Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hospital Update

My mother is doing okay. She's pretty wiped out, and she's being fed intravenously -- apparently, she either can't swallow yet, or they're just not sure. She's had a CAT scan, an XRay, an echocardiogram, and blood tests, and tomorrow she's getting an MRI, speech therapy, and physical therapy. Should be a fun day. It could be my imagination, but I think that her speech is a hair clearer than it was this morning. It's still badly slurred, of course. In a way, it's like listening to a three year old talk, where the kid knows what they want to say, you just don't understand it. So you pick out phrases and make guesses.

I had told my wife that I was waiting to see what would crop up to interfere with the dental surgery on Monday -- so far, everything but insurrection has occurred -- but I have to admit, I didn't anticipate this.


My wife and I used to use Yahoo Chat to keep in touch from my work PC to hers, and then from the home PC. Her company blocked it, essentially. Yesterday we found that Google's Chat function will work from our PC to her work one, and if you install the free Google Talk tool, it'll connect automatically when the PC starts. Goodness.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


My mother had some kind of medical event this evening, resulting in confusion and badly slurred speech. Fortunately, my wife thought to call the paramedics, and they're both at the hospital now while my mother's being tested to see what it might have been. Stroke's what comes to mind, though a TIA's also possible.

I'll post something when we know more.
Two hours later. No good news, but some minor news -- a CAT scan shows no bleeding in her brain. Xray hasn't been read yet. They're still at the hospital.
More negative results -- the Xray (not sure what was xrayed) didn't show anything. They're going to admit her, and tomorrow do tests for cardiac function, also check whether her carotid artery flow is restricted. She still can't talk, though she can mumble, and you can make a stab about what she's saying. So I guess the bad news is that this might be permanent, the moderate news is that if so its likely addressable with speech therapy, and the good news, such as it is, would be that nothing's obviously and ongoingly (is that a word?) wrong. Other than the obvious.
The next morning -- my wife tells me that they did in fact call this a 'small stroke', though the phrase TIA wasn't used. That's encouraging.
We just spoke to my mother. Her speech has improved. She's not terribly coherent -- she sounded as if she'd been drinking, which she thought was funny -- I think the last drink she had was in 1954 -- but she can usually make herself understood. This is promising.

Debbie and Me

This recipe is from the Debbie Fields cookbook that I picked up a few years ago. Since I wasn't up to that gingerbread cake, and I really wanted to bake something, I thought, well, heck, what about some cookies?

Mocha Chunk Cookies

2 1/2 cups All Purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant coffee crystals
2 teaspoons coffee liqueur
1 cup granulat
ed sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup salted butter, softened
2 large eggs
10 ounces
semisweet chocolate bar, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 300 F
In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt. Whisk well and set aside.
In a small bowl, dissolve coffee crystals in liqueur and set aside.
In a large bowl, blend sugars in electric mixer on medium. Add butter; mix to form a grainy paste.
Scrape down sides of bowl; add eggs and coffee mixture. Beat at medium until smooth.
Add flour mixture
and chocolate chunks; blend at low speed until just combined. Don't overmix.
Drop onto ungreased
cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 20 -22 minutes. Transfer to cool, flat surface.

I used some powdered espresso, and chips, not chunks. First batch just came out. Not bad....

Le Snob

I'm by no means a great baker, but I like to bake. As the holidays approach, I think about baking holiday cookies, and perhaps a bit more. Last year, I scooped up about four magazines with holiday baking recipes, thinking that they'd be pretty standard, year to year, and so far, that seems to be the case. I'm sure that inventive people will always be doing inventive things with baked goods -- ah, but now we slice the banana on a forty-three degree angle, dredging it through the cookie crumbs before dusting with the superfine sugar -- but I'm not into that. I'd simply like to be able to bake about a dozen different kinds of cookies that are tasty, and don't take a ton of time.

It is therefore ironic that one of the recipe sources I picked up last year was the December 2006 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, where I am looking at this recipe on page 94. It happens to be sponsored by McCormick's Seasonings, so it's also on their site:

Triple Chocolate Gingerbread
1 package chocolate cake mix
1 package (4-serving size) chocolate instant pudding mix
4 eggs
1 tablespoon Ground Ginger
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ground Allspice
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Confectioners' sugar (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)
White Chocolate Drizzle, recipe follows (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat all ingredients except chocolate chips in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed just until moistened, scraping side of bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes or until well blended.

2. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into 10-cup Bundt pan that has been sprayed with no stick baking spray with flour.

3. Bake 50 minutes or until cake pulls away from side of pan and cake springs back when touched lightly. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Cool completely. If desired, sprinkle cake with confectioners' sugar and serve with whipped cream. Or, spoon White Chocolate Drizzle over cake.

White Chocolate Drizzle: Microwave 1 cup white chocolate chips and 4 teaspoons milk in small microwavable bowl on MEDIUM-HIGH (70% power) 1 minute. Stir until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. If needed, microwave 10 to 30 seconds longer, stirring every 10 seconds. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract. Immediately spoon over cake as drizzle tends to thicken as it sits in the bowl.

Despite the fact that this is more complex than I have in mind, and beyong my ability to pull off (well, probably), I sniff at the first ingredient: Chocolate Cake mix? What the heck kind of baker uses a mix? If by god you can't do it from scratch, why bother?

Proving that snobbery is not limited to the talented.

Will I make it anyway? Well...maybe just for the practice....


Eddie Izzard is a very funny person. Can't believe I've never heard of him before!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Politically Inclined

...if only slightly.

This evening, my wife and I went to a meeting of a local Democratic organization. It was a smaller deal than what we went to the other day. Two people running for office were there, both local; one who's been in office at the local town for about six years, and one who is running for the first time. The guy who's been in office talked about things that are going on relative to traffic and planning; both are hot button items. The guy who's running didn't have much to say. Both seemed like 'real people', as distinct from the profesional politicians at the other meeting. My wife and I got very quiet when they mentioned that there are no Democratic candidates for some positions in our town. Neither of us has any desire to do that.

At least, not yet. I happen to think she'd be very good at it, though.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

But I Wasn't Parking...

...and it wasn't an emergency! - Watch more free videos


The plan for tonight was sausage lasagna and cranberry meatballs. Then it became ground beef lasagna and cranberry meatballs when we realized someone -- can't imagine who -- had put the mild sausage in the freezer when he was putting away the groceries. That transmuted into baked ravioli with ground beef and cranberry meatballs when we thought that we wanted to use the chilled ravioli we'd bought last week, before it grows stale ....which is now rice with cranberry meatballs, because the aroma of that sauce is quite enticing, and we're getting hungry. Since dinner is about half an hour away, I think that's what it's going to be. We'll have the other -- whatever it is! -- tomorrow. Or perhaps Wednesday.

This recipe is very similar to our favorite 'sweet and sour' meatballs, except that it's simmered in a pot rather than in a slow cooker, and it has some lemon juice in it.

Cranberry Meatballs


* 2 pounds ground beef
* 1 cup bread crumbs
* 2 eggs, beaten
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce
* 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
* 1/3 cup ketchup
* 1 (16 ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
* 1 (18 ounce) bottle barbecue sauce
* 2 tablespoons brown sugar
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (175 degrees C).
2. Mix together the hamburger, bread crumbs, eggs, soy sauce, pepper, garlic powder and ketchup. Form into small balls and bake for 30 minutes.
3. In a saucepan over low heat, combine the cranberry sauce, barbecue sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice. Simmer and stir until smooth. Add meat balls and simmer for 1 hour. Serve warm.

Oh, and we added a mess of Parmesan cheese to the meatballs -- we like the taste.


Apparently, I'm not a politician -- except, perhaps, at the breakfast table. The Politician of the Breakfast Table.

Last night, I attended a dinner at a local facility for the country Democratic organization. I've never been to one before. I keep saying that I'd like to do something to support the party I believe in, but I haven't so far, as it's not convenient for this reason or that. So, when the invitation came, I thought: what the heck. It's something. Well, as it turns out, I was right about that, though not for the reason I would have suspected.

There were about a hundred fifty people there; roughly a third were older than me, and roughly two thirds about my age. Very few were less. Several politicians were there, including the state's lieutenant governor, a newly elected Congressman from a neighboring city, a country commissioner, and two people who intend to run for office. The first three gave speeches, as well as a couple of officials from the Democratic organization.

