Monday, February 28, 2011

Practice run for "Come Dine with Me"

TV3 recently announced that they are launching an Irish version of the popular Come Dine With Me program where people compete to win a prize by hosting a dinner party for a bunch of strangers. In a moment of madness I decided to put my name forward to appear in the program. I would describe myself as a mediocre cook at best so I decided that it would make sense for me to practice for the show by inviting a few friends over.

I had my first such practice session last night and I tried out the following menu:

Starter:  Goats Cheese Tart with Red Onion Confit

Main Course:  Salmon en Croute served with
green beans  and garlic potatoes

Dessert:  Very Berry Jelly
Entertainment: Wii Sports

It went very well and the guests really entered into the spirit of the game. One guest even brought a video camera  and recorded each of the guests giving me feedback and marks at the end.  The guests were very kind to me and scored me a mix of 8s and 9s, but I doubt that a group of strangers would have been so kind.

I got a few pointers for areas of improvement:
The Starters
  • There was not enough goats cheese on the starters. As you can see from the picture on the right, my starters only had a drop of goats cheese in the center, while in the the picture withe the recipe shows them completely smothered. This was caused by the fact that the container of goat's cheese I bought was misleading and did not contain as much cheese as I was expecting.
  • Serving two pastry dishes in a row was too filling and while both were tasty, it would have been better to replace one of them with something lighter. The next revision of the menu will have to rectify this.
  • When the guests arrived, I served crisps with a selection of dips to accompany their pre-dinner drinks. I made a slip up by forgetting to give them napkins, but also I was unable to tell them what the dips contained which made it obvious that I had not made them myself. I doubt that I could stretch to making home-made dips, so maybe I should not bother serving anything with the drinks at all.
If I am lucky enough to be selected for the TV show I am now confident that I won't make a complete disgrace of myself. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

My environmentally friendly new car

Honda Insight
I am not really a big car fan, but my company car was well overdue to be replaced and after some consideration I decided to go green and choose a Hybrid electric/petrol car. The model I chose is a Honda Insight. which looks quite stylish (an important consideration for the female members of my family). It was delivered yesterday and I must say that my first impression are that it was a good choice - it is a pleasure to drive and it comes with lots of cool accessories that I have not yet had time to fully explore (e.g. a Bluetooth hands free speaker system for my phone and a USB connection to connect my music player with the car's entertainment system).

I am not certain that Hybrid vehicles really are that much more environmentally friendly than a conventional car since all of the power ultimately comes from the petrol engine, but pure electric vehicles are not yet widely available in Ireland and even if they were there would be concerns about the availability of charging stations.

It is a pity that Ford doesn't offer it's Sync platform in Europe, because I would have been very tempted to choose a Ford vehicle if they did. They have announced that they will begin selling both Hybrid and fully electric vehicles in 2011, but as in the software industry there is a significant lag between an announcement and the product being available for sale.

Monday, February 21, 2011

My Triple Mandate

I think it is too easy to become a mayor on Foursquare. I blogged earlier about how I became mayor of my local Gym and without any great effort on my behalf I am now also mayor of two different restaurants. In Irish politics there used to be a common practice whereby many TDs (members of the Irish Parliament) were also members of their local council, but  now this practice has been outlawed and people elected to parliament are forced to resign their seats on their local council. Maybe Foursquare should have a similar policy and only allow people to be mayor of one place at a time. What do you think?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where are the readers of this blog located

I think Google Analytics is a really great tool. I have enabled it for this blog and it allows me to find our all sorts of interesting facts about the people who visit the site. For example I recently was looking at the data for what countries the visitors to the blog are coming from. The darker colours indicate countries from which more visitors came.

I was not surprised to see that 41% of the visitors came from Ireland. The next most common country of origin was the UK (24%) and USA (15%) which wasn't surprising either. However, I was surprised to see how widely dispersed the visitors were. I have visitors for virtually all of the world apart from Greenland, and some countries in Africa, South America and Asia which might not have many internet users. Another notable exception was China which I suspect could mean that my site is blocked by the Great Firewall of China. I doubt if any Chinese censor has read my blog and found it objectionable, but perhaps all blogger based sites are blocked.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Starring on Google Street View

A few years ago my brother and I hired out a cruiser and spent a week cruising with our families on the Shannon. When we were passing through Carrick-on-Shannon with our hired cruiser we spotted one of the Google Street view cars in the vicinity. I made a mental note of where I was when I spotted the car and when Street View was initially launched in Ireland I tried without success to see us on the site. The important point to know is where were we when the car saw us, not where were we when we saw the car.

However, I was browsing randomly on the site the other night and I happened to spot us appearing clearly as you can see from the screenshot below. You can click here to see us live on the web, but it is normally quite hard to find us because if you move to the position either left or right of this exact position there is no boat in the river. It seems that google selects images from multiple passes through an area, and we only appear in one of the passes (if you look carefully you can also see someone taking a picture of the Google Street View car).

In all modesty I must say that we look very good, but it would be hard to recognise us if you didn't know exactly who was on the boat at the time (I was driving and am partly obscured from view). You might think that it is extravagant for a recently appointed mayor to be driving such a fancy cruiser, but I must admit that it was only rented from Emerald Star. Hopefully the local Bord Failte office will be sending us payments in reward for the great way we are advertising the amenities of the area.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Irish General Election is really using social media

The campaign is now well underway for the Irish general election which will take place on 25th of February. One thing that has struck me about the campaign so far is how almost all candidates have finally appreciated the importance of leveraging the internet and social media tools.

I suppose much has changed in the four years since the last election. This report from the RTÉ Drivetime program reviews how the various candidates are engaging with social media - while some candidates are clearly more successful than others, all of them are trying to win the on-line battle.

The election reports on the nightly TV news is typically started with a summary of the political Twitterings of the day. Most of the relevant Tweets are tagged with #ge11 so it is easy to follow the conversation.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How I became mayor of my local Gym

Since a General Election has just been called in Ireland, many people might be wondering how to achieve elected office. Those of you who follow my Twitter stream might have noticed my recent tweet "I just ousted @ as the mayor of Westpoint Health and Fitness Blanchardstown on @ " and wondered how I achieved that.

This was actually achieved very easily compared to how difficult it would be to become a real mayor. I recently started to use a service called FourSquare which allows you to check-in to various locations to tell your friends where you are. Initially I was quite skeptical about the potential benefit of using such a service, but since it seems to be growing in popularity I said I would see what the fuss is about.

An obvious thing to worry about using a service like this is that you might not want people to know where you are at any particular time. However, this is not really an issue, since FourSquare only tracks my  location when I explicitly check-in to a location (typically by using an application on my phone). This is quite different from services like Google Latitude or Facebook Places which can sometimes be publishing your location without you being consciously aware of that.

Initially I did not use it much because I was not sure when I might want to publish my location but then I joined a local gym and decided that I ought to boast about that fact to my friends. In my first check-in, I did not realize that the Gym was already registered on Foursquare and so I accidentally registered it a second time. The next two times I visited the gym I check-in properly with FourSquare and hey presto I was declared to be the mayor (based upon the fact that I had checked-in more frequently than anyone else in the previous 60 days) and FourSquare automatically tweeted the good news on my behalf. I should point out that at the time I was the only person check-in to the gym on FourSquare, but the gym was packed so the most frequent person to check in on FourSquare is not really a good estimate for who is visiting the gym most often.

Will this service catch on? I think it probably will, because it combines a fun element. I saw that my predecessor as mayor of the gym tweeted "nooooooooooooooooooooo!" in reply to the news of me becoming mayor, so maybe FourSquare can encourage more visits to the gym as we battle for the mayorship.