God Bless Us, Every One.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
So sometimes I will compromise by getting a small bag. Not small small, you understand, just not gihugic, which is how the local people like to sell their stuff. National brands too, of course. The compromise usually works, though when I come to the end of the bag, licking the little crumbs from my fingers, it doesn't sound so smart to me.
Last week, I bought a bag from the organic aisle of the store. They do tend to taste better (I could be kidding myself: For that price, they damned well BETTER taste better!). Since I like sea salt and vinegar ones, which major brands tend to overdo, I picked up a brand I'd not gotten before. It was pretty good. The bag said 'see our site', so I thought I would. It was the usual 'made with care, by hand, using only old-fashioned methods in vats stirred by albino gypsies'. Then I happened to look at another page, and another one, both of which said that the brand was actually made in Canada. Well, good: I have a really good impression of Canada. But - what's this? Say it ain't so.
Miss Vickie's Potato Chips is owned by Frito-Lay? Those makers of bland chips own this?
Now I think that maybe that was a tad harsh. Just a tad. (Even though, grumble grumble, there ARE people who have that cross-area money generating ability, dammit....)
Woke up from a dream this morning, wondering if I still had a job. Hmm.....
I was thinking about marriage the other day. I recall reading once that marriage should be difficult to get into and easy to get out of. I tend to think that's true. Its not black and white -- the length of the marriage, the complexity of the domestic environment, the entanglement of the finances, they all should affect how you disengage from the marriage (doesn't that sound antiseptic?), but the practical effect should be that if you don't want to be married any more, you can 'not' be. I think my dream was linking 'the current economic uncertainty' (sounds pretty antiseptic, too) with episodes of Boston Legal that we'd been watching yesterday. We'd been made aware of the show by a friend and were surprised, watching it real-time, how much we liked it -- so we rented the first season (its about the third, now, or possibly the fifth), and were astonished how how much some characters had been changed, particularly Shatners. We liked each version, but for different reasons. One of the sub-plots was a person on his fifth marriage who wanted out of it. I recall Robert Culp, the actor, who was married many times, saying that after the fourth or fifth, you begin to wonder if maybe its you.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
- we learned, through the debacle of sub-prime mortgages, that the financial market's ability to slice and dice financial instruments meant that the contagion of these toxic assets was allowed to pollute the groundwater of the economy - and that many, many people had the basic attitude that if they didn't know what was in the financial stew, they weren't going to taste it, just to see. Unfortunately, they learned that caution the hard way.
- we learned that nonliquid assets are not equivalent to immediately liquid assets, even when the valuation of the nonliquids was many multiples of the liquids. You can't spend your house. People learned that the hard way, too. Some are still learning.
- we learned that interconnected economies are like ganglia: you can't assume an easy or quick disconnect, one from the other. Like blood-supply-seeking cancer cells, they will seek ways to reconnect, and to maintain those connections, even during periods of adversity.
Its all obvious, now. I'll bet you that in five years, it'll be regarded as stodgy and not the way the smart people see the world.
Gifts should be immediately accessible after a brief period of wrapping-destruction. Think of how gifts look when they are opened in the movies -- no 'CDs still in the wrapper', no ' got to get some batteries', none of that.
Gifts should be wrapped elegantly, with a spare simplicity that evokes origami. No tons of tape and sticks desperately holding the package together.
Gifts should reflect the personality of the person receiving the gift.
Perhaps next year, I'll make it!
Monday, December 29, 2008
But she's home. So something good happened this evening.
And not particularly good for my self esteem, either, since I knocked it over. The laptop was safely away from the desk, but, umm, the power cord still stretched down to where I was trying to get the damn router to reboot. There are a lot of wires and cables over there. It wasn't immediately obvious that one black cable actually stretched behind me -- until I heard the THUMP!
The only good news, it was her work laptop, not ours, and the laptop itself works -- just the screen doesn't. And she was able to jumper from her laptop to our desktop PC's screen, so its useable -- just not portable. From what I can see, they can get a replacement PC, swap the hard drives, and be in business. Well, except for the time and expense of replacing the screen. I gather that's not trivial, but I'd like to think that this company has seen this before. Stuff happens.
Which doesn't make me feel any better. I hate doing something stupid.
First, the Transportation Security Administration still maintains a list of people who shouldn't be allowed to fly, or do so only with caution; many of these are not any sort of criminal (some are young children). While I appreciate their efforts in keeping squalling children off airplanes, I think their approach is on the baroque side. I am particularly impressed by their adherence to the rules of society as promulgated by George Orwell, including the maintenance of secret lists whose very existence is regarded as an open secret, and which has the flypaper-like characteristic that, once on it, you can never come off. Serious people have occasionally issued a document from the TSA itself, assuring all and sundry that the bearer is not the miscreant on the secret list, and should not be hindered; the document, when proffered, triggers amusement on the part of the TSA minions, who say that the document could not be real, because they don't give out documents like that, and even if they did, it's not to be trusted, because it could be and probably is a forgery -- and why are you carrying a possibly-forged TSA document, anyway? Into the little room with you.
Second, the concept of a 'credit score' is still as mysterious and open to varying styles of interpretation as ever before. If you have a credit card, do not carry a balance from month to month, and have a significant amount of unused credit, you might be all right -- though the mere possibility that you might decide to invoke that extra credit can be regarded as a credit risk. If, on the other hand, you have a credit card, do not carry a balance from month to month, and have used a significant amount of your credit, you may find that having done so marks you as a credit risk. Similarly, if you have a credit card, such as an American Express card, with no pre-defined credit limit, your 'limit' for credit scoring is assumed to be the most that you've ever used, unless they don't know what that is, in which case its not used at all for scoring. If you elect to opt out entirely, canceling all of your credit cards, then you don't have credit cards - which means you don't have consumer credit, which means you don't have consumer credit history, which means you can't get consumer credit, which means that you're untrustworthy. Into the little room with you.
