Category Archives: Behind The Scenes

Stir Fry

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Stir Fry

I got a new wok for Christmas, so I’m stir-frying quite a lot. Here is how I do it:

Recipe

Feeds 1 Hungry Wizard, or 2 Muggles (3, if you add a bit more Noodles)

Some meat (or not). I used 2 Pork Loins, cut into strips (about 240g total). Just over £1, as it was on a deal at Aldi. If you’re avoiding meat, a few more mushrooms helps.

Some veg. Today I bought a pack of “mushroom stir-fry veg” (325g). Just under £1 at Aldi. £1 at Asda/Tesco. £1.25 at Co-op. If making from scratch, I suggest per person:

  • 1/2 a small onion
  • a few mushrooms
  • a bit of cabbage or other greens
  • a small handful of beansprouts
  • 1/2 a carrot, grated

Make sure your veg are all different colours!

Sauce. You can make your own, but Aldi had either Sweet’n’Sour or Oyster’n’Onion packs at 35p! I went for S’n’S.

Noodles. I skipped them this time, but “Straight to Wok” noodles are cheap and plentiful. Don’t over-do it though! You’ll end up with NOODLE and stir-Fry!

Tools

1 Wok

1 stirring stick (wooden, so as not to scratch the wok)

1 Meat-cutting knife (unless you bought pre-chopped meat)

1 surface to chop meat on (see above)

1 eating-bowl and eating utensil per person (I use a fork. You may risk chop-sticks if you please)

Method

Read through the entire Method. Check you have got all of the ingredients and tools, and understand each process.

Get all the ingredients nearby. Check you have everything.

Chop your veg, if you didn’t buy pre-chopped. They want to be quite small, but not wafer-thin slivers. Or you can leave them chunky.

Heat a little oil (I use Spicy Stir-Fry Oil – adds a little kick, and resists the high temperatures) in a wok (High Heat. On my cooker, I use Level 5 (out of 6). You may choose to use ‘6’. I do not think ‘4’ is hot enough).

A little oil

A little oil

While the oil is heating, chop up your meat (unless you bought it pre-chopped, in which case, just wait for the oil to reach temperature! There should be just enough time to TXT a friend: “HEY! I’m Cooking! Yeah, me! Cooking! Gotta go, kitchen on fire!“).

Chopped Pork Loins

Chopped Pork Loins

The oil should be hot enough by now, but you can throw a little piece of meat in to check – it should sizzle!

Carefully place the meat in the wok. Beware, it may splash hot oil!

Meat in Wok

The Meat Is In The Wok!

You can take a moment now, as the meat starts to cook, to clean down your meat-chopping surface. Be quick-but-thorough.

Now stir the meat (cf: name of dish!). Keep stirring, not too fast, until the meat is about cooked. Make sure to turn it over regularly, cooking all sides, and allowing the heat to reach the centre. This should take a few minutes. If, after 5 minutes, the meat is not starting to brown, you have the heat too low!

Cooked meat

The Meat is Cooked!

Blurry Photo

Blurry Photo

ASIDE: If you are blogging your meal, make sure not to get the camera too close! The steam will mist the lens, and may get inside the worky-bits. The auto-focus will struggle. Your photos will end up looking like this:

Use the Zoom function, from further away!

Now that the meat is cooked, and we have a decent photo of it, we can add the veg. Pop it all in the wok.

Now, with added Veg!

Now, with added Veg!

We now refer back to the Dish Name: Stir the veg (and meat!), turning over, and making sure it all gets nice and hot! A couple of minutes of stirring, and the veg will be starting to cook through, and wilt a little. It will be noticeably reduced in size.

Cooked Veg

Cooked Veg

We can now add the sauce. Depending on the sauce, this can be a bit messy. Sweet’n’Sour is sticky, and gets everywhere if you’re not careful!

Stir some more (are we getting an idea of where the name came from yet?). Don’t go splashing it everywhere, and throwing it all over the hob. A nice, gentle motion, just to keep it moving so it cooks evenly, and the sauce covers everything.

Ooh! Saucy!