The first was - odd. The speech was halting, wandering, as if the person had been drinking and then abruptly informed that they had to give a speech. The content was, pretty much, that we had to turn the precinct, county, city, and state Blue, because the evil Republicans had nasty plans for all of us, including reapportioning the state a la Tom Delay. We had to get out the vote, get out the vote, get out the vote. This was repeated multiple times. After a while, the speaker staggered off, and the freshman Congressman leapt up. His content: he used to be a Republican, but he switched, and you know what? He likes being one of those wacky Democrats who actually cares about people, who makes life better for the common folk. He said this several times, with great vigor. Apparently, his speech coach told him to always keep sentences, sentences short and repeat them, repeat them, because that's what he did, did. The final speaker was the country commissioner, who was concise and lucid; by comparison to the others, he was a paragon of the speech-making ability. He, too, referred to the Republicans in terms that sounded almost like a mockery ('I told my esteemed Republican colleagues that if they acted to transfer that nursing home to the private sector, I would personally lead protests on their front lawn'). He nodded approvingly toward staff from the nursing home who were seated at a corner table, asking two to rise for general applause. (Which, I admit, I thought was kind of nice.)

Okay, I know its not all West Wing. And I know that Pennsylvania party politics is vicious and intense. But I didn't expect this. Some of it, sure. But I thought there would be at least a little thoughtful evaluations of the political landscape, comments about leading issues, discussion about what works and what doesn't.

I must be more naive than I thought.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

AI, Ay?

This afternoon, my wife and I went for a bit of a drive, and while we were out, I talked about AI. About which, I know enough to sound knowledgeable to anyone who doesn't actually understand it. I wasn't trying to baffle her, or anyone; its just that I only generally understand the concepts, but I like to talk about them anyway.

One of the things that I realized, while talking, is that you don't have to understand AI programming to want to be involved in the utilization of AI technology; and you don't have to undeerstand the utilization of AI technology to want to be involved in the programming of AI. But, in either direction, knowledge of the other side helps. My primary interest is the utilization of AI -- what can it do for us? -- but I like to know how it does what it does. Not at the bit and byte level (do working AI programmers use that phrase, I wonder? And if not, how do they refer to knowing something at the atomic (not literally) level?), but enough to get a sense of how it gets from 'gee, wouldn't it be nice to have something that could....' to having a working prototype.

What brought this to mind (again) was coming across a site for an AI shell called UltraHAL. UH's a chatbot -- you talk to it, it tries to talk to you. Right off the top, its not all that impressive. Here's a transcript of my first conversation with it (using a character it comes with called 'Zabu'):

User: i like to read the newspaper on Sunday.
Zaba: User Wow! Read the newspaper on sunday.

User: My favorite newspaper is the Washington Post.
Zaba: Oh User! Newspaper and public press and paper!

User: Tell me the name of my favorite newspaper.
Zaba: I try to avoid junk food.

User: So do I. Do you know the name of my favorite newspaper.
Zaba: Hoover is an internationally known name.

User: You are in error, Zabu.
Zaba: Thanks for teaching me that I am error.

You can sort-of see the program trying to respond, but it doesn't seem too bright. I guessed that, having gotten the phrase "I like to read the newspaper on Sunday", it might be a bit confused by 'on Sunday', since that could be a condition about when I do the reading, or it could be a way to indicate that I'm reading a newspaper on the topic of 'Sunday'. But the first part was pretty straightforward, so what I would have expected would be something like 'I like to read, too', or 'What do you like to read' or 'Why do you like to read the newspaper on Sunday'. But 'User Wow! Read the newspaper on sunday' seems completely off the wall. Though, I do like it suggesting that my favorite newspaper is junk food.

I think I'll play with it a bit more.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Cold Evaluations

I exchanged notes with a couple of people that I used to work with while at Big Blue, and I must say, I'm feeling a little guilty.

While I'm happily semi-retired, doing baking, house-cleaning, and reading, both of them -- and, from what I gather, another as well -- are trying to garner new employment after being summarily (more or less) ejected from the warm corporate embrace of IBM. They're finding it difficult, and, from the tenor of the notes, dispiriting. One, an experienced security administrator, is taking a class on coding Medicare claims; a second is working as a real-estate agent, and the third is taking a class on the ASP programming language. All three have easily a dozen years working in the support and implementation of the IBM security product; all were kicked out because IBM felt they didn't want them around. Objectively, I find that hard to understand.

I understand why they might not want me around. I wasn't particularly talented at the job. I did what they asked me to do, and asked good questions as needed, poking and probing for the intellectual pleasure of doing so, but I never relished the job as they did. I said, multiple times, that I was a techie, not a security person, and so when the time came to lop off security people, I was an obvious candidate.

But these people were not. I can't even fairly say that they were middle-of-the-pack folks; based on what I know of their abilities, they were probably about two thirds to three fourths of the way up the food chain (I was probably about fifty percent). Two of them didn't have much desire to understand the internals of the product (which is what you need to get the rest of the way up), but that didn't matter, because IBM didn't make it possible for them to learn those internals. They kept that restricted to the small club of people who were doing it, and had been doing it for years. Eventually, of course, that club would need new members, as the existing ones died, transferred, or just grew stale, and since you can't just show up and be productive in a job like that, it seems obvious to me that they'd want to bring new talent in every so often, either just as a trial --- let's see if these guys have the right stuff --- or as a way of preparing them for an eventual transition. It's possible that such things did happen -- but if they did, I never heard of it. That surprised me on an ongoing basis -- where's the mobility, the growth in this field?-- and it surprised me when we were told Thanks for being here, now scram. Me, I could see, but not these guys.

The only thing I can think of is that IBM was hard up for money, to the point where they really believed they could do the same work with fewer people (certainly not literally the same work, but the essential core of that work, sure), or they thought that they needed the same number of people, but those people could be found more cheaply elsewhere. That song's been sung elsewhere, either lyric. Its possible that such a decision would be supplemented by their managers' literally not knowing what these folks did -- what value did their function bring to the organization. And that brings me to the thought about evaluation. Its usually difficult, and for someone in a software job, its frequently impossible.

For example: how much is one hour of a software programmer’s time worth? The standard answer is that it depends on the market. There’s no objective evaluation. It gets trickier when you think about two software programmers. If it takes one SP an hour to do something, it doesn’t follow that it would take another one an hour to do the same work – and it absolutely doesn’t follow that two could do the same work in a conjoined half hour. People who aren’t programmers don’t understand that. As in so many other things, Dilbert said it best, when the manager observed that he didn’t understand what it was that the engineers did, so it must be easy. To be fair, programmers think the same of managers.

I don’t know what drove IBM to this point. I’m glad that I was already edging toward the railing, preparing to jump; I’m sorry for those who were still in their cabins, eating dinner, when the ship hit the iceberg. I hope that these actions don’t affect the company’s ability to succeed; at least, not too much. (There would be glum pleasure in seeing them fail, at least a little.) A better answer would have been for the company management to be insightful and proactive; to learn how programmers think, and to show programmers how they were evaluated, and how they would selected, when the cutting starts, so that they, jointly, could keep from that point -- and provide advance warning, as needed. Hire smarter, not more frequently. Evaluate with insight. And on the other side of the equation -- learn the business. Remember that it exists to make money; higher revenue and lower expenses are inherently desirable.

But that, I expect, might be too much to ask, of either side.

Passing note: Apparently, I'm able to turn out a halfway-decent English muffin. Who knew?

Eating Plans

This is going to be a slightly adventurous food week. On Sunday, I'm making baked ravioli with cranberry meatballs, which is a new recipe for us, and on Thursday, I'll try General Tso's Chicken, which is also new, though my wife's had it from restaurants. If its good, I'll be pleased....and if its not so good, I have the dental surgery the following week, and will be able to skip eating any of the leftovers.

I am really glad that this surgery is almost here. Of course, I've sung that song before -- twice, that I can think of. Lets hope third time's the charm... even if it does mean that I eat just soft foods for several days.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Google Gulp

I just found out that if you do a Gsearch like 'Recipe macaroni', it will return a search page where you tell it what you want to cook - cuisine, servings, etc - and then get you web recipes that match those characteristics.

Words Fail Me

From here --


I love Maglevs. I think they are totally cool, marvelously terrific. They're faster than rail, cleaner than most buses, and sleek as all hell. I wish we could get them out of the laboratory and into the real world, immediately. You know, like, oh -- Shanghai.

I just wanted to mention that.


The way I figure it, the people who work for Google must be quite fat.

