Experiments in Food: Soylent and Joylent (by )

I was interested to hear about Soylent - the meal replacement, not Soylent Green - when it came onto the scene. I lead a busy life, which includes cooking for two kids and a wife (one of the children has an intolerance to cow milk, and my wife has an intolerance to gluten as well as milder issues with cow milk and soya). I often find myself in the situation of being quite hungry myself, at the start of needing to cook a complicated meal from fresh ingredients. Also, I don't like eating breakfast until an hour after getting up, so I tend to eat in the office on weekdays; due to a shortage of filling breakfast options that will last long enough for me to finish them off on two days a week, I often end up skipping breakfast at weekends or just grazing on raw root veg from the fridge, then feeling woozy come lunch time (about when I need to start organising lunch for the family). So the idea of a powder I can store for a long period and then turn into a balanced meal replacement with near-zero effort, and cheaply at that, certainly has some appeal.

Sadly, Soylent decided they can't ship to the UK (and muttered something about refunding my contribution to their crowdfunding effort on that basis, but not until November 2015 - and I funded them in July 2013!), so I gave up on the idea of giving it a go.

But thankfully, they have published their recipe online, which has prompted a Dutch company to set up shop making it and shipping it from the EU! They're called Joylent, and as the name suggests, are taking a rather light-hearted approach to producing basically the same stuff. So I gleefully ordered some, and have started experimenting with it.

I don't plan on living on the stuff, although some have - I just want an easy, filling, meal replacement for when circumstances require it.

So far, I've had two "meals" of it, and the results have already been somewhat interesting.

The first one was a weekend breakfast replacement. I started with the vanilla flavour; it was tasty and 600ml of the stuff went down easily, leaving me feeling satiated. I found I felt full, and with plenty of energy, but I was craving crispy and strong-tasting food; I think my mind didn't quite believe that a soupy liquid with a gentle vanilla flavour could have actually fed me. Although I was craving salty fries and pickles, I didn't actually want to eat anything; I just wanted those flavours, and would probably have been happy to just nibble a tiny amount or something.

Come 1:30pm, four and a half hours later, I felt a sudden pang of hunger, but it passed quickly. I still didn't feel light-heated and ill as I often do when I can't easily eat. In this particular case, I was on a long drive, so we didn't get to stop for lunch until 3pm. I was feeling... "peckish" by then; I fancied the idea of eating, but wasn't suffering from hunger, which was unusual for such a late lunch. I ate a paneer tikka wrap and the leftovers of Sarah's nachos, so plenty of exciting textures and strong tastes, which was exactly what I wanted! I didn't have to eat very much to feel full and satiated, and had a light (and nutritionally meagre) dinner of chips and ketchup that evening (due to lack of alternatives, being a vegetarian in a place that focussed on the eating of sausages), and went to bed not feeling malnourished at all.

The next morning, I had a whole grapefruit for breakfast, but was feeling pretty hungry come lunchtime at 1pm. Sadly, the place we ate was focussed on the eating of roasted animals, so all I had for lunch was a small plate of roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, which was tasty but not very nutritionally diverse (I'd eaten little protein since lunch the day before). So before setting off on the drive home, somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I had a second vanilla Joylent. It was pleasing that I'd been able to chuck my nice Joylent mixing bottle and the open pack in my bag for the trip; I bought a bottle of water in a shop to mix it up, but if I'd brought my own bottle of water I'd have been ready to throw together a "meal" wherever and whenever I wanted.

I was once again satiated, although a little less so; I think I put less powder in (judging a third of a pack of powder is tricky, although I think I'll soon be able to work out how big a third of a pack looks in the mixing bottle and get it right in future), as it came out a lot more watery this time, despite not being full quite to the 600ml mark. Once again, I was quickly craving crunchy strong tastes, so at about 8pm, I ate some salt and vinegar crisps at a motorway service station. This quickly led to me feeling I'd eaten too much salt; I felt a bit dehydrated and had a nasty salty taste lingering in my mouth. I suspect the morale of that story is that I've become accustomed to eating too much salt; I need to train my mind to realise that I don't need to have tasted savoury salty flavours to have eaten a meal!

