Year of Beer

Inspired by my friend Martin who did something similar last year, I decided to attempt the goal of trying a new beer every week for the whole year! This is a six-month recap of what I’ve tried so far. I’ve had to stick to what’s available in BC of course, so haven’t had a chance to try many American craft beers. There’s lots of local stuff here though!


  • Red Racer IPA – The first beer I tried is from the local Central City Brewing Company, and won a few awards in 2010. Easily my favourite IPA and one of the best beers of the year so far overall.
  • Red Racer Pale Ale – More bitter than the IPA, not as memorable.
  • Red Racer Lager – Has a bite, almost apple taste, not for me.
  • Tuborg – Unremarkable, inoffensive but forgettable.


  • Bavaria – Don’t remember much about this one, didn’t dislike it but it didn’t stay with me.
  • Chimay Blue – I like strong Belgian beers a lot, and this is one of the classics.
  • Innis & Gunn Highland Cask – An interesting beer finished in whisky casks. VERY sweet, not my thing really despite the whisky connection!
  • Steam Whistle Pilsner – From Ontario, really liked this one, easily available in Vancouver.


  • Red Baron – Very forgettable, not great.
  • Russell Lager – Ditto!
  • Double Decker IPA – From a Victoria brewery, nowhere near as flavourful as the Red Racer.
  • Estrella Inedit – Sold in 750ml bottles for $6, I really like it! It’s closest in flavour to a wheat beer and is great for the summer.


All of these were in an “Ontario Craft Beer” multipack I found at the great Legacy Liquor Store in the Olympic Village.

  • Wellington SPA – Not bad, nothing special.
  • Black Oak Pale Ale – Ditto.
  • King Pilsner – Pretty good.
  • Stone Hammer Pilsner – Didn’t taste like a pilsner, disappointing.


  • Flying Monkey Hoptical Illusion – Wasn’t a fan.
  • Cameron’s Cream Ale – Another forgettable entry.
  • Flying Dog Tire Bite Golden Ale – Not bad but unlike the name, no bite! Also very expensive.
  • Phillips Hefeweizen – I’m not a big fan of the Phillips Brewing Company normally, but this is probably my favourite beer of theirs. It’s a great-tasting wheat ale.


  • Efes Pilsner – This was a really good, authentic-tasting pilsner.
  • Lighthouse Deckhand Saison – Awesome Belgian-style beer by the Victoria-based Lighthouse.
  • Stanley Park Amber Ale – This isn’t normally the kind of beer I like but for some reason I love this one. Lots of flavour yet light and crisp.
  • Stanley Park Pilsner – Not as good as the Amber Ale sadly; there are many better pilsners out there.

  • There’s lots more to come later in the year; I’ve already found some great stuff for July!

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Seared Ahi Tuna with Roasted Yams, Endive Salad and Wasabi Mustard Sauce

When my wife and I visited Hawaii a couple of years ago, one of the foods we fell in love with was poke – the Hawaiian version of sushi in some ways, using raw or barely-cooked fish typically mixed with other ingredients like sweet onion or cabbage and simple soy-based sauces. Ahi tuna (aka yellowfin or Hawaiian tuna) is one of the common fish used for poke, and is deliciously melty when eaten rare or just seared long enough to form a flavourful crust over a rare, red interior. Duke’s restaurant makes amazing ahi tuna poke rolls that I loved, and I wanted to use some elements of that dish in my own first attempt at using ahi. Most of the recipe here though is taken from this post from

Ahi Tuna


300g (10 oz) ahi tuna, cut into two 1-inch-thick steaks
2 medium yams, peeled and roughly sliced
1 endive
1/4 of a sweet onion, finely diced
2 green onions, diced
1 lemon
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
2 tsp wasabi mustard
4 tsp dijon mustard
2 tbls soy sauce
2 tsp water

Make the salad first – I didn’t and had time to regret it as my yams cooled! Peel the outer leaves off the endive and chop off the stalk end, then cut it in half lengthways and chop into half-round pieces. Put the pieces in a bowl, then dice your sweet onion and green onion and mix everything together. Squeeze half a lemon over the salad, add a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and combine.

To cook the yams, start with a pan you can use in the oven – I used a cast-iron pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Use 1-2 tbls of olive oil, and saute the chopped yam at a medium-high heat for 5 minutes or so with a little bit of salt and pepper, turning a few times, then put the whole pan in the oven for another 12 minutes.

