I have been making chocolates with flexible silicone molds, because those are easy to get the chocolate out of once it’s been set. I did try an experiment with filled chocolates: applying the chocolate with a brush to the edge of the mold, let that set, then pour in the filling (I used caramel sauce) and then fill it off with more chocolate. However, the edges were too thin and we did not get the chocolates out of the mold in one piece!

Still delicious though, but sticky and messy!

Another attempt was to fill the molds with (white) chocolate, then scrape a hollow with a spoon when it had set for a bit, fill that with the sauce and then fill that up again with (bitter) chocolate. It just wasn’t what I was looking for.

Still delicious, but didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor!

There is another style of chocolate molds: the stiff polycarbonate ones. I did some research (on YouTube, where else?) and the videos make it seem really easy to make filled chocolates with these molds: just pour in your chocolate, then pour it all out, put in the filling in the hollow shells, fill them off and then gently tap them out of the mold when they’ve completely set. So I got a set of molds in, and…
…it was a total disaster. It was really, really disappointing, and it took me some time to get over that. But we did try again and managed to produce a batch of really nice chocolates. I don’t have photos of the results, completely forgot…

So I ordered another set of molds, with some of the birthday money I got from my parents in advance!

Most of our YouTube viewing is centered around people making lots of really intricate cakes, so when a new, less complicated recipe for macarons turned up on our homepage, I was intrigued. So I tried it out, and apart from some experimenting with the needed cooking time in our oven, it works really well! In the video, the cook suggests using a ganache as filling — I’ve seen that suggested before, but I had been using the buttercream recipe I learned at the macaron workshop so far. But the drawback of that one is that it gets quite soft at room temperature, so if you press down too hard on the macaron, you’ll make a mess!
So I made some coffee ganache (with white chocolate and instant coffee mixed in the cream), and it works really well too — it’s nicely firm, so you can serve them at room temperature.

We made smallish shells, they were pretty cute! Klik took some to her mother, and she was pleased with them too.

But of course, we now had yolks left because the macarons only use the egg whites.

So I made mayonaise for the first time ever. I knew it was easy, but I had just never bothered to search for a recipe. Now, I don’t think I’ll ever buy mayonaise again.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.

Troubles restarting

As ‘the troubles’ seem to be restarting (which anyone could have foreseen), I am thinking about my visit to Northern Ireland in 2015. I didn’t write (much) about it, but it did leave a deep impression on me.
In 2015, the company I worked for was acquired by an American software company, and I was asked to become the product manager for our product. The first order of business was to design (and build) an integration with another product from the portfolio, which was built by another acquired company, located in Derry, Northern Ireland. We went there with a few people to discuss how it would work — I think this was in my second week as product manager, and I didn’t know at all what I was supposed to be doing…

The week was fine and the people were nice. But several things impressed on me how close to the surface, and how deep, the dividing lines were. In normal conversation, it was glossed over, but here and there were hints of some severe collective trauma.
One afternoon I was in the pantry of the office to get a glass of water. It was already quite late, and most people had gone home, but we were still discussing things with the local architectural team. Two ladies, who took care of the cleaning of the office, were at work at the pantry. They didn’t know my face (obviously) so I introduced myself to them (and shook their hand, that was a thing we still did back then) and we chatted a bit about what I was here for. It took maybe half a minute for them to bring up the subject of the Troubles themselves, and that they felt much better and safer these days — nobody wanted to go back to that. Why, there were even trash bins installed along the river, because there was no more fear of bombs being put in them!
Imagine the trauma being so deep that you bring it up in casual conversation, seventeen years after it ended.

One evening we were taken along a walk in Derry. There is a city wall running around the inner part of it, and it was explained to us that one side was protestant, the other side was catholic — still was. We ended up in a pub and, while it wasn’t that prominent, it was decorated with plaques mirroring those political murals on blind walls that were so prevalent during the Troubles. It was no secret that this was a Catholic pub, and that the proprietors certainly remembered what had happened before the Good Friday agreement.

One afternoon, we were loaded in a few cars for a drive around the countryside, and we were taken to an old fort on the Irish side of the border as a touristy thing to do. I was in the car with an older colleague, who pointed out that we had crossed over into Ireland, but that the only trace of the border was that the speed limits were now in km/h instead of m/h. He told us that, as a schoolboy, he lived in Ireland but went to school in Derry, and that this was the border crossing he used to get to school and back. He had to walk along barbed wire, and every morning and every afternoon, heavily armed soldiers looked through his book bag to make sure he wasn’t transporting any bombs in there. He told about it in a light-hearted manner, but imagine for a moment that happening to you as a fifteen year old boy.

A month later was the return visit from a team from Derry to Nijmegen, to finish up the details. Their visit would be one week before the ‘Vierdaagse’, the International Four Days Marches — the biggest party of the year. So I joked that they should arrange to stay for another week to enjoy the festivities. Immediately the mood changed and it seemed that the temperature dropped several degrees. I can still see the very concerned face of one of my colleagues when she asked in a low, serious voice: “But what are they marching for?”
It honestly took me half a minute to parse what she meant and where that question came from. I had to spend some time explaining the background. I don’t think they were convinced, especially when I mentioned that a lot of military from all over the world participated too.

