Sunday, 8 September 2019

We made cider again!

Cider Making - Attempt no. 2

A new source of apples

As my time at Cardiff University came to an end, conversation in the office drifted from the usual high focus on work to my next job, my home office, and the home pub I'm building in my garage. More of that later, but for now, the general gist is: I'm building a pub, and would ideally be serving homemade beverages from the hand pump I have in there.

On the topic of previous brewing attempts, I mentioned my previous successes of making cider (read more here) from apples picked from my Grandad's tree when he lived on the Isle of Wight.

Rosemary mentioned that this year is a particularly good year for apples, as witnessed by the huge quantity of apples on her mums trees in Penarth. She sent me some photos of the trees, and we had many guesses at what type they may be. We're still not sure, but they all seem to be different. Also there are some pears, again I've no idea what type.


We were very lucky, and Rosemary's mother was incredibly generous, and we were offered the chance to go over there and grab a whole load of them! We had fun shaking the trees, and Rosemary's children had fun trying to catch the apples in baskets held over their heads.

So many apples! One wheelbarrow load. About 44kg in all, or one very large suitcase full.

Once home, we watched rugby and looked at the apples. The plan was to actually do something with them that afternoon, but we were tired.

I read online that if you're not going to use apples straight away then you should space them out so the rotten bits don't touch. Bonus, it allowed for this photo.


After a trip to the St Fagans food festival, and then B&Q, I collected together the parts from the last time we did this, along with a new threaded rod nut/bolt mechanism to replace the car jack we used last time.

To recap, big bucket for mashing up apples. Closed barrel for the fermenting. Various cutting tools for turning apples into small bits of apples.

Also, the cider press frame and the plant pot. The big beam of wood will have multiple functions.

Get on with it.

Ok, so now to actually do something. First, I cut the post into a few sections. A short bit to fit into the post holder/stand. I drilled a 14mm hole about 10cm into it so the threaded bar would locate properly. The photo below shows the hole and the stand. The next photo shows the end result, the threaded bar down the middle of the press, forcing the stand down, and pushing up on another section cut off of the long beam.

This photo shows the nuts on the threaded bar, with a whole bunch of washers of increasing size to spread the load on the new cross beam. On the other end of the beam, more nuts and multiple washers pushing down into the short section of beam. The locating hole keeps the bar in place, but the main force is via the nut down onto the washers and into the top of the beam.

Everything in place, and a spanner on the nut at the top. This photo doesn't have any apples in it yet, and it was already 4pm. Also shown, a big beam in a bucket.

So, are we going to make cider today?

Not yet, I have to clean the buckets and stuff. Fun fun.

Ok, so now the apples?

Yes! Well, some of them. Maybe 1/4 of them, chopped up and bad bits thrown out. Sitting in the sun and chopping apples is nice.

After smashing the chopped apples up with the wooden beam, they look far less appetising, but they are releasing a load of juice. This was surprisingly easy to do, the weight of the beam does most of the work, and just 5-10 mins of smashing produces a mash which is ready to be squeezed.

Moving the mash into a bag, juice was already running into the bucket,

Using the press

It worked! In small batches and after a bit of squishing by hand, the last bit of the squeezing with the press was really effective. We ended up with more juice by volume than remaining apples bits.


Just over 5 litres of it, with barely any of the apples used.

Lets see the before and after of apples used.

So, in the next part, I'll keep working on the apples until they're all juiced and ready to start fermenting.

Monday, 18 June 2018

You said *what* about me?

I’ve put off writing about my experiences at work for a long time now.

Basically everyone I have ever worked with has asked, expected or demanded me to write something about lessons I’ve learnt and how my career path is shaping out. I’ve been asked to write about my day-to-day interactions with people, the decision making processes I go through, and the frustrations and challenges that I face as I go.

This is all very well, and would possibly be interesting to others, but it comes with some fairly significant issues.

  1. These people will probably want to read it
  2. It’ll be based largely on my interactions with them
  3. I’d like them to hire me to work with them in future.

So this creates a strong wish to self-censor.

I would like to write about specific conversations where I left thinking “Seriously? What was that all about? Do they even know what I’m doing here? Am I really this misunderstood?”, which rapidly transitions to “It must be me. I didn’t explain the issue correctly, or I’m not understanding the angle they’re coming to the problem at, so I’m taking their comments out of the correct context”. It would start to read like my someones private diary.