Now you can sear the tuna while the yams are in the oven. This part is really easy! You want the steaks to be an inch or so thick, so cut them up if necessary. Season the fish with some salt and pepper on both sides, and heat up some oil in a pan at a medium-hot heat. Drop in some butter (I used 2 tbls or so for two pieces of fish), let it melt and then drop in the tuna. You want to sear the top and bottom for about a minute, and I liked to sear each edge for a few seconds too just for show.

Finally, the wasabi mustard sauce. I had the hardest time finding “wasabi mustard” – I did finally find some by Inglehoffer in Urban Fare here in Vancouver but I’m pretty sure horseradish mustard is a perfectly fine substitute. Combine the wasabi mustard, mustard, soy sauce and water in a bowl and mix until smooth and even. I found that the quantities above made about twice as much as we needed so I’ll halve the recipe next time.

For a first try everything came out great and the tuna was delicious with the sauce. In terms of cost, the tuna was $18 and everything else around $6, so that makes it about $12 per person – not really cheap but very nice to treat yourself at the weekend!

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Rallying on PC, the State of the Art, Part 2: Richard Burns Rally

A triplescreen view of the start of a stage, showing the stretched HUD that occurs at this extreme widescreen resolution.

So yes, this article is titled “The State of the Art” and yes, Richard Burns Rally (hereafter RBR) was released in 2004, making it almost 7 years old at the time of writing. However in many ways it IS the state of the art when it comes to realistic handling, physics, and stage modelling.

Produced by Warthog in Sweden and endorsed by the brilliant British WRC champion Richard Burns, RBR was a vaguely promising-looking title from a mostly unknown studio that surprisingly turned out to be the king of rally sims. Not only did it come out of nowhere, the series was sadly destined to return there due to the tragic and untimely death of Burns in 2005, and the bankruptcy of the developer. So unlike the venerable Colin McRae Rally series, it’s a single, standalone game.

Most game series (and this is especially true of sports games) need to iterate on their base content a few times to really fulfill the promise of their source material. However, in the single game they produced Warthog Sweden managed to include dozens of unique stages, great replays, a championship mode and best of all, an interactive rally school that teaches you the individual maneuvers you need to drive a rally stage and can grade you on your performance. Stages are modeled on real-world events and can be miles long, far outclassing the rally content found in the Dirt series. All that content coupled with the superb handling model resulted in an exceptional sim… in 2004 anyway.

Taking the jump at the famous Mineshaft in Australia, driving Petter Solberg's WRC Subaru from 2009.

In the fast-improving world of PC hardware, a game typically has a very short life. Upgraded CPUs, video hardware, rendering APIs, and even input peripherals limit the effective lifespan. It’s definitely something of an anomaly that a 7 year old game still has an active community, but happily RBR’s fanbase has managed to update the sim to keep it relevant and usable.

The single best mod for RBR is RSRBR 2011. It’s a one-stop solution which adds dozens of new cars and stages, including modern WRC vehicles organized by season and the classic 80’s hugely-overpowered Group B cars. RSRBR even adds online play. RBR can now even support a multi-monitor setup using a program called Camhack (included in RSRBR) which can edit all aspects of the in-game camera views. It’s not perfect – HUD elements are stretched and the game’s UI is very dated – but the game is genuinely playable even when compared to modern sims. A lot of the current graphical polish is missing of course but in every other respect, RBR outclasses all other modern rally sims and is simply the most realistic pure rallying game available.

The game still looks pretty good!

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Rallying on PC, The State of the Art, Part 1: Dirt 2 vs Dirt 3

I’ve always loved the sport of rally racing. It’s an incredible spectator sport; unlike normal circuit racing, almost literally every single second of rallying coverage is exciting to watch, as the drivers thread their way along tight stages at unbelievable speeds. Unfortunately in Canada there’s no way to watch WRC (the World Rally Championship, the pinnacle of rallying in the same way that F1 is the pinnacle of open-wheel racing) in any form. So lately, after building a new gaming PC, I’ve been turning to driving sims to get my fix.

Dirt 2

The first rally game I jumped into was Dirt 2. I’d bought it in a Steam sale some time ago and hadn’t tried it out, but managed to get bored enough one weekend to give it a go. And happily, I was blown away! Somehow I’d managed to miss the hype when it was first released, and had no idea of the sheer quality and depth the game has. I love discovering unexpected gems like this.

