I couldn’t find Caramilk so I made some, yes me.

Have you heard of Cadbury Caramilk? It was a delicious caramel white chocolate craze within Australia 20 years ago before being discontinued. The popular foodstuff made news when it had a limited revival in New Zealand, with savvy Kiwi shoppers selling it at a sizeable profit to desperate Australians.

Caramilk hit Australian shelves officially in February, albeit for a special, limited run. Availability was already scarce but was made worse by an immediate recall after pieces of industrial plastic from the manufacturing equipment were found within some of the cult-like chocolate.

No Caramilk was to be found! I scoured supermarket shelves – ok, let’s not kid ourselves, I don’t spend a lot of time shopping, so I didn’t look too hard but thought about it now and then. Nevertheless, all I saw were either an empty “Caramilk” display, along with a recall notice or simply no mention or gap whatsoever.

I emailed Mondelez International, the parent company of Cadbury, to ask if another, ideally plastic-free, batch would be released. They replied no, they were not making any more, and all they did make had been distributed. They gave me national numbers for Coles and Woolworths and suggested phoning them.

Dear David
Thank you for contacting us about Cadbury Caramilk!

Cadbury Caramilk is still available for purchase in Australia from Coles, Woolworths and Independent supermarkets until sold out.  

For more specific information about where to purchase Caramilk from in your local area we would recommend phoning the supermarket advisory lines for further details: Coles 1800 061 562 or Woolworths 1300 767 969. 

Please note that all Caramilk stock has been distributed to stores across Australia.  As Caramilk was released as a Limited Edition line we do not have plans currently to recommence production of this product.

Yours sincerely

I approached Coles first, using the tried-and-tested alphabetical order method of decision-making. A friendly lady told me one store in my region showed three bars in stock! However, she added, that figure may be out-of-date because, apparently, a mega-corporation doesn’t have real-time inventory tracking. She called the store but nobody bothered answering so it rang out and could not confirm if this quantity was current. Nevertheless, I tried my luck and as you might expect the shelf was empty. I would wager any three in stock were long gone weeks prior.

Meanwhile, Coles Online showed (and still shows) bars available for $5.50 each, limited to 12 per customer, tantalisingly saying “Add to cart.” Trying to actually add the chocolatey goodness to your cart prompts you to sign up, which I did, confirming my email address, setting a password, and then being told “This is out of stock” – would it have killed you, Coles, to put that on the product page like Woolworths does?

There seemed no point phoning Woolworths; it’s a given Caramilk is not for sale in any retail outlet in Australia. What does one do now? Desperate times call for desperate measures so I searched ScumtreeGumtree, the free online classifieds site where I can only assume buyers are either deluded or think any technology for sale is stolen based on the oh-too-many emails I get when I list my second-hand phone offering “I’ll give you $20 cash !!!” (what else would they pay with?) and even believing their delusional offer to be so awesome that I will even throw in free delivery to snap up this wonderous and princely sum.

It’s quite possible Obi-Wan had Gumtree in mind when he said, “you’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Still, Gumtree it was – and I found “Emily” selling Caramilk bars for $10 in my nearby area. She was happy to keep asking if I’d like more and more bars, but somewhat shy on confirming it was not the plastic-infested recalled chocolate, or indeed, that it was actually Caramilk at all.

01 - Scumtree1  02 - Scumtree2

Emily stopped replying, so I guess her ethics prevented her from lying about selling contaminated food.

So, back to square one. With no Caramilk available, I searched for importers of Nestle Caramac, a British confectionery, which apparently tastes just the same, but found that a dead-end.

It now got serious: I turned to the option I never thought would happen. I realised if I was going to have – and share – Caramilk, I needed to make it myself.

A Paris-based American chef, with many accolades for his desserts, named David Lebovitz describes how to make “caramelized white chocolate”, and his recipe appeared simple enough for a person who has no business in a kitchen like me.

Lebovitz says to use white chocolate with more than 30% cocoa content for the best result. This was a little tricky because many of the white chocolate bars on supermarket shelves don’t divulge this detail. I selected Lindt Excellence Extra Silky 100g which says it has a minimum of 30% cocoa solids. The recipe also calls for a “pinch” of flaky sea salt so I picked up some too.

