and bought a silly car he couldn’t afford, with a bunch of problems that are probably not practical to fix, but I agreed to help him with what I can – starting with an oil and filter change. I also picked up some shopping while there, so it was a good job I had full use of my gears again to cart all this stuff back home (they just weren’t very well adjusted).

Once home, I texted my brother to tell him to bring his car round and then I proceeded to move my own car off my driveway ready for his arrival. Except, it wouldn’t move. Weird. It wouldn’t start – it turned over, and over, but wouldn’t fire up, so I rushed back inside and texted him back to cancel that command while I scratched my head for a while!

I was pretty sure it wasn’t out of petrol, the gauge showed plenty (although that’s not a guarantee in itself) – I knew when I had last put some in and that I had hardly driven it since. I checked the fuel filter pipe because my car (since I changed the filter a few years back) has occasionally decided to pop the pipe off, causing it to cut out (and leak fuel out) – I was sure I would have noticed a puddle and the smell, but I pulled the pipe off myself anyway to be sure, fuel came out, and I popped it back on – a promising sign confirming there was fuel in there, but it still wouldn’t start. More head scratching.

The next thing I could think of was to pull each of the four leads off and put them back on, so I did this, just unclipping each one and pushing it back on in turn to ensure a firm connection. They all felt good, but I tried it again to see if it would start… “Brummm”. Problem solved: it started up fine as if there had been no problem! (I’m sure it was sitting there with a smug look on its face: “Problem? What problem – I work fine – see!” I was pretty chuffed I’d diagnosed the problem and sorted it without ringing the mechanic for help – I’m not sure what was up with the lead connection though since it ran fine the last time I used it.

I’m actually surprised it still runs at all since I made a hiccup and caused it to over heat last month – I’ll not get into that here because it makes for a long story!

Car #2

With my car now out of the way and my brother turning up in his, we got to work, first adding engine flush to it, letting it run while we drink our first cups of tea, then draining the oil, then removing the filter… adding new oil…

No wait!

We’re still on the ‘removing filter’ part!

These things are never simple, it’s what I loath about mechanical things… seized nuts and bolts, and things that wont come off – anything that hinders a swift progression through the simple stages: I generally know how to do a job, or can follow instructions, but actually doing it can be a real pain in the proverbial. A month or so ago we had done the same job on his other car, and it had taken us an age to undo the oil filter. The first time I replaced the one on my car it wasn’t easy either – I made it easier for myself the next time by not doing it up tight at all (a little too loose I found when I came to undo it, but it kept a good seal). My dad had taught me a way to undo an oil filter though: if it wont come undone by hand, then hammer a screwdriver through it and turn it with that. Simple.

Yeah, a simple few hours of more tea drinking, procrastination and two pairs of fleshless knuckles.

You see, first we had to decided if we really want to put a screwdriver through the oil filter. The risk is that if it still wont come undone then we are screwed (no pun intended), we would have to shamefully ask the mechanic to come and undo it for us, whereas we could just leave the old filter on and put new oil in. But no, we wanted to do a proper job so we went ahead (after another cup of tea).

There’s never really enough room to do these things, either to get your hand properly round the filter to undo it (your car is nice if you can fit two hands round the filter), or room to hammer a screwdriver through the filter – you never get enough swing on the hammer, and we’re a pair of skinny lightweights. First you have to decide on the positioning and angles of the holes you want to make (look at the new filter to be sure), first tapping the screwdriver through the casing of the stuck filter, then through two layers of inner filter, and then finally through the other side of the filter… then undo the filter with the screwdriver.

Simple.

No.

There wasn’t much room for the screwdriver to turn with the filter. It moved a bit, but we were being careful to make sure the screwdriver wasn’t just ripping through the filter, opening up big oval holes rather than turning the filter, but eventually it had moved it a little, as far as the screwdriver would move before it met with engine/bulkhead/hoses, but no further, and not enough of a turn to free the filter to now turn it by hand (being careful of the now-present sharp edges of filter).

Time for another set of holes.

