Sheila O'Kelly's Blog

Freelance journalist, sub-editor, and e-novelist

Archive for November 2009

Dodder diary 30 November

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Last days of autumn

Dimples in the water at the weir.

Magical morning sky.

Autumn burns out in glorious orange.

The last few leaves linger on.


Written by SOKNH

November 30, 2009 at 16:46

Posted in Dodder Diary

Dodder diary, Friday 27 November, 2009

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Battle of will between the heron and the cormorant

By some freak of nature, while the rest of the country struggles against disastrous flooding, the Dodder isn’t even covering the path. My sympathies to all of those whose everyday life has been destroyed and who are still battling to deal with the fallout.

The heron and the cormorant were in battle today over a spot on the Dodder where some fish were there for the taking. At the start of my walk the heron was making its pre-historic cawking noises at the comorant. On my way back the heron had been ousted and was further down the river, while the cormorant was victoriously in the choice spot.

Meanwhile, a plastic bag seems to have sculpted itself into a heron form.

Battle of wills over fishing spot between heron and cormorant

Heron spots something tasty

Cormorant dives under water to sneak closer to heron

Cormorant braves the heron's wrath again

Cormorant has stolen the heron's fishing spot

Plastic bag sculpts itself into heron form

Written by SOKNH

November 27, 2009 at 14:43

Posted in Dodder Diary

Kindle review

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Review: Kindle 2 International

I live in Ireland and have had the Kindle for a few weeks now. Overall, I love it even though there are many things that I would change about it. Would I buy another one if this one went missing – definitely.
Please note that if you try any of the workarounds I describe below it is at your own risk!

The Kindle costs $259 from In addition, there are charges for customs and postage.

Good points

  • Easy to read – paper ink works very well and there is no noticeable eye strain.
  • Easy to turn pages.
  • Easy to download free sample chapter from Amazon.
  • Easy to buy books from Amazon.
  • Most books relatively cheap, about €7.
  • Easily fits in handbag.
  • Print size easy to change.
  • Great having a selection of books to choose from.
  • If someone else in your household has a Kindle, you can share your book library.
  • You can email text, Word and PDFs to your personal account at Amazon and they will be converted into text for Kindle and emailed back to you, when you can drag and drop them onto your Kindle (when it is connected to your computer via the USB cable).
  • Some other file formats can also be converted.
  • You can now drag and drop PDF files directly onto the Kindle without converting them.

Bad points

  • Many Amazon books are not available to readers outside the US.
  • Whispernet internet connection to Amazon store is frequently unavailable – although that may be the recent stormy weather.
  • No cover supplied.
  • Shipped from US with US type plug – come on!
  • Cries out for touch-screen. It would make the space used by the keyboard at the bottom available for the reading screen.
  • Cannot lend books bought to other people unless they are one of your four nominated Kindle users.
  • Because there is no backlight you need the same type of light that you do for a paperbook. But a clip-on light works very well.
  • No free books available from Amazon outside the US.
  • Some PDF files are difficult to read on the Kindle screen.


Free books

You can get free books from Gutenberg ( They provide downloads to books that are out of copyright.  I have installed the free Calibre ( software that is genius at converting these books and uploading them to the Kindle. The format to look for is mobipocket.

There are also lots of DRM free books available at where you can download the mobipocket version and use Calibre to convert them.

Free Irish Times, Guardian, New Yorker, Wired

You can subscribe to newspapers for a hefty monthly fee from Amazon. But with Calibre you can create your own newspapers for the Kindle using the newspapers RSS feeds. This does take a while to set up the first time, but after that they are delivered automatically to your Kindle from Calibre every time you connect the Kindle to your computer with the USB cable.

For example, I created a Kindle Irish Times by using the Irish Times RSS feeds for: Frontpage & News Digest, Ireland, Finance, Features and Weekend. And of the Guardian by using its RSS feeds for: G2, Features, Fashion and Technology

I have also subscribed to parts of the New Yorker and Wired.

Even if you can’t be bothered creating your own News links, Calibre has many of them already tagged and you just click and pick which ones you want.

I don’t read these every day, but when I have an unexpected half-hour free or at the weekend, it’s great to have them easily available all in the same place.
Calibre instructions are easy to follow.