Think about it: when you see yet another fawning article about how wonderful it is to work there, they rarely mention anything like excellent work tools, or clearly stated and implemented goals. Occasionally, they do mention audacious plans and overarching ambitions, and that's good. And sometimes they mention on-site cleaners, people to run errands for you, cleaners. All goodness. But what they always mention is: the food. Why, these people get gourmet meals! The drink machines are free, and always stocked! They have people come around with carts of pastries and doughnutsp!

When the employee entrances change from looking like this - [] [] - but instead look like this - O O - then we'll know for sure: it might be, probably is, a challenging and rewarding place to work. But they're not there for that. They're there for the food.


A long time ago, I thought that I understood how antennas work. I don't mean that I understood them on a molecular level, but that I kind-of understood how they did what they did.

At the time, I worked with aircraft radios. One of our pieces of gear was an 'antenna tuner', which would somehow make it possible for a single antenna to be used with multiple radios that were tuned to multiple frequencies. I don't think it was possible for them all to work at the same time, but I'm not sure about that. Anyway, I had a mental image of the antenna as a whole bunch of particles all vibrating in unison, where that vibration matched -- or didn't -- the frequency of the signal that you were trying to get. When it matched, good deal. When it didn't, in my mental model, the tuner 'added' some vibration, so that the final effect was as if the antenna was vibrating at the right frequency. Now, whether this model was even remotely close to how an antenna actually works, I have no idea. I did try to read up on it a couple of times, but what I found was that a) there are no simple books about antenna theory, and b) thats it.

String theory is like that.

I was looking at the videos on the Discover Magazine web site - in particular, the one about string theory. The videos were submitted for a competition to describe a scientific concept in two minutes or less. Well, I know what string theory is, just like I know how antennas work. Which is to say, not really. But two minutes? Heck, I can listen to anything for two minutes. So I clicked on the first one. And I see a picture of a little yellow rubber ducky (oh, this is going to be easy, I can do this!), and I hear this Russian-accented voice say 'In our basic understanding of physics, objects....' (Een hower bayseek oonderstanding uf feesicks, objacktss..) and my brain just shut right the heck down. Run away, run away! it screamed. It's going to eat your brain!!!

The second one isn't as obscure, but still... I think its going to take me...awhile... to get through these videos.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I don't know how to make tiramisu. I know what the recipes look like -- I have two, I think -- but I've never tried it. I'm going to, someday, but not...quite...yet.


This afternoon, I was poking around in the webiverse and came across the Correll Concepts site. Apparently, the fellow who built this site has a range of interests, one of which is commercial pizza making. Based on the depth of the material he has there, he knows a whole heck of a lot about it. So, I was noodling around, reading how you address problems with the pizza, and noticed a link to a site called Pizza Today, which is dedicated to that same field. I went over.

In a section called The Make Line (which I guess is a reference to the part of the commercial pizzeria that makes the other things you sell, I found this.

The article's pretty interesting, with some good ideas about how to make the tiramisu, including variations, but that picture.... Maybe someday is a little sooner than I think, hmm?

Cross Thoughts

I mentioned a while back that I had come across a blog written by a cross-dressing man, and had to kind of talk myself into reading it. I said that I decided I would read it, because I had thought it was interesting before I learned about the cross-dressing, so why not?

I just wanted to say: this is consistently one of the most interesting blogs I have come across. Its thoughtful, funny, and well-written. It occasionally mentions cross-dressing, but thats not at all the thrust of what its about. Instead, the blog ranges the gamut of topics, from law to society to motorcycles to cats. It's really worth reading.

The blog is called CaroLINES.

Whotta Drip

A drippy sort of morning in CenPenn -- the weather people say that we'll get a tenth of an inch by 7AM, but my daughter's home made rain gauge says we've gotten about an inch and a half so far. I suppose you could make the point that both statements are correct.

Going to do some baking today -- pizza dough for dinner, and some chocolate chip cookies to hand out for Hallowe'en -- if we get anyone at all. We live in a quiet cul-de-sac, and don't get a lot of trick or treaters. Alas, this means that I tend to end up being the one to eat the Kit Kat bars. Oh, the agony. The cookies are intended for the little kids, and, if I do it, each one will be in a bag with our name and phone number, and maybe the recipe, on it. I just don't like kids getting candy for HDay, at least, not tons of it. Though I would never go so far as the people I've heard of who handed out religious tracts and toothbrushes. Skip that house!

Just started a new novel -- its a kid's one, The Misadventures of Maude March. My daughter had given it to me quite some time ago, and I'm finally getting to it. For all that it's set in the old West, its quietly written, which I like, at the moment. Just about done with Chee and Leaphorn.

I had a very minor and likely you just realized that? moment this morning, after reading the other day that Amazon's share price had risen after reporting that profits were up, based largely on the last Potter book, but down now, based on forecasting that sales would not be as good next year. The insight was: professionals expect that variation, and have a sense of what the price ought to be, which guides them in deciding if the current price is one where they ought to be interested. I know: you just realized that?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Soapy Physics

Something to think about, next time you're washing your hair....


I had an interesting, if unsettling, discussion with my daughter and a friend of hers this evening. The topic was 'how do you keep track of what's due in school'.

In the first year of middle school, the kids are issued an agenda book (a new one is handed out each year). It has spaces for making note of homework, projects, upcoming tests, and occasional reminders, suggestions, exhortations, and such. The school is VERY big on these -- the kids are not allowed to be seen in the hall, as a rule, unless they have the agenda book with them. In the presentations to the parents, the school administration pumps the idea of 'personal responsibility', using the phrase 'it is the student's responsibility' many, many times. Its the classic 'do this now, because in high school...'

My daughter isn't a great scheduler. She thinks she's pretty good, and possibly from the sound of things, she might be, at least relative to her class. But I worry about whether she's truly on track, and episodes like tonight, where she broke down almost to tears because she won't have a project done -- apparently, she and the kid she's paired with simply can't synch schedules -- don't do much to assuage that fear. So I wondered: does the school do anything to reinforce use of the book? Encourage effective use of the book? Provide backup systems for those who aren't using it effectively? Frankly, I doubted it. I didn't doubt that the administration means what it says, and I didn't doubt that such a system could work -- but I wondered if it really did, and if it didn't --because, hey, how many people bought The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? How many of them actually read it all? And of them, applied it? And of them, more than a few weeks? -- if it didn't work, was there a backup system?

So I asked both of them -- my daughter, who's in eighth grade, and her friend, who's in ninth. And they both said the same thing. Yes, the school gets very tense if they don't have it. Yes, they tell you 'put this in your agenda book'. But -- no, they don't check, even occasionally, unless theres a clear problem. No, they don't always give you time to grab the book and write out what they said. No, there's no backup to see if its being used effectively. And, the high schooler added, they don't really care. Really? I said. Or is it just that they have too much to do anyway? She shrugged.

Well, crap, I can hear teachers say. You think we have the time to hand-hold your child? We're doing good to get through all of the stuff that we have to do every day. We hit the buzzwords we're supposed to hit, and thats all we have time to do. And I think, true enough. Thats not their job. On the other hand, I don't know whats happening in school, except generally, and I don't know what the expectations are. So it sounds like we have this tool which is probably being used effectively, but we -- or at least I --don't actually know that.

And I find that unsettling. What to DO about it is a whole 'nother question.


This morning, my wife showed me some gourds that she'd picked up as Hallowe'en decorations. They're pretty oddly shaped, and different colors. I commented on that, and she replied 'My feeling was, it's going to look weird anyway. If it's going to be weird, let it be really weird.'

I told her that I think that that would be a wonderful family motto.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Greenbacks Flowin'

...or perhaps I should say 'flown'. This has been an expensive day.

We had an electrician out to the house to replace the ceiling fan in two bathrooms. Both had begun running very slowly. Oddly enough, once the electrician tapped them, one started spooling up immediately, and the other gradually. However, given that one was about thirty years old, and the other about fifteen, we elected to replace both. He also checked out and replaced three electrical socket that had been acting up intermittantly. Total cost, about six hundred dollars.

Then I got a call from the oral surgeon's office to tell me what the bill will be for their services, now that my insurance won't be paying for it. Bottom line, a small single digit number...followed by three zeroes. This didn't include what the plastic surgeon will charge, nor the anesthesiologist. That'll turn the total into a midrange single digit. Hmm...perhaps the center single digit?

And we bought more drugs for the sick guinea pig.

I do believe I'll be on the street corner, selling knicknacks to drivers, if this keeps up!