05 - Chocolate and salt ready

Cooking time approaching, I needed inspiration and turned to my bevvy of smart home assistants to inspire me with a rousing montage of cooking music.

I don’t think there’s a winner here.

First task: preheat the oven to 120 degrees Celsius. What do these symbols even mean?

06 - Oven wtf

The first option seemed to do the trick.

07 - figured it out

Yep … so far so good! I even took out the grill and baking trays so I wouldn’t get a grill smell on the chocolate. Who said you can’t learn kitchen tips from this technology blog?

08 - we're cooking

The recipe called for 340g of white chocolate and I had 400g. Fortunately, the bars were divided into 10 squares so that made measuring it out a no-brainer. Mind you, while unwrapping the chocolate and enjoying its scent and appearance I was mildly tempted to just eat the white chocolate and be done with it all, but I persevered.

09 - getting ready

The recipe says to chop the chocolate into “coarse” pieces and distribute evenly. Well, distribute I can do in my sleep. Chop into “coarse” pieces? Doesn’t that mean rough? I figured it meant not finely chopped up and simply broke it into all the squares.

Oops! Somehow one of my six spare pieces got eaten!

10 - coarse and distributed

Into the oven for the first 10 minutes – “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes” I barked, like Captain Kirk, controlling my own starship of an oven and smart home assistant. She obliged. The eventual alarm was a puny beeping, but it worked.

I could see the chocolate had softened up.

11 - After 10 minutes

I was supposed to “spread it” so I gave it a quick once-over with the spatula.

12 - Spread

Well, it looks less like blocks, but maybe I should have left it alone. You can see where I wiped the spatula a few times.

10 minutes later, I removed the mix again. It was still very blocky. I considered my earlier idea of “coarse” was clearly too coarse, and the recipe perhaps meant something much more broken up. So, I made a big effort to turn all the chunks into a smooth chocolatey spread, and used a knife to redistribute my earlier scrapings. Then back into the oven for 10 minutes …

13 - In oven

10 minutes later I had an interesting coloured mix.

14 - Another 10 minutes

Playing with the spatula revealed a darker colour under the surface. Maybe I really can do this cooking thing after all !! Is this caramelised chocolate on its way ??

15 - darker

Back in the oven for 10 minutes.

Woah what the heck? This time its turned into rocks.

How can I leave a bar of chocolate in my pants or car and it melts, but if I leave it in the oven it turns into rocks ?

16 - 10 more minutes

Why did I even think this was a good idea and in the realm of my capabilities? Here’s the moment I began re-considering my every life choice that led to this moment of time.

Let’s see if salt helps. That’s meant to be added, and the recipe does say the chocolate may be lumpy, and that’s ok – simply keep stirring. Now, the recipe also says uses a “pinch” of flakey sea salt, and specifically a “good pinch”. Which is it? A pinch implies not much, a good pinch implies a generous amount of “pinch”. Why can’t people just say two grams or whatever it may be? So, I added some salt. What do you think? Is this a good pinch?

17 - Salt time

I stirred it all in and put it back in the oven for a final 10 minutes.

Under the light of the oven, it looks like a delicious piece of lasagne.

18 - and rocks back in oven

Here is the final result. You know, it’s not a liquid as I assumed it would be, but it really does look like it may actually be chocolate! Somehow a few pieces accidentally fell into my mouth and despite appearances, it tasted pretty good. Success!

19 - chocolate maybe

The recipe says “if lumpy, scrape it into a bowl and smooth it out with an immersion blender, or in a food processor” and fortunately there was a Thermomix right at hand.

20 - Thermomix inside

Let’s put it on speed five for ten seconds. Sounds right?

21 - Whirrrrrr

And here we are! I poured it into a handy Tupperware container I found in the cupboard that looked like it was designed to make chocolate eggs, though I later learned was a FridgeSmart onion keeper. Maybe a chocolate onion should be a thing?

