On the History of Food

My new slightly longer commute means I’ve started listening to random stuff, especially Podcasts.

Over the past few days I’ve enjoyed this from the rather Radio 4-ish EconTalk. Really quite fascinating.

Rachel Laudan, visiting scholar at the University of Texas and author of Cuisine and Empire, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the history of food. Topics covered include the importance of grain, the spread of various styles of cooking, why French cooking has elite status, and the reach of McDonald’s. The conversation concludes with a discussion of the appeal of local food and other recent food passions.

I learned about everything from the importance of Grain, and why potatoes are hard to feed a city with, to why modern food fads are more a social than nutritional thing.

Here’s the Overcast link (Overcast is the iOS App I use to listen to Podcasts ) and this is the direct link to EconTalk. EconTalk is also on iTunes here.

Makerbot and Printing From Minecraft Part 1

We’ve just got a MakerBot Replicator and the boys naturally wanted to print their Minecraft creations.

To start, we installed minecraft.print. I actually installed this on their Ubuntu-based Minecraft server (Josh doesn’t have root access). Cloning it from GitHub was pretty simple and I installed the dependencies using apt-get and pip.

Josh did put marker blocks in the main Minecraft world with a speed an proficiency I couldn’t properly match. We then tried to run the script on the world.


Problem 1: Paths

It appears the minecraft.print scripts expect to run on a client, with the world file created as a result of a save in the Minecraft client. So expects the world file to be in ~/.minecraft/saves.

So just to get things working, we ran our backup script and then copied the world file in to ~/.minecraft/saves. I suspect we should really fix the script.


Problem 2: Large Worlds

Then we found the script was taking ages and ages to run as their main world is pretty large. So Josh used a smaller world (am unsure about the details on this).

I suspect they’ll copy what they want to print into smaller worlds as the script would take an appreciable time to run on their main world.


Problem 3: minecraft.print and Bukkit

The script ran and then kicked out an error saying something about a ChunkNotPresent:

…Run the command…
Congrats, looks like we have two markers

Capturing marked area… this may take a minute…
Traceback (most recent call last):
File “run.py”, line 7, in <module>
File “/home/mc/minecraft.print/minecraft_print.py”, line 48, in generate
File “/home/mc/minecraft.print/minecraft_print.py”, line 132, in copy_marked_area
chunk = self.world.getChunk(x_pos, z_pos)
File “/home/mc/minecraft.print/pymclevel/infiniteworld.py”, line 1470, in getChunk
chunkData = self._getChunkData(cx, cz)
File “/home/mc/minecraft.print/pymclevel/infiniteworld.py”, line 1431, in _getChunkData
data = self._getChunkBytes(cx, cz)
File “/home/mc/minecraft.print/pymclevel/infiniteworld.py”, line 1424, in _getChunkBytes
return self.worldFolder.readChunk(cx, cz)
File “/home/mc/minecraft.print/pymclevel/infiniteworld.py”, line 975, in readChunk
raise ChunkNotPresent((cx, cz))
pymclevel.mclevelbase.ChunkNotPresent: (-25, 82)

Turns out this was because their server runs Bukkit  and the World format isn’t compatible with minecraft.print.

So Josh converted the world to the normal Minecraft format, and the script ran.



So now we have a .stl file with our object from the Minecraft world, which I can open in Makerbot’s Makerware. I need to resize the objects to get a decent size, it seems. I also wonder if we isn’t creating very solid objects which would be a waste of plastic and increase the printing time…


Problem 4: A stray block

The items we’ve printed so far have a block which we think is one of the marker blocks. As an example, see here on the top left in a screenshot from Makerware

I’m not sure what the printer will make of this, but ideally I can find some 3D editing software which will let me edit it… a subject for another post.

We’ll try printing our creations tomorrow.

No Sound with iPlayer and a Humax YouView box

I’m exploring “Cutting the cord” at home (cancelling Cable).

So I got a Human YouTube box. See link below. The idea is I want something which can give us Live TV but without a subscription. I’ll need a DTT ariel in time.

But for the moment, I’m just using it as a streaming box… the Samsung “Smart TV” apps are soooo slow and rubbish, but this is pretty good.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting any sound when playing most programmes on iPlayer. Either directly through the TV, or via our sound system.

