Thursday, January 31, 2008
I've always liked that sequence. It speaks to the darkness of the soul, when you're not at all sure that what you're embarked on, whether it's writing a blog or founding a nation, is going to work, is going to bear fruit, will be successful. You wonder, in a moment of despair, whether the endeavour is worth doing at all.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Given that the Bushmaster has shown his willingness, if not delight, in using 'signing statements' to exempt himself from laws that he doesn't like (for example: here), and given that the only plausible investigative agencies are either a) the DOJ, which works for him, even if they're not quite as lapdoggish as when Fredo was there, or b) the Congress, which on a good day can agree that the name of the day ends in -day, probably, is there a need for the DOJ to be taken out from the executive branch and made part of the judicial? (I'm guessing the other option, having Congress spring into concerted, focused action on a matter that doesn't involve pay raises, perks, or earmarks, is pretty much a non-starter.)
Okay, I know its never going to happen, but would it make sense? Ordinarily, I'd say no, but given Bushwah's unfettered shenanigans, what else would stop a future President from being even more blatant in disregard for the law? (I say more blatant because prior to Bushie, we'd never have believed anyone could hold the Congress in greater contempt than Nixon, but now there's a new standard of depravity.)
While they were gone, I solved it. Luck played a part, but -- I solved it.
4 Cups Flour, divided
1 T Sugar
4 1/2 t yeast
2 1/2 cups warm wter
Combine 2 cups flour, 1 T sugar, 4 1/2 teaspoons yeast; mix.
Add 2 1/2 cups warm water (will be soupy)
Beat at low speed for 1/2 minutes. Keep scraping the bowl.
Beat 2 minutes at medium speed.
Add 1 tablespoon sea salt.
Beat for 15 seconds at medium speed
While beating, dd enough flour to make a firm but not stiff dough.
Turn onto floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes.
Shape into a ball.
Place in oiled bowl; coat entire surface.
Cover bowl with wet towel; place in warm location for 1-2 hours.
Punch down dough.
Tuck in the dough; allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Cover with damp cloth.
Shape chunks of the dough into round loaves or long thin loaves.
Generously coat baking sheet with cornmeal.
Place dough onto baking sheet; cover with damp cloth; allow to rise until double.
Preheat oven to 375.
Slash tops of dough; swab with olive oil, if desired.
Place into oven; bake for about 35 minutes or until golden.
Could have risen a bit more (not very much crumb), but the crust was good, the texture was good, and the start to end time was excellent!
I like origami. I'm fascinated by the simple shapes; one of the scenes I liked best in Star Trek IV was Spock carefully refolding a piece of wrapping paper which had been folded, using origami styles, around a gift. I am perplexed by people who do intense origami -- you know, take a dollar bill and fold it eighty-three gazillion times until it resembled Darth Vader in a top hat. I expect to see these people in Extreme Origami, where you have fourteen seconds, and oh by the way, the folding paper is impregnated with crystals that can explode based on the warmth of your hand. Origami is, to me, a simple, gentle piece of civility, and I like it.
Which is why I lingered on this page for a while before sighing, thinking of my own skills -- I've done some very, very simple structures -- and moving on.
Most of this morning, I walked (okay, hobbled) around without the crutch. Moving slowly, but moving, and able to use both hands to hold things. Still lots of things I can't do, or can't do easily, most involving bending (like, putting on my left sock; I can do it, but it takes about ten minutes and assiduous use of a gripper). And I've come to realize that I have to be careful, and not forget that I am still partially immobilized; I can't just go and do things. That was how I fell in the kitchen about two weeks ago, and I'd just as soon not do that again, thank you very much.
But tomorrow, probably, I'm going to drive my mother to her medical appointment. It's going to look like the lame leading the halt, as the guy with the crutch gets out and maneuvers the walker for the elderly woman, but still -- we think it's doable. We're going to give it a try. And its one more thing -- if it works -- that my wife won't have to do.
Oh, and I'm baking some bread -- a very simple bread recipe, none of the 'complex flavors' or 'poolish' or any of that. I found the recipe in a stack of bread recipes I'd kept. I don't even know how it's going to come out. But hey, I don't care (much). Because I'm baking -- and that's a kind of recovery, too.
There are people who are quite good (or at least quite compulsive, which with luck translates into 'good') about tracking what they're doing and how it relates to where they want to be in a multitude of areas. Last night, I came across an article on the Lifehack site which spoke about how to improve the 'weekly review' that's part of a popular methodology that's known as GTD, for Getting Things Done. It lets you break the general concept of 'stuff I gotta keep track of' into twelve areas - from your weekly ToDo list to Expenses to Social. Doing that helps you focus better; you don't start on one thing and think 'oh, wait, I need to remember to do something in a different area'.
It's worth reading.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
A moment later, when you realize that this isn't some kind of biohazard, you will feel quite silly.
One of the people who reads this blog put me up for one of the awards you see in the 'sphere from time to time. In writing it, she said that I was an 'amazing writer, with depth'. I was quite blown away by that. It doesn't often happen that I'm at a loss for words (though sometimes, perhaps, I ought to be), but this was one of those occasions. It was unexpected and delightful -- like sitting down to eat your veggies and having someone hand you a chocolate cupcake instead. With icing, yet.
How about that!
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who co-chaired President Bush's recent commission on veterans' care, says stories like this one show how the whole disability rating system is broken and needs to change.