Sunday, October 21, 2007


This is not a cooking blog, despite my occasional pretentions to the contrary, and I am not a cooking maven. Nevertheless, I'd like to point out two useful tools I acquired recently. Both are from the Martha Stewart line. They are sturdy and appear well made. I think they're both worthwhile.

The Bench Scraper is wide, with a comfortable grip, and has both a measuring ruler (inches one side, metric the other) as well as a table of conversions embossed on it.

The Measuring Spoons go from one eighth teaspoon through one tablespoon, include
a three-quarters teaspoon measure, have the size's metric equivilent on each, and are narrow enough to fit into most spice containers.


I am not a handyman kind of guy. I like to say that I have one all purpose tool that can fix anything, and that's my checkbook. I am not kidding. I can do minor repairs, but I know my limits.

However, this page on the Engadget site, covering the installing a socket to supply power to a wall-mounted television, is so clearly done that it gives me ideas....


My knowledge of biomechanics pretty much stopped when The Six Million Dollar Man went off the air. I am only slightly kidding.

Nevertheless, I found this, from a University of Michigan web site, to be a fascinating bit of text, and it only took me about ten minutes to convince myself that I understand what they're talking about. Okay, fifteen.

Biomaterials for the Central Nervous System

Recent developments have made it possible to synthesize novel poly(peptides) from bacteria using genetic engineering techniques. The flexibility and degree of control in the sequencing of amino acids by recombinant DNA procedures means it is now possible to exercise unprecedented precision and fidelity in constructing new macromolecules. Our studies are concentrating on the local structure and nature of self-assembly of these novel materials.

We have developed processing schemes to create microstructured films and fibers of genetically engineered proteins. By understanding and manipulating the stability of the protein in solution, it is possible to create films with controlled morphologies. These films are of interest for biocompatibilization of surfaces and for scaffolds for wound healing and tissue engineering.

Our primary interest is in the development of biocompatible surfaces for neural prosthetics. Our work involves the processing and characterization of biologically active polymers and polymer blends onto the surfaces of silicon micromachined substrates. We have been developing an electric field-mediated deposition process that allows us to reliably and quickly create thin fibrous coatings on solid substrates.

Neat, huh? No, really. What they're saying is that they've found a way to use genetic engineering techniques to build new kinds of protein structures (proteins being an essential part of life, used to literally build the body) , and that these structures can be used as part of the body's processes for wound repair. Think of it as a variant of Tool Time's Binford 5000, only on the molecular level. Okay,anything to improve, speed up, make more effective the repair of wounds. Good stuff.

But -- and here comes the sexy part -- they want to be able to use this capability to create 'biocompatible surfaces for neural prosthetics'. Sure, this is intended to repair places where the neural pathway is degraded or damaged - but, can you say 'brain jack'?

Now, that's cool.


Fortunately for me, I don't live in London.

It's not that I don't like London -- I do, quite a lot. I'd commute there if I could, even given that there is apparently no way on the earth that I can eat there unless I bag it or stick to Italian restaurants. But I was just poking around the web, and came across a web site called Darksugars, where I read the following -- "Mouth wateringly rich chocolate truffles, liqueur-soaked dried fruits dipped in the most indulgent of high quality chocolate…" Oh, my goodness, I thought, I need to stay away from this place. I went on to read " Dark Sugars lovingly hand makes delicious quality chocolates right here in London." Oh, good, that won't be a problem.

Food's been on my mind of late. When we ate at the local restaurant last night, I had an excellent meat lasagna. It was somewhat more than I wanted, but I made a determined effort at it (and, in fact, my wife had them box up the remainder) because the meat filling wasn't your average ground-beef-in-tomato-sauce. I don't know what it was -- the closest I can come is that it almost tasted like taco meat. I'd really like to know -- unless it turns out that it was, like, fried squirrel nuggels in soy sauce. Then, maybe not. But it was good. It was just about exactly what I'd put into a lasagna if I were to make one. I had planned to do that tonight, in fact, but the rescheduling of the football game blew that away. Perhaps I'll do some lightweight baking today -- chocolate chip cookies, or something like that. I do want to try my daughter's classic cookie recipe, but with the substitution of solid shortening for some of the butter. I had always thought that shortening was for people who preferred not to use butter because they didn't like the taste, couldn't eat it, or didn't want to spend the money for it; I was surprised when I learned that it actually has properties that can make it preferable to butter, over and above any of that.

My daughter's scrambling today. She has, in no particular order, the need to work on a school project that's due in one week, work on one that's due tomorrow, finish this weekend's homework, and clean up her pet's cages. And she'd like to get together with a friend, but I kind of doubt that's going to happen, unless her time management skills show a rapid improvement.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

After Dinner

We went out to dinner, and it was good.

The choice was a small local Italian restaurant, somewhat on the stylish side, but not so stylish that they had a dress code. About half the people were dressed up, anyway; some of them remarkably so, for their high school prom. My wife and I did what we call dressing up, which for me meant simply tan slacks and a tan cashmere sweater, and for my wife, a sleek black dress, gold necklace, and soft white shawl. She looked seriously classy, even by my biased standards.

For dinner, we had gnocchi, ravioli, and lasagna, with wine; for dessert, our favorites - creme brulee and tiramisu. I do truly love tiramisu.

We should do this more often, I think.


I mentioned to my daughter this morning that the recipe for friendship bread used vanilla pudding, and she immediately asked if there was any left. I told her there was not, but that I would look for a recipe. Amazingly, Epicurious didn't seem to have one, and neither did Joy of Desserts. I seem to recall that someone told me about one...and the search function on Blogger doesn't look through comments, thanks a lot, guys.

and todays our anniversary! Hot damn....
Update: Amazingly, this is the only vanilla pudding recipe I found. Its pretty similar to what my wife guessed would be in there. I'd have assumed that a 'great' vanilla pudding recipe would include a vanilla bean, but nope....

We'll give it a try.

2 1/2 Cups Milk, Divided
1/2 Cup Sugar
1 Pinch Salt
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
2 Egg Yolks
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Butter or Margarine


Place 2 cups milk and salt in saucepan. Sprinkle sugar on milk and DO NOT stir; heat over medium-high heat. Quickly combine cornstarch with remaining milk,add egg yolks and mix well. When milk comes to a full boil, remove from heat and stir in cornstarch mixture. Pudding will begin to thicken. Return to heat, cook for 1 minute. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and butter. Pour into dishes. Serve warm.

Friday, October 19, 2007


All these posts, and still no current responses! Pretty soon, I'm going to have to start hiring people. I wonder what the going rate would be?

Exchanged emails this evening with a woman who's an Army wife -- I came across her blog while looking at people who'd responded to a Wordless Wednesday. Along the way, I asked her if she thought those organizations that say they exist to support the deployed troops really do any good. She said that she couldn't speak for a couple, but knew that one, called Operation Homefront, did a lot, because she'd gotten a lot of benefit from them. So, I went over to their web site to poke around... and now I feel like the little we do is really just a little.

I also happened to exchange emails with a woman who runs a web site called IttyBiz.Com, which is, sort of, aimed at people with small businesses. I gather she runs this with her husband, out of their home. I'm impressed by her energy, and also insights.

Okay, thats it for now. Too tired to write!

Day, Recapped

It's been an interesting day.

The bread turned out pretty well, and I think I know why it didn't make that final jump up to where the first loaves did. Incidentally, one thing I didn't mention -- in the first step (the autolyze), I just lightly blended the flour and water, whereas in the dough that I wasn't happy with, I had actually mixed it. Can't see why that made a different, but could be....

My oral surgeon and I met to discuss the surgery, which is, once again, scheduled for two weeks from now. He told me that he called the plastic surgeon to suggest that he drop his fee, because, as it turns out, insurance is not going to cover me, and the plastic surgeon said sure, I can do that. Amazing. I still end up paying way more, but its less than their original estimate.

The football game for tonight got postponed just because of a high wind/hail/tornado advisory. Imagine!

And now we're making dinner -- Not So Sloppy Joes, which I love.


Just a note -- the bread turned out okay. Subjectively, its about 90% of the bread I first made. Good color and heft; didn't rise quite as much, and its not as permeated with holes in the crumb. I'm guessing that most of that is because the stone didn't get quite as hot -- I normally heat the oven for about twenty to thirty minutes; this time, it was about ten -- and possibly because the bread dough I used has no sugar, while the King Arthur kind has a trace amount. Either way, I'm generally pleased.


