• Chocolate Peppermint Pudding

    Image of chocolate pudding with a candy cane sticking out of it
    Composite Image by Michelle A. Hoyle based on Lin Pernille Photography’s attribution licensedphoto and Amarand Agasi’s attribution-noncommercial-sharealike licensed photo.
    Image: Chocolate pudding with a candy cane.

    I was inspired to try this out by following the trail of a LifeHacker blog post on making macaroni and cheese in a coffee mug to The Family Kitchen blog. My eye was caught by a side panel link to "Microwave Chocolate Peppermint Pudding in 5 Minutes!. I did store the URL away but then when I went to make it, I couldn’t be bothered to check my stash and came up with “Chocolate-Peppermint Pudding” at the FatFree Vegan Kitchen. My final recipe was an adaptation of the latter and took more than 5 minutes, but not much longer. The result is something that tastes an awful lot like After Eight mints! Note that this is gluten-free and can be vegan.

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  • Science Fiction Short Story Junkie

    Sandkings book cover
    Credit: Cover by “Rowena” from Amazon.com

    I’m a science fiction junkie. I don’t remember the first science fiction book I ever read, but I do remember starting very young. My father gave me all his science fiction paperbacks, many bought during the 70s when he was on the road a lot for work. His collection included Heinlein, Simak, Clark, and tons of Asimov. As a teenager, I expanded that collection significantly by trading in my grandmother’s Harlequin Romance novels at the local used bookstore at increasingly outrageous exchange rates until they wouldn’t take any more. My choices often were anthologies. They had more pages and there seemed to be a ton of thick choices.

    I’m still a science fiction aficionado although I’ve “traded” in my paperback buying habits in favour of unabridged audiobooks and e-books. To that end, I ran across the following earlier this year and I thought I’d share: Free Science Fiction, Fantasy & Dystopian Classics on the Web: Huxley, Orwell, Asimov, Gaiman, and Beyond. This lists a variety of formats, including text and audio–alas, not for every book included. You might find it worthwhile to check out. Enjoy!

    As a self-confessed scifi short story junkie, the most vivid stories that have stuck with me have been short stories. For example, Sandkings by (surprising to me!) George R. R. Martin creeped me out immensely and I didn’t see the corresponding The Outer Limits episode. You’ve heard the aphorism that people resemble their pets? This story riffs on the reverse, showing what happens when our “pets”, insectoid aliens, caricaturize us, flaws and all. I wonder how much better we’d be as people if we all had our own Sandkings putting up an incontrovertible mirror?

    Which science fiction stories have most stuck in your mind?

  • Farewell Copernicat: A Remembrance

    Farewell, Copernicus

    Andrew and I are sad to announce that the beloved Kitten Copernicus—better known as Copernicat to many—died suddenly early Friday morning January 20, 2012, at the emergency vet’s. He was our 2.5-year-old Norwegian Forest Cat who loved nothing better than to be as close to me as possible and to lick my nose—when he wasn’t busy trying to realize his ambitions of becoming Top Cat or running around the neighbourhood being admired (or envied, in the case of the foxes). He was Co-PURRRRRRR-ni-cat by name and purr-laden by nature.

    He was amazingly stunning with his cinnamon-striped colouring and matching amber eyes. Andrew picked him out special for me, making us travel all the way to Wales to bring him and his brother Galileo home. Many people have met him by visiting our house, seen pictures of him, or heard me scolding him or being exasperated when he tried to cuddle up on my lap or in front of my keyboard while I was occupied. He knew his name and would usually come home when I called “Co-purrrr-ni-cussss” in my special way out into the neighbourhood.

    Although fairly young, he had a well-developed unique personality. He was the first cat I’d ever heard whine like a dog (thankfully, we mostly trained him out of it) or chirp like a bird. He wasn’t the amazing explorer or the fantastic hunter like his brother, but he was smart and certainly held his own, on the ground and in the trees. He was incredibly sprawly. We thought he was confused about his species (bird, dog, person?), because he would lie on his back, completely stretched out. It seemed so uncatlike.

    We had some scares along the way. His brother Galileo was the first to be lost, not long after we brought them home, gone for over a week. Last January, Copernicus didn’t come home one afternoon or one evening, despite calling for him. This was unusual, as both cats have been trained to come back when called and when it’s dark. Many days later, I was out walking outside, calling for him, when I heard a faint meowing. I eventually tracked it down to a garage. He’d somehow managed to get himself locked into one of the garages arranged in rows across from our house. We didn’t know whose it was, so I was pushing water on a Tupperware™ lid under the crack and food the same way.