The system is "fundamentally unfair," according to Shalala, "and that's the point about the need for reform in the system. It has to be reformed for everyone."My question: is that last phrase code for "We don't want to do this at all, but we can't say that, so we'll say that we want to do it for everyone, knowing full and damned will that it'll take forever, if not longer, to accomplish that." I surely hope not, but, based on my doubts regarding the humanity and compassion of the Bush administration as regards the military personnel damaged in its service, I have suspicions.
Usually, its one of the standard fantasies -- the lithe young female physical therapists doing some unorthodox and very much hands-on treatments to my personal body, or the cute neighbor stopping by to see if there is anything she can do to ease my recovery. Anything at all? Sometimes I go far afield and daydream about a political environment with the intelligence and integrity of, say, The West Wing, or about meeting Bill Gates and, after stunning him either with my brilliance or a rock, summarily transferring a great deal of his wealth to, oh, someone else. I don't know, someone local...
But thats usually the extent of it. Nothing about whipped cream, hot oil, or surprise Easter parties of a Monday morning. Occasionally, though, a new one pops up.
This morning, coming back from therapy, I saw the fellows putting in the Verizon FiOS cabling, and I thought briefly about what it would take to get us to switch to them from our current cable Internet access. (This is something apparently much on the mind of the cable people, given the ads I've seen, purportedly by the phone company, about how their charges aren't bloated compared to what they could be.) I thought of comments I've seen in other sites about how service is generally equal to cable; sometimes way superior, sometimes way inferior -- and how when its bad, you can get caught in the morass of 'We Be The Phone Company' when you're trying to just get someone to fix the damn thing. Wouldn't it be nice, I mused, if big companies took customer service seriously? And not by their standards, but by ours?
Guess I'd better go back to mulling about meeting up with the Bikini Soccer Team ....at least there's some degree of possibility there.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Religion -- Is the Church of Scientology really as evil, manipulative, and generally yucky as they're being painted? And, if they are, does that warrant something called 'Anonymous' setting itself up as the Lord God of Control, executing a Distributed Denial Of Service and other electronic hasslement upon them? Does that make them any less arrogant and I-Am-The-Decider than our current Flummox In Chief? Does the ability to destroy make them in any way morally superior? The Anonymites may well be right in what they say about COS, probably are, but their actions turn my stomach.
Politics -- I said some time ago that I prefer Clinton, but would be happy with Obama. I am not pleased that Kennedy endorsed Obama (and not just the senator, but apparently his whole clan). Then again, I don't understand why Kennedy has the nerve and gall to invoke his assassinated brother when doing that endorsement, or, for that matter, why he is even still around == other than, of course, that he can bring home the bacon. God forbid he should be out there leading. Nevertheless, I stand by what I said. I do admit (this occurred to me today) that if I were younger, I might well prefer Obama; despite his lack of experience, his is clearly the voice of optimism and hope. I simply value experience more than optimism and hope, these days. Would that we could have all three. Would that the 'leadership' in the Democratic party doesn't self-destruct the whole damn thing and hand the election over to the Republicans.
And, relative to the economy: if the government wants to send us money, we'll take it, and put it to use with local services that we might have delayed (we're thinking of a major remodel downstairs that otherwise would occur in 2 - 3 years). But they really should not send it to us. We can wait, and others, I believe, need it more.
The brownies turned out well - firm on the outside, soft on the inside, just as my daughter likes them.
I'm walking with a crutch now; likely for several more weeks. I can lift my leg up onto the bed without assistance from its brother -- slowly, slowly, but I can.
I found today that I really can't read without close-up glasses any more -- what my grandmother used to call her 'reading glasses and her seeing glasses' is apparently upon me.
Oh, and through no effort of my own, I've lost 14 or so pounds. Amazing. Want to bet I find them again?
"Whatcha making?" she inquired, peering at the stove. "Cookies?"
"Nope", I said, "Meatballs -- but I found this cookie recipe that I was going to --"
"How about something from my cookbook?" she said, lunging for it. She began to read off names of cakes, and I cautioned her 'Kiddo, we're talking COOKIES here."
"I know, I know", she said, leafing through the book. "OOOH -- Depression-Killer Brownies!"
Guess whats cooking now....
I was in New York City. It appeared that I was following someone, and they'd just ducked into a library. I followed them in, walked onto a mezzanine, lost them. I wandered around a bit -- libraries are interesting places -- and on the way out, noticed something odd -- several of the pillars supporting the roof had crutches lying against them. What was this, I wondered. Is this some kind of shrine, some kind of odd artwork?
I went back out onto the street, and as I was walking downtown, I realized that I didn't have my crutch -- and I didn't need one; I was walking just fine. What had happened? When did it happen?
Who cares? I was Healed!
Turns out there are a slew of articles on how to address this. The one I used said that if you go into Hardware, then Device Manager, and tell it to show hidden devices, down in the Non-Plug and Play Drivers is one called BEEP. If you disable that -- no more beep! (It'll then tell you that you have to reboot; not really, but it only took a short time, so I didn't care.)
Sunday, January 27, 2008
The reason is this: there's less than a year until this administration is out of office (assuming no Seven Days In May type activity). During that period, we will be electing a new administration. What good does focusing on the evils of this one do, when they can easily run out the clock on any impeachment activities?
Focus on bringing in the new leader - whomever she might be. (g)
Saturday, January 26, 2008
My daughter, because she's picked up a cold that knocked her out this afternoon. Upon awakening, she said that if this had happened on Monday, she'd have been at school. No, I replied, if you were this sick on Monday, we'd have kept you home. The thought that she missed a day from school didn't delight her.
