Saturday, 17 June 2017

Types of magic: Potions

For a while now, the Harry Potter universe has bothered me for various reasons. However, the one that has perplexed me the most of late is the different types of magic. Charm, hex, curse, potions, wards, jinx...all of these terms and more are used with little or no explanation into the difference between them. While for the sake of the narrative, the difference between the levicorpus jinx and a levitation charm isn't particularly important I'd like to think that Witches and Wizards give meaning to these words instead of just using whichever one sounds the best.

If I ever get around to writing a book, and that book were to contain magic, I'd like to have a system worked out in advance for the different magical principles to be used. Over a series of posts, I'm going to try and outline the different magics I would like to use.

Potions

While typical usage would be for liquids meant for ingestion to induce magical effects, some games I've encountered include poltices and healing salves which are not typically ingested. Instead I'm using it as a more general term for objects created by the reshaping of existing magics. This is the mechanism for potions used in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. To cure boils via potion is trivial but to do so with a spell is rather difficult.

The reason given for this is that the potion doesn't draw from the users well of magic, nor significantly on that of the potions' creator. Instead, existing magical objects like flubberworm mucus and doxy eggs are utilized in conjunction with more mundane, at least in the magical sense, items like porcupine quills or armadillo bile. When combined and manipulated correctly, the end result of a potion recipe is a 'charge' of magic that is released when the activation conditions are met, such as being ingested by a magical person for example.

While potion making is not magically taxing, it does require some magical source. Steps within the potions preparations, such as the intricate stirring patterns are actually minor spells that unbind the magical essence of the starting objects, reshape it into the desired form and alter the physical characteristics of the concoction into a suitable form (how else would you get a smooth liquid out of something with porqupine quills in it?)

Typically, potions contain at least one magical ingredient. While not necessary, it requires more skill from the maker as it must draw from their magics to supplement the brew. Hypothetically, you could contain the effects of a jelly legs jinx within a sweet but you can't just throw the jinx at the sugary treat and call it a day. Most other spells are channeled or instantaneous and therefore have no real concept of 'shelf life'. The process of converting spells to a form that can be stored is complex, but can be simplified by the right mundane components. The magic must also be keyed to an activation method else it will remain contained until it dissipates, degrades, or is reshaped appropriately.

The mundane components within potions procedures serve as foci for the spells being cast and can greatly simplify a procedure. The correct arrangement of mundane items can produce a resonance effect and greatly improve the end result. A potions master must balance their ingredients to optimize for time, cost, magic, and the level of precision required.

Anything that comes in close proximity of magical creature retains some residue for a time and therefore many things classified as mundane items hold small but detectable amounts of magical energies. For this reason, the term 'mundane components' refers to items that are not in themselves inherently magical like parts of non-magical plants and animals.

Potions have a shelf life; that is, a time before the potions magic has dissipated or degraded to the point where it no longer can serve its primary function. While this varies with the nature of the magic being contained, the general principle is that for all other things being equal, a more powerful potion will dissipate at a faster rate than a less powerful potion, similar to how a pot of boiling water will have its temperature decrease by 10C much faster than one starting at 25C in the same conditions. Degradation depends on the how stable the magic is in its current state. Healing potions have typically long degradation times and may be suitable for years while something like a love potion would need to be administered within a week or two else the potion may produce some unintended results.

Potions is one of the more powerful disciplines of magic that I plan on including within a magical system if I were to build one, but the trade off for that power is cost, time and a much higher importance of planning.


Image source: http://kyflpa.deviantart.com/favourites/72213623/Potions-n-magic

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Lentil burgers

We have a large amount of lentils so I've regularly been making lentil burgers. They're relatively easy to make and quite tasty. The recipe makes about 12 patties, but the amounts are approximate as I typically don't measure.

Ingredients

  1. 350 ml of dried lentils
  2. 1 roughly chopped onion
  3. 2 grated carrots
  4. Pinch of pepper
  5. 1/2 cup of gluten powder
  6. Cornstarch
  7. Oil for frying
Gluten powder is exactly as it sounds; a powdered form of wheat gluten. It's use is as a binder, but for those who are celiacs, you could probably use chia seeds or applesauce, but I have yet to attempt it. 

