Archive for November, 2011

The Smell of the Country

November 30, 2011

Over on A Thousand Things About Japan, the author talks about her first impression at Narita Airport — the smell of fish. That got me to thinking about what the different countries I’ve been to smelled like. It was a difficult exercise, being dimmed by time and distance. I feel like an anti-Proust, trying to recreate the taste of a Madeline from memories of my grandmother’s kitchen.*

The most distinctive are the countries I arrived in by air, because the smell hits you all at once. Three are worth commenting on:

Viet Nam – The tropics. Hot, humid, but no particular overriding scent. The old French ville that we lived in smelled of age and the tropics, like a perennially half-dried-out pond.

France – Gauloises. Everywhere. True in much of continental Europe. This was back when smoking wasn’t a crime and Turkish tobacco was preferred by robust European lungs. That smell overwhelmed any other localization I could name.

Korea – Kimchee, or at least, garlic-processed-through-sweat-glands, mixed with American-style tobacco smoke at the airport. The kimchee smell hung on, to the point that I could always tell which of my troops had a Korean wife or girl friend.

Possibly because the food and lifestyles are so similar, I have no special memories of places like the UK, or Canada, or the US after years abroad. The airports all smelled like jet fuel.

*Which reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a Howard Waldrop alternate history story, where Captain Dreyfus asks Sgt Proust if he remembers where he put those documents.


November 28, 2011

This article over at Apartment Therapy got me to thinking about steel-cut oats again. It’s similar in concept to one on Good Eats from a few years back, except that this is for baked, and Alton’s was for slow cooker. The underlying approach is the same: cook the steel-cut oats very slowly, and give them a long, long time to absorb all the moisture.

Experiment 1: Of course, I’m not one to bake my oatmeal in milk. Instead, I used beef broth, with a touch of dry sherry, plus salt and some grinds of rosemary & garlic and dried mushrooms. No potato because I wanted to see what the baseline was like, and besides, we were out. The broth/oats ratio was 3:1 by volume. Mixed it all together, put it in our toaster oven for two hours at 220F, went to bed. That’s cooler and longer than the recipe calls for, but it isn’t slow cooker territory.

Seven hours later it was a warm slab of oatcake, or maybe oat stuffing, about twice the size of my usual breakfast. It was solid enough to pick up in your hand, but not solid enough to survive the trip up to your mouth. Maybe you should use two hands. I reheated it in the microwave, with a pat of butter (OK, three pats).

Result: The flavor was not memorable, but not bad. Needed more sherry, but not much. Like most of my beef-broth oats, this needed something like gravy. This is the drawback of savory cooking — you can’t just reach for the jug of toffee-flavored non-dairy creamer, you have to plan ahead. Much like the recipe that started my Oataku Adventures, it would be helped by some pepper and some sharp cheddar. I’m going to keep working on it.

Experiment 2: Chicken broth this time (3/4 cup), with 1/4 cup of white wine, and only a quarter cup of steel-cut oatmeal. Poultry seasoning, freeze dried onion, a couple grinds of garlic, salt. Cooked for four hours at 220F. Put a generous sprinkle of shaved Parmesan on top while I reheated it.

Result: Very good. A more reasonable size, and an improvement on the beef. I’m thinking there’s something that makes chicken go better with oats than beef does. The extra liquid softened the eraser effect, and made the whole thing look more like oatmeal than oat-cake. This could even make me a fan of steel-cut oats.

Experiment 3: Back to the beef broth. This time with wine. 3/4 cup broth, 1/4 cup red wine, 1/4 cup oats. Onion, marjoram, garlic, salt. Four hours at 225F. Reheated in the microwave, and topped with shredded Swiss cheese.

Result: Better than the first beef run. Probably a little too much wine. It didn’t taste winey, but it had that bitter edge to it.

Experiment 4: So let’s see what all this milk thing is about. Cuppa milk (real, whole, cow by-product). 1/4 cup oats. Glop of sugar free fruit preserves. Two hours at 225F. Reheated in the microwave.

Result: Meh. Bland. Even more jam didn’t help.

Experiment 5: Back to more manly stuff. Cuppa beer (Coors, the IPA was too bitter). 1/4 cup oats. Two hours at 225F. Reheated in the microwave.

Result: Still too bitter. Even with a quarter cup of beef broth added. Even with a tablespoon of BBQ sauce added to that. Two tablespoons of ketchup did the trick. Sortof.

I’m now out of steel-cut, and I don’t plan to buy any more any time soon. My last quarter cup of Coors I will try out on the 20-min rolled oats.