22 - caramilk

The final verdict

I didn’t lack for people willing to taste-test my Caramilk experiment. The feedback is it is deliciously flavoursome, with a salted caramel flavour and not as sickly-sweet as Caramilk could be. It was well-received and now maybe I have a second recipe beyond vegemite toast in my kitchen repertoire.

For now, back to some comfortable, relaxing SQL …

Tech predictions for 2018 – SUSE, Forcepoint, Zerto, Avanade

A new year is here! To find out what it holds for technology, I spoke with thought leaders and executives at four global companies to get their predictions for the big news of 2018 in their fields:

Consulting and general trends: Avanade predicts virtual assistants will rise in popularity, that augmented and virtual reality will become part of regular shopping experiences, and just as “customer experience” has been a big thing, now it’s time for “employee experience” as business casts its mind back to its staff. Read more here.

Security: Forcepoint predicts we will see the likes of Equifax again, with another big data aggregator experiencing a breach and exposure of data from an attack vector which was predictable and avoidable, and that we will see intelligent malware watching out for SSL/TLS inspection and hiding itself, that the Internet of Things will experience the “disruption of things”, and that the privacy debate will be re-ignited. Read more here.

Disaster recovery: Zerto states while the move to the cloud will continue relentlessly, it’s important for business not to neglect disaster recovery and resilience, while predicting tape backup will finally die in 2018. Read more here.

Software: SUSE Linux says open source software will drive innovation and enterprises will need to keep watch and integrate open source, possibly engaging outside experts to help, that containers will become mainstream and a common delivery method for commercial software, and the cloud will be commonplace even for regular non-technology businesses. Read more here.

Have you saved three lives lately?

My blood type is O- so I feel it is my duty to give my blood regularly. O- is the universal donor; this is the blood which can be safely taken by any person, regardless of their blood type. It’s thus essential for emergencies where there is no time to waste.

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) does a tremendous job, with a great deal of care and professionalism. Every interaction with the Service has been tuned to deliver a wonderful donor experience, from recognising my number when I dial in, to the nice snacks on the way out.

Whole blood products are split into three components, being red blood cells, plasma and platelets so the ARCBS states each whole blood donation “saves three lives.”

Even so, donations of plasma and platelets are also especially valuable, particularly when you consider whole blood can only be safely given every three months or so, while these other components more frequently. Thus, if your blood type is more common these may be more suitable options.

Whatever the case, whatever your blood type, if you are healthy and able to donate, then I’d encourage you to consider it. You can find out more information, including eligibility and your nearest donor centre at the ARCBS’ web site.

DMWBloodBank blooddonation

Testing the Plantronics Voyager 3200 in a busy car park (and being laughed at :)

I’ve been reviewing technology for over 25 years.

My latest review is the Plantronics Voyager 3200 Bluetooth headset. I’ve long been a fan of the Plantronics Voyager line, with its over-the-ear design and long boom microphone. It’s also delivered excellent audio quality and has only improved over time with built-in smarts to automatically answer a call if you put the headset on your ear, a smartphone app to keep firmware updated and more.

I strayed from Plantronics for a while, having a Bang and Olufsen earset 3i and while it was a truly terrific, truly comfortable piece of equipment, it worked only on iOS – not Android or Windows Phone – and, of course, had a fatal blow to its longevity with Apple’s decision to remove the 3.5mm earphone jack on the iPhone 7. I switched back to the Voyager line, picking up the Voyager 5200.

Plantronics sent me their latest Plantronics 3200 to review. At first, I was sceptical, thinking by virtue of its model number it would be a lower quality device – still excellent, make no mistake, but no 5200.

To my pleasant surprise, the 3200 is truly a high-quality Bluetooth headset. It fit firmly in my ear first try, and remained comfortable throughout my use. It comes with a charging case, it’s stylish and professional to look at, and it has three microphones with noise-canceling technology to filter out background sound.

Here’s my review on iTWire.com, and a bonus YouTube video where I gave it a real-world test in a busy local shopping centre car-park, much to the mirth of some passersby.