My wife, because while she was changing the sheets on the bed, there were several bursts of static electricity from the electric blanket that were serious enough to destroy the circuit, so now it's the formerly-electric blanket. Neither of us had ever heard of such a thing, and the idea of having to replace the blanket - those things aren't cheap - didn't delight her.
And me, because I finally baked the bread, and after all the to-and-froing of the dough over the last two days, it didn't turn out very well. Hell of a crust, nice crumb, no rise. Part, too, of the problem was that I didn't realize that the recipe really did intend to put the baking stone above the bread -- I guess to give it a real browning -- and that the baking temperature was up in the pizza range -- 475 degrees. I caught it just before putting the bread in, but the bread turned out fairly flat. So I'm not delighted, either.
I think we're all ready to deadstick and power-down for a while....
The reactions from those who knew him have many in France and around the world wondering whether the lone trader should shoulder all the blame. Shareholders and politicians are now questioning controls at Societe Generale and other leading banks to determine if Kerviel could really be fully responsible for so much damage and, perhaps more importantly, if it could happen again.
And yes, it will happen again.
Right below the word "Kotex".
What brings this to mind is an article I came across this morning in Brain: A Journal Of Neurology on Neural basis of irony comprehension in children with autism: the role of prosody and context. The article describes fMRI studies of autistic children to see whether the portions of the brain that light up when a normally-developed child detects sarcasm also light up when an autistic child does. The conclusion was that autistic children have at least the basic ability to 'understand' sarcasm, though they have to explicitly invoke it; that is, they don't 'just know', they have to 'think about it' - but, having done so, they can handle it, sometimes, particularly if they have cues such as prosody - how the statement is made - or context - the semantic environment in which it's made.
I think its a fascinating area, and I wish I knew more about it.
One thing I realized in looking at these is that I really don't want to see naked women. Okay, let me back off a bit on that. I don't want to see naked women if that's all the photograph has to offer. I need an image with integrity; something that has mystery, perhaps, or an elegant composition, or a beguiling subject. Nudes, per se, don't hack it. I'd rather an image with a clothed subject that has strength than someone who's essentially saying 'Hey, look what I got down heah!" Same thing for landscapes -- I don't need to see Kodak-perfect landscapes, grand sweeping vistas and all that. A little bit, sure. But mostly, I want images that are well-composed, have an intriguing point of view, without being 'arty' or 'hey, look what I can do with my camera!' imagery. I recognize that in some ways my taste in all of this is plebeian - what, you don't like the infrared images, the reflection of the photographer in the model's eye, the closeup of the bird's left eyeball? - but that's just me. I'm a plebe kind of guy.
So thats my photo statement of the day.
At last the meal was done, and she asked if I was going to have any. Uh, no, I'm waiting for Mom to come home so I can eat with her, I said. She immediately called her mother and extracted a promise that she would have the meal for her dinner. I felt guilty, so I said she could give me some. But just a little, I added. She gave me one single piece of rotini with pesto on it.
It was good!
Friday, January 25, 2008
David finally found the nerve to tell his fiancee that he had to break off their engagement so he could marry another woman.
"Can she cook like I can?" the distraught woman asked between sobs.
"Not on her best day," he replied.
"Can she buy you expensive gifts like I do?"
"No, she's broke."
"Well, then, is it sex?"
"Nobody does it like you, babe."
"Then what can she do that I can't?"
"Sue me for child support."
I can't imagine that it was all that tasty -- I was just writing about having gone to physical therapy again. I'd had a problem yesterday -- a really sharp pain behind my right hip when I walked -- so I made a point to mention it to them. Apparently, that was the right thing to do, as it got their attention. Usually, the folks at the therapy place set you up with exercises and then walk away while you do them, coming back at the end to steer you somewhere else. They pretty much did that this time as well, but added on some extra hands-on (literally). The woman who normally works with me spent a fair amount of time staring at my leg, as if she was trying to do a Vulcan mind meld with the muscles; at one point, she stood to the left of the bed (I'm not sure what to call it, it's not actually a bed) with a seat belt wrapped low around her torso as well as around my upper thigh, using her weight to put a strain on my left leg's quads. Considering the minimal distance between her breasts and my thigh, I asked if I was going to see this in a 20-20 episode, or perhaps a Christmas card. She promised that it would not be on television, though the Christmas card sounded like an interesting idea. She also spent some time tugging on my leg; I'm not sure what that was all about, but she seemed to think it was quite important. Her conclusion was that I'd 'jammed my back' by walking awkwardly with the crutch, and suggested doing some very gentle exercises, as well as walking slowly, concentrating on form. That was a perceptive comment, as I tend to just take off, flailing the crutch as I go. It's just that I want to be rid of this damn thing. I realize that's somewhat hasty of me - - it'd be nice if I could, you know, actually walk first. Picky, picky.
I do like the people there, generally. I know that part of it is that the staff is predominantly attractive, fit young women (my guess is, about 70%); what guy wouldn't like that? But the big thing is that I get the opportunity to do exercises and receive attention that I couldn't get at home. That's important.
Remember that bread? I put it in a warm place to rise this morning -- and it's still rising. Very slow. I think I'll be shaping dough by moonlight. (Sounds like a book, doesn't it?)
Thursday, January 24, 2008
(Cue theme from Rocky)
Update: I tried showing the site to my wife, and it was very slow....