The obvious solution to this is to redact details, and describe these interactions in a vague and distant way. That sounds reasonable. Except until recently I’ve normally only worked with one person at a time, and they will definitely recognise themselves if I describe even a minor part of a project we’ve worked on together.

Another route would be to remove all references to any humans I’ve had any form of communication with, and just list the facts. Which would be boring. And it would be my version of the facts, which is unfair and probably misleading.

So, what to do?

I think I’ll have to keep any anecdotes described here to anything I would say in public, with the other person present. In some cases I have actually recited conversations back to a group, as part of an example to prove a point, and I try to ensure the other person would be happy with me saying these things out in the open.

Even so, I can be pretty sure that if anyone I know actually reads this, they’ll find something that they feel misrepresents their viewpoint, and for that I’m very sorry. I’ll try to keep the defamation and libel to a minimum.

But, for the most part, you literally did ask me to do it.

How do we advertise the skills that an RSE group can provide?

This question could also be called “How do we advertise the existence of the RSE group” and/or “How do we show the benefits that an RSE group can provide to a university?”
For all the above questions, the answer that DIRI @ Cardiff came to was lead by the concept of a Seedcorn fund made available for researchers to apply for.
In October of 2016, the DIRI put out a call for small projects to apply for up to £20k of funds, to kick-start as many projects as possible. £100,000 was available, and in the end 11 projects were funded with a variety of different sizes and scopes.
The initial email to advertise the call had the text:
… the Institute is seeking to create new collaborations and themes that support long term discovery through data innovation...

… In order to kick-start such activities the DII is launching a flexible Seedcorn Fund to support the following:•          Networking - a programme of activities to support interactions that will accelerate collaboration in an area that has the potential to provide substantial benefit to DII;•          Collaboration - to support speculative interactions that reaffirm existing, emergent or potential collaborations concerning new forms of data and modelling•          Pilot Projects - short secondments of investigators or research associates to focus on leveraging further research funding for new data centric concepts or approaches

The call is open to all academic disciplines but applicants will need to demonstrate that their proposal will contribute towards the DII’s overall objectives of building capacity, demonstrating excellence and innovation and leveraging further research funding.… 
So this is deliberately very open in it’s scope, with the aim of receiving as many applications as possible, and these were then assessed by the DIRI board to decide which projects had the best chance of gaining the most impact.
The focus was on creating new collaborations, preferably between schools/colleges, creating Proof of Concept work to improve the chances of success of larger bids (EPSRC, AHRC, ESRC, various charity funds etc). To this end, some projects were almost entirely networking in order to advertise existing work, meet new collaborators from across the UK and abroad, or to work with existing partners with some fresh funding to properly kick-start some data analysis.
I was personally funded by this call, with Scott Orford as PI, and Crispin Cooper and Co-I. We were creating models of pedestrian movement across the central Cardiff commercial region, with a focus on the foot traffic before and after the construction of the St Davids 2 shopping centre. This work has been published and a talk given as GISRUK Leicester, 2018.
So, the first Seedcorn went ahead, and many projects were funded, but the idea of an RSE hadn’t really been mentioned yet. The DIRI hadn’t even hired its first RSE - which would turn out to be me, within 6 months of the Seedcorn commencing.
During my work on the DIRI Seedcorn project we had been awarded, the job placement was announced. Long story short, I got the job, and ended up working 0.5 FTE (half time) for the DIRI while my other contracts/ commitments took up the other half.
(Great, get to the damned point already…)
I was tasked with being a Research Software Engineer for as much of Cardiff University as I could gain access to. If I could bring in the funds to pay for myself while I was at it, so much the better.
It turns out, this was not a difficult challenge. Just via word-of-mouth, once people discovered they could get cut-price software development for their research projects the news spread quite quickly.
Within a few months we were having meetings almost once a week with PIs who had some pocket money left over at the end of a project (unspent travel funds, a laptop which wasn’t bought etc) which meant they could drastically increase the IMPACT of their projects with little time or expense required on their part. We were also able to hire a second RSE to the DIRI, Unai Lopez.
And so this became the model for the second Seedcorn. In early 2018, with significantly less funds available to apply for, a call went out with almost exactly the same specifications as the first. The primary difference was that along with the funds available (totalling only £20k this time), they could also apply for RSE time.
This was a significant change in how the RSE group at DIRI was to gain work, and be recognised across the university. For one, more people would hear about the existence of the RSE group, and would have to learn what it was before being allowed any funding. It essentially created a barrier to entry for a lot of projects, but a very easy one to get past.
All they had to do to complete the form asking for RSE time, was speak to an RSE and find out what we would be able to do for them. Some projects didn’t ask for RSE time, but they ended up speaking to us anyway.
It also created an implied value of an RSE. Bids could use project funds to buy RSE time, and so an hourly rate of £XX was decided. This meant that having one or more of the RSEs on a Seedcorn project could be shown as having both value to the project, value to the RSE group, and disseminated the idea that an RSE was a desirable and limited thing.
The concept that RSE time is a limited resource, that required either external funds or having a bid accepted, means the RSE group gets recognition as a valuable entity. That people continue to spend time applying for our time, or bring actual cash on a regular basis, shows there is longevity to the concept. It is also proving to be at least partially self-sustaining.
So much so, we are now about to hire a third RSE to the team to help cope with workload.

