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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in r_wolfcastle's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, May 20th, 2012
8:52 pm
Is It a New York Times Sunday Crossword?
In answer to the question: Does today's New York Times crossword pass muster?

Does it have all of the required elements?
  • A rare, often extremely rare, spelling of a word. Yes: Gaea
  • Baseball. Hells yes. Five of them today.
  • Jewish/Hebrew/Israel. One Hebrew, two combined Jewish and Israel. Bases well covered.
  • A word or phrase that no one in the real world uses any more. Probably the weakest one, but we do have A-ONE (dating back to 1775), the verb form of TOG, and GO POSTAL.
  • A river or body of water, ideally in Europe/Eurasia, with Germany being the garden spot. French river. Eastern France, even. Check.

I think we're done here. Today's puzzle obviously meets all of the ironclad requirements.

Thursday, May 17th, 2012
11:46 pm
My Anal-Retentive Chef Friday
  • find and thaw green garlic
  • make strawberries in strawberry sauce (FP)
  • make duck spice rub
  • freeze extra duck legs
  • trim and rub duck legs
  • render duck fat
  • make curry mother sauce - ADD CURRY LEAVES (6qt cast iron) (FP)
  • make cilantro mayo (MP)
  • make salad dressing (MP)
  • scrub and dry potatoes
  • make quick pickles
  • plump cherries
  • make hibiscus tea
  • make peach mojito tea
  • make khao man gai sauce (2qt saucepan) (FP)
  • make and serve salad (FP)
  • start potatoes (large skillet)
  • start coconut curry sauce for potatoes (2qt saucepan)
  • form burgers
  • while potatoes cool, sear and bake burgers (medium skillet)
  • toast buns
  • finish potatoes while burgers rest (large skillet)
  • assemble burgers

FP = food processor
MP = mini food processor

3:29 pm
Warm Donna Summer Memories
In the late spring of 1977, my redneck cajun friend Will said that I had to go to dance classes with him. And they weren't just any dance classes. They were disco dance classes.

The boy had lost what little mind he possessed prior to that point.

His mom was a good friend; she and my mom both taught at the high school. I seriously considered going to her and telling her she needed to see to her son's mental health.

Then Will explained that every hot girl he knew LOVED to dance, and they all complained about a lack of dance partners. They enjoyed going to the under-the-radar gay dance club in Biloxi near Keesler AFB because they rarely got hit on and the dance floor and sound system were by far the best around. But they missed at least the tantalizing opportunity of a little of the old in-out in-out with a tall dark stranger. They missed hanging out with straight boys.

I was underage, just finishing my junior year in high school at age 15. I had just broken up with my first serious girlfriend, and anything involving the fairer sex made my dick into a dowsing rod. So I signed up for the dance classes along with Will and a couple of other friends.

The classes were a bit awkward. Since we'd all signed up for the same class, there was a surplus of men, and half the time we ended up dancing with each other in class. Somehow we made it through without the gay taking over.

After we got a few classes under our belt, we got an enterprising classmate to make us fake driver's licenses and began hitting the clubs on the beach in Biloxi. And it was a BLAST. Women wouldn't take my virginal 15-year-old ass home, but if I was polite but forward they would dance with me.

I learned quickly to spy the most bored beautiful woman in the room, and start with her. If she danced with me, all the other women saw me dancing with Her Hotness and were willing to dance with me. If she demurred, I'd go for the second most bored beautiful woman. Once Gorgeous Numero Uno saw me dancing with a reasonably hot woman and doing it well, she who had turned me down would often come over to me and ask me to dance.

Boyfriends who didn't dance would not only allow me to dance with their smokin' hot women, they would sometimes bring the smokin' hot women over to me and ask me to dance with them.

But as good as all this was, it was nothing compared to slow dancing. As long as I maintained an interested-but-aloof just-here-to-dance-nothing-to-see-here posture, these amazingly beautiful scantily clad women were also willing, not always but often, to slow dance with me. Frequently with Serious Grinding Action [tm] on their part.

Which finally brings me to Donna Summer. When it came time to slow dance, or at least to dance to a song that started slow before kicking up the beat, nothing but nothing was better than Donna Summer. Her music, her lyrics, her amazing voice, the lights, the body heat -- a dance club with Donna Summer crooning over the speakers was smoldering.

Later there were the delicious women in college, their passions ignited by the movement of our bodies and by the exhilaration of winning dance contests. So many stories, so many wonderful nights. And there was the confidence that all of this brought to a kid who always felt out of place before -- too smart, too young, too innocent.

Through it all, Donna Summer was there. She was the embodiment of all that was good about an otherwise very questionable, often awful, era. She helped ensure that for me it was a wondrous time of only good things. I'll miss you, Donna. I owe you more than I can say.
Thursday, May 10th, 2012
2:50 pm
Frustrating day
Today I played golf with The Sandbagger, The Spitter, and my partner/teammate, The Choker. The format was the historically and misleadingly named four ball. Teams of two players each. On each hole, each player plays their own ball, then the best net score is the score for the team for that hole. It is sometimes called by the more cumbersome yet apt name "two-person better ball".

The way you score well at four ball is for one player to play a hole solidly, thus allowing the other player to play the hole aggressively. If the aggressive play pays off, you get a low score. If it doesn't, the solid play ensures you don't make a bad score and lose ground.

