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This is a crosspost from Infotropism. You can comment here or there.

A few years ago, my housemate Emily and I sat down for an afternoon and created Written? Kitten!, a writing motivation tool that rewards you with pictures of kittens for every 100 words you write. Since then it’s had over a million visitors and has gained heaps of fans among writers of all kinds.

Sadly, I no longer have the motivation to maintain it, so I’m looking for someone to take it over.

This would involve:

  • I transfer the domain to you, and you continue to keep it up and running or at least smoothly transition to something else (eg. with a redirect for a year or two)
  • Web-hosting wise, you simply need to host a single static HTML file; it gets about 25k-50k hits a month, sometimes spiking in November during NaNoWriMo (the most was its first NaNo, at 235k visits in Nov 2011.) It is currently hosted on Dreamhost shared hosting, and has no troubles.
  • You take over ownership of this github repo and deal with very occasional bugfixes, improvements, etc. (There are a couple of outstanding pull requests/issues at present.)

I’d ask that you continue to attribute me and Emily as the original creators, and to retain its current BSD license.

Anyone want it? Let me know here.

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Clothing shopping is the worst, seriously. And I swear I have the worst of all possible circumstances and tastes:

* plus size
* short
* in Australia (small market, and shipping internationally is the worst)
* regional Australia at that (so there aren't many retail choices where I live)
* tastes ranging somewhere between "classic" and "butch"; simple styles, plain colours
* large-busted (and short, as above) so actual men's clothing doesn't fit
* wide feet (5+ years of barefoot shoes is partly to blame)
* super high insteps (always been like that)
* walk and bike everywhere so stuff has to be comfortable/practical for that purpose
* strong preference for natural fibres
* strong preference for fair trade/ethically made (A HA HA LOL NO)
* oh and I'm not very affluent so if stuff's expensive it had better last a few years

Things I have tried very hard to buy this week and so far failed:

* underpants (black cotton hipster briefs, is this too much to ask?)
* black t-shirts (black cotton fitted crewneck, ditto)
* some sort of winter-appropriate shoes (since my old black barefoot boots, which have served me well since 2009, have given up the ghost)

I have favourite US-based brands/styles of all the above[1] and have tried to order them to be delivered to a friend's house for when I'm passing through SF in a few weeks' time. None of the vendors will let me order for delivery to the US unless I have a US credit card. None of the brands are available in Australia, or if they are, nobody has the particular styles and sizes. Shipping to Australia is exorbitant -- total cost for 5 pairs of undies was $120, for instance.

If I show up to run AdaCamp in some sort of lime green swirly polyester kaftan and 100% synthetic, slave-produced sneakers, you'll know I've given up, because that's all that actually seems to be available to me at this point.


[1] Someone is probably going to ask, so: Cacique cotton hipster briefs from Lane Bryant, Eddie Bauer short sleeve favorite crewneck t-shirt, and almost any of the Vivo Barefoot men's shoe collection but especially Gobi II Hopewell, Scott, and Ra II.
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I spent a huge chunk of my childhood at a tiny little fishing/holiday village on Westernport Bay, called Warneet. Back before Google Maps, I used to give people an idea of how small it was by telling them it took up just four squares on a Melways map; now, I can just point you at this map and mention that the only sealed road is Rutherford Parade, around the edge, and that we liked it that way. These days I'd probably also mention that Warneet's Wikipedia page is nine sentences long.

My Nanna and Poppa lived on Bank Street, a block or so back from the beach. I kept a dinghy on a hand-trailer in their yard, and I could haul it down to the beach along those quiet dirt roads, rig it, and launch it single handed.

In the kitchen of their house (made of fibro cement by my Poppa, a plasterer by trade, and painted yellow) was a picture of that same house, looking up the long driveway, with a spring tide covering the driveway and lapping against the door of the garage and the hydrangeas planted alongside. Warneet will probably be permanently underwater soon.

Across the inlet from where I sailed was a low-lying, uninhabited chunk of land (only really called land by courtesy) called Quail Island. Although it was only a stone's throw away, we never bothered going over there, because there wasn't anything there. Just mud, mangroves, mosquitoes... same as our side of the inlet, except with no general store to buy icy-poles from, and no beach or jetty to land the dinghy.

Anyway, I mention all this because today I read this article about koalas that mentions introducing koala populations to Quail Island, and them being discovered there, starving, in the 1940s.

It was not long before overabundance became a concern at some reintroduction sites. One of the earliest and most high-profile cases occurred on Quail Island in Westernport Bay. Visitors to the rarely-frequented island in 1943 described a tragic scene – defoliated and dying trees and dead and starving koalas everywhere. The koala has always held a strong place in human affections and even 70 years ago, these events were greeted with public dismay around the world.

I've never heard of Quail Island in the news before (let alone Warneet). In 1943, when this koala thing happened, Poppa would have been away with the Army and Nanna was living in Blackburn (in Melbourne's suburbs) and my mum wasn't quite born yet (that was 1944 I think). But Nanna and Poppa had been going to Warneet for years, since at least that time. Before they lived in the house I knew, they'd had another holiday shack, much less substantial and gone down to fish and lounge around on holidays. Poppa's initials were marked in the concrete foundation of the North Jetty, which he'd helped build sometime in the distant past; the jetty and its shelter shed at the beach end were starting to crumble when I knew them in the 1980s. They must have known about this koala thing when it happened.

Nanna and Poppa died in 2005 and 1998 respectively, and my mum (known in Warneet for an orange dress she'd worn to a dance in the 60s, still talked about decades later) in 1983. I don't have anyone handy to send this article and say "hey, Quail Island got mentioned in the news!" or "Did you ever hear about this?" and so I'm posting it here.

So: Hey, Quail Island got mentioned in the news! Did you ever hear about this?

TV shows!

Feb. 13th, 2015 11:56 am
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A while ago I asked for recs for new TV shows to watch. I watched a bunch of the shows suggested, with the following results:


Ioan Gruffudd plays an immortal NYPD medical examiner. Various people had mentioned this previously, but none had mentioned Ioan Gruffudd. It turns out that his ridiculous face is the second best thing about the show. (The best thing is his relationship with Abe, an elderly Jewish antique merchant who is the only living person who knows the main character's secret.) Also, Burn Gorman is in it.

"Forever" is now on my regular rotation and I highly recommend it. I've heard it described as "Highlander meets Sherlock" but I'd say it's more "Horatio Hornblower meets Castle".

The Good Guys

[personal profile] brainwane's recced this twice now, and this time I managed to actually find an ep. I bounced off it, I'm afraid. Too American. I think I might just not like Matt Nix's style all that much, to be honest.

Death in Paradise

English cop gets sent to a fictional Caribbean island (but obviously a British overseas territory like BVI) to help solve murders. Great show, enjoying it immensely. His team include an awesome black woman detective (Sara Martins) and the Cat from Red Dwarf (Danny John Jules). Seems like there's a strong strain of solid comedians in many roles (the original main character was Ben Miller who I mostly know from the RAF Pilots sketches). Consumed 3 seasons straight, and am now tracking season 4.

