About Me

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Known to most as GOK or Bella, I am a half-Venetian, half-British knitter, stitcher, dyer, grower, aesthete, historian, grammar-fascist, culinary goddess, gamer and uber-geek - working in the UK making fine bespoke corsetry and theatrical costume... with occasional forays into making videogames too! Constantly homesick for Venezia.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Fichi al forno con scalogno caramellato e Dolcelatte (Baked Figs)

Well, it's been far too long, hasn't it? Fortunately for my bank balance, I've had quite a bit of freelance work come my way recently; however, unfortunately for my blog, it's meant I've had very little free time.

I've also moved over to a different blog:


From now on, everything will be over there!

I also haven't had much time to experiment in la cucina - that's not to say I've been idle; old favourites have been trotted out....and by that, I do mean old favourites. For example, I have very fond memories of the shepherd's pies my mother's mother (my English Nan) used to make me, as I'm sure, do my children of the ones I used to make for them, but we don't eat meat in this house, so I used Quorn instead, and it turned out wonderful! If anyone is interested, I'll happily blog the recipe.

On the few occasions recently when I've had time to play, I've had mixed results; from the positively orgasmic (or mouthf**k as one friend declared!), to the running-around-looking-for-the-fire-extinguisher-because-I'd-gone-overboard-with-the-harissa! (Hey, I'm half-Venetian, not Moroccan!)

So today, we'll have mouth-orgasms; I'll blog the fiery Moroccan Not-Meatballs another day!

Fichi al forno con scalogno caramellato e Dolcelatte (Baked figs with caramelised shallots and Dolcelatte)
Nutritional values per person:
Calories: 243
Carbohydrate: 32g
Protein: 5g
Fat: 12g
Sodium: 200mg

(Please note that these are based on the ingredients I used - your own may be slightly different)

For two people:
4 large fresh figs (around 260g in total)
30g Dolcelatte (or Gorgonzola dolce)
75g shallots
45ml cider vinegar
1tbsp good olive oil
Pinch sea salt
Dash freshly ground black pepper

You will also need baking parchment, foil and a small baking tin or dish, and to pre-heat your oven to around 200c.

1. Peel and chop the shallots - how finely you chop them is up to you.
2. Spread the shallots in a small roasting tin or dish lined with baking parchment - the vessel should be just large enough to hold them.
3. Pour over the vinegar and oil, season and cover tightly with foil.
4. Bake for around 20 minutes, until the shallots are just starting to caramelise. Remove the foil, stir the shallots, and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes or so. Do check on them though - you don't want them to go crispy!
5. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool slightly.
6. Make cross-ways incisions in each fig, and then squeeze from the bottom to open the figs out.
7. Into each fig, place a spoonful of caramelised shallots and a cube of Dolcelatte.

8. Place the figs in the oven dish, add a scant sprinkle of black pepper.
9. Place in the oven for 7-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the figs are warm. Again, keep an eye on the proceedings though!
10. Remove from oven, enjoy!

I like to serve these with a little cardamom praline sprinkled over the top, on either a bed of fresh salad leaves from the garden, or with Prawn, Mango and Avocado Cous Cous. Either way, they are completely delicious, and I guarantee you will love them!

Buon appetito!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Life is pretty good, don't'cha think?

After a week of moaning about things, I've been reflecting that although there may be frustrations of a technical nature, in general however, my life is pretty darn shiny!

I have the amazing good fortune to be loved and adored by the most incredible and wonderful man in the entire universe. No really, it's true....you may think that your man is the most wonderful one but I can assure you that mine really is. Fact.

Heheh! ;-)

(Gorgeous isn't he?!)

I am also fortunate in that not only am I very good at several unrelated things (and maybe even brilliant at one or two!), I can also make money from them, and what is more, I get to do it from home too! I am currently engaged in making several bespoke corsets, Lady Macbeth's costume for a wonderful actor, James Tudor, and am editing the wiki for Stronghold Kingdoms! I get to be anally retentive, and creative...does it get any better?!