It's a sullen, overcast Friday here in what they like to call 'Central PA' on the local radio stations. I wonder if other states routinely refer to themselves by their initials. Seems as if there should be a 'road game' in there somewhere == spot the licence plate and make a rhyme with the state's abbreviation. I was looking at the Google news scoop once and saw a headline which said that peace accords were being pursued with PA officials; I was startled until I realized that was the Palestinian Authority, not Pennsylvania. Though given how contentious our state senate can be, that might be appropriate anyway.

The rain might be the finishing touch on the road trip that my daughter's taking today -- its a field trip, going over to the science museum in Harrisburg, which is just over the river. The museum's pretty nice, but the parking around there is on the grim side -- no pull-offs for the hordes of school and tour buses to drop off their cargo, let alone anyplace easy for the buses to go to when they're done. One of the state office complexes is near there, so for a while I would get to navigate through those streets. You learned pretty quickly to dodge the side street -- something about a big orange bus with flashing lights suggesting that perhaps taking the long way around would be a good idea. I'm not sure what the content of the trip is, but I hope she enjoys it.

Only two weeks until the end of color guard for this season. I'm looking forward to that. She does enjoy it, but its a great strain on all of us. Her friend told me the other day that the woman who's the director of the CG keeps the older girls practicing until ten, or later, some nights -- and then chews them out if their grades aren't acceptable. I've told my wife that there is no way I'm letting my daughter do that next year. Even now, its too much of a commitment; that level would be absurd. Of course, these confident statements have a way of eroding, once the actual date arrives. And I did get one benefit from it, though I could probably have done without it: last night, after I dropped her off, a guy told me that it looked as if one of the wheels on the Prius was wobbling. My wife drove it around the neighborhood while I came behind in the van, and yeah, it does look that way. What's strange is that the wheel itself appears okay, but its as if the side of the wheel is moving. I thought that it might just be a loose hub cap, but this car doesn't have hubcaps. So, I get to go to the dealer and have them check it out.

I hear my mother moving around downstairs. Sounds like she's using the walker, still. That isn't good. Nothing can make me feel like an ungrateful child more than hearing that sound and immediately wondering if a nursing home is in our future.

Took the dough out this morning; not at all bad. Perhaps I'll take a picture -- want to see some unbaked dough? Looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy after a bad night on the town. Wonder why soldiers in WW1 were called Doughboys, anyway?

And lastly -- if you like reading about technology, but aren't a geek head, I recommend the David Pogue articles. They're available via email, or you can look at them on the New York Times web site here. (It requires a sign-in, but there's no cost, and it doesn't put you on an email spam list.) He's got a clear, clean style that usually stays on track and avoids buzzwords. I almost said busswords, which I guess is what you say when you want a kiss. Sorry, Dave, I don't like you that much!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Simple Recipe

Here's a recipe that I think even I can make, from Epicurious.

Baking and Such

Proving either that hope springs eternal or that I'm an idiot, I'm trying again for some good bread. That last batch was pretty disappointing, but I'm using exactly the same recipe as the first time. The dough's been rising on its first rise. In a little bit, I'll take it out and do the pre-shape before it goes into the refrigerator. So far, it looks promising -- the dough was particularly gloppy when I pulled it from the mixer. I didn't remember this last time, but the first time I made this recipe, that's how the dough was initially -- so wet that it took multiple tries to get it out of the bowl.

Saturday is a little bit of a special day for us -- it's our anniversary. We're going to head out to a local Italian restaurant where we've not been before, but about which we hear good things. I'm looking forward to it.

Thinking Thursday

I don't expect anyone's going to pick up on that title and make it a wildly successful meme, a la Wordless Wednesday. I just needed a title, and that was what popped out of the Regurgatron. But, you know, what if we did have such a day -- the day when everyone thinks about a specific problem, and offers solutions? Such concepts occasionally show up in science fiction novels, and either an elegant solution evolves from the mass mind, or one does not, but everyone feels better for having participated in the group effort. I've always liked the idea. Too bad that it probably wouldn't work. Seeing the comments that people put into their blogs, et al, lately, they're not looking for agreement -- they want to flatten the opposition. There is no civility, no willingness to accept the other side as a reasonable person.

I can see it now: Thinking Thursday: Todays Question: How can we best allocate the scarce resources in an inner city school? One or two calm, thoughtful responses, and then a flurry of F-bombs, with 'friggin idiots' here and 'stupid bastards' there... and the comments stop. It would work, I think, if you vetted who was making the comments, sort of like the need to sign in before Blogger will let you make a comment, but that doesn't always work. Even ignoring the possibility of subverting the sign-in process -- how often do people get comments from what are apparently robots -- the loss of anonymity steals something that feeds the creative process. If I have a thought about the current TT problem, but for whatever reason I don't want my name associated with it, then perhaps I won't tell you my idea. Even if the keeper of the system promises that once you've signed on, it'll not connect your name with what you say, there will be doubt that the system can really be trusted-- that malice or accident won't expose the connection. Oh, so it was Harry who suggested eliminating the executive washroom, hey? Most people won't take that risk. An effort to institute a Wikipedia for spies to pool their bits of knowledge almost foundered when it was pointed out that that sort of knowledge, by itself, has very little intrinsic value - you need to know who said it - so they wanted everyone to sign in - whereupon people said 'I'm not putting my name out there, forget it. ' Same problem. So it was Harry who said that an invasion would be a cakewalk, hey?

Which is not what I was going to write about -- I was actually thinking about an article I'd read regarding whether it was ethical to give a patient an anesthetic which effectively removed the last ten minutes of their consciousness - it can be found on the Time magazine web site, here -- but I think I'll pass for now. Time for breakfast.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Two Events

Two events occurred today involving my daughter. Both caught my attention.

In one, she told me that she'd gotten an A for a presentation that she'd done. I was, of course, delighted. She then went on to say that she'd gotten less than a great mark on the written part of the presentation (where she wrote up what she later presented) because the instructor felt that she hadn't really done what she was supposed to do. The task was to compare and contrast George Washington and some current leader, matching their traits and accomplishments. She picked her aunt as the current leader (she's a senior manager at a governmental agency), but instead of comparing, she basically mentioned George, then listed some things her aunt does, then mentioned George again. My feeling was, however good what she wrote was, it wasn't what was called for -- which was the instructor's take, as well -- and therefore she should not have done so well, overall. I'm not going to ask the instructor about it (hello, you gave my daughter an A, and I think she deserved less?), so I'm not sure how to handle it. I see two problems -- the one mentioned, and that the paper, as written, was pretty weak. I admit, thats 'weak by my standards'. I can be grim when it comes to that.

The other thing was that we got a call from my daughter's guidance counselor. He wanted to let us know that she and two other kids had come to see him -- made an appointment, which fell through, and then grabbed him when he was in the hall -- to tell him about a kid in their class who they thought needed some kind of help, and wasn't getting it. He said that he was impressed by their energy and courage in stepping forward, and he wanted to let us know. We saved the message, and played it for her when she got home. She knows that we're delighted -- and I'm thinking that perhaps some small tangible proof might not be a bad idea.

...and the home made Mac and Cheese received high praise -- she said she liked it better than the previous version, mostly because we used the full amount of cheese and only half the macaroni. I think we have a winner.

Being There

Teleprescence fascinates me. The idea of being able to effectively do something somewhere else, while still being deep within your comfort zone at home, is terrific. I know, looking at the video feed from the camera at the top of Mount Everest, while sitting at home eating chocolate chip cookies and occasionally clicking over to the porn site, doesn't do justice to the experience, but then again, you don't have to tip the Sherpas, either. Wonder if they have robotic Sherpas? Or outsourced ones? Hi, my name is Easa Al-Jahbir, I'll be your Sherpa today.

Teleprescence started with the concept of video feeds. You could walk into a conference room, flick on the television monitor, and hey presto, actually see the person you were talking to. Not that this added all that much to the experience -- Good god, where did he get that tie? I had no idea he was so fat... -- but the novelty was pretty amazing. I recall using an early model speakerphone at the New York Worlds Fair, and it was so cool to talk to, um, the people I talk to every day. What sold it was the novelty. With the video, you don't have to travel, which is good, but thats about all that it gave it. And you had to be careful with it. I recall once, sitting in a video conference room, playing with the camera. I had no idea that every time I reaimed it, the image that everyone else got updated. Uh, Bill? Are you having a problem with the camera? And, could you focus up a little higher, please?