Ooh! Saucy!

If you are using noodles, now is the time to add them! (I often skip them, but they do bulk it out nicely). Stir the noodles in, but no more than a minute (unless your packet says otherwise!).

The meal is now cooked, and can be spooned into bowls.

Pro-tip: keep the bowls very near the wok, so as not to spill food all over the oven/counter/floor!

Stir Fry

Stir Fry

Sit at your favourite table, and savour your creation!

SketchUp Three (Part Two) – Adding Details

Framework

Framework

If you’ve been following this series (Part OnePart TwoPart Three), you should now have a framework of a house. Now we shall add some extra features, and introduce some new techniques.

So, open up your House file, and also the blueprint you are working from, and we’ll jump in!

Doorways

To get into the house, we are going to need some doorways. My research tells me that an average door is 36″ by 80″ (about 1m wide, 2m tall). On my blueprint, the front door is about two feet from the left corner, so lets start marking out these measurements:

Guide Lines

Guide Lines

Snap Effect in Action!

Snap Effect in Action!

Now draw a Rectangle for the doorway, and use the Push/Pull to create the doorway! The Snap-Effect will keep you lined up properly:

Now that we know how to make a doorway (Draw Guidelines using Measuring Tool, then Push/Pull to create gap), we should make all of our doorways.

By now, we will have covered our Scene in guidelines, and rather than helping, they will be getting in the way! We could go round and delete them one-by-one, but there is an easier way! The “Delete Guides” entry on the Edit Menu!

Delete The Guidelines

Delete The Guidelines

Window

Window

OK, that’s the doors … we need to do the same for the windows! For the purposes of this tutorial (and simplicity!), I will be having all of the windows start three feet from the floor, and the tops be level with the top of the doors (80″, remember? This is 6′ 8″, or about 2 meters in new money). Again, put some guides in place. I’m making the front window 6′ wide, placed approximately halfway between the door and the right corner. Then draw the rectangle, and Push/Pull it. Again, continue around the house, putting all of the windows in place.

Doors and Windows

Doors and Windows

Actual Doors and Windows

Now, we want to put the actual doors and windows in place! Now, we can design our own furniture, and we already have most of the tools to do so (Draw a rectangle 6′ 8″ x 3’6″, Push/Pull to 1″ thick, BAM! Door!). Or we can rely on the kindness of strangers!

The SketchUp Warehouse is a repository where anyone can upload their creations, for other people to use. Maybe you will upload something there one day? For now, head to the File Menu -> 3D Models -> Get Models …   This will open the Warehouse, and allow you to select items to insert into your scene! Enter a search term (e.g. “Door”) into the Search Box at the top, press Enter, and Presto! Doors appear! Take some time to browse around, see what people have uploaded. If you find a design that you like, select it, and you will be taken to it’s Page, where you have the options to view a 3D render of it (note: can take a little while to load), or to download it into your Scene. Scrolling down should reveal other items, including collections and models that this item has been used in. I’ll not get into the complicated sections for now: Find a door you like (I’ve chosen “Flush Door” by user: “Luncai”), hit Download, and load it directly into your model.

You will notice that the door is now free-floating, and you can move it around. Find some free space, and click. Note: Do not try to place it in a doorway yet! Drop it near the house, and we’ll come back to  it …

Interlude …

SketchUp Two. Copying, Scaling and Detailing.

In my previous post (SketchUp – A Beginner’s Guide), I introduced some basic concepts of the 3D modelling software. How to make and move basic objects.

Now we move on to slightly more advanced (don’t worry, not very advanced! We’re taking baby-steps here!) techniques.

Copying

Once you have an object, it is a simple matter to duplicate it. Actually,. it is several simple matters, depending upon your preference.

Select your object. You may notice that only part of the object is selected! We need to cover this first!

Selecting Objects

The Select Tool - Top Right of screen

The Select Tool – Top Right of screen

Using the Select Tool, you can select a single line or face. Or you can drag a box around an area, selecting everything withing this box. WARNING: This may accidentally select hidden sections! To avoid this, we can try several options:

First, extra-clicks. A single click will select a single item, such as a Face or a Line. Double-Clicking will select a Face and surrounding Lines. A Treble-Click will select ALL connected items! This is very useful fro a free-standing object, but care must be taken when you  have interconnected objects!