But if one player is consistently playing really poorly, the other player has no choice but to play very very conservatively. And overly conservative golf is losing golf. It is the mental difference between "don't try for birdie, just try to make par so your partner can try for birdie" vs. "for god's sake don't make bogie or worse, because your partner has already screwed the pooch on this hole".

A few examples:

Hole #1: Choker's excellent drive is less than 80 yards to the hole. But it then takes him 5 shots to get down from there. I have to focus not on getting my ball in the hole, but on keeping it below the hole so I don't also post a big number.

Hole #2: Choker hooks his tee shot into the lake. He chunks his second shot into the lake. He is now out of the hole; it is up to me. I manage a knee-knocker breaking downhill putt to save par.

Hole #3: Choker hooks his drive into the Very Tall Grass. So I baby my drive down the middle of the fairway instead of really going for it like I normally would. Miraculously he finds his ball. At this point, any sane person would've dropped their hat or towel near the ball to mark its location. He doesn't. He goes back to the cart for clubs, and he never finds his ball again. Guess who has to save the day?

There are other effects. For one thing, I'm playing injured; my podiatrist would kill me if she knew I was out of my walking boot at all. Now I'm spending precious bodily fluids trudging up and down Very Steep Hills looking for his golf ball over and over and over. This takes its toll, and I have to resort to Vicodin, and I play poorly myself until it takes effect.

Also, all this searching for balls slows us to a snail's pace, so the marshalls rightfully start hounding us to play faster and catch up to the group ahead of us because we're slowing down the entire tournament. Now I'm running up and down Very Steep Hills, getting winded and flustered.

It was inevitable that if he choked often enough and badly enough, there would come a time when I would falter on the same hole. On a hole where the marshalls were using everything except cattle prods on us, he jacks not one ball wildly out of bounds, but two balls in a row. My second shot is cheered by our entire foursome because it was indeed mighty (and because a shot like that would help us get out from under the marshalls' whips).

But when we drove over the hill it was not only not in the fairway as we all expected, it was nowhere to be found. We're pretty sure it went into a bunker under repair, but we simply couldn't find it. So I had to go back and hit again from the same spot, causing at least two marshalls to be carted away in ambulances due to apoplectic fits. I further screwed up the hole at the green, partially because I hadn't been around to see the other players' balls to give me info about the green. We ended up taking a huge number on the hole. Not that it mattered, because we were already completely out of the running halfway through the round.

Meanwhile the other twosome with us -- both very nice guys, BTW -- were busy cheating and spitting. To be fair, everyone shoots an exceptionally out-of-character low round out of the blue now and again. But The Sandbagger, who had a course handicap of 16, shot about 8 over par. If you shoot even a few strokes below your handicap in a tournament, the NCGA (Northern California Golf Association) asks a lot of hard questions and flags you. If you do it twice in ?2 years? they sanction you. This guy was just shooting lights out, and making it look really really easy.

His partner, The Spitter, was somewhat the opposite: a 7 handicap who played like a 14. When he wasn't busy spitting. I really think he must have some medical issue, because I have never seen anyone spit that much. Hardcore tobacco chewers don't spit even a third as much as this guy. I got so curious, and so desperate to think about anything but our abysmal round, that I started clocking him. His sustained record was an average of a spit every 15 seconds. He routinely averaged every 30 seconds. For 5 hours.

When the horror was mercifully over, I headed home. I was hungry, and got my face set for some daikon egg flour cake. It was lunch hour rush, but I wanted my damned daikon cake anyway, damnit. I finally convinced my braindead nanny of a GPS to tell me where a TK Noodle was (*). I was in a section of northeast San Jose that is 98% strip malls. After slogging through traffic, I finally arrived at the designated large strip mall, and looked. And looked. And looked. I eventually used my phone's GPS, and figured out that the TK Noodle was now a Starbucks.

I asked the GPS to find another one, and it came up with one in Little Saigon that I know well and had been to relatively recently. What I didn't know was how bad Little Saigon lunch hour traffic would be. OMFG. What a slog. I finally arrived there to find that it was now a pho place. Pho is no good as takeout. I thought about trying to find yet another source for daikon egg flour cake, but gave up and went to a Vietnamese sandwich shop across the strip mall parking lot.

(*) I tell the Honda Fit's GPS "Place Name", and type in "noodle". It shows me a list that starts with all the places that begin with the word noodle, followed by all the places that contain the word noodle. What. The. Fuck? But there is a tab for "Distance", so I chose that, and TK Noodle was right at the top. I tapped it, and was asked to choose a subcategory: Chinese(Restaurant) or California(Restaurant).

Wait a minute. You know the place I want. You know where it is. I select it, and you force me to select a subcategory before you'll take me there? At least one each marketeer, project manager, user experience person, and product manager should be shot dead for something like that.

I will now ignore my lengthy to-do list and sulk until my morale improves.

