Archive for March, 2015

False Pho Oatmeal

March 26, 2015

We had three raw chicken legs left over, and don’t you just hate it when that happens?

I didn’t want to make up another batch of chicken broth, because that’s what the rest of the legs had gone for, and we didn’t have that much room in the fridge. Fortunately, I found a Pho recipe online — or it found me, it just popped up that morning in my RSS feed. Trouble is, MJ and I, we’re not big fans of anise nor fennel, nor even cilantro. I know, that closes off whole civilizations-worth of cuisine. So we decided we’d make do with substitutions. And then she went off to a meeting and I got hungry and I decided I’d make do with substitute substitutions. So I made a small batch of pholich broth, using ginger and chopped up onion and chopped up remnant celery, including the leaves. We did have fish sauce, so that was authentic. Slow-cooked it for four hours, and strained off the solids. Left with an unclear broth that tasted vaguely Asiatic, and a cup of boiled celery and onion for dregs.

Next morning I made my oatmeal with the original chicken stock (saving the pho for pho), and added a couple of dinner teaspoons of onion/celery dregs, about a quarter cup.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, 1/4 cup of leftover chopped onion/celery mix, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Fair. The celery wanted to dominate. In another recipe I had tried chopped cabbage, to the same effect. The difference being, the dominant cabbage flavor was better than this dominant celery flavor. I guess celery really should be a background ingredient. Soy sauce helped.

Rating: *****

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The Wind Rises

March 18, 2015

The Wind Rises (風立ちぬ /Kaze Ta chi nu, with the nu being a somewhat archaic verb ending implying that things are happening, so perhaps The Wind is Rising), is the last anime movie directed by Miyazaki Hayao before his [current] retirement. It’s interesting because of the subject, the sources, what’s in it, and what isn’t in it.

At the highest level, it’s Miyazaki’s dream of airplanes. He loves airplanes, particularly seaplanes, particularly Italian planes (his studio is named after the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli). What I consider his best film, Porco Rosso, was about seaplanes flying in the Adriatic between the World Wars.

Dream Planes

Dream Planes

Next level down is his dream of the life of Horikoshi Jirō, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter. I say dream here, because Horikoshi’s life wasn’t anything like the movie, as we’ll see. And finally, it’s about Horikoshi’s deams of designing and building airplanes. And within those dreams? Horikoshi dreams of meetings with Italian seaplane designer, Giovanni Battista Caproni. Even the aircraft in the anime are dreamlike, with engines that sound more like a skilled ventriloquist mimicking their noise.

The movie has a long introduction and a short epilogue, with the twin-themed main story bookended by identically portrayed disasters. In the introduction, young Horikoshi has a dream in which he meets Caproni and decides to become an aeronautical engineer. The first disaster hits as he’s on the train back to Tokyo University, where he’s working to make his dream come true.

The Quake

The Quake

It’s the September 1, 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which pretty well leveled Tokyo, and then set fire to the ruins. The earth shakes, the houses collapse, and soon there is a pall of fire and smoke above the entire city. The portrayal of the earthquake is the best I’ve seen in any movie.

The Fire

The Fire

On the train, he meets his future love Nahoko Satomi, and helps rescue her maid after the earthquake. Ten years later they meet again, fall in love, and are betrothed. Unfortunately, Nahoko has tuberculosis, and wants to wait until she has gone to a sanatorium and is cured. This being anime, that, of course, never happens, and they end up marrying once they realize that she’s going to die. After a brief but happy interlude, she slips away to the sanatorium to die, so that he will remember her as healthy. This is the dream part of the biography. Horikoshi’s wife didn’t have tuberculosis, and she and their two sons survived the war.

The Wedding

The Wedding

The story, and the anime title, were adapted from a 1937 psychological/autobiographical novel by Hori Tatsuo, about a man visiting his fiancée in a sanatorium. I have read translated excerpts, and it is as dull and as interminable as you might imagine a novel on that topic from that period (There’s an example in a collection of Japanese literature available through Amazon books. The interior link is on page viii of the Contents, and the story itself is on page 376).

There's many more pages like this.

There’s many more pages like this.

I suspect this story was included because they felt they needed a romance aspect, and the only romance more boring would be “engineer meets girl; engineer marries girl; girl keeps house and raises a family while engineer goes to work.”

The sort of novel a young girl in love might read

The sort of novel a young girl in love might read

The second theme is Horikoshi’s efforts to design beautiful aircraft.* Unfortunately for him, the only people buying aircraft between the wars (Japan is suffering from both the earthquake and the Great Depression) is the military. His experiences are about par for the course for aircraft designers of that era –they crashed more often than a Monty Python castle. The first plane he contributes to the design of crashes, and Mitsubishi doesn’t get the contract. He’s the lead designer on the second plane (Mitsubishi 1MF10), which does well in its initial flights but we later see the wreckage in a hangar (and the contract is cancelled).

