Tweets on 2010-10-21

  • Lots of fire engines at Broadmarsh #
  • @jamesmcgraw he's still going! in reply to jamesmcgraw #
  • @WarrenPearce so is, eg ICQ, MSN, IRC… we were using a system the library around the world uses to get answers to people 24/7 #
  • Development control committee. If we can work out which room (@ Loxley House) #
  • Consideration of supermarket for Daleside Rd. Long debate. Ctte approved 7 for – 6 against incl me. #
  • @libdems I keep hearing this. Where is the detail that backs up the claim? in reply to libdems #
  • Tonight, made risotto for first time using leftover duck from weekend roast. This was the recipe. V filling. #
  • Weather / diary mismatch again: another sunny day indoors. (@ Loxley House) #

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Tweets on 2010-10-20

  • Mixed signals from the weather. Brilliant bright setting sun to the west, doom laden thunderous to the ease. #
  • Brief but useful meeting about a school. (@ Loxley House) #
  • The weather made up its mind. Put it this way: we're cancelling tonight's campaign sesh. #
  • RT @trioptimum: How do they get the lumps out of flour at Firaxis?

    With Sid Meier's sieve. #

  • @Alexander_Ball well, sunny, that's all very amusing, but I need to speak to a grown-up now. in reply to Alexander_Ball #
  • RT @libdemlife: Ed M accuses Cameron of created an unfunded spending commitment for next Parliament. #youcouldntmakeitup #
  • @poddelusion you can fly now? are you the only living boy in New York? in reply to poddelusion #
  • I'm trying to send a faulty printer back. How do you get rid of a parcel that big? Can't park near post office, or carry it very far. #
  • Tried DHL Service Point, but you need to use their packaging. Printer won't fit in their packaging. #
  • Tried DHL at EM airport, but despite being within their advertised hours, they refused to answer doorbell. #
  • Can't arrange pickup because can't be home all day. What's a girl to do? #
  • @journodave oh, gawd, can you imagine the fuss if a hospital acquired infection does for her? in reply to journodave #
  • @jamesmcgraw ooh, well, if you agree with @lfeatherstone, why not join the party? 🙂 in reply to jamesmcgraw #
  • @Alexander_Ball yeah – they're the ones who need you to use their own tiny boxes. in reply to Alexander_Ball #
  • @ImanBenChaibah maybe that's not the best hashtag to use – it's the same as a UK political party's twice yearly conference? in reply to ImanBenChaibah #
  • Taking part in a web chat between Nottingham residents and cllrs later this morning, but can't find any details online of how to join in. #
  • Webchat a-go-go (@ Central Library) #
  • Chat to me online from 1030
    at #
  • Bust a gut to get to Central Library thinking I was late, and I was first cllr here! #
  • @NCCLols yay 🙂 in reply to NCCLols #
  • The URL for today's web chat should be #
  • @ncclols no, we're all here now but the software only lets one of us talk at a time #
  • First question on the web chat is about how long standards committee hearings take. I agree that it seems too long. #
  • @NCCLols I should also have mentioned that Andrew Stunnell MP says criminal councillors should be dealt with by courts. Try that for delay! in reply to NCCLols #
  • @ncclols and this – not too helpful – #
  • Have to say the chat software we are using is not terribly good! #
  • @NCCLols I think it's a system that libraries across the world use, so it has benefits to them in that a librarian anywhere can answer in reply to NCCLols #
  • It transpires all the staff here and most of the councillors read @ncclols 's blog 🙂 #
  • @ncclols oh, sorry, didn't realise you were being anonymous #
  • @ramtops you going for bangernomics? #

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Tweets on 2010-10-19

  • @dr_nick Get a Bosch. in reply to dr_nick #
  • @dr_nick they're good. They're long lasting. They're A rated for energy efficiency. Not that expensive given that they don't go wrong much. in reply to dr_nick #
  • @dr_nick yup. We tried to get old one repaired, and repairman said, forget it, buy a bosch. So we did. Think we probably have a classixx in reply to dr_nick #
  • @dr_nick but they have loads of different models and if you want fancy one that can autodetect how heavy your washing is, they do that too. #
  • Mystery painting in post today: poss Nottm castle. Giftwrapped but no explanatory note. Intriguing. #
  • Planning briefing earlier; group meeting tonight. (@ Loxley House) #
  • Joel Derfner's evil genius in responding to notes about his gay wedding: #
  • @MitchBenn isn't that the point? gays are evil, doncha know. in reply to MitchBenn #
  • No need for #testittuesday this week as toaster adequately tested the smoke alarm for me this week. #

