Friday, September 20, 2019

Ow. Also, Ow

     This morning opened with a backache, a bit reduced from the one I went to bed with.  Despite taking care to not lift heavy items improperly nor for very long, the project I'm on requires a lot of bending and reaching, and it is taking its toll.

     That wasn't so bad, not really, but a headache has decided to chime in, in full visual-distortion and facial-pain glory, and that's a bit much.  I'm off to soak in Epsom-salts water in the tub until things improve.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

I Have Used Up All My Time

     In the midst of a civil exchange on gun control with a thoughtful but not at all pro-gun friend.  I wouldn't say he's anti-gun; he's anti-harm.

     We should all be anti-harm.  Maybe we won't all implement it in the same way -- I doubt there will ever be a gun in my friend's house, even unloaded and under lock and key; meanwhile, Tam and I, childless spinsters, keep the doors locked and stash our carry guns out of our immediate control only when we sleep, and check any gun that passes from one of us to the other as soon as we have hold of it: "not having any" and "maintaining safe habits" are both approaches to firearms safety and both work to reduce accidents.

     A healthy society accommodates both.

    I think a healthy society also looks to the root causes of violence and strives to eliminate them.  FBI's uniform crime statistics show a long-term downward trend in the murder rate that says we are making steady progress but I think we can do better.  One simple way to do so is to treat one another better; to see others as fellow humans.

     The flip side of "seeing one another as human" is to recognize human fallibility: avoid getting into bad situations; many criminals do have poor impulse control.  In the 1970s, a series of anti-car-theft PSAs reminded people to lock their cars and not leave the keys in the ignition (yes, kids, we used to do that, at least in rural/small town America: what if someone needed to move your car out of the way?).  The theme was "Don't help a good boy go bad," and while it is questionable just how good a boy (oh, that was such a long time ago!*) who steals cars might be, there's no question that he'll have a lot harder time of it without the keys and an unlocked door.  The career thief will still bash in a window -- but those locked cars did chip away at the rate of auto theft.

     "Chipping away" sounds silly, futile; but chipping away is how we get things done.  The old line asks, "How does a tiger eat an elephant?" and the answer is, "One bite at a time."

     Be nice to someone today.  Be friendly to people and aware of your surroundings, and don't treat anyone badly that you don't have to.  Maybe it's not much, but it's just one more chip.

     And don't just lock your darned car -- look for ways to expand on that idea.  Try to make it easier for those around you to choose to do right than otherwise.
* My immediate impulse was to add "...or girl.." to that, despite joyriding car theft being almost exclusively committed by young men.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Didn't I Already Have Some Of That Stuff?

     Some of us are naturally packrats.

     I know I am.  This has often been the cause of good-natured joking at work; downtown, I usually have a rough mental inventory and a pretty good idea where to look.  There was some major rearranging about a year ago that jumbled my mental files but I managed to get back on track pretty quickly.

     Up at the North Campus--  Well.  Back in the Olden Days, when the stuff up there took a lot more looking after, the bulk of my time was spent at that site.  It was seriously disorganized when I started, the result of several years of "fireman" maintenance: show up, do the quickest fix possible, and get out.  There was an underlying order -- my predecessors had seen to that -- but it was being buried.  You couldn't find anything quickly and things were starting to be piled up wherever they fell.

     So I started sorting out, grouping similar items, throwing away what was no longer needed (or simply overlooked trash) and getting the remainder stowed in marked bins, boxes and drawers.  And I maintained a "junkpile."

     Not an actual pile; but scraps of conduits, reusable fittings, larger odds and ends of sheet metal, wood,  etc, sorted and grouped, everything from the electrical stuff being sorted by size to the wood and scrap metal being stored in separate bins in admittedly-haphazard assortment.

     This has persisted, though nowadays starting it from scratch would take an impossibly-large amount of Engineering time; but it's there and it only takes a few extra steps to put things where they belong.

     Yesterday, it bailed me out.  Part of an ongoing project called for about five feet of 1-1/4" thinwall conduit, with hangers* and end fittings for it.  It's not the most common size and our stock of new stuff was all smaller, 1/2" and 3/4" conduit and fittings for wall-socket juice; we hire actual professional electricians for anything bigger.  I was putting together a list and morosely contemplating the ten-foot "stick" of conduit I was going to have to buy and somehow get into my car, when it occurred to me -- didn't I have some of that?