But y'know what's really great? I think I can safely say that the swine 'flu is finally out of my system. I still get tired really easily but at least I can stay awake beyond 8pm now! Oink!

Of course, there are many other wonderful things in my life, for which I am truly thankful (true and loyal friends, a beautiful home, loving family, etc.) but right now, the ones above are the most paramount.

I am blessed!

Friday, 4 February 2011

This hateful thing.....

I loathe this laptop. I really loathe it.

I'm considering taking it back to the shop and either insisting on getting my money back (not a good plan, since I'm rubbish at that kind of thing), or more likely, asking very nicely if there's something which can be done with it.... other than throwing it into the nearest pit of eternal despair.

I may have foiled its spy-like intentions but that doesn't mean it actually works any better, or faster. In fact, this could actually rank as one of the slowest computers I've ever used in my entire life.

It doesn't like multi-tasking, which is a major problem because it means I cannot have more than one program open at a time, and that includes web pages. In addition, the graphics processor, which I was told by the man in the shop was pretty good, is in fact, very not-good. I'd go so far as to say it's rubbish actually. And given that I need to be logged into this MMO I've been working on, I am actually unable to do my job efficiently. I'd say at least a quarter of the time I've spent working today has been spent waiting for this piece of dren to actually work properly.

And the longer it's on, the slower it gets.

It is a stupid design too. Who thought it was a good idea to add a numeric keypad to a laptop keyboard, and move the mouse pad to the left? Said mousepad also has an enlarge-everything-to-giant-size function. I cannot begin to tell you just how annoying it is when your left hand digit accidentally rests on the mousepad because it's in the wrong location, sending everything on your screen all over the place because you're trying to interact with the screen with your right hand digit. I have been through this system over and over again and I cannot find a way to disable this frelling zoom function. It's completely fahrbot!

And stressful. All I wanted was for my old faithful workhorse HP to work properly, and instead I feel as though all my worst tech nightmares have come true. Well, except the one where the casing is actually manipulated by the Nestene Consciousness and suffocates me....

Give it time though, it could happen.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

And yet another way...

Quite by accident, I've just discovered another way of disabling the infernal NetIntelligence program!

Do this!

In Windows7 Professional, get to your network map by clicking:

Start ---> Control Panel ---> Network & Sharing Center ---> See Full Map

  1. Right-click on your computer icon (or the icon for the computer which has NI installed on it)
  2. Click Manage
  3. Double-click Services and Applications
  4. Double-click Services
  5. Scroll down to the entry for NetIntelligence, and click once to highlight it (under status, it says started)
  6. In the column to the right, underneath where it says NetIntelligence, click More Actions
  7. Click Stop
  8. A progress box will appear briefly - once it's gone, click More Actions again, then Properties
  9. Click the arrow on the Startup Type bar (it should be showing Automatic), and from the drop-down list, click Disabled
  10. Click Apply at the bottom of the window
  11. Click OK
  12. Done!
Please note, that I have no idea whether the steps above will be the same for other versions of Windows7, or for Vista, but if not, there should only be a slight variation - probably at the start to get to your network map.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cue the Evil League of Evil laugh.....

...ha ha....ha ha ha ha haa haa haaaaaa....ha haa...ha ha...

(I'm sure Dr. Horrible would be so proud!)

So I reformatted the new(ish) laptop, and the evil(in-a-very-bad-way)ness was still there. But guess what? With aid of my trusty iPad and teh interwebz [<---yoof speak!], I was able to combat it....or at least put it to sleep in a Jean-Luc Picard v. The Borg kind of way. Oh yes! My tech is now my own again.


Which is just as well because the only help (and I use that term in its loosest sense) that the people at Net Intelligence were able to give was:

"As this is a Home Access machine, you will need to contact the provider of the machine, as it is they who provide support for any queries you may have. They also hold your account details, so will be able to give you any information related to this."

This completely ignores the part where I'd told them I'd bought a reconditioned machine, and that I'd already contacted Comet (the provider) who told me to contact them (NI)...

