When HTML is too modern

June 21st, 2009 by Stian

Banks are well known to be somewhat stuck in the 70s with their computer systems, in good company with the airlines. We are quite used to getting cryptic four letter acronyms on our bank statements and airline tickets, and for our names to be transcribed into some kind of semi-secret, truncated caps-lock based language without space or even a hint of support for international characters. For instance, I’ve received airline tickets in the name of SA,ILAND/STIAMR, and on my bank statements POS does not mean position, but “Point of sale”, meaning that I’ve purchased something in a shop. Probably “Shop” is too long to fit in the column-based data files on the AS/400 mainframes.

Last month, I went with a colleague to the travel agency the university is using for its bookings, to get a last minute multi-leg flight Manchester–Boston–Chicago–Manchester, preferably without any transfers. This well-dressed gentlemen (we had been shown upstairs to the “business travel section” to avoid the students trying to find cheap around-the-world tickets) started hammering the keyboard with assertive keystrokes, and he kept typing for 15 minutes, until he looked up very pleased. He had managed to arrange the trip, cheaper than what I had looked up earlier with Expedia or Kayak, and he said he just needed to move to a different computer to make a printout of our reservation.

I continue to be amazed by the use of text-based console systems, it is almost as I remember the magic of travel agencies as a kid. Of course in those days they used to have real monochrome amber terminals with tobacco-yellow keyboards (and circular keys!), and all the terminals of the office would be linked up to some kind of advanced multiplexed 1200 baud fixed link to the mainframe server abroad somewhere. These days they are still using the same kind of mainframes, it seems, but the terminals have been replaced by normal Windows PCs, running terminal emulator software in Java inside a standard browser window.

The travel agent told us that it was much easier these days, as he could easily search in many different systems from the same computer. He showed me how he flipped between 5 different terminal sessions with Alt-Tab — he had been searching for our flights in each of these systems.

You might think that consoles and green letters on black background would have been replaced with true web-based systems, .NET and the whole shebang, but this guy said the thing is that all the airlines are using these kind of systems, every day, so you couldn’t just change it overnight. He was operating the booking systems like a king, similar to how a clever Linux system administrator would dive into a black terminal window, type frantically and hard, and be able to trace down which of the 20,000 home pages on the web server had been infected and sent out all those Mystery shopper emails. The travel agent said that the backend systems had not changed much over the last 25 years he had worked there, but he did admit that now and then a new command, along the lines of PQX, would appear.

I believe a web-based system, no matter how web 2.0, dynamic and RESTful, would simply not do for these experts — I watched in pain once with an insurance broker as he slowly tried to navigate a badly designed internal web-solution for getting insurance quotes. In the end, as he found some Swiss company giving me the best quote, he took down my details in a classic terminal-like application, which went like a charm in comparison to the first challenge.

So back to the travel agent, I then noticed something peculiar, a secret of the trade perhaps. Do you know all those CAPSLOCK-DISCLAIMER-things in the bottom of the ticket? All those weird codes? Here’s what we got (I’ve replaced the travel agent’s name with “xx” to be kind):

FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE PLEASE SEE THE UNIVERSITY WEBSITE
CAMPUS.MANCHESTER.AC.UK/PURCHASE/INSURANCE/TRAVEL.HTM
FARE GBP 215.00 TAX GBP 237.10 SECTOR FEE GBP 3.00
BKG FEE GBP 35.00
NON REFUNDABLE/RESTRICTED CHANGES AT A FEE AND
ANY FARE / TAX DIFFERENCE.
INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS SEEKING TO TRAVEL TO THE US
UNDER THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAMME ARE NOW SUBJECT TO
ENHANCED SECURITY REQUIREMENTS
ALL ELIGIBLE TRAVELLERS WHO WISH TO TRAVEL UNDER THE VISA
WAIVER PROGRAM MUST APPLY FOR AUTHORISATION USING THE
ELECTRONIC SYSTEM FOR TRAVEL AUTHORISATION - ESTA
PLEASE REFER TO WWW.XXTRAVEL.CO.UK/LINKS.HTML
TRAVELLERS HOLDING PASSPORTS NOT ELIGIBLE FOR THE
VISA WAIVER PROGRAM STAYS OF LONGER THAN 90DAYS OR PERSONS
INTENDING TO UNDERTAKE PAID WORK IN THE USA WILL NEED TO
APPLY FOR AN ENTRY VISA-PLEASE VISIT WWW.USEMBASSY.ORG.UK
XX TRAVEL WILL BE PLEASED TO OFFER FURTHER ADVICE
IF REQUIRED.
PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING CHECK IN TIMES
LONGHAUL INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS MUST BE RECONFIRMED 72 HOURS
PRIOR TO DEPARTURE. FAILURE TO DO SO MAY RESULT IN YOUR
FLIGHT BEING CANCELLED.
THANK YOU FOR BOOKING WITH XX TRAVEL.

I guess we are all quite used to seeing this long telegram-style sequence of continuous letters on our tickets, and we generally don’t read them, as they are all in caps, smell of licence agreements and lawyer talk, and then there’s those cryptic airline codes that probably are there to tell the check-in staff that you should be seated next to the toilet furthest in the back of the aircraft.

Here’s the big surprise.. the guy was typing in all of this — by hand! He was not issuing advanced commands to a mainframe over the Atlantic, he was simply trying to write me “Thank you” — a bit peculiar as I was sitting right in front of him!

