Keeping my toast British

Moving to a new country is always a challenge, but going from Switzerland to the US adds the additional complexity that everything runs on a different voltage. So while computers and chargers can generally cope, things like kettles and hairdryers have no chance. My beloved British-made Dualit toaster sadly falls into the latter class.

Dualit toaster

Rather than spend $259 for a new toaster, I figured there must be a way to convert it to work okay over here, but couldn’t find any definitive evidence. I took a crazy risk on a £39.99 set of replacement elements for a 110V Dualit on ebay which arrived in a couple of days and turned out to be perfect.

All you need to do is unscrew the bottom and switch out the elements. It’s a little fiddly, but this guide will help if you’re scared. Swap out the plug and 20 minutes later you can enjoy your first slices of warm toast. Apparently it sells pretty well over here.


On a Sunday afternoon there’s little better than a warm crumpet, but since I’ve been in living in Switzerland it’s become a little trickier to get hold of them. Then it occurred to me that crumpets probably don’t have to come from a packet.

Delia provided me with a good starting point for the recipe, though I’ll point out a few changes.

First, make sure to grease the cooking rings properly well, otherwise you end up with a sticky mess. Then keep the heat fairly low – ‘5’ out of a possible 9 on my stove did the trick – and spoon in as much batter as you need to fill the ring about 15mm high. The recommended single tablespoon was definitely not enough.

Crumpets being cooked on a pan

Let them cook for a bit and watch out for burning the bottoms, then smother in butter and enjoy with a cup of tea. Splendid!

Crumpets on a plate

iPhone Location Tracking

As has been widely reported today, iPhones have been logging location and timestamps in a file that can easily be accessed on the computer the iPhone is backed up to. This doesn’t seem to pose a massive privacy/security issue since the data never appears to leave the user’s iPhone and the computer it is connected to, but it is understandably getting a lot of attention.

Personally, I’m quite pleased this data exists. I’ve been tracking my location with Google Latitude since it was made available with iOS 4 but this seems to give me a lot more data points. Take a look at my movements in the UK since August last year:

Map of the UK with location superimposed

Unhabit – a Startup Weekend experience

Last weekend was spent with dozens of technical and business people in Cambridge, all working on creating a new web business from scratch at Startup Weekend Cambridge. Whilst the venue lacked good coffee and good wifi (two essentials for an event of this type), it was a great experience.

The team I joined worked on an idea for how to quit smoking by self imposing financial penalties and asking your friends to report when they spotted you lighting up. I worked on refining the idea, developed the branding, created a promotional video and built a simple iOS app, as well as helping our two developers to get a demo site up and running.

Take a look at our video to get a flavour for the idea. Follow us on twitter. Sign up for notifications on our website and look for more updates on our blog.

Not bad for a weekend’s work. Thanks to Matt, Danny, John and Richard for making a great team.

Video with a DSLR

Since I got my Canon 7D a few months ago, I’ve been interested to try out its video capabilities, which were one of the many improvements over the 400D I had previously.

I shot this with a 50mm f/1.8 lens and got the low angle using the Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod that I recently received. The camera was set up using the custom settings suggested by Tyler Ginter. Thanks to Scruff for being a reasonably cooperative model.

Playing with the new Facebook profile

Inspired by Alexandre Oudin, I updated my new Facebook profile page to extend my picture beyond the usual confines of the top left corner.

Large Facebook profile picture

Now if only I could take control of my friends’ profile pictures and the adverts, I could make the picture even bigger!

Warning: This is a high maintenance profile picture. I’ve already had my eyes changed to a different colour by an intelligent friend.

King’s Affair 2010

I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year organising the annual King’s Affair at my college in Cambridge. As Chair, I’ve been responsible for the budget of over £85,000 and for coordinating the team of 18 amazing students who all made sure that our 1400 guests had one of the best nights of their lives.

Set up and take down takes about four days in total, and by the time I went to sleep the day after the event I’d been up for well over 40 hours. Here’s my little memory of how it all went:

You can view it in full HD on Vimeo.

Also see:
King’s Affair 2009 Timelapse (when I was Production officer)
King’s Affair 2010 Reviews on Cambridge TAB and Varsity.

The Biggest Company in the US?

Now that Apple has surpassed Microsoft to become the second largest company in the US by market cap, the question arises, will it ever become the biggest?