The physics are great and crashes can be spectacular!

Despite being a couple of years old now, D2 looks phenomenal, and works great on a 3-screen Eyefinity setup. The audio is also amazing, with a good base engine note and details like gravel hitting the underside of the car, suspension squeaks and rattles, turbo blow-off etc. But the best thing about the game is the steering wheel support; the force-feedback is the best I’ve experienced in any game or sim so far, and does an amazing job of communicating the road surface and the amount of grip. It needs to be experienced, writing about it can’t do it any justice so if you have a wheel I highly encourage you to try the game out. As you’ll see in the next part of this series when I cover Richard Burns Rally, Dirt 2 is not really a sim, and the handling is not “realistic” – but that doesn’t mean it’s not satisfying and hugely fun.

The best-looking Pontiac Solstice ever.

It’s not perfect, of course. In addition to basic rallying and trailblazer (hill-climb style cars with no pace notes), Dirt 2 has rallycross (basically circuit racing in rally cars with 7 opponents) and truck events. The rallycross is less successful than the pure rally gameplay – I’ve had to restart many races due to unavoidable hits by the AI – and the truck racing is a big point of contention in the fanbase, with many people complaining about its inclusion and the amount of it in the career mode. I agree with the latter complaint and feel there’s just too much landrush, the truck version of rallycross, especially. In addition, there’s a pretty good variety of locations across the game but there’s a lot of repetition in the actual track layouts, as typically there’s only one track per location that’s re-used in sections for different events. Finally, a big wishlist item for a sequel would have to include a more feature-rich replay mode – the camera selection is superb but you can’t save or edit replays, and there’s no photo mode which is a real shame as the cars and environments look great.

The environments looks great in 3-screen Eyefinity - click for a bigger view.

Dirt 3

Dirt 3 was released just a few weeks ago and I was very hopeful – here was a chance to really improve the core gameplay and fix the problems with Dirt 2. Unfortunately, it’s a disappointing missed opportunity.

Let’s talk about the improvements first. The addition of weather and night driving is very welcome, and adds variety to the stages. The incremental improvements in the rendering, most noticeably better post-processing (motion blur and lighting effects especially) look really good, though they do hit the framerate a bit. And the new environments take advantage of the new capabilities (especially snow in Norway) and offer some nice diversity.

More beautiful environments in Dirt 3.

And so onto the negatives. First of all, the major new feature that Codemasters have been pushing, and what a lot of the game is actually built around – gymkhana. Oh boy. If you thought the truck racing was controversial, you haven’t seen a forum thread on gymkhana go nuclear. Nothing to do with posh girls and horses, gymkhana refers to Ken Block’s “auto playground” videos, where he flings a car around obstacles with ridiculous precision. As a 3-minute Youtube video, and no doubt as a spectator event, it’s spectacular. Actually driving it… I’m not convinced. It requires skill that most people simply don’t possess, and while you could make that argument for racing too, it’s fairly easy for a game to make you FEEL like a good racer, by simply lowering the challenge provided by AI or time limits, or having traction control-style driving aids enabled. With gymkhana, if you have trouble power-sliding a car in smoky circles inside a concrete box, it’s not really possible to make that any easier. There’s a “trick steer” driving aid provided, but with a wheel I couldn’t tell much difference with it activated and it didn’t make my life any easier as far as I could tell. In addition, the tutorials for specific tricks are short and uninteractive and really don’t help you to learn how to perform the more difficult ones.

Unfortunately there’s a good amount of freeform gymkhana in the career, and worse, there are “gymkhana attack” events. These give you tricks to perform in a set order with a strict time limit, and I found them incredibly annoying. They kill the flow of the game far worse than the truck events did in Dirt 2. There are also despicable “drift” challenges that are similarly horrible and feel out of place. Drifting and rallying are two different disciplines; people interested in one are by no means likely to care about the other.

So what about the rallying itself? Well, the good news is that the superb control has been retained, and even improved a bit, with more of the car’s weight felt in sharp turns. Some of the tracks are just awesome fun, especially the snowy Norwegian trails. However, the stages are all very short, even more so than in the first game it seems, with the longest being a few minutes long and the normal length being around 90 seconds or so. And the amount of rally content in the game is not as great as advertised – Codemasters were saying 60% of the game would be rally/trailblazer, and it honestly only feels like half that to me. I should go count the events to back that up but that’s my gut feeling after playing the first half of the career.