I left this to my brother while I complained about how painful my fleshless knuckles were (I won’t include a picture of the three sore knuckles because a photo wont do them justice, they just sting, okay!), and he persevered with another set of holes… through the outer casing, through the two layers of filter, and out the other side, ready to turn it.

“It’s turning!”

“Yay!”

The only problem was that even though the filter was now turning and the base was now free, it wasn’t turning freely… we had managed to hammer the screwdriver into the thread a little that the filter screws onto, gnarling it up a little, but it came off, and the shiny new filter went on fine (usually once the base is free the filter will turn with ease). We filled her up with oil (after first putting the drain-plug back in), job done.

Yep, really finished now. Time for another cup of tea.

 
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Posted by on 30 July, 2015 in Cycling

 

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The coffee snob #3

As you have been reading (if you’ve already read part one and part two of my Coffee Snob series) I bought myself a coffee machine (I’ve actually had it a few months already and I’m still figuring things out!). The idea was that I could move away from drinking instant coffee… actually I don’t think there is much truth in that since I have enough instant coffee to last me a year or more… oh well, it will do for guests *grins*

I think there were a couple of ways I had justified my decision to buy a coffee machine, one was that ‘fresh coffee’ seemed to be a similar price to instant, another was that I was also aware that instant coffee goes through an energy-consuming process, in order to freeze-dry it during processing. Perhaps fresh coffee would be more environmentally-friendly. I have learned something similar with UHT milk and reading about that put me off buying it so much – not that it works with the milk steamer or coffee in general, but I find it all right in tea, or 50/50 in porridge with full fat milk (yummy).

However, while gram-for-gram fresh coffee was about the same price, if not cheaper, I had failed to factor in that you use more per cup with fresh coffee – with instant I use a heaped teaspoon-full, but with fresh coffee a heaped tablespoon-full is used.

foilBut that leaves fresh coffee being more environmentally-friendly right? Well, instant coffee is supplied in a glass jar which can be recycled, whereas to begin with the ‘fresh’ coffee I was buying was supplied to me in a plastic/foil-lined bag – not so green (now I have a coffee bean grinder I’m hoping to source coffee beans that are supplied in paper bags). The other issue is the energy required to turn coffee into instant granules, which as mentioned, takes some energy in order to free-dry it, so this would make fresh coffee greener, right? Well, coffee beans arrive in a greener state (if at least packaged in recycled/easily-recyclable material) but perhaps the coffee machine consumes more energy to produce a cup of coffee than the kettle consumes to boil a cup-full of water… plus there is the electric coffee grinder. I had looked into a hand-grinder, but seeing a Youtube on a hand-grinder vs. electric grinder, that seemed like too much hard work.

Complicated coffee!

It’s not that I’ve ever disliked the taste of instant coffee, it’s more that I started drinking proper coffee at work, and now every cup feels like a treat. I’m actually caffeine sensitive and feel like I have to try and stick to no more than one cup a day, but with the move to fresh coffee I’m pretty certain there is more caffeine in it… there certainly was in the first cup I made myself!

Grinding

coffee_grinder_russell_hobsI’ll add this final part now I’ve received my coffee grinder – another cheapie off ebay, well relatively expensive since it cost the same amount as my pre-loved coffee machine… but it’s virtually brand new… and boxed… but no instructions (what do people do with these things!?).

When buying bags of pre-ground coffee, a chunk of work has been done for you, not only are the beans ready ground, but they’re also ground to an amount that suits those particular beans (at least I assume so with the stuff I bought from the supermarket!) – so one less thing to think about. When you grind your own beans you have that additional variable to play with – some sellers on ebay will grind the beans for you, but I think that defeats the purpose of making “fresh coffee”, especially if you’re a home-drinker (whole beans will keep fresher).

In the coffee shop I was used to seeing them chuck a bag of beans into their big coffee grinder and just leave it to do its (noisy work) – they could ignore it and it would chuck out the ground beans. Now I realise they must have pre-set the machine to grid to their preferred consistence – something I was never aware of.