The Second Failure

The Second Failure

It’s this discouraging development that causes him to take a vacation in the mountains, where he renews his acquaintance with Nahoko. Finally, he has success, designing what will become the Mitsubishi A5M (Claude), but that success is bittersweet, because it is while he is at the first test flight of the new aircraft that Nahoko dies.

The A5M

The A5M (with cherry blossoms)

The ten years from that first flight in 1935 to the end of WWII are skimmed over in about six chords of doleful music, and the main story ends with Tokyo again in flames, with the pall of fire and smoke above the entire city looking much like the aftermath of the earthquake. This time the disaster is due to B-29 raids.

The War

The War

The epilogue has Horikoshi walking through the wreckage of airplanes up to another dream visit with Caproni, and a brief encounter with Nahoko, who tells him to live. Horikoshi’s crowning achievement, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter is relegated to a walk-on at the very end, when a flight of twelve zooms through his dream and up into the stream of pilots and planes in aeronautical heaven, a direct reference to a similar scene in Porco Rosso.

The Zero

The Zero

In addition to its biographical aspects, the story is a snapshot of Japanese society between the wars. Horikoshi starts out as a young boy, sleeping under mosquito netting, wearing a yukata at home and a haori and hakama with getas at school, and ends up in Western dress, with coat and tie and fedora. Servants run around in their blue haoris with the house emblem on the back. Everybody smokes (although the real Horikoshi didn’t). Almost every outdoor scene has people pulling and pushing carts and riding bicycles and hand-carrying loads.

The Transport

The Transport

The complex contradictions within Japanese society between the wars is illustrated by the fact that the new aircraft are hauled to the test airfield using oxen.

Slow and Fast

Slow and Fast

What’s missing from the anime, as many have pointed out, is any sign of remorse for the use to which his airplanes were put, or for Japan’s role in WWII. Horikoshi, or rather, Japan, is chided gently by the German he meets in the hotel — Japan has forgotten that it started a war in China, that it established Manchukuo, that it left the League of Nations and allied itself with Hitler. Horikoshi himself was responsible for hundreds of deaths by way of his aircraft. The anime acknowledges this through no more than a nod in that direction, and many people have a problem with this.

Miyazaki sidesteps the issues by ending the story in 1935. At that point in time it was still possible to admire the European dictators. People might not like them, but they seemed to be winning the battle of the Great Depression. Hitler had been legally and democratically elected two years before. Mussolini had been legally, if somewhat less democratically appointed Prime Minister twelve years before, and if he was a dictator, he at least made the trains run on time.** Indeed, in 1932 it was possible for P.G. Wodehouse to modify the words of a Cole Porter song (to make it more understandable to posh audiences in the West End) by writing “You’re the top, you’re Mussolini…” Hitler was not yet revealed as a monster, and the world had not yet descended into the hell of WWII. So, many of today’s complaints are a projection backwards of today’s morality, using 20/20 hindsight.

To me, Miyazaki just wanted to write an anime about airplanes, and an homage to a great aircraft designer, without having to shoulder all of Japan’s post-war guilt. In a way, Horikoshi comes across as a lot like Wernher von Braun, another engineer who was dedicated to his craft and who made a deal with the devil in order to practice it.

—————–
* Note the impact America was already having on the world. The wing design for his first aircraft project uses a US National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics cross section.
**Actually, he didn’t. Trains were notoriously bad in Fascist Italy.

Oats a L’Orange

March 12, 2015

Last time I did oatmeal in orange sauce it was using some commercial sauce for duck. This time it’s semi-home-made. I say semi- because MJ made it for some pork ribs, using a “cup” of those mandarin orange fruit cup snacks you buy at the combini. That, and some soy sauce and browned onions and chicken broth made a very tasty braising sauce for the ribs (which infused it with their own jellied goodness), and gave us a couple of real cups worth left over. I used half a cup of the sauce, and half a cup of the beefy beef stock.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one half cup of broth, one half cup of orange sauce, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Very good. The taste of orange wasn’t overwhelming, but it was strong enough to make an impression.

Rating: *****

Happy Blogday to Me

March 5, 2015

FoundOnWeb started six years ago today, and has produced a whopping 760 posts — roughly one every three days — and 24,000 views — about 11 per day (most of them looking for HOTD screenshots). That seems about right, for a instrument of total self-indulgence. I’m not tired of it, yet. That’s because I’m not tired of me. I guess I’ll keep on keeping on, as long as the ego holds out.