Both Dirt 2 and Dirt 3 have superb multiscreen support. This is the hood cam view in 3-screen Eyefinity. Note the HUD is drawn on the center screen, where it should be. Click for more detail.

The main announcer for the game is now a super-annoying Californian-sounding guy that for some reason insists on calling you by Spanish/Mexican male-bonding terms of endearment (amigo, muchacho, compadre…). He’s absolutely obnoxious and seems targeted directly at Mountain Dew commercial audiences. It reads like an attempt to make rallying “extreme” and basically sex it up to get people with more hormones than brain cells interested, but it just ends up insulting everyone involved and honestly lowering the tone of the whole game.

And finally, no improvement has been made to the replay mode at all. The single new feature we got was an “upload to Youtube” option, which allows you to just take a 30-second slice of the replay and upload it (and incidentally provides the hyperactive announcer with some of his most annoying lines). No editing, no photomode – extremely disappointing.

So, while the actual rally driving in Dirt 3 is probably the best yet, the game itself is a step backwards and I’d say that Dirt 2 is probably the better product. It’s not too expensive on Steam, and in fact is likely to be featured in the (hopefully) upcoming summer sale – so jump in and see why I like it so much!

I agree :)

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2011 Victoria Whisky Festival

Lots of glasses at the Compass Box Tasting & Blending Course

I first found out about the Victoria Whisky Festival, as is the usual way of things, right after the ticket sales had concluded. I was at a Hopscotch event (the Vancouver whisky festival) when the host mentioned that “the biggest event in Canada is of course in Victoria, but it’s sold out now”. Simultaneously excited and horrified, I emailed the contact address on the website and waited in hope.

I did eventually get in touch with someone, of course, otherwise this would be a short and pointless piece (and thereby differing not at all from my usual output). After a month I got a blessed email from Lawrence, the organizer, telling me that there had been a small number of cancellations, and would I like a couple of tickets? I had to pay a bit more than I’d have liked as the tickets were all packages, but that meant I had an excuse to try more whisky so it wasn’t all bad.

This year the festival was held from January 21st – 23rd. I got the opportunity to try a lot of new and exciting products and attend some great seminars. Here’s how it went. By and large I won’t get into tasting notes of the many whiskies I tried, partly because there were just so many and also because I don’t really believe in the usefulness of a lot of the notes you read – taste is so subjective. I’m no professional and will leave that to people like Jim Murray and the various distillery ambassadors who actually know what they’re talking about!

Compass Box's John Fraser

The Grand Compass Box Tasting and Blending Course

The first event on Friday night was one of the best. John Glaser of Compass Box took us through his company’s products, and then we had the chance to blend our own whisky using up to five ingredients (all cask-strength, and mostly single malts from name-brand distilleries). It was the first time I’d tried any Compass Box stuff, and found that I really liked the Spice Tree. John explained the difference between a “true” blended whisky and a vatted blend (blended uses some grain whisky), and while I didn’t choose to use any grain whisky most people seemed to do so. My blend seemed to turn out well from a sip, but on John’s advice I’m letting it sit for a couple of weeks before trying any more, to let the different flavours blend.

The Morrison-Bowmore Distillery Masterclass

Onto the Saturday; I was a bit worried about this event, as the start time was 11.15am! I found that as I got into it though, the earliness of the hour didn’t bother me. Jamie MacKenzie is really entertaining to listen to and the whiskies were really good. This was another distillery I wasn’t too familiar with and I was happy to find out that I really enjoyed all of their samples, especially the Glen Garioch (pronounced “Glen Geery”) 12 year and the Bowmore 15 year. I’ll probably pick up a bottle of both at some point. Later that night at the Consumer Tasting, Jamie had a couple of special bottles literally under the table for masterclass attendees to try; a Bowmore Tempest, and a quite rare Bowmore Maltmen’s Edition which you can only buy directly from the distillery. The Maltmen’s Edition is finished in sherry casks and was particularly good. The class and the bonus drams at the Consumer Tasting were well worth it!