I just mixed together the sponge for a rustic bread -- very simple; hot water, yeast, and flour, mix and put into a bowl -- and now it's in the refrigerator to rise overnight. The party line is that doing it this way allows complex flavors to develop. In my case, its more that this way I can take it from the chill before I leave for therapy tomorrow, and when I come back, all achy and sore, I can work on actually making the bread.
The recipe comes from the Amy's Bread site, here.
One thing that I did was to set up Comcast's email so that emails to my box are copied to a Gmail box. It's intended as a backup, should I purge mine and then think 'aw, heck, I wanted that one', but it turns out theres a side benefit. You can set up Gmail to alert you when a mail arrives -- it gives a small popup window with the first couple of lines of the email. Frequently, thats all I need -- I know to go to the blog and look there for the response. The popup is fairly unobtrusive, and only hangs around for about three seconds. Its not bad at all -- and, of course, the actual email still gets delivered, too.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
After interviewing 18 successful companies in depth, Mckinsey concluded that talent trumps everything.
This attitude was exemplified by Enron, a McKinsey client.
Enron hired the best and the brightest, paid them lavishly, and promoted then ‘without regard for seniority or experience’.
What if the collapse of Enron was due to this attitude?
McKinsey championed ‘differentiation and affirmation’ - rank and yank
There is low correlation between intelligence and job performance; what works in school doesn’t necessarily work at work.
Ranking managers is subjective, not objective; evaluation by peers has a low correlation to evaluation by boss. The only way to assess performance is to use specific critieria over time. At Enron, people moved around a lot; there was no ongoing evaluation record.
Evaluations were based on willingness to take risks, regardless of prior results. Talent was more important than results.
The attitude was that your stars must be delighted and indulged. One person built an informal network to do something that she thought the company ought to be doing. She started buying equipment and engaging in legal reviews before any senior manager knew it was going on. This action on her part was regarded as ‘exactly the kind of behavior that will ...drive this company forward."
Skilling said that the company business was whatever excited the managers and drew employees to them. Gladwell’s observation is that the needs of the managers were more important than the needs of the customers and shareholders, more important than making a profit.
One study said that bad managers are either easy going always liked people who get promoted, resentful people who plot against enemies, or charmers with energy and selfconfidence who believe only in themselves, trusting no one. The last ones believe any success is due to them; any failure is due to others.
If you think your intelligence level can be changed, you act one way; if you think its level is static, you act another. Gladwell makes an observation about a study involving non-english speakers and willingness to take advanced language traing; the changeable-believers took it, the statics did not.
People praised for intelligence act differently than people praised for accomplishments. People praised for intelligence exaggerate their accomplishments. If talent cannot handle tough problems, they fake the results rather than taking difficult actions which may reflect badly on their presumed ability.
Enron failed because the assumption was that the organization is bright if the people are bright. But organizations are bright if they function effectively, which is not necessarily a function of intelligence alone.
Organizations succeed where individuals, even supremely talented ones, cannot.
At Enron, talented people could go wherever they wanted. No one seemed to care what their departure would do to the organizations they left.
No one seemed to care about the structure, at either McKinsey or Enron.
When I first read the article, I thought 'how dumb is that -- of course you want bright people!' Then I realized that he wasn't saying that you don't want them -- what he was saying was that you don't want them if having them trumps the qualities that only an organization has -- repeatability, coordination across disparate elements, processes. Much of what is described in the article could have easily come from articles about how great it is to work at Google, Microsoft, Ideo -- but those places don't usually let people do whatever they want, and tell the managers later. They encourage and cherish talent, but they do it within a structure, with an eye toward why the organization exists -- which is to make money.
Of the last twenty or so sites that I looked at in the last couple of hours, about half had something to do with baking or cooking (Fine Cooking, Amy's Breads, Creative Breads), and about half of them had specifically to do with flour, and how to tell the difference between them. Some of this, I already knew; others, like the difference between Canadian All-Purpose and US All-Purpose, I didn't. (Basically, Canadian All-Purpose really is; US, really isn't.) But this is beginning to frost me a bit, because the reason that I'm doing this surfing is that my hip is sore from the exercises today -- only a little bit more than we did yesterday, but overall, enough to make me wince, a bit, when I walk -- so I'm goofing off, not emptying the dishwasher, cleaning up the kitchen, or anything. And in a bit I'll take a nap. But thanks to these guys, I bet I will dream about baking.
I do want to do some. Just not -- today. Not alone, anyway. Anyone want to come over to the house, get floured with me?
She said that while she remembers the first eight or so years of our marrige as being a very good time, she didn't realize at the time that the ability to just go on vacation, wherever, was so precious. Now that we really can't -- job, child, resident mother, injured me -- it seems almost magical.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
After the expected measurements about what my body normally can do, and what it can do at the moment, they gave me two very gentle exercises -- one, squeezing a large ball, and two, doing resistance exercises -- and then put me on a gentle bike-type device where I could exercise my leg without it having to support any weight. I was delighted, as this was exactly what I wanted. And I actually think it made a difference - - I felt slightly stronger afterward.
Of course, I then came home and collapsed into bed, but it's the principle of the thing. This is goodness.
Another session tomorrow.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Yesterday I asked her if she thought she'd make anything from it. Yes, she replied instantly, and went to get the book. Here, she said, I'll let you have the honor of making the first thing. No, I demurred, I want you to make it -- but I'll gladly help. Oh, she replied, and tossed the book onto the table.
I think we're going to need to encourage her.