Method

  1. Soak the lentils in water overnight
  2. Drain then boil the lentils until soft.
  3. Drain the cooked lentils. Reserve the water. A small amount is needed for the patties, but the remainder can have other uses like Wakame Mousse
  4. Cook the carrots and onions until softened
  5. Combine carrots, onions, lentils, and pepper. Mix thoroughly,
  6. Add a small amount of the reserved liquid and stir through.
  7. Add gluten powder mix again.
  8. Using egg rings, press to form burger patties.
  9. Dust each side of the patties with cornstarch.
  10. Leave patties for about an hour, or until ready to be eaten. They'll last a couple days at least. 
  11. When ready, heat oil in a pan, roughly the amount you would use for shallow frying schnitzel.
  12. Press the patties firmly between your hands firmly before placing into the oil.
  13. Fry until brown and crispy on both side. 
  14. Assemble into burgers of your choosing.
I usually have beetroot, gherkin, tomato, soy mayo and sauce. We've actually been preferring them over regular burger patties which is good since a kilo of cooked lentils is cheaper than a kilo of mince.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Wakame (seaweed) mousse

While not vegan myself, I am interested in some of the foods that develop from trying to recreate non-vegan tastes and textures. I came across a vegan cheese recipe from aquafaba (literally water from beans) and decided to play around. Here's one of the results of my experimentation; Wakame mousse.

Ingredients;

  • 1\2 cup almond meal
  • 1 1\2 cup of the water left after cooking brown lentils
  • 1 tsp of acid - the original recipe called for lemon juice but I've used the liquid from pickled vegetables.
  • 1 piece of dried wakame, about the length of a credit card, cut into confetti sized chunks
  • 2 tbsp of potato flour
  • 2 tsp of gelatin - this is what makes it non-vegan. You can use agar agar instead, but I didn't have any on hand at the time.
  1. Place all ingredients in a blender, and leave for 10 minutes with the blender off. This is to give time for the wakame's flavour to infuse into the liquid.
  2. Blend until compined.
  3. Pour out into microwave safe container - I used a chinese food container so it could be the cooking vessel and mold.
  4. microwave for 2 minutes
  5. Pour into mold if not already in one and mix.
  6. Cover and allow to cool on a counter.
  7. Once cool enough, move to fridge and leave until set. Should only take a few hours but I usually leave my tests overnight.
You now should have a light grey mouse with a slight seaweed taste. I top it with dried fruit and use it for my lunch. The almond meal can make it a little gritty but I haven't yet attempted to see how it goes without it. I suspected it was acting as a nucleation site/neutral element to ensure a uniform texture.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Power Rangers: Does RPM hold up on its own?

Power Rangers RPM is, in my opinion, one of, if not the, best versions of the Power Rangers to date. A post apocalyptic society where an evil AI has taken over the world and the only safe place is a domed city, Corinth, safeguarded by the military and protected by the Power Rangers. One of my favorite parts about this show is that it makes fun of the Power Ranger tropes while also embracing them. However, if this is the main source of entertainment derived from RPM, can it hold up if you haven't seen other Power Rangers series'? Surprisingly, yes. Better than most other Power Rangers series' I've experienced.

The show actually does an excellent job of its backstory. The emergency evacuation broadcast, which also serves as the shows opening sequence, sets the scene in a manner that swiftly covers the main premise of the show, with further information being drip fed to the audience over time by use of the standard 'character with amnesia' trope.

The main characters have unique personalities, but they all fit into easily understood archetypes. This is necessary for a kids show and in fact they make a joke about it. Each character also has dedicated character development episodes. This helps to ensure no one character dominates, like Tommy in the original series.

While the character development can feel somewhat forced, especially with these episodes coming one after another, it's a kids show and they're very well done. Unlike other iterations, Power Rangers RPM has, with the exception of a behind-the-scenes episode, only episodes that contribute towards building the narrative and advancing the story. Even in this exception, they all stay in character during the episode. It is also the only Power Rangers in my memory where Morphing technology is not only explained by invented on Earth. 

But what about the heart of the matter - the humor? Despite making fun of Ranger tropes that have been around for the last 20ish years, they aren't afraid of embracing them. By establishing the tropes within their own series well before the punchline, they can still get a laugh even without experiencing any other series. These jokes might be better suited to people who have multiple iterations of Power Rangers under their belt, but it's still good on its own. My personal favorite is when the Blue Ranger takes advantage of the explosion that accompanies the Morphing sequence to take out an enemy squadron.

I have absolutely no qualms about recommending Power Rangers RPM. While I have a fondness for episodes of earlier seasons like Countdown to Destruction, the other iterations of Power Rangers have a fair amount of filler. By contrast, I would be willing to dub Power Rangers RPM as a no filler TV show under the my revised definition of filler, if it weren't for the aforementioned behind the scenes episode. RPM is the perfect way to introduce the series to someone who may be on the fence about Power Rangers.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Not-so-instant hot chocolate

With the high rental costs in Sydney, I've been looking into ways that I can save some money. One way I've thought of is using powdered milk. Because we are use fairly little milk, it tends to go off before we use it all. By using powdered milk, we get around that issue.

