Stuck for something for dinner and late home from work this evening I picked up a complete bargain at Iceland: £1 for a pack of two Chicago Town "The Deep Dish" pepperoni pizzas. I've always liked these and at this price you can't go wrong.

I liked these particular instances even if I slightly overcooked them, but my enjoyment was tempered by the arguably false advertising on the box, which boasts about how the pizza is "topped to overflowing with tomato sauce, pepperoni slices and so much melt-in-the-mouth mozzarella cheese, that it takes a deep dish base to hold all the topping in". The emphasis is theirs. They even illustrate the point with a photo demonstrating the approximately 15:85 base:topping ratio, complete with oodles of that tempting cheese. Here's their photo on the left, and mine on the right.

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Now I'm no investigative journalist but it seems like the 15:85 ratio has been reversed for the actual pizza on my plate compared to the picture on the box. And the near centimetre deep layer of mozzarella? Missing in action. Don't get me wrong – still a bargain for £1 and damn tasty with it – but they've stuck their neck on the block here and should reap the scorn deserved.

Update: I sent an email to the customer service department who have responded to ensure me that the batch in question did not record any anomalies, so my disappointingly topped pizza must have been a one-off. That must go for all four pizzas in the two boxes I bought! They've sent me a voucher for a free pizza to ease the pain. Fair enough, but this is clearly a stock response and I suspect they know full well it wasn't a one off and that their pizzas are always a long way from meeting the promise on the box. Cynical, moi? Can I be bothered to continue to kick up a fuss? I don't think that big corporations should be able to get away with this sort of blatant deceit and disrespect for the customer, but it's just not worth it.
Many people don't know about Apache Bench, even though it may be installed on their system. For instance it's installed on Mac OS X by default. It's a very simple command line utility to perform basic stress/performance testing of websites. It can request a given URL repeatedly, then report back statistics. I generally use it in this form:

> ab -n 100 -c 4

Dissecting that command:
  • ab is the Apache Bench executable itself (found in /usr/sbin on my machine)
  • -n 100 tells it to send the request 100 times 
  • -c 4 tells it to use 4 concurrent threads to do so
  • finally we have the URL itself. 

Even though it's simple, there are some important gotchas worth knowing about:

  • Remember to put the URL in single quotes if it contains characters that would otherwise be interpreted by the shell. This is often the case for any URL with a query string, as the & characters will mess things up otherwise. 
  • If using a base URL for a site (just host name), you must use a trailing slash. doesn't work, but does work. 
  • Quite often you may see in the statistics "Failed requests: 5" or similar, followed by a list of the types of failure: "(Connect: 0, Receive: 0, Length: 5, Exceptions: 0)". If the only type of failure that actually occurred is 'Length' then don't be alarmed. This simply means that each request (for the same URL) returned a different length response, which ab regards as suspicious. However it's perfectly normal for dynamic webpages, especially if they include the time or other very dynamic data on the page. 
  • I find on one of my machines that it just doesn't like localhost as a hostname, so I have to use instead. I have no idea why, as localhost works fine in other contexts on the same machine. 
Over the last ten years or so I've increasingly been drawn to conclude that 1973 was a cracking year for music, and much underrated by the establishment. Here's why (and of course many of these artists released whole albums full of their best works):
  • David Bowie – Life on Mars
  • Elton John – Crocodile Rock
  • Roberta Flack - Killing Me Softly With His Song
  • Carly Simon - You're So Vain
  • Bobby "Boris" Pickett – Monster Mash 
  • Wings – Live and Let Die 
  • Stevie Wonder – Superstition
  • Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side
  • Paul Simon – Kodachrome 
  • Eric Weissburg & Steve Mandell - Duelling Banjos
  • Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running 
  • Stealers Wheel – Stuck In The Middle With You
  • Money – Pink Floyd
  • Alice Cooper – No More Mr Nice Guy 
  • The Who - Quadrophenia

It seems that I'm not the only one to think this mind you, with plenty of posts in forums out there arguing the same point. 1977 and 1971 are also very popular years from the 1970s. I should point out that I wasn't even born in those years, so I'm not simply harking back to my formative years! 