I was immensely impressed with the way they switched the major character over between seasons 2 and 3; I was expecting a Vecchio/Kowalski type situation and that I would wind up disliking the new guy, but in the end I was blown away by how they handled it, and I'm okay with the new guy, except that I feel like his UST with Camille is a bit pastede on yey.

Rosemary & Thyme

Felicity Kendall and Pam Ferris are gardeners who solve cosy murder mysteries. Completely ridiculous premise, and had me laughing constantly at the effect of the episodic reset switch that meant that nobody in the show -- not the main characters, not Pam Ferris's son who is a policeman, not anyone -- ever thought "hey, it's a bit weird that every time they go to do someone's garden, a corpse shows up". Delightful nonetheless, and I watched it all and would watch more.


This was recced because I said that I previously enjoyed Lewis. I never watched the original Inspector Morse series and have had trouble acquiring it, but the spinoffs are pretty good! Endeavour features Roger Allam (Douglas from Cabin Pressure) in a major role and I'm enjoying him immensely. Endeavour Morse himself, I'm a bit ehhh about, on manpain grounds. But the way they keep beating him up and Roger Allam's character has to tuck him into bed is hitting all my old-school fannish h/c buttons, so that's fun. The show isn't quite "cosy" but it's also not really gritty realism either. The 60s setting and the Oxford setting (which always seems fairytale fictional to me, though I'm assured it is actually a real place) helps distance it a bit I think. Looking forward to s3.

Recommended but didn't watch for various reasons:

Avatar/Korra -- I find it hard to knit to shows that are this visual

Silk -- probably too realistic for my tastes

Scott & Bailey -- ditto

Gotham -- probably trying too hard to be dark and gritty, in a way that I wouldn't find enjoyable at present

Jane the Virgin -- just doesn't really seem my cup of tea

Oddities -- couldn't get hold of it

Recommended but I've already watched them:

Historic farm series (Wartime Farm, etc)

Bomb Girls


Other shows on my current or watch-out-for-new-season list:

Agent Carter (much improved since ep 5; the boring sexism stuff is boring but maybe they're moving on?)

Castle (oh god I'm still watching it)

Flash / Arrow (tbh I've fallen a bit behind and not too sure if I care enough to catch up... except, Felicity, so.)

Doctor Blake Mysteries (returns Feb 13)

Agents of SHIELD (returns Mar 3)

Call the Midwife (returns Mar 29)

So, having said all that... if anyone's got any further recs I'd like to hear them!
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Via [personal profile] tim, here.

Take this list, remove a thing, sort it by how much you like the things, add a thing at the top, a thing in the middle, and a thing at the bottom (preserving the sortedness, pedants):

(most liked)
Handknit scarves
Steam locomotives
Thermal underwear (personal note: only if wool)
Getting something in the mail that isn't bills
Getting up early
The Mountain Goats
Firefox upgrades
Nessie Ladle
Celery in a stir-fry
Undercooked Aubergine
Eating paper
(most disliked)
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This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

Not actually weekly, since this is the first shop (apart from a NYE yoghurt-and-cheese stop) since before Christmas. That was a big one though.

This week’s groceries:

groceries for this week, laid out on the table

Onions, spring onions, eggplant, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, bok choy, avocadoes and grapes from Curtis Fresh ($15.40).

Cider vinegar, yoghurt, UHT milk, feta cheese and peanuts from Maxi Foods ($27.40).

Total $43.

From the produce swap yesterday (not shown): 3 giant zucchini weighing 1.7kg total, 5 small zucchini/patty pan squash, 1 dozen eggs, 1 bunch radishes.

Food plans for the week:

  • Corn/tomato/avocado/spring onion salad, to have with black beans and rice
  • Stir fried bok choy and whatever with peanuts and red rice
  • Pasta with broccoli and feta
  • Green pie that I’ve been meaning to make for WEEKS, seriously
  • Babaghanoush (with flatbread?)
  • Preserving: zucchini bread and butter pickles
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This is a crosspost from Infotropism. You can comment here or there.

I’m terrible at New Year’s resolutions, year-in-review posts, “theme word for the year”, or anything along those lines. My best resolution of all time, back in 2002 or 2003, was “eat better quality cheese”, and I’ll never hope to match it again. Still, things are a mess for me at present and something needs to change, and today, before the “work year” starts, seems like a good day to take stock.

I’m not going to make resolutions, because everyone knows they don’t stick (except the cheese one). What I’m trying to do is prompt myself to be a bit more thoughtful about my time and energy. So, today I spent a bit of time working through some questions like:

  • How do I spend my time? How do I want to be spending it?
  • How can I tell whether I’m spending my time the way I want to be?
  • How can I be more thoughtful about each day?
  • How can I avoid spinning my wheels?

I started with a spreadsheet entitled Why I have no time, which I’ve shared publicly. In it I broke down my work and non-work time in an “ideal” situation, noting how many hours a week I’d like to spend on various things. Of course the distinction between “work” and “non-work” is a bit blurred for someone who’s self-employed, does lots of voluntary stuff, and has personal interests that cross over with professional ones, but it’s a rough breakdown.

screencap of my time spreadsheet

Is this anything like reality? Time to find out.

Then I updated Toggl, which I’ve been using for time tracking throughout 2014, so that my “Projects” matched the spreadsheet, in terms of general categorisation and colour coding. My Toggl Projects are:

  • Paid contract work (split by client for convenience)
  • Growstuff – development
  • Growstuff – other
  • Professional development/research
  • Work email/catchups
  • Work – writing/other projects
  • Work – planning
  • Work travel
  • Business admin/paperwork
  • Meals
  • Life admin and domestic miscellanea
  • Health
  • Social events/activities
  • Personal projects
  • Personal blogging/writing
  • Relaxation – crafts/tv/reading
  • Internet/social media/chat

I know I’m reasonably good at using Toggl to track my time, so this will let me see whether my “ideal” matches reality or not. If not, then I’m going to have to reflect on whether the way I’m spending my time is in keeping with my goals and values, or not. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out.

Finally, in an attempt to be more thoughtful about each day and avoid spinning my wheels, I’ve come up with a couple of worksheets to help myself. They are:

  • The breakfast worksheet (one page, ~5 minutes) which I hope to fill in over breakfast each morning, to give a bit of shape to my day.
  • The weekly worksheet (1 page, maybe 10-15 mins) which I hope to do on Sunday/Monday, to give shape to the week ahead.

On the back of the weekly worksheet is a checklist of achievements that I can check off throughout the week. My checklist’s pretty idiosyncratic, and I’ve given myself lots of easy ones to get the kick of checking them off easily — you’ll see that the first checkbox is for having filled in the front of the worksheet. The left column is for work stuff, and the right column for personal (but see the caveats above). Some of them are non-specific, like “work meeting” or “self care” or “left the house” and there are multiple checkboxes, so I can have a tick whenever I do something relevant and leave a note about the details if I want to.

screencap of part of my achievement checklist

I’m glad I have some easy wins on the checklist.