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Tweets on 2010-10-18

  • Get John Cage's 4'33" to number one for Christmas: #
  • So yesterday, it went down to 1 deg C, if not actual frost. And we still have no heating apart from a tiny fan heater. Thermal socks FTW. #
  • @rfenwick my co-councillor's 84 year-old mother would heartily recommend it – she completed it two years ago. in reply to rfenwick #
  • Argh, no, cancel, cancel cancel! I wanted to SAVE the constitution of the Lib Dems, not PRINT it?! Who has that much paper?! #
  • Mendelbrot's gravestone on board #
  • Roasted most of duck tonight, along with roasted unseasonable veg. Have only just noticed I burned my hand on the oven rack. Ouch. #
  • Looking at my data. I get three times as many clicks from Facebook users over twitter followers. #
  • @stephen_gilbert is the voice better? in reply to stephen_gilbert #
  • @joswinson @stephen_gilbert – do you manage a full day's work after a night on the sleeper train!? #
  • @NCCLols 😦 in reply to NCCLols #

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Tweets on 2010-10-17

  • Vaguely on time for bell practice. (@ Daybrook St Pauls) #
  • Nottingham Lib Dem AGM. Hearing Paul Holmes on tuition fees. (@ Sherwood Methodist Church) #
  • Several people here 60+ on Open University courses, including an 82 year old Eng Lit graduate. #
  • Was that the sound of someone volunteering to run a social event? #
  • Amongst the lovely wedding cards we got, two were hand made by @pinkshoesart – and on looking on her site, one of them is featured there! #
  • RT @alexfoster I just blogged: How to use kitchen appliances << aka Amazon linkwhoring on big ticket items 🙂 #
  • RT @MitchBenn: Nothing anybody's tweeting about #xfactor is making me the least bit sorry I'm not watching it…<<< hear, hear. #
  • Watching #hignify Spent 20 minutes thinking Benedict Cumberbatch was Zac Goldsmith. #
  • Has anyone been watching Whites? Lots of familiar faces. #
  • @rfenwick so wish we had a fireplace. in reply to rfenwick #
  • well. so. Whites has some of the clumsiest foreshadowing I've ever seen #

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How to use kitchen appliances

I popped into Lakeland in Nottingham the other day and overheard a really frustrating conversation that I ultimately butted into. A customer was asking a shop assistant what sort of food processor she needed, and the assistant’s main reply was “I don’t know – I do everything by hand.”

From the sorts of things she was saying – I need to do a little light chopping, but don’t want cupboards full of useless attachments – it was clear to me that she needed a stick blender, and ultimately, after quite a lot of hemming and hawing from the shop staff, I actually interrupted and told her so.

As a result of that, I’ve had this mini-how-to forming in my head about the inter-relation of different kitchen appliances and what you use them for.

Stick blenders Also known as wand blenders or hand blenders.

I think this is the sort of thing that the lady in Lakeland was looking for. They’re relatively cheap, have fairly few accoutrements, and are essential if you want to make soup. They can blend soup in the saucepan you made it in, thus avoiding decanting it into a bigger blender, and dripping soup all over the kitchen.

Mine is inherited from someone I shared a house with once. I was just about the last person to leave a shared house in my 20s, so I ended up with all the various bits of pots and kit and cutlery that wasn’t actively claimed by someone else when it was their time to leave. As such, I just have the blender, and its mixer attachment, but not the little pots it presumably came with.

A hand blender, plus its pots, is very good for fine chopping of veg, for puréeing fruit, presumably making baby food.

Apparently the gold standard hand blender is the Bamix , but that’s a bit pricey for me. It’s apparently super fast at whizzing and can even make mayonnaise.

Food processors food processor is the next step up. It’s more expensive, has more attachments, takes up more space in a drawer, and is very fiddly to wash up.

Somehow, I managed to convince myself that I needed a food processor when I left for university, so I got a cheap one for my last birthday at home. My parents didn’t have one, and still don’t, so I think I must have got the notion from some cooking programme on the telly. It did stirling service about once a month for years, until I dropped the lid and the safety catch broke off. Without it, you couldn’t close the machine so that it would run. I tried looking for replacement lids, but ultimately had to buy a whole new food processor. I freecycled the remaining parts to someone who had the same model and an unbroken bowl, but a knackered motor part.