As I lie in bed typing this at 11:15pm, I'm feeling a bit hungry, but not uncomfortably so (I didn't have dinner or anything else to eat).

The Joylent flavours are banana, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla; I think it would probably be a good idea for me to train myself out of craving salty tastes in a meal, but it's quite interesting that I've not found anything else I've eaten lately as filling as the Joylent, nor able to keep me "going" as long. I could see myself living happily on the stuff, but I would really miss food tastes and textures. However, it's made me more aware of how nutritionally limited a lot of foods are. I like the thought of using something like this as "fuel" and then having small quantities of spicy crunchy foods for the taste!

Also, it would be interesting to try and make a curry flavoured Joylent. Either get some without any flavourings added, or start with a mild-tasting one and blend in a nice mix of spices. I may have to perform some experiments in that area!

Puppets and Books and Language – Oh My! (by )

First off I am running a kids workshop at The Cheltenham Poetry Festival, it costs £5 and there will be stickers and monsters 🙂

I've been stupidly busy lately:

Today I am getting ready to run a workshop on puppetry, for this I am mainly using my Cuddly Science Crew plus a dragon and rabbit that were bought and not made and designed by my mum and me. I am hoping the Ada puppet is going to get lots of outings this year as it's Ada's 200th birthday so she needs to have outings really.

Ada has already had a couple of outings this year - including Science Show Off which was videoed - this was my grown up only show so the vid is not suitable for children!

My performance is still not top notch but when I think of my first Science Show Off verses this one there is just such a huge difference!

In part that is due to the lovely Joy-Amy Wigman and her Cuffing It course that I did in the autumn. Realising that I am still so damn shy and that my stage craft really needs to be better if I am going to be taking Cuddly Science out more, I went for the thing that scares me most - Improve Comedy.

The course was a huge confidence booster and has just given me a few little extras to fill gaps with extra when I forget words or can't read my script (yes I should have had it memorised but I didn't!).

Regardless of my performance everyone seems to love the puppets - they really really do and the responses on twitter when ever she appears is amazing 🙂

Me and mum are planning on starting on the next five puppets over the summer even though I failed to get the funding I hoped would pay for their construction.

But enough about puppets!

I am also in a Dr Who anthology called You and Who Contact Has Been Made Vol 2 😀 And it is all shiny and new and released 🙂

Now it's not Dr Who stories but more essays on how Dr has impacted on mine and the other writers lives. I really enjoyed writing this and it is the beginnings of what I call my Coop de Who. After all if I don't start writing stuff about Dr Who how can I write an episode/series with Alaric as the Dr (or maybe the evil mastermind villian)?

I failed to get the traditional publishing stuff I was aiming for in more mainstream areas, that some of you knew I was working on at the beginning of the year. There were several, they all fell through, was I dishearted? Yes of course, but there has been plenty of other stuff to snap me out of it.

This morning I wrote a short story of 2000 words and this month I am working hard on scripting and/or story boarding a comic book series based in my Punk Universe - now even Alaric is nagging me to get the stuff out there and soon there will be a novel cover release I promise.

I'm in a submission fug, I keep meaning to and then forgetting and that can not continue - it's an issue I have with rejection and it is a cycle I can't afford to get into. Fortunately the script writing challenge has helped somewhat and I even had Neil Gaiman respond to a tweet question on comic book writing and that was most helpful.

Part of the issue is that I get Monday's and Friday's to do child free work - until 3 pm. They are also the days I have for Drs Appointments, meetings and driving lessons plus I find I just have to blitz the house a bit to keep ontop of the weekly mess/make sure I'm not hunched over the desk all day.

This is actually working really well but there I was fretting that I had only done 15 pages on my one completely clear lets sit down and do it day. Turns out Neil only did 4 pages on a good day, this made me feel a lot better and then conversely worried about quality - how had I whacked out that number of pages? They must all been ....meh - I'd done a lot of research during the day as well.