I’ve revised the worksheets already, just an hour or so after I created them, and I expect I’ll keep adapting them as I use them. I’ll be interested to see which questions/prompts are most useful to me, and which ones I can usefully drop.

Please feel free to copy/re-use any of these ideas if you find them useful!

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[personal profile] black_hound asked, "What is your favorite go-to vegetarian recipe?"

I can't really answer that! I don't have go-to recipes, and I don't really work to recipes much at all. I'm a seat-of-the-pants sort of cook, and I mostly just make things up as I go along, based on common patterns that I've learned over the years.

I'd say that the core of my vegetarian repertoire is:

* legumes and rice in various formats
* eggs-mixed-with-things-and-baked
* pasta tossed with stuff
* stir fried whatever
* oven-roasted or slow-cooked veg in various forms
* hearty salads with grains and nuts
* a million kinds of soup
* toast

When I'm looking for inspiration I use my recipe bookmarks, almost 1800 of them, most vegetarian. I've tagged them with major ingredients so for instance I can look up kale or chickpeas and also by the type of dish and seasons so for instance autumn salad or summer preserves or cauliflower soup.

Basically my method is:

1. Have a pantry full of grains and legumes, dried fruit and nuts, spices, oils and vinegars, etc.

2. Be aware of what's in season at any given time (google "seasonal fruit and vegetable YOUR LOCATION" and you should find something); if you have a veggie garden or shop at a local farmers' market then of course it's what's there.

3. Buy mostly reasonably local, seasonal fruit and veg, cheaply (I usually don't spend more than around $3/kg except for small-quantity stuff like fresh chillis, garlic, ginger, etc).

4. Use epic bookmark collection to find things to do with it.

5. Build basic skills around how to make common forms of dishes (eg. stews, stir fries, pasta sauces)

5. Get sufficiently into the rhythm that you don't have to look up what's in season or what to do with it most of the time.

Sorry, it's kind of an anti-answer, but hopefully helpful in some way to someone.

ETA: oh, and to actually populate my pinboard bookmarks, I skim a lot of food blogs that have the sort of food I like (i.e. tending toward cheap, whole foods, mostly veg). I use an RSS reader and hit "save" for any recipe that looks promising. Later when I have some time I go through and bookmark a pile of them in a batch, tagging as I go.
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Another catchup meme post, this time for [personal profile] brainwane who asked, "I'd love to hear some fond memories of past communities that you've drifted away from."

Yow, this is a tough one, because I've drifted away from so many :-/ And I think, on the whole, that I have a better memory for bad things than for good things. I also seem to feel a lot of retrospective shame at my own behaviour in the past (usually just naivete and stuff) which makes a lot of memories uncomfortable even if the thing was pleasant at the time. I'm sure my therapist would have lots to say about all of this.

So yeah. With the caveat that my personal damage makes this seem like pulling teeth... here's a list of a few communities and some nice things about them.

Naval Cadets (1989-1992, age 14 to 17) -- I was attending a pretty snobbish private school, and Cadets had a mix of kids from all different economic backgrounds, which I really enjoyed at the time and retrospectively am still pleased about. I got to hang out with guys who were into rally driving and pig shooting and things like that, and through cadets I also got to spend quite a bit of time with people who were full-time military (eg. I did my year 10 work experience on a naval base). To this day I'm one of the few people I know in Australia who's fired a gun. So basically, I have fond memories of not hanging with private school snobs :)

Melbourne Leather Pride/"pansexual" BDSM scene (1994-1997 ish, age 19 to 22) -- I think this scene during this era made a pretty OK effort at pansexual inclusion, and it gave me lots of exposure to different aspects of what seemed like a pretty healthy kink scene at the time. I had lots of friends of all sexualities, and I often wonder what happened to some of them that I've fallen out of touch with. I used to enjoy going to meetings and events at the Laird (local men-only leather bar that let women in for certain things only) and then heading on to the Glasshouse (pretty rough lesbian bar down the street) after they kicked us out for the night. I had friends in that scene who regularly got me to travel south of the Yarra for social events, which is saying something. A good crowd; I'm not sure why I drifted away.

Society for Creative Anachronism (1996-2005 ish, age 21 to 30) -- originally I joined to find an outlet or excuse for various creative endeavours (costuming, music, etc) and boy was it a fulfilling place to do that! Most inclusive, encouraging arts/crafts community I've ever encountered. I also loved how easy it was to travel to another place and find a welcoming group of people. Most of my closest friends in Canada were people I met this way, as well as some of my oldest still-in-contact friends in Australia.

Alt.sysadmin.recovery (1995-2004???, age 20 to 29) -- another group where you could go anywhere in the world and find likeminded people: whenever you went to another town, you'd declare a BOFHBOF and go for drinks in a pub with the locals. I travelled so much and so often went to BOFHBOFs that one time when ASR did a poll to see who'd met the most other people f2f, and I won by an order of magnitude. Also, I still remember how quietly useful it was to hear everyone tell war stories about their work, and often find myself looking for a similar sort of ambient awareness (or recommending it) as a way of picking up new professional fields.

Perl (1998-2007, age 23 to 32) -- I am honestly struggling here; everything I think of as a positive is tainted by wider issues around open source, gender, etc. I guess I will say that I think the Perl community and especially CPAN developers ca. 2000-2004 (when I was most active) had a really strong culture of testing and documentation and that I wouldn't be as committed to those things now if it weren't for learning and practicing those skills at that time.
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I'm a bit behind on the December meme because I just went *splat* for a few days and did basically nothing and refused to beat myself up about it. So here's some catchup.

[personal profile] transcendancing asked, "I always love hearing tales about people living in other countries, especially the comparison of everyday things that would otherwise be invisible."

At this time of year, I always find myself explaining to Australians what a mind-blowing experience Christmas in Canada was. I lived there from 2001-2004 (ish) and had 4 christmases there. I went to Canada being pretty seriously "meh" about Christmas, and came away feeling like I'd finally got it.

Things that make sense in a cold northern climate, which I avoid like the plague for a summer Christmas (unless I can subvert them somehow):

* roast meats and root vegetables
* mulled wine
* open fires
* hats and mittens
* 90% of non-Jesusy christmas carols
* christmas lights
* etc etc etc

Look, every time I say this to Australians they're like "oh but I love fairy lights at Christmas, they're lovely". And yes, twinkly lights are nice any time of year, but they REALLY make sense when you leave work at 5pm and it's already dark and you're walking home and although it's the darkest and least colourful time, everyone has taken this effort to light it up. And you get to see them for hours and hours, every time you go out in the late afternoon or evening, not just when you're on your way home late at night. It really does make a difference.