"There should be contact information for the provider either on the machine, or on the documentation that came with it."

Oh, and the part where I told them that neither I, nor the shop, nor the previous owner had any of the documentation. I did find a number to call in a document on the machine (referred to in my previous post on this subject).

"Home Access machines were not intended for resale, we are unable to support any that have been purchased second hand."

Aah, so they did actually understand I'd bought it second-hand then....question is, didn't the government foresee that this kind of thing would happen?
So, how did I do it? Quite easily as it turns out...

1. Download Autoruns
NetIntellingence will actually block some Microsoft Help sites, particularly ones which tell you how to fix issues such as network protocols, but fortunately, by going into the Control Panel, and changing my home page to Google (again!) it allowed me to access the 'net long enough to download this little program.

2. Run Autoruns
For some reason - and I'm guessing NI is responsible for this - it installed itself into My Documents, not Programs, so if you can't find it in the usual place, you know where to look! Anyhow, I digress...

  • Unzip the autoruns.zip file, and click on autoruns.exe
  • Click options then choose hide Microsoft Entries
  • Click File
  • Click Refresh

Autoruns will run a diagnostic of your system and then list all the programs and processes which are currently running on it (barring the Microsoft ones you excluded), so it's helpful to not actually have anything extra running at this time.

Does anyone remember how easy it was to use Windows 98? When you could go into the system and tell it which programs to run at Startup? I miss those days when I could speed up my PC like that! Anyway, Autoruns is sort of like that - from the list, you can choose which programs you want to run and which ones to disable....heheh!

3. Scroll down and uncheck anything which has the NI logo. It will appear in several sections.

4. Scroll down further until you get to the section which is labelled:HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\WinSock2\Parameters\Protocol_Catalog9\Catalog_Entries

5. Uncheck entries which look like this (there should be about four of them):
"000000000001""Netintelligence Home Edition LSP""Netintelligence Ltd""c:\windows\system32\nihlsp.dll"

Alternatively, the entries may look like this:

(Clicking on the image will enlarge it)
6. Reboot your computer. You should now have disabled NetIntelligence. Try loading up a webpage which was previously blocked.

NOTE: Instead of being able to uncheck the protocols above, you may get a message telling you; "WinSock Protocol Providers cannot be disabled (only deletion is supported)." In this case, you need to reinstall WinSock2. Don't worry, it's really easy! The following is from the Microsoft website, and applies to Vista and Windows 7. For other OSs, check the website....but do it from a computer which doesn't have NI installed because NI will close down the Microsoft Help pages!

1. Go to Start --> All Programs --> Accessories --> Command Prompt this will bring up a terminal (it looks a bit like a DOS screen!)

2. In the terminal, type: netsh winsock reset (if you type it incorrectly, an error message will come up, so make sure you type it exactly as I've done here)

3. Type: exit

4. Press Enter

5. Re-run Autoruns as before, and again, uncheck anything with the NI logo next to it (you may find one more than before, I did). Again, scroll down to: HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\WinSock2\Parameters\Protocol_Catalog9\Catalog_Entries
this time you should either find that the entire section is missing, or there is nothing in it. To double-check, click the tab at the top which is labelled WinSock - there should be no NI entries there at all.

6. Reboot your computer.

7. Load up previously blocked web pages.

In both scenarios, you should now be able to delete the NI folder and shortcuts. You won't have uninstalled it but it will be disabled, so should give you no more trouble.


I'm not saying that there should not be restrictions on kids using the internet, but if there are to be any, surely they should come from parents, not the government. Really, if parents want their children to do tech things, they have a duty to understand these things themselves, and be proactively involved. They should not rely on a net nanny to do their job... especially not in their own homes!