Current Mood: frustrated
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
10:07 am
Season 4 Top Shot final challenge
To give you an idea, when Top Shot finally got down to only 2 contestants (Googler Chris Cheng and military firearms instructor Greg Littlejohn), this was the final challenge in which they went head-to-head to determine the winner. To add to the drama they ran this course simultaneously, not timed one by one as is often done on the show. There were no breaks between stations; this was a single course to be completed in order as fast as possible. In some cases the weapons to be fired appeared to be pre-loaded, but in most cases loading (and reloading as necessary) was part of the challenge:
  1. Run from the starting line to station 1. Load and fire a Kentucky flintlock pistol, hit 2 1-gallon jugs suspended 25 feet away.
  2. Knock down all 3 parts of each of 2 3-part bullseyes 50 feet downrange with an 1860 Henry rifle.
  3. Use a Webley Mk VI (circa 1915) revolver to take out 9 16-ounce jars suspended on a moving frame 35 feet downrange. The frames holding the jars shuttled back and forth left-to-right.
  4. Use a Colt Peacemaker revolver to take out 2 rows of 6 targets each (distance not given). One row had 10" targets, the other row 8" targets. The run for each row had to be perfect; if a contestant missed a target, all the targets they had already hit on that row would pop back up and they'd have to start over on that row.
  5. Load and fire a modern crossbow, hitting 3 8" targets each at the end of a rotating arm
  6. Drop to prone position to fire a WWI-vintage Browning Automatic Rifle and hit 2 8" targets downrange -- one at 125 yards, the other at 150 yards.
  7. Load and fire a modern grenade launcher to hit 2 targets -- one at 50 yards, the other at 75 yards. Not land the grenade close enough to blow up the targets; the grenade itself has to actually hit the target.
Friday, April 27th, 2012
2:11 am
Dry roux conundrum
So I made 4 cups of dry roux, aka oil-less roux, aka browned flour.

The recipe I wish to make calls for a traditional roux made from 2 cups of butter and 4 cups of flour. I plan to use about 1/4 cup of butter to sauté veggies and no more. So my question is: how much dry roux should I use to approximate the intent of the original recipe?

The obvious answer would seem to be 4 cups. After all, the original recipe called for that much. But I don't think it is that simple. For one thing, in looking at similar recipes specifically written to use dry roux, the most common amount of dry roux is about 3 tablespoons. The most I've seen anywhere for a gumbo the size of the one I'm making was 2 cups, and that was a severe outlier; the next highest amount was ~1.5 cups.

Another unknown factor involves the likely volume difference between raw flour (as used in a traditional roux) and browned flour. Flour has a non-zero moisture content, and dry-browning it probably reduces its volume. I didn't even know this would be an issue ahead of time, so I didn't bother measuring the volume of raw flour I put in the pan to make the dry roux, therefore I don't know how much it actually shrunk. But just eyeballing it I can see significant shrinkage, and that would go at least a little way towards explaining why a traditional roux would need 4 cups of raw flour, but a similar recipe might need significantly less dry roux.

The correct answer is to simply incrementally mix some dry roux and some hot chicken broth until the proper consistency and color are achieved. The problem is that I'm not sure what that proper consistency is, because the ratios in the roux for the recipe are unusual. Roux is traditionally made from equal volumes of flour and fat -- usually butter for lighter rouxs, and oil for darker rouxs, though you can make a very dark roux using butter if you are very very patient and attentive. But this recipe doesn't use a 1:1 flour:fat ratio, it uses a 2:1 ratio. I'm not even sure what that is supposed to look like.

I'm sorely tempted to make the traditional roux just to see what it looks like, then toss it. But I'm just not that wasteful.

Now here is the surprising thing to me: dry roux is not a new invention. It has been around for about 25 years, and its use is becoming more common every day as people try to eat more healthily. So where is the expected glut of articles saying, for example, "To convert a traditional roux recipe to use dry roux instead, use 1/3 as much dry roux as flour in the original recipe, and mix it with an equal amount of hot water or stock before adding it."

I can find nothing remotely like that. There are recipes calling for a traditional roux that mention as an aside that dry roux could be used instead (but don't say how much), there are recipes that specifically call for dry roux instead of a traditional roux, and there is absolutely nothing in between. It seems an odd void.

So the next thought was to look at recipes calling for dry roux, see how much dry roux they used per quart of water/stock, and extrapolate from there. No dice; the ratio was all over the map. I'm talking dry roux:liquid ratio (volume) ranging from 1:64 all the way up to 1:4, and the full spectrum in between.

I'm just going to wing it, but err on the low side at first, since I can always add more dry roux later to thicken things up. I think I'll start with 1 cup of dry roux, and see where that leads me. But I need to get it close right up front, because if I wait then every time I add more dry roux I'll need to add more cooking time to remove the bitter taste that even browned flour has at first, and I don't want to overcook the rest of the ingredients. And I have to be sure to take into account that as the gumbo cooks it will both cook down and the flour as it cooks will progressively thicken the gumbo. My money is on ~1.5 cups of dry roux total.

Yes, I do spend an inordinate amount of time on this crap.

UPDATE: After nearly 3 solid hours of googling, I just found a very authoritative-appearing source for all things roux that says "1 cup of oil-less roux [aka dry roux] will thicken 1½ quarts of stock to a proper gumbo consistency." The recipe I'm making uses 5 quarts of stock, so that implies I'll need just north of 3 cups of dry roux. So I once again don't know what to do, and will just have to trust my eyes and instincts.
Thursday, April 5th, 2012
4:02 pm
It can be challenging cooking sometimes-elaborate meals by myself. The facts that I have a smallish stovetop without enough room to hold 2 large pans simultaneously, and only 1 oven, contribute to the difficulty. And if I have to resort to medicine for my back, there is a certain muzziness overlaid on the whole thing. So I tend to get all anal-retentive.