An example: we will occasionally stay at the Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton hotel chains, which are fairly upscale lodgings. (Much less, now that we are With Child.) When we first would go, about twenty years ago, they were luxurious, period -- and on the rare occasions when we'd pay the extra freight to stay on the Concierge Floor, we'd be amazed at the comfortable chairs, elegant lighting, lavish food available any time we chose to enter the lounge. Over time, two things happened. First, what we took for luxury became normal to us. Three hundred count sheets? Yes, that's nice (and it was certainly nicer than what we had at home), but it's nothing special. It was just expected. Second, the hotel started dropping what they'd put out there -- the food which was once available all day was now available only when the attendant put it out -- and the attendant, who used to be there all day, now was there only at prime hours. When it was there, the food was still good, but it was clear; the hotel was downsizing what it considered to be 'luxury'. (Though they still did charge the big charges, and then some!) The image was still there; the substance, not as much.
It was therefore with some interest that I read an article on the Knowledge@Wharton site on the history of 'luxury'. It's a fascinating writeup, and ties in quite nicely to an article in the Sunday papers (The Washington Post, I think, though it could be the New York Times) on how the purveyors of high-end items are finding it harder to sell the six hundred dollar Coach handbag, the two thousand dollar Burberry trench coat. It's not that people don't still lust after them; its that they are at the point where they are beginning to realize that they can't afford them. There are still plenty of people who can, and even more who are willing to delude themselves that they can -- but now, not quite as many as there used to be.
And you know? I think that's a good thing.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Specifically, Sitting at the dining room table, Reading book reviews from the Washington Post, and Drinking cherry flavored water. Oh, and L - Listening to a rendition of Bach's Double Violin Concerto. I do like classical music. I'm not able to pick out any but the classics (wait, wait -- thats the theme from the Lone Ranger! Its - um - Ride of the Valkyries, right???) but I do like them, particularly chamber music. This one, I got for Christmas. So I'm mellowing out, no longer (much) berating myself for falling a bit ago, and only feeling slight aches (I took a painkiller, which undoubtedly helps). A little ticked at breaking the dish washer door (still usable, but now you need to Know The Trick to open it; repair scheduled for a week from tomorrow), but thats about it. I do tend to beat myself up about things like this, but I'm trying to get over that tendency.
Two reviews caught my attention -- one, The Bush Tragedy, which apparently posits that although there were multiple supporting factors, the primary reason for the invasion of Iraq was the desire of Dubya to prove that he was the leading son, not his brother Jeb, and that he wanted to outdo his father by finishing the business that he saw as unfinished in Iraq. It's an interesting review, though it didn't compel me to put the book on the list of things I want to read. Maybe some day, though. And, I read the review of Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey, about a woman's obsession with a specific piano -- its sound, its vicissitudes, the people who built it, maintained it, repaired it. This one, I might just stir myself to get. At least, the paperback version.
Making a list and Checking It Twice: interesting article about statistical validation in close elections.
Tomorrow, my daughter doesn't have classes, but she does have a half-day event to remember MLK. She'll be in and out; I'll be out for a while; my wife will be working from home. We'll have a quiet, pleasant breakfast, inshallah.
Take care, y'all.
One of the things that I've always liked is their habit of saying Inshallah (I've seen multiple other spellings) when speaking about something they intend to do, or something that they hope will occur. As I understand it means 'if Allah wills it (this event will occur)'. I don't know why, but there's something about that attitude that I like.
There's a Wikipedia article about the phrase here.
I got a minor pleasant surprise the other day -- the physical therapist who'd been seeing me here asked what I weigh, and when I told her, she seemed surprised, saying that I didn't look like I weighed that much. So I looked later, and darn if I wasn't at the lowest I've been in months. Okay, two days later, I looked again, and I was four pounds heavier, back into the I've-seen-that-number-before range, but hey, I'll take what I can get.
This morning, I was talking with my wife about people with unusual sexual drives -- specifically people who participate in Dominant/Submissive relationships. (No, I wasn't suggesting it. I don't know how we got there.) These aren't people who are kidding -- they really do this, really do dominate or allow themselves to be dominated. I had a brief contact with a woman who's a submissive -- somehow, I found myself at her blog (I think she'd commented on a site I read), and I remember being astounded that this person, who seemed normal, would do this. I didn't fixate on it, but in wondering why, I came to the thought that perhaps her life was so chaotic, so out of control, that this was a way of saying 'I'm not responsible, I can't be held responsible', for at least part of it. Thats armchair psychology, of course; I could be totally hosed. It has been known to happen.
Still cold out -- gone up a whopping five degrees, and the wind's still blowing intermittently. Makes me feel cold, just hearing it. I realized once that although I like cold weather, its only if I'm in a decent mood. If I'm feeling apprehensive (like with this damn dental stuff; the surgeon told me that there was a 10% chance of losing one of the implants; the good news was, he's putting in more than the minimum, so it'll still be structurally sound, the bad news is just that it could occur), then I want heat, and plenty of it. Yesterday I was in the bedroom, just reading, and I actually had the heat up to 80. One thing I want, if and when we build a house, is thermostats that are time-sensitive -- say, they'll keep the room at 68 during the day, but at 10 PM they'll drop to 65 or 60, then start warming up again around 6AM. I know these are possible (the AC we had retrofitted to the house has a control panel like that). If we do it, though, I want it on an easy to read screen. That damn AC control panel is almost impossible to read. Something hooked to the PC would be nice, with a fallback should the connection to the PC fail. Am I a believer in technology, or what?