So I came away from Canada with less grumpiness about Christmas generally, but with a lot of confusion about how to integrate it into a southern hemisphere existence. One result, as you know, is to hold Christmas in July (or thereabouts). I'm still undecided on what to actually do in December.

I guess the other thing that really changed for me, living overseas, was eating different kinds of food. I found Ottawa a bit challenging for food, because it just doesn't have the food culture that Melbourne does, or the availability of fresh ingredients; I ate a lot of boring food, to be honest. They do have good cheese though (if you know where to go) and I grew quite fond of things like the LCBO (the government run liquor store) and my local Chinese takeaway that had Chinese food completely different from what I'd known in Australia. I still crave this deep fried eggplant and black bean dish they had. And yes I ate poutine (chips with cheese curds and gravy) as they should be eaten, from a cardboard box bought from a truck, and I ate Timbits and tarte au sucre and head cheese and fiddleheads and buckets of maple syrupe and whatever else is Canadian food. The only Canadian food thing I really brought home with me was an increased consumption of maple syrup.

California, I think, changed my eating more than Canada did. Things I brought home from California/the US: eating lots of beans cooked from dry, flavouring things with chipotle and ancho chillis, Latin American food and flavours generally, cooking with molasses, drinking iced tea, eating dill pickles, hot water canning, an obsession with farro (argh why so hard to find in Australia), and a whole new level of salad-making. Also, I burned out on asparagus and couldn't eat it for a couple of years after getting back, because it was in EVERYTHING for a while there (especially Google's cafeteria lunches). Oh, and US food culture (especially mass food production) made me more vegetarian than I ever had been before. I miss the Alemany farmers' market (which was the Preston Market of San Francisco, vs the Ferry Building farmers' market which is like the Prahran market) and I miss being able to buy limes cheaply on every street corner and I miss plantains and arepas and huevos rancheros at greasy diners and the amazing salsa at the gratuitously hipster taqueria near my house.

The hardest adaptation to living in another country, in my opinion, is medications and, more broadly, a different medical system. It's not that other systems are necessarily worse (eg. Canada), but they're *different*, and you're trying to deal with them while at your sickest, which is not the best time to try and deal with anything new. For instance, a couple of weeks after I arrived in Ottawa I caught a cold and went shopping for some cold and flu tablets. Normally I would scan the shelves and recognise them by their packaging, but in another country the packaging is all different. So eventually I found the cold and flu shelf and tried to figure out what to buy. I knew I wanted something that was basically paracetamol + pseudoephedrine (this was back before they took pseudoephedrine off the shelves) but I couldn't find *anything* with active ingredients that matched what I was looking for. Instead, they all seemed to contain this "acetominaphen" stuff, that I'd never heard of. I went to ask the pharmacist, and the pharamcist had never heard of "paracetamol". Then I realised that "acetominaphen" was a different generic name, and had the pharmacist look it up in their big book to confirm. It turned a 5 minute pharmacy run into a whole big drama. So my advice to people moving abroad is to take a stash of your favourite OTC meds with you for any common ailment (cold/flu, upset tummy, allergies, menstrual cramps, etc) so you can get through at least the day or so and be somewhat doped up when you have to deal with it all.

The other thing I found frustrating, but have become more chill about with practice, is the mapping of products to vendors. Let me explain by example. You know those jars with flip-top lids, that you use for storing say rice or beans? I wanted to buy some in Ottawa, and looked in all the places I expected to find them -- supermarkets, the apparently local equivalent of the Reject Shop, a homewares store, etc -- and couldn't find them anywhere. I eventually asked my Canadian colleagues where they would find storage jars for the kitchen.

Their answer: Canadian Tire.

Yup, Canadian Tire, the big automotive supply chain. It turns out that they have automotive, outdoor living, garden, and yes housewares, and that it's *exactly* the right place to buy cheapish commodity-ish kitchen stuff. It's not at all what I would have expected, though! I feel sorry for any Canadians moving to Australia and looking for kitchenware at one of our automotive retailers.

My other experience of mapping-products-to-vendors was a bit more abstract, but I had a similar case when I moved to the US and was trying to find a post office to send a parcel. Apparently you don't do that at a post office, or at least most people don't. I blogged about this previously so I'll just link :)

If anyone has questions about any other specific living-overseas thing (err, that I, as an Australian who's lived in the US and Canada, would be able to answer) I'd be happy to respond in comments!
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This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

Another one from the draft folder, from almost 12 months ago. Why, self, why? I think I wanted to refine and perfect the recipe a bit. Never mind, it was pretty good as-is, even if not absolutely perfect. Here endeth the cleaning out of the draft folder.

It was chilly today in Ballarat (summer, what summer?) and I wanted something warm and comforting for lunch. Sadly, all I had in the fridge was leftover salad, so I rummaged around in my bookmarks and decided to make this warm, cheesey zucchini slice to go with it.

This is based loosely on my ex-neighbour Essie’s zucchini slice, but veg-i-fied (so, no bacon). It’s also slightly inspired by this zucchini slice from Witches Kitchen, which is a bit more whole-grain and hippyish, so take a look at that one if that’s the way you roll.

zucchini slice on a plate with salad

  • 6-8 sun- or oven-dried tomatoes, cut into slivers and soaked in some boiling water (or substitute semi-dried, which won’t need soaking)
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 zucchini, grated
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1.5 cups grated cheese (cheddar, parmesan, or anything fairly hard and strongly-flavoured; I used gruyere because I happened to have some)
slivers of tomato soaking in a bowl of hot water

Dried tomatoes soaking. I oven-dried a pile of Roma tomatoes last summer, and use them wherever I want a pop of flavour.

Preheat oven to 180C.

Saute the onion in the olive oil until translucent and just starting to brown, then add the zucchini and mushroom and continue to saute until it’s reduced in volume and you’ve cooked off some of the water in it. Leave to cool a bit while you do the next steps.

Whisk the 6 eggs and then sift the flour into the same bowl. Add half of the cheese, salt and pepper to taste, the sauted vegie mix, and the tomatoes. Stir well.

bowl full of zucchini mush

Oil a baking pan (something about 20-25cm square, or equivalent — it’s forgiving) and pour the mixture in. Top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for around 45 minutes, or until it’s brown on top and firm in the middle.

The texture of the resulting slice is about halfway between a quiche and a muffin. It’s good hot or cold, and keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days. You can eat it for lunch, or brunch, or a snack, and of course you can adapt the flavours to include whatever veggies you happen to have on hand. So flexible! I’ll be enjoying this for the next few days, I’m sure.

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This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

Found this among my drafts. It’s from mid 2014 and I never posted it because I didn’t have a photo. It was delicious, though, and if you’re in the northern hemisphere it’s probably just about the right season for you to eat something like this. Definitely not the weather for it here and now! Oh well.

This was an experimental meal that worked out so well I thought I’d record it here.