It usually looks something like the following, which is my cheat sheet for tomorrow night's dinner:
  • 3:00:
    • Lamb out of fridge
    • Make potato marinade
    • Prep potatoes and put into marinade
    • Make lamb marinade * 2, reserve enough for basting
    • Tie lamb
    • Insert garlic slivers into lamb
    • Lamb into marinade, leave out at room temp
  • 4:40:
    • Preheat grill
    • Get oak bisquettes ready
    • Spit the lamb
  • 4:55: Put first bisquette in grill drip pan
  • 5:00: Start rotisserizing lamb
  • 5:20: Preheat oven to 400F
  • 5:30: Potatoes into 400F oven
  • 6:00: Prep salad & dressing, leave separate until served
  • 6:40: Check potatoes
  • 6:50: Zucchini into 350F oven
  • 7:00: Toss and serve salad
  • 7:20: Preheat broiler
  • 7:25: Potatoes under broiler for 5 mins

It may look obsessive, but it is just a sparse timeline that is missing a ton of steps. And the result is that I will likely put dinner on the table within 5-10 minutes of when I planned to do so, even though I may start preparing it hours or even several days earlier.

And, yes, I am procrastinating at the moment.
Sunday, April 1st, 2012
1:02 pm
When a nanny car becomes Frankenstein's monster
Despite the nanny car "features", despite the much-loathed car alarm, I am really loving my new Honda Fit Sport with navigation. I could go on at length about how fun it is to drive, how comfortable the seats are, how roomy and flexible the cargo area is, etc. etc. And someday soon I probably will. But yesterday I tried entering a navigation destination using voice control, and it was so ludicrous I just had to write about it here.

First a bit of intro: when you press (actually pull) the Talk button under the steering wheel, the nav screen shows you some/all of the voice command options for the particular mode you're in (audio, phone, navigation) and the particular step you are on (e.g., deciding how to specify who to call, specifying who to call, specifying whether to call them now or not).

At the same time, a voice begins a lengthy description of what commands you can use, how to use them, etc. For example, it might tell you that you can specify a destination by using one of the onscreen commands like Go Home1, or by saying a place name. It then continues, saying, "For example, you can..."

This voice description of your options takes a second or two to kick in, and then it drones on and on and on and on. While it is talking, you cannot speak any voice commands. You either have to wait for the beep at the end of the interminable spiel, or you can shortcut to the voice prompt beep by hitting the Talk button a second time.

Thus the sequence "Talk button, wait 2 seconds, Talk button, speak" is generally the way to get things done. In order to prevent a repetitive stress disorder, I am going to abbreviate "press Talk button, wait for spiel to start, press Talk button again" as "talktalk".

I wanted to go to Seabright Brewery in Santa Cruz. But you can't say "Seabright Brewery". You have to spell it one letter at a time. And because the nav system treats every input as a completely separate action (as does the Prius nav, BTW), you can't just say "s-e-a-b...". Each letter is a standalone voice command.

Add to this the fact that the voice recognition is pretty sucky, especially when you're on the freeway at speed, and it turns out that even saying a single letter is not enough. When you say 'e', it doesn't know if you said 'e' or 'v' or 'd' or 'b'. So it brings up a disambiguation dialog, a table of numbered choices on the screen, and asks you say the number of the correct one. And that number is, of course, treated as a standalone command requiring the Talk button.

So here I go, asking my nav to set the destination to Seabright Brewery:

talktalk "destination"
talktalk "place name"
talktalk "s"
talktalk "e"
talktalk "1" (or whatever the right digit is)
talktalk "a"
talktalk "b"
talktalk "3"
talktalk "r"
talktalk "i"
talktalk "g"
talktalk "2"
talktalk "h"
talktalk "t"
talktalk "1"
talktalk "space"
talktalk "b"
talktalk "3"
talktalk "r"
talktalk "i"

at this point it comes up with Seabright Brewery, and I can tap the "Set As Destination" button on the touchscreen.

During this procedure I was extremely distracted, and I had to look at the screen a lot. When I compare this to entering the same destination on my standalone Garmin 660 onscreen keyboard while driving, the latter is infinitely less distracting and safer. The Garmin would require about 10 taps on the screen total, maybe less, with no waiting in between. The voice method above required 40 presses of the Talk button and waiting for the voice drone to start 20 times and an onscreen tap.
Thursday, March 22nd, 2012
9:38 am
Hunger Games good
Harry Potter caused me severe eyestrain after only a few chapters; that much concentrated eyerolling and groaning is contraindicated. The very idea of sparkly vampires kept me from even thinking about reading Twilight. Hence my trepidation re Hunger Games -- once bored twice shy.

But a little less than halfway through the first book, I (so far) pronounce Hunger Games "quite good". I feel it may even progress all the way to "thoroughly enjoyable".
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
2:48 pm
A little Hunger Games help here?
My lovely otherwise-intelligent wife has a big thing for certain of the recent evil tidal wave of books in the vastly-profitable genre known as Young Adult. No, she was not stupid enough to fall for the Twilight "saga", but she did exhibit an unhealthy fascination with the Harry Potter books/movies.