What bought this to mind was looking at a website for the iRobot corporation (what is it with the i prefix? ) and, specifically, their iRobot ConnectR Virtual Visiting Robot. It's essentially a camera mounted on a small mobile robot. I don't know exactly how the technology works, but of course every guy can see the immediate benefit of a camera that's mounted at ankle level, looking up. Sally? You might want to ...step back a little.. from the camera. Good idea. I recall reading, not too long ago, about a fellow at, I think, Xerox PARC who uses a similar device (mounted on a eye-level stand, thank you very much) to communicate with coworkers when he's working from home. Sounds charming. And there have been little squibs from the Japanese press about use of robotic 'caregivers' to keep in touch with elderly relatives. They're not so much a caregiver as an always-open phone line, but it sounds like they do work.

Are you there? Can you hear me now? Dammit, is this thing on?


I'm taking it a bit slow today.

I found a book on the shelf that I'd gone about halfway through before deciding to focus on reading one or two at a time -- The Leaphorn and Chee novels, by Tony Hillerman. They're pretty quiet -- no exciting car chases, no feats of detective brilliance -- which means they fit pretty well into what I want, at the moment. I was surprised to see that I actually have about five other books up there waiting to be read. This is the kind of discovery that lead to me creating a database of books that I wanted to read, but also wait to buy. I still have it, though I haven't updated it of late.

This morning, while she was moving around the kitchen, my daughter noticed a recipe for home made mac and cheese, and asked about it. I told her that I wanted to see if I could make something that we liked as much as the Kraft stuff (and cost less, though I didn't mention that), and so I would be making it for dinner tonight. She studied it for a moment, then turned and casually said 'We have some pizza in the freezer, right?' Always good to have a backup.

It was fairly foggy this morning, but now the sun is out, and I can hear birds chirping. It reminds me that the front lawn has sprouted some weeds that I'd like to get to, but I think I'll wait a couple of days. Maybe it'll snow or something.

Yesterday, I downloaded a freeware 'pc cleaner' that I'd seen recommended in a couple of sites. The product is called CCleaner, and can be found here. It installs easily and runs quickly -- though I have to admit that if it didn't tell me that it wants to (and then, when you say okay, does) delete dozens of meg of redundant or invalid file entries, I wouldn't know. Its not as if the PC feels lighter, after all.

No baking on the agenda today -- at least, no heavy duty baking. Perhaps some cookies. I did spend some time last night reading in the thick bread book that I've got, looking at their baguette recipe. I recall reading it when I first got the book, thinking 'oh, good lord, this is impossible'. Now, I look at it, and while its still clearly on the anal-retentive side (citing, for example 'King Arthur English-style artisan flour', which I'm going to dash right out and get), it actually uses pretty much the same steps and flow as what I made the other day. In an odd way, that's comforting. But not for today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Sorry for the spotty content lately. The creative juices, such as they are, seem to be running dry. Not sure why. I've already posted, and later removed, about four entries; they didn't even interest me, which is saying something. I wanted to write about an article I read on the KurzweilAI site, by a fellow who thinks that a working artificial intelligence is within grasp, and will almost certain make our lives better, richer, fuller, but even the odd feeling of being on the side of the Luddites for this one couldn't stir me up -- all I would have ended up doing was pointing to the article, which isn't very satisfying. Even baking's letting me down; the bread today is done, with two loaves in the freezer for later baking, and two baked today, but one was a disaster; I handled it way too much, and the dough collapsed - now its like your proverbial cudgel, or rock. The other's not bad, but not as chewy as the first time. I'd bake some chocolate chip cookies, but the way things are going, I'd inadvertently mix in guinea pig output -- and not notice. I'm disappointed in the paucity of responses, lately, but then I think 'well, heck, if the guy who wrote it isn't all that impressed....' Yeah.

So, all of this put together -- the lack of responses thing, the feeling of being creatively dry in more than one area -- may be a signal that I need to change my routine. Reading comes to mind. I have two or three books waiting to be read; none are captivating (except one, but its a loooong book, and I don't know as I'm up to it at the monent). Maybe I'll cruise up to the bookstore tomorrow and ask to be directed to the Lightweight Entertainment section. Or some 'hard' science fiction, or a decent detective novel. Not sure. Nothing too heavy, though.

I'll be back in a while.


A book that came out not too long again suggested that quick evaluations can be more effective than lengthy, detailed ones. I'm not sure if this is an example of that concept, but it might be.

In looking at various sites, I came across one from the Eteam for the National Center for Policy Analysis. It can be found here. Right off the bat, I didn't trust it. It's a good looking site -- sober design, nice graphics -- but something about it made me wonder how impartial it really was. Of course, most sites on the web aren't impartial; if they have an opinion on a topic, they let you know, right up front, frequently with many exclamation points and liberal use of what I've heard called the F-bomb. This site didn't do that. It says, on the page's masthead, that it provides 'Accurate Information on Energy & Environment Issues'.

I think that was the first tickler. 'Accurate Information' -- why would you need to flag that? It could be because you recognize the bias in most sites, and wanted to reassure the reader that here, at least, that didn't prevail. But like the site I came across this morning, which offered a free security analysis of my PC, and noted that I might get a request to 'allow unsecure information'; if so, just go ahead, because it doesn't really mean anything, when someone feels the need to promise that they're delivering Accurate Information, I wonder, just a bit.

The article is titled 'The Truth About Al Gore's Film: An Inconvenient Truth'. Well, there's another tickler. When people feel it necessary to tell me that they're going to tell me the truth, it seems to mean that they're going to give me their version of the truth. It may be that what they're about to tell me is actually more true than what I already thought; maybe not. But feelling the need to tell me, up front, that this is the Truth -- well, it worries me.

So I started to scan the article, looking for buzzwords. I found them. "The material... is not new." "Gore has persistently erred...he has not taken the opportunity to correct his errors." "The movie is filled with misstatements, half-truths, and verbal sleights of hand..."

I stopped at that point. My guess was that the rest of the article would be in the same vein. Al's wrong, we're right.

I blinked.

Got Dough?

It's looking good -- better in some ways than I'd hoped, not as good in others.

The four individual loaves did merge, more than I thought they would, so I had some problems separating them. If you're a believer in not handling the dough a lot, which I'm beginning to become, you probably won't like the mauling I had to give it just to get them apart. On the other hand, it's just dough! But the good news is, two of the four showed obvious signs of fermentation -- one popped up a gaseous bubble, and another actually wheezed at me as I was reshaping it. So this overnight in the refrigerator stuff clearly is a good thing.

Right now, the four loaves are rising on the counter. I will likely put them someplace warm for the day, and bake later this afternoon, assuming I can keep my mitts off them. This is good...

Monday, October 15, 2007


The blueberry pasta was worth doing for the experience, but not for the pasta itself. But part of that was that we (me) didn't really know what the goal was -- ie, how to interpret the recipe.

I ended up using a substantial amount more of semolina -- at the end, I wasn't even measuring, I was just dumping it into the food processor to see what it would do. My guess is that I ended up using about three to four times what the recipe called for. That overwhelmed the amount of blueberries. I think that the greater amount of semolina was overall a good idea, though; if we did it again, I'd easily quadruple, or more, the amount of blueberries. As it was, we had colored pasta, with only the faintest taste of blueberry in it.

I think that all of this started with the amount of water, as the amount in the recipe wasn't nearly enough to cover the blueberries in the pot, which is what the text said to do, and I ended up going a bit too far in adding it. I think now that what the recipe really wanted was a mash, for what was left in the pot, to be added later to the semolina, etc, and a thickened, reduced sauce to be poured over the pasta, neither of which it actually got.

The liqueur-based topping was pretty good, but even so, we ended up sprinkling sugar on it.

But it was fun. I think I'd do it again.


This is turning into one of those 'every pot we have' dinners.

We have spaghetti sauce bubbling in one. Spaghetti (actually, rotini) in another. The mashed up blueberries were in a third. The cooked blueberry pasta (once it dries) in a fourth. And a pot with the amaretto sauce to go over the blueberry pasta.

I don't know if that stuff will be edible, but we had fun making it. And my daughter got to use her great-grandmother's pasta maker, too. Awesome.


I'm doing it again, but I'm doing it a little differently. Part of that is to get different results. Part of it is because I don't exactly remember what I did, first time. This time, I'm adding some notes to the recipe.