Monday, 27 November 2017

Falling down the rabbit hole

This is a phrase I use often - "So I was looking at this, thinking about how to do that, started reading about the first steps, then Googled around a bit, and 14 hours later I realised how far down the rabbit-hole I had fallen."

I'm writing this after 2 solid days of rabbit hole, and I've decided to describe where I went, as I begin to climb out.

For context, I've spent the last 48 hours totally cut off from humanity, and without any real drive to do anything. I had a few things I needed to get done in the short term, but I'm lucky enough to be able to push most things to one side if something of interest comes along.

So, where did I start - thinking back it was the Hello Internet podcast I was listening to on the way back from Twickenham to Cardiff. An unbelievably long journey at the end of a long day, and meant my brain wasn't 100% in gear. Probably less than 10%. So, when CGP Grey said something along the lines of "do not play this game, you'll lose an entire weekend", I figured, "Well, I have a weekend that needs killing, lets try it out."

And so I discovered "Ultimate Paperclip" which is what I think of as a Cookie Clicker game, due to a game of a similar concept. Reddit refers to it as an incremental game, which I discovered after Googling a "soft lock" issue which was affecting me in-game.

---       7 hours later        ---

Suddenly it's 4am and I achieved exactly nothing all Sunday.

Or did I? Maybe I can persuade myself that this was in any way a valuable experience, and that I've learnt something from it.

For instance, the game plays heavily into the "Dumb AI" way of ruining the world/ known universe by accidentally creating self replicating matter converters.

Similar to the Grey Goo concept, or the Replicators of the Stargate universe, these are inter-planetary machines which use any and all matter to create more of themselves, with the eventual aim of... something. What that actual goal is, is apparently useful for categorising the end results of various nightmarish scenarios.

These have been described in various Science Fiction books and by various great thinkers as von Neumann machines

From these links above, I discovered that these can be benevolent/benign or essentially evil. 

  • Such as the monoliths which appear in 2001 Space Odyssey (and teach apes how to hit each other with sticks, ostensibly kick starting the race to become upright, higher thinking humans.
or Evil:
  • Such as the "Bersekers" as found in a series of short stories by Fred Saberhagen. I hadn't heard of these stories, but I'll be sure to add them to my bookshelf of Asimov and Philip K Dick et al which I've collected over the years.
Of extra note here is the relevance to Fermi's Paradox, which is also covered in the above article. Essentially, if the universe could be filled with replicating robots, and we've had all of Time for some advanced race to create (intentionally or accidentally) a fleet of single-minded planet eating automatons, where are they? They've had plenty of time to get here.

So, if they do turn up in the skys, or start raining down upon us one day, we get to ask ourselves them: Friend or Foe?

Another concept which turns up in the Ultimate Paperclips game was the concept of Yomi.

Yomi is used as an in-game currency used to buy upgrades to a Stock brokering AI, which is earned by the in-game mini-game "Strategic Modelling", which for most of the game plays itself. 

This was unexplained and confusing when I first discovered it, but I kept clicking, numbers grew higher and higher, so I assumed I was doing things right. Or at least not actually wrong.

Coming back to it later, it became clear it was actually playing hundreds of rounds of the Prisoners Dilemma, a common example when describing Game Theory, coded into something which can win or lose based on different strategies I was unlocking and selecting. 

As I hadn't realised at the time that this is what was going on, it meant I could rediscover it all again now.

In the meantime, I had also discovered this. Another clicker, but in space, and weirdly potato themed. This one had me writing simple JavaScript scripts to calculate worth of items to "buy", with these items being space-based potato-cannons, probes and landers. Because reasons.