This really got me wondering.. are there always a guy like that typing in those statements? Why don’t we read them? Imagine a guy trapped in a little cave on an island somewhere in the Pacific, with only a 70s terminal available (Lost-style), and no matter how hard he tries, his caps lock is soldered and stuck in always-on, and he tries to sneak in a scream for help on the bottom of your airline ticket, but you would never notice..

PX1 441 TXF MAN OSL 21 NO TRANSFER TAX 33.00
GBP PLEASE HELP ME FR14 MAX BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE
23 KGS I AM TRAPPED FRS SVG KL221 DO NOT FLY
KM5 EUROBONUS.NO/DOESNOTWORK.HTM HAVE A NICE TRIP

Anyway, I was quite pleased when I heard our reservation being printed out. You see, it came out on a classic 24-dot matrix printer, on tractor-fed paper with holes on the sides. Some things are better left unchanged!

Now what happens these days, when banks and airlines are moving into the digital age, is that they want to be present on the Internet, modern and up to date with HTML 3.2. Consultants are hired, and the customers of the bank get a nice, clean web-based system that kind of does the job. After a bit of trial and error you can even claim it’s somewhat secure. In my bank, even the clerics and sales people are using a web-system that looks suspiciously similar to what I see at home. But under the hood it’s still one of those massive mainframes turning the wheels — and in a way that’s good, right? You probably would not want some MySQL-Ruby-on-Rails-thingie hacked together in 2 months to keep track of your bank account?

But then you get these young people appearing in management, with revolutionary ideas such as bank statements per email and using the online banking system to give customers notices of “important changes”. Of course it takes a few rounds to figure out why HTTP://WWW.MYBANK.CO.UK/PRIVATE/INDEX.CFM?ARTICLE_ID=12 does not work, when http://www.mybank.co.uk/private/index.cfm?article_id=12 does — but then there’s another problem, those ancient IBM machines from the 70s have difficulties with typographical stuff like headers and bold fonts — after all the most advanced thing the amber screens could do was reverse video.

So the bank clearly ended up with some kind of hybrid, a web solution where the staff edit the messages in a classic console, and I end up getting messages like:

**ONLINE BANKING IS BEING IMPROVED**

**NEW**

We will shortly be making improvements to your online banking service. Along with a brand new look, we’re also making some changes to the page layout and navigation.

**MAKING IT EASIER TO GO PAPERLESS**

With online statements, you can search, download and save up to 7 years statement history.

If you haven’t switched to online statements already, you will soon be given the opportunity to do so when you log in to online banking.

Plus, we’ll also be giving you a further incentive to go paperless – go to mybank.com/paperlesswin for details.

**EXISTING MYBANK BILL MANAGEMENT CUSTOMERS**

Please note that links to the Bill Management Service will shortly be moving to the ‘Payments’ section of online banking.

So I’m looking very much forward to this improved online banking experience, after all, they’ve already almost cracked the capslock problem. Hyperlinks, headers and bold font are still in waiting — but do you really need that just to deal with some accounts and credit cards?

I am hoping that the future online banking experience will be more like that terminal solution I spotted at the travel agent — after all then I can write THANK YOU FOR LOOKING AFTER MY MONEY in the telex requesting a transfer of £100 to my savings account.

Posted in Web having no comments »

The curious case of Steve Rice

May 16th, 2009 by Stian

Almost like Windows 7 – arriving before anyone expects it – a new blog posting from Stian. By pure coincidence related to earlier postings about pizza and names. Mainly written on my sturdy Nokia N80 telecommunication device while on the road, carefully transmitted by blue radio longwave to the blog typewriter unit — no need for iPhone, Twitter or Facebook for this young and modern travelling correspondent.

Downtown Chicago, 2009-05-15

I’m standing in the waiting area of Lou Malnati’s, a pizza restaurant in Chicago well known for its deep dish pizza, even listed as restaurant #36 in Chicago at TripAdvisor. Not bad for a pizza place! Of course I’m lazy and went to the Lou in walking distance from my hotel instead of the #36 one, but I’m still hoping it will be a pretty decent pizza, as there’s a 40 minute waiting list and more people keep arriving from the street. Lou’s pizza is apparently so good that they are not restricting themselves to Chicago city boundaries – they ship frozen pizzas all over US — overnight using UPS! (some dry ice might also be involved)

So there’s a waiting list, and I sign in under my pizza name. What’s a pizza name? Well, I don’t particularly like spelling Stian Soiland-Reyes every time I am ordering a cab, pizza or anything else that should not really require me to give away my full name. They usually don’t care what your actual name is anyway, they just use it as a reference for when you call back 60 minutes later with an inquiry into the whereabouts of the promised wonder. (The reply is always on its way! - but still – we have to call to make sure!)

The point is, I have come up with a name that most English-speaking customer service representatives should be able to both spell and pronounce. Enter Steve Rice. Forget about Chinese takeaway for a minute – look: Stian—Steve, Reyes—Rice. Even the initials are almost the same, it should be obvious it is me! (How do you do initials with a double-barrelled name like mine anyway? SSR? SS-R? SSr? S-R? All of them look cool! And imagine my wife’s initials, CGS-R! It sounds like some teletransportation system in Star Trek!)

As I carefully avoid to spell out my pizza name (that’s the whole purpose), the waiter replies Welcome Stephen! Are they messing it up already, or is he just trying to be nice..? I take a relaxed sip from my Goose Island 312 Urban wheat ale (made in Chicago of course).

