Solstice Octopus!

I got an Amazon giftcard for the solstice and I used it to get this octopus. It’s very soft! And made by Wild Republic.

Cuddly octopus

Cuddly octopus from the top

Cuddly octopus is watching you

(The photographs show a realistically-shaped octopus toy. It sits resting on its tentacles. The main part of the body is short fur fabric, with a mottled light brown and black pattern. The underside of the tentacles is pale fur fabric. The eyes are light brown with black horizontal slit pupils, like real octopus eyes. It’s sitting on blue towel fabric, and is well lit.)

New Fighter Fish – Shimmer

My new tank now has a resident. Shimmer is a female fighter fish, and is probably between six months and one year old. She’s white, with iridescent blue highlights on the fins and tail. As it’s her first day, I didn’t hassle too much with photographs. The best I got was this one:

White female fighter fish by an anubias plant

I also took a few videos, which I’ll likely put together later in a setting-up-a-tank video series. But here are a few still shots from them. The last shows how blue her tail can look as she moves:

White female fighter fish with light shining through her

Back view of white female fighter fish, with her tail shining bright blue

She’s generally settling in well. She’s clamping her fins a bit (not so much in the shots, but other times), which is usual after a scary day moving to a new tank. She’s really enjoying picking off little critters from the driftwood and plants, so I can recommend spending a little extra time on setting up a proper soil-based planted tank. It’s not that my previous fighter tanks were bad, but this one is much more awesome for the fish.

In about a month, I’ll introduce amano shrimp. The place I get my fish keeps the fighters in with other fish, so I’ve had a chance to see how she deals with tankmates. She had some very tiny fish in with her and was ignoring them, which is a good sign for being a tankmate-friendly fighter.

The Cockroach Invasion (Video)

Baby cockroach on an egg boxA common question raised by my bio is, “Do you really keep cockroaches?” As though it might be a quirky thing I invented just for the bio. Yes, I really keep cockroaches. I started with one cockroach (Sparkle), then got two (Ash and Gem) and this time ordered five (but I have eight). Mostly because I used to have a community fish tank. Now I don’t, I’m filling that space with cockroaches.

Other things people often ask:

What type are they? Madagascar hissing cockroaches. (There are several species called this, which interbreed, so most likely they’re a bit of a mix.)

What do they eat? I give them dry stuff (fish food, cereals, nuts, seeds) and fruit/veg (most stuff, except they don’t like cucumber and I avoid irritant things like onions and chillies). Sparkle was an odd one, in that he’d only eat dried food (and wouldn’t eat if it’d been moistened). Most of them like their fresh stuff though.

What are they called? I’ve named the one bigger nymph. They’re called Pancake, because they’re unusually broad for their length. My guess is Pancake is a bit older, as they’re hanging out on their own more and look less nymphy.

Do you breed them? No. Cockroaches breed a lot, being cockroaches and all, so that’s a lot of babies to handle. A lot of people also have reptiles, so feed unwanted babies to those… but I don’t have space for lizards.

How do you avoid breeding? Keep males and females in separate tanks. For the batch this time, I’ll split them as they get a little bigger, then sort out their final tanks when I know what they’ll be.

Do they get lonely (when kept in a tank alone)? No. Cockroaches live in colonies, but they’re not attached to each other like bees and ants. My biggest concern with the new babies is they’re rather small and the weather’s hot, so they’ll help retain moisture by staying together. I won’t be splitting them until they grow a bit (except Pancake, who’ll move after some settling time).

Why?!!!!? They’re clean, friendly and easy to keep. They tame well and live about as long as a hamster (in approximate ages, my previous ones reached four, one and a half, and three). I love their little antennae!

Can I see them? Here’s five minutes of my cockroaches being cockroaches…

Strong Gingerbread / Vanillabread Recipe

Single GingerbreadI planned to bake some gingerbread men this year, as my gift to the family. The only thing in the way was I couldn’t find a gingerbread recipe that fitted what I wanted – a version that was very strong, for the person who likes ginger sprinkled on their ginger; and a version with no ginger, for the ginger hater.

