Password Safe

“Many computer users today have to keep track of dozens of passwords: for network accounts, online services, premium web sites. Some write their passwords on a piece of paper, leaving their accounts vulnerable to thieves or in-house snoops. Others choose the same password for different applications, which makes life easy for intruders of all kinds.

“With Password Safe, a free Windows 9x/2000 utility from Counterpane Labs, users can keep their passwords securely encrypted on their computers. A single Safe Combination–just one thing to remember–unlocks them all.”

There’s not much more you need to know. When my list of accounts and passwords became too much to memorize, I started keeping them in a little “keyring” file on my PC. First it was just a plain text file (*embarrassed cough*), but more recently I’ve kept the text file in an encrypted zip file. I’ve seen numerous little programs that take care of this password tracking job, but until now I have never found one that a) doesn’t try to do more than I want it to, b) is a pain in the arse about backups and transporting files, c) is inexpensive, and d) comes from a vendor I trust.

Password Safe nails all of these issues:

  1. All that Password Safe does is hold passwords. You give each item in your list a title, a user name, and a password. There’s also a small space for additional notes if you need them. But that’s all it requires: three small pieces of data per password. And once you’ve entered this information, it shows up in a simple list. It’s clean, simple, and elegant.
  2. Your passwords are stored in a single .dat file. The .dat file is encrypted with the Blowfish algorithm. Transporting your passwords between computers is a matter of taking your .dat file with you, running Password Safe on the other computer, and making sure you know the master password (the “safe combination”) to open the file.
  3. Password Safe was originally developed by Counterpane Labs, but it’s now being developed as an open source project. It’s free.
  4. Counterpane Systems was founded by Bruce Schneier, one of the biggest names in computer encryption and security. He invented the Blowfish algorithm. He developed the Solitaire algorithm used in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon–one of the best fiction books ever written about code-breaking and computer hacking. He has written many other books about cryptography, computers, and privacy. He publishes the monthly Crypto-Gram newsletter about computer security and cryptography. His credentials are beyond reproach. Do I trust this utility knowing that it comes from his company? Absolutely.

Password Safe. It’s the way to go.

The ultimate hot sauce

I’m a big fan of hot foods. A very big fan. Unfortunately Abi isn’t, and Alex is still too young to properly appreciate my badass voodoo chili. So when I’m in the mood for something spicy, I usually make a plain version and sex up my own portion with some hot sauce.

Sambal OelekI used to use sambal oelek for this purpose. A small jar of sambal is a standard condiment on the tables of Chinese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands. If you get a take-away, you’ll be asked if you want a little sachet of sambal to go with it. Sambal tastes great in chili, and is lovely in scrambled eggs. But it has three drawbacks. First of all, it is still relatively hard to find good sambal here in Britain. Secondly, it tends to be a bit salty. Depending on the dish, you might not want that kind of additional seasoning. And finally, sambal is a mash of peppers rather than a sauce. It still contains whole seeds and small chunks of pepper, which can sometimes detract from the presentation of your dish. (Also, I find sambal a bit mild these days.)

Encona West Indian Original Hot Pepper SauceOne of the biggest brands in hot sauces in Britain is Encona, who make a selection of different flavours. I’ve tried two of them, their “West Indian Original Hot Pepper Sauce”, and their relatively new “Cajun Hot Pepper Sauce”. The West Indian sauce is made from the exceedingly hot scotch bonnet pepper. It has a powerful up-front burn, with a slightly fruity aftertaste. It can add a lot of heat to a dish with very little sauce, but because it front-loads the burn it kills a lot of the flavour from your main ingredients. I’ve tried it in chili, pasta sauces and soups, and although it has plenty of fire, it’s about as subtle as a brick to the head.

Their Cajun sauce is made from cayenne peppers (my favourite), and has a more easy-going taste. It has a much rounder, wider burn that fills your mouth much more gradually. But it is also very, very sweet, and that can have an adverse effect on the flavour of the dish you’re trying to spice up. It’s not as hot than the West Indian sauce, so although you have to add more sauce to raise the flames (which makes it easier to control the heat), you’re also adding more extraneous flavour to your dish. Which of these two sauces you’d be better off with will depend on the type of food you’re cooking, and on your personal preference for heat.