Lessons Learned

The long, slow, low-temp cook is a great way to do steel-cut oats, assuming you feel you have to. Use about half as much as you usually do, because my fancy european scale says a quarter cup of steel-cut weighs almost exactly twice what a quarter cup of rolled oats does. Chicken broth is the preferred cooking fluid, at least 3:1 by volume, and one additional unit of white wine can be added, if you like. Whatever the fluid (OK, maybe not dashi, but I didn’t try it) you should consider putting a fat pinch of grated cheese on top at the end. Any cooking time over two hours seems to work. I prefer a small oven-proof bowl in our small toaster oven. That way I don’t have to heat the whole stove oven, and I don’t have to fight with the big ceramic insert on a slow cooker.

And, yes, in all these experiments, the final consistency of these long-cook steel-cut oats was still that of tiny-but-exquisitely-prepared, pencil erasers.

Google’s Ad Algorithm

November 25, 2011

Robert X Cringely has, in the past, written about Google’s search and advertising algorithms. Other search engines, like Bling, are trying to slide into the market by designing better search tools. Cringely says it’s not the search algorithm that’s making Google all its money, it’s the ad-matching algorithm. Google reportedly has a higher click-through rate than other companies because its algorithm does a better job of matching user interests to ad content. Not always.

My Intro-To-MIS class has its own gMail account, and I am always emailing back and forth with them on various class topics. For some reason, the topic mix (which ranges across all dimensions of MIS in business) has caused the Google ad algorithm to decide that the products I’d find most interesting are those produced by….drumroll….SCO

Yes, SCO. That SCO. The essence of all that is evil in the world SCO.* My gMail page is dominated by companies offering SCO products. Well, a company. This, despite the fact that if I were caught in a trap that could only be opened by using a SCO product, my first question would be is gnawing off my foot an alternative? The Google algorithm obviously has a major flaw.

Buy SCO Unix & Unixware 7
SysIntegrators sells & supports all SCO UnixWare 7.1.4 Operating Systems. Learn more.

The other funny thing is that the SCO web page for SysIntegrators, the company placing the ad, was last updated in December of 2009. According to the Groklawtimeline (thank you PJ), that’s two years after SCO lost their case against IBM and Novell, found out they didn’t own Unix, burned up most of their money in lawyers fees, told the Utah judge they didn’t need to sequester the rest to pay Novell because they weren’t about to go bankrupt or anything — then switched to New Jersey and declared bankruptcy. Evidently, SI is cruising on autopilot, because I doubt that anyone has spent any money on new Unixware licenses since then. As I recall, SCO only earned about $50K in license fees the year they declared bankruptcy. Why SI are continuing to advertise the product line (and pay money to Google) is as much a mystery as the Google ad algorithm.

*Did you know there was a company in San Francisco who said in their recruiting announcement that if your resume showed you had worked for SCO after the start of the lawsuit, you shouldn’t bother to apply for a job with them.

Igor Bars

November 22, 2011

We take a break from our Oataku Adventures to offer a link to the perfect dessert for Thanksgiving. I am posting this two days early, so you have time to buy the ingredients. Igor Bars are the embodiment of an All American approach to Thanksgiving desserts — a perfect combination of home-made and commercial, that is just the thing for topping off that 35lb turkey dinner and preparing yourself for your post-Thanksgiving diet. My addition to the Igor Bars canon would be to add whipped cream topping, to make it more festive. Remember, if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth overdoing.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

November 21, 2011

Garden Report for 111121

Looks like this will be the final report of the year.

Moved the last of the tomatoes out of the ripening boxen in the living room. About twenty of them, all in the cherry-to-smaller-than-golfball size. Total green tomatoes brought in for ripening was >60, and they pretty much all worked out. The Mr Stripey’s tended to dry and shrivel at the orange stage, so they looked like pumpkins for munchkins. We didn’t have any rot before ripening. If anything, the problem was that they all ripened at once. I am now convinced that warmth is the most important parameter.

I pulled up the artichoke. It produced two fruits, and we bought more at the farmer’s market, but we decided it was just too much work to get anything edible out of them.

This week we had a couple of 20F frosts, which pretty well did for the peas. So on Friday I spread the dirt from the tomato planters across the garden, and dug everything in. Of course, since only the top inch or so had thawed, it wasn’t much of a dig. Still, it got the dirt spread out and the plants mulched under. Then, this weekend, it snowed about 4″ worth, so I’m glad I did it.