So I made the recipes up. As these recipes are mine, all mine, and not copyrighted to anyone but me, I’m posting them for the world (and if you thought I was joking in the blog tagline about random tangents, now you know it’s for real… though this is the first time I’ve posted a recipe). It’s a pretty standard gingerbread recipe, apart from the seasoning. But still, I can feel a certain amount of yayfulness for making it up and it working.

(In the end, I preferred the vanillabread men to the strong gingerbread men, but the family were split on which they preferred, so I take that as success).

Strong Gingerbread Men / Vanillabread Men

Most of the recipe is the same for gingerbread and vanillabread, other than a few exchanges of ingredients. Where the vanillabread differs, the difference is in square brackets, like so – [VM: Only do this for vanillabread!]

Makes about 12-15 biscuits, depending on the size/shape of your cutters. Don’t forget to buy some stuff to decorate them afterwards.

  • 175g (6 oz) black treacle (molasses) [VM: Honey instead of treacle]
  • 115g (4 oz) soft dark brown sugar [VM: White sugar instead of brown]
  • 1 large egg
  • 25g (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 450g (1 lb) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch of salt

GINGERBREAD MEN SEASONING:

  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

VANILLABREAD MEN SEASONING:

  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Mix the treacle, sugar, butter and egg together. This is easier if you get the butter out a little bit before, so it has time to warm up and soften. [VM: Also add the vanilla extract here.]

2. Sift the dry ingredients together (flour, bicarb, salt and dry seasoning).

3. Add dry ingredients to the soggy ingredients. Everything should now be in the mixing bowl. If the mix is too dry, add a splash of cold water. The final mix should be firm, smooth and difficult to stir… you don’t want it runny, so only add enough water to mix in the ingredients. (For reference, the strong gingerbread needed half a cup and the vanillabread only needed a splash. This may vary depending on the exact ingredients you’ve used.)

4. Cover and put in the fridge for an hour.

5. Once cool, the dough should be reasonably firm. If not, add a little more flour.

6. Roll out to about half a cm (1/4 inch) thick and cut out shapes. Make sure to dust the surface and the rolling pin with flour, or it’ll stick.

7. Place men on a tray – either lightly greased or covered in non-stick baking paper (I used paper, as one sheet will last for all the batches and it’s easier to remove the cooked biscuits). Cook for 10 minutes in a preheated oven at 180 C / Gas mark 4.

8. Place on a wire tray to cool.

9. Decorate when cool with whatever you want. I used icing, sweets, crystallised ginger and edible silver spray.

Gingerbread and Vanillabread on a wire tray

Strong Gingerbread Biscuits (Left) and Vanillabread Biscuits (Right)

TASTE TIP: Strong gingerbread tastes slightly bitter, and isn’t like the stuff in the shops. It can be a bit surprising if you’re not used to it. If you want a less extreme basic gingerbread, swap the treacle out for some sort of light syrup/honey, and cut down the ground ginger to one teaspoon. You can also swap the dark brown sugar for light brown sugar or white.

ZOMBIE TIP: It comes out of the oven soft, but hardens as it cools. Don’t cook for longer than 10 mins as it’ll cool so hard you can use it as ammunition in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

PHOTO TANGENT: If you see a recipe claiming to include treacle and dark brown sugar, and the gingerbread is light golden brown, it’s a stock photo or they didn’t really use treacle. Treacle gingerbread comes out dark, as pictured here, because treacle is black. Always beware following a recipe no one has actually tried…

Steampunk at Waterstones

A local Waterstones added a steampunk shelf a little while back. It started out as a few books on a special stand, and has slowly mushroomed into a much bigger stand and a table. Last week when we brought a steampunk book*, one of the staff said they’d be launching the steampunk section this week.

No one in the family had any goggles, but we head out anyway. We had to edge past the evil elves** in Santa’s grotto, but made it to the bookstore unharmed. The event was attended by the Hastings Steampunk Society in steampunk costumes, and there were displays of steampunk gadgetry. The itinerary said they’d be tea duelling*** later, though I wasn’t around for that part.