We also enjoy hot chocolate occasionally, but nesquick comes to about $9.00 a kilo. Assuming you use equal amounts of hot chocolate and milk powder, that comes to $7.35 a kilo. I decided to try to save a bit of money by making our own;

Ingredients;
  • 4 teaspoons powdered milk ($5.70 a kilo)
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar ($2.80 a kilo)
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder ($10 a kilo)
  • Sprinkle of Chinese 5 spice powder. ($4.75 per container, not required but I like the taste)
Method;
  1. Mix the ingredients together in a mug.
  2. Add a small amount of cold water and mix well. Not really nessecary, but I find it makes it smoother. 
  3. Top with boiling water, mix well
When you take into the cost of all the ingredients that went into this, it comes to about $6. There's some savings but nothing too drastic. Even when it's in the $6 range, I still consider it a poor mans hot chocolate. Why? For two reasons. 
  1. All of the ingredients excluding the cocoa powder have alternate uses that Nesquick or substitutes couldn't offer. 
  2. In my opinion, this tastes better than simple Nesquick and milk. It's basic optimization; if you can get better quality for essentially the same price, there's no reason not to do so. 
The take home point of this exercise for me was this; Being cost effective isn't just about looking at the bottom line. It's about making the best use of what you have available. 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Firefly Shindig: Sending the right message

With access to Netflix, I've been working my way through shows that I've previously missed. This includes Firefly, which has unfortunately since been removed. Someone recommending Firefly is certainly nothing new, but this post isn't about reviewing the show. Instead, it's just about a single message within the episode Shindig.

The scene in question relates to Kaylee, the ships mechanic, attending a fancy ball; the reasons for which are unimportant to this article. Upon arrival, she marvels at how the upper class live before being shamed by a gaggle of socialites, who strangely do not seem to be socializing, for her store-bought attire, and subsequently being saved by another party goer. A short time later, Kaylee is surrounded by suitors, who seem to be enjoying discussing her experiences as a mechanic.

This is the message that I was interested in. Being well presented may get you attention, but it doesn't help in keeping it. Kaylee got attention in the end because she was capable of having meaningful conversation with the other party goers.

I like to think of it as an art installation. Something pretty and meaningless may attract a respectable amount of people, but the turnover rate will be high. Conversely, something with a lot of depth but not as visually appealing, such as Marco Evaristti's Helena (Word of warning; if you plan on googling this piece, some may find it distressing), is likely to attract less people but they are likely to consider it longer and remember it better.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Feelings on Filler

[Spoiler warning for Bleach]

I've been watching a bit more anime of late and hearing about the annoyance, hatred and even fear that people have towards filler. Fear of filler seems absurd, but there are a people who have turned away from an interesting show because it was known for its large amount of filler.

As some probably would guess, the show I'm referring to is Bleach, which has a reported 46% of its episodes being filler (http://www.animefillerlist.com/shows/bleach) and whole arcs and movies have been deemed non-canon. While some of it absolutely is terrible, I personally don't believe that filler in general is a bad thing, at least under the current definition.

To make sure that I wasn't talking complete garbage, I checked up a definition of filler. For an anime, the generally accepted definition seems to be episodes that aren't based on their associated manga. This is pretty flimsy as there are quite a few animes out there that don't follow their original mangas perfectly, Hellsing for example, and others where the anime has actually gone on further than the manga, such as Overlord and No Game No Life. What happens in situations like Accel World where they refer to things that were anime exclusive?

Discussing this point serves for no real benefit however so instead we will consider another point that usually is included in the definition; An episode that does not further the story. This is the definition that I prefer for filler as an episode that does not further the story is one which can be skipped with no real impact. These episodes represent wastage or at least they should.

Consider episode 131 of One Piece, The First Patient! The Untold Story of the Rumble Ball! It doesn't contribute to the story - it can't because it falls between the Alabasta Arc and the Skypeia Arc. However, this doesn't make the story useless. Instead, it provides further exploration of a main character, in this case Chopper, which adds to the narrative. Considering the narrative and story separately to me, seems to be a mistake.

Instead, I propose a new definition for filler; the broadest of which is an episode that do not contribute to the narrative. You could argue that there's no way that an episode could be classed as filler, but that's certainly not true.

Take Bleach and the hated Bount arc. While it's traditional filler and non-canon, I wouldn't call the whole arc filler under the new definition. The events of the arc help flesh out the upcoming conflict between Ichigo and his hollow self , with one of the Bount's actually giving advice about denying that part of himself. The main invasion also helps with the narrative by building on reshi manipulation, which was only covered briefly when Urio broke his bow. These are sme of the reasons why I personally did get some enjoyment out of the Bounts.

While, in my opinion, the arc as a whole can't be considered filler, there are episodes within it that can. Consider the Bleach episode Assault from a Formidable Enemy! A Tiny Final Line of Defense?! They're supposed to be coming up with plans to fight the Bounts, but by the end of the episode the only new thing that's been introduced (a suit that amplifies the powers of Mod Souls) has been written off as something that they should never use due to their appearance.

All shows should strive for zero filler, but some times that isn't possible. This change would make zero filler episodes is a lot more achievable, actively aimed for as filler would literally be the content that serves only to waste the time of the cast, crew and consumer.