Coffee and a Yarn, Newtown

Coffee and a Yarn, Newtown

Coffee Alchemy coffee (coffee and a yarn blend). 413 King St, Newtown. A relatively new arrival on the Newtown scene, the point of difference for this cafe is their wool theme. This is actually a cafe where you can buy wool, knitting patterns, and even sit down and knit!

wool on display 1/2

In case you’re worried from that concept that they’ve missed the boat on the cafe experience, it’s safe to say they haven’t. The coffee is custom roasted by (relative newcomer to the Sydney scene Coffee Alchemy), and their food – mostly small items – includes Danishes and Ginger ninjas by Black Star Pastry, and brownies and polenta cakes by Manna from Heaven.

wool on display 2/2

The stark polished concrete floors, are contrasted by the old wooden furniture and the knitting theme carried throughout. Add to the mix the 1930’s jazz, and the friendliness of staff and customers alike, and you have the making of a successful cafe.

view through the window interior table

No decaf yet (they’re waiting to get another grinder for decaf!), so I made the decision to try a caffeinated coffee for one. My piccolo latte has all the trimmings of coffee alchemy’s work with its initial caramel flavour and complex, earthy finish.

mini egg and sweet potato tart Coffee and a Yarn, newtown

They’ve gone to some pains to make this a comfortable, welcoming place, and it has – I hope – a good future ahead of it.

Canabalt – a social app

You may not have heard of Canabalt – a flash game that has been ported to the iPhone. I played the flash version a long while ago, and found it to be a fun, compelling game, but nothing to write home about. Then, while checking twitter, I saw this tweet from a friend:

@becjeeRebecca Jee

I ran 2401m before hitting a wall and tumbling to my death on my iPhone. http://www.canabalt.com/

This, combined with my vague recollection of the game was enough to push me over the line, and spend the $AUD3.99 in the app store on the game. It’s the time I’ve spent with the game since that’s made me want to put together this blog post – I think the game is an excellent example of a social app, and one that embodies the simplicity of what an iPhone game should be.

When you first launch the app, you see this screen, with an 8-bit, greyscale illustration of a pair of headphones, and a tagline – “For maximum awesome, headphones recommended.” The broken English combined with the graphical style gives a sense of retro gaming that makes the higher resolution of the remaining graphics a pleasant surprise.

Canabalt splash screen

At this point, you arrive at the splash screen. In the top left corner is your player account: by default, your username is “New Player”, and you can start using the game immediately. In the top right is the detail of the song that’s currently playing. Unlike other iPhone games I’ve played, Canabalt respects your iPod – if you launch the game while listening to something else, you can keep listening to the iPod, and the sound effects are played over the top, at a fixed volume. Likewise, Canabalt respects the mute switch – if you leave the sound switched off, then the sound doesn’t play through the iPhone’s speakers.

If you don’t have your iPod playing, the music is suitably atmospheric and calls to mind the old soundtracks of Commodore 64 games (though without the SID-2 chip’s inherent limitations).

Canabalt

The home page has three chief options: about screen, high scores, and play the game. The about screen tells the story of programming the game, and has just enough personal references to give the game a little more character.

Canabalt about screen

The high scores have a series of clever 8-bit style icons for the local machine, the best score of the day / week / month and the planet.

Canabalt local high scores

Reading the global high score table gives the usual worry about people who have far too much time on their hands, and obsessively play the game.

Canabalt - best runs on earth!

This brings us the the gameplay itself. You control a little animated character who runs from left to right across the rooftops of an apocalyptic cityscape.

Gameplay - canabalt

The top left is a pause button: not only is there an option to pause the game during play, but if the iPhone is interrupted by a system event, the game pauses, ready to resume when you’ve dealt with the interruption.

Canabalt pause screen

The top right is an indicator of how far you have run so far. The only other interface element is to tap the screen, which makes your character jump for as long as you hold your finger on the screen.

Gameplay - canabalt

One elegant touch is the white-only animated birds who – in a John Woo style – fly out of the way as you run past. There’s also broken glass with requisite sound effects and fly-away pieces, and obstacles.