Written by SOKNH

November 25, 2009 at 15:43

Posted in 1, Technology

Christmas cake: step-by-step in pictures

with 3 comments

Step-by-step Christmas cake

I have made many different types of Christmas cake but this is the most reliable. I made three cakes yesterday and this is how I did it.

It is a fairly simple recipe and contains no mixed peel or cherries because most of my family don’t like them. However, there is lots of grated orange and lemon zest and some marmalade (without peel – I promise I’m not sneaking it in!).
This amount is for a 20cm square tin or a 23cm round tin. I usually use a sqare tin because it makes the cake easier to cut.  The fruit needs to be soaked overnight, so the cake needs to be done over two days.

Christmas cake.

Cook cake until it is light golden brown on top and all the mixture is set. If you put in a cake tester or skewer it should come out without sticking.

I’ll do the icing in a few weeks.

You will need:

  • A 20cm square or 23cm round tin
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Tinfoil
  • An electric beater – handheld or standalone.

In theory you could cream the butter and sugar by hand but I’ve never done it. It is the creaming of the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy that stops the fruit from sinking. I use a Kenwood chef for this.


  • 770g sultanas
  • 300g raisins
  • 180g currants
  • 150ml brandy or sherry
  • 225g butter at room temperature (or 10 seconds in microwave)
  • 195g Light golden brown sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 medium oranges
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (preferably unwaxed)
  • 4 large freerange eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of orange marmalade with no peel
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg
  • A pinch of salt


  • Put the sultanas, raisins and currants in a large bowl. Stir in the brandy or sherry and cover. Leave overnight.

  • Preheat your oven to 150C/gas mark 2 (text only version of instructions below). Please note, at low temperatures ovens vary considerably. So make sure your cake is light golden brown and skewer comes out clean before you remove it from the oven.

Christmas cake

Line the tin with a double layer of brown paper and then with greaseproof paper so that the papers comes up about 8cm above the rim of your tin.

Christmas cake

Put greaseproof paper over the brown paper.

Christmas cake

Cream the butter and sugar in a standalone mixer or with an electric beater until light and fluffy. This will take 4-5 minutes.

Use an electric mixer to beat butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.

Beat in the orange and lemon rind.

Christmas cake

While the mixer is running, crack an egg into a cup and add it to the mixture. When it is well mixed in, add the other eggs one at a time in the same way.

Christmas cake

Beat in the marmalade.

If you have used an electric mixer it probably won't be big enough for the next step, so move mixture to a large mixing bowl. Gently fold in fruit, flour and spices – about a quarter at a time.

Christmas cake.

Put the mixture into the tin.

Christmas cake

Smooth mixture down with the back of a spoon making sure to fill all the corners. If the paper is flopping down crease it back towards the cake - it will stop the cake burning.

Christmas cake.

Cook cake until it is light golden brown on top and all the mixture is set (don't unwrap until cold). If you put in a cake tester or skewer it should come out without sticking. Wrap cake in tin in foil and leave until completely cold. Remove all paper, then rewrap in fresh foil and clinfilm. Store in plastic bag, cake tin or plastic box.

  1. Line the tin with a double layer of brown paper and then with greaseproof paper so that the papers comes up about 8cm above the rim of your tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a standalone mixer or with an electric beater until light and fluffy. This will take 4-5 minutes.
  3. Beat in the orange and lemon rind.
  4. While the mixer is running, crack one of the eggs into a cup and add it to the mixture. When it is well mixed in add the other eggs one a time in the same way.
  5. Beat in the marmalade.
  6. After this there is no more beating but the ingredients are gently folded in. Your mixer bowl will probably not be large enough for the next step, so transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  7. Weigh out the flour. To it add the mixed spice, cinnamon and grated nutmeg.
  8. With a large spoon, fold in about 1/4 of the flour and spices, together with the fruit, into the cake mixture. Repeat until all is mixed in.
  9. Bake for 3-31/2 hours until a cake tester comes out clean and without sticking. The cake should be light golden brown and all of the mixture on top should be set.
  10. Wrap the cake in the tin with tinfoil – tricky with a hot tin, but the idea is to keep the steam in until the cake is cold.
  11. When the cake is completely cold, remove all the papers and foil and rewrap in a double thickness of tinfoil, then clingfilm and then put it inside a plastic bag or in a cake tin or plastic food box.

Written by SOKNH

November 23, 2009 at 13:10