Archive for August, 2009

Homemade do-it-yourself biltong recipe: part 1, preparation.

August 22, 2009 56 comments

Biltong is an absolutely delicious dried beef snack, originating from South Africa. It is, however, very expensive to buy and I’ve been wanting to have a go at making it for a while.

Sainsbury’s helpfully put their Silverside roasting joints on offer at half price, which was too tempting to ignore.


Next problem was locating a suitable recipe – there are a great deal of vague and differing recipes out there. About the only thing that they can seem to agree on is to cut the beef into 1 inch, square cross section, strips along the line of the grain of the meat. Also that coriander, salt, pepper and vinegar are involved.

After distilling them down, here’s the recipe and process followed.

Preparation time: about an hour of work. Three hours of curing time. 2-5 days of drying time.

Rough Ingredients

(doesn’t need to be exact quantities):

  • 1.7 Kg Silverside Beef Roasting Joint
  • The Marinade:
    • 300 ml Cider Vinegar
    • 300ml White Wine Vinegar (I decided to mix the two, to tone down the strong cider vinegar taste)
  • The Cure:
    • 500 g Course Sea Salt
    • 200g Demorara Sugar
    • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • The Coating:
    • 1 large handfull Black Peppercorns
    • 1 large handfull Whole Coriander Seeds

Total cost of ingredients about £11.00, largely thanks to the half-price beef joint.

Equipment Needed:

  • Large, sharp knife.
  • Large glass or plastic chopping board
  • Grinder / blender / pestle and mortar
  • Plastic containers to cure the meat in
  • Paperclips (for hanging the strips)
  • Kitchen towel.
  • drying aparatus / very cool, ventilated oven. Approx 35° C


Blend the Salt, Sugar and Bicarbonate of Soda together.

Pre-grind / crush / mortar the peppercorns and coriander to a course consistency:


Crushed coriander seeds


Crushed black pepper

Cut the beef joint into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick slices, along the length of the grain of the meat:

biltong4Then cut these slices, again along the lines of the grain of the meat, into approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubic cross-section ‘long chunks’. Trim off any obvious fat or sinew:


The trimmed pieces of meat, ready for curing.

Place the strips of meat into a plastic container, and cover with the blended white-wine and cider vinegars leave for 30 minutes to steep. The vinegar helps to sterilise the meat, and tenderise it.


The strips of beef marinading in the vinegar mixture.

After soaking, take the strips of meat out of the vinegar keep the remaining vinegar back, as we’ll be using it again later.

From left to right, the Salt Curing mixture, the spice mixture, and the beef ready to be rolled.

From left to right, the Salt Curing mixture, the spice mixture, and the beef ready to be rolled.

Lightly roll in the peppercorn and coriander mixture. Shake off any excess, and keep the remaining spice mixture  for use later too.

Spread a thin layer of the cure (salt/sugar/bicarb mixture) in the bottom of a plastic dish, then lay the strips of meat on top, forming a single layer.

The first layer of spiced and salted strips

The first layer of spiced and salted strips

Cover the layer of meat with more of the cure, ensuring it covers the ends and sides of the meat, then place alternating layers of meat and cure, with a final covering of cure.

All the meat strips, tightly packed and covered with the curing mixture.

All the meat strips, tightly packed and covered with the curing mixture.

Cover the contaner with clingfilm, place it in a shallow tray, to catch any overflowing juices, and place a board or lid on top, and apply some gentle weight — 4 tin cans should be enough.

Leave to cure for 3 hours (do not leave longer than this or the meat will be too salty).

After this time, remove the meat from the cure, and scrape off most of the salt and spices sticking to the meat. Rinse the meat with the retained vinegar mixture, to remove all of the salt.

The discarded curing mixture, and cured strips of meat. Notice how dark the meat now is.

The discarded curing mixture, and cured strips of meat. Notice how dark the meat now is.

Place the meat between pieces of kitchen towel, or a clean tea towel, and dry it thoroughly.

Roll each strip of meat in the remaining spice mixture, pressing it into all the surfaces of the meat.