Now her obsessive focus has landed firmly on the Hunger Games books. And just as she did with Harry Potter, she is insisting that I read the first book before we see the movie. Normally I would distract her with Game of Thrones, but the Hunger Games movie is coming out before season 2 of Game of Thrones, so I'm kind of stuck.

All I want to know is what I'm letting myself in for if I accede to her strident demands.

Is there anyone reading this who both (a) has read the first Hunger Games book, and (b) believes themselves to be, unlike my wife, capable of being objective and rational about it, as opposed to so obsessed and swoony as to go immediately on an all-hands-on-deck offensive at the slightest criticism? If so, does this review of the movie ring true when applied to the book instead?

I repeat: despite the fact that this is a movie review, I am asking if you think the points made apply to the book.

Not sure why I'm doing this, as I'll surely be browbeaten into reading the book regardless, just as I was browbeaten into reading the first 3 Harry Potter books before I finally put my foot down. And, yes, if it turns out that I enjoy the Hunger Games book(s), I will come back later and admit that.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012
4:00 pm
More adventures in cooking
I'm trying to make a roast version of Hainanese chicken rice. I have never tasted any version of Hainanese chicken rice. Each culture has adapted this dish to its own local tastes and ingredients -- Singaporean Hainanese chicken rice is not the same as the Filipino version, etc.

All of which I can deal with easily.

The recipe I chose calls for, among many other things, daikon, pandan leaves, maltose, and calamansi lime juice. I was able to find pandan leaves at a local Vietnamese grocery after I figured out that the Vietnamese call it lá dứa. They also had maltose.

They had daikon, but they are a lot smaller than the ones I normally see in the Japanese grocery. The Vietnamese ones average about 1 lb each. The Japanese ones average about 3 lbs each. The recipe I'm using isn't from Vietnam or Japan, and it calls for 1/2 of a daikon. Was the original author's intent that I use 1/2 lb or 1.5 lbs? Good question. If she'd said "300gm daikon" I'd be set. Now I'm likely to end up with something that has way too much or way too little daikon. But diakon is mild and braises up well and we love root veggies, so it probably doesn't matter.

Which brings me to calamansi/kalamansi juice. Neither market had it, nor the fruits; it is apparently primarily a Filipino thing. Although I've never tasted it, I have at my disposal, without going to the store, the juice of lemon, lime, Meyer lemon, key/Mexican lime, navel orange, clementine, and Texas ruby red grapefruit. So I figured I'd just google up a substitution using one of more of those.

The Sunkist site says to use lemon juice, orange/tangerine and grapefruit zest, red onion, and salt (!). Several answers designed for people in small towns in flyover country suggest 3:1 lemon:orange juices. There are some who say to just use Meyer lemon, and others who vehemently oppose that idea. There are sites that say to use key lime juice; one of those sites says calamansi is a sub for key lime, but not the other way around. And here I thought that sort of thing was usually commutative.

Wikipedia helped a lot, as usual. Although the origins of calamansi are lost to antiquity, as are those of most cutting-propagated citrus, analysis has shown that it is a cross between the mandarin family and the kumquat family. Also, the peel is quite sweet, the fruit is quite sour, and when they make juice they squish the entire thing so the juice ends up being both sweet and sour.

So I just mentally closed my eyes, threw a dart, and decided I'll use half Mexican lime juice and half clementine juice. I can get away with that because the quantities are small and are part of sauces/marinades. I went with a sweeter combo than the 3:1 lemon:orange juice version because I'm using it in a chilli sauce and a ginger sauce, and who doesn't like sweeter versions of those? But someday I'd like to actually taste the real thing. I think a field trip to a Filipino or Singaporean restaurant is in order.

I waste a lot of time on this shit. Too much time. A lot of which is wasted by misinformation on the interwebs, including misinformation from chefs and cookbook authors. "Nagaimo is the Japanese word for taro". *snort* No it isn't. Believe it or not, Wikipedia is a great help here, because they usually have the scientific names/ranks for plants, and you can tell at a glance that nagaimo and taro (for example) aren't even in the same class or order, much less the same species.

Maybe I need to found CookingFactCheck.org. Don't think I haven't considered it. If you've read this far you're an idiot -- go play!
Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
6:58 pm
Ah, the Internet
I have just finished reading 397 articles (give or take a few hundred) about how to make homemade Greek yogurt. Here is what I learned:

You should never use ultra-pasteurized milk; it doesn't work.

You can use ultra-pasteurized milk if you want; it works just fine.

You should use only milk.

You should use about half and half whole milk and water.

You should add nonfat dry milk powder, as this will result in a thicker yogurt with more protein.

You should not add dry milk powder, as this will result in a slightly grainy texture.

You should add dry milk powder, but you should only use buttermilk powder.

The amount of dry [butter]milk powder you should add is [insert random number between 0.25 and 1.5] cups per quart of milk.

You should add sugar or honey to feed the bacteria in the culture.

There is no need to add sugar or honey.

You must heat the milk to 180F/185F/just boiling, then cool it to incubation temp. This is done to make it safe/denature proteins/kill yogurt-bacteria antagonists/prevent "ropey" yogurt/make it thicker/because I said so!

There is no need to heat the milk hotter than incubation temp.

When the milk gets to 180-ishF, you should immediately put it in a cold water bath to start cooling.