The purple sprouting broccoli is bursting out all over the place in the garden, and needed eating before it started to flower, so I made this up based on a combination of recipes I found online.

For starters, broccoli and blue cheese is a classic flavour combo, but I only had a little knob of blue cheese left in the fridge, so I mixed it up with some other cheeses. Then, there are all kinds of broccoli-and-cheese soups and pastas and casseroles, but none with the whole grains I was craving, so I decided to use whole grain wheat berries instead of the potatoes or pasta that most of the other recipes used.

Start by soaking 1.5 cups of dry wheat berries for a while (I left mine a couple of hours, having got the idea for this mid-afternoon) then cooking them in 3.75 cups of water using the absorption method, such as in a rice cooker, or in a pot of boiling water on the stove (in which case strain them after they’re cooked). This will probably take about 40 minutes which is ample time to get the other stuff sorted out. I did it at a leisurely pace while puttering around and drinking cheap shiraz, so realistically if you’re on the ball all the other prep will take about 20-30 minutes.

While your wheat berries are cooking, prepare these ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tblsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tblsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 small kohlrabi, grated (optional)

(I had kohlrabi that needed using. Don’t bother buying it if you don’t have it. But if you want to put more vegies in here, you can do it at this stage — zucchini would be an ok choice too, or any other kind of greens, or corn kernels, or mushrooms. Honestly I’m now wishing I’d put corn in mine. Damn.)

Saute the onion until golden-heading-towards-brown. Add the garlic, and saute a further minute or so, then add the herbs and any vegies that could do with having their water reduced a bit (in my case kohlrabi, but zucchini would also go here), and continue cooking a couple of minutes until it smells great. Set aside.

Now grate your cheese. I used approx:

  • 1.5 cup grated cheddar cheese (NOT the weird orange kind, what is with that, North Americans?)
  • 1/2 cup grated smoked cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese

You’re aiming for about 2-3 cups total. If you don’t like blue cheese you can skip it. On the other hand, you could probably double the blue cheese if you really liked the flavour. All kinds of cheeses could work here to be honest — don’t sweat it too much, just use whatever you have, even just plain cheddar. You could go a bit lighter if you wanted, too. It’s flexible! Just grate any hard cheeses and crumble/dice any softer ones.

Mix all the grated hard cheeses together, and put about a cup of them aside for later.

Now make a white sauce:

  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 2 tblsp flour
  • 500 mL milk

In a medium-to-large saucepan, melt the butter then mix the flour into it to form a roux. Cook over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes, then start adding the milk a little at a time, incorporating it fully before adding more. As it becomes liquid you can add the milk faster. Once all the milk is added, turn the heat up to medium-hot and keep stirring until the sauce almost comes to a simmer and thickens up. It’s ready when it coats the back of the spoon or the sides of the saucepan.

Now add your cheese — everything except the cup of hard cheeses you set aside earlier — a handful at a time and stir in thoroughly.

Next, toss in the sauted onions, garlic, herbs and vegies from the pan, and stir them through, along with:

  • 3-4 cups broccoli, chopped (smaller than florets – mine were about an inch in their largest dimension)
  • your cooked wheat berries
  • a few grinds of pepper, to taste

Grease a baking pan and dump the wheat berry mix into it. Now make the topping:

  • 1 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko, but plain breadcrumbs would also be fine)
  • 1 cup grated hard cheese that you set aside earlier
  • a drizzle of oil

Toss them together, then spread them across the top of the wheat berry mix.

Bake at 180C until deliciously brown on top — about 30 minutes in my oven.

Serve with a salad, unless it’s pissing rain outside and you can’t be bothered going out to hunt lettuce in the dark, in which case promise yourself you’ll have a piece of fruit afterwards. Ahem.

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This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

Remember when, back in the day, I used to post pics of my market haul? I was inspired by the excellent book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats which shows photographs of families from around the world with a week’s groceries.

Well, today I did what passes for a Christmas shop at my place, which is to say I went to the shops with the main intention of buying tasty things to see me through the next week or so, and without being too finicky about the budget. I wound up spending $93, which is about the national average for an adult’s food for the week, but way more than my usual (which is half that or less). That’s okay; I got lots of tasty stuff, plus I restocked a few pricier items that I’ve run out of lately.

groceries laid out on a table

The full haul: $93 worth.

Read the rest of this entry  )

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This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

It’s a cliche to blog about how seldom you blog, so I won’t. Instead I’ll just take the opportunity to reflect a bit on 2014 in terms of my home life.

It’s been a dog of a year. It’s been difficult to focus on anything much, let alone communicate about it. The first half of the year I was buried in personal stuff, and the second half of the year had more of that and then a lot of travel and busy-ness piled on top.

Most days I’m happy if I eat regular meals. I’ve had some great food this year, but mostly it just seems like a slog, trying to balance my body’s need for fuel, my inner self’s food-related hangups and issues, and the logistics of having food in the house, and having space and time to prepare it. I’ve had to cut myself a fair bit of slack on convenience foods and on food waste. Sometimes it’s better to buy a pile of fruit and vegetables just so I have them as an option, even if in the end I don’t eat them all and some of them wind up in the compost. Or to open a jar of something perishable so I can eat well now, even if I’m going away tomorrow or the next day and know I can’t finish it.

When times are hard I just keep trying to slog through it, do what I can, and remember nobody’s standing over me with a clipboard awarding points or writing down criticisms in red pen.

Some things I cooked/ate this year and didn’t post to the blog:

broad beans and leek from the garden, with ham, on homemade sourdough

broad beans and leek from the garden, with ham, on homemade sourdough

salad with red rice, sprouted lentils, tomato, kale, fetta, olives, and marinated artichoke hearts

salad with red rice, sprouted lentils, tomato, kale, fetta, olives, and marinated artichoke hearts

nettle soup

virulently green nettle soup with potato and ham


nachos with black beans and fresh jalapeno peppers from the garden

birthday lunch of ethical pork and beef ribs, corn bread, and coleslaw (eaten in a blanket fort! best birthday lunch!)

birthday lunch of ethical pork and beef ribs, corn bread, and coleslaw (eaten in a blanket fort! best birthday lunch!)

I’ve been doing a lot, a lot, of knitting and other crafts. Not least because I’ve had periods where all I can do is watch soothing TV and do something calm and repetitive. I’ve not been good at posting about it, though, nor updating Ravelry, and I have to admit that I’ve been casting on an awful lot of things for the “whee!” feeling of a new project, and not completing them. By my count I currently have at least 17 WIPs, most of which haven’t yet hit the “half done” mark.

I’ve instituted a kanban board on the wall of my living room for my craft projects (with an extra, innovative “> 1/2 DONE” column, because casting on and then putting it aside is a big issue for me) so I can see how many I have to finish. Sadly, it doesn’t work all that well to stop me casting on new things, because I just conveniently “forget” to add a sticker for the new project. Sigh. Oh well, at least every so often I can bring it up to date and it helps me remember what I have going, better than a pile of mystery project bags in the coffee table drawers ever could.