     A trip to the storage areas produced end fittings, a nice plastic bushing for the open end, hangers and a piece of 1-1/4" conduit just over the right size: I already had everything on the list!

     That part of the project proceeded much more quickly than expected, and let me move on to the next phase, setting the first big piece of the new equipment:
     I can't explain much about it, but it's pretty interesting (in geek terms) and I am hoping it will work well.  You can just see the end of the conduit, peeking over the top of it from behind.  It's coming up from the basement.  Notice the lighter patch of tile it's sitting on?  I installed that!  Tiling is drudgery in a big room but a little fill-in isn't too difficult.
* Known to the trade as "minnies," presumably from the Minerallac Company, around since 1894 and probably where they were invented.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Fun? Let Me Tell You!

     Sat down yesterday to fill in a position my department shouldn't even be staffing, but we do so to help out another department.  All very cut-and-dried stuff, variable, but tasks that have to have beeen scheduled well in advance since the process is automated and the automation "script" has to be put to bed* at least fifteen minutes before it starts.  For that matter, a lot of the far end of those tasks has been in position for hours before things start.  There's a computerized scheduling setup to keep track of it all, a kind of spreadsheet that looks like a well-organized schedule board.

     Nothing on the board; I asked the guy who will run the thing in real time once it starts, and he allowed as how there were going to be two events, and "the info should be showing up any minute now."

     It did -- after the first one had called in and I'd set it set up.  Then two more popped up as things were getting underway.  Things were already running when three more appeared and I had to rearrange settings and equipment assignments in a hurry so it would line up with the automation presets (which cannot even be directly seen; you have to ask).

     "No good deed goes unpunished;" I'm starting to think we're not "helping" so much as "enabling."  Most of the last-minute scramble was completely unnecessary; the information was known for all but two of the events and the rest could have been set up well in advance and been ready, if the information had been shared with the position that does the setting up.
* An old newspaper expression; the paper is "put to bed" when the pages of hot-type and dot-grayscaled images are locked down and ready for the printing press.  This persisted into the age of offset printing and on through computerized layouts; radio and TV picked it up and a news script is "put to bed" when it's put into final form ahead of airtime.  Of course, unlike a newspaper, TV and radio can rearrange on the fly if necessary, but you don't make a habit of "winging it;" you get all your ducks in a row so that if something crash-urgent happens, the rest of the newscast is already taken care of.  Nowadays, all news is breaking news -- but it doesn't all break during that thirty, sixty or ninety minutes.

Monday, September 16, 2019

But The Gutters Are Clean!

     About all I did yesterday was cook breakfast.  Well, that and laundry.  And run the dishwasher -- "background" tasks.

     Saturday, I cleaned the gutters.  This requires a lot of ladder-moving.  I used to climb up and do them from above, but the steep pitch of Roseholme Cottage's roof has always made that chancy; as the years go on and my balance has become worse (especially once the leaf-litter from the gutters starts getting my allergies riled up!), it's a better idea to do all the work from a ladder  instead of leaning over the edge of the roof.

     It's a lot of work and after circumnavigating the house Saturday, followed by a little raking and stacking up fallen wood, I remarked to Tamara (herself busy mowing the yard) that there was probably going to be a price to be paid.

     There was.  Sunday, I slopped around the house in nightgown and robe, doing small tasks and resting a lot.  Still -- I got nearly all my laundry done!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hash Experiments, Continued

     The foodstuff, not the Schedule I Controlled Substance: chopped-up meat, potatoes and whatever, fried in a skillet.

     I've been frustrated by Mary Kitchen Sausage Hash: the meat is a little...overpowering.  I hadn't tried it since I started adding ground grain to the skillet, and I wanted to, especially after having good results with a 25/75 percent flour/cornmeal mixture under corned beef hash.