It seems to me that programs like NetIntelligence and its ilk are designed for tech-phobic/tech-illiterate and/or lazy parents...and that frankly, is wrong. As a parent, it is your job to ensure your child is able to use tech safely, sensibly and responsibly. Far better to take the time to understand how things work, and communicate with your child than sit them in front of a computer screen and expect someone/thing else to babysit them. What a child will learn from this is any or all of the following;
a) their parents can't be bothered
b) their parents are idiots
c) that with a bit of savvy, they can get around any security measures their parents put in place
d) getting one over on their parents and 'the system' is immensely satisfying....so what can they do next?

I freely admit that most of the things I've learned to do/taught myself have been the result of someone or something either telling me I couldn't/wasn't allowed, or them actively trying to prevent me from doing so. I don't consider myself to be particularly contrary but I've always had an inquisitive mind, and I've always wanted to know 'why not?' when told no. I do not believe that children today are any different...in fact, I'm 47 and I'm still no different! I still want to know the reasons why I can't do something, and if I don't agree, then I will do something about it! And guess what? I'm one of the most responsible and conscientious people you'll ever meet!

Teach kids how to be trustworthy, and you'll be rewarded no end; teach them that they are not to be trusted, and you'll open up a whole world of pain.... for them as well as you.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Excuse me while I scream...


Last weekend my HP laptop started crashing, so I took it to the repair shop on Monday morning. After running diagnostics, they determined that the HDD was failing, so they installed a new one. It cost me cost £160, and was fixed the same day. Yay. Or so I thought.

Within half an hour of getting it home, it was crashing again, so I took it back the next day. Got it back on Tuesday evening, and it ran ok for a few hours.....and then crashed as soon as I wanted to do anything graphical (in this case, load up Stronghold Kingdoms, which is an MMO I'm working on).

I couldn't get to the shop on Weds as I had several client meetings, so it went back on Thursday morning. I suspected it might be the GPU, which would mean a whole new motherboard, because, as I'm sure you know, on laptops, the graphics processor is integrated into the motherboard.

Sure enough, on Friday when I spoke to the repairman, he told me it was the GPU, which would cost in excess of what the laptop was worth. He said he'd part exchange my HP (which cost me £350 two years ago), so yesterday I went along to the shop to see what he had that close in spec to the HP.

He had an Acer within my price bracket (I've had so much to pay out recently, I can't actually afford a brand new machine at the moment). Apparently the screen had got broken, so rather than pay to have it repaired, the previous owner decided to trade it in. It now has a brand new screen, and everything has been checked and apparently found to be good working order. I paid £200 for it, which seems reasonable.

However, it is actually very slow, especially compared to my HP, and I think it must be because of all the dren that's pre-installed on it. Apparently it was a Home Access (educational) machine (our government had the not-so-bright idea to give every child at school in the UK a laptop because I assume, it was more headline-grabbing than spending the money on improving our failing education system). This means it has a shedload of rubbish pre-installed on it, which I cannot get rid of because I need passwords from the BECTA control centres. Since I don't have any activation keys, I cannot access the control centres, so I cannot uninstall any of this merda on this machine. In addition, BECTA (which was the government body responsible for this initiative) no longer exists, and despite several telephone calls yesterday, I could not get anyone to give me an activation or access key. All I kept getting told was;

"The parents had no right selling the computer - you should not have been able to buy it"

Nobody had the slightest interest in me telling them that it had been broken, and that I bought it reconditioned from a reputable repair shop.

And if it's not enough that I have gazillion gigabytes-worth of school programs on there, there's a frelling net nanny too, so I cannot even access the internet because......oh look, I have no access code to input. I did manage to briefly get around it by going into the control panel and changing the home page but it soon got wind of my deviousness and foiled my plans for looking at the oh-so-sordid knitting world of Ravelry.

I reformatted it in the hope that the edu stuff had been installed later but guess what? Yup, it's all factory-installed stuff. And possibly even worse - the wallpaper is now a photo of some saccharine children and their father, sitting on the grass, staring intently at a notebook. Actually, since the father is actually screwing his face up, I can only conclude that ants have got into the laptop and are running amok on the screen, or his children have both farted.

Just look at the ickness of it all:

I may vomit.