With my simple little electric grinder, with no instructions to go by, I put in beans up to a line inside that separates the metal grinding section and the plastic shell above, left the slider on 2 (not knowing what that meant), put on the lid (being careful with the tab/catch because I have read they are prone to breaking on this model (leaving the whole machine defunct), and pressed the power button.

The grinder spins into action and gradually each light lights in turn, first on Coarse, then on Medium, and finally on Fine. For my first trial I stopped grinding the moment the Fine light lit. I peeped in and smiled as I saw (and smelled) nicely ground coffee – I was expecting half ground beans and an inconsistency in the stuff, but actually it was perfect through out.

I tipped the ground contents into the lid (which is a little messy) and then scooped out my usual heaped tablespoon full, and made the rest of the coffee as normal. The coffee took a lot longer to flow than normal, and when it did start to flow it didn’t flow well, it dribbled out in a thick treacly flow of, well, yumminess, but not good. I knew from a previous Youtube video about coffee grinding, one that compared Coarse, Medium, and Fine, that I had ground the beans too fine, causing the water to struggle to flow through (and risking burning the coffee). It tasted all right to me though, but I’m not that fussy.

I compared my Finely ground coffee to the ready-ground beans I still had – the Fine stuff I made (below-right) is very smooth when pressed lightly with a finger, like powder, the coffee is also lighter in colour.

ground_coffee

On my next attempt I thought about stopping at Medium, but thought I’d get silly and stop the grinder somewhere between Medium and Fine. A limitation of this basic grinder is that you really only have three marked stages, anywhere in between is a guess, or rather it takes some Mississippi counting… I guessed at somewhere between Medium and Fine because I hadn’t counted how long there was between when the Medium light lit and the Fine one. But I got it right – the coffee flowed well as can (I believe) be shown in the slight foam around the edge of the cup below-left.

coffee_final

Returning to the slider on the grinder, that is numbered 4,6,8,10,12, with a cup symbol next to it, I assume this means the number of cups worth of beans you are grinding. And I’m therefore assuming that is maybe what the lines are for on the lid, which perhaps acts as a measuring guide: you’d put the means into the lid, up to the relevant line, set the slide to match, pour in the beans, apply the lid, and grind. I’ll just leave it on 2. Putting beans up to the dividing line inside the grinder produced more ground coffee than I needed for one cup, but I have a container with a good lid to keep the excess for the next day. I’ve only made one cup at a time with my little coffee machine… mixing things up for two or more cups is going to be whole new set of permutations… and I like to keep things simple ;-)

Edit: No wait, a final final part. The coffee beans. I tried my best to go green and get beans in a paper bad, but I bought them off ebay, and while they were in a paper bag… that bag was wrapped in black plasticy shrink-wrap stuff. So, *fail*

 
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Posted by on 27 July, 2015 in Food & Drink, Health and Fitness

 

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The coffee snob #2

In my previous post [link] I introduced you to my world of coffee, as it has become, and I mentioned that I have discovered many many variables when making coffee with my ‘new’ coffee machine. Here are those variables:

  • Brand and blend of coffee
  • Grinding
    • I have now purchased a coffee grinder so I will have options regarding how finely the coffee is ground (really I’m just looking to buy a big bag of beans).
  • How much coffee to use
  • How firmly to press the coffee down
    • What to press it down with – the previous owner of my coffee machine suggested a rolling pin… I didn’t have one of these at first to I use just used the back of a spoon, and later I found a plastic milk bottle cap was ideal.
    • How firmly one presses the coffee down affects the strength because the water will pass through at a different rate… too firmly and it will pass through too slowly, and can ‘burn’ the coffee, not firm enough and the water will flush through and make the coffee weak – so getting the balance right with the actual amount of coffee is key.
  • How much water to use (the previous owner of my coffee machine included a measuring jug, very helpful)
    • with my machine it is simply a case of putting an amount of water in and letting it run through the coffee to the amount desired. Other, more fancy machines, I believe, will let you adjust water temperature and quantity/time.coffee_micro
    • Also, instead of my machine stopping the water flow at a pre-programmed point, it just kind of keeps going, seemingly at some point of its choosing or when it runs out of water. I learned to watch the ‘thickness’ of the coffee as it flowed into the mug… as soon as it suddenly ran sort of clear I moved the mug aside. Ideally, for my preference I aimed at half a mug of coffee, and the rest for milk.
  • Steaming the milk.
    • Well, you don’t have to steam the milk, but it depends what kind of coffee you want – flat white, laté, cappuccino etc. At the café I was used to being served a flat white with steamed milk, but she would hold back the foam (to let that go would cost me a little more!) And while I’ve now seen diagrams illustrating the differences between laté and cappuccino, I’m still not sure which I’m making – you either want foam or you don’t!
    • russel_hobbs_coffee_machineActually steaming the milk is largely down to technique and I’ve watched some Youtube videos to help me out. I don’t microwave the milk first as advised by the previous owner of the machine – for a flat white that was his preference. However, if I put too little water in the machine the steamer doesn’t produce steam for long enough to prepare the milk. So, I have to put enough water in to steam the milk, but not let all that water run through the coffee. I have used the measuring jug but I can also see by eye both how much is in the mug, and how the coffee coming out of the machine turns more liquidy, by which time I skilfully move the mug to one side, put the jug in place to catch the rest, and finish steaming the milk.
    • Oh the jug! At first I tried using the plastic measuring jug that came with the machine, but it was too big, so I started using a small cup… then, when I found some coffee mugs (see below) I found a little milk jug too – I fill it up to half with milk and then aim to steam it until it foams up to the rim, it seems ideal.
  • Pouring the milk.
    • Again, there are Youtube videos showing how to make heart shapes with the milk, but my few attempts have failed so I’m sticking with simple pouring for the time being. With my new little jug pouring is pretty easy, but I can’t do them hearts!
  • cupsThe mug
    • The mug. At first I only had tall glasses to make coffee in (which didn’t fit under the machine so I had to use the included jug and then decant the coffee. Getting the right about of coffee/water and milk right to fit in the glass was tricky. The I happened upon some big but shallow coffee mugs which I thought would be idea… but they turned out to be to big – I would have to alter all my water/coffee/milk quantities and timing to make it not look like I was selling myself half a cup of coffee… plus, frothing enough milk seemed like a tall order… oh I picked up a dainty little milk jug too!
    • cup_saucerAfter finding those two coffee mugs it just so happened that my mum had acquired a lovely, smaller mug of a similar shape, including a saucer… it turned out to be perfect. I only have the one though so I can’t have any guests.
    • Actually, the shallow mugs look good, and they fit under the machine, but I have learned from buying coffee that is served in them, that the coffee will cool quicker, due to the greater surface area exposed to the air (fresh coffee is generally made cooler than instant is made – if you want a beverage to sip and chat over then either coffee in a tall cup/glass, or order a pot of tea).

So, not too many variables! In my next post about coffee I’ll talk about my justifications for switching from instant coffee to proper coffee… is it greener? Click here.

 
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Posted by on 25 July, 2015 in Food & Drink

 

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The coffee snob #1

I started drinking coffee back in my college-student years – an empty jar of instant smelled nice when I stuck my nose in it, and from then on I was a Caffeine Junky.

Really I don’t think that was ever true and while I don’t recall that I consciously kept tabs on the number of cups of coffee that passed my lips per day, I’m pretty sure it was only a couple. Occasionally I’d make an extra large, extra strong, and extra sweet mug-full in evenings when I had college work to finish, or girls in different time zones to chatup online. (Hey, I was a teenager! Plus, it was the day’s of Windows 98 and dialup, so you needed caffeine just to survive the endless disconnects and reconnects.)

Still to this day I don’t drink more than three cups of coffee per day, and mostly I try and limit my intake to one. I’ve found I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine and even though I have tried once to cut coffee out of my life completely, when I did that, from only being on one cup of coffee a day, it gave me a headache and made me miserable – so I’m happy sticking to my limited intake.

Decaf doesn’t cut it – my body knows when someone has tried to fool it.