When the milk gets to 180-ishF, you should keep it at that temperature for [insert random number between 1 and 30] minutes before cooling.

You should always heat the milk in the microwave so it heats evenly.

You should always heat the milk on the stovetop and never in the microwave.

Once your mixture is ready to incubate into actual yogurt, you should keep it at a temperature of [insert random number between 100F and 120F] precisely for [insert random number between 1 and 16] hours.

Now you have yogurt. You should immediately stir it, then refrigerate it.

Now you have yogurt. You should NOT stir it or disturb it in any way before refrigerating it.

The yogurt needs to sit in the fridge for [insert random number between 3 and 72] hours to chill and thicken before you eat it.

There is no need to strain it to get the texture of Greek yogurt.

The yogurt must be strained to get the texture.

Fortunately for me, every single person who provided information contributing to the above was an absolute expert who makes perfect yogurt every time.

Current Mood: frustrated
Saturday, January 28th, 2012
5:05 pm
The seesaw
I figured out years ago that my reading/writing etc habits at home were indicative of how I felt at work.

In particular, I discovered that if I just wanted to spend my off time taking stuff in -- reading, in particular -- it meant that I was at least saturated at work with the need to produce/write/design/plan. My need to produce visible output at work translated into a need to be intellectually passive at home.

Similarly, if I was bored at work (often through my deliberate doing), I found that my desire to blog and write and the like at home was greatly increased. I needed an overall balance between input and output, and just naturally set about achieving it without thinking about it.

But output isn't a monolithic endeavor; it is a continuum. And I find that sometimes I like to try (and usually fail) to be pithy, sometimes I like to rail against any number of things, sometimes I like to engage in dialog, and sometimes I like to write. The latter is my fondest desire, and the rarest state for me. The "why" for that could fill an entire blog post, but in a nutshell I tend to reach too high, then be understandably disappointed with my efforts. This is a curse I fight every day. 99% of days I lose.

I'm feeling a little writey right now, and I'd hate to waste that. So console yourself for a while; you won't have overt reason to ask yourself "why am I still following this guy again?" for a little while.

In the interim, I wish you involuntary nervous smiles, moments of shared warmth, moments of burning justifiable loathing, and the feel of warm soapy hands in inappropriate places.

Current Mood: introspective
Thursday, January 12th, 2012
2:15 pm
Green Cardamom
Oh, baby. I just knew when I picked you up in that store that you would smell so nice. When I got you home I found out how right I was; you smelled so. damn. good.

I took my time with you. I gently warmed you up. I got you hot. Yeah. All nice and toasty. Mmmmm, mmm, mmm.

When I knew you were good and ready, I pulled out my thick rock-hard stick and proceeded to pound and grind on you like I know you needed it.

But still my work wasn't done. I had to use my fingers and my mouth to finish you up right, make you give it up completely.

You were a lot of work, but I still thought you were worth it. Until yesterday when I picked up your cousin; she was hanging out in the same store.

She's taller than you. She's got more curves than you. She's softer than you. She smells even better than you do. A lot better. And she gives up the goods a lot easier than you do.

Best of all, she's black. It's true what they say: once you go black cardamom, you never go back.

Current Mood: whimsical
Sunday, December 4th, 2011
9:40 pm
Why Siri is an all-but-useless toy
I use Siri to set alarms and timers, to make calls, to initiate simple web searches, and for little else.

The reason I don't use her for more things is that her knowledge is limited to (at best) What things are and Where they are.

She knows what a movie theater is, and where the nearest theaters are. But she does not know what movies are playing, much less movie showtimes. Useless.

She knows what and where restaurants are. And she even knows they have business hours. And she's also smart enough to tell you that she doesn't know those business hours. Useless.

She knows what and where train stations and other mass transit options are. But she doesn't know routes or schedules. She knows where you are, but can't tell you when the next train or bus is supposed to show up. Useless.

Finally, she always assumes that what you want is the location of, for example, Mexican restaurants. So she shows you a map. Problem is, the map is a dead end. Clicking on an item on the map yields nothing but location/contact info. There is no Google-Places-esque page that pops up letting you see reviews and info the business wants you to see.

Siri is a great idea. But with no server-side intelligent information store to back her up, she remains merely a naive toy.

Current Mood: content
Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
10:20 am
Here's what you do...
  1. Find a Tea Party supporter, or someone with a similar bent and number of functioning brain cells. Lock them in a room.
  2. Have them talk about politics, but enforce the following rules:
    1. They must accept as gospel the findings of an independent objective fact-checking organization. Not bits and pieces, but all of the findings. I'll use Pultizer-winning PolitiFact as a good choice.
    2. Once they have made an assertion, they must listen to the truth from PolitiFact and, if PolitiFact concludes their assertion is wrong, they are not allowed to make another assertion until they clearly acknowledge that what they said is not, in fact, true.
    3. They are not allowed to claim they are correct if there is a nugget of truth in the center of their steaming truckload of bullshit regarding an issue.
    4. No religious beliefs/customs/texts of any kind are permitted anywhere near this room. Use a Taser to enforce this; the Christians in particular will enjoy feeling tortured and persecuted like Jesus, and this will in turn give them some enjoyment of the whole process.
If you've ever tried to have a political discussion with a Tea Partier, or if you've ever seen the movie "Scanners", you know how this ends.