But then as Mary helped me garden and clean and count chickens and Jean helped me build cold frames and there were jujistu and climbing clubs and muddy shoes lost in bogs and baths and nitt treatments I began to think - no this is just how I've found a way to work. I am still working on my art and stories and science when I am not at a desk. It tumbles around my head and sometimes I have to text Al the idea I've had and sometimes I let it sink to see if it will bob up to the surface again.

So walking Mary her toddler climbing I came up with the premiss for the story I wrote this morning. Yesterday she was a bit under the weather so I did stuff with her until about lunch time when she had a little bit of a temperature and I calpolled her and put a film on and just sat next to her with my sketch pad working on the comic book. I got 20 pages done - I got 20 pages done because a) the girls like my stories and b) I'd already prepared dinner ready for the oven and c) I'd spent the 3 days since Monday thinking and planning how it was all going to go and looking up little bits of info on my phone and discovering I have voice memo!

And that leaves language - Mary is being brought up as bilingual with lojban - this is known to my friends as geek esperanto and is a constructed language made using mathematical logic to form the grammatical structure and waitings of sounds from the 6 most widely spoken languages. Alaric is learning it, he was not far enough ahead with it to teach Jean from birth but he was for Mary.

Jean is picking it up too, I am picking it up and Jean's friends are picking it up though this has lead to the concept of Mary Lojban. Jeany was asked by one of her teachers if it was a real language and wanted to take some info into school on it. Ages ago now I was working on Mother Lang and her farm which includes a Lojbani Chicken. The girls love these characters so we threw together a little introduction explaining what a natural and a constructed language is and what types of constructed languages there are.

I popped Mother Lang on the front and Lojbani Chicken on the back saying {shoi} and Jean took it shyly to school whilst moaning that it is not actually a language prima.

Mother Lang

We will pop the actual leaflet up too - it is currently just in English. I need to get on and do some more stuff with this as Mary is learning fast - Mother Lang was drawn to teach Mary the lojban and English for things like eyes and nose. Al is nagging me to get the colour flash cards made but we had a linguistics disagreement on what a colour actually is (only in my household!).

So whilst I actually go and do some work - here is a cute video of Mary being lojban.

Cabling my workshop (by )

As a child, I read a novel called Triplanetary, which featured a character called Gray Roger. Roger was the evil master of a space-born flying citadel, and usually sat in an office, at a massive control desk. Through this desk, he controlled the massive machinery driving the citadel and its tremendous weapons.

This image (and many others like it) meant a lot to me; for as long as I remember, I have wanted a Secret Lair with Control Panels.

When we bought our house, one of the big selling points for me was a small building at the end of the garden, which I turned into my workshop. The far end has my computer desk and my electronics desk, and the end by the doors is a messy area for metalworking.

However, the years since have been blighted by problems with the roof leaking, which has damaged furniture and tools, and caused horrible mold to grow on everything. Last summer, with the help of a friend, I properly felted the roof, which seems to have solved the leaking. There is still work to be done cleaning the interior and re-painting stained floors, but the inside has now dried out.

However, even aside from the roof problems, I had no Internet connection to the workshop. Wifi couldn't reach from the house, and wouldn't be sufficient for my needs. So even with the place drying out, I've not had a place I can sit and work with a computer at home; everything was done with laptop on lap on the sofa, or sat at the kitchen table, or similar - hardly comfortable, while I have a proper desk and office chair sitting out there!

So I have long wanted to run Ethernet cables down to the workshop, and haven't had a chance to organise it while I'm focused on trying to fix the roof.

But the colocation deal I use to host my Internet server is coming to an end, and rather than moving to a new one, I'm going to run the server from home. We have reliable, low latency, high-speed fibre broadband from Andrews and Arnold, and a server hosted at home will be one I can attend to for maintenance, upgrades and emergencies; having the current one based in London is somewhat inconvenient!