Anyway, moving on to working life. Up until a few years ago, the café that supplied me with my cup of coffee at work did so in the form of instant. This was fine – it was all I had ever drunk, and it was a cheap refreshment that I could justify purchasing on most days. Actually it was free at first until it was decided that we should all be paying for our own drinks. *grumbles*

Then the café changed hands and the new people running it knew their coffee. They had a big shiny coffee machine installed with knobs and levers on, and a separate thing with actual coffee beans in that made a lot of noise – the whole show made a lot of noise, and we paid the price for it. The cost of my cup of coffee went up four-fold, but it was really nice coffee. I still exercised some self-restraint though, and justified the higher price by doing without coffee at work on more days. On quiet days in the village it was harder to not go and partake in a cup of nectar, and have a natter at the same time – we all got on well. Actually, even though I got on well enough with the original café-runner, because she served me with instant coffee I don’t think I ever sat down for a chat – with proper coffee there is a wait, and if you’ve sat down to wait, you may as well stay where you are to drink it… work can wait… “Ahhh. Oh a biscuit too!”

childish_coffeeThen those café people moved on to other premises, as have I now too – I still visit them occasionally though, and partake in their coffee, but it has become more of a treat, rather than work-life fuel.

Back at home, and in my own home, I thought “I’m going to get my own coffee machine.” I had actually looked into this as a silly idea during my student years – having a coffee machine in my bedroom, silly, I never did… thankfully, it would have only served me “filter coffee”. Now in my own house, with my own kitchen, and work-top space for some kind of machine, I scoured ebay to try and suss-out what was what. I really didn’t know anything about coffee machines – I’d only observed with quiet ignorance the one in the work café. I knew there was a difference between filter coffee and a ‘proper coffee machine’, and it was the latter I was looking for.

I found an old, battered, previously-loved, yet still functioning machine on offer with a low BuyIt Now price, so I grabbed it. It was glued together in places, but this was only cosmetic – it would suit my kitchen just fine.

The guy selling it was quite the pedant – the wording of his ebay listing informed me of this, and his hand-written page of instructions that he included in the box compounded it. I loved him! I could just about decipher his writing and even though the machine lacked the original instructions I was confident to proceed… I just had to decide what coffee to buy.

I didn’t have any way to grind coffee beans at this point so I knew I had to get pre-ground stuff, but then the shelves at the supermarket took some browsing in order for me to decide what to buy.

Then things became more complicated.

The written instructions from the previous owner of my coffee machine made suggestions about how much coffee to put in, to press it down with something suitable (the original thing for doing this had been lost), and there were suggestions about how much water to put in depending on how strong you wanted the coffee to be. The notes also suggested pre-heating the milk in the microwave a little to reduce the time needed to ‘steam’ it with the thingy. The instructions also mentioned cleaning that thingy – something I had seen them doing in the café… ahh it was getting familiar!

To further instruct me, the bag of ground coffee I had bought also suggested how much coffee to use per cup. Great, two lots of instructions.

russel_hobbs_coffee_machine2My first cup of coffee from my new machine gave me quite a caffeine hit I can tell you! I went out on my bicycle a short while later and my legs were all wobbly.

Next time I dialled back the time circuits amount of coffee I was using and made some further attempts. Getting the milk-steaming process right was proving to be more of a challenge.

Limiting myself to only one cup of coffee a day it would take me a long time to try out some of the many permutations. I was starting to realise this coffee-making malarkey was more complex than I had first realised – with instant I knew which brand I liked, I knew how heaped to make the teaspoon depending on which mug I was using, I knew not to let the kettle boil, I knew how much sugar and milk to put in, and I knew never, never to stir counter-clockwise – simple.

I could make things a little more clever with instant coffee by boiling the milk in the microwave first – I have a client who makes coffee for me this way and she makes it so well. I’ve not been able to better her coffee or find someone else who does instant better – even some cafés serving proper coffee don’t meet the mark compared to hers. This person has taught me a key thing about coffee, or at least how I like it, and that is that it is largely down to the milk. Even if you don’t microwave the milk for instant, at least pour it in slowly – it makes a difference.