A week or so back I decided to try and reduce my WIPs considerably. My new rule (and let’s see how long I stick to it) is to have one large and one small/portable project out and work-on-able at any time, choosing the easiest to complete at any given time, according to the debt snowball method. Right now I’m working on a pair of fingerless mitts made from the tail ends of two colours of Mountain Colors Bearfoot, and a deathly dull product-knitting slog: a black hoodie in Bendigo Woollen Mills Classic 8 ply and in mostly stocking stitch. Both are made-up patterns, the hoodie being vaguely EPS-based, and the mittens basically just tubes with thumb-trick thumbs.

half-finished black hoodie

boring hoodie of boringness

red and brown striped fingerless mitts in progress

slightly less boring, but only just

My only escape from the “get through some bloody WIPs” effort is that I’ve told myself that I can knit hats for charity using wool from my charity-knitting basket, which I gathered up from all the odd scattered places and put in one pile last week. A hat usually takes about 2 evenings and is a quick distraction if I really must cast on something new. There’s at least a dozen hats worth of wool there, or roughly one for each reasonably-finishable project on the WIP list. (Some of the WIPs aren’t reasonably finishable, as they’re things like a mitred sock yarn blanket that will take years to gather odds and ends to make, or are super low priority, like the charming half-finished Scandinavian cross stitch table runner I found at a craft swap day — I have no qualms about that sitting quietly where it is for a long time.)

As for the garden… it’s a mess, and I’m late with planting everything, and that’s okay. I’m eating from it if not every day, then definitely every few days, and I have tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant coming along nicely for later in the summer. No clipboard, no red pen, right?

One thing that has been going well for me is that I’ve been making a pretty steady practice of getting rid of stuff. Somehow I’ve got to a point where it gives me a good, clean feeling to finish something and not have it any more, or to put something unused in the pile for the op shop (which seldom gets bigger than I can carry in my bike basket). Yesterday I had a momentary bout of “what if I applied for this amazing job and had to move house again?” and it made me think even more about how much stuff I have that I don’t need. I’m not going to apply for the job, but it did give me a kick in the pants about all my stuff.

A friend’s recently been talking up a decluttering guru who talks about getting rid of things that don’t spark joy, and it’s been good for me to think of my excess stuff in that way. It makes it much easier to say “no”. I don’t think I’m anywhere near Japanese minimalism (lol, no) but it does make it easier to get rid of things I’m keeping out of a sense of “ought”.

Finally, today I got a cleaner in, and she’s going to be coming regularly. I’ll be interested to see how much it changes my sense of overwhelmedness and whether it helps me get back on a more even keel with some of the other stuff I want to spend my energy on. I’ll give it a few months and then evaluate the costs/benefits; it’s a big chunk of my fairly tight budget, but I hope a worthwhile one for my mental health, which in turn is good for my so-called “actual” work.

I’m not going to make any new year’s resolutions, because they don’t work well for me. But here’s hoping 2015 is a good one!

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I'm afraid I'm going to have to mostly bail on [personal profile] liv's question, asking me to talk about "when mainstream feminism goes around reproducing lots of other hierarchies and oppressions", because I've been turning it over for a few days and I'm really not sure what to say.

I guess the short answer is: this is something I've been learning about and working on for the past 5 years, and I've been trying to improve my own practice around it, and to speak to people when they do faily things and I think I can usefully help out as an ally. The other thing, I suppose, is that I don't really engage much with "mainstream feminism" if by that you mean the sort of institutionally established liberal feminism that's out there; my feminism is Internet feminism, informed by fandom and geekdom and twitter and tumblr, and I'm not very involved in the stuff that actually gets covered in mainstream media or gets funding from mainstream bodies or whatever. And the feminism I am involved in is pretty aware of "other hierarchies and oppressions" most of the time, I hope.

Anyway I think this answer crosses over a bit with what I wrote for [personal profile] transcendancing under how my feminism has changed over time so I'll just point you there as well.

Sorry I couldn't write more :(
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Structured procrastination du jour

* sent email to someone who's involved in a large seed-sharing project in India, to talk to them about their data use etc
* sought an introduction to someone who founded an open food project centred on nutrition data
* talked with some people on IRC about Growstuff values and with another set of people about attracting and onboarding designers in open source projects
* finished writing up report for work I did last month (project X woooot!)
* phone meeting re: work for the first quarter of next year
* sent out emails about next year's work (being vague on purpose!)
* womanfully avoided getting into a heated discussion about trigger warnings as an accessibility measure (and thanked someone who stepped up to say the thing I wanted to say, but said it much more calmly)
* made a decision about dropping some work I don't seem to be able to do effectively, and made some steps toward finding a replacement (a different project X potentially off my plate! also woot!)
* arranged time with lawn mower (for vague definition of "arranged" as the time seems to be constantly being pushed back)
* went to shops/ATM to get cash for lawn mower person (and also snacks and gin)
* ate snacks, drank gin
* phonecall with project X that I'm dropping, let them know I'm dropping them, offered to help find replacement, chatted a bit with friend who is my contact there
* improved Growstuff's README to have more information on contributing for designers, writers, etc (it previously only had information for coders)
* wrote fairly epic Get involved page for Growstuff wiki
* decided that since I've been enjoying the December posting meme, I might do a monthly blogging plan thing for the future; set up google spreadsheet for this
* read interesting blog posts about UX and design and stuff

(to be updated as I do stuff)

Done did

Dec. 16th, 2014 11:54 am
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I've been feeling really unproductive/unfocused lately, with a tendency to zone out and do nothing in particular for hours on end. I let myself have a week or so of that, because I figured I was exhausted from all the recent travel and events and stuff, but now I need to snap out of it.

I don't want to force myself to the point of burnout or anything like that, but I do want to redirect my energy a little. So the other day I made a couple of small decisions about that, mostly around practicing structured procrastination: if I'm going to goof off from project X, then I should fall back to lower-priority project Y, rather than to doing nothing-in-particular. It's not as if I'm lacking in Project Ys of all kinds, many of them relaxing or pleasant. For instance, I should have been working on some boring sysadminny stuff recently, and I've been procrastinating by watching TV; instead, I could procrastinate by gardening, or shredding papers, or working on a fun part of Growstuff.

Also, if I'm going to spend time reading/knitting/etc, I'm going to try and do it outdoors now the weather is really nice, rather than sitting inside out of habit.

Anyway, I think I'm going to make a list of things I've done, even if they weren't project X, so that I don't keep beating myself up over how I wasted a day by not doing X.