Take some paper clips, and give them a single ‘unbend’ to a tight S shape, as shown. You could also use wire or string to suspend the meat by. I used plastic coated paper clips to prevent any metal touching the meat.

Bent paperclips make the perfect meat hooks

Bent paperclips make the perfect meat hooks

Hook the larger end of the S-shape through the meat, at the thinner end (carefully avoiding poking a paper clip through your fingers), about 1.5 to 2 cm down the strip, to ensure a good hold.

Carefully hook the meat strips onto the paperclips.

Carefully hook the spiced meat strips onto the paperclips.

Hook all of the meat onto paper clips, then hang them carefully in your drying apparatus.  My electric fan oven runs happily at about 35°C in ‘defrost mode’, indicated by a * symbol. I used an electric thermometer to test the temperature. Any hotter than 40°C and the meat will cook rather than dry. There are instructions, elsewhere on the internet, for various drying mechanisms, involving fans and electric light bulbs.

The slices hooked onto a metal oven shelf.

The slices hooked onto a metal oven shelf.

I added a tray of dishwasher (or water softener) salt, previously baked for 20 minutes at 200°C, and cooled. This is placed at the top of the over, to help absorb any moisture.

The strips in the oven, ready to begin drying

The strips in the oven, ready to begin drying

Place a tray under the strips to catch any drops, or bits of spice that fall off, and start the drying process. Leave the oven door about 1 inch/2cm ajar, to let out any evaporated moisture. I’m running the oven at 35°C all night, and in the evenings, leaving it turned off when I’m at work. It should take about 3-4 days. I’ll post back with progress. It’s done when ‘not squidgy’ to the touch, and feels completely dry and hard.

I started the meat in the oven at 16:00 yesterday, and stopped at 07:00 this morning. The meat felt very dry on the outside, but was quite yielding when pressed. Still needs a fair bit of drying.

Categories: Recipes Tags: , ,

Tutorial: Create High-Quality Glossy E-commerce Website Buttons. Part 1.

August 21, 2009 2 comments

Today’s websites increasingly require high quality UI elements, such as buttons, for a richer user experience.  In part 1, of a 3-part series, here’s how to use Adobe Photoshop to create a series of glossy, Web 2.0 style buttons for common E-commerce site functions.

The final single button.

The final single button. Next week how to create variants, and rollover effects.

This tutorial assumes a moderate degree of competency with Photoshop.

  1. Create a new Photoshop document, 400 x 200 pixels @ 72 ppi. We’re going to be creating 5 buttons each with a rollover effect, in a grid with each button occupying 100 x 40 pixels.

    An empty, new Photoshop Document

    New Photoshop Document, 400 x 200 pixels. 1 vertical guide at 100 px

  2. Create a vertical guide at 100 pixels. We’ll create the other guides later, this is a guide for creating the first button.
  3. Create a new layer, and name it “Background”. Fill it with white.
    • Tip: This makes the button easier to see. Don’t make the layer a background layer, as we’ll be turning if off later.
  4. Create a new Group, and name it “BUTTON BASE”. Select this group to use it. We’ll be creating the button elements within this group, to make it easy to clone the group to make the other buttons in the series.
    • Tip: Naming groups in block capitals makes them easier to find when right-clicking with the Select Tool.
  5. Pick a base colour for the buttons, for example #75879D.
    • Tip: Mid to low saturation colours work best for overlaying the gradient and highlight effects that we’ll be using.
  6. Using the Rounded Rectangle Tool, set the radius to 12px, and create a shape anywhere 24px high by 150px wide.
    • Tip: If you have the Info Palette open, it’s easy to create objects with exact measurements.
  7. Centre the shape on the 100px vertical guide.
  8. Name the shape “Button Background”
  9. To this shape, add a drop shadow effect:
    • Blend Mode: Multiply
    • colour: #081f3d (very very dark blue)
    • Opacity: 26%
    • Angle: 120° (set as Global Angle)
    • Distance: 3
    • Size: 4
  10. Add an Outer Glow effect: This provides a more subtle outline than using Stroke.
    • Blend Mode: Normal
    • Opacity: 57%
    • Colour: #11407c (dark blue)
    • Spread: 0
    • Size: 1
    • Range: 42%
  11. Add an Inner Glow effect:
    • Blend Mode: Vivid Light
    • Opacity: 21%
    • Colour: White
  12. Turn off this Inner Glow effect for now, it’ll be used later for the rollover version of the button.
  13. Add the following subtle Bevel and Emboss Effect settings:

    Forground and Background colours: white and black.