A way to avoid interconnected objects is, as mentioned before, to make your objects into Components. This will stop them from interacting with other objects, and make them easier to select individually.

A third way is to drag a box around your object, but this has the danger of selecting unseen items, such as the rear faces and lines.

I recommend Components.

Back to Copying

Cut Copy Paste

Cut Copy Paste

Now we have selected an Object, we can use controls that are very familiar to some people, as they are the standard Windows Copy/Paste functions. On the Edit Menu, choose Copy. Simple as that. This stores a copy of the object in the computer’s “buffer”, ready to insert into the scene. To do this insert, back to the Edit Menu, and choose Paste. (For those unfamiliar with the terms “Cut”, “Copy” and “Paste”, they refer back to when work was done on pieces of paper, and literally Cut with scissors or a knife, and then stuck into place with a glue or paste.)

The more eagle-eyed of you will have noticed the Control Keys noted at the side of the Menu Functions. These are keyboard shortcuts that you can press, instead of moving the mouse to the Menu, clicking on the Menu, moving the mouse to the correct option and clicking on that option! E.g. instead of choosing Copy from the menu, you can hold the CTRL key, and press the “C” key.

Now we have a copy in the buffer, either use the Edit Menu -> Paste, or press CTRL-V to Paste the Item into the scene. To begin, it will be “floating”, and you can move it to the required position, before clicking to actually place it.

Scaling

The Scale Tool

The Scale Tool

You may create an object, and then want to make it a different size, or have a copy of an object as a different size. This requires the Scale Tool. Select the object you wish to Scale, and then click the Scale Tool. You will see lots of yellow “handles” appear over the object. These can be use to drag/stretch the object.

Scaling Handles

Scaling Handles

Some handles will only stretch in certain directions, while the corners will stretch all dimensions. Try some, and see how it works!

As with other functions, the Dimensions box in the very lower right of the screen will keep a track of how much you are scaling the object. And, as an added extra, you can type a Dimension to set it exactly! Start pulling a handle, and then type 2 <Enter>, and your object will be Twice the size! type 0.5 and it will be half as big as it started! Useful for when exact ratios are required. And an extra bonus feature, you can scale it to an exact distance! Try stretching and then typing 6″<enter>  or 3m<enter>. You should see the object become the size you indicate!

Detailing

It is quite rare that all you will want in a scene is a plain cube, or even several cubes of different sizes. So we need Details. There are so many different ways we can alter an object that I can only discuss a few in this article.

We shall start with the

Push/Pull Tool

Push/Pull Tool

Push/Pull Tool

A very useful feature, this allows you to move a face, or part of.

To Push/Pull a complete face, simply select the Tool, and hover over the Face you wish to move. You should see the familiar blue spots, showing the selected face. Holding the left mouse button down, you can Push/Pull the face. Notice how the Snap Effect can be used to line up the face with other Objects in the scene.

Push/Pull Examples

Push/Pull Examples

To move just part of a face, you must section it off using the Pencil tool. Draw a line splitting the face, and then proceed as before.

The examples (right) show (l-r) a cube with the whole face pushed back, one with a line splitting the front face in half, and the right pushed back, and one with a design Drawn on, and then Pulled forwards!

NOTE: If you are working on a Component, you must first double-click the component to make sure you are working within it, rather than on the main scene. Also, be aware that alterations made to One component will affect all copies of that component!

This tool can be used to create many effects, including removing a section from an object by Pushing it until it is level with the opposing face (Snap Effect!).

We’ll leave it there for today.

Practice with these tools, and experiment with creating your own Objects.

Let me know how you get on, and the best examples I receive might get featured in my next post!

Happy SketchUping!

Part Three

More Redesigns

To try to keep a coherent feel cross the Mad Dwarf brand, I have begun rebuilding the PC Wizard website.