    When we eventually freed him, he started rapidly losing weight and we had our first big health scare. He dropped several kilograms very rapidly and completely stopped eating. We had to give him a different kind of cat food for every meal. Something about it wasn’t tasting right to him and he’d eat one and then not want to eat it again. Between a Friday when we took him to the vet and the Monday we returned for blood tests, he became severely jaundiced. It turned out he had some kind of bacterial liver infection. He recovered rapidly with antibiotics and soon regained his lost weight and then some in order to continue his adventures as wannabe Top Cat.

    He was destined not to recover from this January’s crisis. He was at the vet’s with his brother on Tuesday for his annual check-up and vaccinations. He was a tad listless but basically OK. After returning from the vet’s, he was listless for the next several days, not eating and drinking very little. I thought it was either a cat flu (Kitty 2 had been ill some months back) or a reaction to the vaccination. On Thursday evening, he seemed perkier. He was sprawling out, purring, and bright-eyed. He spent most of the evening cuddled up with me on the bed as I worked, before he went downstairs to jump up on the couch. Around 01:30, just as we were about to go to sleep, we heard anguished, almost human, cries from downstairs. Copernicus was obviously in pain. He was panting rapidly, with his mouth open, and a bit of drool and, alarmingly, his back legs wouldn’t properly support him. We rushed off as quickly as possible by taxi to closest emergency vet service. We left him there to be given antibiotics, intravenous fluids to combat the mild dehydration, and pain relief.

    We know now, although we didn’t then, that it was actually very serious. He had a blood clot in the artery where it splits off to nourish his back legs and tail. This was likely caused by an enlarged left heart chamber. He had not previously had heart problems or any sign of heart problems, but the breed, like Maine Coons and Ragdolls, shares a disposition to a particular type of heart problem. The prognosis for cats with blood clots is not good, even if they receive appropriate and quick medical attention. He apparently died not long after we left, without us, and without us saying “goodbye”.

    If I had to admit it, he was my favourite of our four cats. The sudden loss leaves a big hole in our lives, for he was much loved and will be greatly missed. I hope he has the outdoors, someone to go for walks with, and love wherever he is now, even if only in our memories.

    Copernicus 2011
    Image: The first picture we ever saw of Copernicus. This is the one that made Andrew pick Copernicus out special for me. He’s about 6 weeks old.

    Photo of Copernicus in our back garden
    Image: Copernicus poses in our back garden. This is my favourite picture of him, as you can see his full body, his face, and his eyes. It was the lock screen on my iPad. November, 2009. He’s about 5 months old.

    Photo of Copernicus and Galileo on the bed
    Image: Copernicus and Galileo. Two brothers together on our bed. January, 2010. They’re about 6 months old.

    Photo of Copernicus posing on the grass
    Image: Copernicus posing in the grass behind our house. He’s huge, isn’t he, but so strikingly attractive. September, 2010. He’s 1.25 years old.

    Photo of Copernicus cuddled with Kitty 1 and Kitty 2
    Image: Copernicus cuddled up with Kitty 1 and Kitty 2 for a change, being Mr. Nice Cat. November, 2010. Just shy of 1.3 years old.

    Photo of Copernicus and Galileo sprawled on the couch together
    Image: Copernicus and Galileo sprawled out together on the couch. February, 2011. This will be after the great liver scare. He’s just over 1.5 years old.

    Photo of a sprawling Copernicus
    Image: Copernicus loved to sprawl. Here he’s sprawling on our bed and I caught him with the iPhone camera. June, 2011. He’s just shy of 2 years old.

    Photo of Copernicus and Galileo on front paving stones
    Image: Copernicus and Galileo on the former very ugly front paving stones. August, 2011. They’re 2 years old. This is the most recent picture we have of him.

    All photos: Michelle A. Hoyle under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Generic license
    (except 6-week kitten picture that is ©2009 by Jeanette Hughes of Normagikatt.)

  • Sharing or Oversharing? The Benefits of Google+

    Google+ iconI’m an early adopter of Google’s new social media service Google+. I’ve just realized that one of the advantages of Google+ is that I can write something blog-like but limit the audience for it. Intellectually, I knew that before, but it’s just really hit home because I wanted to share something but at the same time I wanted to limit the audience. It therefore shouldn’t go on my blog, because potentially anyone can see that. Google+ is a good solution.