Current Mood: unmotivated
Tuesday, November 1st, 2011
10:32 am
Amazon Cloud Drive
I won't even go into how INCREDIBLY arcane, counterintuitive, and shabby the whole Amazon Cloud Drive experience is. I won't discuss in any detail how much it looks like a few very junior engineers threw together a disparate set of utilities and marketing was given all of a week to put it all together.

In a valiant attempt to say something nice, I'll note that they did seemingly do a decent job with the music upload process (modulo the significant caveat at the end of this diatribe). It's arcane, it has a bad UI, and it is difficult to understand at first, but it does the job well once you get past all that.

Instead I'll focus on my experience trying to upload some large (~400MB each) ebooks in an attempt to free up some space on my poor Mac's overloaded HD. NOTE: I'm going to get tired of typing "non-music files", so when I write "files" just assume the "non-music" part.

The first thing I found is: it is nearly impossible to figure out how to get to someplace where you can upload files. There's the MP3 uploader, but that is just for music files (not just MP3s). And even that, if run standalone, tells you to run the web-based Amazon Cloud Player to actually select and upload files. The URL, once you know what it is, is quite intuitive, but finding it was still a bitch.

I then found out that the web-based uploader doesn't work with Chrome. How fucking difficult is it to make a simple file upload utility work with Chrome? It appears to do absolutely nothing client-side except throw up a file selection dialog.

So I reverted to Safari, selected a destination folder in my cloud, selected 19 large files from my local HD to upload, and there they were: "19 files (4.5 GB) ready to upload".

And there it sat.

And sat.

And sat.

I couldn't "push the button, Frank!" because there is no button. There is a "See upload details" link, but the only button it gives you after you've selected files to upload is a "Stop Upload" button. Which, BTW, I empirically determined doesn't mean "stop", as in "resume later", so much as "cancel completely". And which I also found, looks like it is stopping the upload, but when you are brought back to the top level cloud drive page it still continues to show the files "ready to upload". With no way to upload them.

After several tries, I gave up, only to come back a few hours later to find that it was finally starting to upload the first file. Which it did, although the file size it is reporting in the cloud is smaller than the local size. It appears that while the rest of the universe has decided for marketing reasons that a MB is 1,000,000 bytes, Amazon has decided that a MB is 1,024,000 bytes. Just to add a soupçon of extra confusion.

It refused to upload anything else. So I started over.

This time it uploaded another copy of the same file, naming it "filename (2)". I have no idea where "filename (1)" got to; it was MIA. It then uploaded a second file, then once again stalled.

So this morning (we're into the 3rd or 4th day now) I tried again, only selecting the 17 files not yet uploaded. And it has been sitting there saying the files are "ready to upload" ever since. It has been over an hour now. I have no way to force it to actually start uploading, and no way of knowing when or if it will ever start on its own.

At some point, if I can ever actually get the files uploaded, I'll have to figure out how to download them, and see if that actually works. I am not looking forward to that.

My advice: If you want to keep your non-DRM music in the cloud, and you don't mind having to have a good internet connection whenever you want to play it, then use the free 5GB (see huge caveat below). If you want to use it for anything else, wait until they polish this turd a little more.

CAVEAT: They actually offer free unlimited music space. I uploaded several GB of music, and my 20GB of space still showed 0% used. The catch is: I wasn't able to upload it until I upgraded from the free 5GB to 20GB, because the uploader assumed that all of the music being uploaded would count against my quota. So the uploader says, "Whoa! You need an extra 3.6GB of space to upload all this music!" But after you upgrade to pay for more storage and actually upload it all, it says, "Oh, that music storage is all free; you still have all your storage available."

I'm guessing you could get around this by doing incremental uploads, but ye gods what a pain in the ass that would be.

Current Mood: hurty
Saturday, October 15th, 2011
9:59 am
Am I missing something, or is Apple being a dick?
Even after doing a sync specifying that the Mac should override the Calendar on my iPhone, I still have 2 copies of every Calendar entry on my iPhone. After some research -- made easy by the fact that so many people have been bitten by this for so many yet closely-related reasons for ages -- I think I know why.

Apple wants me to sync my iPhone with my Mac, or with iCloud, but not with both. The duplicates occur when you mix the two types of syncs. This happened back when the proto-iCloud was MobileMe, apparently for the same reason.

The problem is that my Mac is running Snow Leopard, and I have zero desire to run Lion. And you can't play with the iCloud if you're running Snow Leopard.

So my choices seem to be:
  1. Don't use iCloud at all, not even on my iPad and iPhone, and only sync with my Mac.
  2. Use iCloud on those devices that can do so, also sync with my Mac so it gets to play with the other devices, and live with duplicate Calendar entries.

Maybe I'm paranoid, but at best this seems to be the usual Apple ivory-tower incompetence -- ignoring completely the use case of iCloud-capable devices needing to play nice with non-iCloud-capable devices -- and at worst a concerted effort to force Mac users to upgrade to Lion.

Please tell me there is something that I'm missing here, and my iPad and iPhone can play in the cloud while still deigning to communicate nicely with their dirt-bound Mac brother.

Current Mood: grumpy
Wednesday, October 12th, 2011
1:08 am
Uh Oh. This TSA Behavior-Recognition Program Will Suck For Some
This TSA Behavior-Recognition Program sounds all nice and friendly and innocuous, but I bet if you look anything at all like an Arab/Muslim, this is going to really really suck. I speak from experience.