With proper coffee I have now grown to appreciate that there are many many more variables than instant, some of which my simple coffee machine isn’t geared to adjust for me as the big flashy machines in coffee shops are, but I’m happy to get by. I’m not fussy.

In my next post of coffee I’ll inundate you with a list of variables I’ve discovered [link].

 
 

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Books before films

the_martian

There have been times when I’ve watched a film and thought “I wonder if that was based on a book?” And sometimes it has turned out there is indeed a book. And sometimes I have gone ahead and sought out that book, and read it.

Sometimes films are released as a book afterwards (to cash in on the film’s success perhaps), and I’ve read a couple of those: Back to the Future 2, and Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest. Neither of these were very good as books – they were very basic and written for youngsters really. Or, sometimes a film is based on a book and then re-released in a basic book version after the film (like a basic version of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine I read). It gets confusing.

I think it’s best when a film is based on a book, rather than a book be based on a film, but then for children the latter is perhaps a good way to get them interested in reading – they’ll already be familiar with the story, so they shouldn’t find it so easy to lose the plot.

The reason I like to read a book that has lead to a film, is because after watching the film I often suspect there is ‘something more’, something deeper, to be gleaned from the novel – something closer to the author’s imagination, rather than the film director’s interpretation of it. Plus, often bits get cut out of the original book in order to fit them into the time-constraints of a film, or make them more screen-friendly. Sometimes I have been disappointed when I found that a film wasn’t based on a novel, so there was nothing for me to read and no further insight to be had.

The problem with reading a book that a film was based on after having watched the film, is that your imagination, how you visualise everything, will be largely based on what you saw when watching the film – the characters will look like the actors that played them. Whereas, if you had read the book first then your imagination will have the freedom to make something up, based ‘primarily’ on the descriptions you read. One such book I read that fits this example is Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was later filmed as Blade Runner. I found the book to have different twists and concepts to it that the film director emitted/missed, so I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book in a different way to how I had thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, but I couldn’t help but imagine the lead character as Harrison Ford who played him in the film! Funny, but a little annoying!

In the case of Philip Dick, I’ve been tempted to read other books of his, although I haven’t yet.

Next up, another Harrison Ford film based on a novel: The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. Again, I couldn’t imagine the characters, or the things they constructed as anything different to how I had seen them in the film.

When I saw the trailer last month for the up-coming film The Martian (set to be released in October 2015) I thought, “Wow! This looks great.” and when I Googled it Wikipedia informed me it was based on a novel. Keen to do things the other way round this time, and read the book before the film, I got my local library to order in the book (by Andy Weir) for me and I have just finished reading it. It sure is a page-turner, although I think you’ll certainly need to be into sci-fi and such films as Apollo 13 (as it has been compared to) in order to visualise some of what the stranded astronaut and NASA colleagues back on Earth have to deal with. So here is the crux – while I haven’t yet seen the film for this book, I found it hard not to visualise things as how I had seen them in films I have watched! In some ways I thought this was a fault of the author – perhaps he hadn’t put enough work into describing things, and relying on the reader to already have an impression of how things would look. Then again, the bulk of the text is message logs recorded by the stranded astronaut, so unless he was more descriptive (and why would he be – he’s not the one writing a novel?!) the text would have to bounce a lot more between his message logs and the author’s commentary, and in doing so it wouldn’t probably end up not being so readable. Even though the text is largely message logs, the stranded astronaut is very humorous – I’m guessing this it largely the author’s own character because I can’t imagine how you can imagine humour without it being your own.

Furthermore, I’m not sure if there is any more to the book compared to what there will be in the film, regarding that ‘something more’ and something deeper I mentioned before. I think the film may have the plot reduced somewhat, along with some of the details about how the stranded astronaut gets himself out of his tricky situation – just to keep the action going (not that the book suffers in this department). The book raises some subtle questions about the financial cost of space missions, and the last page or so ponders philosophical points about the human race. Time will tell.

Coincidentally, The Martian is directed by Ridley Scott who also directed Blade Runner (and Alien).

 
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Posted by on 11 July, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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