There’s a small gathering of awaiting diners standing with me in the waiting area. I notice all the other guests are drinking the local lager Blue Moon, not 312. A big family arrives and seem to be negotiating with the host, they are asking for a table for 6 even if they are 7 in the family, to shorten the waiting time.

I am reminded of Christmas with the full family at my grand mother’s house. She would do all the preparations and cooking herself, put the table clothes and set the table beautifully, with all the little details in place such as those special little forks for the gherkins. But as the dinner is served we realise she has forgotten or deliberately avoided setting the table for herself, so she would sit alone in the coach with her plate on the little coffee table.

The crowd in the waiting area is waking up, some are peeking at the clipboard of the host. A big gang of 8 has just left the restaurant, two tables have been freed, we’re all very excited on who’s turn it will be.

They call a table for two for Jasmine, a Chinese girl whose real name probably was something closer to Xin Jing. As the charming maître d’ then starts running around the room, frantically shouting for Susie, party of four, the tall guy behind me (signed in as Smith for the evening) regretted his not very imaginative choice of pseudonym and wanted to be Susie instead. I acknowledged I was not alone in going under an alias in the dark streets of Chicago this stormy Friday night.. I was thinking in black and white already, just missing that saxophone and the lady in red knocking on the frosted glass door.. Steve Rice, Private Investigator.

I’m seated now, they called for the mysterious Mr Rice.  Or more precisely Steve R as they prefer in this parlour. Should I correct them for not using my carefully planned pizza name? Will this perhaps be my new fighting ground now that I no longer reply “Please note my new name and email address” to every electronic correspondence addressed to my maiden name?

I look around, it’s all couples around me. I am missing my wife. In the old days (at least according Richard Feynman) you could always bring your wife on a business trip. Academic conferences used to have a special entertainment programme for the wives, while their professor husbands closed themselves into a dark room, smoked cigars, discussed and did lively presentations just by talking, without any PowerPoint.

However, in this modern and of course much more equal world, both husband and wife are forced to suffer. Luckily the advances in technology means that one can now send the loved one a videogram with good night wishes, using an ether communication medium called Skype. But here I am, sitting on a table for four, all alone. I look up — the waiter has considerately placed me right in front of the big TV showing baseball. Perhaps Steve likes to watch sports..?

I order the house salad as a starter, but I do not need to specify my entrée (in US the main course is called the entrée – a bit peculiar given the typical US serving sizes of “appetizers” (starters) and main courses). The reason for this is that I had to pre-order my choice of pizza while waiting to be seated earlier. I can fully understand the need for this, as there was a wide range of selections between 4 different pizzas in the menu.

For some reason it was not possible to pre-order the salad at the time, perhaps Lou is betting on the hungry patrons to order an oversized pizza when they are entering the establishment, and when finally seated at their designated table they would be tempted to throw in some salads and garlic breads when placing their order.

I do not fall for such simple tricks — in fact I order the 8″ individual sized vegetarian pizza called simply Lou. Even after 4 years in UK I’m still not used to these imperial units, so I was just betting that 8 inches would be big enough. I am estimating the pizza will be something in between a 5.25″ floppy and a 14″ EGA screen.

The salad and pizza arrive, and although I am bewildered by the tinyness of the pizza, it’s both filling and tasting. The pizza has spinach, mushroom, sliced tomatoes and cheese, the salad comes with a big bowl of Roquefort dressing. It’s hard to find anything vegetarian in US that does not have cheese, in fact it’s hard to find anything at all without cheese — if you can really call it that. However the food at Lou’s is great.

As I’m signing the check I’m trying to do the tip calculation right. In US, the expected tip has inflated to something horrible like 18%, so I was going for a 20%. I remember from earlier US trips that the tip is to be calculated on the pre-tax price, so I am clever and use the calculator application on my phone to calculate $15.75 * 1.20.

I fill in $18.90 as the total and subtract $18.90 – $17.56 (the total before tip) to work out the “Tip” number, but as that turns out to be a mere $1.34 — less than 10% tip — I realize that I have forgotten about the tax in my 120% ‘cleverness’. I therefore have to do the whole thing again. It’s good I didn’t have more of those 312′s.

On the way back I get back into the film noir mode of Mr Rice, PI. I look up, and a train passes above me on those cool elevated rail lines that you see in movies like Batman and The Spirit, or in computer games like Grand Theft Auto. There’s even a yellow cab cruising slowly in the narrow alleyway underneath the rails. There’s steam coming out of the top roof of what used to be the hotel, but in black/white the building looks more like some kind of Arkham Asylum monster building.

Steve Rice throws his cigarette to the ground, his rain coat is fighting against the wind. Rice sighs.

And a slightly related clip from BBC, Your name, sir?

Posted in Travels having 1 comment »

Pizza dough

March 25th, 2009 by Stian

Welcome back to this annual blog.

No technology today, unless you consider a stove to be techie.

A friend asked me recently for the recipe for my pizzas. I said it’s quite easy, you just mix it all, but I don’t know what are the measures or anything. I tried to explain it instead…
The recipe is like this.. Don’t get scared, I just like to write a lot:

Wash and dry your hands, they will be your most important tool today. Take of any rings, unless it’s a wedding ring, of course. (The love will sterilize it and kill those bacteria that have gathered underneath).

Find a bowl of proper size, like.. I don’t know.. 3 litres?  It depends on how much pizza dough you’re going to make. I generally just make more than I need and freeze the extra (empty) pizza bases.

