11 December 2011

a cat's recovery

the gf has two cats. when we started dating, over 4 years ago, her cat Smokey was large, inactive, and was unable to navigate the stairs to the 2nd floor.

over time, and with a diet change (removal of grains), Smokey has lost weight, become more active (i've even seen her run at times), and frequently changes floors. it seems her previous life was not without damage, as she takes stairs slowly and clumsily, as if she has joint pain.

to our great surprise, two nights ago, we came home to find her asleep on the bed -- newly found jumping ability! i haven't seen her actually jump yet, but every night now she finds her way up.

27 November 2011

vanilla chocolate chunk ice cream

this was the 2nd batch in a week, with some modifications to improve upon the first (and double the yield, since the first batch was small). preliminary taste tests indicate success; i'll wait for an overnight freeze for the real test.

dairy for this batch was not as top-notch as the first, but it seems to have worked out.

1 cup heavy cream
2 c. whole milk
3 c. half and half
3/4 c. sugar
2 pinches salt
9 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 vanilla beans
1 bar Lindt 70% chocolate (put in freezer)
4 tbs vodka (if beans are a little tough)

0. soak the beans in the vodka to soften (couple hours)
1. split the vanilla beans and remove seeds. set aside. keep the vodka.
2. combine the milk, half and half, sugar and salt into a pot
3. stir over low heat until hot to the touch
4. remove from heat, add vanilla beans and seeds. cover and steep vanilla for 30 minutes.
5. slowly fold some of the mix into the egg yolks, stirring constantly
6. pour yolk mixture back into main mix
7. apply medium heat, stirring constantly until custardized
8. pour mixture through strainer into bowl containing the cup of cream
9. add vanilla extract
10. put bowl into ice bath, stir until cool
11. if you used vodka, now add it the mix
12. cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge overnight

13. chop chocolate into desired chunk size
14. prepare mix in maker, adding frozen chunks to mix near end (i put the chocolate through a strainer to keep out the dust)

note that this is a double batch, so for my maker, it makes two batches.

notes: next time, i would balance the cream and milk. here, i used what was on hand. i would use no fewer than 9 yolks, perhaps up to 12. i'd also consider adding another 1/3-1/2 bar of chocolate.

17 September 2011

the Polish chicken doner

in Krakow, on a day with a big lunch, we opted for a light, easy supper: a shared chicken doner sandwich around the corner from the hotel.

into the pita went a reasonable amount of shaved chicken, a whopping amount of cabbage, some tomatoes/onions, and a mixed sauce of yoghurt and "hot" that looked like 1000 island dressing.

"wow," i thought, "that's a lot of cabbage."

happily, given that there was still room in the pita, he topped it with some more chicken. that made me happy.

and then on top of that went another whopping amount of cabbage. it was done before i could say anything. but look! more tomatoes, onions, and sauce that i hoped tasted better than it looked (it did).

and more chicken! hurrah! i'd like to have that first bite be chicken, even though i thought he was out of room. oh no! ANOTHER giant whopping amount of cabbage! how does it fit?

and after more tomatoes, onions, and sauce, he actually was done this time.

it was good, if not a bit cabbage-y. and i learned that night that cabbage is a diuretic.

10 September 2011

traveling light

this was the lightest i've packed for a (nearly) 2 week trip, taking only my MEI* purple backpack.

i normally take a slightly larger Kelty backpack -- main body is about the same size, but it has a couple wings. the difference is enough where i can reasonably carry-on the MEI, but no the Kelty.

this was an experiment. it mostly worked well, but there was no room to spare. my rain jacket and thicker jumper took up over half the capacity, leaving space for 5 days of clothing (t-shirt, undies, socks), plus light jumper, dress shirt, hat, phrase books, novel, iphone charger, small camera, maps and toiletries. i wore a single pair of pants and single pair of shoes.

next time, i'll likely return to the Kelty.