So, Clinton/Obama? I'd like that. I could stand Obama/Clinton, but I'd prefer the former.
That cake was good. Could have been better, but not at all bad. I'd make it again. Speaking of sweet stuff -- I don't eat much candy (its not a religious thing; I just got out of the habit, I think around the time that dentists starting looking at me as their personal ticket to a Lexus upgrade). But I like this site. It's candy porn, I think.
Okay, time to write some checks.
The basic idea was that by improving the economic conditions of people at the top of the economic food chain, you would supply enough water to lift all the boats. They would hire more maids, gardeners, buy more gifts, houses, and so forth; all of that would affect the people who make livings supplying those services and goods; they in turn would hire a lawn care service, buy more pork and beans, and so on. I haven't followed it religiously, and I do believe that, like faith healers, economists can find evident for whatever you want -- Why, yes, people thinking that they saw Elvis at the Quikee Mark did in fact improve the general economy of Quisdale -- so its possible that it did work -- but you couldn't prove it by me. What I think happened is that the people at the upper reaches already had enough discretionary income and credit to get whatever they wanted; the extra money that they reaped didn't go into purchases (though they may have gone into upgrading the purchase; the Buick became a Lexus; the vacation in Barbados became one in the south of France). Perhaps they bought more stocks, investments. The money, pretty much, stayed at their level. It didn't trickle down.
So when I see Bush saying that the best short-term fix for the economy is to reduce taxes, I think: Reagan Lives! And so do his results....
On the bright side, I'm indoors now, the heat's on, and that, by god, is where I'm staying for a while.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
This site, from the Federal Trade Commission, talks about how to get the annual free report. The technique I've seen suggested is to request the free report from each of the big three credit agencies once every four months, thus getting one free one from each agency each year.
Venetian Apple Cake
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup instant or fine polenta (fine cornmeal works here too)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and coarsely grated
8 tb (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 tb extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup whole milk
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a square 9-inch cake pan, tapping out excess flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, polenta or cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside, along with the grated apple in its own bowl.
In a standing mixer on medium speed, cream the butter, olive oil, and sugar until lightened in color, one to two minutes, scraping down sides as needed. Stop the mixer, pour in honey, and resume beating on medium until mixture is smooth, about one minute. Beat in eggs one at a time until well-blended, then vanilla extract.
On low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients, the milk, and the remaining dry ingredients. Beat mixture at medium speed for about 30 seconds, then fold in the grated apple with a spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, no more than two-thirds high, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until edges are golden and just beginning to pull away from the pan. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling rack and let cool completely. Re-invert onto serving dish and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Basically, I just want her to get a
At Whatever She Wants to Do
to support me in my old age,
should that be necessary
But if she did want to qualify for an exclusive college, I think this might be of use to her. If only as a precautionary note.
Comes the news that the high school color guard, next year, will be going to California.
Sigh. Now what?
Friday, January 18, 2008
I didn't bake the cake today. We made dinner (more comfort food -- meatloaf), and did some cleaning up, and just didn't quite get around to it. My wife said that she's planning to take down the artificial Christmas tree that sits in an alcove in our kitchen; I asked if she'd mind leaving it up a bit longer. It's a cheerful sight, especially when the room lights are off, and I've felt the need for some cheer of late, for some reason. She agreed to give it a stay of execution for a bit. But speaking of comfort food, my wife's theory is that just about everything that has carbs in it in any appreciable quantity can be used as a comfort food; she's likely right -- which is something I thought about when I came across this site, which is dedicated to one person's pursuit of the perfect lasagna. I've never made lasagna (a dessert one, once, yes; it was a noble effort with minimal results), but I've wanted to -- though not the classic hyperstuffed kind. I'd prefer something small. In fact, one day we brought some home from my mother in laws house, and when she told my wife that it ought to be two, possibly three servings, she laughed and said that with me, it'd be more like six or seven. Her mother was amazed that anyone could eat that little of anything, but especially this. Doesn't he like lasagna? she asked, curiously. My wife said yes, I do -- but I just don't 't like big meals. Her mother was startled. This little thing, a big meal?
But even with that, there's something about the image of someone cooking, particularly the big pot of sauce, all bubbling with basil and oregano and whatnot, that's always appealed to me. It smells like home. Not my home, necessarily; not this home -- but home. Strange, huh?
But now that I hear his ideas about religion and the constitution, I think he should go directly to the minor leagues. The minor minor leagues.
Got a blood test this afternoon (its to see if the Coumadin is doing its thing effectively), but thats nothing. Perhaps I'm afraid of what else might come out of that -- the last time, they said that they'd forgotten to do a PSA test, so they would include it with that. On one hand, I never heard back, so, no probs, right? Um... probably. Then next week I have the first physical therapy appointment; I don't expect problems, but its always a hassle, starting up with a medical arrangement -- all these forms, all this stuff they'd like to know. So maybe thats it. Then again, last night we sort of decided to do a major remodel of the downstairs bathroom and laundry room; that's going to be expensive, and could push our savings down below a certain magic number that we've been at for about a year. Not a massive deal, but somewhat of an ego hit. And theres the hassle of finding a contractor, can I trust them, did we think of everything we'd want to have done, all of that. Maybe I'm just edgy because I'm not walking freely yet. Or because I have dental surgery planned for about a month from now, and, oh yeah, the dentist says theres a decent chance that at least one of the implants will fail to take. Really. How nice of you not to mention this back in the planning stage.