Remember that the dough is going to raise to about double the size, so the bowl need to be big enough.

We’re going to do a little trick in case you have a glass or metal bowl like ours. If it’s cold, it will take more time for the dough to raise, so put some water in the kettle, and once it’s hot, fill some of it over in the empty bowl. Leave about a cup of water in the kettle, you will need it later. After a few minutes, empty the bowl and dry it – it should now have a nice temperature.

Fill the bowl about half way up with regular white wheat flour. It will sink a tiny bit once you add the liquid. Also you will need to save some flour for later, as you need it both for adjusting the dough and for baking it out. (Can you say that in English? That’s what the Norwegians say, “bake ut“..)

If you have “Bread flour” that should also do as it’s probably just normal flour with a higher price tag – if you mix in some courser brown flour you can also make good and filling weekday pizzas, but then I don’t recommend the flat Italian style, as they will easily turn stone hard.

Empty one bag of dried yeast into the flour. I just use the Sainsbury’s or Hovis one.

Add a pinch of salt, a tiny bit less than a tea spoon – you can taste the dough later to check how it is.

Mix this around a bit so it’s quite evenly distributed.

Add a ‘mouthful’ (not literally!) of Extra Virgin Olive oil – quite generously in Jamie Oliver style. It’s really good to use olive oil for this as it has a lovely flavour, we use “Filipo Berio” or something like that, but that’s mainly because we get a tray of those little bottles for a good price at Costco.

So you just add oil to the flour, this is to make it smooth, easy to handle and also for the flavour of course. I’m not sure how much it is I add, but it’s a fair amount.. about 50 ml. Don’t worry about the health problems – olive oil is good for you! (at least that’s what they said last week!)

If you don’t have olive oil, you may use sunflower oil or similar, but as it doesn’t really have a good flavour and is not as healthy, don’t add that much, more like a table spoon or two in that case. You can compensate with more cheese (which is of course not healthy either..).

Mix the whole oil-flour mix around using your bare (and dry) hands. They will get sticky, but it’s soo much faster to use your fingers and just massage the whole thing, instead of messing around with utensils..

Now for the water.  As always with yeast, there’s the temperature issue. Luckily we’re using dried yeast, and it’s already mixed in, so it’s not too sensitive, but let’s do it as they taught me in school. Or roughly like that, as they didn’t have those posh kettles back then, and we had to first mix the fresh yeast with sugar to wake it up.

Put a cup or two of fresh water to boil in a kettle, or use what you saved from earlier. In an empty cup, fill it about 60% with fresh, cold water. Now, you are to add some of the hot kettle water to the cup to get the water to mix at about 35-40 degrees Celcius. I find that I need about 20% of the cup with hot water – but I’ve not verified this with equations or measurements..

To test the temp I just splash some of the water on the inside of the forearm – the sensitive skin there is quite good in sensing temperature. When the water is so that it’s neither warm nor cold, and you can barely feel it – then you have found the golden spot.  If you are not sure, rather have it too cold than too warm – although because you’re going to mix it with the cold flour it should also work fine with up to 45 degrees, which is probably what you are used to have in the shower.

Now mix in the water with the dough mix, gradually, using your fingers again. (Perhaps this is what gives the pizza its personality!). The key to finding the correct amount of water is like this: When the dough is a bit too liquid and no longer easy to handle, add a bit of flour again to “restore” it. Massage and move it around, once it’s just one big “ball”, that’s the perfect consistency. If you still have flour left sticking to the walls of the bowl, scrape it loose and mix it in again – if the dough is falling apart you need a tiny bit more water. You may then add a tiny pinch of flour as well, it makes it easier to mix.

At this point you do need a fair bit of massaging and turning around so that it’s just one piece, if you don’t do it enough the dough will be dry in one bit and liquid in another, so squize and turn and rotate
- once it’s like a big ball, and you don’t get that much dough sticking to your fingers anymore, you have it.

Now punch the dough flat in the bowl, you don’t need much force, though, or you’ll break the glass bowl! This is your chance to take revenge for the dough not working with you on that flour vs. water mix, but anyway the deal is to get it flat. Now along the edge of the bowl, push away the dough so you get a little ditch between the dough and the bowl – this is so that there will be a bit more space for it to raise.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the top, and then cover the bowl with a dry towel (kind of stretched over the top, not tucked into the dough), and put it “in a warm place”. Now the baking recipes always says this, but never what is a “warm place”. I’ve found – at least in the winter – that it’s good to put the bowl in our cupboard that has the central heating pumps and tanks, that room gets quite nice and warm. Also the top of the boiler can be quite nice and warm, but also a bit dusty and hard to reach..

Now I’m sure in your lovely apartment or house you don’t have such an interesting British and old-fashioned cupboard-central-heating installation, in that case just put the bowl on the kitchen top, away from the window (unless it’s summer!).

Let it raise for at least 45 minutes, up to 1h30. It should be growing to almost the double of the size – so if you got a bowl of the “right” size than it should now be about half-full. Once the dough is reaching the rim, it’s quite ready. It’s quite OK if it grows above the rim, because of the towel it won’t fall out. (Unless you used some kind of super yeast!)

Now at first it might not look like it’s growing a lot, specially if your bowl is cold. Don’t worry, check back in 30 minutes.

Sometimes with me it doesn’t grow that much. I don’t know why this varies, but it could be the yeast is in a bad mood or something. Anyway it still grows some, like 50%, and I’ve found that it still turns out OK. The dough will always raise a tiny bit more in the oven.

