Wulf's Webden

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Wednesday 28 June 2017
by Wulf

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Book cover

The Great Passage

Most of the book reviews I write are for things I have received as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers scheme. I don’t enjoy all of them but I promised I would write an honest review and so I do and publish it here. I don’t attempt to review everything I read, not even things that I liked a lot, but every now and then a tome catches my imagination and prompts me to respond.

The most recent example – finished last night although I’ve been working through it between other things for a couple of months – is The Great Passage by Shion Miura. It is a novel around the 15 year process of creating a Japanese dictionary and it isn’t a gripping thriller, engaging mystery or intense sci-fi drama. It is mainly about words – Japanese words – and the relationships of a small group of people involved in creating the titular reference work but I found that it wasn’t lost in translation.

I think the reason the story of Majime and his fellow editors and friends appealed was that it captures two of my favourite characteristics of a good book: characters I enjoy empathising with and a delight in language. It doesn’t matter that the language isn’t English; the magic of words and their ability to send the imagination on a voyage (hence the passage of the title) make the difference of its cultural setting a delight rather than a barrier.

Oh, and like many a good movie, there is a bonus feature if you carry on to the end!

Tuesday 27 June 2017
by Wulf

Ruby Saison

And she’s off! I got my latest brew, which I’m calling Ruby Saison, into the fermentor this morning. The recipe is based on the Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby recipe from Graham Wheeler’s Brew Your Own British Real Ale (2009. 3rd edition, p. 103), which I made previously at the start of 2016 under the moniker Feberuby. Jane liked the results of that, even though I had a little glitch with temperature control, which is why it was on my list to try again. The twist here is that I’ve got some ‘Belgian Saison’ yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M27 – I think this has now been replaced in their line by M29 French Saison) so I will be deliberately running this one quite hot.

The original recipe is the highest gravity one I’ve tried, aiming to come in at 1.058 original gravity. However, Belgian beers are often stronger, so I used some Belgian Candi sugar to boost the gravity higher, hitting 1.071 on the reading I took this morning. The yeast should be able to handle that easily. I also made some tweaks to the grain bill, using up my stocks of wheat malt and biscuit malt to replace the crystal malt from the original, and also pushing the overall volume of grain slightly higher. I mashed 1400g pale malt, 220g pale wheat malt and 220g biscuit malt in 10l of water: 30 minutes at about 62°C and then 45 minutes at 66°C (plus the time to move from one temperature to the next), in order to extract a lot of fermentable sugars. I added 9g Fuggles hop pellets and 18g of (rather old) East Kent Goldings along with the sugar (250g) at the start of the 60 minute boil and a further 6g of Fuggles and a generous pinch of Irish Moss at the end.

Now, I just need to watch and wait… and keep that temperature around about 28°C.

Monday 26 June 2017
by Wulf

Seeing with sound

Since I’m out a bit later this evening, I think I’m going to leave the wort I cooked up last night on hold rather than rushing to get it fermenting. To fill in the gap, you might be interested in an article I pegged as being of interest a few months ago: New method uses sound to see vividly inside living cells.

In my day job I’ve done a certain amount of support for trials using ultrasound in the detection of musculoskeletal and inflammatory conditions. This new approach seems to take a similar approach but manages to greatly increase the resolution. One thing I couldn’t glean from a quick read of the scientific paper was what depth it can penetrate to. Normal ultrasound is limited, particularly at the higher frequencies which give higher resolution.

Perhaps one day I’ll get to help with a study using one of these new machines? Meanwhile, here is the scientific paper:

Pérez-Cota, F. et al. High resolution 3D imaging of living cells with sub-optical wavelength phonons. Sci. Rep. 6, 39326; doi: 10.1038/srep39326 (2016)

Sunday 25 June 2017
by Wulf

Running Hot

I normally avoid brewing in the summer as the yeasts I normally use don’t want to go much above 20°C. However, I’ve got some Belgian Saison yeast (Mangrove Jack’s M27), which positively welcomes temperatures of 25°C and above. I don’t think the ambient temperature is going to exceed that this week, so I’ve jumped on the opportunity to set another brew going.