* dishes
* watered garden
* formed sourdough loaf (bake tonight)
* triaged knitting projects, hid all except two (going to try and have no more than 1 big/1 small actively in progress at any time)
* put away excess knitting needles/tools that were piled up all over the dining table
* tidied knitting mess next to TV
* generally tidy-up around my desk
* took down unconf schedule from skudcamp so i can use my whiteboard again
* shredded papers
* had a conversation with [personal profile] brainwane about design and open source, sent followup email
* drew a mindmap of "Growstuff Values" on my newly-cleaned whiteboard, and posted a question about the topic to see what other people think
* put some socks which no longer spark joy (if they ever did) in the op shop pile
* contacted someone about mowing my lawn (since this is one of the things I keep procrastinating on)
* started putting together an actual up to date resume (haven't needed a real one for years and years; need one now for a fellowship application)
* knit a little bit on the fingerless mitts that are the project I have that's closest to completion (what does it say that I'm prioritising my knitting WIPs via the debt snowball method?)
* tidied a bit in my bedroom, hung up clothes
* took out trash
* actually baked bread (hurry uuuupppppp i'm hungry)
* tidied up for craft night
* found a vendor who sells big blocks of pure olive oil soap at a decent price

(to be updated throughout the day)
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[personal profile] brainwane asks for my thoughts on/reactions to various foods, for the December posting meme.

Oatmeal: Pretty much my most hated food. I can't handle the combination of bland and mushy/slimy. Would eat it if starving, but not otherwise. Lots of people tried to tell me that I would prefer steel cut oats, so I tried that one time, and it was even worse. I felt like I was going to throw up after two mouthfuls. A world of no. (I have come around to congee, though, after reading a really good blog post about a whole-grain version of it. Just the description of the strongly flavoured toppings was enough to make me want to try it. I made some for myself the next time I had a free range chicken, and it was fine. The toppings helped a lot. However, since I so seldom have chicken and have never seen free range chicken congee or multigrain congee available in restaurants etc, it's not something I have often.)

Miso (soup or other): I like miso soup but not when it comes as a little bowl on the side of a Japanese meal. I would rather have a big bowlful of it as a meal in itself, or else that powdered packet stuff as a quick low-effort snack (especially when I had an office job); the side-soup thing is just too in-between for me. Lately I've started learning to use miso in cooking. This blog has delicious looking recipes (oat porridge excepted!) and I'd like to try a bunch of them. I'd also like to learn how to make miso-based salad dressings, as that would probably fit my eating habits pretty well, and extra protein and umami are always welcome in my salads!

Licorice (black and/or red): When I was about 11 years old, I got a licorice showbag at the Royal Melbourne Show and ate most of it in a very short time period. My poo was black for two days afterwards. Now I can never eat black licorice without thinking of that. I still like licorice but I don't eat it often, I guess because I don't eat candy often. Red licorice, ehhh, it's not such a thing here, and I'm not a particular fan. The scandinavian ammonia licorice stuff horrifies me just on general principle and I wouldn't try it even if offered.

Hollandaise sauce: One of the most important foods in the world! Vital part of eggs benedict (or florentine, the vegetarian version with spinach instead of eggs, which is what I usually order) and an Australian cafe brunch staple. My nearest cafe does an ok hollandaise but honestly I think it's just a smidge too tart. The other cafe I sometimes go to does a perfect hollandaise but serves their eggs bennie (which I get there because they use local artisan ham) on local artisan sourdough which NO, I want a muffin dammit, that's what eggs bennie *is*. The abominations I saw masquerading as hollondaise or as eggs bennie in American diners and brunch places make me shudder; the worst I recall was at a diner in Chicago, where I really should have known better. Hollandaise in the US usually tastes flabby and has no sharpness; sometimes it seems to have separated; and on at least one occasion, when I should have had hollondaise, it seemed to have cheese sauce (like on mac and cheese) instead. I no longer order eggs bennie when I'm in North America; huevos rancheros takes their place. (Wikipedia tells me that EB was invented in the US. Maybe I'm missing something, but in my experience, it is far more common and far better made in Australia than anywhere I've seen in North America.) On a related note, there's a pub in Melbourne that does an amazing kangaroo with bearnaise sauce and excellent shoestring fries; I love to take foreign visitors there for dinner.

Coconut milk: Important pantry staple, vital to a couple of my standard dinners (the most common of which is Thai curry with tofu and veg, made from the one true curry paste, which I also always have on hand). When I shop for coconut milk I always read labels and try to get the ones with the least additives, which can be surprisingly difficult at times. I often find myself wishing I had easy access to coconuts to make my own.
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[personal profile] serene asked: "What can a person who is not a programmer do on Growstuff or other projects that will (a) help them become a programmer; and (b) not make everyone who already knows how to do it irritated."

What a great leading question ;)

Firstly, wrt Growstuff, we have a pretty high barrier for irritation, and "learning to program" isn't usually one of our triggers, no matter how slow or how many questions you ask. But I know that sort of reassurance doesn't really count for much, so here are some practical things you can do, too. I'm going to break them into three sections. You will probably want to work on the three sections kind of in parallel, starting with the basics in all of them, and then working up. I mean, you don't have to finish all the coding stuff before getting involved in Growstuff. Think of it like being enrolled in three 101-level courses simultaneously.

Learning the basics of coding

This isn't really what you asked for, but it's part of the picture, so I'm going to dump some generally useful learning-programming resources on you. I'm assuming you're starting from zero, but skip ahead if not. This is stuff that's not Growstuff-specific, but which you'll probably want to learn in parallel with getting involved with the project itself.

  • Play with one of the very basic 15 minute programming intros online. tryruby is popular (and Growstuff is written in Ruby, so it's relevant too), but there are others around as well. All you're trying to do is get the idea of making the computer do your bidding by typing code at it. If that's fun, you'll want to move on to the next thing.
  • If your interests incline that way (i.e. you think you want to build webpages and you care about how they look and the user interface), learn some HTML, CSS, and/or JavaScript. CodeAcademy seems popular and has interactive online resources. Codeschool is more about video lectures if that's your thing, and their front end foundations would be a good place to start. w3schools has good references and tutorials for all three.
  • If you think you're more of a backend person (you want to work in the engineroom, making things go, and don't much care how it looks) you should focus on learning Ruby and Rails instead. If you've never programmed before you'll want to learn the Ruby language a bit first. CodeAcademy has a Ruby track (which you do in your browser). Learn Ruby the Hard Way is kind of didactic and a bit of a pain in the ass, but it teaches from first principles and doesn't sugar-coat things, and will set you up well for real coding.
  • You should probably do at least the basics of both the above steps (HTML/CSS/Javascript, and Ruby), and at some point you should go in depth on one or the other. It's not necessarily a pre-requisite for other stuff though.
  • Work through a simple Rails tutorial like Rails for Zombies so you kinda know what a Rails app looks like.
  • Work thorugh a simple Git tutorial like Try Git to get a bit of a sense for what that's about.
  • Along the line you've probably learned a bit about using a command line and a text editor, but if not, you should get good at both these things. SublimeText is a good and powerful text editor and worth learning how to use well. Googling for "sublimetext tutorial" or "sublimetext tips" will get you lots of good resources. To learn how to use the command line, it depends a bit on what operating system you're on, and to be honest I couldn't find any tutorials I'd wholeheartedly recommend. Maybe someone in comments can help? But this is also stuff you pick up via tips from other programmers, over the course of your programming life. I am still picking stuff up after 20+ years. So you don't need to know everything up front.