Set the wayback machine to sometime in the early 90s. I was at Heathrow heading back from a 2-week international standards meeting in Bath. As I did more often than not, I had flown in to London the weekend before the meeting, caught some plays in the West End, and then after the meeting I'd trained it back to London and spent the weekend before flying home.

I had short blonde hair, a close-cropped beard, and an earring, and I must have fit some sort of profile. As I waited in line to check luggage, I was pulled aside by a security officer. He started to ask me questions about myself and my trip. When he got to "where did you stay?" I told him I'd stayed in London, then Bath, then London.

His interest piqued immediately. He asked if I was on business or pleasure. I said "both". That really got him going for some reason. He went on and on and on. He insisted on seeing hotel receipts. These were all packed in my luggage, and it was a royal and time-consuming pain to dig them out.

Finally he was satisfied, and he let me go. And up to this point I wouldn't have minded too much. But as soon as I was done checking luggage and headed toward the concourse, I was intercepted by a different security officer.

And the entire dance was repeated. Almost verbatim. He got laser-focused at the same points in the conversation as the other guy. But now I didn't have my hotel receipts, because I had checked them. So this interrogation was actually longer than the first one. The time I had allowed to grab a bite to eat and relax before boarding was rapidly disappearing, and people who know me will tell you I get to the airport very early.

I finally got past him and got in the security line. At which point I got tagged by another security guy, and I had to go through the whole thing again. At least he stood in line with me so I didn't lose any time, and I think he believed me when I told him that I'd already been vetted twice before, because he wasn't quite as much of a dick about it.

There followed a big shocked dustup with the guy running the metal detector over my 2" pocketknife (completely legal to carry on back then). Him: "Why would you need a knife on the plane? What do you intend to do with it?" Me: "I carry it everywhere. I've carried a pocketknife since I was a child. I can't think of any reason I'd want to use it on the plane." Him: "Then why are you carrying it onto the plane?" I told him to just keep it, because I needed to make my flight. But at the last moment the guy gave it back to me, with the admonition to not take it out during the flight.

By the time I got to the boarding area, they were doing pre-boarding. No food for me before the flight thanks to all the security crap, but at least I'd made it.

Or so I thought. Until another security guy pulled me aside, and started the whole questioning over again, taking exactly the same line as all the others. In case you lost count, this was the 4th security guy to question me, and I don't count the knife-traumatized one at the metal detector.

By the time I got done with him, I was one of the last people to board. If I had not gotten to the airport a couple of hours early as is my wont, I'm pretty sure I would have missed my flight. They certainly didn't give a crap that they were making me late.

When I got home, I told a few people the war story. I ran into 3 other travelers who had endured similar treatment -- though none quite as intensive as mine -- at Heathrow in the last few months. It was apparently some new initiative.

Not unlike the one the TSA is starting now. Caveat volator.
Monday, September 12th, 2011
3:32 pm
Willfully Ignorant Americans, Because Furrin Werds Are Stoopid
A hibachi is not a grill. A hibachi is a bowl or box-shaped fireproof box in which (before home oil heaters aka radiators existed), one would burn charcoal. It was a space heater, not a cooking device, although larger later hibachis would often do double duty to heat teapots. Hibachi doesn't mean grill or stove, it means "fire bowl".

Up until today, I thought when most Americans heard "hibachi", they thought of this. It isn't anything like a Japanese hibachi, but at least in function it is very similar to a Japanese shichirin. In fact, this "hibachi" is very similar to a Japanese shichirin in both form and function, only it is made of cast iron instead of ceramic, clay, or diatomaceous earth.

The theory is that when the shichirin was brought to the U.S., Americans were too stupid and lazy to say the name, so marketing types dubbed it a hibachi instead. I also know that hibachis were used as makeshift portable cook stoves by Japanese troops, so that may also have contributed.

And so far I'm fine with this. I do think it is yet another example of Americans being doofuses, or of marketeers underestimating American intelligence (hah!) but, fine.

Then today I'm trying to find a restaurant in St. George, Utah, and I stumble across a place that sounds exactly like a teppanyaki place. It is even compared favorably to Benihana. But not only do the customers call the grill there a "hibachi", so does the place's own menu. And then I find out that this is a common use of the term in flyover country.

I submit to you backwoods bumpkins that this looks absolutely NOTHING like this. Furthermore, you can't use your shichirin/hibachi "mathforeign words are hard!" excuse again, because "teppan" is arguably even easier to say than hibachi.

And once more, on the rare chance you haven't heard it from me before: words matter because, among many other things, they set expectations. A catfish house is not a seafood restaurant. Sitting inside a building with the windows open is not dining al fresco. A place that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, and gyros is not a Greek restaurant. If you promise me one but take me to the other, I will likely not be amused, because you caused me to expect one thing but delivered something quite different.

Fun ?Fact?: I'm pretty sure the Wikipedia entry for shichirin contains an incorrect etymology. It doesn't mean "7 wheels", and if it did mean that, WTF would that mean? It means "7 rin". Back in the day when the shichirin was invented and marketed in the Edo period in Japan, a rin was 1/100th of a yen. The selling point for the new device was that you could cook rice/a meal for only 7 rin worth of charcoal.

Current Mood: disgusted
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