Bubbling beer wort


Tomorrow morning I’ll find out what gravity I hit, as I’ve been messing about with the recipe. However, for today, this picture of the mashing process, shot with my iPad, can count towards my 52photos project.

Saturday 24 June 2017
by Wulf

Back to the Logs

It must have been two or three months since I last got hatchet, axe and saw out in the back garden (Rush fans – name that tune!). However, the warmth of summer is a good time to press on with getting logs and branches chopped down to firewood for our woodburner, speeding the final drying beyond the rate when they are left whole so this morning I went out and got to work.

There’s still a fair amount more to go but, by the autumn, I’d like to have the oldest stuff ready to burn, the newer stuff at least partway through the process and plenty of room to put new wood ready to begin seasoning for winters hence.

Friday 23 June 2017
by Wulf

Fingers on Hanon

Most of you will probably have no idea what Hanon means but the subset who do probably largely consist of people with classical piano training in their background. Charles-Louis Hanon published The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises in 1873 and, in the 140 or so years since then, it has been a very popular set of fundamental finger exercises for pianists. So how do I, as a less than classically trained bassist, come to be writing about it?

Jane and I have long had a Yamaha PF80, an electric piano with weighted keys (and which weights a ton!). Towards the end of last year, just about the time Jane was wanting to use it to pick out the alto lines for carols being used in the Christmas choir, something broke and it stopped working. Looking under the hood, my suspicion was that the power supply had gone. We did get the number of keyboard repair guy but didn’t hear back from him and then we had a guest staying for a month or so, so we took the broken keyboard off the stand and put it out of the way against a wall. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to to take some photos prior to passing it onto to anyone interested in a broken keyboard on either eBay or Freecycle… and then I discovered it worked again!

We’d planned to fill the space with a more modern equivalent – smaller, lighter and with improved sounds – as a keyboard is a useful thing to have in a musical house but, since the PF80 is working, I’ve been playing around with learning some keyboard skills with a book out of the library… and that includes use of drills based on Hanon’s exercises.

They aren’t without critics; I did some browsing online and not only located a copy of all the exercises but also comments about how they are mechanical and, if practised to extreme, even potentially dangerous. However, as a starting point, particularly one to be explored and understood, I think they have value. For example, bar 1 of exercise 1 is C E F G A G F E – or 1 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 in scale degrees. You skip the two because that becomes the starting note of the next bar: 2 4 5 6 7 6 5 4. And so the pattern continues, played with either hand or both in unison. It is mechanical but it also provides an environment to think about the mechanics – here it can be be done in a simple hand span but, between the first two notes, you need to incorporate a small stretch so that, after coming back down, you are in position to start on the next note up.

Anyway, enough typing; another keyboard is beckoning.

Thursday 22 June 2017
by Wulf

Finishing the Set

I don’t intend to add all three “Looking Down on the Garden” views to my 52photos project each month but this one will see me just about caught up:

View from an upstairs Window

Looking down on the Herb Hexagon – June 2017

Of course, you can’t see much of the ‘herb hexagon’ that is the titular point of focus. That’s because we’ve got our new Rotaire Dryline cover in place. You may recall that I mis-measured my first purchase and it was too small (although it became a gift rather than being wasted). This one was actually a bit too big as I overdid my attempt to not go too small but I managed to fit it with some short extensions on the end of each arm. Perhaps a clear measuring guide and a series of overlapping sizes would help, so that the customer could pick something as close as possible to the middle of one of the ranges?

The nets are up here, which stops bees and other insects getting trapped inside so much. This is probably more of a problem for us as the line sits over flowering plants like lavender. It has actually been too hot and dry to get the real benefits for most of the time since we’ve installed it but today we’ve actually had some rain showers. It will really come into its own when we get sustained periods of wet weather and we can still keep hanging our washing outside to let the water evaporate, rather than inside, to let it increase the humidity of the house.