Taking the main Mad Dwarf site as a template (as I have with Crystal Wizard and TechNo Prisoners), I have kept the blue and white of the original PC Wizard, giving a level of continuity.

PC Wizard

PC Wizard redesign

I still have a few details to iron out, but it has been a reasonably easy job, copying text from the existing site into the new template, and tweaking to account for the design differences.

It will soon go live, at which point there will be an announcement, and possibly a Grand Re-Opening!  Watch This Space!

Another New Redesign (Again!)

As you may have noticed, the main site, thecrystalwizard.co.uk, has undergone a redesign.

This is part of the recent re-acquisition of our Mother Site, maddwarf.co.uk. Mad Dwarf Productions (MDP) was the original “umbrella organisation” for all of my projects, but due to circumstances beyond my control, the website fell into disrepair. My recent projects sprang up without the guiding light of MDP to keep them coherent, and the designs all went in their own directions.

Now that MDP is back, I am slowly bringing all of the wayward children back into the fold. TechnoPrisoners was designed alongside MDP, and actually sits as sub-site, befitting its station as the first incarnation of MDP-Online. Crystal Wizard has now been brought in line, and the other sites will soon follow.

While I do not profess to be a Master Web-Designer, I have put no small effort into both the technical and aesthetic sides of this design, and I hope it works for you!

The colour schemes have been colour-matched, using a different scheme for each site, to represent their unique flavours, while relying on a common template. The base concept of using labelled Image Links aims to make the site both visually attractive and easy to use, giving quick recognition to each area. Rounded corners softens the look, giving a slightly more informal feel.

Behind the scenes, files have been tidied, renamed and optimised, stripping away unused clutter. The code for the pages has been almost entirely rewritten, incorporating labelled areas (DIV and SECTION tags), and many design elements moved to separate Style Sheets, for ease of maintenance.

I have tried to follow Best Practices for accessibility, incorporating ALT tags to describe images, and making the pages compatible with screen-reading technology for text-to-speech systems.

The Dark Art of SEO (Search-Engine Optimisation) has featured, but as this Alchemy involves tainting ones soul with the ever-vain search for Impressions, Clicks and Likes, I have kept it to the minimum required.

Analytics are run through Google’s offerings, tracking page hits, entry and exit pages, user flow and interactions. This anonymised data is useful for gauging interest, and locating faults, and can be used to suggest area that can use more attention.

Instead of creating a separate Style for mobile devices, the base theme has been written to automatically adjust, allowing the device to display content appropriately. An important design consideration, as people have a wide range of technologies to view the Web on, with a variety of screen-sizes available.

I hope this will lead to a comfortable, coherent experience for my readers, and welcome any feedback regarding the new design!

#TodaysTitle

For those of you who haven’t been following my Facebook or Twitter, I’ve been running a series I call “Today’s Title (What Would You Write?)”

I have been known to suffer from writer’s block, and lack of inspiration, and i’m sure others of you do, too. So I post some suggested titles of works, to see what people would make of them. I usually offer some alternatives, to get things started.

Stolen Moon

Stolen moon

The most recent post is “Stolen Moon”. Does this sound like a sci-fi epic to you? Did aliens steal the moon, or did humans steal an alien moon? Or does it bring to mind romantic thoughts? Lovers stealing kisses by moonlight? Or has their Moon been “stolen” by a jealous rival? Or a family-member who disapproves of their relationship and thwarts their plans to meet? Is it a heart-warmer, a tear-jerker or a tragedy?

Most of the Today’s Titles are based on the kind of day I’ve been having, as evidenced by “Road Block” and “Cancelled Appointment”, while a few rely on my interpretation of the Random Word Generator.

Once the title is chosen and published, it is always interesting to see what ideas other people bring. So why not follow one of these links, and let me know #WhatWouldYouWrite?

I Haven’t Been Reading Much Lately

Well, actually I have.

A fair amount of the conversation at the pub is centred around what novels people have read recently. From the latest Joe Abercrombie to a re-reading of Dune, we dissect the content, opine on our favourite characters, and bemoan the lack of further books (or bemoan the fall in quality of the later ones).