The only thing I do wish is the bookstore had spread it out a bit. They could have cleared one of the display tables for a few hours, to spread the steampunkiness around (which would have make it easier to browse the steampunk books).

Just to prove steampunk really did invade the bookshop, here are some pictures:

Evil Elf

One of the Krampus’s minions. Note the pickaxe.

Gadgets: A brass mask, steampunk books and other gadgets

Steampunk stuff with some of the books on display.

An unknown mechanical metal device

Mechanical closeup. I don’t know what it does either.

Steampunk Fashions: A polystyrene head with a mini hat, goggles made from clock faces and other clock jewellery

Goggle fashions. I’m not quite sure how you see wearing those, but they’re nifty.

Two people from Hastings Steampunk Society

Steampunks from the Hastings Steampunk Society.

One thing I’ve been asked is what books they’re stocking. I took photos this time, and have created a masterlist! (I may have missed some, and some books that were there in the last few weeks had been sold, but it’s a snapshot in time. Or something like that.) Though it’s not a bad list for finding steampunky books, I’d note some series didn’t have all the books present (probably because they’d sold some). Some may be more Victorian fantasy than steampunk, but don’t shoot the messenger… they were on the shelf****.

Novels

  • Captain Nemo – Kevin J. Anderson
  • The Martian Ambassador – Alan K. Baker
  • Phoenix Rising – Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
  • Blameless – Gail Carriger
  • Heartless – Gail Carriger
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – G. W. Dahlquist
  • The Difference Engine – William Gibson and Bruce Sterling
  • Anno Frankenstein (Pax Britannia) – Jonathan Green
  • Native Star – M. K. Hobson
  • The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man – Mark Hodder
  • The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack – Mark Hodder
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer – Jonathan L. Howard
  • Johannes Cabal the Detective – Jonathan L. Howard
  • The Court of the Air – Stephen Hunt
  • The Kingdom Beyond the Waves – Stephen Hunt
  • The Rise of the Iron Moon – Stephen Hunt
  • Secrets of the Fire Sea – Stephen Hunt
  • Morlock Night – K. W. Jeter
  • The Osiris Ritual – George Mann
  • The Immorality Engine – George Mann
  • Ghosts of War – George Mann
  • The City and The City – China Mieville
  • Anno Dracula – Kim Newman
  • Whitechapel Gods – S. M. Peters
  • The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers
  • Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
  • Dreadnought – Cherie Priest
  • Ganymede – Cherie Priest
  • Necrophenia – Robert Rankin
  • The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age – Robert Rankin
  • Retromancer – Robert Rankin
  • By Light Alone – Adam Roberts
  • Swiftly – Adam Roberts
  • Heart of Iron – Ekaterina Sedia
  • The Alchemy of Stone – Ekaterina Sedia
  • The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson
  • The Bookman – Lavie Tidhar
  • The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
  • Retribution Falls – Chris Wooding
  • The Black Lung Captain – Chris Wooding
  • The Iron Jackal – Chris Wooding

Other Fiction

  • Steampunk! – Edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
  • Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel – Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volume 1) – Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Volume 2) – Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill
  • Grandville – Bryan Talbot

Non-Fiction

  • The Emperor’s Will – Compiled by John Blanche (Warhammer 40,000 art book)
  • Steampunk Style Jewelry – Jean Campbell
  • Steampunk: The Art of Victorian Futurism – Jay Strongman
  • Steampunk Sourcebook (Dover Pictorial Archives) – M. C. Waldrep

* I say ‘we’, but one of my other family members brought it. I plan to steal it. So it’s both our book in a way.

** They were probably minions of the Krampus! (Oddly on Twitter, the people in #steampunkchat didn’t appear to know about the Krampus. Whereas in Second Life’s steampunk communities, he’s a regular feature of the winter season. The subcultures have subcultures!)

*** I’ve never tea duelled, but my understanding is contestants dunk biscuits in tea and try to eat them without them falling apart.

**** I also find it best to stay well back from genre classification arguments, as they can be scary, scary places. I know at least one of the books I’d call steampunk, the author created a brand new genre for their book. It didn’t catch on.