Over Christmas I plan to sit down and think about what I want for next year. As I read somewhere, the reason for a home garden (other than getting dirt under your fingernails — a most overrated hobby) are to get vegetables that are 1. fresh (for peas, that’s important; for potatoes, not so much), 2. otherwise unobtainable (vampire squash vs plain old acorn), or 3. too expensive (I can’t think of an example that isn’t in (1) or (2) or that I can’t grow in the NENW anyhow). And, of course, I need to keep in mind that 197 day growing season.


November 18, 2011

It’s coming on winter, and MJ regularly goes soup-mad this time of year. We have a half-gallon each of a beef-broth vegetable soup, with corn and carrots, and a corn chowder. The corn is the last of the farmers market fresh stuff (don’t get me started on how my corn did).

Experiment 1 It struck me that a nice beefy soup might be the basis for an interesting oatmeal, so I scooped up a half-cup, poured it over the semi-instant oatmeal, and did the microwave thing. No potatoes, ’cause I wanted to see what the baseline flavor was. Had to add some additional hot water, because the measuring cup got more solids than I thought.

Result: very good. If somebody said “beef/oat stuffing for turkey” this is what would come to mind.

Experiment 2 More broth in the scoop. Added potatoes.

Result: Ended up a little drier than the first experiment, and it needed salt. Surprisingly, the potato flavor didn’t come through at all. I think I’ll stick with the first version.

Experiment 3 A couple weeks later, and MJ has made a big pot of refrigerator velcro soup. Everything in the vegetable bin that looked a little old, all of the odds and ends of meat from previous meals — grilled pork, chicken, ham — lots of boxed broth, and a small head of cabbage. This is in aid of cleaning out the fridge, because we are (yay) getting a new one. The old one was old and worn and shelf-broken when we moved in at the end of the last century. So now I get to try a different soup in my oats. Big, sloppy scoop of the soup, light on the oats, and no potatoes, because we are getting additional mass and calories from the soup particulates.

Result: Very good. Lots of flavor. Properly tuned, this would make another great stuffing. Not as good as my Grandmother’s potato stuffing, mind, but good enough for oats.

Droid Power-Off Issues

November 15, 2011

UPDATE: Looks like it’s fixed still not fixed.

Since the latest OS update (Gingerbread 2.3.3), a number of Motorola Droid X users have reported problems* with powering off their phones. I’m one of them.

The issue is this. You want to turn off your phone, so you hold down the power button, and get the menu (power off, sleep, airplane mode, etc). You press Power Off. The phone says it’s powering down, gives its little death rattle, and dies. Eight and a half minutes later (I timed it), you hear the cheery chord that tells you it’s just powered back up. So far, powering down a second time appears to do the trick.

The problem seems to be in the way it, or some embedded app, handles the Sleep function (evidently your Droid X prefers to die in its sleep). Previously, there were reported problems with Sleep, problems that were intended to be fixed with the new update. However, a well known fact is that every time you touch a line of code to fix a bug you have about a 30% chance of introducing a new one. This, they did.

So far, Motorola seems to be stonewalling the issue. Some people have been given new phones. It didn’t help — it’s a software problem. Some people have been given elaborate instructions on how to clear the cache. Didn’t help — it’s not a configuration function. One report says it only appears in a few phones, and in those phones only because of a certain combination of chips. Motorola buys chips from a variety of manufacturers, and some of them apparently have QC problems. I’m sure the people who are on their third wonky phone won’t agree.

I have an app killer installed on my phone. It’s not set to automatic, so I have to tell it when to shut stuff down, but it will pretty well clear the boards of almost all running apps — for a moment. I’ve tried using it to kill everything prior to poweroff, but it doesn’t always work. There are some apps that just don’t want to die. If I kill all possible apps, go back to the Home Page, count to five, and look at the app killer page again, I see that eight or ten apps have restarted. If I kill all possible apps, then immediately shut down (while still on the app killer page), I can see one or two restarting behind the hazy “Shutting down now” screen. One of them looks like the App app. That’s Motorola’s app that lets you download other apps from the marketplace. It’s one of the many, very many, apps that has the ability to keep the phone from sleeping.

I thought that killing all the apps as part of the shut down process might be a workaround until the new version of the OS comes out next year. Didn’t help. Then I tried putting the phone into Airplane Mode right before shutting down. Worked sometimes, but not always — as I found when I turned off my phone and sat down to write this. Finally, tried combining the two, and that also failed. It may be that there is no workaround, and you have to keep turning the phone off. So far, turning it off twice in a row has always worked.