* i bought the excellent MEI many years ago (15? more?) from Uncle Dan's. then they seemed to drop off the face of the earth. i found that they still exist ( http://www.meipacks.com/ ) and sell online. they have a lifetime warranty, and repaired mine (the straps were coming off) for only the cost of shipping it to them.

if i ever need a new pack with the form factor and size they now offer, i might fly to san francisco and try it out.

this photo was taken in Copenhagen, during a layover (gf and i went to the city since the layover was 4 hours).

car 14, where are you?

there's a lot to love about Polish rail.

you get your typical (mostly) on-time European performance. the stations have reasonable signage and platform information. it's cheap -- three intercity trips for three people, in first class, came to under $300 USD total.

but it gets better. there is a generous mix of new carriage and (very) old, depending on the line/route. i traveled with my mom and my gf between Warsaw, Lubin and Krakow, and all rides had older cars with the compartments and side hallway. Poles love to stand in the hallway with the windows down, enjoy the breeze, and watch the scenery roll by.

i had opted to go with first class, as the seats are assigned. i found out later that the compartments have 6 seats instead of 8, so they're a little more comfortable. the WC, however, is just as disgusting as that in second class.

the thing i didn't love is that, without some intimate knowledge of Polish rail, you will have trouble finding your car. on our first ride, from Warsaw to Poland, i was confounded on how to find car #14, our car. we ended up in 2nd class, with people glaring at us because of some unwritten rules we'd broken about not overloading compartments (we doubled the passengers from 3 to 6).

before our 2nd journey, i emailed the service that sold me the tickets (official polish rail outfit? ticket reseller? who knows, but the tickets were good) and they told me to look for the 1st class cabin, identified by the number 1 on the side (easy enough) and the gold stripe "across the windows". For the 2nd journey, i noticed that *all* the cars had gold stripes across the windows and two first class carriages.

once aboard, i was able to find the 4" x 4" piece of paper inside the vestibule that said "14". huzzah!

so, we managed 2 of 3 trips in first class. not too bad.

oh -- for the first journey, i did find a conductor and showed him my ticket. he "helpfully" pointed behind me. whether that meant i was on the right car and my compartment was behind me, or on the wrong car entirely, i couldn't tell.

30 July 2011

delicious tomatoes, for real

this spring, we joined the CSA program from Tomato Mountain. this week, the first of the tomatoes come in. in addition to three (3) [yes, only three] red tomatoes, we received a basket of these smaller, orange tomatoes.

they are delicious! i'm hoping for bushels of red tomatoes in the coming weeks -- i'll get out my food mill and make some sauces for the winter.

19 June 2011

delicious tomatoes

this is enough to put me off tomatoes of unknown origin.

The tomato fields of Immokalee are vast and surreal. An unplanted field looks like a lousy beach: the “soil,” which is white sand, contains little in the way of nutrients and won’t hold any water. To grow tomatoes there requires mind-boggling amounts of fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides (on roughly the same acreage of tomatoes, Florida uses about eight times as many chemicals as California). The tomatoes are, in effect, grown hydroponically, and the sand seems useful mostly as a medium for holding stakes in place.

Most of the big purchasers, like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, want firm, “slicing” tomatoes, because their destination is a burger or a sandwich, so the tomatoes are picked at what is called “mature green,” which isn’t mature at all but bordering on it. Tomatoes with any color other than green are too ripe to ship, and left to rot; I’ve posted a couple of pictures I took of those on my blog. The green tomatoes are gassed — “de-greened” is the chosen euphemism — to “ripen” them; the plants themselves are often killed with an herbicide to hasten their demise and get ready for the next crop.

the article concentrates on worker conditions at such farms, which just adds to the unpleasantness. but strictly from a food standpoint: yuck.

in other news, let's synthesize meat from human shit.

i'm kind of hoping to live out my life being able to eat actual food, all while knowing there are too many people on this planet to be able to do the same. my fear is that will cease to be an option in my lifetime.

29 May 2011

AIM HIGH media takeaway: don't take niacin

in the news this week: niacin study stopped early after lack of benefit found, and perhaps even negative benefit found.

e.g. this MSNBC headline states, "Niacin doesn't stop heart attacks, major study finds"

i read the press release. The second sentence of the press release is:

The trial found that adding high dose, extended-release niacin to statin treatment in people with heart and vascular disease, did not reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and stroke.

we know straightaway that the combination of niacin with a statin (or two, depending on the subject) did not reduce cardiovascular events. the MSNBC article did state this in the body, so bad on them for sloppy headline writing.

further down in the press release:

The DSMB also noted a small and unexplained increase in ischemic stroke rates in the high dose, extended-release niacin group. This contributed to the NHLBI acting director’s decision to stop the trial before its planned conclusion. During the 32-month follow-up period, there were 28 strokes (1.6 percent) reported during the trial among participants taking high dose, extended-release niacin versus 12 strokes (0.7 percent) reported in the control group. Nine of the 28 strokes in the niacin group occurred in participants who had discontinued the drug at least two months and up to four years before their stroke.