Meanwhile, go and turn on your oven, turn it at 300 degrees Celcius or whatever is the maximum. Yes, really, to the max! It’s just going to be in there for a few minutes.  Don’t turn on the “Fan cleaning” function though, not that hot!

I’ve found that contrary to what the pros say, it works fine with the fan instead of that rectangle thingie (upper/lower heat), but don’t use the grill!Just make sure your oven actually heats – our oven for some reason have a few settings where there’s only the light on, I don’t understand why they have those, it’s quite annoying to find your oven cold when you are ready to stuff that pizza in..
This is a nice time slot for the chef to open that bottle of fine ale.

So let’s assume that some time has passed, you have had a look at the bowl and it has raised “some”. What you do next is to find some space, I believe a kitchen top would be perfect if it’s big, but in our house we just do it on the kitchen table. Make sure it’s clean (but not clean as with these anti-bacterial sprays they are making commercials about – I don’t want to eat that!) and dry – otherwise the flour would stick.

Wash and dry your hands as well.

Now you need to sprinkle some flour over your work area – this is to avoid your dough sticking to the table. Put some flour in your hands and rub them – the explanation is the same here – to avoid the dough
sticking to you.

Just hold the dough bowl upside down over the work area – if it’s perfect the dough will just fall out – but in some cases you get a stringy airy thingie left in the bowl – just scrape it out as well with your fingers.

Now kind of roll the dough around on the table, turning it now and then. It doesn’t matter if it’s a perfect ball – in fact in the end we want it to be more like a long, fat stripe.

Don’t squeeze the dough too much, not much lovely massaging this time, it would puff out the air we have waited for the yeast to produce. (In fact it’s carbon dioxide, like in a soda. The yeast also produces alcohol, but sadly this will just evaporate.)

Now we’ll need to split the dough into a good size for our base. If the dough is in a stripe, and as thick as a male fist, than you need about the length of that fist as well.  You don’t need to cut it using a knife, just tear it apart with your hands. Try to get even sizes, it’s more fun to have 2 big pizzas than 2 normal pizzas and one very tiny one, or 3 tiny ones (for 3 varieties)!

Work with one of the bases at a time, sprinkle a bit of flour on the table and on the dough, and use that baking roller thingie (what’s it called? Norway: “kjevle” – Mexico: “mau mau”).

If you don’t have one of those rollers – don’t despair – you may use the old student trick of finding an empty (or if you’re lucky: unopened) bottle of wine, wash the bottle with hot water, but don’t remove the label. (There’s glue underneath the paper, glue doesn’t taste good).

Make sure the roller is dry (specially if it’s a bottle), then sprinkle some flour on this again. I guess you know the drill by know – and yes – you may use some of that excess flour you already have on your table and probably most of your kitchen floor.

Now roll the dough out – it doesn’t matter too much about the shape as long as it will fit your baking tray. If you don’t have a flat baking tray, you can do like us, just cover a grill tray with aluminium foil, fold it around the edges. As we’ve used olive oil in our dough you generally don’t need any greasing as when you bake a cake – if anything just sprinkle a bit of flour on the tray.

For the actual rolling, now and then rotate the dough so that you’re stretching it in all directions. If it gets too thick in the edges – just rotate it again and roll it flat. If you get holes, that’s OK, you can take dough from the edges or another dough ball and patch it – just roll a few times to merge it. If you get too many holes or you make it too thin, just collapse it and start again. You can add a bit more dough from the unrolled balls, or just make the pizza smaller.

Turn the base and roll a few times on the other side as well – when lifting be careful so you don’t break it. If you’re lucky you’ll have a wonderful dough that’s easy to lift, however I don’t think it’s possible to do that spinning on the finger trick unless you had used the whole bottle of olive oil..

Now that pizza base is in a reasonable size and shape, even if it doesn’t look like a pizza shape, just put it on the tray, it will still taste delicious.

Here comes the choice of Italian or American style. If you want the flat Italian style, puncture the dough by stabbing it repeatedly with a fork. Again a chance to get out some aggression if the dough has not been cooperating with you, and also this avoids the dough blowing up like a pita in the oven.

If you want more like the American style, you don’t need to puncture it that much, and also you might want to roll up a bit thicker edges – for the Italian you don’t need a special edge at all. If you do the edges, just push them down a bit on the inside so they’ll stay.

Pop it in the oven, for about 3 minutes or so. It should be in the middle of the oven, or at about 60% from the bottom. (I don’t say “middle shelf” – as some ovens have the top shelf in the middle of the oven!). You’ll probably see it raise. If it raises like a balloon, you should take it out, otherwise the upper crust is going to be very crunchy and break like a cracker.

Otherwise, you’ll need to take it out just as it has got some colour, and before it gets too hard. It should now be like a nan bread – just not as thick and without the garlic.

In fact, if you would like to do your own rolled nan kebab (no: “rullekebab”), this is the bread you need.

Now you have the pizza base out, you’ll pop in your next one. Oh, you didn’t start rolling it out in those three minutes? This is when the production line is rolling and you need the extra manpower!

Let the base rest for a bit on a flat surface, then fill it with your pizza sauce (how to make the sauce can be another post, if you don’t want to wait, you can just use some ready made pizza sauce from the shops).

