In search of the perfect iced coffee

It’s that time of year again – you know, the time where it gets sodding hot and sunny. With sunny and hot comes thirsty and a desire for something cold. Iced coffee. Why not?

I don’t know why I got the itch for it, but something inspired me to make iced coffee. After looking around for decent recipes/mixes I’ve not really found one that seems perfect, you know? I quite like the idea of sweetened black iced coffee, but it’s hard to get right, and would most likely end in more failures than successes. Not that I won’t work on that, but that will come later. Instead I have a work in progress recipe for a nice white sweetened iced coffee. It will likely evolve but here it is right now:

For roughly two glasses:

  • 600 ml regular strength coffee
  • 30 ml vanilla syrup
  • 60 ml sweetened condensed milk

Make the coffee as you usually would, i.e. percolator, cafetiere/french press etc. and allow it to cool, then stick it in the fridge. If you’re worrying about ice diluting regular strength coffee, don’t. There’s a secret weapon at the end of the post that you’ll like, if you’re that worried.

Once the coffee is nice and cold, get your favourite blender and pour in all your ingredients. Blend. It should mix up well and end up with a nice froth on the top. If it doesn’t… blend more.

Grab a glass and fill it with ice. Plenty of ice. Don’t be shy. Pour the coffee mix over the ice, and give it a good swill around to give it a chance to really get nice and cold.

Drink. Enjoy.

Secret weapon:

Coffee ice.

Yep, you heard. Coffee ice. It’s a simple solution if you’re worried about the ice diluting down regular strength coffee. Most iced coffee recipes you see online talk about using double strength coffee, which is just plain silly. Most people will need to dilute double strength a good way before having a palatable drink. So regular it is. While you’re preparing your coffee, after letting it cool, but before putting it in the fridge, pour some of it into ice trays to put in the freezer. It’s that simple. I would highly recommend buying separate ice trays for this though, as the ice cubes go somewhat sticky and make a huge mess of the trays.

But yeah, that’s it. Secret weapon is ice cubes made of coffee that won’t dilute coffee. It’s really that simple. 😀

This whole recipe is a work in progress, so I’ll update it if I figure out different measurements, or ingredients. Enjoy. Comment if you have any suggestions etc.

Airport boredom

So right now I’m sitting in the airport in Beijing waiting for my flight; a wait of about 2 hours now. I have a myriad choice of internet connections here. I could sign up for the free airport ones via SMS if I had a Chinese phone, or if I went to one of the many kiosks that would allow me to use my passport number (which are over the other side of the airport). Needless to say, those are a no. Various other services are there to pay for, if you can find your way through the menus and pages that direct you to where to pay. In the end I’ve settled for good old Boingo wifi, which I’ve used in various other airports and pretty much always just works. It’s a bit pricey, but it works.

Now for the down side. Of course, the internet here is massively restricted for anything outside of China – or so it would seem. I still can’t get Facebook, or Twitter, or any connection to a great deal of websites, returning “No Data Received” and “Connection Error” and “No Route to Host” errors. Great.

Besides the internet issues there’s also the fact that I’m hungry and thirsty. There was breakfast at the hotel but I walked in, looked around, and walked straight out again. No coffee. No tea. No toast. No eggs. No bacon. All that was there was odd soups, noodles, and various other bits and pieces that didn’t look entirely edible to me. All of it was far too heavy to have for breakfast. Instead I settled for a cup of green tea (very old green tea) in my room. The problem here, at the airport, is that I have no money to buy anything. Generally the currencies they accept are of the country, and American dollars. I have about 7000 Japanese yen, and about £5 in my pocket. And not an ATM in sight. So… I’m screwed until I get on the plane and they give me something to eat and drink.

Oh and I didn’t get an upgrade. I asked. They quoted something like 14000 RMB for it; roughly £1350. So that was a no. Arse.

Here’s to two hours of waiting boredom.

Returning from Japan

My last post was from the first night in Japan, if I recall. Now I’m sitting here, in Beijing, writing a post on my return from Japan. Obviously I’m not home yet, being in Beijing and all, but this is about the only medium, that works right now, for me to get some thoughts across. The reason for this is that I’m currently sitting behind the behemoth that is the Chinese firewall for the internet. I’m finding that even the most basic of sites aren’t working from here, such as twitter, Facebook, YouTube, a few Google sites Etc. That might be a combination of the Chinese censorship, and the hotel’s filtering; either way it’s a pain in the ass.