Tips for a new IT Manager

One of my most popular stories on iTWire in the last few years is Lessons for a new IT Manager where I distill things I’ve had to learn over the years. There are many good people – be it in within technology or any other field at all – who are competent, skilful, trustworthy and reliable.By virtue of their performance, and the confidence the business has in them, they find themselves elevated to new and lofty roles where they are no longer “on the tools” but directing those who are.

By virtue of their performance, they find themselves elevated to new and lofty roles where they are no longer “on the tools” but directing those who are.

Yet, despite the obvious compliment of how much confidence the business has in them people management and leadership is an entirely different set of skills to, well, doing stuff.

The Peter Principle wryly notes people are promoted to their level of incompetence. The truth behind this is people are promoted based on their performance in the role they currently have and not necessarily the intended role.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With some self-reflection, some gumption and drive, good managers can be made.

I give my tips here, but let me give a spoiler: it boils down to communication. You can’t be a leader who doesn’t talk to your team and your stakeholders.

You only die twice

I’m a licensed private investigator and people are often fascinated by this. It’s not the glamour you see on TV and in movies. In fact, much of what you see in fiction is not even legal. I can’t go to the police and ask them to “run some plates” for me. Any officer who did that would be committing an offence. Nevertheless, quality information, and information security, are two of my gigs, and being licensed by the state to perform certain covert activities can be helpful.

People like to hear stories about investigation. It’s not all cheating spouses and car chases. In fact, one tale that sticks in my mind the most involves someone I never even met.

I was asked by an insurance company to look into a strange situation. A worker had died, and a lady claimed to be his partner. Co-workers of the deceased didn’t know her, and she had three different addresses, all several hundred kilometres away from the workplace. What was the deal? Additionally, was it a genuine worker’s compensation matter? Was he travelling to work? Was it his regular path to work?

The case was already several years old. I had a report from a previous investigator which identified the deceased worker stayed at a caravan park, yet the owner had sold it and taken all his records and the new owner didn’t know the guy nor had any contact details for the former owner. That’s where he seemingly gave up the chase.

I phoned some of the former co-workers. They didn’t know the lady. Worse, they barely remembered the man. As I spoke to more and more people it made me sad to wonder just what does someone’s life mean when people don’t remember you anymore. Did he ever live at all? They said they didn’t know if he had a partner, they didn’t really hang out with him socially, and didn’t know a lot about him … someone they worked side-by-side with for years. Still, they did have a recollection he lived at the caravan park.

I phoned the caravan park. Sure enough, the owner said someone else had talked to him a couple of years back so he knew the situation but he didn’t know the guy, didn’t know the lady, and had no information at all. He didn’t know where the owner was and he didn’t have any of the old records.

I wasn’t content with this. I hit the phone book and dialled everyone in the state with the same last name as the owner. This worked! I spoke to a few people, got a lot of answering machines, even had some people call back to say they didn’t know the person I was looking for and it wasn’t them. However, I got one number right because the old caravan park owner did call back. He knew the guy. In fact, he knew the lady. And he knew their son.

The worker was from mid-NSW. He lived there with his family. He would stay at the caravan park on weekdays and head home for the weekend.

After hearing again and again, “I really can’t remember him” it was so exciting, so relieving to know the man existed. He lived, he was known, he really stood there and really did these things.

All this time I had also been trying to reach the lady. The mobile number I had for her was no longer connected, and a landline number in the phone book was continually engaged.

I drove to her town, some 400 kilometres away from the workplace and the caravan park. It was a cold, icy night. The outside temperature was one degree Celsius and the road signs said to beware of ice.

I checked out the three addresses I had. The lady didn’t live at any of them. I filled my car at a petrol station and asked the attendant if he knew the family. He said it might be the people at such-and-such a street. I drove around and an older lady answered the door. Inside I could see a young lad. I instantly knew it was the son. I told the lady who I was and why I was there and who I was looking for. She said it was the right home, and called her daughter, who came right away.

The daughter arrived. She was the deceased worker’s partner. She and her mother showed me photographs and told me stories. They shed some tears together as they recollected events.