    Foreground and Background colours: white and black.

  14. Finally, for this layer, add a Gradient Overlay Effect:
    • Blend Mode: Colour Burn
    • Gradient “Black, White” Preset.
    • Scale 91%
  15. Save your work. Your background button component should now look like this:

    Background button layer, with effects applied.

    Background button layer, with effects applied.

  16. Set the foreground colour to #2e7c1e, a darkish medium to high saturation green.
  17. Create a new Rectangular Shape overlapping the left-hand edge of the button, as follows:
  18. Make this layer a Clipping Mask by ALT-clicking between this and the Button Background Layer. Clear any automatically applied Effects for this layer. You may need to nudge the green area left or right. Try to keep it approximately square (about 25 pixels wide inside the button):
  19. Name the green layer “Green Action Zone”.
  20. Add an Inner Glow Effect, changing only the following:

    • Blend Mode: Color Burn
    • Opacity: 75%
    • Colour: black
    • Size: 1
  21. Add a Drop Shadow Effect:
    • Blend Mode: Color Burn
    • Opacity: 49%
    • Angle: 35° (untick Global)
    • Colour: black
    • Distance: 1
    • Size: 13
  22. Remember to Save. The button should now look like this:


  23. Creating the Highlight or Gloss Layer: First, duplicate the Button Background layer, and drag it to the very top of the layer sequence. Clipping masks will break, don’t worry we’ll fix them in a moment.
  24. Name this top layer “Button Highlight”, and *clear any Effects* it has.
  25. Add Clipping Masks between the Button Highlight and Green Action Zone Layers, and between Green Action Zone and Button Background layer. Ie both upper layers are clipping masked over the button background layer. Your layer palette should now look something like:
  26. Zoom in on your button a couple of times (300%)
  27. Select the Button Highlight Layer’s Vector Mask (click on the grey thumbnail immediately to the left of the words Button Highlight in the Layer Palette.)
  28. Select the Direct Selection Tool (keyboard shortcut: A)
  29. Press CTRL-T or Select Edit – Free Transform Path, and drag the bottom middle drag handle up to the middle of the image (it should snap automatically when your near):
  30. Press Enter to commit changes.
  31. We’re now going to perform a few simple path edits. With the Direct Selection Tool, click on the black border around the path. The path edit drag handles should appear:
  32. Click on the left-middle grab handle, then nudge it vertically down by 10 pixels (Shift + Arrow-Down):
  33. Now click on the drag-adjust handle vertically above the node you’ve just moved. Drag this up, vertically in a line (hold down the Shift key and drag upwards) so that the top is in line with the top of the button:
  34. Repeat steps 32 and 33 for the right side of the image so that the lines are symmetrical.
  35. With the Color Sampler Tool, sample the colour right in the centre of the button. (approx #5a6f8a).
  36. Set the Background Colour to White.
  37. Zoom back to normal size.
  38. For the topmost Button Highlight Layer, add  a Gradient Overlay layer effect with “Foreground to Background” gradient (should be the blue you selected, to white at the top).
  39. Set the Button Highlight Layer’s transparency to 65% Normal
  40. Remember to Save. Your basic button is now complete, and ready to add some text and symbols.

    The styalistically complete button, awaiting text and symbols.

    The stylistically complete button, awaiting text and symbols.