On the up side, it’s around 10pm right now, and I’ll be heading towards an early bed in order to be up at 8am, so that I can grab some free breakfast after spending the night in this free hotel then jump on the free bus back to the airport to get on my newly scheduled flight back to the UK a day later than planned.

I’m going to see if I can blag an upgrade for my seat on the plane. Free or not, I want business class damnit (unless it would cost me more than £200…)

See you all back in England. (o/

In Japan :D

Well here I am, typing this post on my laptop in an apartment in Jujo in Tokyo in Japan. My dilFluke was on overdrive for the journey here. On the first flight, London to Beijing, I ended up with an empty seat next to me. Possibly the only empty seat on the plane, and it was mine! Good thing too, as it would appear that Air China planes have even less leg room than other planes I’ve been on. My knees literally touch the seat in front of me with my ass right at the back of the seat. Not all that comfortable, to be honest, but it was nice to have lateral space to spread in to.

My main worries had been on the transfer between Beijing and Tokyo. The scheduled stop over was 1h25m. That wouldn’t have been so bad if the Beijing website hadn’t said that the minimum time for international to international transfers was 60 minutes, and the Air China said 120 minutes for the same thing. As it turned out Beijing was near enough empty. Seriously. I saw about 300 people while I was there, and 250 of those had just got off the same plane as me. As a result I was off of my plane and sitting next to the gate for the next one within about 15 minutes. All of this would have been great if the plane was on schedule, but as it turns out it had been delayed anyway, by about 30 minutes. All in all I had time for a wander, a drink, quick toilet stop, and still had time to sit around reading for a while before I boarded.

Once in Japan things got interesting. The JR line wasn’t running, so no NEX (Narita express) to Shinjuku. Ok, so I’ll not get there in the 38 minutes that would have managed. There is another train line, but it’s a lot more convoluted and longer, and slower. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention the huge ass queue that almost made a loop around the airport waiting for it. One rapidly made decision later and I come to a resounding “NO”. A quick stop at the information desk pointed me towards the bus direct to Shinjuku. By this point I’ve already rented a phone and call Laura to know the issues. She jovially points out that, due to traffic and such, the bus would most likely take around 3 hours. Beyond that she then goes on to say that the train I’d have to take after would most likely be packed like sardines too. Further fun for me to look forward to.

As luck had it, or dilFluke, the bus took around an hour, or an hour and a half (I’m not quite sure as by then I was drifting in and out of sleep). Even more luck, or the last remnants of dilFluke left  in the pot, made the train I needed just fine. No packing, no squeezing, and most importantly, no queue. Shinjuku station was playing with me for a while though. While walking towards the platform I needed the queue built up and built up, crazy long length queue… for a different platform. Phew! *shakes fist at Shinjuku station for toying with him like that*

Anyway, short journey on that train and I arrive at Jujo. I called Laura, she toddled over to get me, and we promptly stop off at a convenience store (combini) for hydrating liquid (Aquarius), and dehydrating liquid (Asahi beer), then proceed to grab a small bite for me to eat. Short walk later and we’re at her place.

Hours pass and beer is drunk until midnightish while I wonder how the hell I’m still awake. Eventually sleep came, but not for long. During the night there was another earthquake. Laura reckoned that it was around the 6 mark. I’m both happy and pissed at that earthquake. Happy because I’ve finally experienced one. Pissed because the bastard woke me up.

But anyway, in the end here I am. Sitting in Japan.

If anyone wants to know my number while I’m out here let me know and I’ll send it over. I can’t call out, but calls in are free. Well, I could have got a plan to call out, but from 120 yen a minute? The phone is already costing me 300 yen a day, and 80 yen per minute on domestic calls… phones are expensive here huh. :/

Anyway – Yey! Japan!

Wireless Xbox360 controller on a PC, without the commercial dongle

Update: I updated the post to mention using two 1N4001 or equivalent diodes instead of just one. Two diodes in series take the voltage down to almost exactly 3.3V, which is the required voltage for the RF board. I also added actual photos of the wiring now, as I’ve redone it (hence the messy wires from re-soldering Etc.)

Update 2: It seems that syncing is impossible directly from the RF module and PC, but if the wireless controller you use was already synced with the RF module, and hasn’t been re-synced with another Xbox since, it will work. However, I am working with another modification I found which adds LED and sync enable functions by means of a serial connection with a PIC16F628A μC. You can find the related forum post here: Link (and see how my thrown together version of it looks [here] and [here]. Messy, I know :P).

Update 4: Alternative means of syncing mentioned in the comments by George.