Advice to the graduating class of 2009, from Blank Reg: Stay in one place, stay off the grid, and learn to barter.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
The article I read just a moment ago was an electronic version of a New York Times article on the death of the standard book selling model. As it happens, I've got a paper copy of the article (we picked up the Times while we were in DC; I wanted to get a book to read with breakfast, but I couldn't find a bookstore - the one that used to be there, Olssons, closed a few months ago. That's relevant, too. - so my wife darted across the street to a CVS and picked up the paper. She's nice that way. Among others. ) but I haven't actually seen the paper copy of the article -- the paper's sitting on the kitchen counter, where we'll find it while making breakfast tomorrow. I found the article bouncing around through the net.
Here's how that happened. I had found this article, on the situation in Gaza, and Obama's comments earlier about whether he supported Israel's actions (short answer: yes, then, but now? Not sure.) which I came to via the Google news scooper (the article was titled "Gaza Crisis Is Another Foreign Challenge for Obama, Who Defers to Bush"; given how Google rejiggers their news page, it might not still there when this is read). So I went from one electronic news summary source to the detailed article -- and while looking at the article, noticed "Bargain Hunting for Books, and Feeling Sheepish About It", over on a sidebar, and thought to read that. Its what that article says about books and the standard book selling model that ties all of this together. Its not (as I thought it would be) saying that Amazon will kill the bookselling model. Its saying that readers will - not because they're readers, per se, but because, having read a book for which they paid a non-insignificant amount, they are selling those books, for pennies on the dollar, far more cheaply than bricks and mortar stores can do it, and even for less than electronic stores can do it. They're not doing it for income sufficient to live on, you see, but rather for income sufficient to be able to go out and buy more books. But from where? Thats where that outlet store comes into play, here, because it's a store (a chain, I think), called Book Warehouse, and as you might suspect from the name, not to mention the location, it's a discount outlet. The two paperbacks I picked up cost me $5.29, total, which is an excellent price for one paperback, let alone two. In so doing, I didn't buy from Borders or Barnes and Noble, or from Amazon, all of which (certainly the first two; possibly the third) would have cost me more. I bought them because I liked the titles, and, in leafing through them, I liked what I saw. Thats the only downside of buying electronically, or from an individual -- you don't know if you'll really like the book. But if the price is cheap enough, you'll take the chance.
So enough people take the chance, and buy electronically, and what happens? Well, what could happen is that the bricks and mortar stores, like Olssons, shut up shop, because not enough people come in to browse and buy; they can just use the net to purchase, when they know what they want -- its only when they don't that they come to the store -- and maybe, even then, they don't buy there, they get the book from Amazon, or the guy who's selling his books on the net, too. As the established book sellers start to fold, the sales to Walmart and Target and their ilk aren't enough to keep the publishers going -- so they shut up shop, too -- and now the only books for sale are older physical ones, or those that are self-published (individually or collectively), and sold electronically. Parking lots where the Borders used to be.
Will that happen? Who knows? But could it? Yes, it could. Though the RIAA and their fellows are rightly raked over the coals for their confiscatory methods, they do have one point: alternatives that allow you to bypass an organization that creates and sells a product without fees and profits going back to the organization, and the people whose creativity feed it, weakens the organization. When I read those electronic copies of New York Times articles, I do it for ease, and convenience -- but thats the unintended side effect.
The question is: how to combat it?
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I expected that the buses would arrive after the drop-off time, and they did. We were there about 6:25, and they arrived about ten to seven. There were about fifteen cars already there, with about twenty more showing up after us. The parents were staggering around, shivering -- it's about 34 degrees out -- while the kids were bouncing up and down, laughing and shouting. All that energy! Most were dressed normally; one had a Santa hat, while another had a striped stocking cap.
I told my wife I was going to try to get some sleep, and remarked that the bedroom was cold. You like a cold bedroom, she said, surprised. Oh -right now, you want warmth, and comfort.
Can't imagine why she would think that.
Friday, December 26, 2008
When you're ready to get out, you have to wait for the tub to drain pretty much entirely before you can get out. What this means is that you're sitting there, wet, subject to any vagrant drafts. Even if you continue to pop up and dry yourself, you're still damp. You can drape a towel over yourself, but not a bath robe (unless it's short). Just - sit. For about, oh, five minutes. Which I'm told can seem like a very long time...particularly if you're wet. In fact, when my daughter tried the tub, she got so antsy, she clambered over the wall to get out while it was draining. Yeah. That thrilled us, too.
In retrospect, we should have had a warm-air blower installed, I think. Or a heat lamp. Or a big honkin' drain.
Compuserve? What the....
Oh. CompuServe. Executable's name is likely CS.EXE . Which happens to be the name of the CalendarScope executable. And that one, I do have.
Sure, Adobe. I mean, two programs with the same short name? What are the odds?
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Incidentally, I'm not sure, but I think that's a Dodge Viper. Whatever it is, I like it.
For example, my sister in law.
My sister in law (one of them) is a bright person, but she's very hard for me to understand. I am sure that this is due to my view of the world, which tends to be pretty simplistic. She's a senior functionary at FEMA, and her view of the world seems to be very complex. It revolves around The Government, and I think can be summarized as We Know Better Than You; We Can't Tell You Why, So You Have To Trust Us. I don't think she'd agree with that assessment, but thats the impression she gives. She's not a bad person, but that attitude drives me up a wall, and makes it very hard for me to talk with her past a fairly simple level. I wish I could, though, because I think she has insights that would be useful for me to understand. I think they'd make me more capable of understanding. Its not that I want to know how tough the world really is. I'd just like to be able to temper some of my prejudices with understanding how tough it could be. Not all of it. Like the guy said, I likely couldn't handle the truth.