Interesting. Twenty-eight strokes are being correlated with niacin intake, though they might consider counting only 19. I have to wonder if 12 vs 19 is statistically significant.

There were a couple pieces of information missing from the press release. I would like to know how many strokes there were in the control group, to compare against the 12, 19, or 28. I would also like to know the numbers for the other cardiovascular events. They were mentioned, but never enumerated, and MSNBC's headline writer either knows something not in the press release, or took some liberties.

I also noted this bit:
The niacin tested in the study is a proprietary formulation used in doses of 500-2,000 milligrams (mg), manufactured by Abbott Laboratories and approved and regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

I thought Niaspan was simply niacin. perhaps "proprietary formulation" means nothing more than a manufacturing process -- and a way to patent an easily available vitamin -- but if it's anything other than straight niacin, i think that's relevant.

finally, this made me laugh:
Eligible participants were randomly assigned to either high dose, extended-release niacin (Niaspan) in gradually increasing doses up to 2,000 mg per day (1,718 people) or a placebo treatment (1,696 people).

I wonder if the placebo also caused a flushing effect. otherwise, that's not terribly blind.

21 May 2011

a physics joke

Einstein walks ten miles to a party. When he arrives, the host says, "wow, you spent a lot of energy getting here."

Einstein replies, "es machts nicht."

16 April 2011

we're gonna xooma xooma, xoom xoom xoom

mere days after telling my boss that between my iphone and macbook pro, i have no need for a tablet, all employees were presented with Motorola Xooms (oops).

this is not only my first experience with a tablet, other than a few minutes with an ipad, but it's also my first experience with Android. the xoom comes with a version called Honeycomb, which i'm told is new and designed with tablets in mind.

the hardware is nice. a good size, solid, with a reasonably sharp screen. after comparing its size directly to that of an ipad, i found that the ipad is just a tad bit wider, making a big difference in how it sits in my lap. oddly, after using the xoom in my lap for a while, i discover that my abs are sore. with the ipad's tapered edge and better shape, even though the dimensional differences are slight, i do find the ipad works better in this regard.

rear camera: no better than my iphone 3gs in a couple test shots, despite the greater megapixel count (not that i put a lot of stock into that). power button: badly placed! Not only can i not find it when i want, smudging up the rear camera lens instead, but i find i'm constantly hitting it during normal use and shutting off the screen.

i also find i don't like the "neat" feature that the xoom can be used in any orientation. i like that my iphone has a button on the front, so i know which way is "up". on the xoom, any way you want is "up" -- until you need to find the power button or adjust the volume. then it's not so neat.

software-wise, i can't say i'm the biggest fan of the Android user-experience. new version glitches aside (and there are many, from brief image glitches to constant crash problems with the browser and facebook app), i find it looks better than iOS, but isn't nearly as intuitive.

there are navigation buttons on the lower-left that do have some nice features. the home button is styled as navigation button, pointing up, demonstrating some nice consistency with the "go left" button. a very nice navigation feature is that the go-left button always takes you where you came from, even if you came from a different app. it's a nice switching feature that i think iOS could benefit from. further, if you're in some kind of pop-up form, that button changes to "go down" to dismiss that form.

however, i wish the buttons were in the upper-left of the screen, closer to where my fingers are. navigation ends up being about as comfortable as hitting ctrl-z on a keyboard with your left hand.

i think Motorola had a bit of a goof on the homepage, as well. out of the box, the homepage has a cool iridescent clock in the center, with a small collection of app icons laid out horizontally below (browser, gmail, android market [i.e. app store] et. al.). It's a nice look.

But when you go to market and download your first app, by default it places it on your homepage in the first open spot, which is in the upper-left of the screen. it looks completely out of place, and congratulations you've already ruined the drama of turning on the device.

speaking of which, upon power-up, after an initial splash screen, you're presented with a horrific, eye-straining honeycomb animation that plays during boot up. it's pretty awful in any light, but if you've been using the tablet in the dark for a while, and need to reboot it (e.g. the browser likes to stop pretending there's an internet every 10 minutes or so, and i've yet to find a way to restart an app sans a reboot), the honeycomb animation can be nothing short of blinding.

the other night, in a fit or pure optimism, i broke out the USB cable and plugged the xoom into my laptop. i expected... something? iTunes to launch? a desktop icon? maybe even an offer to sync contacts and music?

silly me. nothing happened. at all. after some googling, failed experiments with DoubleTwist, and more googling, i was able to get my contacts on my Xoom by first exporting a vcard from Address Book and uploading it to GMail. hardly a "sync". i was able to transfer music by using an app that opens up the Xoom's file system on the laptop. yuck.

still, with all these issues, i find that i'm using it at home for many things i typically do with my laptop. and if i'm being honest, i'm also finding my year-old macbook pro feels a little... old-fashioned.

i will be doing some programming for the xoom (on my laptop, natch), which in Eclipse I expect will be a more pleasant, or at least familiar, exercise than using apple's iOS IDE.

from a pure user's perspective though, i strongly suspect i would be happier with an ipad.