Dan T's Inferno White Hot Cayenne Pepper SauceBut I’ve been saving the best for last. Sambal isn’t the ultimate hot sauce, and neither are the Encona varieties. The best hot sauce I have ever tasted has got to be Dan T’s Inferno White Hot Cayenne Pepper Sauce. It has a deep, full-mouth burn that arrives slowly and lingers. It has a rich, dark flavour that maintains the classic zing of the cayenne pepper, but also adds depth and maturity to its spicy exuberance. The texture is smooth, with a tiny amount of dark red and orange grit that buries itself deep in the crevasses between your tongue’s taste buds. It is capable of raising a sweat in small quantities, but even larger amounts don’t kill the flavour of your original dish. It opens up a wormhole into an alternate dimension of fiery gastronomic pleasure.

It is, in short, amazing.

It also seems to have vanished from all supermarket shelves here in Edinburgh. I’ve tried Asda, Safeway, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. None of them have it. I bought my original bottle from one of them, I’m sure, but now it’s gone! The Encona Cajun sauce just isn’t an adequate replacement, but where else can I get it? I haven’t found an on-line source for it here in the UK yet, either. If you see Dan T’s in your supermarket, or if you find an on-line merchant selling it, please let me know!

Related Links

The Quiet PC

Wow. After placing my order late on Wednesday afternoon, the components from arrived yesterday (Friday). They came in a huge and heavy box, that had me slightly worried. I haven’t taken a note of the dimensions of the AcoustiCase (£99 ex. VAT) before I ordered it. What if it didn’t fit on my desk? Gulp.

Fortunately, the box contained a lot of packaging. The case itself turned out to be slightly narrower than my old one. It is a good bit taller and longer, but that’s okay–it means there’s more room to manoeuvre inside. (It also has a flat top, which means that stuff I leave lying on it won’t keep rolling off. Cool.)

Another thing I hadn’t checked before ordering the case was the page of installation instructions. If I had, I wouldn’t have been surprised when Abi heaved an enormous bag of acoustic padding out of the box. Some assembly is required, you see…

What you start with is a nice, solid case. A good old-fashioned steel PC case. It weighs a tonne, but that’s part of the deal: with a heavy case like this, there’s less possibility of bits rattling around and making noise. You also get three different kinds of acoustic padding, all carefully cut to size: plain acoustic foam, which slots into spare drive bays and other empty spaces; acoustic barrier mass, which is heavy rubber, backed with strong adhesive for adding dampening weight and thickness to the case; and acoustic composite, which is a combination of the two, for places in the case where there is room for both.

It looks like a daunting task at first, but the instructions are clear. (Once you find them, that is. They were hidden inside the case itself). Overall, it took us about an hour and a half to assemble the case and transplant my PC from its old case to its new one. Installing the Ultra-quiet PSU (£52 ex. VAT) was a simple matter of slotting it into the case and attaching it with a few screws. The Flower Cooler (£33 ex. VAT) looked at once beautiful and scary, but turned out to be easier to snap on to my CPU than my current heat sink and fan.

When it was finished, the whole package looked fantastic. The acoustic padding is cut to perfect size, and is cleverly thought out to fill all the spaces through which sound might escape. The case is large enough to accept an ATX motherboard with stacks of room to spare for running cables. The Flower Cooler comes with a fan that attaches to the case itself rather than the heat sink, and hovers a centimetre or so above the fins to ensure maximum airflow. It also has an attachment that allows you to adjust the speed of the fan, so you can balance trade off some cooling power for more silence.

But the main reason I bought the case was to silence my PC. So does it work? Oh boy, does it work. It is gorgeous. When the computer is idling away, there is a very light thrumming noise from the CPU fan. Sitting a few feet away on the sofa, watching TV at normal volume, the sound is barely noticeable. It makes me cringe at the noisy rattle the old case and cooling fans had been producing.

I had been a little bit worried about heat build-up inside the case, because the acoustic baffling looks like it restricts the airflow in places. But the worry turned out to be unfounded. My CPU (a Duron 800) is ticking over at a happy 45°C, which is lower than it had been in my old case. Excellent! Given that the rear of the AcoustiCase has much better ventilation than my old one, I could probably get away with not running the fan at all right now. But I know I’ll need it when I move up to a high-speed Athlon next year, so I don’t want to get used to complete silence, only to be disappointed when I have to turn the fan back on.

Looking at it sitting on my desk now, the AcoustiCase is a true beast of a case. But it purrs just like a baby kitten. It wasn’t cheap, but this is definitely one of the best computer purchases I’ve ever made.