Standing Desk 2

March 4, 2015

In my first installment, I mentioned at the end that balance might be an issue. It is. There’s two problems. First, at full height, the VariDesk frame is cantilevered well forward of its stowed position, such that most of the load is no longer over the desk, but is hanging out in open space (I have the additional handicap of setting the 24″ legs on a 20″ desktop). Second, my rollaround computer desk was designed with a pull-out keyboard shelf. That’s because there’s no place to put your feet if you tried to use the keyboard directly on top of the desk. And that means you have to pull the VariDesk an additional twelve inches or so forward of where it wants to be.

I did that, and found that the whole frame got very tippy when I did so. As in “whoa, let’s push this back”.

As Lenin might say, what is to be done? There are several options. The first one, rapidly rejected, was to buy a new computer desk. The fuss and bother and drivings about were bad enough that I relegated that idea to the Last Resort folder.

Another possibility was to drill holes in the quarter-inch thick steel frame and screw the frame to the desk. Probably the second-best idea, and the second-worst inconvenience.

C-clamps on the back wouldn’t work, because there’s no room for them when the VD is in it’s stowed position. That leaves some sort of extension to the front of the desk to support the legs. If the legs had been the width of the desk apart, it would have been easy — an L-shaped shelf-holder would work — but as it was, there was no place to attach a support, other than on the front of the 1″ thick desktop itself.

Or on the top. The cleanest solution would be to buy a slab of quarter-inch plywood big enough to hang over the edge of the desk, screw it on, and stick the VD on top of it as if it was made for it. But plywood is expensive, and I was looking for a more minimalist solution.

Like, suppose you put a slab of plywood on the desk, and then cut away all the plywood that wasn’t actually holding stuff up. And suppose you substituted a steel plate for the remnant of plywood, on account of as how it was both thinner and stronger. To the Hardware Store!

Support Plates

Support Plates

Three trips later (did you know bolts came with both coarse and fine threads?) I had two lumber beam connector plates bolted to the desk, with the VD sitting atop them. It was still a little bouncy, so I went back (fortunately it’s less than a mile away) and bought longer bolts and some very large washers. The washers hooked over the edge of the base plate, and the bolts — two on the front side of the plate and two on the back side — went through the desk and held everything in place. To give myself some additional peace of mind, I stuck an old UPS that I was going to recycle on the bottom shelf of the desk, to supply some additional weight on the back side of the Center of Gravity.

Baseplate

Baseplate

This kind of setup undoubtedly voided my warranty, is probably dangerous, and certainly isn’t something that a sane person should try at home. If you try it, and your child gets crushed, well… post something on your Facebook page and I promise I will tag it with a Like.

Standing Desk 1

March 1, 2015

I’m typing this while standing up. My feet hurt. My back hurts. There’s a pain in my left leg just above the knee, and a tingle in the nerves of my right thigh. Obviously, I have things to learn about standing desks.

I decided to get a standing desk a month ago. That was about a year after my body decided it had fulfilled its evolutionary duties and could now coast downhill to retirement. My weight went up, my blood pressure went up, my aches and pains went up. This, despite the fact that I eat healthy, have no more than one or two bottles of wine at dinner, walk half a mile to class/meetings five times a week, and average an hour and a half per school day on my feet, lecturing. When the weather is good, most of the Summer and parts of the Fall and Spring, but none of the Winter, here in the NENW, I put in an additional two miles per day in walking. Doesn’t help. Or, no longer helps. I don’t mind the thought of me retiring, but I’d prefer that my body didn’t retire first.

Considering that I spend probably ten hours per day at the computer — in a little one-Starbucks/high-scabland town like Cheney, there’s not much else to do — anything I can do to increase my activity level there should be worthwhile. Yes, I’ve got a treadmill, The Imperial Walker, and yes, I’ve tried working on a laptop while walking, but it just didn’t work out. For one thing, I had trouble figuring out where my lap was.

Enter the standing desk. Reportedly, they give most of the benefits of a walking desk, while being much cheaper and more compact. Of course, cheap is relative. Amazon carries a motor operated, dual-surface, multi-monitor, medical workstation for $12,000, and a crank-adjustable work desk for $4500. I wasn’t that unhealthy, so I settled for a $350 VariDesk Pro Plus: a spring-operated, desk-mounted rig that was wide enough to take my two monitors. Ordered it last month, got it last week, put it up last night.

The way we were

The way we were

Here’s my original setup. Two monitors on a twenty-year old rollabout computer desk. Keyboard almost in my lap. Room at the top for my books and speakers. Room at the bottom for my UPS and NAS. The screen and keyboard to the left are for my Windows machine, which I bought to run school software on but otherwise keep in the closet. We won’t speak of it again.

Adding the standup feature was simple. (more…)