But if I can't even get past this obstacle, I guess I'm likely to stay at the idle-chatter level of understanding. Its okay. I don't understand why it irritates me that she and her husband got a Kitchen Aid mixer like mine as a Christmas present, either. And if I don't understand me....
Mostly, thats because it's true; I really don't. A little, its because it sounds like the sort of thing you said with a pursed lip and a soupcon of sanctimoniousness. Don't get me wrong; I can be as judgemental and sanctimonious as the next guy, but I tend to reserve it for the important things, such as the worth of the upcoming Star Trek movie, whether Quantum of Solace was as good as the remake of Casino Royale, and what a good spaghetti sauce tastes like. Sweets - well, I'm not a big fan. Still, it is Christmas, so - okay.
My relatives brought:
a small fruitcake
chocolate lava cakes
chocolate sticks with raspberry filling
home made cannoli and cream
home made Italian cookies
and one or two other things. For seven people, they brought enough for fifteen who were in the mood to gorge themselves. Faced with that array, it was pretty easy to say 'no, thanks'.
But I did have coffee. It was good. Sweet.
In one fifteen second interval, I saw my fifteen year old niece stop stirring something, whip out a bright pink phone, glance at it, key furiously, slam it shut, jam it back into her pocket, and go back to stirring. It was effortless, inconsequential. I would bet she didn't even have to form the thought to do it. A direct neural connection might have been faster.
I can't even contemplate how long it would have taken me to do the same thing. Decrepit, in comparison? I feel like I might as well stand in a corner and just have the curator dust me. Maybe crank the wall phone, every so often, give Mabel a call, over to the fire hall.
But I tell you, it gives me a sudden insight into kids and phones and communication. Not a deep insight, but one I didn't have before. We think about using technology like pocket phones; they don't. It just is. Think you're au courant because you write a blog and use Twitter? Ha. Not even close. These humans are working on the concept of a real-time hive mind, right under our noses.
My mother, of course, freaked out at everything---Oh, my, how wonderful, a new box of Depends!!!-- while my mother in law made helpful observations -- Oh, yes, that reminds me of a gift I received in 1942...I never liked it. I've learned to block out such things. And the things they picked for me were pretty neat, actually. A long-sleeve pullover from Nike (apparently, the alternative was an argyle vest --its the thought that counts!). A pretty nice T shirt. A CD that includes That Old Time Rock n' Roll, one of my favorite tunes ever. And a microsized Sansa MP3 player, with built-in FM player and voice recorder, which fell neatly into the category of things I wanted and would never have gotten for myself.
Now this afternoon, my sister in law is coming, and my wife will go into freakout mode alpha. But thats not till later. Right now, I need to play Rock n' Roll again.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I think that it would be useful for her to take a year or two off after high school and before college, and do a little traveling, here, and across the ocean.
In three days, she's going with a group to New York City, where they will break periodically into subgroups and wander around some areas more or less unescorted.
To whomever's out there -- Merry Christmas, y'all.
1. “This class was a religious experience for me…I had to take it all on faith.”
2. “Text makes a satisfying ‘thud’ when dropped on the floor.”
3. “The class is worthwhile because I need it for the degree.”
4. “His blackboard technique puts Rembrandt to shame.”
5. “Textbook is confusing…Someone with a knowledge of English should proofread it.”
6. “Have you ever fell asleep in class and awoke in another? That’s the way I felt all term.”
7. “In class I learn that I can fudge answers and get away with it.”
8. “Keep lecturer or tenure board will be shot.”
9. “The recitation instructor would make a good parking lot attendant. Tries to tell you where to go, but you can never understand him.”
10. “Text is useless. I use it to kill roaches in my room.”
11. “In class the syllabus is more important than you are.”
12. “I am convinced that you can learn by osmosis by just sitting in his class.”
13. “Help! I’ve fallen asleep and I can’t wake up!”
14. “Problem sets are a decoy to lure you away from potential exam material.”
15. “Recitation was great. It was so confusing that I forgot who I was, where I was, and what I was doing it’s a great stress reliever.”
16. “He is one of the best teachers I have had…He is well-organized, presents good lectures, and creates interest in the subject. I hope my comments don’t hurt his chances of getting tenure.”
17. “I would sit in class and stare out the window at the squirrels. They’ve got a cool nest in the tree.”
18. “He teaches like Speedy Gonzalez on a caffeine high.”
19. “This course kept me out of trouble from 2-4:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
20. “Most of us spent the 1st 3 weeks terrified of the class. Then solidarity kicked in.”
21. “Bogus number crunching. My HP is exhausted.”
22. “The absolute value of the TA was less than epsilon.”
23. “TA steadily improved throughout the course…I think he started drinking and it really loosened him up.”
24. “Information was presented like a ruptured fire hose–spraying in all directions–no way to stop it.”
25. “I never bought the text. My $60 was better spent on the Led Zeppelin tapes that I used more while doing the problem sets than I would have used the text.”
26. “What’s the quality of the text? ‘Text is printed on high quality papr.’”