Update 5: Further testing on alternative syncing method shows how non-play & charge kit compatible peripherals can be synced -without- a microcontroller. Thanks, Pat.

Yesterday I had a thought – I don’t like having a wire to the Xbox360 controller I use for games on my PC. As I’m tight on cash right now I figured I’d have a quick look around to see if there was a way to use a wireless controller on the PC without going out and buying the official wireless transceiver. I was thinking that there may be some other RF transceiver that could be modified or adapted to work with it. As it happens, there -kind of- is.

Now if you’re like me, and have a spare wireless controller sitting around, it’s likely you have a dead red ringed Xbox 360 sitting in a cupboard. This is the key to getting the controller working with a PC. The wireless transceiver in the Xbox can be made to work with a little modification. Well, I say modification but I really mean little more than soldering a few wires and altering a .inf file. Let’s get on to it:

What you’ll need:

  • Dead/Red Ringed Xbox 360 you don’t mind cannibalising.
  • Any old USB cable you don’t mind cutting.
  • Two diodes – a couple of 1N4001 or equivalents will do. Basically it’s just there for a forward voltage drop WHICH IS VITAL (unless you don’t mind burning the board out and killing your USB controller).
  • A soldering iron.
  • Solder.
  • A brain.

Taking the Xbox 360 apart:

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. Anandtech.com has a perfectly good explanation of how to do this. Take a look here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1864/inside-microsoft-s-xbox-360/3

Pro tip: Instead of a small plastic knife that they say to use to ping open the case, you can either buy a tool for it, make one out of an old CD/DVD spindle cover, or just rip the damn thing open with a screwdriver (after all, it’s dead right?).

The part you’re looking for:

It’s the board on the front of the machine where the ring and power button are. It’s held on by 3 screws, so be sure to pop the little plastic part off to find the third screw. Don’t go trying to pry it off like I almost did. Once the screws are out it just unplugs. And that’s your part.

The soldering part:

As you’re reading this and have an interest in it I’ll assume you know how to cut, strip, and tin your wires, so I’ll not bother with that part. Instead I’ll assume you’re sitting there with an RF board, a USB cable ready for soldering, a diode, and a hot soldering iron. Basically, follow the picture (click for bigger image):

xbox360_rf_module_wiringAnd make it look like this:

20110307_xbox360_rf_module_wiring_1

Beginner’s mistake/brain fart moment warning: Make sure the diode is the right way around.

I chose to cut the diode legs down a fair bit and soldered it off to the left of pin 1, along the bottom edge of the RF module. You might like that idea, you might not. It’s up to you how you solder it. I could have been neater, but I honestly didn’t see much point. I’m not going to make a project box for it or anything, and it’ll be hidden away somewhere so practicality > looks.

I will mention again that the diodes are ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. The whole board runs on 3.3V while USB standard is 5V. The diodes that you put in series on the power line will lower the voltage to tolerable levels for the board – almost exactly 3.3V, to be honest (my multimeter is showing 3.34V). From what I’ve read in comments in various places the RF board likes to burn out quite spectacularly without a diode in place, taking the USB controller it’s connected to with it. I was paranoid enough about it to actually test the unit on my old Macbook (that I neither care about nor use) before trusting it on my main machines.

Once you have that all soldered up, you have yourself a wireless dongle for your Xbox 360 wireless controller, something like this:

xbox_wireless_controller_adapter_front

Congratulations. Now for the software.

The software part:

This bit isn’t all that scary. You just need to modify the .inf file that comes with the official Microsoft drivers to allow for the different PID of the RF controller of the Xbox 360. First, if you don’t have it already, download the Xbox 360 Accessories Software for your operating system from the Microsoft gaming software download site, and install it. Now, before plugging the RF module in, you need to do that modifying I mentioned. Head over to c:Program FilesMicrosoft Xbox 360 Accessories (or wherever you installed it to) and make a backup of Xusb21.inf before opening it in your favourite text editor (Notepad++ is nice for it’s ini support with collapsing headers etc).

The parts you’re going to modify are under the headers [MSFT.NTx86.6.0], [MSFT.NTamd64.6.0], [MSFT.NTx86], and [MSFT.NTamd64].