22 March 2011


"sweet sixteen"
"final four"

i'm sorry, but "elite eight" is not an alliteration, and it sounds forced and a little clumsy. either make it actually alliterative ("able eight"?) or just make it better without the alliteration ("great eight").

unless we're going to carry it all the way down ("terrific two"? "wonderful one"?), feel free to break out of the literary device.

13 March 2011

i am in awe of the GOP

i am in awe of the GOP, for mostly two reasons. first is their ability to consistently get people to vote against their own interests. second is their ability to control the debate and get their way, even when in the minority.

the recent events in Wisconsin and Michigan highlight recent brazen attempts at power grabs and attacks on democrats' power bases that underscore what i see as outright contempt for the idea of balancing forces and governing for the people.

it's an amazing Big Lie in action. during GW Bush's two terms, i was amazed at how the GOP could sell the idea that running huge deficits was actually good for the economy. right around the day Obama took office, we saw a complete 180 on how deficits are destroying the economy. to the surprise of no one (i hope), the GOP turned their attention to slashing the budgets of items that run counter to GOP ideology.

in Wisconsin, take that a step further to weaken democratic power bases, such as organized labor. heck, in this instance, be sure to exclude organized labor that voted for you (police and fire unions). that this is political payback and an attack should be obvious, yet the GOP still (mostly) frames the debate that this is about balancing budgets.

there's a lot of noise being made by a large number of people who see through all this and i'm even hearing talk of an illegal, general strike in Wisconsin. side note: apparently this might include the fire fighting unions, at which point firefighters should prepare to have their own collective bargaining rights eliminated.

despite the noise, and even in the event that Governor Walker is eventually removed from or voted out of office, i see this as the opening salvo in a sustained and eventually successful effort by the GOP to become the dominant party for decades.

if the GOP can succeed in destroying the fundraising bases of the dems, and if the GOP can succeed in ensuring that public education is ineffective, and if the GOP can continue succeeding in those two things of which i am in awe... what is left to stop the GOP?

imho, it can only be a splintering of the party. though i hear grumblings within the GOP about elected tea party officials maybe over-reaching, i'm not yet seeing anything resembling a parental smackdown.

the election of Obama left me hopeful, though that hope has all but faded. i see his election as the last hurrah of the liberal left (side note: well done to the GOP for painting the words "liberal" and "social" in such a negative light), an earth-moving event for which calls of "general strike" are mere aftershocks.

maybe i'm too soon declaring the patient dead, but i fear the best days of the United States are behind it.

10 March 2011

the ideology of dogs

Shelley Boyle says having a vegan food option for her dog, Cleo, allows them to share the same ideology.

oy, ve.

can we get a quote from the dog, please?

02 February 2011

amazing true stories of the Blizzard of 2011

i know they're true, because i saw them on the TV.

1. this evening, the local ABC news reported on a woman who would NOT BE STOPPED as she needed to get her child to a doctor's appointment. the anchors spoke of her ingenuity and great spirit, as she put her child on a plastic sled and dragged her TWO ENTIRE BLOCKS to a COMPLETELY FUNCTIONAL CTA RAIL SYSTEM which took her to the hospital. amazing!

2. last night, the local NBC news introduced a new Storm Tracker Technology, praised several times by the anchors while saying "Storm Tracker Technology" in obvious initial caps. this new technology allowed us at-home viewers to experience what it would be like to travel the local expressways in this storm. They accomplished this by driving a news van on the expressway and POINTING A VIDEO CAMERA OUT THE FRONT WINDSHIELD. amazing!

i am continually amazed by the human spirit.

23 January 2011

NFL rules i learned today

1. in the final 2 minutes of a half, a fumble cannot be advanced by the offense
2. if the 3rd QB is put into the game before the 4th quarter, the #1 and #2 QBs cannot re-enter the game

i disagree with both, especially the second. where's the harm in freely subbing in your QBs? How does this recent flurry of wildcat formations factor into this? are there any other positions where you have to declare your depthchart at the start of the game? what rules apply to those positions?