When Brexit was announced, I had to think about these things a lot, but I never brought it up with them. I just hope it doesn’t escalate into full-scale civil war again — which it very well could do. The lines are still there, people still remember who is on ‘their’ side and who not.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.

Favourite Movie Friday Five

1) Pick one of your favorite movies: what is the title?
Laputa: Castle in the Sky

2) When and where and with whom did you first see it?
Probably at home, on DVD. But the most memorable viewing was in Rome, at the Cinema dei Piccoli in the Villa Borghese park. We got tickets in advance for the 22:00 showing, and the confused person selling us the tickets told us the movie would be dubbed in Italian — but of course we’ve seen it so many times that that didn’t really matter. The previous showing ran a little late when we arrived, and since the cinema is essentially a wooden shack, we could hear the end of the movie before going in.

3) What about the movie makes it one of your favorites?
It is a grand adventure that starts out in a mining town but then ends up in this mythical place, with lots of steampunk in between. Miyazaki’s love for airships is very apparent here. And the movie is also a technical masterpiece: the approach for the raid on the fortress where Sheeta is held with the pirate ornithopters is so exciting visually!

4) If you’ve watched this movie since the pandemic quarantine started, how did it make you feel?
I have not.

5) If this movie was remade, who would you cast for the five main characters and why?
A live-action remake would… not be good. It would probably amount to some human players standing in CGI decors, and that would give the movie a static look which doesn’t fit with such a dynamic story! And animating it again might make it look prettier, but would take away the ‘soul’ of the original.
But a remake with puppetry could be really fun! You can add in some CGI effects if you want to, but the decors would have to be physical. And while you can see that it’s puppets doing the action, the whole thing has a pleasing… physicality… to it that you can’t produce otherwise. The Jim Henson studio would be an obvious choice (their Dark Crystal prequel was fantastic), but the studio that does the wuxia puppetry series Thunderbolt Fantasy is also very much capable of showing lots of action.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.

Animal Crossiversary

One year ago, when the COVID-19 restrictions had just started, Animal Crossing:New Horizons was released. I had pre-ordered and pre-downloaded it for our Switch, and it was the evening of March 20th when I stepped into that sea airplane to go on the ‘uninhabited island package’. Lots of people have written about how people visited each others’ islands and how overnight a whole community had sprung up around the game, so I don’t have to talk about that. Since then, lots of people have stopped playing — but not us. We even celebrated the new year in the game, with a friend visiting to see the count-down on our village square.

Every day, we do the rounds on our island. The days of hardcore fishing or bug-hunting are behind us, but it’s just nice and relaxing to fire up the game and walk around for a bit. Yesterday was our 365th day on the island.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.
UN Spacy


My love for the mecha anime genre is well-documented on this blog and elsewhere. And of course, Gundam is the granddaddy of the genre, such a huge franchise! Which is also why we never watched a Gundam series, because it is just frankly too ‘deep’ to just jump into without getting hopelessly lost in a sea of characters, factions and mecha.
(I’m not counting Gundam Build Fighters and its second season as ‘proper’ Gundam series, because it’s not set in the ‘Gundam universe’ but focuses on the plastic models (‘gunpla’) instead. There is the occasional nod to events in the series, but you don’t need to have that background to watch Build Fighters.)

I did watch half an episode of the original series, but I bounced off because it was really outdated in a lot of ways. One website with advice on how to ‘ease into’ Gundam states that this is the best way to know what is going on, and that not watching a series because of the outdated animation is like not playing old games because the graphics are bad. But of course it’s not just the animation that’s outdated, but also the art style and the storytelling — things were certainly different in the early 80s! And also: lots of older games get ‘remastered’ re-releases with improved graphics — so apparently there is a market for the same thing but then prettier!

We watched Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn RE:0096, a re-cut of a series of theatrical releases into a TV series — there are some odd twists and turns to make the episodes fit in the whole timeslot, and I do have the feeling that a few things were left out, but it does make it easier to ‘digest’. It’s set at the year 96 in the ‘Universal Century’, which started with the Earth Federation building massive space colonies — and with a terrorist attack on ‘Laplace’, the space colony where the ceremony for the new year reckoning was going to be held. This attack set the narrative for the conflict between the Earth Federation (the ‘earthnoids’) and the space inhabitants (the ‘spacenoids’) for control over the space colonies. Teenager Banagher gets thrown in the middle of it all when he rescues a Zeon princess and gets shoved into the cockpit of the ‘Unicorn Gundam’ by his father, the current head of a foundation that was basically blackmailing the Earth Federation for privileges based on their possession of the ‘Laplace Box’, which could upset the power balance greatly when its contents were made public.
…Yes, it’s a lot. But it all gets (kinda) explained, and I was able to look up the rest, so at the end we had an idea of what it was all about.