What they’ll look like/similar to:

%XUSB21.DeviceName.Wired%=CC_Install, USBVid_045E&Pid_028E
%XUSB21.DeviceName%=CC_Install, USBVid_045E&Pid_0719
%XUSB21.DeviceName.Wired%=CC_Install, USBMS_COMP_XUSB10
%XUSB21.DeviceName%=CC_Install, USBMS_COMP_XUSB20
%XUSB21.DeviceName.Jump%=CC_Install, USBVid_045E&Pid_028F

What you need to change them to:

%XUSB21.DeviceName.Wired%=CC_Install, USBVid_045E&Pid_0291
%XUSB21.DeviceName%=CC_Install, USBVid_045E&Pid_0291
%XUSB21.DeviceName.Wired%=CC_Install, USBUNKNOWN
%XUSB21.DeviceName%=CC_Install, USBUNKNOWN

After you’ve saved the changes, go ahead and plug in the RF module. Chances are it will complain that drivers can’t be found. Cancel out of the hardware wizard and head over to the device manager and find the Unknown USB Device, or whatever it is your flavour of Windows has decided to call it. You’ll know which one it is by the yellow !triangle! (and if you don’t have a clue what I’m on about, what are you doing trying to hack an Xbox component on to a PC in the first place?). Give the device a right click and update it’s drivers, but tell it you have a disk and navigate to the Xusb21.inf you modified. It might complain about unsigned drivers, it might not, but if it does just tell it to continue. At the end of it all you’ll have an Xbox 360 Controller for Windows device with a Hardware Id of USBVID_045E&PID_0291 in your Device Manager. If not, reboot.

After all that, try syncing your Wireless controller with the unit. With any luck you should have a controller showing in your gaming devices. Give it a quick test with the diagnostics, maybe calibrate it etc.

And you’re done. On to wireless gaming. (o/

Any questions feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do to help.

Rant: General Language Idiocy – I’m looking at you, Facebook.

TL;DR version: You’re all idiots. Learn English.

Full version:

Some of you may or may not know me as a bit of a grammar nazi (or Grammar Nazi, if you really want to be anal about it). It’s true, to a certain extent. I enjoy being able to read things that people have said without having to first decode/decrypt from whatever language they’ve mangled English into. You know what I mean, right? Those ‘sentences’ people use with substituted letters for words, or numbers for words, or mixes of both. Those times you have to mentally add punctuation because whoever wrote what you’re reading was too lazy to do it themselves. Those times that words are so horribly misspelled that you have to read them phonetically, then think of the accent that person uses, then their peculiar speech pattern, before finally figuring out what the hell they were trying to say.

Let me say it: Come on people, it’s really not hard. In fact, it’s so simple, school kids can do it. Why can’t you?

I’ll come back to that ridiculous text speak and punctuation in a bit. Let me first have a word about spelling. You have no excuse – not a single one.

“I’m dyslexic.” – Spell check:

In this day and age you have zero excuse for spelling errors while using a computer to type things. Nor, for that matter, do you have any excuse while using a phone to type things. Nor a PDA. Nor a tablet. Get the idea? For example, typing in a browser. How many of you use Firefox, or Chrome? Have you ever noticed while you’re typing that some of your words have squiggly little red lines under them? Do you want to know a secret? IT MEANS YOU GOT IT WRONG! Want to know another secret? Right-click the word and there’ll be a list of suggestions. The correct spelling will be there somewhere, unless you got it so horribly wrong that even guesswork couldn’t get it. If that happens, Google it. Google will suggest the right word. Do it! Phones have predictive text, and have had since T9 was invented. Again, no excuse.

“You know what I mean, what does it matter?” – Lazy:

Wait, you’re telling me that I should make up for your lazy ass by using extra brain cycles to figure out what you meant? Why? I make an effort to be sure I’m using the right words so that people can understand what it is I’m saying with as little confusion or misunderstanding as possible. Why can’t you extend that same courtesy to me?

“I always get confused between these words.” – Look it up:

Did you know that languages are fairly well documented? There are wonderful books, called dictionaries, stuffed full of lovely words – all in alphabetical order! Failing that, there’s the internet. The internet has online dictionaries. Are they so hard to use? If you get confused between words it’s because you haven’t used them correctly enough times to remember them. Look them up, use them correctly, and you’ll find you won’t be so confused after the next three times.

And just in case you don’t get this bit, I’m talking about words like ‘they’re’, ‘their’, and ‘there’. Along with such classics as “you’re” and “your”. Actually, you know what? I’m going to teach you right now.

They’re, their, and there:

“Hey look, they’re over there with their thing!” – This sentence should be enough for you to figure out exactly the uses of each of the words.

They’re: This is a contraction of “they are”. Look at it real close now. They are. They re. They’re. See? Isn’t that easy?

There: That there is the word there. It’s right there, see it? There, where I’m pointing. No not there, THERE! Yes, there. Got it?