As there's nowhere good in the house to keep servers, they need to go in the workshop - so I now have a deadline to get Ethernet out there. And over the past few weekends, I have done just that, with much help from Jean (a lot of cabling work cannot be done single-handed; long bits of trunking need to be held up at both ends before being stuck down, and pulling cable through conduit requires somebody pulling at one end while somebody else feeds the cable in carefully at the other).

We had to use no less than three different cabling techniques, as the cables pass through several different regions.

It all starts in the cupboard under the stairs, where the PPPoE termination of the fibre broadband from the phone network is. I've since mounted the patch panel onto the wall and tidied up the cabling, but here's how it looked earlier:

Cupboard under the stairs

The cables go through the wall (which was once the external wall of the house before it was extended, so required drilling with a massive diamond core drill) into the library, where I've put a neat white box over the hole:

Library trunking

The trunking goes off to the kitchen wall. The hole through that wall is smaller, so can be hidden behind the trunking at the left. In the kitchen I used smaller trunking that can't cover the hole, so another white box covers the hole on this side:

Kitchen trunking

Across the garden, we had to switch from trunking to waterproof conduit, all sealed together with funky glue, and access boxes with waterproof gaskets:

Garden conduit

Then inside the workshop, I used suspended cable trays. I love suspended cable trays - I can just lay extra cables up there whenever I need, which is of course a great feature for a Lair full of Controls:

Workshop cable trays

Finally, the cables come down from the tray system into the comms cabinet:

Workshop comms cabinet

Last night, I tested all four cables with a cable tester, and all pairs are OK. I've put the desktop PC I built (but never got to use) in the workshop and hooked it up to one of them, and it's working fine at Ethernet frequencies, too!

Having a desktop machine is a great boon, even if I'm sat in the house on my laptop - I bought a cheap, light, laptop with a view to using it as a remote terminal to the much beefier desktop machine where possible.

And, of course, no Lair is complete without a way of disposing of enemies. Having had enough of water around the place already, I opted against the traditional shark pits, and instead went for a cage full of dinosaurs instead.

Cage full of dinosaurs

And so now, I can sit in my bed with my laptop, and make the computer do things in the cold, dark, workshop at the end of the garden. Muhahah.

Finishing Projects (by )

Ok so sometimes we have problems finishing projects, sometimes we have problems starting the projects we've got the bits for/need to be done. This has been a combo of things including house moves, sickness, changes of work or work regimes and of course the dreaded ADHD.

So to combat this I used to set myself weekly and mounthly goals but it had kind of stopped working so it was time to find a new way. And that way was a Finish Projects Month - I had done these before for writing and drawings but normally they focus on one or two main projects and what we wanted was something to get our A into G on all the small almost finished stuff.

Well my aim was to end up with one finished project a day, Al's was to mainly get the niggling DIY stuff sorted.

We failed but as always with these challenges it is not really a fail. So Alaric has done much metal work and drilling. Preparing our house for structured cabling and server housing in the workshop. These count as two projects that are now much much further a head than they would have been and they need doing URGENTLY. To make our lives easier with DIY he made a contraption so that he could carry part of the compressor into the house but leave the noisy bit in the workshop. That is one FINISHED PROJECT.


1) Compressor mount and pipe carrier = FINISHED

2) Server case = getting there

3) Structured cabling = getting there

Jean now has a bit of trunking for her room and is very excited about the whole process. We also had to sort out craft areas and workshop etc... to make this work well.

4) Attic organised and craft's sorted = FINISHED (though still boxes of paper work to go through)

5) Workshop = one end SORTED

Then there was some paper work/bank bits which we will count as



On top of that we now have a nice rodent proof feed storage box for the chickens which needs to be put in place but is in the garden. This will allow me to sort out the shed and to shore it up a bit more so we can get a bit more life out of it :/ We also dealt with the flooring in the chicken run, which is now all nice though next time I need to dig down further and put gravel in but we are getting there with it!