You don’t need that thick layer, and it’s OK if there’s patches uncovered. Try to cover out on towards the edges though, to avoid the pizza getting too dry. Now for the cheese – sprinkle grated cheddar and other lovely cheese all over (like that goat cheese!) – it’s not to be a thick layer like on a bad school dinner, just some big dots all over, about a handful or two.

The cheese goes underneath the rest of the filling, so that the filling can get baked as well. The classical Norwegian “Saturday pizza” on the other hand is to fill the thick pizza dough (without the pre-baking first) with this kind of bolognese sauce of mince and onion – champion mushrooms from a tin if you’re exotic, and then covering it like with a lid using loads of very bad, tasteless and rubber-like cheese, in Norway marketed under the describing name “Gulost” (“yellow cheese”). This technique doesn’t work well with the kind of pizzas we’re baking here – as the filling is generally uncooked and needs to be exposed to the hot oven.

Fill the pizza with slices and stripes of your favourite vegetables, for the meat eater pizza (as you have several pizzas in the making) you can also add any kind of meat, last time we used a nice 21-days aged rump steak cut in stripes and quickly fried with salt and pepper (this is good with peppers and mushrooms), but you could also use slices of pepperoni (good with everything, in particular sliced black olives), ham (good with mushroom and pineapple), and so on. Chicken on the other hand tend to taste little on pizza, unless you have first marinated it in a Nando sauce or something.

I’m still surprised by how little vegetables is needed, I always end up cutting too much. You don’t need to fully cover the pizza, don’t stack the veggies, and leave some room for pieces of cheese to melt. Use thin slices – in particular for wet vegetables like tomatoes.

Again just pop the whole thing into the oven, again in the middle, this time it probably needs 4-5 minutes depending on how much stuff you have, check back often! It’s finished if the cheese is melted and looks fine, and/or if the edge of the pizza looks/feels like it’s getting a bit crunchy.

Take it out, let it rest for a bit while you pop the next one in, try to vary the filling so you’ll get different pizzas, like 3-4 different things on each is a nice.

Slice the pizza and dig in! You’ll have some running back and forth to pick up the remaining pizzas, but that’s part of the fun for the diners as well, as the surprises will just keep coming!

If you have one of those fan ovens you can cheat and put the pizza down to the lower shelf for its last minute while the new one sneaks in on the top – but don’t forget it – it’s almost done!

Now, enjoy your pizzas!

The trick about the hot oven and the pre-baking I learned from various pizza parties with my friends Lasse and Jenny in Trondheim, and the trick about the olive oil in the dough Ove and I got simply by asking a pizza baker “How do you make the dough so smooth” one night we were drunk and ordering some take away.

Posted in Uncategorized having 1 comment »

Link text and colour..

May 14th, 2008 by Stian

Guess where I unsuccessfully tried to click while I visited the web pages of the Open Source Grid and Cluster Conference:

Seems number 2 on the list of Top Ten Web Design Mistakes 2005 still happens every day..

Posted in Usability having no comments »

Namespace update

May 14th, 2008 by Stian

OK, as suspected I’m not very good in updating my blog.. To give you a quick brief, I am now happily married, and I have changed my name. Or at least I’m trying to. Let’s start with my original name, as given to me by my parents:

  • Stian Søiland

Now as a side note, my dad’s grandfather changed his surname from Søyland to Søiland when he moved to Stavanger, probably to make it sound a bit more posh, as Søyland is a rural area.

I’ve done something similar, if you know me from the Internet, my name is:

  • Stian Soiland

Within United Kingdom one needs to make it perfectly clear that I’m not a nobility or a professor:

  • Mr Stian Soiland

Those companies who keeps sending me bills are polite enough to keeps my first name a secret and to show how well their IBM System/36 machines can process 5-bit names:

  • MR S SOILAND

The airlines would need to send this through a couple of Telex machines, transforming my name to:

  • SOILAND MRSTIAN

This is still quite good compared to once when I bought a ticket from an Norwegian airline using my proper name, and something broke down in the Latin1->UTF8->Latin1->EBCDIC->ASCII loop:

  • SA,ILAND/STIANMR

Woh, look at all those names!

Now that we are married we decided to change our names, and after careful consideration we agreed on the double-barrelled surname Soiland-Reyes. There are many good reasons for this particular choice:

  • By Mexican traditions, given our original names, our kids would get the surname Soiland Reyes, a combination of my father’s surname and my wife’s father’s surname. (Or my wife’s father’s father’s surname, if you want).
  • The hyphen should to some extent avoid us appearing as Mrs Soiland or Mr Reyes in various systems. (This technique is already used by some Mexicans in UK to avoid them getting addressed by the mother’s surname only)
  • Avoiding the Ø makes the name easier to use internationally – we are after all a Norwegian-Mexican couple living in UK
  • It sounds nice
  • It’s very modern.. or posh

Now just to make this clear, we’re not really following any particular traditions:

  • Mexicans don’t change their surname when they marry
  • In England usually only the wife changes her name
  • Norway is kind of similar to England, except it’s getting common these days to either just keep the old names, or to take the spouse’s surname as a middle name – kind of exchanging surnames. (This still leaves the question open about what surnames the kids get)

So how do I get about in changing my name? Well, traditionally in Norway this is quite a straight-forward process, as there is a National ID registry, Folkeregisteret (literally: people registry). In Norway basically everybody, from the tax man and banks, insurance companies and health service, all the way down to mobile phone and cable TV subscriptions, require your personal ID number, personnummer.