Tomorrow I'm taking it back to the shop and I shall ask that they do a clean install of Windows 7 without all the government nonsense. Possibly from one of their own OS discs. Really, they should have done that in the first place - surely they should have known that the NetIntelligence program would prevent internet access.... especially in view of the fact that the man in the shop told me that loads of parents just immediately sell their kids' laptops, so it is a common enough practice for him to know about the net nanny prog, and all the other spazzatura.

Grrrrr. And actually, while I'm at he should have picked up that the GPU on my HP was failing. When I spoke to him yesterday, I told him that I'd tested out so many different things in order to discover what the issue was, and he admitted I'd done more to check than he had!

So I am not a happy camper: I've had over a week of tech problems which has meant I've not been able to work properly, plus it's cost me £360, which was more than I paid for the HP brand new, and which I could have done without spending, particularly in view of having to pay my tax bill yesterday too. And I'm STILL having to use my old ageing-hamster-powered dinocomputer.


Saturday, 17 July 2010

Review: The Artist Residence Hotel, Brighton

Last Tuesday Kevin and I headed off to Brighton for the Develop conference. It was Kevin's turn to book the hotel for our overnight stay, and as usual, he opted for the quirky choice; The Artist Residence, on Regency Square.

The girl at reception was welcoming but didn't know we'd paid in full up front; she couldn't find any record of our payment! Fortunately she eventually came across it!

The room, whilst looking fun and funky, was exceptionally small, particularly the bed, which was described as a double but was in fact tiny. In addition, it was very uncomfortable and there was only one thin pillow each. No extra bedding was provided.

It was a very warm night but we couldn't have the window open, due to the noise of drunken revellers outside. That and the fact that the other hotel guests were incredibly noisy; slamming doors, very loud voices etc. and one even vomiting very loudly meant we got less than an hour's sleep. This wouldn't be so bad if we weren't at a conference and in meetings the next day.

Breakfast was rather lacking; a cold croissant (with no preserves or butter), bottle of room-temperature water, a small apple and a Nutrigrain bar (which I'm not sure even counts as food!), left in a bag outside the bedroom door. I have no problem with the casual attitude of breakfast-in-a-bag but in all honesty, I have stayed in far better hotels where I've paid less per night, and had a full English breakfast plus yoghurt, fruit, pastries, cereal and toast!

We would have liked to sit out on the balcony to eat our breakfast; unfortunately, the scaffold planks were very wobbly and didn't seem very safe, and the chairs were covered in bird guano! I don't think they'd ever been cleaned, especially as there was a large pile of droppings to the left of the balcony - clearly below a favoured roosting spot!

The advertised WiFi didn't work. We had to ask for the passkey as it was not volunteered; unfortunately it only connected us to the WLAN, not the internet, so we had to go out to a café in The Lanes in order to check our work emails!

We didn't have much time to watch TV, which was just as well because there was no reception, other than Film4! I would however, have been grateful for it in the small hours when I was being kept awake. Thank goodness for my laptop and BBC iPlayer!

Perhaps most disturbing of all was the lack of smoke alarm in our room. I say lack - there had been a smoke alarm once; however, when we were there, all that remained was the plastic base plate screwed to the ceiling, with a few bare wires dangling from it. I'm pretty sure the hotel was breaking the law by not having a working smoke alarm in the room.

The one really positive element was the shower! Granted the en-suite was quirkily bijou (it was in a cupboard) but the shower itself was wonderful. Very powerful, and the water very soft. A real pleasure to use.... even if the cubicle could have done with being a bit larger! Nice complementary products too (Bee Kind).

To sum up; in principle, I love the quirkiness of The Artist Residence but in practice I found it to be poor value and very uncomfortable. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone wishing to get a good night's sleep, or requiring a decent breakfast.

The table was really sweet - shame all the bird poo prevented us using it!

My laptop bag, which is 18" wide, is there for scale - the bed is tiny!

This cupboard houses the shower cubicle, washbasin and loo! You can actually just see the loo if you look toward the bottom panel of the right-hand door!