8) Fed Bin = GOT

9) Chicken Run Flooring = SORTED

We also uped the exercise stuff, so Alaric is doing his runs and though I am not running I will be as soon as we can get me some shoes and me and Jeany are going climbing together once a week.

10) Climbing and running = OWNED!

Writing wise I've been being a bit lame and only managed to finish one flash fiction - which I remember coming up with the concept for in 2007 in Costa's in Cheltenham during the whole flood debacle. I'd typed the intro of it onto Magenta Monster in 2010 combining it with a story starter I'd picked up off of twitter - which had sparked the idea back to life :/ It is at least now finished!

11) Story The Tragedy of Love = FINISHED!!!

Oh and this prompted a bit of a blog clean up/updating session.

12) Blog sorting = SORTED

I made the girls dig out all their library books and we took them back and did all the niggly bits of shopping for the house (ie not just food).

13) Household admin/maintain = GOOD (never ever gets completely sorted EVER)

This then leads on to crafts and the like - so basically I was like arg!!! I have a crate of half finished kids craft project and like 3 of me craft project - this needs to be sorted NOW!!!

For a start there was the sock I had attempted for Al - it has it's problems but it is a nice sock, but fits Jean, has wholes in it and more importantly there is just one of it as I started in in what 2013? And did most of it and it had just been sitting there almost finished for the whole of last year - attic became a no go zone with building works a happening. Basically I've forgotten what I did so there is little hope of knitting another. But it is finished and now a base for something else - Jeany wants to turn it into a new purse/wallet for Alaric.

14) Al's Sock = Done by awaiting full incarnation

Having taken up crotchet and attempting to desperately learn the different stitches at the beginning of the year, I had ended up with lots of half finished squares - I now have 15 finished squares (still need to thread the ends away). They will either be flannels or squares for blankets depending on how square and what size they have come up!).

15) 15 crotchet squares = almost done

I'd sorted out all the knitting and sewing into project bundles and found I had some random pieces that I had no clue about. Fortunately whilst I was finishing off something else I remembered what one of them was, found the pattern, found my place in the pattern once more and finished it off - sadly it is only one side of a duck but I will be knitting the other half shortly - I needed the white wool to finish knitting Mary's Elsa dolly. This was supposed to be her main Christmas present :/ I still need to make some shoes and she needs sewing up and stuffing but I think she is getting there!

16) Duck toy = so not done yet but progress made!

17) Elsa Dolly = all knitted but sewing up, stuffing, hair and face needed

Alaric managed to finish two creeper faces on stuff I'd knitted ages ago.

18) Creeper faces = half done

However I have been creating more work for him in this area - I finally sewed together and stuffed the baby creeper plushy that I knitted for Jean ages ago - it was another stuck due to roof fix project! I should have gone with instinct and used foam except I hate foam so it has wadding in.

19) Baby Creeper sans face = OWNED!!!!

I wanted to finish Mary's fairy outfit that I have crotchet in giant chunky wool but it took me all month to get to the shop to pick up the last ball I need to finish the second shoe!

20) Fairy outfit = not done but materials got

And though I started them during the month there are also crotchet Easter Eggs - six of them 2 giants and 4 little ones. Jean wants more but as that is for the weekend I think she maybe whistling!

21) Giant Crotchet Easter Eggs = DONE

22) Mini Crotchet Easter Eggs = Done

There are also the epic Easter Egg Spoons we made at the weekend and the planter/seed markers.

23) Ester Egg Garden Ornament Spoons = FINISHED

24) Painted knife seed markers = FINISHED

And one dug over bed and allotment tidying (I have many other beds to dig), I also potted up half the seeds I want to grow in pots and fixed the sumps on the wormeries which I'd needed to do for a while.

25) Wormery sorting = DONE

26) Allotment = BEGUN!!!

27) Seeds = STARTED

Within this there was stuff like plant pots that had been painted by me as a teen and never used and grass heads that had been made and never used etc... so it was a job well done I think.