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I think sometimes that I ought to be able to come up with really great ideas, really top notch stuff -- and then I find myself having difficulty sustaining enthusiasm for anything more than a short while. I want to be able to cook and bake very well (limited repertoire, but within it, very well), and then I bake something and its okay, nothing great, but I have no idea how to make it better, and little enthusiasm about finding out. I like knowing difficult concepts but I don't like banging my head against a wall to understand them. I am delighted by maglevs and intrigued by transportation plans but have no idea how they get put in use or organized; I think I should, somehow. History fascinates me, but it can also bore my socks off. When I reread The Guns of August I couldn't believe how bored I was -- yet its a classic, and when I read it in high school I was captivated. (Bismarck? An absolute genius. ) I like knowing about neural nets and how they work, and I think I ought to be able to see applications for them wherever I look. Ditto projects and groups like Haystack -- I think why can't I do that? Why have I never been that smart? I want to read more, fiction and serious, hard and easy, but I also want to take a nap, and I tend to pick up the easy books first. I think I want to be entertained more than anything - except even The Sims is too much work for me.
Not sure why I felt like dumping all that out. Weird.
Or are they stuck on But she's a KENNEDY!!!!!
But what I don't like is the carafe lid. It screws into the pot, and tightly, too; this is goodness for keeping the coffee warm, but not so good when you want to pour -- because you have to unscrew the lid to do it. Argh. Is this the time I accidentally dump the damn carafe on the floor while I try to undo this damn lid? But what kills me -- as it just did, again, for about the fifth time since we bought the device -- is that if you don't have the lid in place, and you start the cycle, the water will not drain -- it'll stay trapped in the grounds. If you swear, grab the carafe, put the lid on, and slam it back into place, it will begin to drain -- sloppily, and slowly. With little drips, everywhere.
A better design, I think, would have been to make the screw-in much easier to use -- gripping ridges on the outside rather than flanges on the middle. Painted white, or something that would clearly show when it wasn't in place. (Hard to see a black cap in the dark shadow of the grounds-holder.)
I know, I know. Problems of the Idle Rich. But isn't thinking about industrial design fun?
Monday, December 22, 2008
It's a classic pose; topless woman, photographed from the side, with one hand across her chest and wrapped around so that you can't see her breast. I'm not talking about the whole breast fetish thing (hey, I enjoy seeing them, too, but I do think we'd be better off shaking that), but just the I'm not going to wear a shirt but I'm not going to show you anything, either motif. What's the point? Am I supposed to hope that at the moment of exposure, pun intended, she'll suddenly sneeze, move that hand, and hey, a nipple! Or a mole, but definitely something! Show or don't, but don't be silly about it. Don't play the game of how much can I show before I cross the line? Its an old game, and it's time for a change. There's thousands, hundreds of thousands of shapely young women (living eternally, digitally, too); do we really need two thousand more every year? One perfect bod after another, all ramping up the standards, all air brushed and Photoshopped to a fare-thee-well? Geez. I think it's time, and past time, to rediscover the delights of the well-draped form, the elegance that clothing can provide even to those of us who aren't perfect in line and visage. To experience the pleasures of linen, of fabric, of gauze -- style, suggestion, sophistication.
At least give it a shot. And in the meantime -- get that woman a shirt, okay?
Sunday, December 21, 2008
I just used his recipe for oatmeal cookies. They came out okay - flat, about three inches across, and on the crunchy side. Me, I prefer chewy, but.... anyway. I got about twenty-eight of them out of the recipe.
His notes say that the recipe makes: 65.
W, as they say, TF?
Vice President Cheney offered an unabashed defense of the Bush administration's claims of broad executive powers today, mocking criticism from Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. ... "If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that's obviously his call," Cheney said of Biden. "President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time."
Comes from having a President who can think clearly for himself, I suspect. That'd be a novel experience, for Dick.
The chocolate chip muffins are baking now. I'm making 18 (theres enough batter left for one, possibly two more). I hope that we're giving six each to three neighbors, but I'm leaving that up to my wife. She can do whatever she likes with them (memories of the motorcycle joke come to mind). I also mixed up the dough for some bread, though this is not destined to become bread, per se -- it will become frozen chunks to be used in the future for fried dough -- which is actually not bad stuff.
Finally got through the New York Times Magazine of last week and their annual summary of Great Ideas. As usual, about a third were Hmm, thats nice, a third were What, Are You Kidding Me, and a third were actually quite interesting.
My wife informs me that she's likely to have a meltdown this week - a combination of the ongoing stress of work (when will I get fired), the death of my cousin (still a little hard to accept), the general economic malaise, and, perhaps most significantly, her family (or part of it) is coming here for Christmas. We're having turkey. We never have turkey -- but her family does, so we are. I keep singing We're having..pizza..for Christmas!, but it doesn't seem to be doing much good. At the end of the week, the daughteroid is going on a class trip up to New York City (am I paranoid? Does the Pope have a serious wardrobe issue?), and we're going down to Georgetown for an overnight trip, weather permitting. If I were a good doobie, I'd go up to New York for my cousin's funeral, but four hours plus up, four hours plus back, for a funeral seems a bit much. I suppose that makes me a bit of a creep?
I see where Barack's gone to Hawaii for a vacation. Good idea. He's already done more than the currently resident President has done, lately. I used to get irritated when Bush would take yet another vacation, and perhaps I'll grow to feel that way about Obama, but right now: Charge Up, Man -- as much as you possibly can.
I keep leafing through the book by the White House chef. I can bake a number of things, and he's a pretty easy going writer (none of this The butter, which has been chilled for 18 hours at twenty-six point two degrees Fahrenheit, must be warmed on a metal bowl over a bowl of gently simmering water and stirred with the horn of a unicorn...), but still: I'm envious. I'd like to be able to bake one or two things to his standard. Not the Oh, My God ones, just the ordinary ones, like the cookies and pies. It'd be fun, I think.
And thats it for the mo. Oh, and here's the muffin recipe.