Gameplay - canabalt

The only way to slow your character down is to run through the obstacles. This can present problems, as certain jumps require a higher speed than others, and – with the limited viewing window – it’s not possible to tell what speed will be required in advance.

Gameplay - canabalt

When you’ve finished the game, you’re presented with a finishing screen that ticks all the boxes: your death is described with specific prose that heightens the need to keep playing (and hence discover the other phrases), and there’s almost no barrier to starting another game.

Gameplay - canabalt

Your other option (apart from exiting to the main menu) is to share your score on twitter – this is accomplished with the same clean, elegant interface that we’ve seen throughout.

Canabalt sharing

Enter in your twitter account details, and there’s a preview of the tweet, and the option to change accounts, or cancel altogether. With such a simple interface, it’s really easy to share your successes in the game with your twitter followers, who can then go through to the website (title tag – CANABALT: Buy it with your moneys!!) and purchase the game.

Canabalt sharing

So if you’re looking for an elegantly designed game with engaging, but not completel
y addictive play that shows off how an iPhone app should be made, it’s worth your time to download it.

duckfest 2010 in review

Last night, as an early birthday present, I went along to Duckfest 2010 at MUMU Grill where head chef / owner Craig Macindoe was cooking duck (provided by urbanfoodmarket) in a variety of ways for a large crowd of people. If his staff were fatigued after a long day, it was hard to tell. Despite anticipating a really busy night, Craig was happy to chat – great to meet him!

Chef Craig

The original menu looked like this:

Duck liver pate on arrival en Cruet
Duck Consume
Wine-Polin and Polin Vedehlo 2007 or Lowe “preservative free” Merlot 2009

“Peking Duck Pancake”
Lowe “preservative free” Merlot 2009

Duck breast with deconstructed XO
Yarra Yerring Pinot Noir 2008

Duck sang choi Bow-Flash fried Duck leg with kim chi and oyster in lettuce leaf
Bass Strait Pinot Noir 2008

“Turducken”- Turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a guinea fowl
Wine- Ada River 2003 Cab Sav

Various roast ducks . Meredith’s, Pekin, Muscovy with Pear and duck fat potatoes
Wine- Parker Estate 2003 Cab Sav

Duck Egg Caramel
Wine-Innocent Bystander Pink Muscato

Fresh fruit, Pineapple, Papaya

Obviously there were a few last-minute tweaks to the menu, as there was no Peking duck to be had, but we ended up with six courses of duck (one with the duck cooked two different ways), and then a dessert of Duck Egg Caramel. The surprise for me was how many people were there – 160 people had booked tickets for the meal (and, through various social circles, I knew probably 10 of them).

When I arrived a little after 7pm the place was already crowded. I said a quick hello to kristy and her husband and their friend, and then went in search of the duck (and to find out where my seat had been allocated. I had foolishly assumed that it would be a case of arriving and choosing your own seat, but in fact the seats were all pre-arranged. This meant, though, that I had the opportunity to spend the meal chatting about food with Miss Dissent and her husband, which was fantastic: they were both enthusiastically talking through what was happening with each course, and helped me to understand what was going on a lot better than I would have with on my own.

I think I’ll wait for the other food bloggers to provide more detailed coverage of the food: I just wanted to put the rough details up quickly for anyone who is interested. Though some complained about the sizes of the glasses of matching wine, I found that I reached the end of the meal with my wits still happily about me, which was – I thought – a good thing.

