Kyle Coburn

  • Garam Masala

    # What's in it

    From greatest to least quantity, I use cinnamon, coriander (cilantro) seed, cumin seed, red chilies, cardamom pods, star anise/fennel seed, peppercorns, and whole cloves. Many varieties and substitutions can be used though too. I love how differently the melange turns out each time – nothing compares to freshly ground spices!

    # Favorite uses

    Since I gave out garam masala over the holidays, I've been meaning to write up a suggested recipe to go with it. It goes great stirred into anything sweet and savory (oatmeal, apple sauce, mulled cider), but my favorite has to be curry.

    # Curry

    Garam Masala curry

    There are endless varieties to explore, but this is the most straightforward curry for me to make from scratch, and a delicious balance of sweet, savory, and spicy.

    For meat, I prefer boneless chicken thighs, but chicken breast (less moist), beef, etc work well too. You can easily make this dish vegetarian by substituting roasted squash/eggplant/tofu/etc. All veggies are flexible, get creative with whatever you have (kale is my favorite addition, cauliflower, tomatoes, etc.).

    (You can use tomato paste instead of sauce, just add it before the liquids so it can fry for a few minutes, and add some water later if desired.)

    • Coconut/vegetable oil (½ Tbsp)
    • Onion/leek (1 lg)
    • Chicken ( lbs)
    • Garlic (3–4 md cloves)
    • Ginger (½ Tbsp)
    • Red bell pepper (1 md)
    • Carrot (3 md)
    • Potato (3 md)
    • Tomato sauce (1 can)
    • Water (1 cup)
    • Coconut milk unsweetened (1 can/>1.5 cups)
    • Garam masala (1 Tbsp)
    • Curry powder (1 Tbsp) / Turmeric (1 tsp)
    • Soy sauce (2 Tbsp)
    • Fish sauce (2 tsp) / Worcester sauce (1 Tbsp)

    Prep ingredients, cutting meat and veggies into medium chunks (opens new window), and start the rice (or substitute with toasted naan/pita). In a large pot, add ingredients in the above order, cooking for about an hour in total (or until potatoes are cooked through). Add garam masala to the desired spiciness, coconut milk to the desired consistency, and salt if needed.

    # Serving

    Curries are great with cilantro, green onion, or sour garnishes like pickled radish. Pineapple is a favorite for green curry.

    For breakfast the next morning, slide an egg over easy on top of another bowl!

  • 2019 In Reading

    This Is How You Lose the Time War. My last book of 2019 stole the show. I have a real soft spot for short form, and this was just what I've been looking for since the eponymous entry of Stories of Your Life and Others (the one made into the film Arrival).

    I was proud to finish my first novel-length book in French, Harry Potter à l'École des Sorciers. I had very little exposure to the simple past tense (which is mostly literary only these days), which added a little confusion, and I knew hardly any of the "said" words (sighed, groaned, etc.). I found it endlessly amusing how wands are referred to simply as baguettes...

    J'en suis désolé, mais c'est moi qui ai vendu la baguette responsable de cette cicatrice.

    Le Petite Prince is next, and then hopefully something I haven't previously read in English.

    I also read the manga The Promised Neverland in Japanese this year, though it's frustrating how much higher my reading level is in French when my speaking and vocabulary level is so much lower.

  • Intermittent Fasting

    # Night snacking

    Late-night snacking had become a such habit that I was eating something after dinner almost every night. I had kind of become dependent on keeping myself full before going to bed. Probably not healthy long-term, and it contributed to me staying up late some nights.

    # Intervention

    So in August this year, after hearing yet again about "intermittent fasting", I downloaded the eating tracker app "Zero" and give it a go. The basic idea is to spend the majority of each day in a fasting state (only drinking water). Many are interested in the possible health benefits, but for me it's a simple way to enforce eating hours. I set a goal of 16 hours a day (eating roughly from 10am to 7pm).

    # Trial period

    For 4 months from 14 August to 14 December, I recorded almost every day, averaging about 16.3 hours per day. What I found is that after a couple days of not eating after dinner, it became natural to follow. For traveling, family gatherings, or busy days where I needed an early breakfast, I didn't worry about only logging 12 hours. And I took the second half of December off entirely from tracking for those reasons.

    # Results

    I did lose a couple pounds due to calorie reduction (though I don't track my calories), but nothing outside of my body's normal weight fluctuations. I maintained an even sleep schedule, about 7.5 hours per night from around midnight to 8am. I didn't notice any difference in energy levels, and still had occasional weeks where I napped in the afternoon with shorter sleeps. Perhaps the biggest change was consistently eating breakfast, and making it a larger meal.

    # Next

    In the winter months, I like to drink tea (caffeinated in the morning, herbal at night), which I can't do as easily now. For next year, I plan instead to not explicitly track my hours, and allowing tea outside the 8 hour eating window, since I didn't see any particular benefits from the fast beyond controlling when I snack. In general though, I really like having 8 hours a day where I basically allow myself to eat as much as I want, and 16 hours where I don't consume calories.