This position is currently held by Exxon Mobil, with a market cap of $278billion to Apple’s $222billion. It certainly isn’t implausible to imagine this happening within the year, given Apple’s strong growth. Assuming Exxon Mobil stays at the same valuation (unlikely, but bear with me…) Apple’s share price would have to jump from it’s current $244 to just over $305. A big jump? Yes. Unrealistic? Perhaps not. The NASDAQ give the 1 year target estimate as $315.

Taking the massive assumption that a year or two from now, Apple becomes the biggest (or should that be most valuable) company in the US. The next question is, how do they justify that position and won’t the stock be grossly overvalued by this point?

Before we go any further, it should be noted that I’m pretty unqualified to talk on the subject, but just wanted to make my thoughts public.

First of all, some reasons why Apple would be too highly valued:

The Steve Jobs question. Whatever you say about the ability of the rest of Apple’s employees, the truth remains that at the point Jobs is no longer CEO, the stock will tank. This high risk is something investors are going to be aware of and is unusual for a company this large.

Does it really make sense? Apple are a niche computer company who have started making quite expensive phones that some people like. Should they be worth more than Walmart, who have 3,500 stores in the US that are visited by almost half of Americans every week! When something seems too good to be true…

Google. The old rival was often seen to be Microsoft, but it is clear this isn’t the case any more. With Android beginning to outsell iPhone, the immediate smartphone dominance by Apple could be quickly eroded by a cheaper, more open platform that is supported by a wide range of manufacturers and carriers. Can iPhone keep up?

Losing the magic. With stories of App Store rejections and suicides at manufacturing plants, not to mention anti-trust and patents, it seems Apple is having to face up to the reality of being a really large company. People don’t see them as the underdogs anymore and are starting to question the control they have over all their products.

And some reasons it is reasonable for Apple to be the largest company in the US:

iPad. I said before the iPad was announced that I thought it could replace laptops for many people and I stand by that even more having owned one for the last month. The iPad has the potential to replace the PC (in the personal computer, including laptop, sense) in many people’s lives. It will take a while for many to move away from a proper computer to a “big iPhone”, but given time I really believe it will happen. Owning the new mainstream computing platform is valuable.

Owning the whole platform is valuable. Apple figured that one out decades ago. How can HP, Dell or Lenovo differentiate themselves when they are all selling Microsoft Windows, and therefore rely on Microsoft to provide their customers with a good experience? HP are starting to realise this, hence the acquisition of Palm, but have a long way to catch up.

Targeting the high end. Whilst the rest of the market race to the bottom with cheaper and cheaper computers (even if you take netbooks out of the equation) Apple stays firm at the premium end. Apple have a 91% share of computers over $1000 sold to consumers. This means profit margins can stay at a healthy 25%, which is when market share stops being so important.

Amongst my peers at university, more and more are choosing to spend their limited funds on a Mac. Because of this, for many (perhaps the majority) of my university friends, their largest ever purchase has been from Apple. Okay, so they’ll buy houses and cars and it won’t seem so big, but the fact is still impressive and shows how technology spending is not something people are scared of.

To conclude: Apple’s stock price has been incredible to watch over the last few years, yet I’m not sure Apple will ever reach the biggest company milestone and I am nervous about the things that could go wrong along the way. Despite this, I think they are well positioned to benefit from greater consumer use of technology and their stock can continue to grow.

Full disclosure: I hold a small, long-term personal position in AAPL.

Student Cooking

Since I’ve had a kitchen in my student accommodation, I’ve ‘cooked’ a meal most days, but often this doesn’t stretch far beyond a cheese toastie or frozen pizza.

Now I’ve nothing to do but revise, I thought I may as well cook myself some decent food. To keep me entertained and to somewhat decrease my intake of crap. The lack of utensils/pans/spices/oils makes everything that bit harder than at home, but I guess I’ll have to cope one day.

Some experiments the last couple of nights:

Tomato and Feta Pastry Tart
Serves 2

Tomato and Feta Tart

Time to prepare: 5 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins

  • Pre-rolled puff pastry
  • Tomato Pesto
  • Feta Cheese
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Fresh Basil
  • After remembering to defrost the pastry (the main downside to this meal), spread the pesto, chop and place some tomatoes and crumble some feta. Cook in oven on a normal heat. Remove and serve with ripped basil on top.

    Really simple, and tastes pretty good.



    Slightly more ambitious this time, I tried a proper recipe as opposed to a pile-stuff-on-pastry method.

    Caponata by Yotam Ottolenghi

    Took the best part of an hour, but turned out reasonably well and proved a nice meal served with warm ciabatta.

    Next time, maybe I’ll see if I can branch away from Italian cooking. I’ll find it difficult, believe me. Any suggestions are welcome.