The selection for the Morrision-Bowmore masterclass

Distilled whisky, as it appears before it's finished in casks

The Macallan Distillery Masterclass

J. Wheelock took us through Macallan’s lineup in this educational session. Now, amongst my friends I’ve been quite vocal in the past for my dislike of Macallan’s Fine Oak 10 year; I haven’t changed my mind on that at all. To me it’s bland, with little or no complexity. Whisky is so subjective though, so I’m sure many others have a different opinion. Anyway, the lineup gets much more interesting very quickly! The 18 year is my favourite by far but as it costs $250 for 750ml in BC I’ve never bought myself a bottle, so it was great to get reacquainted with it here. We also tried the 21 year old, the cask strength and like Bowmore, a special treat in the form of a duty-free-only bottle. I managed to leave my notes behind after the session, but I think it was a Whisky Maker’s Edition. I enjoyed it a lot. And J, I’m one of the people who LIKES to try stuff you can’t buy, so please keep bringing it along!

The Amrut Distillery Masterclass

From their appearances at the Hopscotch festival, I knew that I liked what I’d tried of Amrut, and couldn’t wait to experience more. I wasn’t disappointed! Seven top-class whiskies were shown off by Jonathan Bray in a nicely laid-back and friendly presentation. I seriously liked everything we tried in this session, though I admit to feeling a bit of whisky fatigue by this point (a rarely-diagnosed condition). The standouts were the Fusion, the cask strength single malt and the cask strength peated malt, but all of it was great. Like a lot of people, I imagine, as I first got interested in whisky I was very much snobbishly dismissive of anything non-Scottish, but Amrut is one of the distilleries that showed me that great talent, process, passion and ingredients can be found anywhere that people put their mind to it. A great presentation and great, great whisky.

The Amrut collection at the masterclass

The 40 Creek Canadian Whisky Masterclass

Just a quick mention for the Forty Creek masterclass – I didn’t actually attend this as it clashed with Amrut, though Louise did. She said it was great; fantastic whisky and it was inspiring to hear of John Hall’s successes. This was brought home for me at the Consumer Tasting later when I tried the Barrel Select whisky – it’s amazing. I got the chance to chat with John about how it’s made and it was a real highlight of the festival. I liked it so much that when I got home I decided to buy a bottle, and was stunned to find out it’s only $25 here in BC! It’s a STEAL at that price. I encourage everyone to try it – it has a phenomenal smoothness, reminding me even in some ways of a good Irish Cream.

The Consumer Tasting

After attempting to line our stomachs with some dinner in the hotel restaurant, we headed for the main event.

I liked the setup here; it costs quite a bit more than the Hopscotch Grand Tasting, but it’s larger and there’s no need to pay individually for the samples like you have to in Vancouver. I guess in theory you could camp out all night by expensive whiskies and just drink those, but then you’d rob yourself of the amazing quality that you can find everywhere you turn.

The list of whiskies I tried over the available three hours is embarrassingly long:

The under-the-table Bowmore Maltmen's Edition, available only from the distiller

  • Johnnie Walker Gold (Blue is so passe)
  • Tullibardine Sherry finish
  • Highland Park 18 (a perennial favourite)
  • Ardbeg Uigedail (this is AMAZING. I love all Ardbeg’s stuff)
  • Bowmore Tempest
  • Bowmore Maltmen’s Edition
  • Nikka 12 (my first Japanese whisky. I liked it but found nothing in the flavour to make it essentially Japanese)
  • Nikka “from the barrel” (better than the 12, cask strength)
  • Springbank Hazelburn
  • Springbank 15
  • Sullivan’s Cove cask strength
  • Forty Creek Barrel Reserve (amazingly good. My find of the festival as I mention above)
  • Forty Creek Confederation Oak
  • Finlaggan
  • Gentleman Jack
  • Balvenie Signature

There were a LOT more that I didn’t get to try; the long, indulgent day had taken its toll and I was wiped out.

A few more notes on the Consumer Tasting…

The rooms were PACKED with people, more so than Hopscotch. A mixed blessing obviously; you want a large crowd but not too large. I imagine Hopscotch avoids this by holding the event over multiple nights and selling slightly fewer tickets for each individual night.

The food that was supplied was great; in fact had we known it was going to be so good we probably wouldn’t have bothered with dinner.

I kind of wish some of the masterclasses had taken place during the tasting, maybe with the hours extended from 6pm-10pm so as not to lose any time in the main room. They make for a nice break during Hopscotch; the Vancouver seminars are much more informal and low-key though.

And on that note, packing the lion’s share of the festival into one day makes it a little bit of an endurance test if you do more than a couple of classes. It’d be great if there were more to do on the Friday, but I understand most people use that day to arrive, and leave on the Sunday. Not an easy situation for the organizers, I’m sure. It’s a good problem to have though! The sheer number of classes shows how much support the festival has, and it’s easy to see why; it’s amazingly well-run and well-attended.