Most of them have a bowl attachment and a blender attachment, sharp knives, and some sort of mixing or kneading attachment. You can definitely use them for chopping a lot of veg finely very quickly, and mine also has a grater and a slicer disk, a blender top, a coffee or spice grinder and still more attachments I never thought I would use that are still in the box in the attic.

Whenever you plan to use it you have to have half a thought about washing it up. Is getting it out worth the hassle of washing it up? It’s fiddly, big, and sharp. It can go in the dishwasher, but it’s so big it fills the dishwasher right up, and there are lots of pockets that also trap dirty water, so you end up having to give it a once over in the sink as well anyway.

The thing I use it for most is pastry and crumble mix. Any recipe that requires you make fine breadcrumbs by rubbing fat into flour you can do by just bunging the ingredients into the bowl and pressing the whiz button a few times.

Keep meaning to use it try and make my own pesto, and never quite get round to it.

You can use it to make cake, but the blades are too sharp for fruitcake – they just liquidize the currents – and the beaters on mine are too weak to get on too well with a bowlful of cake. I found out last time I tried that whilst you can grate carrots for carrotcake in seconds, the bowl isn’t quite big enough to hold enough mix for two 2lb loaf tins, so for that use, you would need a big bowl and a…

Hand mixer actually don’t have one of these – I make do with a mixer attachment for the stick blender, which isn’t ideal, because the ergonomics are totally off, the beater attachments unscrew themselves as you beat.

Use this to make cakes in an ordinary large beating bowl, because it’s quicker than a wooden spoon and a whisk. Use it beat egg whites for soufflé and meringue.

Stand mixer put a Kenwood Chef on our wedding list, not really expecting anyone to buy that – but a whole group of P’s family clubbed together. Wahey! I opted for Kenwood, over the slightly more stylish KitchenAidbecause that’s what my parents have, and because they have a reputation for being very hard wearing.

Stand mixers are for making larger volumes of cake and bread. Kenwoods have a classic “K” beater for fruit cake, a balloon whisk for beating eggs and a dough hook for making bread and pizza dough. They also have all manner of outputs for a huge number of different attachments, including pasta makers, meat and spice grinders, more types of blender, icecream makers and even a sausage-making attachment.

Was having a bit of a think the other day – when the very welcome addition arrives, can I get rid of any of the smaller appliances? And unfortunately, I don’t think I can, as they each have a different role to play. I don’t think you could make pastry in a Kenwood…

The one final big ticket item I do have is the…

Breadmaker bought mine for a bargain price in a weekly special from Lidl a few years ago.

Although a Kenwood Chef can make the dough, the key thing a breadmaker does is cook it as well. So you put the ingredients in the night before, taking care to put them in in the right order (usually this means keeping the yeast away from the water until mixing begins), set the timer, and you wake up to fresh bread.

True, it’s fresh bread that’s a weird shape and with a hole in the bottom, but the whole total lack of input from you other than a little light weighing is really rather nice. If you don’t want funny shaped bread, you can use the machine just to make the dough and shape it yourself. The breadmaker can also, apparently, make pasta dough, jam and cake, although I’m really not sure I would trust it with jam, and have lost the instruction booklet. It would certainly not be able to make very much jam at any one time.

Finally here’s a few gadgets even I don’t think I need:

Tweets on 2010-10-16

  • Ouch. Lessons for politicians on trust from today's Dilbert #
  • Meeting privately with planning officers re supermarket proposal for Daleside Rd. Would welcome people's views. (@ Loxley House) #
  • Good grief, seems to be down?! #
  • Vaguely on time for bell practice. (@ Daybrook St Pauls) #
  • @tom_geraghty c 250 jobs for a store slightly smaller than Castle Marina Sainsburys. in reply to tom_geraghty #

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Tweets on 2010-10-15

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Tweets on 2010-10-14

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A visit to traffic control centre (TCC)

(This follows on a bit from this post about a traffic junction)

One of the fun things about being a councillor, is that it’s entirely legitimate to ask people to explain things to you. It’s very helpful to develop a specialism and to work on your knowledge in that area.