This is a major issue. If my phone is low on power, I don’t want to have it soaking up power with a reboot. If I am getting on an airplane, I don’t want it coming back on during take-off. If I am going to bed, I don’t want it waking me up three minutes later with a chord from across the room. And if I am leaving it on the table and going into the bedroom, I don’t want it running itself down to zero while I sleep. Motorola should be doing something about this, but they’re not. Why should they? What will I do, go buy a Blackberry?

*This update introduced a number of bugs, including the phantom update available notification. Whenever I start the phone, it tells me there’s updates available. Most of the time the update manager denies all knowledge. Sometimes there’s an update available, in which case, the phone tells me there’s two updates.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

November 14, 2011

Garden Report for 111114

I should have issued this on Pocky Day: 111111

The gardening continues to wind down. Friday, I cut down all the dead plants, raked up all the leaves, carted it all to the big recycling dumpsters. Lots of people there with me, because we had the first snow of the season scheduled for Friday night. Since we had winds forecast to be gusting to 50, I did some extra shoring up of the plastic greenhouse.

I also moved all the tomato containers over to the garden, and dumped them at various spots. The plan is, the root-bound piles will erode back into the soil, and I’ll mix them with the mulch from the potato cans and a couple of cans from the recycling center when it opens in the spring, and give myself another inch of topsoil-like substance. It’s best to get this done as early as possible, because they get heavy when rained on and hard to work with when frozen. Since I haven’t totally given up on the peas, I can’t dig everything in just yet. Clearing the containers from the south side of the house let me move the two azelia pots over there. I’ll mulch them up and see if they can survive a winter outside.

The wind and snow came right on schedule. Half of the town was out of power, but the other two houses were OK. The greenhouse survived just fine. I calculated the time between snows from our last snow of the season at the end of April — 197 days. So Spring, Summer, and Fall had to fit into half a year this year, while Winter had the other six months to itself. I miss Portland. Hell, I miss Santa Maria.

PotatOats 5

November 11, 2011

Today’s Oataku Adventure is potatoats and wine. Specifically, a Hogue Late Harvest Riesling, 2007. Screw top but, you know, quality screw top. Standard mix (I’m thinking of making up a whole box of the stuff), one quarter cup oatmeal (20min this time), one tablespoon potato flakes. One third cup of wine, two-thirds cup of chicken broth. A few shakes of poultry seasoning, a few grinds of dried garlic, and a few more grinds of dried mushrooms. Salt.

Bring fluids and spices to a boil, drop in oats and potatoes. Reduce to low heat. Cook for twenty minutes.

Go do morning exercises on the Wii Fit, stopping to stir every two or three exercises, depending.

Results — superb. Didn’t need anything. Wine had cooked down to just flavor, much better than the red I tried last time (of course, that was pre-potato). Garlic added a nice touch. Mushrooms barely noticeable. Would make a very nice side dish for dinner, particularly if garnished with a steak.

For next time:
1. Add potatoes just before removing from heat. They don’t need to cook, and they soak up the liquid like crazy.
2. Try the grinder with the rosemary/garlic mix instead of garlic and mushrooms.
3. Think about a dry Chablis for next time.

Fun With Vocabulary

November 8, 2011

One source of fun are expressions where the words say one thing, but the meaning is something more. We say a day late and a dollar short, for someone who hasn’t done something in time. In Japanese, it’s とおかのきく (, a ten-day (とおか) chrysanthemum (きく). It turns out, there’s a chrysanthemum festival on the ninth day of the ninth (formerly lunar) month. If your ‘mum blooms on the tenth day, you are, you know, a day late and a dollar short.


November 7, 2011

Coming back from SJDMCon, of which more anon, I found an interesting situation at SEATAC. Evidently the Occupy X movement has them on their toes. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t been through a big airport recently. In any event, they were using the whole body scan system on roughly 30% of the passengers. If you didn’t want to be scanned, they’d ask you to step aside for a patdown, which they did for a guy some distance ahead of me in line. Unfortunately, they seemed to be short on patdown-qualified personnel, because their multiple calls for a “male assist” went unanswered for five minutes or more while the line inched forward, past the guy, and a second one got added.

The situation was not improved by a recent change to the queueing system. It seems that someone in management had decided to remove all the queue control barriers (those post-and-tape setups we all know and love so well) once you had passed the initial ID check. I suspect it was a botched attempt to improve flow. You see, there’s two common ways to control the flow of ‘customers’ through an array of workstations. The first, used by most supermarkets, has a separate queue for each workstation (e.g. checkout stand). The other way, commonly used by banks, is to have one line that feeds all the workstations (tellers). The person at the head of the line goes to the ‘next available teller’. It’s been demonstrated that the second way is more efficient. I suspect that at SEATAC, someone was attempting to implement the second option, but forgot that you had to have an orderly queue to feed to the workstations. It was, as the TSA folks themselves said, a free-for-all, and they were not happy about it. I’m just glad I got there early enough in the day to beat the chaos I could already see building.