Their: Now seriously, if you can understand the other two by now then this one defaults to the only other meaning. “Their” denotes ownership of something. That’s their car. They live in their house. Why is that strange person wangling around their… You get the idea.

You’re and your:

These are simple. “You’re” is another contraction. You are. You re. You’re. See? “Your” is the possessive form of you. Hopefully your brain can hold all this in. You can do it! Do your best!

And while we’re on the subject of “your” and “you’re”…

“heya m8 wot u up 2? goin out 2nite or stayin in at urs???”

Christ on a bike I hated writing that ‘sentence’. This is the kind of thing I see all the time, and it’s painful. I die a little inside when I read such things. I weep for the English language. I feel the need to slap someone in the face when I read this kind of thing, with a cluebat, or a clue-by-four, or a L.A.R.T – preferably the person who wrote it. Hard.

Firstly, uppercase letters – use them, please. Please? Upper case letters are used at the beginning of every sentence, at least. Even if that’s the only place you use them, is it really so hard? The shift key on your keyboard isn’t there just to look pretty, or take up space. It has a real purpose and use. Don’t let it get too lonely or it’ll cry, and so will I. Do you really want to see a grown man cry? Do you?!

Let’s now look at the horribly misspelled words. “m8” is not a word. I see what you did there, it’s very clever. You put an m for the ‘muh’ sound, and followed it with an 8, resulting in meight. Oh wait, that wasn’t clever after all, was it? It doesn’t end up spelled correctly that way either. “wot” is not a word (although technically it is, but not the one you’re thinking of). Add an extra letter, and change the other for the correct letter and you have the word you’re looking for. Don’t know what I mean? Watch – wot > whot > what. It’s one extra character longer than wot, but that takes you all of 0.2 seconds longer to type? Quit being lazy. “goin” is not a word. Dropping the g from the end of words is not cool. It’s not street. It’s not urban. It’s just stupid. Just because your particular dialect drops the g from the end of words when you pronounce them it doesn’t mean you drop them from the written version of the language. “2” is not the same as “too”, or “to”. “2nite” is not a word. You’re looking for “tonight”, which is only 2 extra letters. Don’t be lazy. “urs” is not a word. “Ur”, does not equate to “your”, or “you’re”. It’s plain wrong. Quit it.

Back in the days where text messages were expensive, and due to the 160 character limit per message, people came up with this ridiculous way of typing out messages. Text speak. *shudder* I’ll admit, I used to use it myself. I grew out of it as technology moved on, and texts became cheaper, and even bundled into value packages and sold in the thousands that you people somehow manage to use up and get charged for going over quota… But I digress. I certainly never felt the need to use this text speak when I wasn’t limited to a small number of characters, for example: on a computer. I have a full keyboard in front of me, I have unlimited space in which to type, and therefore have no need at all to shorten my words while simultaneously mutilating my language. You have no excuse for doing it. You’re just lazy.

And finally…

Punctuation:

We all learned this in school. All of us. Unless you were under a rock throughout your entire childhood you should have at least a basic understanding of punctuation. Full-stops (periods for you merkin-type) come at the end of a sentence. A comma (, in case you didn’t know) is, basically, used as a kind of pause in a sentence (oversimplification I know, but if you don’t know by now you really should go and look it up). An apostrophe (‘) is used in a contraction. Think of it as a substitute for a letter and a space (“they’re”, for example, has an apostrophe instead of the space and the a). A question mark, interestingly enough, comes after a question. Exclamation marks/points come after you exclaim something. Obvious!

(As a side note let me quickly say something about question marks and exclamation marks. Use only one of them. Just one. That’s all you need. Using more than one doesn’t make your question or exclamation more important, it just makes you look stupid. Where do you think the !!!!!!11!!!1!oneone meme came from?)

Using just these five punctuation marks would make many of your status updates/notes/blog entries/tweets much more readable and friendly on the brain. They’re designed to help with sentence structure. They’re not difficult to use either. Save the English language from yourself. Stop murdering it. ‘kay?

I don’t expect perfection from anyone. I’m not perfect in the slightest myself, but I do put the effort in. If I don’t know how to spell a word I’ll look it up. If I’m unsure of a punctuation mark I’ll look it up. It’s how we learn. Question it if you’re unsure, read up on it, digest it, use it. The more you do it the more natural it becomes. The more natural it becomes, the less you think about it, the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes the less you get it wrong, and the less I have to complain at you for it.

Right. Rant over. 😀

(Anyone who feels like correcting me on this post, go ahead. Let’s see who wins. 😉