We also had Mother's Day Cake making with the girls which I'm counting as a finished project 🙂

28) Mushroom butterfly cake = BAKED and EATEN

And that leads on nicely to the girls... Jean has made bead eggs, finished off lots of the exercise books she has and been colouring in the felt pictures she had. Mary has been painting plant pots and making books, bits that had been pulled down/never gone up yet in their room have been sorted and THE GREAT CLOTHS SORT and some buying of the new happened. They finished Easter mobiles and we've put up the chinese lanterns that Jean had half made before the flood and have been sitting at the bottom of a crate ever since. We also did crayon rubbings and eater cards for their egg hunt.

29) Bead Eggs = FINISHED

30) Mary's Easter book about Elsa a.k.a birthday pressy for Al = ALmost there

31) Easter Mobiles = FINISHED (except that there is a chick missing but hopefully it will turn up at some point!)

There is still plenty left for them to do as there are half coloured in Easter bags and papier mache eggs and so on and obviously some of this is new kits they got for the Easter Hols. Of course Jean did the huge candle make which over lapped the beginning of this month and was quiet frankly EPIC!!!

32) Easter kids projects = in progress

33) Candle Making = DONE, FINISHED, EPIC NOOODLES!!!!

Alaric also set up opportunistic SMTP encryption for the server cluster, and renewed our self-signed SSL certs - which is for email stuff so I am hoping my email will once again be usable which it hasn't been :/

34) Emails = sorted (hopefully)

I also finished sewing together 2 bags knitted out of fluffy and in one case sparkly wool. One of these I started BEFORE I started going out with Alaric and it was supposed to be a shoulder wrap but I couldn't knit so it was lumpy and bumpy and I ran out of wool and tried to use the same type but different colours and... it works much better as a bag and can now (finally) be sent to the person it is for!

35) Fluffy rainbow record bag = COMPLETED

36) Purple fluffy purse/bag = COMPLETED

Oh and I finished Alaric's new scarf which I did on day one and Alaric has proudly been wearing it for most of the month 🙂

37) Accidental West Ham Scarf = HAMMERED

Ok so maybe that isn't so much of a fail as I had thought! And I now know exactly how many project there are which always helps 🙂

I also drew a portrait of Sir Terry Pratchett and think I now have most of my note books sorted.

38) Drawing of Terry Pratchett = sadly done

Within March I also organised and ran workshops on: mothers day card making, kids comedy night including slapstick and improv, Easter egg hunts including life sized Alaric Bunny - for which I had to make a tail!

Plus a writing meet.

39) Giant Bunny Tail = OWNED

And I almost forgot that Jeany made soaps! And asked for and earnt herself £10 worth of more soap making supplies (the original kit being from a couple of birthdays ago).

40) Jean's Soaps = LOVELY

Eeep! There's more! At the beginning of March it was Downes Syndrome Awareness Day and Mary's pre-school had an event celebrating one of the little ones with them and requested an odd sock day. So I made a mooky - a sock monster like I used to make with nan and uncle (for those of you who met me after I was married Benny was Downes and died a couple of months after our wedding), it seemed appropriate to me, though I've had to explain to several people who were concerned that I was making an "odd monster" for the awareness day. Basically I made a cuddle toy for Mary out of odd socks.

41) Mooky for Moo the Mooky = DONEDID

Ooo also we settled in the new chickens 🙂

42) Chickens!!!! = settled and laying

So what of this coming month April?

I'm doing two writing challenges - one is Camp Nanowrimo which is linked to the novel writing madness I do in November. Script Frenzy is no more so I am doing it for Camp but always I am working on my comic books which are based in my Punk Universe. But also in general I will be catching up on all things comic related stuff including the pending blog posts and stuff about the Wiggly Pets, but obviously main focus is getting the 100 page script written.

The second is NaPoWriMo which is a Poem a Day writing challenge and will be the thrid one for this year - I tend to go with the "I am going to spend 30 hrs on poetry this month" approach which as I am running workshops at the wonderful Poetry Festival as well, should not be a hard one to complete 🙂

Better get one with some of the work I suppose!

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