Nordintown Blog

Rubbish musings, projects and hackerings from Nordin

Camp oatcake hacking

Aug 242015

The traditional oatcake is a very simple thing to make (perhaps the most simple) and as a result, is a great food to explore cooking on the campsite.

Tellingly, the food has it origins in the kitbags of the Scottish infantry where the food evolved as a quick means to cook a highly available food stuff into a meal. Medium ground oatmeal was bagged and packed for long marches, then mixed with fat and water, balled up and flattened onto a standard-issue metal plate. The plate was then held over a flame and cooked as if over a griddle, flipping when the edges brown. This makes a simple meal for the squaddie on the go and as a food recipe, it offers us a very nice platform to experiment with flavours.


1 cup of oatmeal (medium grade)

1 table spoon of butter, melted

1 half cup of water or milk (or 1 egg white if course meal is used)

Pinch of salt and/or sugar


Mix the oatmeal, salt, fat and water/milk/egg binding agent in a bowl until you are able to make balls of mixture that flatten without breaking apart.

Ball up golf ball sized portions of mixture and flatten out onto a greased pan. Hold the pan over a camp fire/stove until the edges just start to brown. Flip and cook on the reverse side.

Place on a tray to cool.

Some might argue that oatcakes are not the most flavoursome food on their own, tasting much like thinly-salted porridge biscuits. The easiest way to change the flavour of an oatcake is to replace the added salt with something else e.g. additional sugar, spices or herbs. You can also swap the fat for something more flavoured, such as coconut oil. Store brought essance flavourings are easy to throw in and certain wild combinations produce interesting and cheeky results. We experimented with a number of them:

  1. Vanilla and cinnamon 
  2. Citrus essences, such as lemon/lime with added sugar.
  3. Rose water
  4. Peppermint and bitter orange. 

Dried and powered foodstuffs such as seaweed (good for unami) are also interesting options. Just add more or less water/milk to help it all bind.

Happy food hacking!

31C3 - Workshops

Jan 292015

For me, 31C3 was all about the workshops.  I reasoned that these were the things I could not catch up via youtube and would be the most engaging. It was a good call.

I attended the obligatory lock picking workshop and spent most of the time moaning about the hit-and-miss nature of the art with chatty strangers. I didn't actually unlock anything, but joined in the merriment when the chap next to me did. He admitted he had resorted to mashing it by that point also, and that blind luck was what opened the thing. Whilst I was poor student, the teaching guys really knew their stuff so I brought a small pick set and follow-up guide booklet in gratitude. I'll learn the german language at some point so I can read it.

Next, I has earlier learnt that a fellow 57north hacker had pledged some money to some food hacking group and had cooked up some sweet sounding lamb in their prep area. I tagged along to found a full-on kitchen with shelves of food and tables of people cooking and tasting. 

The kitchen residents, The Food Hacking base (FHB) are a bunch of hackers from all over the world who share the love of experimenting with food and beverages. They have a very inclusive mindset and openly invited anyone interested in the sport to take part - I found myself taking part alot over the event. The idea is that those interested pledge money before hand, but being late to the party I donated at every visit instead. We know time follows skewed tangents at events like 31C3, and concepts like days and schedules collapse. Accordingly, I am a little fuzzy about the order of the happenings:

Whiskey Tasting
Random people brought in bottles from their own locales (Me too, but I left my bottle at the apartment grrr). I learnt that I prefer smokey whiskeys to peaty - awesome to know. Simulates that comforting experience of smelling the Friday-night bonfire on a shitty work Monday, via that scent-impregnated scarf. 

Cheese and beer tasting
Same as with the Whiskey tasting, a wide range of donor beers and cheeses that FHB people arranged into plated groups.  In terms of taste revelations, the nameless Lavender cheese was quite cheeky, with a very soggy german brie'ish blob (sorry no name either) found to be plate-lickingly gut.

Of particular pleasure was the Makgeolli, a rich runny-yogurt-like beer native to Korea, fermented using nuruk, a dry a wide clod of many microbes. I learnt that the resulting microbial orgy creates a great deal of CO2 and when opening the bottle, the entire contents generally ejects out in your face. Double bowls are needed to prevent messy disappointments on bottle opening.   

Sushi hacking
I missed this but honourable mention to the black pudding sushi served with a whiskey chaser. Most creative.

A guy was working on recipes to make insects (meal worms in this case) more palatable by grinding them up into power and using in cookies.  Tasted like cookies to me, so bravo.  I was inspired to take the opposite route with a fresh hunk of pork cut from a large hung leg (used as a sign for the FHB until time came to eat it).  When dipped moist in to dried meal warms, it tasted like a crispy ham nugget but yea, looked like something an Ork would serve at his we-conqured-the-shire dinner party.  