Chipperkyle B&B

What do you buy the person who already has everything? My darling Snoogums and I ask ourselves this question every year at Christmas, usually in connection with my parents. Something for the house? (They already own every conceivable kitchen appliance.) Books? CDs? (Tried that–and it turned out they already had them, so we ended up keeping them for ourselves.) Jewellery? Clothes? (Been there, done that.)

What we really wanted to get them was something unique, something unforgettable. And so we eventually our thoughts strayed into holiday territory: a weekend break somewhere. They love eating out, and they love old-fashioned country hotels, so we found them the perfect combination: an overnight stay at the Darroch Learg hotel in Ballater, Deeside, with dinner at the hotel’s award-winning restaurant.

As it turns out, my family had been asking themselves the same question about snoogums and me. (Us? Difficult to buy for? Never!) This produced an amusing scene on Christmas morning, when it was revealed that *they* had clubbed together and got us a weekend away, too. Not at Darroch Learg, though, but at our favourite restaurant, “The Plumed Horse” in Dumfriesshire. Super yum!

The Plumed Horse is another experience I have written about on Dooyoo, so I won’t go into too much detail about it here. (So here’s your “not much detail”: The Plumed Horse has just been awarded their first Michelin star, an accolade reserved for true excellence in cuisine. Their fish soup (a delicate yet intense broth, serving as the base for a tower of monkfish, sea bream, salmon, scallops, cockles, oysters and caviar) is just out of this world. My main course was roast breast of duck, layered high upon a bed of crispy noodles, and topped off with a slice of pan-seared foie gras. For dessert, we shared the grandest assortment of desserts I’ve ever seen on a single plate: their “assiette of Plumed Horse mini desserts” consisted of chocolate tart with white chocolate and orange ice cream, passion fruit brulée, apple bread and butter pudding, coffee and Tia Maria mousse topped with chocolate coffee beans, and three different sorbets (cassis, peach, and pistachio). Every course is a treat not just for the tongue, but for the eye as well. As Will Keane (played by Richard Gere) says in the film “Autumn in New York”: “Food is the only beautiful thing that truly nourishes.” Words to live and eat by, indeed.)

Anyway, back to Chipperkyle, the original purpose of this review! On our last two visits, we have stayed at the Deeside B&B just across the street from the Plumed Horse. This is a fine little B&B, run by the wonderfully friendly Mrs Cowan. Staying here means that you can enjoy a bottle of wine over dinner, and not have to worry about driving anywhere afterwards. However, Mrs Cowan is currently away on holiday in New Zealand, so we had to find an alternative.

The alternative arose in the form of Chipperkyle, recommended to us by Tony at the Plumed Horse. He said that he hadn’t been there himself, but several diners had stayed there and thought it was excellent. At £36 per person for bed & breakfast, it is a quite bit more expensive than the Deeside B&B, and it’s also about five miles’ drive away. However, it was a recommendation from someone we trust, and we decided to go with it.

We approached Chipperkyle from the direction of Kirkpatrick Durham, a tiny village about ten miles west of Dumfries. The sun was just hovering on the horizon. The snow, which had been alternately circling hawk-like and dive-bombing our car all day, decided to take another run at us. The directions we had been given told us to look out for a small white cottage with yellow window frames, after which the house should be just visible through the trees. What we didn’t know, was that the cottage is a gatehouse standing at the entry to a driveway leading up to a fabulous 18th century country mansion. I had been expecting something far less grand!

In the wounded glare of the setting sun, we approached the house with a genuine sense of awe. The hills beyond were gently dusted with snow, and massive trees formed imposing silhouettes against the rapidly whitening sky. We drew up behind the house. Just as Snoogums was snapping off a couple of photographs, Willie Dickson strode out the back door to greet us and whisk away our bag. We followed him into the house, trying not to look too much like tourists with our mouths agape.

The interior of the house matches the outside perfectly: military prints, watercolour landscapes, and oil portraits line the walls. The floors are covered with soft yet plain beige carpets, overlaid with oriental and middle-eastern rugs that you just *know* predate carpet superstores by at least a generation. The sitting room is a picture of comfortable elegance. Antique sideboards and cabinets stand at a formal parade rest around the perimeter, brandishing fine china, vases of fresh flowers, and family photographs. The large open fireplace is surrounded by sofas that beg you to sink into them with a deep “aaahh” of contentment.

Willie and Catriona Dickson are charming hosts, welcoming and chatty, but without being intrusive. We had had a fairly long drive down from Edinburgh, through blizzard conditions in parts, and all we really wanted to do was crash out on a bed and relax a bit. Better than this, though, was the option Catriona very kindly presented to us: tea and home-made biscuits, still warm from the oven, served in front of a freshly laid log fire.