This number is assigned when you are born, or when you move into the country, and is simply your 6-digit birthdate, ddmmyy, and 5 identifier digits (to separate the individuals born on the same day). Well, that’s not totally true, the two last digits are actually checksum digits, so there’s only 3 digits to identify the person. Not true again, as the first digit is limited to 000–499 for people like me born in 19xx. (Since the century is not part of the birthdate). Well.. and the third digit is even (0,2,4,6,8) for females and odd (1,3,5,7,9) for men. (So that means there is room for a maximum of about 250 boys born on the same day. Not a problem yet for Norway..)

Just to summarise with an example:

241279 15365

For the (roughly) 76th boy (76*2+1=153) born 24th of December 1979 (153 is within 000-499, so 19th century), with a checksums of the previous digits being 6 and 5 – the last checksum includes the first in its calculation for improved security. I wonder why there isn’t a third and fourth checksum?

Well, the idea is that since everybody uses this number as your identifier, they can look up your name and address in the ID registry, and in theory all I need to do for them to pick up my new name is fill in and send a form to the ID registry requesting a name change. Yes, it’s requesting, not reporting, as there are rules about valid names in Norway. For instance I can’t change my surname to something that is used by less than 200 people, unless it’s a new surname I invented, or you are getting married to someone with that name, or you have a letter of support from each of the persons currently holding that surname. Oh, and Jesus is not a valid first name either. (Keikoburger is allowed, though).

Puh! Or – at least – this is what the rules used to be. I’m not quite sure what they are now, but as there are only 197 with the surname Reyes in Norway (and probably a few hundred thousands in Mexico), that’s just below the limit, so I played safe and attached a copy of our wedding certificate with my form for the name change. I think I had to let them know I was married anyway. I was not quite sure if I was to sign with my old or new signature, so I think I did both.

However, that’s not how it ended. It turns out the national ID registry is only allowed to change name of people who live in Norway, and as I currently live in UK, that doesn’t include me. Well, is that really a problem? I’m not paying tax to Norway or using my Norwegian bank accounts much. I don’t believe my student loan would disappear overnight because they didn’t get my new name.

Ah, I’ll tell you, my passport is Norwegian, and that’s currently the only valid ID I have in UK, and also it tends to be the what those airport people want to look at when I check in. So I guess I shouldn’t change the name of my credit cards and book airline tickets in my new name yet. To change the name in the passport, as with everything else in Norway, the passport authorities asks me to do this through the National ID registry.

OK, so I asked the registry how I get them to update my name, and they said what I needed to do was to first change my name in the country where I was resident, and then send them a proof from the the authorities of that country that I had changed my name. If I am not allowed by law to change my name in that country, I would need to send a letter from the (for me British) authorities explaining why, for instance if they had a rule that foreigners had to change their names at home. (I’m sure Norway has such a rule, just to make it difficult. I wonder if that one has a similar clause: If you are not allowed to change in your home country, then write to the UN).

So I should go to the authorities of name changes in UK to get this done.. presumably the naïve Norwegians think there’s a UK National ID registry with a similar scheme as in Norway. Luckily this is not yet the case, although they are trying. How do you change your name in the UK? Well, at first glance the procedure is quite straight-forward:

  1. Start using your new name

I have to say, there’s something charmingly attracting with the low-profile bureaucracy of this country. Well, it’s unfortunately not quite that simple, as I have to go to every authority and company I’ve been dealing with, like the tax authorities, the gas company, telephone company, my employer, etc, and inform them about my name change.

Some of the companies just happily updates their records, but others, like my bank, are a bit more reluctant, as they want some kind of proof that I really intend to keep the new name and no longer use the old one. After all, I might owe them money, and they don’t want to waste time hunting me down by my old name. “No, sorry, Mr Soiland doesn’t live here any more.”

As a side note – since this blog post is already long enough for a book chapter – as UK don’t have the luxury of a primary key such as the Norwegian personal ID number, what is your identity in the UK? Well, it’s a kind of combination of:

  • Your surname
  • Your title (Mr/Miss/Mrs, etc)
  • Your full postal address
  • Your first name
  • Your date of birth
  • Your previous postal addresses for the last two years

The lower down the list you go, the more authoritative. So “Soiland” is enough for ordering a taxi, while my date of birth is needed to buy an insurance. If I apply for a credit card I need to go all the way down.

You might be asked to prove your identity. Proving your name and date of birth is through the usual ways, like a driving licence or birth certificate. In UK the driving licence also includes your current address, so you can get quite far down the list.

However, when the companies wants to be really, really sure about who you are, like when you open a current account in a bank, they also ask you for a second proof of address. Like.. a gas bill! What if you don’t have gas installed? Well, though for you.

Funnily enough I didn’t need to send any proof of ID to get a new credit card from a company I’ve never dealt with before, but when I wanted a new account with a bank I’m already a customer with, I had to send in my original gas statements, photo-copy of driving licence, etc.

I still think this is somewhat better than a national ID card.. I’ve seen in Norway how anyone really thrust you must be you, since you happened to know those 11 digits – that you keep giving away to more and more organisations.

So, back to name changes in UK. Traditionally a woman who changes her name after marriage just needs to bring her marriage certificate to the bank so they can update their records, but if you are changing your name for another reason you can do what is called a deed poll. A deed poll is kind of like a one-man contract where you just make a public statement, kind of like:

I hereby declare that I, previously known as Stian Soiland, am now to be known by the name Stian Soiland-Reyes.