But if there's anything worth doing having got this far it's this: "THE EVOLUTION OF TRUST" which is a wonderful interactive explanation of the game theory strategies gathering Yomi earlier. It actively avoids describing the Prisoners Dilemma, instead focusing on societal challenges of friendship and trust in a globally interconnected world, with elements of chaos such as misinformation and accidental actions. It's great.

From there I ended up at data visualisations of trust, which is actually pretty close to at least something similar to bits of my day job. I've been looking for interesting and informative ways of showing social-science related data, normally with a spatial element to it, and this may be useful for that.

So that's kinda neat.

P.S. some nutcase wrote UniversalHotstoppers, which makes more sense if you're a regular HI listener. Rebel flag to bait Grey and Brady too, good work.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Fixing dead mouse click in VBox linux guests

ps axjf | grep VBox

     1   832   830   830 ?           -1 Sl       0   0:13 /usr/sbin/VBoxService
    1  1691  1690  1690 ?           -1 S     1000   0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --clipboard
 1691  1693  1690  1690 ?           -1 Sl    1000   0:00  \_ /usr/bin/VBoxClient --clipboard
    1  1701  1700  1700 ?           -1 S     1000   0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --display
 1701  1703  1700  1700 ?           -1 S     1000   0:00  \_ /usr/bin/VBoxClient --display
    1  1707  1706  1706 ?           -1 S     1000   0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --seamless
 1707  1708  1706  1706 ?           -1 Sl    1000   0:00  \_ /usr/bin/VBoxClient --seamless
    1  1716  1715  1715 ?           -1 S     1000   0:00 /usr/bin/VBoxClient --draganddrop
 1716  1717  1715  1715 ?           -1 Sl    1000   1:45  \_ /usr/bin/VBoxClient --draganddrop

Kill the --draganddrop one, which here was pid 1717.

VBox virtualbox version 5.0.26 r108824 ubuntu 4.4.0-38-generic #57-Ubuntu linux guest (windows host, may not be relevant)
Mouse movement was working, left and right click not working, scroll wheel not working.

Keyboard was fine, alt-tab to switch to a terminal if open.
Ctrl Alt T to open terminal, Alt + Space to open context menu, down arrows to select maximise if full screen is needed.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

We Made Cider

Part 1 - Grandad's House - Isle of Wight

In the summer of 2013 we made the journey down to the Isle of Wight to visit Grandad, to trim the long branches of his apple tree and to take away as many apples as we could carry.

Matt, Grandad (Trevor) and Ian
Not shown, Annliz, who took all the photos.

Matt spent most his time up the tree.

Tree inspection

It wasn't the longest ladder, so he had to do some climbing.

Matt up ladder

Luckily he doesn't mind hights.

Matt high up

We had a system, Matt would chop branches and Ian would pull them down into a pile with a spiky pole.

Ian with spiky pole

Always worth another pair of eyes to check nothing's going wrong.

Grandad overseer

The ladder wasn't as stable as this photo shows, even with multiple people to hold it.

Ladder stability

Part 2 - Making the Press

This required multiple trips to Homebase, and a serious rummage through the spare room to find all the tools I half remembered owning.

Anthony supplied his beer making kit we bought from Wilkinson's the previous year. That shop is brilliant for cheap brewing stuff.

This was a much planning as we managed before diving into the project. A few crude scribbles as a rough attempt to decide how much wood we needed to buy.

A few cuts with the hand saw, a few drill holes, 4 bolts and we have the basic frame!

Complete frame

The living room had loads of old curtains over everything to catch sawdust.

Frame + Matt

A closeup of the corner joint and single bolt. This design has the bonus feature of being able to fold almost flat for storage.

Corner + bolt

Pretty proud of our progress so far. Tools everywhere, loads of mess, all good things.

Frame + mess room

The container chosen to hold the smashed up apples - a plant pot with two holes drilled into the bottom.

Frame + bucket

Measuring the MDF for the feet and the bucket's platform.

Matt measuring

Measure twice, cut once.

Matt measuring, wide

MDF makes loads of dust when you cut it with a fret saw, and the dust is pretty horrible if you breathe it in. So, masks and goggles. We'd have felt pretty stupid if we had an accident with safety equipment sat in the box next to us. 

Also, we had the idea to vacuum up the dust straight from the blade while cutting, so one person held the nozzle up to the saw while the other one cut. Almost no dust in the air, or on the floor!