I say “we”, but in general, I am excluded from these talks. In the last fifteen years (since I bought a car, and stopped getting the bus to work), I have read considerably less than one novel per year. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ones I have read,  but I tend to find other things to do with my time. Often (although by no means always) things where I am the creator, rather than the consumer. I have several websites to create/source content for, an ever-growing toy soldier collection, along with the battle-field scenery I have made, multiple half-finished (and a couple of half-started) electronics projects, to name but a few. I also play games of many varieties (computer-based, card and board games, role-playing and other narratives (RPG), and the “augmented reality” Pokemon Go).

Several of these activities inherently include reading. Quite a bit is reference work, such as the W3schools website-tutorials, or RPG Rulebooks. I have had to relearn a lot of electronics, pouring over manuals and discussing projects on web-forums. The rpg.net games forums take up quite a bit of my time, including the speculative-fiction around the settings for the games.

But when the conversation lulls, and someone breaks the silence with “Anyone read anything good recently?”, they do not appreciate my answer of “CSS Tutorials” or “The Exalted chapter-heading stories“. “Someone on the internet had quite a good back-story for their character” doesn’t seem to go down as well as “<published author you may have heard of> has a new book out”. And no-one (except maybe The Ardingthoth) is interested in “I learnt how to reduce the pin-out usage of my Arduino, by adding a series-to-parallel shift-register”!

I have collected a few novels, including actually buying some, but they are still unread. China Mieville’s “UN LUN DUN” looks very interesting, and I was impressed with “The City and The City”, so I should get round to reading it. I got half-way through the first chapter of “The Three-Body Problem” before I put it aside, awaiting a time when I can give it the attention it deserves. They sit, alongside “The Antivirus Hacker’s Handbook”, “In The Beginning … Was The Command Line” and “The Steampunk Bible”, gathering dust as I concentrate on other endeavours. (ASIDE: Also on that bookshelf are a soldering iron, a copy of the “Blood Royale” board game, a stack of printer paper, Fodor’s USA (1991) and Spike Milligan’s “Hitler: My Part in His Downfall”)

It’s not that I don’t like reading. I do like it. I read a lot. But not novels. It’s not that I don’t like novels. I do. Well, it depends on the novel, but I am happy that the medium exists, and have read many a good novel, novella, short-story and 35-book series in my time. But not recently. Ask me about Ray Bradbury. E.E. “Doc” Smith. Tolkien, or Le Guin.

But don’t be surprised if, when asked “What have you read recently?”, that although I have read a lot (possibly more than you), I answer: “Nothing much”.

A Foray Into Steampunk.

My alter-ego, P.C. Wizard, has always been interested in computers, electronics and techno-gizmos of all varieties. So I came up with a way of linking several hobbies into one Project:

The Digital Walking Cane!

Taking my Smart outfit (colourful shirt, waistcoat, pocket-watch) as a starting point, I decided that a Cane would be a nice addition. But not just any Cane would do! P.C. Wizard demands that it be Interconnected, interactive, and wifi-compatible!

So I’ve had a good think about what capabilities the Cane should have, and this is what I have come up with so far:

  • Wifi. So that it can communicate with other devices (see: Utility Top Hat)
  • GPS. So that I know where it is at all times.
  • Weather Sensors. Why bother waiting for the local Weather Report on TV when I can just poke my Cane out of the window and get my own report!
  • Compass. Remember all those times that you needed to know magnetic North, but couldn’t remember how to calculate it from the position of the Sun? No more being lost in the wilderness. Just point The Cane until the beeps tell you which way to go!

With these basics decided upon, I looked at the best way to put the gubbins inside the Cane. A quick look around the Vintage Stores of Leicester (including the very helpful Pink Pigeon vintage store) led me to the conclusion that I would need a custom-made Cane. Standard sizes just do not have the room. Luckily, I know people in the woodworking trade, and am awaiting their enthusiastic response …

While the actual Cane is in hiatus, I next look at the electronics needed to run the Cane Systems. First, a central Power House. The Heart of the operations. I am looking at two basic options (each with multiple ways of implementing).