    However, it does leave me wondering how to structure this particular type of sharing. Most of my circles were set up around my various interests or social groups. As surprising as this may sound, for a person who seems rather open (or maybe I misperceive myself?), I feel I’m intensely private with a very, very small circle of people I consider friends. I’m therefore not sure how to share this particular thing. Yes, with that small group of people—who don’t even have a Google+ circle!—but I do want it to go a little wider than that. There’s a line to be drawn somehow between privacy and over-familiarity when sharing. Things to make you go, “Hmmm…”

  • Personality as Revealed by Tweet Cloud

    Screenshot of a Wordle word cloud of Michelle's most commonly tweeted words
    Credit: Wordle by Michelle A. Hoyle under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Generic license
    Image: Michelle’s tweet cloud. Most used words: thanks, RT, good, learning and marking.

    Niall Sclater posted an article on his blog yesterday about personality and tweet clouds.  Inspired, I ran used Wordle of my top used words. TweeetStats, like many text analysis tools, uses a stop list, removing common words like “and”, “the”, “a”, etc. TweetStats gave me the option of additionally removing the names of people to whom I was replying, so terms like “@psychemedia” and “@AJCann” have also been excluded. It could use some better stemming. “Courses” and “course” appear as separate entries, as do “game” and “games”.

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  • Walking with Cats

    Photo of Copernicus stretched out on a green lawn nearby
    Credit: Photo by Michelle A. Hoyle under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Generic license
    Image: Copernicus lying on a local nearby lawn.

    Galileo and Copernicus, two Norwegian Forest Cats, came to live with us late last year as kittens.  They love the outdoors and will spend hours outside on their own, coming back periodically for attention and food.  This is unlike our older two cats, Kitty 1 and Kitty 2.  They’ll go outside, but often only if we accompany them.  Otherwise, the older cats are happy to be hanging out in the house where we are.    Local residents of Lee Green (Lewisham) were startled today to see me out walking Galileo and Copernicus.  More accurately, I was walking, and they were bounding behind or in front of me.  They’re incredibly well behaved.  Their penchant for following us is a bit of a problem when we’re going shopping or taking the train.  We often find ourselves being tailed and need to scoop up a cat and return him to the house.  Still, I’d rather have it this way.  It’s much more interesting.

  • Ten Spices, the Variety of Life

    I was over for dinner Misetak’s yesterday and the subject of five-spice powder came up. She’d gone to the local store and examined a bottle of Schwartz’s Five-Spice Powder. She quickly put it back on the shelf when she noticed the first ingredient was salt. In our combined, admittedly inexpert, opinion, salt is not one of the classic five spices of five spice powder. We tried to name them off and came up with star anise, cloves, coriander seeds, pepper, and she thought perhaps mace/nutmeg. I knew I had a recipe to make Chinese five-spice powder by hand, so I promised to look it up and share.

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  • Defying Gravity: Life Changes

    Flying high image

    Defying Gravity

    Something has changed within me
    Something is not the same
    I’m through with playing by the rules
    Of someone else’s game
    Too late for second-guessing
    Too late to go back to sleep
    It’s time to trust my instincts
    Close my eyes and leap

    It’s time to try
    Defying gravity
    I think I’ll try
    Defying gravity
    And you can’t pull me down…

    Lyrics from Defying Gravity, out of the musical Wicked.
    Lyrics and music by Stephen Schwartz
    Photo by Recovering Sick Soul
    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License
  • Dating My Love

    I’m no longer married, so I’m not sure that “going out on ‘date’ night with my ‘spouse’” applies exactly, but I still think it’s a good practice, so I had decided to carry it over into my new relationship.

    We started off fairly well in achieving this. I set aside Tuesday evenings as “Tuesday Evening Date Night” and then moved it to Wednesday when we had a regular Tuesday evening commitment. That then was shunted to Friday evenings as Wednesday developed a regular activity elsewhere.

    Then things went by the wayside. I’ve just gone through a very, very busy period of intense work and buying a house. I admit it slipped. I’m resolved to try to be better and to commit to making a time for this each week. I’m including an additional conditional too: it should involve leaving the house at least once a month. World of Warcraft and movies snuggled together on the couch are fine, but let’s add some variety too!

  • [Tweeting on Twitter]

    I’ve been experimenting a little (ha!) with microblogging at Twitter. Microblogging is like blogging, except extremely succinct–140 characters to be exact. They call these little updates “Tweets”. The web site allows you to submit new “Tweets” via instant messaging (Jabber), SMS, or the web. Other people can then “follow” you around as you post your updates throughout the day. Some people are following thousands of people. I’m not that ambitious. I’m only following a small group of people, mostly people from Howard Rheingold’s Brainstorms.
    If you want to follow my adventures, my Twitter address is @Eingang.