So overall a fantastic time. I know for the 2012 festival I’ll be sitting refreshing my web browser as I wait for the ticket information to go up! Thanks to Lawrence for being so good as to reply to my seemingly-hopeless email and giving me the chance to attend this world-class event. It was truly a memorable experience!

A very busy Consumer Tasting session

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Chili v1.2: Triple-B

My chili recipe is evolving. v1.1 involved a different spice mix, and v1.2 brings us the Triple-B – beef, beer and bacon! I’m also using cubed sirloin instead of ground beef, just to see which I prefer.


New ingredients:

750g sirloin steak
9 or 10 rashers of bacon
2 tbl chili powder
1 tbl ancho chili powder
1 tbl paprika
1.5 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
0.5 tsp ground oregano

The rest of the ingredients are the same as the original recipe:

Large yellow onion, roughly diced
28oz tin of diced tomatoes
Small tin tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
19oz tin of red kidney beans, drained and washed
1 cup sliced pickled jalapenos
1 green pepper, cored/seeded and diced

Cut up the steak(s) into cubes around 1.5cm on a side. Take the bacon and cut it crosswise into 1cm wide slices. Heat a skillet sprayed with cooking spray over a medium-high heat, and drop in the bacon when it’s hot. I cooked the bacon for just a couple of minutes, long enough to render out some fat and have it start to crisp up. Remove the bacon and place on kitchen towels to drain, then drop in the beef to brown it in the bacon fat (I had to do it in a couple of batches). Remove and drain as you did the bacon. Now add the onion and saute it in the beef/bacon fat with a bit of salt and pepper. Don’t brown it but cook until it goes transparent, then remove and drain.

Then chuck everything except the green pepper in the crockpot and cook on low for 7 hours. Put the pepper in at the end and cook for another 15-30 minutes on high. I sometimes do this last step uncovered to lose some moisture if it’s too saucy. Warning: house will fill with amazing smell about 3 hours before you can eat. Slow cookers are so cruel.

It came out pretty great. Turns out I prefer using steak to ground beef. It’s about 50% more expensive and more hassle to prepare. Typical!

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Photography 2010 Recap

Westcoast Wheel

In terms of photography I had a great year, probably my favourite year of photography to date. It started off with a picturesque New Year’s Day snowfall shoot while I was in the UK. The Olympics followed along soon after, with the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities it provided. Later in the year I was featured on the Flickr blog for one of my Abbotsford Airshow shots. The Canadian F1GP was amazing and Oktoberfest in Leavenworth was surprisingly photogenic! In addition to the travel, I finally picked up an external flash and started experimenting.

It’s interesting looking at Flickr stats. Some of my favourite shots have the lowest number of views. The Lancaster bomber shot that was on the Flickr blog is interesting for its subject matter, but to me it’s one of the less visually interesting pictures in that set. My favourite picture of the year only has 78 views, and one of my other favourites only 28! And despite some pretty cool (in my opinion) F1 action shots, one of the most popular pictures in that set is of the grid girls :)

Grid Girls

'One of Dave's best shots of the year!' - The public

Sadly I expect 2011 to be a lot more subdued. I don’t have much spare cash for travelling, and I’m going to be extremely busy at work for much of the year. I’ll have to keep it up as best I can in the time I have, and try to come up with ideas that I can act on locally, without requiring travel or an event to provide me with interesting subjects.

So happy New Year everyone, and I’ll leave you with my favourite picture I took during 2010. It’s not perfect – I could edit more detail into the flames from some bracketed shots – but I like it best and that’s the only criteria I’m judging on :)

Olympic Torch

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Top 10 Games of 2010

This is the first in a series of posts of 2010 top 10 lists that nobody will care about except me, and I’m fine with that :)

For this list, I’ve decided to be slightly controversial and include games that weren’t necessarily released in 2010, but that I’ve played for the first time this year. There were a couple of standout games that I didn’t want to miss discussing and, as we already established, nobody cares anyway.

In the traditional reverse order then…

Alan Wake
10 – Alan Wake
Even though I was hoping for much more, this still turned out to be an interesting, great-looking and fun albeit linear action game. The environments and atmosphere were superb, and the flashlight mechanics were at least an attempt to add something new.