Turns out if you change the Sound output, problem solved.

  • Press the Blue YouView button on the controller
  • Scroll to Settings and Press OK
  • Scroll to “TV Signal & Quality” and Press OK
  • Press down until you get to “HDMI Audio Format” and Press OK
  • Press right until it shows “Surround” and Press OK
  • then press the Blue YouView button

That gave me reliable sound using iPlayer on the Human YouView box…



Google Nexus 7 Brief Review

I’ve killed my iPad Mini (dropped it in a car park) so I’m back to using my Nexus 7 around the house. This is an interesting exercise because I’d stopped using it once I got the iPad Mini and mostly forgotten about it. Here’s some brief thoughts


What I like about it

It is cheap – £159.

As a proper Google device, it gets updated with the new versions of Android. The integration with Google Play works well.

I like the textured back. Feels nice and easy to grip.

I like that all the Android apps I have bought on the Google Play store work. Well, most do. Some refuse to install on a tablet and some warn they aren’t optimised for the device.

Pocket works on it! Very happy with this.


What I don’t like

Scrolling on the Nexus 7 is really annoying. I don’t know what the problem is but it feels jerky and the ballistics are wrong. For someone who skim reads, this is a killer.

If I leave it on but not connected to a power supply for more than a day, the battery is flat. This is a problem for an occasional device, as it means it is never there when I want it.

If you leave it along for a week and then use it, it’ll spend the next 30 mins being slow and unresponsive while it updates apps. I like the auto update feature, but it kills the tablet performance. Also, some apps don’t get automatically updated (when they change permissions?) so you still have to do it manually. I appreciate this is probably a reflection of the fact that I have a lot of apps.

The screen aspect size is weird – it is too tall and too thin. Makes it uncomfortable to hold with one hand. I’m surprised how much this matters but it really does – the iPad Mini and Kindle are much more comfortable to use. I appreciate the screen size is probably dictated by wanting to watch movies, but I don’t watch movies on my tablet and I don’t know anyone who does.

When reading in some lights, the automatic brightness goes up and down all on its own. This is quite disturbing.

I don’t have a case which protects the screen, which makes me nervous. I tend to compare this aspects with the iPad & Smart Cover and frankly I’ve not seen anything which even approaches the Smart Cover. It is easy to dismiss this aspect of the iPad until you have a tablet without it…

This is more of an Android thing, but I hate the sharing, dialog on opening links, and the email app. I never read my email on this thing, the experience is horrible. I also hate typing on it – keyboard is rubbish and the auto correct doesn’t. I know people laugh at iOS’s auto correct but doing without it is even worse.


When I use it

I don’t really. I was giving it a second chance because my iPad Mini died. Because of the issues above it is rarely ready when I am, and when I do use it the experience is physically uncomfortable and the software is sub-par.

The only reason I use it is to keep in touch with the Android world.



Stay away from the Nexus 7. It is cheap but it isn’t good value. I can’t think of a good reason to get a Nexus 7 – the iPad Mini is more expensive but better, and the Kindle Fire is similar price-wize and a better implementation of a small Android Tablet.

If you really want a non-Apple tablet, the Kindle Fire is much better both in hardware, and software. But frankly the iPad Mini is better value if you can afford it.

In addition, Amazon and Apple are used to selling/shipping hardware to consumers, and supporting them after sale. Google aren’t and it shows in the purchase and support experience.

Series: Tablet computer reviews

For various work reasons, I tend to buy one of each of the viable tablets. I don’t have time to post full reviews of each of them, but people keep asking me. So over the next few weeks I’ll briefly jot some thoughts down on:

  • Apple iPad
  • Apple iPad Mini
  • Google Nexus 7
  • BlackBerry PlayBook
  • Samsung Galaxy Note
  • Kindle Fire HD
  • Kindle Touch
  • Kindle

I’ll keep these reviews short and just say what I think. Tablet computers can inspire strong feelings and if I wanted to write something that didn’t upset people I’d have to spend days on a proper review – so before anyone gets upset, I’m just offering my opinion. Please feel free to view that as a reflection of me rather than your favourite device…