Getting to know Growstuff, its code, and its community

  • Sign up for Growstuff itself and start using it. If you don't have a veggie garden yourself and don't want to enter dummy data in the live site, you can sign up on the staging website instead (or as well). Get an idea for the different parts of the website, the main actions available, and the mental model of how things are connected to other things. For instance, "a member can make posts, plantings, harvests", or "my profile has X Y and Z info", or "it looks like the site is using the same maps in multiple places", etc.
  • If something bugs you, is broken, or looks like it needs improvement, let someone know! You can post on Growstuff itself (I read all posts there), or on Growstuff Talk in the Problem or Idea categories. Or drop me a note privately. We'll take suggestions wherever we find them, in any format. Later, as you get more confident, you can learn how to make suggestions directly into the issue tracker that programmers use, but you don't have to up front (unless you want to).
  • Look at the code. It probably won't make much sense at first, but just take a cruise round and see if anything catches your eye. Pretend you're watching foreign films without subtitles. You won't necessarily understand everything that's going on, but you might catch bits here and there, and start to pick up on the storyline. You're not trying to understand every word yet, just get a sense for what things look like, and make some connections between the concepts on the site itself, and where they are in the code.
  • Hang out where the programmers hang out, and follow their discussions as well as you can. You don't necessarily have to dive in to them, but just absorb and notice the things that programmers talk about, the terms they use, the rhythm and processes of software development, etc. Follow any links they post. Google for terms you don't understand. For Growstuff, the main places where programmers discuss programmery things are this developer forum and our IRC channel. You should also watch this github repo to get notifications of issues, pull requests, etc which often have developers discussing/commenting on them; these are often the most nitty-gritty code discussions.
  • Cruise around the Development section of the wiki, and do the same absorption process. Not everything will make sense, but bits of it may settle in your subconscious, and you'll remember to come back and look again.
  • If you're feeling chatty, introduce yourself and socialise a bit. Here's an intro thread on our discussion forum, or just say "hi" on IRC and see who's around. We often talk about gardening, food, travel, making stuff, hobbies, and life in general, so don't feel like you need to only talk about programming. However, if you want to ask programming questions or let people know you're learning to program, you'll probably get plenty of advice and support, too.
  • You might like to ask someone to give you a code tour or to do a show-and-tell of what they're working on. Here's a thread to find a pair programming partner, where you could say you want to set up a first intro-level session. Be upfront that you're just learning -- on Growstuff, that's generally an incentive rather than the reverse.

Starting to contribute, as someone who knows zero-to-very-little programming but is learning

  • Help out in the testing threads, trying out new features. Try to break stuff, and think about how things might break, eg. try it on your phone, or put ridiculous things in the form fields, or try to do things you shouldn't have permission to do. When things break, see if you can hone in on what specifically is breaking, and describe it in precise terms. A precise bug report is half way to a fix.
  • Having done that, go look at the related pull request in Github (should be listed here) and see if you can match what's going wrong, to the bit of code where you think the problem might be. You can leave a comment if you like, on or around the problem line, saying "I think the problem might be here" (and why, if you have any ideas). This will help the developer find their fix. You don't have to if you're not sure though.
  • Look to see if there's a written test in the pull request. It will be in a file starting with "spec/" and will describe what should be happening. If there's a bug, and the test is passing, then the test is wrong. See if you can spot the error, and leave a comment. Or maybe there is no test! In that case, see if you can imagine what test should have been written, and leave a note saying "A test for X might have picked up the problem I found while testing this" or similar. (Again, if you feel awkward or unsure leaving comments, it's not required. Just reviewing the code is a learning exercise.)
  • Do a code review when someone submits a pull request. Even if you're inexperienced, you can still notice inconsistencies, or say when something is especially confusing to you as a beginner, which is actually helpful to know! Also think about the things people have said in previous code reviews (that you've been reading), and see if any of them apply. For instance, you might have heard that code isn't "DRY" (DRY = Don't repeat yourself, "not DRY" means the code is repetitive). So if the code you're reading does seem repetitive, you might comment on that. If you understand it all and don't see any problems, you can leave a comment saying "Looks good to me" or similar.
  • If you like doing front-end stuff (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) you can save copies of Growstuff pages locally and fiddle with them to try to improve them. You might want to try fixing something that's in our issue tracker or just something that personally bugs you (maybe create an issue first, in that case!) If you've made an improvement, drop a note on the forums or somewhere, and see if you can upload/send it to someone to integrate into the site (or skip ahead to setting up a dev environment to do it yourself).
  • You can do all the above without setting up a Growstuff dev environment, but the time will come when you want to do that. Here are the Getting Started docs. There's a reasonable chance you'll get stuck, so it's good to have a window open to the IRC channel, or be ready to post for help on the development forum, or have a friend you can drop an email to. We're usually happy to set up a pairing session to help you get set up, too (see link above). Or you could find a friend to do it with (perhaps someone more experienced at command line stuff, even if not specifically at Rails), or see if there's a local OpenHack or similar friendly/supportive coding event where you can ask for help if needed.
  • When you're ready to start coding on Growstuff, using the full development environment, look at our beginner-friendly tasks for starters (hmm, we need more of those!) These are ones that you should be able to figure out, perhaps with some help, if you've been through some tutorials like I listed above; they're generally between 1 character and a few lines of code. Look at our Coding session docs on the wiki to guide you through all the steps from "I want to do something" to "I've done it and submitted it". Again, you might want to set up a pairing session or do it with a friend, or at least be ready to ask on IRC or the forums if you get stuck. We'd rather answer simple questions than have you sit there frustrated not knowing what to do!
  • A good next step, if you want to get more familiar with Rails, are our railsy tasks which give you a good overview of how Rails basically works (models, views, controllers, migrations, etc). But really, what you do next will depend on your interests and what enthuses you!

I have rambled on a LOT here but hopefully there are some concrete steps and some reassurance. We really do like beginners, FWIW, and will do whatever we can to make your experience fun and productive.

I think you can probably apply a lot of this to other projects as well, but I'd also point you at my December meme post for [personal profile] melannen the other day, who asked for advice on contributing to a larger open source project, as most of that will apply to you as well. Be sure to check the comments, where [personal profile] brainwane links to a great description of how to evaluate a project in 5 minutes (this will help you find where the developers hang out, where to read the code, etc), and also a great template for how to introduce yourself to a new project in a really productive way.

Thanks to [personal profile] pozorvlak and Taylor (two other Growstuff devs) who contributed suggestions to this post when I asked for ideas on IRC :)


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April 2015

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