But of course not those exact words, it should be a bit more formal, proper Shakespearian English. In addition to your signature, the statement need to be signed by a witness, signed and possibly even sealed. Legally any adult would do, but of course the lawyers say you should do this through them so they can charge you. Well, actually it’s not the only way, another one is to just print it as a notice in a major newspaper, and bring the newspaper to the bank. Yes, really. I don’t know if anyone has tried this, though.

So there are no naming authority in UK, you just change name with all the organisations you care about, preferably at the same time so they can’t claim you changed your name to avoid trouble. But I am already in trouble, because I don’t want to change my name with the bank when I don’t have a valid ID with my new name on – what if I need to manually withdraw my money? (To be fair, I could technically bring my passport and my marriage certificate, but still!).

I talked to the Norwegian embassy in London, and they said that to pass the rules I just have to write a letter to the ID registry stating that in UK there is no naming authority, and that I would still like to change my name, please. So that’s what I’ll be doing pretty soon. Oh, but they want the original wedding certificate, which I don’t want to send away as then I can’t go around doing my name changes in the UK. They said I could send a certified copy instead.

Now, here’s yet another culture crash between the countries, for Norwegians a certified copy means that you have shown the copy with the original to someone working at a government office, and that they stamp the copy to verify that it’s a true copy. While in UK as far as I know you can verify a copy yourself by simply writing on the copy, I confirm that this is a certified copy of the passport of Fred Bloggs, and that I have compared both original and copy….yada yada, and sign it. To make it more official, any “trustworthy person” can do this, including a GP, teacher, member of parliament, nurse, police man, etc.

I have a backup plan. Don’t worry. Under EEA rules, which I love more and more, I am entitled to exchange my Norwegian driving licence to a British one provided by DVLA, the driving authorities if you want. Once I’ve done that, I can inform DVLA of my new name, and tada – I have a British photo ID with my new name. I asked them about this, and it is even possible to do it all in one go, so it should only take a few weeks. The only sad thing is that I would lose my Norwegian driving licence, which in addition to my passport is the only thing I have to prove my magical 11 digits to Norwegians.

Well! Just to cheat, I’ve started using my new name for unofficial stuff, even if I’ve not gone through with all of this yet. So my new name for any practical purposes:

  • Stian Soiland-Reyes

I’m still collecting samples of how this looks after going through various systems, Amazon seems to do it properly, while DVLA use “MR STIAN SOILANDREYES”. Another mail order company had used a simplified capitalisation algorithm and sent a letter to “Stian Soiland-reyes”.

I’ve updated my email address to stian {} soiland-reyes.com – and as you might not yet notice, my passive blog has moved to our family domain name as well. If you send me emails to my old name or address, I might politely remind you of my new details. Just to annoy you. If you want the same right – get married. Or do that deed poll. I can be your witness.. or are you saying I’m not a trustworthy person?

For my wife it’s a totally different story I won’t go into, but it’s sufficient to say that in Mexico people generally can’t change their name, and also that the Mexicans assume everybody always have both a mother’s last name and a father’s last name. (Which could make it look like her father is called Soiland!). And if we get kids, they might in Mexico get the surname Soiland-Reyes Soiland-Reyes..

Posted in Bureaucracy, Norway, UK having 4 comments »

Proposing by Facebook

September 1st, 2007 by Stian

Relax, this is not the way I got engaged with Gaby:

Relationship request

Confirm

In relationship

Listed as engaged

That wasn’t too hard.. but not very romantic. I can assure you it was a bit different in real life.

And I’m glad our relationship is not determined by Facebook, because there’s also a scary one-click “Cancel relationship” link..

Posted in Web 2.0, Wedding having 1 comment »

Joining the digital revolution

July 30th, 2007 by admin

I’ve finally decided, and clicked the button and ordered my Canon EOS 400d from amazon.co.uk, so in a few days I will hopefully also have one of those digital SLRs. I have an analogue one already, of course (also Canon), but I never used it that much, because it was so stressful for me to develop the films and scan the prints.

Of course these days even places like Costco let you just hand in the roll as you go shopping and you get it back on both paper and CD-ROM (Just to revive a word from the 90s). However, for me it would still be a struggle, I have to buy the film, be careful not to waste the precious 24 or 36 (in some cases even 40!) pictures, and then having to go to Costco, which in the end can be quite expensive. Also, we always have problems finishing the big portions of food.

So now I’m going digital. I do already have a tiny digital camera with a broken LCD screen, so it’s almost like analogue cameras using the view fiender and guessing on what the pictures will be like when I come home. Then there’s my mobile phone that’s bragging about its “3 megapixels”, but with a quality that often can give somewhat of an analogue feeling.

I am not going for the full DSLR race yet, the 400d is called “entry level”, and those enormous white lenses and flash umbrellas will have to wait at least until after the wedding, and I suppose the bureaucratic process to get such purchases approved by the new finance minister can be quite long. But hang in there for more silly pictures of wires and fences!

Update:
It’s here already! Woho! No complaining about HDNL (Home Delivery Network Limited, which delivered the package) from me! However I did think ahead and ordered it for my office, and not my home. (Never mind the H)

Posted in Stuff having 1 comment »

Missing plone

July 21st, 2007 by Stian

After a series of OS and Zope/Plone updates my previous Plone-based web-site soiland.no is temporarily unavailable. I will probably transition over to this lightweight platform called WordPress instead.

For updates on my upcoming wedding, see soiland-reyes.com

Posted in Site having no comments »