After a satisfying period of lounging around, reading the papers, and gazing out at the bunnies hip-hopping about in the snow, we moved up to our bedroom to get freshened up for the evening. Chipperkyle only has two guest rooms, both of which are twins with private (but not en-suite) bathrooms, and which are in perfect harmony with the rest of the house: antique dressers and wardrobes, wrought-iron twin beds with dazzlingly white sheets and lusciously thick feather duvets and pillows…heavy drapes hanging like great cloth pendulums in front of the tall windows…perfectly aligned, vertically striped wallpaper, even though the walls themselves are far from plumb…a tiny vase of fresh snowdrops. The thought and planning that must go on to co-ordinate and maintain such a vast and intricate ensemble is astonishing. Yet the Dicksons make it seem completely effortless.

The private bathroom we had was large, with an enormous bath, a separate shower cubicle, and a bidet. (I’ve never quite got the hang of bidets.) The towels were some of the largest I have ever seen: they must have been at least six feet by four, and could easily have doubled up as wrap-around sleeping bags. Stepping into one after a warm shower was like stepping into a fuzzy burrito.

The only regret I have about staying at Chipperkyle came the following morning. Our dinner at the Plumed Horse had left us too full to indulge in a cooked breakfast. Sitting at the enormous dining room table with the Sunday papers spread out beside us, I had a small bowl of muesli, and Snoogums had some cereal. We both had a slice or two of some rich poppyseed bread Catriona had just baked, but really, anything more would have left us feeling bloated and sluggish for our drive home. It’s such a shame because apparently Catriona, in addition to baking fabulous biscuits and bread, also makes her own sausages. Next time, though, there shall be no excuse!

And there will be a next time, I’m certain. Apart from the fact that we need to stay somewhere when we go to the Plumed Horse, the welcome we received at Chipperkyle was fantastic. The house itself looks like something out of a Jane Austen costume drama. If you’ve ever fancied yourself living like a minor noble in a country mansion, looking out of your windows at acres of rolling hills and thriving farmlands, sipping fine earl grey tea, and generally feeling like the very model of elegance, then Chipperkyle is most definitely for you.

Fishers Bistro

I’m clearly a bad parent. Wee baby Alex is only three months old, and already Snoogums and I have left him alone with other people on four separate occasions!

Okay, so they weren’t complete strangers. My parents have some experience of child raising, but their techniques are thirty years out of date. My brother and sister-in-law are both smart and sensible, but until Alex came along they’d never held a baby before. How could I possibly entrust the life and well being of my baby boy to these people, even for a few short hours?

What if something happened to him? What if something happened to the sitters? What if there was a fault with my mobile phone? Maybe they’re trying to call me right now, but can’t get through! Quick, where’s the nearest pay phone? No, no! We should catch that taxi straight home to make sure he’s still breathing!

Pish tosh, I say. (I also say: bear with me for a bit. I’ll get to the restaurant soon.)

Human beings are enormously resilient, even at such an early age. Both Snoogums and I take a very dim view of modern trends in paranoid parenting. We have no intention of swaddling Alex in a protective blanket until he leaves home. We are quite happy to leave him alone on the rug or in his bouncy chair nearby while we go off and surf the net, cook, or do the dishes. Sometimes we even (gasp!) let him cry himself to sleep.

Teaching him how to relate to, and behave around other people is part of this attitude. We firmly believe that if he realizes there are other people who take care of him from time to time–and just as well as mommy and daddy, I might add–he’ll grow up to be a more adaptable child.

“Flow with it,” is the motto Snoogums grew up with. To a child, it is supposed to mean that the world doesn’t always revolve around you. Most of the time, there is stuff going on, like trips to the shops, visits to family, and work around the house. You may not be interested. You may even actively dislike these activities. But they’re going to happen anyway. So you can either paddle upstream, resisting the current and causing everyone grief, or you can Flow With It. The latter course has benefits for all: your parents stay relaxed and chilled out, and you get ice cream. Or chocolate.

FISHERS BISTRO (I told you I’d get there.)

So anyway, last week was our eighth wedding anniversary! (This whole lead-up was really an attempt to explain why we felt it was quite acceptable to leave Alex for the evening, and go out and enjoy ourselves on our own again for a change.) Fishers Bistro was the name; a pleasant evening of good food, wine, and intimate conversation was the game.