Chocolate Chip Muffins
40 minute prep time Makes 18 - 20
2 1/2 CUPS FLOUR
2 1/4 TSP BAKING POWDER
1/2 TSP SALT
2/3 CUP BUTTER
2/3 CUP SUGAR
2/3 CUP BUTTERMILK (OR, 3TBLSPOONS DRY BUTTERMILK AND 3/4CUP WATER)
2/3 CUP CHOCOLATE CHIPS
2/3 CUP GOLDEN RAISINS
PREHEAT OVEN TO 375.
GREASE MUFFIN PANS.
IN MEDIUM BOWL, COMBINE FLOUR, BAKING POWDER, AND SALT.
IN ELECTIC MIXER BOWL, CREAM BUTTER AND SUGAR.
ADD EGGS TO MIXER AND BEAT UNTIL SMOOTH
GRADUALLY ADD DRY INGREDIENTS AND BUTTERMILK.
ADD CHIPS AND RAISINS.
DIVIDE BATTER EVENTLY INTO MUFFIN CUPS. FILL EACH CUP HALFWAY OR LESS. (An ice cream scoop works quite well for this)
BAKE 30 MINUTES.
COOL IN PAN 5 MINUTES BEFORE REMOVING.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The plan was, I was going to take the metal tray, put some truffles and some brownies on it, and give it to a neighbor. But there was a bit of disagreement about which family would get it (What about the people in the middle of the block? Well, we don't really know them. Yeah, but this would give us a chance to meet them!), and the tray sat in the refrigerator for two days, while the brownies got slowly stale (Hi, people we don't know, have some stale brownies!). So, the new plan is, I put the brownies in the refrigerator by themselves (my daughter will glom onto them), I'll bake something else (I found a recipe I'd saved for Chocolate Chip Muffins), we'll put that on the traywith the truffles.... and then figure out who gets it.
The plan was, I would take my daughter to color guard this morning, getting there by 8:30. But she and the other girl wanted to delay so that they would not have to help unload the materials, plus, when we got there, the school was locked, and no one there had a key. So the new plan turned out to be, I'd sit there while we waited for someone with a key to show up, pretending to be deaf while they discussed the vagaries of bra selection and other things (I think the size is around your chest right under your boob...Oh, yeah, I hope she wears that outfit, she looks really stupid in it ....Oh, she's dumb, I don't think she even knows what a vagina is!) La la la, I don't hear you.
So that's the plan.
Friday, December 19, 2008
First, my cousin's daughter had successfully delivered a child after a difficult pregnancy and an induced delivery. Her mother, my cousin, had come up to their home to be with her during the pregnancy.
Second, my cousin didn't make it to the hospital with her daughter. The morning that they were supposed to have the induced delivery, she didn't come down when it was time to leave. She had died in her sleep.
She was one year older than me. We were pretty close as kids, though considerably less as we got older. She had a much rougher life than me, married a fellow who took ill for a year, and who had an online affair with a younger woman while he was home recuperating; had two daughters and one son, one who got married and divorced, one who got pregnant and then married. She never graduated from high school, worked a series of clerical and menial jobs, and ended up virtually penniless.
Makes you think.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
MAKES ABOUT 30
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
9 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped, divided
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional; for rolling)
FOR TRUFFLE BASE:
Bring cream to simmer in heavy small saucepan. Remove from heat; cool to lukewarm, 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir 7 ounces chocolate in metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water until smooth. Remove from heat.
Add 2 ounces chocolate; stir until smooth.
Stir in cream.
Chill truffle base until firm enough to roll, about 3 hours.
Line rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper.
Roll 2 teaspoons truffle base between fingertips into ball.
Transfer to prepared sheet.
Repeat with remaining truffle base.
Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
FOR CHOCOLATE COATING:
Line another rimmed baking sheet with waxed paper.
Stir chocolate in metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water just until melted.
Remove from heat.
Scoop some of warm (not hot) melted chocolate into palm of hand.
Place 1 chilled truffle in hand and roll in palm to coat.
Transfer to prepared sheet.
Repeat with remaining melted chocolate and truffles, rewarming chocolate if necessary.
Roll in cocoa powder if desired.
DO AHEAD Can be made 1 week ahead.
Store in airtight container and keep chilled.
Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
ROLLING THE TRUFFLE BASE Start with a well-chilled truffle base (chilled at least three hours), and use your hands as little as possible in the shaping process. Make a sphere by scooping out two teaspoons of truffle base with a mini ice cream scoop (with a release). If you don't have a mini scoop, dig deep into the base with a teaspoon-size measuring spoon or melon bailer, then turn it in a circle to create a sphere of chocolate. Drop onto a lined baking sheet. Dip the spoon or scoop in warm water to clean it. Finally, smooth out the spheres with your fingertips, which are cooler than your palms.
DIPPING THE TRUFFLES When truffles are coated with too much melted chocolate, an unattractive "foot" of chocolate forms at their base. To prevent this from happening make truffle dipping easier—hand roll them in chocolate. First, scoop a little of the melted chocolate into your palm, then roll a truffle around in your palm to coat it with chocolate. When the truffle is uniformly covered in melted chocolate, gently drop it from your palm onto a paper-lined baking sheet.
The old thermostats were mechanical: rotate a dial to the desired temperature. Since I like a chilly bedroom, each night we'd set it low, around 50 degrees. In the morning, we'd set it higher. With the new ones, we programmed it to do the same: drop down to 50 at 9PM, come up to 68 at 6AM. The heating part worked fine -- if the thermostat said it was 65 degrees in the morning, it'd kick on the heat. But the temperature never got down lower than about 64 degrees. Even if we manually set it to 50, and opened the window -- it's been around 35 degrees outside, last few days -- the room didn't get appreciably colder -- the minimum it'd reach was 62. I touched the heating elements once or twice, and they didn't feel hot, but I thought that perhaps I was just doing it between heating cycles.