But, back to the scanner. I don’t mind them seeing my pseudo-naked body. I presume there’s an emergency eye-bleach station available to the scan crew. However, I have read enough to not trust their charactarization of the machines as safe from a radiation standpoint (and note that TSA refuses to provide dosimiters for the operators), so when my turn came I said I didn’t want to go through the machine. They set me aside (everyone was very polite), and called for an assist. A few minutes later, they beckoned me through the regular weapons scanner, and let me go about my business.

Meanwhile, the baggage scan crew was puzzling over my backpack. The guy opened the pack and took out the package of fish I’d bought at Pike Place Market. I told him what it was, and he laughed. He said there was another package, dug around, and found the pound and a half of fudge I was bringing home to help offset my diet. He then took the pack, with the packages, back to the scanner, and I could see him and the scan crew pointing and laughing. I got everything back in good order, and was on my way.

So, what have I learned? The TSA folks at SEATAC on this trip were polite, thoughtful, and flexible. The fact that I was a fat old white male may have helped. Their management, however, seems to be as inept as management everywhere, and the way to identify a TSA boss is that he’s the one with the pointy hair.

PotatOats 4

November 4, 2011

Experiment 1: Finally got around to trying Kurt’s suggestion that I use real potatoes. We had some stir-sticked potatoes left over from dinner, which I mixed it with the one-minute oatmeal. I used two tablespoonsworth, because the powdered stuff puffs up. Plain oatmeal in plain water, at first, to test the impact.

Result: Meh. As you might expect, the industrial powdered version is more potato-y than the real thing. Stirring in some boullion powder helped. The mouth-feel was quite different, also. I’m thinking next time to use coarse-mashed, and a stock of some kind.

Experiment 2: Took it in a bit more organized fashion. I used chicken broth, instead of plain water, and added some poultry seasoning and dried onion chips. Boiled the liquid, dropped in exactly two tablespoons of potatoes. Stirred, but not enough to totally bread up the lumps. Added the 1min oatmeal (we’re out of the other kind), microwaved/stirred for just over a minute. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to contemplate its fate.

Result: Very good. Surprisingly good, considering how dull the previous test had gone. There was potato-y flavor all the way through, and the lumps provided little explosions of Irish Delight. In an earlier post I said that the liquid was the key factor, and I still think that’s true. Oatmeal is such an aggressively bland food that you have to overwhelm your tastebuds with flavor before it has a chance to subvert them.

I used to dress like this

November 3, 2011

When I was in the UK, and Back East, and subject to more fitful weather and more formal lifestyle, this was the way to go.* OK, not the Ascot. Still, it’s very New/Old English/DC Winter professionalwear. Indeed, I knew Englishmen who would garden in such togs — plus Wellies.

Now, of course, I am a Professor, and Out West. The Professor part means I can wear those kinds of clothes in to class after gardening. The Western part means I can be all blue-jeans and checked-shirt and informal about things (well, socks, so semi-formal). I don’t believe I’ve worn a tie to class this century.

Nontheless, it’s an interesting website to wander ’round. Anything to keep from grading programming homework.

*And this is why I steal photos off the web. The link is dead.

Fun With Vocabulary

November 1, 2011

Thanks to Sakura Wars, I figured out why the Japanese write top to bottom, right to left. It wasn’t just a historical accident.

In one scene in the OVA, Shingūji Sakura is writing a letter in the traditional (i.e. original) way, with a brush on a scroll of paper.

Shingūji Sakura writing a letter home

This is everyday writing, not calligraphy on a banner. She’s holding the roll of paper in her left hand, and writing with her right, top to bottom, on the roll. When she gets to the bottom of the roll, she uses her left thumb to push the written-on part out to the right, exposing more paper, to the left of the line she just wrote (and leaving the wet ink in the air to dry). The sheet of paper on her right is a scratch pad where she practices a kanji before writing it. Evidently the Japanese can be just as confused by their characters as we are.

In Europe, writing was done on relatively small sheets of parchment, not rolls of paper, so things were done differently – if you didn’t want to drag your sleeve through the wet ink, and you were right handed, you wrote left-to-right/top to bottom. And among the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, until recently also known as Free Fire Zone Iraq, they did it with the cut ends of reeds on wet clay tablets, and they did it as the ox plows.

I knew there was more to anime than just fanservice.