Fishers is situated on the Shore in Leith, a mere couple of hundred yards away from the Scottish Office, the new Ocean Terminal shopping centre, the Royal Yacht Britannia, and dozens of trendy pubs, bars and restaurants. It is tucked into the ground floor of a 17th century signal tower, and has a pleasantly close, low-ceilinged atmosphere. Fishing nets strung across the walls lend a certain nautical theme, while Victorian prints of gentlemen fishing add a freshwater touch. The plain wooden tables, simple place settings, and a clear view over a serving counter into the small kitchen give it a relaxed, continental air.

We had booked our table for 19:30, and even though this was a Monday evening, the place was almost full already. Our waitress showed us to a nice little table in the very far corner of the room, from where we could observe everyone else. Throughout the evening we were attended to by at least three different servers, and I think I counted five hovering around in total. This seemed quite a lot for a relatively small place (I reckon the whole restaurant would seat about 35 at a push), but it did mean that there was always someone ready to take your order, or pour more wine. Although a lot of the customers were smartly dressed the staff were all casual, which contributed to the friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Fishers is a fish and seafood restaurant. For people who have been dragged there against their will and insist on having a chunk of meat with their dinner, there was one non-seafood starter (a warm salad of pigeon breast) and main course (roast lamb chops with coriander and lemon couscous) on the menu. But really–you go to Fishers to eat fish, and they have it in abundance.

The menu changes with the daily catch, and on our night we were told they were all out of queenies. Well, shucks. I suppose I would have felt more disappointed if I’d known what queenies are. Everything else, though, sounded seriously tempting, and I had a hard time deciding what looked best. Would it be the baked fillet of sole, stuffed with cream cheese and spinach? How about the stuffed whole sea bass with chorizo sausage, mozzarella and olives? In the end I settled on a char grilled tuna fillet with a mango, red pepper and basil salsa (£5.75), followed by a fillet of grilled wild arctic char with roast pepper mash and lobster bisque (£12.50). Yum!

The tuna was charred to a deliciously smoky crust on the outside. Like a fillet of beef, a tuna steak doesn’t have to be cooked all the way through on the inside, but I felt that mine was a little underdone. I would have preferred the choice to have it closer to “medium” than “rare”. The quality of the tuna was excellent, though, with a tender, melt-in-the-mouth texture and a clean, almost freshwater taste that contrasted beautifully with the grilled crust.

The mango and pepper salsa was tasty, crisp and fresh. Taken on its own it was marvellous, but after a few bites of tuna and salsa together I started eating them in alternation. The contrast between the warm grilled flavour of the tuna and the cool fruitiness of the salsa was just too much for a single mouthful. It’s a bold combination, but too disconcerting for my palette.

The main course was the first time I had tried arctic char, and I fell in love with it immediately. The arctic char is distantly related to salmon, and like salmon its meat is dense and rich. But there is none of the oiliness you get with salmon, and in taste it is probably closer to trout than anything else. Taken with a generous dollop of creamy mashed potatoes and roast red peppers, and a smear of lobster bisque, it made a heavenly combination. If it wasn’t considered inappropriate in polite company, I would have licked the plate to sup the last of the bisque. Fortunately, though, I had saved some mopping-up bread for just this eventuality, and was saved from social embarrassment.

When it came to choosing dessert, I was torn between honeycomb ice cream in a brandy basket with chocolate sauce, and a warm chocolate and pear tart. I’d seen other diners being brought both, and both looked decadent and tempting. The chocolate and pear tart (£4.95) won, but turned out to be a disappointing choice. The pastry was too dense, the chocolate filling was too dry, and it was loaded with nuts that simply overwhelmed whatever pear flavour might have been there. The single dollop of ice cream that came with it tasted bland and supermarket-bought. What I should have had (and what Snoogums wisely selected) was the baked amaretto peaches, topped with white chocolate cream and syrup. She let me have a large bite, and it was awesome.

Overall, Fishers was a fine place to have our anniversary dinner. The atmosphere was relaxing, and the food was good. But to be honest, we could have been taking a picnic on the moon for all it would have affected our enjoyment of the evening. We’ve had a great eight years together now, and the arrival of wee baby Alex has placed us in a blissful state neither of us could have imagined possible. Our senses are heightened with happiness, and every new experience seems imbued with magic. That evening at Fishers will stay with us forever as a sparkling point of joy in the constellation of our new parenthood.