The first course was Duck liver pate on arrival en Cruet, which came with a “Polin and Polin Verdehlo 2007”.
Duck liver pate on arrival en Cruet

The second course – served in espresso cups – was Duck Consommé, matched with a “Little Yerring Pinot Noir 2008”. With such a strong flavour, it was better than even the best Chinese soup that I’d had.
Duck Consommé

Next up (course three) was Duck Breast with deconstructed XO. This was cooked two different ways – a crispy skinned duck with a strong sense of star anise about it, and a simple, unbattered offering. Hidden from view in this photo was a beautifully cooked scallop, and the sauce, though chilli-hot at first, had no lingering fire.
Duck breast with deconstructed XO

After enough of a gap at this point to rest our palettes, the fourth course arrived. Duck Sang Choi Bow (with Bass Strait Pinot Noir 2008). This was finely sliced, flash fried duck leg, with kim chi (a rather unusual, and perhaps too liquid take on kim chi) and oysters, to be assembled on lettuce. Though tasty, and fascinating to see how the oyster interacted with the other flavours, this was probably the weakest of the dishes.
Duck sang choi Bow - Flash fried Duck leg with kim chi and oyster in lettuce leaf

Fifth was Twice cooked duck with bok choy and poached pear (with Parker Estatee 2003 Cab Sav: the wines were certainly getting heavier as the meal progressed). This was the closest to duck as I’m used to eating it, and then some: the duck fat had really melted together and the skin was crispy. It was then a matter of mixing those flavours with a still-crisp bok choy and the subtle sweetness of the pear.
Twice cooked duck, with bok choy and poached pear

The last of the mains was probably the most eagerly anticipated in the restaurant. I saw it more as a curiosity than something essential – “Turducken”- Turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a guinea fowl. Due to the large number of people involved, the meats were deboned, and then rolled together, rather than the “traditional” way of putting the animals inside each other before the cooking process. As a result, some people on my table didn’t taste all the different meats together in their serve.

“Turducken”- Turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a guinea fowl

Amazingly, despite how busy everyone was, the staff brought out another two slices of turducken, this time with all the different meats clearly present. A fantastic handling of a complaint, and providing a great sense of how good the service is at mumu. Here’s a cross-section:

more detail on the turducken

The flavours of the various birds mixed together: nothing was dried out from the cooking process, and it was an intriguing mix of turkey, duck and guinea fowl (more gamey, as I understand it) with a hint of chicken.

Last of all was the dessert. To me, this seemed a bit of a stretch from the duck theme
– an iron chef would have had to somehow use duck meat, even in the dessert – but it’s unusual to see duck eggs used in cooking (at least in my own experience), and so I was interested to see what would happen.

Duck Egg Caramel with pineapple and papaya

The caramel dominated the flavours, and the fruit (out of season) was mostly there to cleanse the palette in between mouthfuls. I thought it worked, and it was good to have some sweetness on the palette by the end. After all this Kel (who didn’t feel like enough of a duck fan to try the meal) came and gave me a lift home, where I had the lingering flavour of duck on my palette for the whole trip.

A great night of enjoying duck cooked in a variety of ways – thanks to the extra slice of turducken, I didn’t feel the need to stop on the way home and grab some more duck, and indeed, I might be able to take a break from duck for a little while. Not too long!

Update: other reviews are coming in:

movie: Avatar

Movie: Avatar

A post over at Servant of Chaos asked “What was your best post of the year”, and in looking back, I wasn’t able to find one that I thought was really great. To this end, I’m aiming for one post each week this year where I go into a lot more detail about a particular topic. For this week, my topic is the movie Avatar, and the hype surrounding it. I’ve tried to bring together links to the various things I’ve read about Avatar in the lead-up to watching it, so that you can understand where my head is at in writing the review. You might find some interesting reading in the links that follow.

When I’m trying to watch a movie, I do my best to avoid spoilers wherever possible. For a film like Avatar, this has been really tough: many of the people whose blogs I read had seen it, or talked about it, or blogged about it already: here is some of the buzz.

At the time of writing, Avatar was scoring 84 on metacritic (a site that aggregates critical reviews), and the press was abuzz with the idea that for a film that had cost between $240M and $500M to make, by New Year’s Day 2010 it had grossed (world wide) over $700M (amounts in US dollars). Are people rushing out to the cinema to watch it because it may cost them $4k to watch at home (that’s the cost of upgrading the home system to 3D, by the way, not the cost of the DVD.