So -- I beat the dough for ten minutes, because thats what I did the first time -- but this time, the dough is a lot stickier, so I hand-tossed some more into the mixer bowl and let it get worked in. I'm sure it wasn't that sticky last time. For that matter, I don't remember adding that much water, either - a pound of water? - but hey, thats what the recipe says, so I must have, right?

I happened not to be in the kitchen while the mixer was running, and therefore was quite surprised to hear a crash, and come out to find the mixer on the floor. Heck, I knew it was vibrating, but, my gosh.... One advantage of sticky dough: it stayed in the bowl, even on its side.

I'm in the couche step now. I can't say that with a straight face. It sounds like something that a friend would sympathize with. Oh, Bill, I'm so sorry...does it hurt much? Last time, I made two long loaves, dumped them into a metal french bread form that I've had for years, put it in the refrigerator, covered with a cloth. This time, I made a floured bed in the form with the cloth, put four small loaves into it, wrapped the whole thing with aluminum foil, and into the fridge with it. The idea is so that the dough doesn't stick to the form like it did the last time. I'm sure that a Real Baker wouldn't use the form. C'est la vie. That's French for 'sue me'.

The plan is, I'll bake some time around this time, tomorrow. Wish me luck.


This morning, I was noodling through the entries in the Food and Cooking folder of Feed Demon, looking for sites to delete -- ones that attract me, but which I don't routinely look at. I came across the entries for the She Bakes and She Cooks site, which has an article about a mistake she make in baking some brownies; the mistake ended up using twice as much butter as required, but the resulting taste was quite good. It got me to thinking about comparisons between recipes. I pulled out a recipe I've used, and compared them --

....................................Mine ....................SB&SC
chocolate.................. 8 oz ....................... 6.5 oz
butter....................... 1 cup..................... .4375 cup (7 T)
eggs........................... 5 .............................2
sugar......................... 3 cups.................... 1 cup
vanilla....................... 1 T.......................... 1 t
flour ..........................1 1/2 cup.................1/2 cup
salt.............................. ---- ........................1/4 tsp

(How do you get columns to line up in Blogger without a lot of futzing around with blockquote?)

I was just bemused by the difference -- not so bemused that I feel the need to bake some brownies, just to compare them,though. I'll just settle for a gedankenexperiment. To me, the most interesting thing is that her mistake was to use twice as much butter as required -- ie, she was supposed to use 7 tablespoons (which is what the recipe called for) but inadvertantly used 7 ounces, which is about 14 tablespoons, or about .875 cups. Since my recipe uses a full cup, that might explain why I like the taste so much. That, and the fact that it has more of what makes it sweet, pretty much across the board.

Lets hope I didn't typo something here, because I'm not doing those conversions again!

...and I decided to keep that site in the roster.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Mobility is a Good Thing

Amazingly, my mother is mobile again.

After a day of staggering around, occasionally (and grumpily) using her walker or cane, she's moving as well as ever -- which isn't all that great, given that she's still on the frail octogenarian side, but we'll ignore that. We had her up for dinner tonight, and she asked when we'd be going out to the store tomorrow morning. I'm amazed. Score another one for good pain meds, I think... and Fosamax, which may be why her bumped shin didn't turn into something more serious.

Neat, Reet, AutoComplete

One of the things that I like about Firefox is how willing it is to remember ids and passwords. (Insert obligatory security comment here.) But some forms don't ask Firefox to do it -- they've got an option called Autocomplete set to NO on the form, meaning that you have to type it in each time.

Well, that's a bit of a pain -- so I found this, on the How-To Geek web site, regarding how you can install a script to reset that to Autocomplete=Yes, which will let Firefox do some of the heavy lifting for you. All you need is the Greasemonkey add on, then select the Autocomplete script you want (they all work pretty much the same way), and that's it !

Notes on a Sunday Afternoon

According to the blogger post counter, I've written 2,266 posts thus far since starting in January, 2003. That's something of an amazing number, for me. I started not being sure if I could write more than an occasional item, and in looking through the archive, I'm surprised to see that there are months where I only wrote one or two things. Being retired has certainly opened the floodgates, though, given the paucity of responses, I have to assume it hasn't done much for the quality. They're automatically forwarded to a specific email box which now monotonously says 'There are no new messages on server'. I'm thinking of leasing out the space to a spider with references.

Our neighbor is outside with his power mower. I shudder at the sound. I haven't quite put away the mower -- with an electric one, there really isn't much maintenance to accomplish -- but I'm hoping not to have to use it again this year. There's a patch in back, where the blue spruce blew over, that is quite lush; its fun to look at, and to walk through barefoot, but its a real bear to mow. And the rest of the sloped ground back there isn't much fun, either. Every month, I give serious thought to hiring someone to smooth the ground out -- to flatten it and put in a retaining wall, or to just smooth out the small bumps that make running a manual mower over it feel like doing a miniature version of the Baja run, but I never do.

We do seriously love this new washer and drier. They're quiet, effective, cheap to run. Why, it almost induces me to do laundry.

I mentioned that we had the freezer installed downstairs. I'm glad that we got it. Though its not as delightful as a new television, there's a solidity about it that pleasing to me. I don't know what it says about me that I can be more pleased by having a freezer than a new television! Perhaps, if I were more of a tube watcher, I'd feel differently. But, you know, The Freezer Channel is really quite interesting.

I've been doing some reading lately on artificial intelligence and robotics. This isn't even a hobby -- I don't do any programming in it, don't buy three hundred dollar Lego Mindstorms robotic toys, any of that. Its just something that I occasionally read about, and try to understand a little more than I did before. Sometimes I think I like tormenting myself, reading things like this. I ask myself whats the point, if I don't do it for a living, don't talk with anyone else about it (literally; occasionally, I'll tell my wife about it, and she's nice enough to listen, but she doesn't get even the little bit that I do, and unlike me, she has a real job). I guess I really can't answer that. I wish that I could figure out a way to put some of this interest to some kind of practical use, but I'm afraid that my knowledge level is at the tin can and string level, whereas the people doing it are more at the photonic energy level. I do get a small intellectual pleasure from understanding it, somewhat; I guess that will have to be enough.

Nyah, Nyah

"On the eve of a campaign visit to Britain, the wife of Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, has delivered a spirited warning to Hillary Clinton, his toughest rival.

“Nothing is inevitable,” said Michelle Obama, vowing that her husband was a “uniter” who could beat Clinton to the party nomination.

Asked if she thought Clinton was a polarising figure, she replied: “That is definitely one of the challenges she faces. You can see it in the surveys.”

Oh, Barack, Barack.... this really isn't worthy of you.... and I'd be careful of that 'uniter' tag, too.


My daughter's on the couch, doing homework. Out of nowhere, she mentioned that she really likes her science text, and wishes she could have one for her own (this one goes back to the school at the end of the year). I told her that you can buy them, whereupon she perked right up. Really? So we searched. Used copies of that edition -- which are about 10 years old -- are selling for five bucks, plus shipping. So -- we sent a note to find out if one specific copy has writing in it; if not, she'll buy it for her own.

How cool is that?

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I've been eating honey-roasted sesame sticks, and thinking about organizations.

The hrss's come from the farm stand we went to this afternoon, to pick up those really good looking apples. (It really is a farm stand, and not just a table by the side of the road --the orchard's right behind it!) They make a fair amount of stuff themselves, jams and jellies and pie fillings and whatnot, and along with that, bags and cartons of munchies like the sesame sticks, not to mention some locally manufactured sodas. I don't get them too often, mostly because the opportunity to go to the farm stand doesn't usually present itself.

The bubbles come from a web site called Slow Leadership. I've only looked at it a couple of times, because, to be honest, it doesn't have a lot of new content. But what it does do, and pretty well, is repackage older content -- things that were fresh once, and deserve to be heard again. In this case, they're talking about effort versus results. The story he tells is about realizing that the reason he couldn't produce a decent bubble, while at the park with his son, was much the same as the reason he couldn't get an organization to gel and produce a viable product. I think that it's also the reason that we frequently lose track of what we're trying to do in the midst of the flurry of the things that we have to do. We push harder and harder, but we don't push smarter and smarter.

Now, I happen to hate the phrase 'work smarter, not harder' -- but only because its a hackneyed phrase that's usually a code for being asked to do more with less, faster and cheaper. And sometimes, you do have to work harder -- but the key here is to understand what 'harder' means. Its like when I'm on the exercise bike, and I have ten minutes to go -- I can peddle just as fast as I can possibly can, and I still have ten minutes to go. Because the goal isn't to work harder -- to get to the ten minute mark -- its to work smarter -- to get the exercise I need at a rate that will be achievable by me. Gets me results without burning me out. How I do that is up to me. Focusing on the ten minutes drains me. Focusing on the gains in strength and endurance energizes me.