    # Verdict

    Time-restricted feeding is a great tool to reduce caloric intake and limit snacking. The best part for me is feeling like I'm in control of food cravings (something I especially value while travelling), which is why I'm planning to stick to it on an conscious but informal basis in 2019.

  • Custom Codenames

    # Gift Idea

    Codenames is a great party game that plays quickly, works for any size group, while being extremely approachable for new players, and good fun. When I heard a Harry Potter edition was coming out, it seemed like it could make for a great themed game. But it used images from movies (the CG pixies were particularly garish looking) instead of original art, or even, as it occurred to me, Marie GrandPré's chapter art for the US editions that were much more nostalgic for me.

    Quickly I was down the rabbit hole of how to make a homemade card game, with the idea of making a Christmas present for my sister. This was my first time trying to make a "professional" looking printout game at home, but I'm happy enough with the results.

    Harry Potter Codenames (opens new window)

    # Supplies

    # Art (opens new window) was the best collection of chapter art I found, but I also used others from Google Images with higher scan quality for some chapters. (opens new window) I liked this time-turner token design (for Codenames Duet) (opens new window) was the best collection of square character portraits I could find. These aren't needed for gameplay.

    # Process

    I laid out 8.5x11" sheets of paper with a 4x6 grid of chapter art images I found online, and a corresponding sheet (flipped so that they would match up when glued back to back) of chapter names, using Pixelmator (my image editor). I bumped the contrast and sharpness of the chapter art, and so they were all roughly balanced (since many of the images came from separate scans), and printed them in grayscale on linen paper. Our printer is bad, but they came out well enough.

    Next I coated the back sheets with glue spray and pressed them together with a rolling pin (using wax paper to protect the print). After drying, I cut them on along the grid lines and used the corner rounder to complete the look.

    # Companion app

    Codenames requires a secret key card that tells the Codemaster which cards on the grid belong to which team. I didn't want to have to design and print all those key cards to go with the game, so I figured I'd offload that to a website/app players can use on their smartphone. There are existing solutions for this, but they didn't quite do what I wanted. So I made my own, and printed a QR code card that links to it. (opens new window) (layout intended for mobile)

    # Verdict

    This was a really enjoyable project, and I'm glad I now have the supplies/skills to make more like this in the future. I'd like to eventually clean up the files I have and share this as a print-and-play for other people to try. We only got to playtest the game a little before she left town again, but I think it turned out really well. And with the chapter names and numbers printed on the back, they also function as fun trivia cards.

  • Heart Beats

    Having carefully built my music library for years before streaming services were a thing, I still manually manage my collection.

    I try to maintain a star rating for songs in my most-played albums. 5★ I always want to listen. 4★ I sometimes want to listen. 3★ Meh. 2★1★ Why would I have a song this bad taking up space?

    From there, I create a smart playlist of the 5-star songs for each of my favorite artists. There's currently more than 50 of these in my playlists folder. I do the same with genres (Classical, Post-Rock, Indie, etc.). It's quite a bit of work to get all that, but the result is a really enjoyable way to listen to music I like.

    Aside from generally making a mess in my iTunes sidebar, and not being easy enough to start shuffled playback, my manual system misses artists that I like but haven't yet realized I should make a playlist for, and thus I forget to listen to them.

    So I did what I do, and built an app.

    Heart Beats iOS app

    Download for iPhone/iPad (opens new window). It's also open source on GitHub (opens new window).

    Heart Beats presents your library, sorted by Artist or Genre, filtered by those that have at least the minimum (set to 20 in the above screenshot) number of 5-star songs. Favorites ignore the song minimum (e.g. the Stromae playlist has 15 songs but is still listed). Tapping on any row will open the system music app, and sets the queue to those songs, shuffled.

    The app has replaced my haphazard manual collection of playlists, and saves me the need to dig through folders in the music app when I just want to start playing something while I start the car. It's a pretty niche design for my use case, but if you invest the time to rate songs from artists you like, you might find it handy.

  • 2017

    For a year with nothing planned, 2017 turned out one event after another, good and bad. To help process, I annotated some of my favorite pictures I took last year in a photo essay:

    See my 2017 (opens new window).

  • A Different World

    There’s a world where Facebook, WeChat, et. al. aren’t central to billions of humans. Where the web didn’t explode into the mass market so quickly, leaving time for compelling, distributed (i.e. not centrally-owned by flavors of “don’t be evil”) networks to grow to prominence on the backs of a less-messy RSS spec. In other words, it’s a world that never stood much of a chance.

    Here, the consequences of this failure have brewed for a long time. Mark Zuckerberg started a hot or not app in his dorm, and after his company marketed itself to political operatives touting their unprecedented targeting effectiveness, he was offended even to be asked about it: “to think [Facebook] influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea”, while investigating a run for president.

    Though the open web might have lost, you’ll continue not to find me on Facebook. Instead I’ll tilt at windmills on this blog (probably expect a post a year but hey), which is subscribable to with any modern RSS client. Or check in manually should you care to.