And then it occurred to me.
With the old thermostat, I'd set it to 50 at night. I assumed that at that setting, why, that must be the temperature the room dropped to, overnight, particularly when it was cold outside (say, around 32 degrees), and even more so if we had the window open a tad. I never actually knew what the room temperature was, though, until the new thermostats, which have a temperature display, were installed. We wondered: could it be that the room never actually chilled as far as assumed? So we did an experiment. We turned the thermostat off, completely -- no heat at all -- opened the window (about 38 degrees outside), and closed the door to keep any stray heat out. We put a manual thermometer on the bureau. Two hours later, we went in, turned on the thermostat, and looked at the manual thermometer and the thermostat's display. Both said 63 degrees. Apparently, that's as cold as the room will get. Set it as low as you want, but that's it.
I'm guessing ambient heat -- from the lower floor, from other rooms -- is the reason, and we're not completely sure -- but it does seem reasonable.
Amazing what you can do with data, isn't it?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Went to see the oral surgeon again today. He's still looking a bit grim. I think he's nervous that the two replacement implants he did two weeks ago aren't going to take. If that happens, it's essentially game over for The Plan. I don't know what the replacement plan would be, but I'm sure I won't like it very much. On the other hand, he also said that he wants to put another replacement in, some time around March, and let that one age, too. I'm going to be thinking about this next Christmas, I think.
I did read a really interesting article in Conde Nast Portfolio, by the fellow who wrote Liars Poker, about this financial mess, though. It was pretty easy to read -- I didn't feel my eyes starting to cross till almost two thirds of the way through it. The key concept was: if the people doing something can't clearly explain what they're doing, there's a decent chance they don't really understand it. Granted, there's a lot of expert knowledge needed to make that explanation, but it comes down to the ability to clearly understand and communicate. I think that's universally true. We put up with people -- oh, he must know what he's doing-- because of what they can do for us, and we usually don't get burned. But sometimes.... sometimes, they're just snowing us.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I would like very much to believe that Obama can, by his own actions, personal and those he directs, halt this train wreck. It will certainly be harder than it has to be. Even in the current climate, there are still weasels who are angling for the best deal for themselves, and to hell with the public as a whole. He has to face and overcome that. I am not sure that he can. I would like to think that he recognizes this, and that he will make, not the best deals possible from a purist standpoint, but the best possible from a pragmatic standpoint. Some of those deals will definitely come back to bite him, and once things stabilize, the carpers and finger-pointers will come out of the woodwork, carping and finger-pointing. Its what they do.
But the heavy lifting will be his, and I am glad that we will have him to do it. We're not anywhere close to being out of the woods -- as he said, in effect, we're not even halfway into the woods -- but his approach is intelligent and forceful, and I like it. This isn't the change I wanted, from a financial and economic standpoint, but from the political standpoint, it's exactly what I wanted.
Every year for the last four or five, if not more, I've bemoaned the lack of my egg nog. Oh, we buy it in the store, and its okay, but I have memories of the egg nog my grandmother used to make. I'm sure it had alcohol in it, because she would only let me have a very, very little bit. It was cold and thick, with nutmeg sprinkled atop, and it was great.
I found this recipe years ago, here. I don't recall if I ever made it, but it sounds good.
Ingredients for 8 servings:
4 fresh eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar, separated
1/2 cup White Rum
1 1/2 cups Milk (whole or 2%)
1 1/2 cups whiskey
1 cup heavy whipping cream, separated
ground nutmeg (1 cup, separated)
1. Separate eggs into yolks and whites in separate bowls (see below for a how-to). I put the whites into the mixer and the yolks into another bowl.
2. Beat egg-yolks with 1/2 of sugar, set aside.
3. Beat egg-whites until stiff, then mix in other 1/2 of sugar.
4. Pour the yolks into the whites and mix together slowly.
5. Stir in white rum slowly. I've tried dark rum and it works.
6. Stir in milk slowly
7. Stir in whiskey slowly (Bourbon, Canadian, Sour Mash. I use Jim Beam or Jack Daniels)
8. Stir in 1/2 of cream slowly
9. Whip rest (1/2) of cream and fold in carefully.
10. Serve at room temperature by ladling the eggnog into cups and sprinkle nutmeg on the top.Try to get some of the foam and some of the liquid (if not fully mixed) in each cup.
This year, I'm making egg nog.
I'm baking -- two batches of butterscotch brownies (one for a neighbor, to be delivered on the aforementioned Traveling Tray, and one for us), and a batch of chocolate truffles (which I've only made once before, without great success); same deal.
Of course, as soon as my daughter gets home from school, those brownies are gone. Here's the recipe. Pretty easy stuff.
5 tablespoons butter or marg.
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Optional: chocolate chips, nuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the margarine or butter in microwave,
Pour into mixing bowl and stir in brown sugar, vanilla and egg with a wooden spoon, until mixture looks smooth and glossy.
Blend in the flour, baking powder, and salt until all of the ingredients are well combined.
If desired, add chocolate chips, nuts, or other filler.
Spray a 8 or 9" square baking pan.
Pour mixture into pan.
Bake for 25 mins (8") or 20 mins (9").
While warm, cut the brownies into squares.
Allow to cool completely before removal from pan.
She has not held a full-time job in years, has not run for even the lowliest office, and has promoted such noncontroversial causes as patriotism, poetry and public service. Yet Caroline Kennedy’s decision to ask Gov. David A. Paterson to appoint her to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate seat suggests that she believes she is as well prepared as anyone to serve as the next senator from New York — and is ready to throw her famously publicity-averse self into the challenge of winning back-to-back elections in 2010 and 2012.
Already, some columnists, bloggers and even potential colleagues in Congress have begun asking if she would be taken seriously if not for her surname.