Maybe I'm just a nervous guy. I should go read those saved comments again. They help.
And my leg's stiff. I think maybe I pushed the crutchless walking a bit too much yesterday. It's just that Shannon promised to tango with me, so I want to be ready..... (Shannon, I can see you now -Omigod, what did I say to set off this fruitcake??? Don't worry, I'm kidding....) Speaking of cakes, I may bake one today. Found a recipe for something called Venetian Cake. The original recipe calls for polenta, but it also says you can use fine cornmeal, and we do have that. Not sure if we have enough, but if so - fire up the oven!
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I was hoping that after sleeping through the night last night, my string of chunks-o-sleep was done, but I guess I blew it by falling asleep around 4 this afternoon. (Am I getting old? I like taking a nap.) I had set things up to make the room cold -- the fan is on, the window's open, its supposed to get down to the low twenties tonight -- but right now, I'm warm and just a bit jittery -- I can't get my leg in a comfortable position. In a couple of minutes I will get up, get something to drink, and come back to bed, trying that mantra again that worked pretty well last night
A company called Two Smart Ladies, based in Maine, used to sell the kind of I have in mind -- soft, but not crumbly, with some candied fruits in it. They were expensive, so I didn't get them too often, but I told others about them, and whenever I did get them, I'd always pause for a couple of minutes and look at them, wondering how to make mine come out like that. The next time I made biscotti, I'd try variations -- what if I used less heat; what if I only baked it once (thus, technically, not being 'biscotti' any more). Never made it. And, alas, they went out of business. Bummer. Lost forever.
This Christmas, in addition to the gift of falling down the stairs (and hey, good news: I walked about twenty feet without a crutch today; very slowly, but still, and outpatient therapy starts on Tuesday), I got a selection of Italian Christmas cookies from my mother in law. Okay, technically we got them. But as I was eating them, one, a sort of dense cookie, about the size of a piece of fudge, but with the texture of a cookie - soft, not crumbly, with some candied fruits in it - that one got my attention. So I ate it.
And then I thought: who made that? How did they make it? Is there any more?
I think I need to have words with my mother in law....
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
But I don't want to do it if it means -
- keeping track of ten thousand things on 'approved' lists, or 'you can have one third of this and one half cup of that'
- feeling like I'm selling out to the crazies and food freaks - the emo descendants of Euell Gibbons
- I have to give up everything I like. (Oh, no, no chocolate chip cookies? None?)
I'd like to ease into it...slowly. But the people who push this sort of stuff, their idea of easing into it is about ten times more intense than I'd be comfortable with. I need a way to do it that allows a minimalist approach (do you know the 'eating the bun' joke? Like that), and gives me lots of positive reinforcement.
Guess its going to be a while, hmmm?
Later, I was emptying the dishwasher, and noted that one pot hadn't come quite clean. I did something, then called her to come to the kitchen. This pot isn't clean, I said. I'm going to just wash it a bit. Okay? Sure, she replied, puzzled. Whereupon I walked slowly, with little mincing steps, about four feet over to the sink.
Without the crutch.
The first is just exactly the sort of law enforcement activity I was thinking about when I said that the police there seemed to be getting more intense.
However, there is apparently a softer side, too. Whatever would Sir Robert say?
I'm not talking so much about doctor - patient communications, which have improved over the last ten years (sometimes too far; instead of telling you what they're going to do, some now say Well, here's the range of options; which do you want? Even the vet for my daughters guinea pig said that). No, I'm talking about doctor to doctor, and practice to practice communications. They don't tell each other things that they need to know, and they don't tell you what they're going to want from the other practice.
Case in point: this morning, I had a pre-surgery appointment with the fellow who's supposed to put in the dental implants. He was quite tense, saying that we had to get this done very soon, because otherwise the bone that was so expensively grafted would begin to resorb. This is, incidentally, the guy who made the schedule we're working from. So, why is this suddenly a tight schedule? Well, could it have anything to do with a) a one week vacation he's taking in the beginning of February? and b) a one -week conference he'll be attending at the end of February? and c) his office scheduling a lot of implant activity for January and February? Could be..... but why is this suddenly my problem?
Not to mention that he asked if I'd had a certain procedure done at the general dentist's; as this was the first he mentioned it, we said No, we hadn't. Really? Oh, we definitely need that, can't move ahead without it -- and by the way, your general dentist has been pretty sick lately, not sure if you might not have to go elsewhere. Really? And you didn't know about any of this back in November or December? We come up to your time crunch and suddenly you need it?
There's a definite market for someone to facilitate this kind of planning, this kind of communication. Someone who can say 'here's what we'll need, here's what you'll need to do, these are the deadlines'. Yup. Good idea. My problem is, I tend to think its something that I, personally, ought to be able to fix. I know thats unreasonable -- but I think Well, someone should fix it -- why not me?
Insanity doesn't run in my family -- it sits, reads a magazine, hangs out for a while.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I cooked dinner this evening. I am so delighted that I can do this again. Tonight it was comfort food. Not sure if I've shown this recipe before. We quite like it.
HOMEMADE MACARONI & CHEESE - 4 servings
8 oz elbow macaroni
1 1/2 c. Cheddar cheese, grated
1 c. Mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 lb. Velveeta cheese,sliced
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 c. milk
Pre-heat oven to 375
Cook macaroni and reserve.
Prepare cheeses - grate cheddar; grate Mozzarella; slice 1/2 pound Velveeta. Reserve.