9 – Civ V
I’ve seen some strong criticism of Civ V recently, but I enjoyed it more than Civ IV. It has some nice new mechanics and a great interface. On the downside, the AI is a bit ropy. I didn’t try the new patch yet though, which claims to enhance this and many other areas of the game.

8 – God of War 3
An amazing technical achievement and just a great, strong third-person action game. More please!

7 – Gran Turismo 5
Another achievement but wow do I have a love/hate relationship with GT5. The menus and career modes are awful, but the actual driving is sublime. Definitely the best driving sim on a console.

6 – Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain surprised me with its ability to tell a genuinely good story with meaningful branches depending on how you played it (almost everyone I know who played it took a much different path to the one I experienced, which made the post-game conversations really fun).

5 – Minecraft
Everyone’s heard of Minecraft now and deservedly so. Notch just did an amazing job with his sandbox world generator and he deserves all the success he’s had, and the success no doubt still to come.

4 – Batman: Arkham Asylum
The first 2009 game of the list! I didn’t get around to playing it until the start of the year though, but it’s brilliant. Amazing narrative and combat.

3 – Fallout: New Vegas
I almost didn’t play this, thinking that it sounded a lot like an extension rather than a sequel. In a way, I still think that’s sort of the case but that doesn’t change how great it is. A huge map with tons of interesting locations to discover and some excellent writing (though I think some of the best Fallout 3 quests still eclipse the best quests in F:NV). Luckily I started playing after the first patch which GREATLY improved stability, so I think I only had one crash in about 50 hours of gameplay.

2 – Assassin’s Creed 2
I feel like I’m cheating slightly putting this as my #2 as I’m still playing through it, not to mention the fact it’s another 2009 release, but what a game! It gets my vote for being the best-improved sequel in recent memory. I actively disliked AC1, but somehow Ubi managed to fix basically all the issues I had with it and AC2 is just so fun. They even throw in a sort of city-improvement-lite metagame on top of the exploration and combat. Great stuff and I can’t wait to move onto Brotherhood.

1 – Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption
As good as AC2 and the other games are, for me this year RDR is in a class of its own. It probably helps that I love spaghetti western movies and music, but as a cohesive experience this game is on another level. Every part is superb and complements the whole, from the character design, wonderful dialogue, music, and especially the landscape which is almost a character in itself. The technical achievement to bring all these things together in an open world, and not have any streaming or AI issues show it up is notable (compare with Fallout!). And without spoiling the ending, the depth and the commitment to provide a proper conclusion to an epic experience highlight one of the biggest differences between Rockstar and everyone else right now. We’ve all heard the horror stories around RDR’s development and yet despite the circumstances in which it was created, the game has emerged as a nearly perfect classic. Congratulations to everyone who almost died making it!

Honorable mentions:
Mass Effect 2, Amnesia: Dark Descent, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, No More Heroes 2, Limbo

Games I didn’t get around to playing, some of which will no doubt end up on my 2011 list:
Bayonetta, Halo Reach, Mafia 2, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Starcraft 2, Darksiders, Back to the Future (Telltale)

Most-anticipated games of 2011:
Dead Space 2, Journey, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Forza 4, Diablo 3, Portal 2, Crysis 2, Rage, Deus Ex 3 (wow… that’s a sequel-heavy list)


Chili v1.0

Wow, it’s been a long time since I updated. I have an excuse though… I made a post almost a couple of years ago when friends of mine were laid off from work but I avoided the cut; well, it happened again, on a much bigger scale, and this time I wasn’t so lucky. Still, after a tense few weeks I found another job, and thankfully things are beginning to get back to normal. So without further ado, let’s talk about food :)

I bought a slow cooker a few weeks ago, and I’ve only used it a couple of times so far. Last week we made ginger beef (recipe here, though you might need to make an account to see it) and this week I wanted to try making some chili.

I spent ages looking at recipes, and eventually decided to make my own, pulling in all the stuff I liked from the various different methods. For a first try it worked really well! So here’s what I did. Texas-style chili purists, I’ll warn you ahead of time that it includes things like ground beef, tomatoes and kidney beans, so prepare your hate emails now!