  41. Select the Text tool, and a sans-serif font, such as Myriad Pro (which comes bundled with Adobe Acrobat Reader 7 and 8 (but not 9).
  42. Select a font style of “Semi Extended”. If this isn’t available, set a font such as Arial will do.
  43. Set the foreground colour of white, and a font size of 12pt. Check that font tracking is set to 0.
  44. Set font anti-aliasing to Sharp
  45. Click over the button and type the text “ADD TO BASKET“.
  46. Highlight the word “Add” and change the font style to “Semi Bold Semi Extended”
  47. Position the text carefully, centred relative to the blue area of the button:
  48. The text can be made to stand out slightly, by the use of a very subtle, non-offset drop shadow. Use the following drop shadow effect on the text layer:
    • Blend Mode: Color Burn
    • Colour: Black
    • Opacity: 45%
    • Distance: 0
    • Size: 1
  49. Select the Type Tool, with a font of Myriad Pro, Bold, 22pt, Sharp and type a + sign.
  50. Give this the same drop shadow effect as the Add to Basket text.
  51. Position this centrally over the green highlight area:

    The finished button design

    The finished button design

We now have a base button that we can use to build further items for the set.

In part 2, we look at creating the remaining buttons, look at some variants on the theme, and rollover effects. We’re going to be using an “image sprite” made up of a grid of 5 buttons, each with a rollover state, giving us 10 buttons in a single image.

In the mean time, you can check out some of Memoryweaver’s other Photoshop Tutorials.

iBlue 747A+ GPS Data Logger (with Bluetooth) Review

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment

iBlue 747A+ GPS Data LoggerJust bought an iBlue 747A+ GPS Data Logger (with Bluetooth) on Ebay for UKP 35 + P&P (it’s probably possible to get it cheaper by careful bidding, this was a buy-it-now price, and I’m impatient).

The device logs data to internal memory, as well as providing Bluetooth connectivity for external devices. There is a single button on the front which logs a waypoint, and a dual mode switch for Bluetooth only / Bluetooth + logging.

The software supplied with the device isn’t great, but does allow basic communication with the device, and the ability to upload AGPS (Assisted GPS) data, which allows the device to obtain a satellite fix in about 5 seconds (you have to upload a new copy every 6 days, but it’s well worth it for the quick fixes obtained).

External Software:

A quick internet search revealed the excellent (and free) BT747 software. As the software runs in Java, it can run on Windows 32, 64 bit, Mac OS and Linux. A J2ME version is available for mobile phones and devices that support it. I’ve tested it on my Sony Ericsson K800i, and it runs perfectly, allowing you to check how many satellites can be seen, and how full the log is, when on the go. I’ve yet to experiment with the mobile ‘log download’ function which should allow me to collect several days worth of data, if away from a PC for a while, by downloading it to the mobile phone’s data card.

BT747 software allows you to tailor the device’s logging, to record either just the basic Latitude, Longitude and time (this results in the maximum number of data points being recordable), to adding the recording of HDOP, heading, height, satellites fixes, speed, etc. Turning these on, however, would result in fewer data points being recordable.

I’m only interested in latitude and longitude, not elevation, speed, etc, and I’m logging HDOP (Horizontal Dilution of Precision — basically, accuracy), which can be displayed in the OpenStreetMap editor, JOSM. BT747 will also extract the raw data from the device, and convert it into a variety of formats, including .GPX files, which can be read by JOSM and used for tracing map data.

Other Applications:

Together with another Ebay  special — an HP Ipaq 5550 bought for the bargin price of 30 quid, I can now use OSMTracker to record data (including audio). Not bad for very little outlay.

I’ve been experimenting with using it in tandem with my Etrex Venture Cx, which being the older, lower sensitivity receiver, I’ve been having to take multiple readings for many paths. Dual GPS receivers should help with getting more accurate readings and save a bit of flogging up and down.

All in all, the is a very cheap way of logging reasonable quality data – the addition of Bluetooth allows external monitoring and configuration, and you can extract the data later on a PC (or even on the go from the mobile).

I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and it’s been performing perfectly. Good, accurate readings, acquires a GPS fix in seconds (largely thanks to the AGPS download facility). Bluetooth syncs perfectly, and the battery life appears fine, although I’ve not run it for more than a few hours at a time.

Complete Specifications, Windows USB Drivers and Software:

The manufacturer has an obscure website, with the details for the iBlue 747A+, including downloadable software, manuals, etc, as well as its complete specification.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,