Melt butter in glass Pyrex dish.
To melted butter, add flour, salt, mustard and pepper. Stir until smooth.
Pour butter mixture into moderately large saucepan.
Add milk to mixture. Stir constantly for 10 minutes or until thick, whichever comes first.
Add cheeses. Mix until melted. If necessary, increase heat, but monitor closely for scorching of pan.
Grease 9x13 casserole dish.
Put cooked macaroni in greased casserole dish, pour cheese mixture over and mix well.
Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.
I know its been years since the friendly neighborhood constable has been a fixture, save only at the Holmes museum, but I have such a civilized image of Britain, that the possibility of them becoming Cheney-and-Chartoff-ized is, if anything, more distressing than it happening here.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Found at Funtasticus.
Reason is, we just went into the garage, so that I could show my wife how easily I could get into the passenger's seat of the van. Back up to the seat, slide in, hike up my left leg with my hands, push off with the right one, pivot. Done.
And then I thought, what the hell. We walked around and I -
Got in the drivers seat.
I can drive! Two and a half weeks after surgery, I can drive!
Some logistics questions -- if I'm alone, how do I get the crutch in, where do I put it -- but those are nits. And my wife made me promise not to drive if I've taken any pain meds -- oh, look at the pretty colors! -- which is perfectly reasonable. I can't do grocery shopping yet - I could probably push the cart and have the crutch in it, but I don't think I want to risk it (Pickup on aisle three!) And its just the van -- the Prius has a lip thats a little hard to hoist my leg over; more significantly, I flat cannot get in under the steering wheel with a leg that won't respond to my command. And even if I could, I'm not sure I could get out again without assistance. So, just the van, for now. Thats okay. Because now my wife's not necessarily stuck with driving. I can do it -- first 'as needed', then, with a little practice and confidence, routinely again.
I'm delighted. This is a good thing.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Oh, and the electronic version needs to be easily taggable, saveable, condensible, storable. I'm just sayin'....
The question is: why is the phrase 'African-American' still commonly used to describe someone?
I used to think that it meant that people who called themselves that cared more about where their ancestors are from than where they are now. I think thats still a little true, but not a lot. My liberal spasms make me say Well, you can be called whatever you want (see, for example, George Carlin's great routine about the guy named Smith); African-American refers to ancestry in which one is proud, just as Irish-American, Italian-American, etc; African-American doesn't mean 'black' or any shade thereof, anyway; look at the color mix of people in South Africa, for example.
To which I say a) thats a joke, literally; b) but its not used as a description routinely by anyone else, and c) thats sophistry, as most people from Africa are some shade of black.
I'm reading a really interesting article about Obama right now, and his relationship, or lack thereof, with noted civil rights leaders, and that phrase keeps coming up, making me think about it. What I find myself thinking is Why are these people still relevant? And I immediately think Are black people equal yet? Not even close, I would bet. I'm not smart enough to discourse on whether we've managed to create a permanent underclass, but so long as there are substantial numbers of people who fit that description, having people who care uniquely about them is a good thing. Especially when the federal government's trying to get out of the business of caring about people.
(FWIW: my answer, which I don't particularly care for, is that people who use it as a self-descriptor feel a greater sense of identification with others who do than with those who don't, whether or not those others chromatically qualify for the descriptor. The reason I don't like it is that to my mind it puts that subcommunity before the overall community, to the detriment of both. Also, to be honest, I am tired of people beating the civil-rights drum, even though its still needed. I think thats part of Obama's magic -- he can do it, but when he does, its a bright trumpet peal, not a thudding drum. )
Saturday, January 12, 2008
The crutch is working okay, but I have definitely got a ways to go before I'm comfortable with it. The first couple of steps usually cause me trouble -- I end up at a dead stop, shuffling my strong leg up to be even with the other two, then starting again -- and if I've been stationary for a while, my leg gets stiff, and that makes me hobble, too. But all of that tends to go away pretty quickly.
The baking is also good -- its a recipe I haven't tried before, so of course I had to make a small batch for my wife and daughter to try before making more to give to the neighbor to thank her for her thoughtfulness. I told my wife that I would enclose a note to that effect, and that my marital partner wouldn't let me thank her the way I'd like. My wife said she'd be glad to bring the cookies, and the note over. Really. Course, she knows that nothing would happen. Has nothing to do with me being in hobble mode, and her being a karate instructor.
They look pretty good, sitting out there cooling. Here's the recipe.
Fudge and Walnut Oatmeal Cookies
about 4 dozen small ones
2 cups walnut pieces
2 cups chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats
Heat the oven to 375F. Spread the walnut pieces out on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until toasted.
Grind them in a food processor until they are in smaller pieces. Grind 1/2 cup quite fine, like sprinkles.
Over medium-low heat, warm the condensed milk and chocolate chips in a small saucepan. Stir to combine completely and keep on very low heat.
Mix the flour and other dry ingredients and set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs and vanilla.
Add the flour and beat until smooth. Stir in the oats and 1 1/2 cups of the walnut pieces by hand.
Lightly grease a cookie sheet and dollop out small rounds of the cookie dough by teaspoon.
Flatten into nests with the back of the spoon or your fingers.
Spread another teaspoonful of the chocolate mixture on top of each cookie dough nest.
Cover it almost completely; the cookie will spread out around the chocolate.
Sprinkle some of the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts on top.
Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until just lightly golden brown.
Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes then remove to a cooling rack.