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Coding during Lockdown part the first

Well. You begin to understand why “May you live in interesting times” is a curse! We’re living right now through something that will be taught in school history classes in years or decades to come, assuming the human race survives and the Martians don’t seize the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. Perhaps this virus is the Martians testing out a weapon they know they’re immune to. Perhaps I’ve been listening to War of the Worlds a little too much.

Anyway. For those who don’t know, my day job is as an ICT teacher. We, the geeks, are now in the forefront. We’ve been saying you can do all this stuff remotely for a long time and now, finally, we get to prove it.

This is going to be part 1 in a series, don’t know how many parts there will be, it will depend on how long this goes on, where I’ll point to some resources on the internet that will let you continue to learn how to program a computer whether you’re in Key Stage 2, 3, 4, or 5 here in the UK.

Key Stage 2-3 – Hour of Code

A huge range of coding challenges here. Some are harder than others, some are obviously Scratch with the serial numbers filed off and a hasty paint job slapped on – Star Wars, Minecraft, etc. I’m looking at you here. My favourites on Hour of Code are LightBot, Code Combat, and the HTML stuff on there from Khan Academy. The first two are nice, fun activities that teach some really complicated coding concepts in a great step-by-step way, the third is a fantastic introduction to HTML, the language used to build web pages. What better way to spend your lockdown than creating your own in-house website?

Key Stage 2-3 – Scratch

You can’t possibly have escaped Primary School without encountering Scratch. If you can think of a game, you can make it. Mind you, the same can be said for Little Big Planet on the PS4, Kodu on the X-Box, and a few other platforms. You assemble code like Lego blocks, gradually building up more and more complex games as you go. What I love about Scratch is how instant it is. A couple of clicks and you’re moving a character around a screen, chasing something that’s trying to run away from it.

Key Stage 4-5 – Codecademy

Now this is where things get real. Codecademy has online courses for an absolute ton of programming languages and associated concepts. It will keep you occupied for days. Weeks! And what better time to learn a new language than now when you’re stuck inside with only the internet to keep you company.

Bonus challenge. Flexbox Zombies (and other games to learn new stuff)

Every now and then They (the capital T is important) introduce new features into a language you’ve been writing for years and you need to learn it fast. In HTML, They introduced the FlexBox. And then they created Flexbox Zombies to teach you how the whole thing works while killing zombies at the same time. Or training a frog to reach it’s lily pad, or getting aliens to abduct cows for whatever it is aliens abduct cows for. They’re all just a quick search away.

Many, many, more resources are there on the Internet for you. I’ll take a deep dive into those on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s website for those of you wanting more out of Scratch… Until next time, keep coding. It’ll keep you sane. Or it’ll drive you mad in entirely new and different ways.

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Pierogi / Pyrohy / Piroshki or hand pies to that effect

Back at the Warwick Folk Festival again – fantastic music (Man the Lifeboats, Trials of Cato, Banter, Glory Strokes) and amazingly good food. As per my blog post from last year, some of the stand-out food of the weekend came from The Old Granary Pierogi. Just the most wonderful yeasted-pastry pies/pasty things you can imagine. Wonderful fillings, tasty to the end. So this year, getting home, I figured I’d try to make them myself.

Don’t put them too close together!

Turns out that most every country in the Russia/Ukraine/Poland type region has a variation on this dish. Not only that, but it bears a striking resemblance to Chinese steamed dumplings. So pretty much every culture in the world has developed a Cornish pasty-type thing of some kind. Fillings vary, obviously.

Essentially, though, they boil down to 2 things. The dough and the filling. My culinary adviser and Google-fu expert found me half a dozen different dough recipes, I found a few more, and we distilled them down to this, which makes roughly 20 pierogi:

The Dough

  • 2 tsp dried yeast
  • 60ml warm water
  • 2tsp sugar

Put into the bowl of your Kenwood mixer (other stand mixers are available, we’ve got a K to do the heavy kneading work here). Give it a quick stir and leave it for 5 minutes. Then, in another bowl, mix together…

  • 360ml warm milk
  • 50g melted butter
  • 1tsp salt

Add that to the yeast mixture you first thought of, along with

  • 450g / 1lb strong white flour.

First time through I thought I only had plain flour, so used that, and needed another 150g or thereabouts to get the dough to the right consistency.

Stick the bread hook on the Kenwood, turn it on medium, go away and have a cup of tea. Give it at least 10 minutes. It should be pulling away from the sides of the mixer and forming a nice ball. Add more flour if too sticky, more warm water if too dry. It’s a very soft dough you end up with but it’s lovely to work.