Oh, gosh -- ya think?
Monday, December 15, 2008
The kids at the function today were not your surburban white bread kids, nicely dressed, usually polite and soft spoken. These were kids who (the older ones) had a clear attitude: Don't lie to me. The younger ones, not so much. Some scared me, some I wished I could take home with me.
I'm glad that I did it, but I'll be honest: I'm not sure I'd have the gumption to do it again. Tough crowd.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
But these guys sound interesting. Lucky for me they're in London.
I like it.
My wife has been insistent that our daughter should participate in a youth group activity at our church. After much foot-dragging, she agreed that she would go to an event tonight. Preparing to leave, my wife mentioned that she should bring a warm jacket, as they were going to be doing caroling, possibly outside. The daughter announced that she does not do caroling -- and when they got there, the group was just preparing to leave to do just that -- so the daughter refused to stay.
She's in her room, sulking, and the wife is downstairs, simmering. As for me, I'm staying clear of the blast zone.
A man who created and ran an investment firm (I referred to it in an earlier post) was in fact running a Ponzi scheme, and has (so far) been shown to have stolen almost fifty billion dollars from a range of people and organizations, many of whom have, as a result, gone from wealth to bankruptcy virtually overnight. A man who is a well-known lawyer in New York, dealing in real estate, has been found to be executing a massive fraud of his own. Two extremely wealthy brothers bought land on a small island near England, bought several of the island's businesses, demanded changes in the legal structure of the country, and then, when the changes were not executed to their liking, shut down the businesses, throwing about a fifth of the island's population out of work.
And then, of course, there's the current governor of Illinois.
A fierce and terrible retribution should be visited on these foul people, and a mighty oath sworn to make right what has gone wrong. Will this happen? I doubt it. The two fraudsters will escape substantial punishment, possibly with the aid of learned comments regarding deep-rooted psychological deficiencies and the need for compassion, not retribution, while the two brothers , whose actions show the moral depth of a boy torturing small animals, will skip any penalties for their actions whatsoever. To such people, the effects of their foul behavior on others is beneath notice. They simply do not care. "Me First" is their motto; frequently, it's "Me Only".
When others can so massively affect your life, you need powerful resources on your side - people of integrity, energy, and purpose. Such people do exist now, but they are not interconnected; they are not collectively strong. I believe that this is what Obama brings - that sense of someone strong who's going to look out for you, make things right, slap down the clever people and the sneaky people and the bold and arrogant people. Not all of them, certainly; but, we can hope, enough - so that there is a recentering of the country's moral and ethical compass. At the personal level, we need to have the equivilent of neighborhood watches, overseeing those who are powerful in our society. We can't rely on the integrity of those in power -- even those as focused and worthy as Obama and his cadre. They are, after all, human; they do, after all, have their own foibles. We can't leave it up to them, entirely. We need to look out for ourselves.
A massive revulsion from and expulsion of those human weasels, involving foul prisons in some dank and bleak gulag, would be awfully nice, too.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
It reminds us, as if we needed to hear it again, that people who manipulate numbers for a living are capable of truly evil, life-destroying actions far in excess of those who merely use a gun, or even a bomb. Unwatched, unchecked, these people can destroy broad sectors of our society.
Tar and feathers, anyone?
The touchstone for how we view other people's child-raising styles is always how we ourselves would do it. I noticed that if a child was some combination of intelligent and friendly, I was more likely to get along with them. The best candidates seemed to be somewhere between five and eight -- younger, and they were either frightened, mute, or incomprehensible; older, and they were beginning to suspect. At lease two kids, around 9 or 10, were almost certainly in on it, but they were there to keep their parents happy; I was able to tease the boy, but the girl was having none of it -- though she was one of the two who came back later to give me a hug. I held more very young children than ever before; most people deposited the child gently, though one fellow gave me his son as if he were lobbing a football. Most parents were cheerful and interested, and a couple even said, relative to a crying child, that they didn't want to push them. I mentally gave them points for that. On the other end of the spectrum was the grandmother who grabbed the arm of a crying boy, yanked him over, and said through gritted teeth that he would SMILE...I am NOT kidding around here. Boy, talk about a joyous experience.
One more to go, possibly the most grueling. It will be almost as long as today - about 90 minutes versus today's two hours, about 56 kids versus today's 175 or so, but all of these will be homeless, and some don't speak English. Should be interesting.
As for me, I am still wasted. I slept for almost two hours, and now I'm thinking that it wouldn't be all that hard to fall asleep again.
Ask me in four hours for the results, but the plan is, my daughter goes to a local school for color guard practice in five minutes; in 90 minutes, I put on the Santa suit and drive to the school; in 100 minutes, I pick her up and whip over to the hospital, where we race in and hang with the kids. Thats the plan.
We had thought that what with color guard today, she'd be too wiped to do this. Last night, though, she had a minor meltdown, saying that of course she wanted to do it. Well, truth to tell, I liked the idea, so --
We'll see. Hope it works. The good news is, I'm Santa. They can't start without me. Heh.
Friday, December 12, 2008
I had wanted to do things like this for quite some time. Have to say that I was a little apprehensive -- I didn't expect problems, but I was worried that I would disappoint them. Hey, is this all we get for having you over? But it worked very well. The kids were stunned, and it took a while for them to find their voices. Even then, the oldest hardly spoke at all - the middle one did most of the talking. Nobody grabbed the beard (well, except for the baby, once -- they were about to take a photo of me and the two kids when the mother abruptly asked if I'd like to hold him - he looked up, saw this fluffy white thing right next to his hand), and I even got them to giggle a couple of times.