No-one seems sure how much the movie cost, as a large amount of the budget would have been spent on developing new technology. An interview with James Cameron and Peter Jackson sheds some light on where these two directors see the technology going. This short making-of movie (youtube) explains the new techniques of motion capture that help them bring the characters to life.

Tony Hollingsworth pointed me to this post discussing how did they do it and how would you use it, looking for further discussion on film-making and how it relates to and draws from the human condition. Jenny links to even more coverage of Avatar – other sci fi works that are referenced (more obscure ones), an instance of a long-running, but legitimate criticism (this is in sharp contrast to the Roger Ebert review).

Ebert says this of the film:

Cameron has told a story with comprehensible emotional motivation, physical events that make sense at least within the realities of his imaginary world, and an alien race that exists not as foils for ray guns but an indigenous people living in harmony with their environment. His movie has a Green message and an anti-war message, both effective and organic parts of the plot.

Another criticism comes from (a-list blogger) Jason Kottke:

The Na’vi are too capable and live in an environment that is far too pregnant with technological possibility to be stuck in the Stone Age. Plot-wise it’s convenient for them to be the way they are, but the Na’vi really should have been more technologically advanced than the Earthlings, not only capable of easily repelling any attack from Captain Ironpants but able to keep the mining company from landing on the moon in the first place.

Perhaps the most critical headline I read before seeing the movie was Avatar and the death of storytelling where Cameron is taken to task for spending 10 years on a movie with such a weak storyline.

No link festival would be complete without a reference to the Avatar wikipedia page and – once you consider the terribly named macguffin unobtainium (TV tropes site), you should also look at the TV tropes avatar movie page.

One of the first reviews I heard was that of Mark Kermode.

Mark cited a tweet that simply called the film “Smurfahontas” – a retelling of the film (I haven’t seen) Pocahontas with blue, smurf-like creatures. Update 6-1-10: Someone has made the comparison more explicit.

It is also worth pointing out the similarities between Avatar and Fern Gully (youtube), and who can go past the incredibly brief lolcat summary of Avatar?

At this point, you might like to consider the (massively spoiler-filled) official trailer for Avatar.

If you’re looking for some Christian critiques of the film, the best I saw was linked from the between two worlds blog – a NYT op-ed piece Heaven and Nature by Ross Douthat. Sorry to say dave, that the fervr review of Avatar doesn’t actually review the film: perhaps not being able to remember the film is condemnation enough, though. Update 5/1/10: AFES review of Avatar engages with the film some more.

Having sa
id all of this, what did I think of the film? I really enjoyed it. James Cameron has created a complete world – there are plants, animals, a native populace with their own weapons and mythology. The planet is especially spectacular at night. He’s created a human race that are credible (if one dimensional) in their motivation and actions, and made some characters that are sufficiently “everyman” that it’s possible to see yourself in some scenes, and not in other scenes.

Watching the start of the film, I was reminded of (another James Cameron film) Aliens – the ship design and layout of the crew in the ships. This was made more obvious by the return of what seemed to be an Aliens-identical robotic exoskeleton (“power loader”) for some of the foot-soldiers. There’s the presence of some kind of “corporation”, where any kind of morally questionable action can be justified if there’s money to be made for shareholders.

Watching the epic scenes where one race of people are hopelessly outclassed by the military technology of another, and then watching the underdog fight back has to be a reminder not just of current US foreign policy, but also the vietnam conflict, and of any relationship between a Western civilisation and the indigenous inhabitants of a country it was hoping to populate.

These messages are not terribly subtle, but – I found at least – could be cast into the back of your mind while watching the film. The best part of the film was losing yourself to the story and the world, and just watching it unfold. Yes, everything is very tidy, and the film could be much shorter if we didn’t spend so much time travelling from one point to another. Yes, much of the dialogue is exposition, and the storytelling is more of a conglomeration of epic movie cliches than something rich and original. Yes, the “inspirational speech” seems to have Sam Worthington channeling Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

And yet, it’s a really enjoyable movie. If you enjoy Hollywood blockbuster movies, you will find it worth your time.


What did you think? Was all the extra discussion helpful? Let me know in the comments.