26. April 2009 · 2 comments · Categories: Travel
Saw this poster at St Pancras. Oh the irony! Nuff said.

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To complete today's beer review triumvirate, a fantastic find from the supermarket shelves (Sainsburys I think, but I'm not completely sure). This is a near perfect bottle of loveliness, beautifully balanced with just a hint of sweet maple coming through to make it special. I can see why it won a silver medal in an international competition a couple of years back. I'm annoyed that I only seem to have bought one bottle. I will seek out more, to check that it really is as great as I thought the first time round.

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This is an odd one – it promises to be a "premium brown ale" and initially it doesn't disappoint, tasting like the classic Newcastle Brown Ale, but more so. However I found that as I drained the glass it became a bit too much, with the main bitter note being too far to the fore. I didn't feel like I wanted another one.

An unusual – "beer still in the bottle" picture for you, to break with my usual habit.

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This is a good honest ale with a long history. In a can it's cheap but tasty, and certainly you get more from it than most of its competitors. It really is a "premium ale" as it says on the can, but at 4.5% it's not going to knock your block off, which is fine by me. Increasingly I find myself happy to pay a bit more for this over something simpler and weaker like Greene King IPA. It's just so much more satisfying.

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I'm getting better at keeping those supermarket pots of fresh herbs alive and well on the kitchen windowsill. The trick is to repot them into a larger pot with some half-decent compost. However I always seem to be undone by aphid infestations. I have a lovely bushy basil plant right now but it's literally crawling with aphids so I suppose it'll have to go in the bin. Either that or I accept that the basil on my pasta will be contributing protein as well as leafy goodness.

At least it makes an interesting subject for some macro photography! So it's out with the Sigma 105mm macro lens and my tripod and away we go. I have a couple of tips to impart, with photographic evidence to back them up.

When you're doing macro work the tiniest movement can ruin the photo. And I do mean the tiniest amount of movement. On the left is a photo taken by simply pressing the shutter button, which has come out disappointingly blurry, whereas on the right I've used both a 5 second self-timer and a delayed exposure: a feature of the Nikon D300 where the mirror goes up then it waits another second or so before actually taking the picture. Note that both these shots are taken with a sturdy tripod and the same exposure settings (1/10s, f11).

The picture on the right is clearly sharper. This is because the vibrations from my hand pressing the shutter button and from the reflex mirror flipping out of the way have had time to die down before the picture was taken. This is a crop at 50%, so there's even more detail to be had at 100%. A good way to appreciate the ever-present vibrations, even when working on a tripod, is to turn on Live View on the camera and zoom right in to 100%. You can see the jitter due to vibration right on the LCD screen of your DSLR, and just how much it is affected by simply touching the camera or tripod.
Here's another shot, with an evil looking beastie in the middle and a cute little one at the bottom.
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[Incidentally, this is clearly the best title for a blog post I've ever come up with.]
Finally, to finish off my posts on Rye Meads nature reserve, the butterflies. It was a beautiful spring day and there were a fair few about, mostly the species shown below. I took all of these photos with an 80-400mm zoom lens at the 400mm end which can only focus about 6.5 feet away as a minimum. I think they've come out remarkably well, and this approach has the advantage of not having to get really close to the butterfly, scaring it off as you might with a macro lens. Maybe I've stumbled into a brilliant new butterfly photography technique! Remember that as always you can click on any photo for a larger version.

This is a Comma butterfly, notable for the shapely edge to its wing. It's known as a Comma because of the small comma shaped mark on the underside of the wing, but you'll rarely see that.

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Next, an Orange-tip butterfly on a Dandelion. The name is fairly self-explanatory. For the plant as well frankly.
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And finally a Peacock butterfly, with the classic eyes on the wings to scare off predators. I somehow overcame my terror and got close enough to photograph it with as much detail as a 400mm lens at 6.5 feet will allow!
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I saw this and smiled. What a delightfully simple design for a clock with easy daylight savings adjustment. Only one downside – accidentally knock it without realising, or more likely have a mischievous friend knock it deliberately - and you'll be an hour out. So I'd be tempted to add "Summer" and "Winter" or some neat icons along the flat edges to make it obvious what setting it's currently on. That also solves the problem of knowing what position it's supposed to start off in when you get it.