Ingredients, for 4-6 servings:

  • 750g lean ground beef
  • A large onion, chopped
  • 28oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 8oz can of tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2-cup of chopped pickled jalapenos (Canadians, I used a brand called Scarpone’s, Safeway sells it in jars alongside the pickles etc)
  • 19oz can of red kidney beans, drained and washed
  • 1/4-cup chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt x 2 (1/2 tsp in the chili, 1/2 tsp when sauteeing the onion)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper x 2 (ditto)
  • 2 tbl olive oil
  • 1 cup beer (I used Phillip’s Phoenix gold lager, it’s darker and richer than most lagers and I had a bottle sitting around in the fridge)


Brown the beef in a large pan or skillet using the oil, on a medium heat it takes around 10 minutes. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and place on a plate covered in a triple layer of kitchen paper to drain. Using the same oil, saute the chopped onion with some salt and pepper for 5 minutes or so until it’s soft. Remove and drain like you did the beef.

(Note that preparing all the ingredients and cooking the beef and onion took me a bit over an hour altogether. I’d only anticipated half an hour so if you’re no faster than me, factor that in!)

Put everything in the crockpot and stir it all up. My 5-quart pot was roughly half-filled using the quantities in the ingredients list above. Cover and cook on a low heat for 6-8 hours; I did it for 6h 30m and it was very good, but with maybe a little too much liquid left. Cooking longer would probably take care of that, and you could even cook it uncovered on high for the last 15 minutes to allow some moisture to escape.

Despite the jalapenos and the large amount of chili powder, I didn’t think it was too spicy. Louise thought it was hot enough and wouldn’t want it any hotter, but I would :) I’d be tempted to chop up a fresh habanero and stir that in too if it was just me eating it.

Serve with grated cheddar on top and some crusty bread. When I was a kid we always had jacket potatoes with this, that’d work well too.

This was damn tasty, and luckily we have enough leftovers for a day or two. If you have any suggestions for modifications, let me know! Must go, have to watch the HBO Game of Thrones documentary over and over!

Related post: Chili v1.2 – Triple B

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Netflix: Hidden Gems

After having to sit on the sidelines and enviously watch my friends in the USA enjoy their service for the last few years, Netflix’s online streaming finally launched in Canada last week. There’s a lot of grumbling about their limited selection, which is true when you compare it to the USA’s catalog, but in isolation I think it’s still very worthwhile. The documentary section in particular is extremely impressive. As long as you aren’t expecting first-run or new-to-DVD movies, I suspect most people can easily find the four hours or so of content per month that makes it worth your money.

Here are a list of some of my favourites that you might not be aware of. These aren’t the big obvious selections that everyone will pick up on, like Mad Men or the newer movies, but hopefully things you might not have heard of before.

Nova: Battle of the X-Planes

One of my favourite documentaries ever, this film is an inside look at the competition between Boeing and Lockheed to design the Joint Strike Fighter. The crew had full access to both teams during the development process and the finished documentary is gripping, unique and extremely cool!

The Day of the Triffids

This is the 1980’s BBC version of John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, featuring some nasty plants (as well as man’s inhumanity to man, the benefits of high-calibre weapons and oddly, seawater). It may look a little dated now but it’s brilliantly written and acted and has some really creepy scenes.

Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth

This is a fantastic documentary about a fascinating man. Ellison is one of the most celebrated sci-fi authors in history, and happens to be one of the most angry and irascible persons you’ll ever meet. Despite his near-constant fury he comes across as quite lovable in this film. I’m sure he’d hate to hear himself described like that.


An absolutely amazing movie from the hit-and-miss, incredibly prolific Takashi Miike. I don’t even want to tell you what genre it’s in. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read anything about it and just watch it, but not with the kids!

For All Mankind

A beautiful documentary covering the Apollo space program. It’s not really like any other documentary on the subject, concentrating almost entirely on the images shot by the astronauts themselves. It’s powerful and visually stunning.


Yeah, the movie about the talking pig. I know, I know, you’re far too manly to watch this. I had to be almost forced into seeing it by a friend over a decade ago, and it remains one of my favourite finds. It’s amazingly funny and also, if you can stand it, heartwarming. And if that’s still not convincing enough for you macho types, it was directed by George Miller, who also gave us Mad Max!

Step Into Liquid

Visually mindblowing surfing documentary. Whether you’re into surfing or not (and I’m not), this is worth your time.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Forget the movie of a few years ago, this is the original BBC TV production, scripted by Douglas Adams himself. Hilarious, with an iconic presentation of the eponymous book. Unmissable.

So there you go. Plenty to watch, in case the new TV season didn’t have enough for you already. I’ve already found a lot more good stuff available, so I’ll do another one of these posts at some point.

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