  • Raspberry PI. A fully-fledged computer that fits in a (large) matchbox. I have an older, larger version, and a friend has lent me the new NanoPI to play with.
  • Arduino board. A Micro-controller designed for electronics projects.

Both would do the job, and the PI is more powerful. Too powerful, if anything. I need to keep an eye on battery life. A little investigation shows that there would not be that much difference in getting them to work, so I think the Arduino will be the way to go.

Next stop: The Electronics Point. Last time I touched a soldering iron was over 20 years ago, so a little refresher course in all things electronic is probably in order. The forums there are very friendly, and I received some very useful answers to my (probably very stupid) questions. Some good pointers on Arduino-based components and packages, too. But overall, I am still a virtual beginner. A peruse of the circuits I will be needing persuaded me that I need to relearn the techniques, and catch up on new developments. Back to the Breadboard, as they say.

So, from my idea, I am  now back at the basics, ready to build from the bottom up. I dug around for my old box of electronic bits, left over from college days. A quick glance made obvious my suspicions: I need to buy some new parts! A quick trip to Maplins got me the basics, and also a very interesting chat with the young lad at the counter, who gave me some good suggestions on part numbers and types of sensor.

Armed with my new array of parts, I skipped over to the on-line tutorials at Spark Fun to get started! Dang, more components needed! I can’t even get started without some kind of Power! The plan is to run the breadboard from a 9V “square” battery, which I need to drop to 5V (the standard board voltage). A simple circuit, but I don’t have the right capacitors!

Electronics Point recommends several suppliers, and I settled on BitsBox of Rugby. £12.01 of my hard-earned cash later, and I have ordered far more than I need, including a big box of assorted resistors (an essential for any project!).

So now I am in the hands of BitsBox and Royal Mail.

Tune in later for updates!

Lady Burghclere and Ethel

Detail from an Egyptian mummy at New Walk Museum

Detail from an Egyptian mummy at New Walk Museum

One of my clearest childhood memories is visiting the New Walk Museum, and finding they not only had dinosaurs and holograms, but also Egyptian Mummies! The Egypt section was dark, like a tomb, and a little scary for a young lad such as myself, but I was fascinated.

Later, when I joined up for the Natural History Sunday Club, we would always find some time to wander through the Egypt display. They have Royal mummies, funereal urns, and even a mummified cat!

Alas, childhood gave way to other, more important, things (or so they seemed at the time!). Rock ‘n’ Roll. Girls. Computers. Howard Carter and his ilk had to take a back seat for a while. But they never completely left.

So imagine my surprise and joy when I found this blog: http://ladyburghclereandethel.com/

A friend has found letters to her grandmother, Elsie Merrall,  from Ethel North, lady’s maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere, the elder sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon! You probably know that Lord Carnarvon is not only the business-partner of Howard Carter, discoverer of Tutankhamen’s tomb, but also the inspiration for the UK TV series Downton Abbey.

Ethel and Lady B travelled the world together, and Ethel wrote many letters and postcards to Elsie, telling of her exploits and adventures, along with commentary on many subjects. These  letters are now being compiled into a book, ready for publication.

To find out more, including how to get hold of the book when it is released, visit:

http://ladyburghclereandethel.com

The Art of Art (Part Two – Pencils)

As part of my Toy Soldiers hobby, I have been (slowly) making a Giant’s Causeway out of cheap coloured pencils. While this may hold some small interest for Art Lovers, the cause of this blog post is the Art that manifests itself behind the scenes.

You may remember my previous post, discussing the Art of my work bench, and the tissues and palette that build up with paint over time.

In a similar vein, I have inadvertently produced a sand-paper Art. I have been sawing and smoothing down pencils to create the hex-blocks needed to build the Causeway, and this has led to my sand-paper picking up the colours of the pencils. In this way, The Art of Art is produced, an accidental find, from the making of other Art.

I hope you appreciate it as much as I do!

Sand Paper

Sand Paper