The man was her partner. They had a family together. He worked in a different town, and would stay there during the week. He came home Fridays and drove back again Sunday nights. They rented at one address, but had put in an application at a second address, planning to move. That was not to be.

One fateful day in May the man drove off the road. Maybe he fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe something else happened. Whatever happened, he left the road, crashed, and passed away. It was a cold, cold early Monday morning.

He normally returned to the caravan park on Sunday evening. Yet this time he left early Monday. It so happened that Monday followed the second Sunday in May. We know it in Australia as Mother’s Day. He stayed that night, opting to get up early and drive 400kms to work that morning. Sadly, that was his last trip ever.

After he passed away, the lady cancelled the new rental they were moving to, and found herself a new, smaller, place. Hence the three addresses. She now lived elsewhere. The landline I called was correct, but she had her dial-up modem connected 24×7, preferring to use her mobile to speak. She’d cancelled her own previous number, opting instead to transfer her partner’s number into her name so she could keep that number forever.

The lady and her mother wept as they spoke. They had photo after photo. There were holidays, there were memories.

The man had lived, and this was his partner, his family and his story.

I reported my findings to the insurance company. I never get told what happens in the end but I’d like to think – even years after his untimely passing – I helped that family get compensation. I feel so appalled by the previous investigator giving up at the first hurdle.

Yet, more than anything, I will never forget the emotional roller coaster within myself. I lamented how somebody could live and die and people around them struggled with memories. Then I met the family, and his memory was so strong and so real in their lives.

There’s a saying that people die twice. The first time is when they physically die. The second time is when their name is mentioned or remembered for the last time.

This is the story of Sam Carroll. I never met him; I never knew him. Yet, he lives on as you read this story. It’s not his time to die twice.

When 2x RAID 5 = RAID 10

An occasion I will never, ever forget is the time I set foot in a small business and the developers and IT Manager alike told me how their database server was in RAID 10. They spoke at length about the research they put in to determine the most performant disk configuration and came to the determination RAID 10 was best for their requirements.

The old adage, “what gets measured gets improved” is equally true in reverse; what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get improved. Noting the database was a key component of the company’s business, and that no reporting or analysis was occurring, I recommended several tools such as the free open-source dbWarden script. I speak more about this and other good, even essential, tools for keeping your database healthy over on iTWire.

The results were not good! In fact, there was significant lag. The database server was spending most of its time waiting to write – adding up to minutes every day, and many queries were taking over 100ms.

I asked the IT Manager to show me the disk setup. He took me into the server room and entered the server’s RAID configuration. Two RAID 5 volumes. We looked at each other, and he immediately said, “This was RAID 10! The systems administrator must have changed it!”

He asked that person if he changed it, he said no, that’s how it has always been. The IT Manager, never short for an answer, then confidently explained the server had been ordered from Dell as a database server so Dell “must” have pre-configured it according to their best practice.

It got worse.

Within Windows, one of the RAID 5 volumes was used exclusively for drive E:, which contained nothing but the Windows pagefile.

The other RAID 5 volume was partitioned within Windows as C: and D:. The operating system, the application, the database and the log files were all on the one RAID 5 volume albeit two Windows partitions.

Oh, and there were also a bunch of file shares, used by the most prolific file-heavy section of the business sitting on D: also.

You can be sure I made a series of recommendations, not only relating to infrastructure configuration but about staffing too.

A new day, a new site

With Microsoft Office 365 bringing public-facing, unauthenticated, websites to an end I’ve been rethinking my web hosting. I’ve been running web servers since 1994, from hand-coded HTML through to a variety of content management systems, both self-managed and hosted. After thought, it seems the easiest today is to let WordPress do the work for me, particularly given the convenience of posting on-the-go via the WordPress smartphone and tablet apps, as well as through Ulysses which is replacing Grammarly as my to-go text editor. I liked Grammarly’s cloud sync a lot, but the developer’s refusal to support even a 12.9″ iPad Pro, telling me I can only run it on a desktop web browser, makes it no longer a viable option.