Local and homebrew tasting
Lots home-brew with people explaining their creations around the table.  Ranging from nettle wine, ciders of different ages, prison hooch (served complete with zipbag, straw and bucket) and working-mens beers. I really wish I had taken some notes, as it happened I got progressively jolly and make friends instead. Good call.

The people: the real magic at the FHB 

Those running the space give a HUGE amount of their time to the group and I for one really appreciated their efforts. People can just rock up and help, which I did where I could.  Certianly I encourage anyone in the vicinity of a FHB event to offer their help - you will have a great time! After experiencing the cheese tasting, some of use stayed to prep the next session with the remaining cheeses. After, I found the whiskey I'd forgotten earlier. As others found their stashes,  we had a follow-up evening of fine sampling with bread, meat, cheese and spirits. I think it was here decided I wanted to make some Viking (i.e. wild) mead, and I got a lot of roaring drunken advice about it (which seemed topic appropriate).

Certainly I shall be pledging ahead for CCC camp and if the above sounds fun, I recommend you do also.

31C3 - Settling in

Jan 272015

Our 57north people had been assigned a table in the international hackerspace area, denoted by a stand displaying a world map with odd stickers. Early-on we started inviting visitors to add their stickers since ya'know.. stickers.

On arrival, it was clear that the sign also had an odd amount of plumbing attached to it. I learnt this was an unconnected delivery node to be used as part of the event's vacuum tube delivery system, which spread over the entrance floor areas.  People were using the tubes to send all sorts of awesome crap from node to node. Occasionally near our table, LED lit pods could be seen and heard zipping over the plumbing, typically followed by a harsh crash as the tube contents escaped the catching cradle and ejected to the floor.  This sound signified possible presents - it was a good sound.

The floor area our table was in was one of the darker areas intended to allow hacker-built lighting projects to shine in their glory.  Around us hung a smörgåsbord of lit globes, chaser lights and fire effects. I had brought along an ATtiny-powered 80-led light strip of makeit:glow fame that, while pathetic in scale, still stood proud on our adopted world map board. The light preset was fixed to 'drunk, gay cyclon' which I felt added a particular foamy joy to the ambience. Special mention must be given to the large LED sign that invited all to send text to it via UDP packet. I witnessed deep conversations between a fellow 57north hacker and random others:

Them (paraphrasing): "You cannot spell"
Him: "Patches welcome"

Also, there were talks. I am not going to describe the talks much as they were all recorded and can be viewed on youtube. The following are ones which I would recommend:

I will add to this as I watch more videos. 


31C3 - Arrival

Jan 262015

From Dec 26 to 30th, a bunch of us from 57north hacklab travelled to Hamburg for the 31st Computer Chaos Club Congress, held at the Hamberg Congress Center.  Over the 4 days, the building was transformed into essentially a mecca for hackerspace members, and a holy shrine it was indeed.

I flew from Aberdeen International Airport around noon on Boxing day and arrived at the congress centre around 5pm Hamburg time. The trains connecting me between the airport and the center ran with typical German efficiency and the guide from the CCC wiki was spot on, advising me to avoid a line closure by taking 3 extra connections. I found out later this advice was from last years congress and therefore redundant, still it was refreshing to travel the German version of the London underground - rather reminiscent of playing one of those familiar yet novel reinvented monopoly variants where your electric company has been swapped out with hot sausage vendors.

The evening was bloody cold and upon leaving the station, I delicately asked a waiting couple of apparent natives if they knew where the CCC conference was. Smiling American accents told me to simply look to the big ass building and walk towards it.  The building was indeed big and I saw that in a stroke of genius, the Orga (the name given to those in charge) had hacked the giant CCH sign of the center to show "CCC" with what I presume were LED strips and black bin liners. Couldn't help thinking that this would not be allowed at the UKs NEC.

Entering via the buildings main lobby, I toured the heaving spread of caffeinated hackers. I zigzagged under hanging lighting spectaculars between people hugging laptops and engaged in animate conversations. Imagine 8,000 youngish NASA Engineers had been ripped away from their rocking casual Friday after-party and tasked to save the current manned mars mission, using only the IBM ThinkPad's, RGB lights and 3D printers that the astronauts had laying about. I caught this sense room after room. Framing the action were large vacuum tubing installations dotted either side of a starship-themed central lobby corridor. Occasional dance beats could be heard out-thumping the assorted pockets of vocal babbling as people entered and existed the beautifully hacked-up dance club bolted to the side of the entrance lobby spaces.

Taking all this in with my sluggishly English brain, I recall thinking how could any building official allow such freedom? They must have been either complicit and embedded in the vast t-shirted crowds somewhere, or hidden deep inside their city flats calming their shattered nerves with the best whiskey that bribes can buy.