What I really liked was how alliances shift as the situation (both political and military) changes. A character who is out for blood in one episode might be compelled to cooperate with their former enemies in the next episode — in a way that makes sense. That’s no mean feat of storywriting, but it does add to the complexity of the story — and if you need to know the ‘in-universe background’ to understand the shift, then that’s adding an additional burden on the first-time Gundam viewer.
But: we finished it, and I might look into watching more Gundam series. With the background knowledge that we have now, we might even make sense of it!

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.

Friday Five about books

1) Have you read more books, or fewer books, this past year than usual?
I don’t track my reading, but I think I’ve read fewer books than usual. But I do read a lot — it’s just mostly RPG books and adventures, and I might not finish them until later.

2) What book are you reading now (or what book did you read most recently)?
The book I really finished reading cover-to-cover is ‘Gouden Jaren’ (“Golden Years”), which looks at how life in the Netherlands has changed from the fifties to the nineties. It really puts boomer entitlement in perspective: they just don’t know any better than that there is this explosion of wealth and they have taken it for granted. They had bought into the system for really cheap (house prices were a joke back in the ’70s compared to today’s standards) and never felt the sting of wages and productivity being decoupled in the ’80s.
I’m also going through ‘Shinto from an international perspective’, written by a Shinto priest. It’s not objective by a long shot, which is very amusing. But it does do a good job of putting shinto in a larger context, which is very informative and accessible. If you have an interest in the subject, I recommend it.
I’m also brushing up on my knowledge of the system of ‘The Sprawl’, a cyberpunk RPG that I’m writing a scenario for. Three experienced players have signed up for a playtest, which should be both informative and fun.

3) What is the best book you read in the past few years?
Oh, wow, I can’t choose. It will probably have been an RPG book, and it would have given me lots of ideas of things to run in it. The most recent time that happened was when reading ‘Exhumed’, a pamphlet RPG based on the Dark Souls games. It unfortunately fell flat during play.

4) Do you read more than one book at a time, or just one?
At any time, I will have multiple reading projects going.

5) How big is your to-be-read pile (or list)?
…please don’t remind me.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.

Expanding my network

I haven’t been posting here that much — partly because I don’t have much to say. But I haven’t been off the internet, of course. I have been paying more and more attention to what’s happening within the RPG sphere. I’ve been forging some cool connections there — not that I expect to get a big break or something, but because it interests me greatly and there is a lot happening right now.
One result of that is that I once again play in an RPG campaign that’s streamed live on Twitch — I used to do this a lot, but it just wasn’t possible to get the usual group together and it all fell by the wayside. Playing in front of a ‘live’ audience puts some strain on your ‘performance’ (because suddenly you have to perform!) but it’s fun to do. I’m playing in a fun scenario in a home-brewed world with a good group of people that brought a nice mix of characters. We’ve had two sessions and I’m really looking forward to the next one.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on my scenario for The Sprawl, my favourite cyberpunk RPG. I’m getting a group together for the first playtest. The group of former colleagues that I played D&D with also expressed interest — that’s cool, because a lot of players stick with D&D and never try anything else if D&D was their start in the hobby. I am of the firm opinion that life is too short to only play D&D, so I’d be happy to introduce them to something else. And with The Sprawl being based on the Apocalypse World Engine, a lot of possibilities will open up for them once they ‘get’ it, as that rules system is used in many, many different games.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.
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Another Friday Five

1) What has been your favorite job?
I really like the one I have right now, actually.

2) What did you like about it?
Of course there are things that I don’t like about it (it’s a job after all, I do it because I need the money), but there are a lot of things I like about it. Doing product work is a really nice way to have a lot of impact with what you’re doing: every user of the product will use whatever you decide to do. If your product is used by a wide variety of people (or organisations, if you’re doing boring business software like I am), then you will hear lots of different viewpoints and have to weigh them.
The company I work for now is also much, much more people-oriented than the one I used to work for, so that has certainly also helped with my motivation.

3) How can a kid become like you when they grow up?
The best advice I can give is: “Stay curious”. Try to find out why things are like they are — very few things are so because of the laws of nature. Often, someone thought this thing should be done in a certain way — but if the right people can be convinced it should be different, it can be changed just as easy. This is the ‘hidden truth of the world’, and it applies to things like economics, politics, but also to boring business processes. Get to the bottom of things, and ask yourself if there are better alternatives.

4) What safeguards do you use to avoid mistakes?
The most important one is: do not take a decision when you’re under pressure. That not only applies to work decisions, but also to personal decisions. I know that nobody wants to get into conflicts, but if someone is pressuring to make a decision a certain way (like in a hard-ball sales pitch), you know that that outcome will be most beneficial for them — and not necessarily for you.

5) What’s changed in the world that you’ve had a hard time keeping up with?
I find myself ill-equipped to deal with the global rise of fascism. I thought we’d know better by now, and I find it hard to adjust to the idea that lots of people are now openly fascist.

Crossposted from my blog. Comment here or at the original post.