By and large, officers of the Council are very happy to meet with councillors and explain how things work. There are, of course, limits: people need to do their job, and can’t respond to every whim. And it would be completely inappropriate, for example,  to job-shadow a social worker into a family in difficult.

In the seven years or so I’ve been elected, I’ve concentrated on transport, the environment and planning sorts of issues, and so I serve on committees that focus on that, and I’ve tried to learn about how these things work on a practical level as well as a policy level.

Part of that, a few years ago was to ask for a SCOOT briefing. SCOOT (Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique) is a computer program that runs traffic lights, and having read a bit about it on the internet, I wanted to know how it works in practice in Nottingham. I emailed the relevant council employee and in response I got an invitation to the Traffic Control Centre to see it in action. This was, in fact, the first time I had even heard there was a TCC!

(NB what follows is my understanding, and my recollection of a briefing I had two years ago – please let me know if I have something wrong.)

My visit was ever so slightly disappointing. The staff were great, the visit was really interesting, and my knowledge of how hard the Council works to keep traffic moving in our city was really deepened.

But in my mind, I’d built up SCOOT as some sort of semi-sentient, all-seeing computer system that controlled every traffic light in the city. It’s not actually like that. SCOOT is used sparingly on just a few junctions. Most traffic lights are pure and simple timers – 20 seconds on one phase, 20 seconds on the next, green man phase if someone pushes the button. Some of them just do that all day, some of them have programs that take account of variations throughout the day – eg peak flow of traffic into the city and out of it again; giving priority to major routes over minor ones. Even this is pretty unsophisticated – it’s just time based. From 8-10 it runs Program A, 10-4, Program B etc.

The phasing is planned so that are deliberate sweet spots – if you time it right you should get repeated green lights – and so that they don’t encourage people to speed to get through the phases. But this is less and less possible these days because of sheer pressure of traffic. There is so much traffic on the roads that systems that were installed decades ago and haven’t changed all that much since can’t really cope.

A second type of lights is used in more remote places, usually where there is a main road and a lightly-trafficked road. Detectors in the road spot traffic and only change phase when there is demand. These are called MOVA – micro-processor optimised vehicle actuation.

And SCOOT is reserved for relatively few places where there are a series of complicated junctions with lots of different sets of lights and multiple entrances and exits and cars using the junctions in lots of different ways. These are referred to as “SCOOT regions”.

You can often tell the difference between SCOOT and other road junctions by the shape of the car detectors buried in the road. SCOOT ones are usually square, the other sort are chevron shaped across the carriageway.

In Nottingham, SCOOT is in use on the Queen’s Road near the Clifton Flyover; in Sherwood right the way through the main shopping district from Haydn Road to Edwards Lane; and in various places on the ring road, including the junctions around St Leo’s church.

In all these places, fundamentally what the computer system is doing is counting the cars in each lane, working out where they are planning to go, and changing the lights to let them do it. It counts them into the region and counts them out again. It knows how much road space there is so changes the lights wherever it can to stop too many vehicles queuing. It can plan ahead, make predictions, make changes automatically to take account of changing conditions, and let the operators know if something unusual is going on. It also takes constant readings of the numbers of cars, which means there is a huge dataset to analyse for future improvements.

The system is computer controlled, with a computer at the roadside, and a phoneline link to the main computer in TCC. If the line goes down, the system continues in failsafe mode but is less aware.

One final SCOOT fact: The Queens Road region has different priorities weekdays / weekends. In the week, it’s all about getting traffic into and out of the city.  At the weekend, it switches priority to helping traffic get in and out of the Riverside Retail park.

Some other TCC facts

  • TCC has a fab website with realtime information about road transport in the city. Check it before leaving for work:
  • TCC is mostly an operator and a huge bank of CCTV screens. Most of the feeds are also available on the website above.
  • If necessary, TCC staff can take direct control of most of the traffic lights and get important vehicles through quickly. This is useful for getting blue light response vehicles through the city, and when I visited, they were proud of how quickly they’d got the Prime Minister from one side of town to the railway station.
  • When an incident occurs, TCC turn off the live feed of the CCTV cameras to stop gawkers

One final point: it’s sometimes tempting to think, as a councillor, that after having a brief you fully understand something. It’s rarely the case.  The officers are dumbing it down to a level where you can understand it.  But they’re the trained people, often with decades of experience and training. If you think you’ve got a good understanding of SCOOT, pop over to this website and see how far through it you get before you lose the plot.