Cover the bowl with a cloth, leave it to double in size – about an hour. Plenty of time to make your filling. Always make more filling that you think you’ll need. Easy to store and use later, harder to stop everything and make up another batch!

The Filling

I went for a classic pork/chorizo/pepper pie filling we’ve made before, knowing that the kids will eat it whether this works or not, and that I can always knock up a batch of rough puff pastry and make a real pie should everything go pear-shaped. You’ll need:

  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • Some cloves of garlic (more than 2, less than 10, you know how much garlic you like), finely chopped.
  • 1 chorizo sausage (~250g), finely cubed (there’s a pattern here)
  • Pork loin, 3-4 steaks, finely cubed
  • Oil, salt, pepper, chilli flakes
  • Fresh parsley

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium/low heat and fry the onions slowly for about 10 minutes. Low and slow is the key here. Sprinkle of salt, grate of pepper. While you’re frying the onions, prep the peppers and garlic.

Add the peppers and garlic, mix it all up, give it another 15 minutes. And while this is all frying, prep the pork and chorizo

Add the pork, the chorizo, the chilli flakes (as much or as little as you want heat-wise) and give it about 5 minutes, enough to colour the pork. Take your filling off the heat.

Ah, this stuff smells fantastic. Simple and gorgeous.

Pierogi, Assemble!

And this is where the story really starts…

Roll the dough out into a long sausage, about 5cm diameter. Divide it up into 20 equal pieces. Grab the first one and a rolling pin, roll it out into a disc about 5mm thick, maybe a bit thinner. Whack a tablespoon of the filling into the middle and close it, pinching and twisting like a Cornish pasty. Put in onto a baking try, grab the next one. Roll, fill, place, repeat. Don’t place them too close together, they’re going to rise…

Basic pinch and twist to seal them. And, FYI, these are set way too close together

Let them stand for about half an hour, heat your oven to 180C, bake them for about half an hour.

The challenge then is to let them cool before eating them.

And a final word of advice. Whatever I’ve written for quantities up there? Double them. You’ll thank me.

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Movie Review – Mortal Engines

Late to the party as usual, finally caught Mortal Engines yesterday. I was not disappointed. Well, I was, but more on that later.

Be warned, there be spoilers ahead.

Peter Jackson has a track record of making the same visual constructions I have. That is to say, the look of something as brought to the big screen by him is just how I imagined it should look. I remember clearly the first time I saw the Ents in the trailer for The Two Towers. “Oh yeah,” thought I as the trailer started. “All very well and good but no-one has done an Ent properly yet.” And then there they were. Large as life and just as I had imagined they would be. Perfect. Jaw -> floor.

And that’s just how it was with London in the trailer for Mortal Engines. And it’s repeated time and again throughout the movie – Airhaven? Spot on. The Wall? Wow. Medusa? Oh, yeah! The cities, villages, the guilds of London, the policemen! The Lord Mayor! All just as if they’d stepped out of the book via my imagination.

But – and this is something I’d not fully appreciated from reading the book – a lot of it is just there to be a backdrop for destruction. In a way, Mortal Engines follows a very similar pattern to The Force Awakens – our heroes arrive at a location, shortly followed by the villains of the piece, and it gets destroyed. Sometimes the villains arrive at a location all by themselves and proceed to destroy it. And it all happens so quickly! Okay so it’s been a while since I read the books, but I’m sure it didn’t clip along at such a fast pace! And I’m sure London wasn’t finished off with such an assault-on-the-Death-Star attack.

The biggest problem for me, though, was Hugo Weaving. Our Mr Valentine, saviour of London and all round good guy. Ish. And Shrike, but I can understand why they did Shrike the way they did. Made him a very grey character, not black/white bad/good. Valentine, though, was more of a pantomime villain than King Phillip of Spain (of Spain) in Bill. Mr Weaving seems to be going through the motions, putting as little effort as possible in to the part. Not sure why, maybe his paycheck from DisMarvelney is grand enough he doesn’t have to bother. To my mind, he displayed a greater depth of emotion and acting calibre as Agent Smith in the first Matrix movie.

I’d give this a solid 7/10, could do better. My eldest son hated the design of the Jenny Hanniver airship but we all want the next book to be filmed. And the next… And the next… Oh, to see Anchorage! Brighton! Stalker Fang…