Later, the mother told me that after I left, they'd chattered a lot about how much they'd enjoyed it, so it was a good deal. Glad I did it. Given that I did Santa at EDS last week, I'm doing it at the hospital tomorrow, and again on Monday for the homeless kids' deal (which turns out to be more than I expected; they are having twenty more kids than anticipated) I think this was a nice difference. I'd do it again. Just got to figure out how to publicize it....
We're having the thermostats put in right this minute. I like 'em -- big, back lit display, clear instructions, the whole bit. This is a good thing.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Update: I think I have a workaround, if I can persuade my daughter to try it. Thanks for the default history retention setting, Firefox, and that my daugher is profoundly uninterested in knowing (and therefore changing) such things....
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I'd known for a while that this would be necessary. Periodontal disease had eradicated most of the supporting bone, so that it was only a matter of time until it failed. Two weeks ago, when it became apparently that the dental appliance was being damaged due to it hitting the tooth, the oral surgeon said Now's The Time, and we set it up. This morning, when he took it out (which was completely without incident; I truthfully told him that I didn't know he was doing it until he was done), he expressed surprise, bordering on astonishment: apparently, not only had there been bone loss, but there was an actual cyst there, one that had not shown up on the Xrays, harboring an infection. Since he's been really tense about keeping germ levels down, this was the equivalent of finding a dead rat in the Thanksgiving turkey.
He said that as a result of the cyst, the area where the tooth had been was pretty large; while I did not have to do anything, if I didn't, it would be impossible later to put an implant in its place. So, the question was, did I want that? Well, as I've said, I assumed that was coming, so I said yes, and he spent another twenty minutes making some kind of 'bone slurry' (I've no idea what the actual term is), packing it in, and then suturing it shut. I then got his usual mix of good news and bad news; the bad news was that he doesn't think I'm taking nearly good enough care of the implants, plus he thinks my blood sugar levels are way too high for him, while the good news is that he thinks I'm really a Good Patient, willing to work with him in an intelligent manner. Well, I don't know about the blood sugar levels, since mine are pretty damned good (could they be better? Yeah, always. They're not in the range of 'normal for someone who isn't a diabetic'. But they are in the range of 'normal for someone who is a diabetic, with good control.'). Well, he's like them lower. Truth to tell, I'm not opposed to that, so I'll try. As for the taking care of the implants -- yeah, guilty. I have to take them more seriously.
So the bottom line is that he's not as optimistic as he had been, but he apparently wants me to feel as if he is. While still understanding that, Good Patient or not, if something goes wrong, its either fate's fault, or mine -- not his. I think. Could be wrong.
Man, this is fun!
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
But the part that A&Ied me was thinking about how, more than a year ago, this was supposed to be when I was done with this .... at least, on the very last lap -- and now I'm at least six months away again. So I'm thinking that tomorrow, when I go in to have this one tooth extracted (which has been hanging fire for a very long time), he's going to say happy, cheerful things about how implant bridges are the way to go, and we should really plan on it, because it'll work just so incredibobbly well. Which opinion he will hold until he actually has to deliver, at which point...(frowny face)...
By the way. This is an unsolicited endorsement which will mean nothing, but I wanted to do it anyway.
Last December, I broke my hip. I was treated at the Geisinger facility in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania. I was impressed with just about everything about that hospital (well, except the food, but even there, they tried). Even their system of billing amazed me -- it was fast and easy to do, unlike the people I deal with here at home. Today I got a request for donations to their general fund, and I actually thought about it. I never think about things like that -- its always 'scan and pitch' -- the envelope doesn't even make it out of the kitchen. These guys.... well, I'll be honest. I'm cutting back where I can, for obvious reasons, and donations is part of that. So I won't be giving to the Geisinger Fund. But I won't be calling their 800 number to get myself removed from their mailings, either (an 800 number just to say Take Me Off? How cool is that?), because -- well, I like them. I know, to them I'm just one person, a year ago -- but I still have a good feeling about them.
So if you ever have the chance to donate to their fund -- please do. Thanks.
Monday, December 08, 2008
Today, though, we came close to it. We pay about $45 a month for Verizon's telephone service, which is for two phone lines. We pay about $99 for Comcast's cable and internet service. Verizon, through their FIOSTRIPLE160 offer, said we could get all three for about $100 a month. Well, okay, right off the bat we knew that this would not last. It would be for ninety days or until the new year or for a limited time only. People with Offers always have weasel words in there. Always. And if we did it, we'd have to change email addresses, which are currently at the Comcast domain. Still: saving forty or so buckes per month? Okay, I'm willing to think about it. So I called.
I put the phone on speaker and walked around the kitchen, taking things out for dinner. I hoped that I would at least get to talk to someone by the time dinner was ready, and I did. After they went through multiple iterations to determine that why, yes, you ARE qualified for this service (gee, thanks for sending the emails, cards, notes, etc telling me I was, then making me wait), I asked them my questions.
We have Lifeline phone service on one line. That service requires a standard landline connection -- can't use VOIP. Is this going to be a standard landline connection? Long pause while the clerk's synapses fuse. He goes away, comes back. Ah, you'll have to ask the local business office, we have no control over that. Hmm.... But, okay.
We have two phone lines. Will this service cover both lines? No. Okay, that's expected. What will the second phone line cost us? Another pause. Ah, you'll have to ask the... Gotcha.
We'll apparently need a tv converter box to use your service. How much is that? Six dollars. One time? Per month. And more if you want HD service. Oh, joy.
We currently have five email boxes. How many would we get with this service? Three, but you can buy more.
Don't know about the Lifeline, or the cost of the second phone line. We'd have to pay for a converter, and for the mailboxes we have now. And a little Googling turns up things like this. Somehow, I don't think we'll be FIOSing any time soon.