Mask and hoover

The bucket now has a small bracket to hold it steady in the frame.

Frame again

The sawing/ hoovering combo.

Matt and Ian sawing

Ant arrived after he finished work, to help out and see what was going to happen to his brewing equipment.

Matt and Ant sawing

These are the feet nearly finished, with guide holes for screws.

Ant and Matt drilling

Now the frame is freestanding, and has a bracket to hold the bucket in place.

Frame with legs, Matt

Part 3 - Crushing apples

The same day, we started cutting up the apples, to give our press a chance at crushing them. In accurate technical measuring terminology, we had one large suitcase of apples to squeeze.

Chopped apples in bucket 

Ant had the exciting job of slicing a few hundred apples into rough quarters.

Ant apple chopping

It took a while. The fish watched.

More chopping

Apple chunks cut a bit smaller.

Apple bucket

Another bracket was needed to hold the top of the car jack in place.

Matt fixing platform to the frame

A tired Annliz arrived home to all the chaos and mess.

Annliz home from work

With the second bracket attached, the press is basically complete.

Press (car jack) installed

This angle shows the internal plate and rod which will spread the force evenly over the apple chunks.

Press installed 2

The choice of press wasn't ideal, as its triangular shape doesn't easily push straight down into the bucket. The extra brackets help a bit.

Press closeup

An entire bucket full of apples. It's about 5 gallons, but inefficiently packed.

Full apple bucket

Normally some sort of porous muslin would be used here. We had some offcuts from our net curtains. It seemed to work fine. A washing up bowl will catch the juice.

Bucket press mesh (net curtain)

Our cider press is pressing apples! This might just work!

Pressing apples

We have apple juice! Very dark and murky, but it's 100% grandad's apples. The press allows a pretty slow but constant stream of apple juice.

Apple juice collection bucket (washing up bowl)

We have no idea how much juice to expect. How many washing up bowls does a suitcase of apples make??

Apple juice 2

Part 4 - Bottling the Cider

The bowl of juice was poured into this plastic keg and some beer making yeast was thrown in. The size of the keg was complete overkill, the juice barely reached the tap. We left it raised above the ground to aid the syphoning off afterwards. It was left to ferment for about 6 weeks.

At about this point, I measured the specific gravity of the juice, to find out how much sugar was in the solution. Like a salty solution, things float higher in the water when sugar is present. Once the yeast converts all the sugar into alcohol, the float sinks further into the solution. The difference between the two levels shows how much sugar was converted, and so the amount of alcohol can be calculated.

Fermenting kit

The aim was to keep the barrel as stationary as possible, so the sediment would sink to the bottom. It was important to avoid touching anything as much as possible.

Fermenting stack

The pipes and bottles had to be cleaned thoroughly. I also heated them in the oven to ensure anything was killed off.

Clean bottles

It was impossible to take photos of syphoning the cider out of the barrel while doing it. Care was taken to avoid disturbing the sediment layer at the bottom. Syphoning is tricky, but doesn't taste bad if you get it wrong while sucking the cider down the tubes.

The fancy bottles were filled first. One each for Matt and Ian.

Full bottles

It's amazing how clear the cider went! No cloudy farmhouse scrumpy here, it's bright yellow and shines brilliantly.

Full bottles flash

Very very happy with how it looks.

Full bottles flash 2

It looks just as good in regular light. 

I added a bit of extra sugar to the second bottle, in an attempt to get some secondary fermentation going. In theory it would add more CO2 to the solution and would potentially end up fizzy. In practice it made a slight pop noise when opened two weeks later, but it wasn't sparkling.

Full bottles, no flash 2

There is still plenty of cider in the barrel, so a less fancy bottle is filled with the remains. Still clear and a great colour.

2l bottle

Another large bottle is almost filled, before the dregs from the barrel start to stir up the sediment. This bottle was a bit cloudy as a result, but it's not terrible.

2 2l bottles

The completed batch. It turns out one suitcase of apples makes 3/4 of a washing up bowl of apple juice, which makes almost 6L of cider.

Using the measures of specific gravity taken before the fermentation happened, it was possible to calculate an approximate alcohol strength for the cider. Using dodgy measuring and even more dodgy maths, I think we managed between 6-7%, which makes sense bearing in mind we used yeast typically used for beer making. We can be pretty happy with that!

The end result!!

4 bottles