Sichuan peppercorns

I read about Sichuan Pepper in Cooking for Geeks a long time ago. I have been wanting to try a dish with them for a long time. Recently there was a post on the Winnipeg SubReddit that mentioned that the Golden Loong restaurant uses them. Yesterday I finally got to try their Kung Pao Chicken with fresh sichuan peppercorns. The basic taste is lemony. More importantly, they are tingly and change the flavour of everything in the part of your mouth where they burst, including the water you drink after. Of the four of us there, one hated the sensation, one didn’t much like it, and the other two liked it at least for the intensity of the sensation. I’d have it again. Very neat experience, and one thing gone from the geeky bucket list :-)

electronic circuit simulator

I have messed around with electronics for a long time, but a lot of it is still a mystery. So, I was thrilled to realize that free, online circuit simulators exist. My favourite one is http://www.falstad.com/circuit/ . It gives examples of dozens of circuits, you can modify them, or you can make your own. Better yet, no login required, if you want to save your work it will spit it out as a text file you can import again later. Thanks, Paul Falstad & co, for putting this together and hosting it!

Semantic Mediawiki for documentation

I support several Mediawiki web sites. One of the best features of the tool in my mind are categories. Something doesn’t have to be filed as green or round, it can be categorized as green and as round. Combined with hyperlinking it allows you to only write data in one place and then link and find it from anywhere.

Sometimes, though, you would like to be able to see the information in a different format. For example, you might have articles about individuals with contact information, but it would be nice to have a list of fax numbers to put over the fax machine. Generally that would mean maintaining a separate document and all the problems that come with maintaining duplicate information.

This is where the Semantic Mediawiki extension to Mediawiki comes in. It allows you to designate certain information on a page as attributes that can be accessed from elsewhere. For example, I can put a “faxnumber” attribute on every person’s page. I can then write a bit of code on a different page to do things like list all pages that have fax numbers, and their fax number. Of course when you update a fax number, the list is updated automatically.

The syntax to make all of this happen would be somewhat difficult to understand for most basic users, but some of the details can be hidden in templates so that all a user would need to do is copy the template use code from another page and update the parameters.

We have been using this for a few months now. If I actually want to change the usage of the parameters it takes some thought. We have about 10 people who regularly edit these wikis, and so far none of them have engaged with the guts of Mediawiki, and only some have used templates involving it without prompting.

So, Semantic Mediawiki is a powerful tool but will probably not work on any wiki without a champion that is willing and able to figure it out and make sure that, as information is added to the wiki, it is encoded into it.

Epidemiology of Healthcare Course

Auditing a course to tell me more about the databases of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) right now. They essentially host a variety of Manitoba data sets that are combined to better understand population health. The data sets are huge both in that they contain most Manitobans and in that they stretch into areas like health, housing, education and also some stats can data. They also have a very  handy free and online concept dictionary that explains some of the indices and acronyms used in that field.
As interesting as the course itself is the wide variety of people who are taking it: students, new people at MCHP, people who work with native, housing or education agencies and a few doctors. Half the course is spend discussing some of the reports MCHP has generated and there are always interesting perspectives around the table.