It's a little too New Age for me to say that management of goals is like blowing a bubble -- but you know what? Sometimes, it is.

Pie, Eyed

I'm not sure, but making an apple pie might be in my near future. Bread, too.

The pie possibility comes from going to one of the local farm stands and noting, to my surprise, how many different kinds of apples they had available. I've grown used to the four or five that the local supermarket carries; by contrast, this small stand had easily ten, including a couple I'd never heard of. I'm sure that there are apple bigots who would scoff at my surprise, pointing out that in their neighborhood, there are easily twice as many, each one better than the one before, but this is enough for me. As it happened, we bought Mutsu, which I think we've had before (it was either that or Pink Lady; I remember it as being sweet, but thats about it), and they're really intended for snacking. But I've seen some articles about apple pies lately, and if I can figure out how to make a small one, I'll give it a shot.

As for the bread, we just about finished off the two loaves that I'd made a while ago, and I was delighted to find that even a week later, they were good as French Toast fodder. I was in the cooking section of the library, the other day, looking at recipes for breads, when I had one of those 'slap your forehead' moments; I have at least three cookbooks at home that have bread recipes, one of which is dedicated to bread; surely I can find something in there? Something that won't require me to return the book to the library when I'm done? So I'll be giving that a perusal, this week.

And maybe some cookies. We gave away the vast majority of cookies to the people where my wife works, but Hallowe'en is coming. If I were to bake up a dozen or two, putting each in a bag with our name and the recipe (to guard against the "don't know where it came from, better pitch it" syndrome), don't you think it'd make a decent give-a-away for the munchkins?

Making Al Happy

My wife told me that the other day she got into the hybrid-engine car, which is parked next to the electric (non-polluting) lawnmower, drove to the township offices to put some cardboard into the township's recycling container, then to the supermarket where she bought some organic foods, using her cloth bag to carry some of it home. Today, we got a new freezer, selecting one that cost more but uses less electricity. After which, she turned to me and said -

I hope Al Gore's happy!


Comments are turned off, as the default, for a while. Email, however, still works.

Earth, Fire, Water?

No, no earth -- but fire and water? You bet. And the part that startles and fascinates me is that it's entirely computer generated at ScanlineVFX -- who are, apparently, extraordinarily talented at what they do. How good? Watching the water, I swear I felt a drop....


Found here.

(Click to get the changing version -- this is just a static one.)

The Day After

The offspring staggered home last night, collapsed into bed, and slept the sleep of the righteous until almost 7:30 this morning, at which point she popped up and went downstairs. From what my wife says, she asked once if the ribbon had been located, then dropped the subject. The performance was, apparently, without incident. The football team wasn't so fortunate, losing catastrophically. From what I gather, they won the first two games of the season, and have lost every one since. I feel a little sorry for them, but not a lot, as I'm not a big proponent of team sports where the community is supposed to all get together in support of them. The day that I see equal support for, say, the chess club, I'll rethink that.

I was a little grumpy this morning -- last night, I had reglued the end piece on that wonderful bread board that my wife has, but this morning I found that it had shifted about a quarter inch, likely when I was putting it down to dry. I am not a perfectionist, but I like when things go as they should, and I guess I see a reflection of myself when they do not. (When they do, I usually think that its just luck.) I think thats a lot of why I like to bake (or try to bake). When it goes well, I can usually convince myself that there was a certain amount of skill involved. Not a lot, but some. I'm always amazed by people who spend great amounts of time and effort to get a recipe right. I'm usually just glad to have it be edible.

I'm working my way through Eternity Road. I'm not as captivated as I was by his other book, but its good entertainment. I might give up on Agony and the Ecstasy, or perhaps just get a different copy -- the print on this one is small, and its a little tiring for me to read. My wife, for the longest time, had a program of reading one Great Book a year (or every couple of years). I suppose this is my nod to that. I'd like to read more, but it seems that there isn't that much written that captivates me. Its either mindless or way too long. Yeah, I know, there's tons of decent books out there. I believe that. I just can't find them. For yoks, I occasionally look at the books recommended by book critics. Almost always, they are full of angst, sorrow, betrayal, the worthlessness of life. Great fun.

Its a fall morning out there. I can feel the electric baseboard heat come on in various rooms. I like that.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Just because my daughter means the world to me doesn't mean that there aren't times when I'd gladly trade her. Tonight, for example.

She came home from school at 4PM, announced that she had almost no homework, and immediately went downstairs to watch some television. About forty five minutes later, she was in panic mode alpha because she had to leave by five, and she couldn't find her official approved everyone must wear this hair ribbon. Partially, that's our fault -- we thought she had to be there at five thirty; once again, the amazing color guard sliding timescale slides into play -- but mostly it's hers -- she had enough time to goof off, but not enough to find all of her stuff.

She got the minimum amount of sympathy.

IBM Is Teasing Me

I get a mailing from IBM where they post open jobs. If I see one that I like, I (and anyone else) can apply for it. So far, I've applied for six or seven. I got one call, asking for a resume, and that's it.

The latest was an opening for a position in the z/OS Level 2 support group. Level 2 are the people who resolve problems, or get them resolved. (Level 1 essentially just takes the call and handles the really simple ones. Sir, is your mainframe turned on? Yes, sir, that would mean that the pretty lights on the front are lit up.) I think I'd be perfect for that -- well, pretty much -- and hey, I used to work there, and I've worked with z/OS, installed and configured it, and talked with Level 2 a number of times for a number of different products, so -- where's the callback?

Its a funny thing -- I really do like being retired, and all of that... but I'm a techie at heart. I'd like to do some techie stuff again. And to do it for IBM, again... well, heck, that'd be great! So, guys?

Follow Me, Now...

This is a little weird, but its also a little mind stretching.

I was reading (through Feed Demon) a blog called Conversation Agent, which is dedicated to the concept of communication -- not the study of it (which would be, what, linguistics? Semiotics?) but the practice of it. I only recently came across this blog, and I'm not really in synch with it -- I'm not sure where they're coming from, or what the point is -- but I do like the style and content of the writing, so I continue to read it. In this case, its a post on the relevancy of print media as it (collectively) tries to make the jump to the digital world (and, of course, make money at it). Okay, fair enough. Figuring out how to do that is a major challenge, perhaps even greater than the original challenge of putting together an editorial package that people will lay down their money for, because now, in many (though not all) cases, they're being challenged to make the editorial content freely available -- and still make money on it. I would never, ever have bet that Google could make money at what they do, so I won't bet that magazines can't do it -- but I do know that its quite difficult to accomplish.

So there I am, reading this article, and I come across an interesting comment by a person named Carolyn Ann about how the key is to continue to focus on what it is that differentiates you from your competitor -- how your 'delivered package' is different -- and to whom you're delivering it. Whats your content, and who would want it enough to pay for it? And I'm thinking 'hey, this person has some sharp ideas.....' Well, you know how I feel about smart women, so I click on the name, and it brings me to a Blogger site called CaroLINES, and I see that the first post is about the Constitution. I glance through it, thinking 'hmm...not something I want to read right now, but still, not badly written at all.' I looked down at the About Me section, and I see this:
I'm a kitchen-counter pundit, as well as an atheist and a crossdresser, living in the beautiful southern Jersey countryside with my wonderful Mrs, a herd of cats and some motorcycles

Kitchen-counter pundit - funny. Herd of cats, uh huh, motorcycles, nice, wonderful Mrs, awww, beautiful southern -- wait a minute. Wait a minute! What was that, up front, again? No, not the atheist part. Crossdresser? What? So I look at the title line of the blog, and this time I see this under the title:

Motorcycle mania, and a man in a dress. What's not to like?

And I immediately think "Not my type of stuff, nuh uh, not something that I want to read, nope." And then I think Why not? Is this not still the person who said things you found interesting and cogent? Well,yeah.... but still. Still what? Does it threaten you to read this? Afraid this cross-dressing stuff might be catching? Well, no, actually its an interesting blog, with some well-written commentary. So whats the deal? Okay, perhaps this isn't someone I'd want to hang out with, but -- someone to read? Occasionally comment on? Yeah, I think so.

A little bit of a mind-expanding experience.