     So this morning, I did.  Started with a nice layer of cornmeal, flour and a little pepper in the pan.  There was half a mild Jalapeno and a whole small dark-red bell pepper left, so I diced them and mixed them into the hash with a little dehydrated onion (it's a crutch), with a little basil, parsley and oregano.  Turned that out over the "crust" and let it cook, uncovered for five minuted, covered for five more, uncovered for five and a broke an egg over it, covered it, gave it another five or more and then cooked it uncovered until the egg looked done enough.

     Success!  The cornmeal steals just enough of the sausage's thunder that it doesn't dominate the other flavors.  Now the problem is to not overeat....

     (Epicurious has a nice guide to hashing at home!)

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Saturday Morning Omelet

     With street-sweepers howling in the distance ("Why do I keep hearing sirens, faintly and far away?"*), a garden-style omelet was just the thing this morning:

     Two eggs, crushed tortilla chips, water, dehydrated minced onion, Italian seasoning, parsley, black pepper, and that's the batter; add everything but the eggs, let it sit several minutes, then come back and beat the eggs into it, way more than you think is necessary.

     Three large green olives, sliced; a little purple pickled cauliflower, likewise.  Some cheese of choice -- I used the aromatic three-cheese mixture we put on marinara sauce.  Set aside. 

     A handful of small carrots, sliced thin (a little more than a heaping tablespoonful); a small dark-red sweet pepper, diced small; half a large mild Jalapeno pepper (plus/minus to taste), likewise.  Saute in a non-stick ten-inch skillet† with a little butter and set aside.

     Now pour the batter into the skillet, lower the heat, set it a little off-center and let it cook until it starts to dry around the edges, especially the part that is more nearly over the fire.  Once it reaces that point, you can center it up and slowly add the vegetables and cheese on the half that was nearly off the fire, alternated between the cooked and uncooked ingredients.

     By the time you have all that added, the omelet may be ready to fold.  Test by slipping a thin, flexible spatula‡ under the unladen half and seeing if it will lift. If it will lift, just fold that half up and over, and carefully smooth it down.  You can usually slide the folded omelet back from the edge after it sticks togther, but it may require holding for a little while first.

     After that, cook until done, rolling from side to side in much the same manner as the initial flip.  Don't get fancy!  That's one of the ways things go wrong.  To judge done-ness, you want the outside to darken a little and be dry, but not too dark or leathery.  Inside should be cooked through  Can't tell?  Take the spatula and cut it into two quarter-circles; that will give you a look through the cross-section and it's an attractive way to serve it.

     Mine was delicious -- heat from the Jalapeno (but not too much), salt from the olives, flavor from all the ingredients.  Didn't need a thing added.
* This would be the kind with big brushes and a giant vacuum cleaner, not the kind with shotgun shells and a $200 transfer tax.  We're within easy earshot of a city storm-warning siren, so I was pretty sure that wasn't it.

† A little smaller or larger is fine, but mind the batter isn't spread too thin.  Extremely well-seasoned cast iron will do -- but be sure!  You'll also want to clean it promptly.

‡ Spatulas are to the kitchen what clamps are to woodworking: it's nearly impossible to have too many.  Get them in as many different styles as appeal to you. My go-tos are thin plastic and metal ones for general flipping of things, heaver slotted ones for burgers and salmon patties, and a big, semicircular type that will fold an entire 12" omelet once you lift the edge with a thin one.  Several sizes of the soft-plastic ones are handy for sauteing, stirring and applying -- I was just about fully-grown before I ever saw an icing knife.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Passive-Aggressive Paper Towels

     Went to open the package and saw this:
     You're not the boss of me!  I do what I want!

     I don't think I have purchased paper napkins in thirty years.  Why bother, when paper towels work better and are suitable for so many other tasks, too? 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

He Invented The Shotgun Guitar, You Know

     Ain't a-kiddin.

     Oh, and that shotgun guitar?  Look here.

     Of course, he's from Indiana.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

We've Lost Dustbury

     Charles G. Hill was in a car accident recently, which has resulted in his passing.  He will be much missed.

     Tribute here.

     I'm at a loss for words.


     Two days of antibiotics have got Rannie Wu eating again.  She seems to be feeling a little better.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Worry, Worry

     Rannie Wu the cat is on an antibiotic, and Tam will be checking back with the vet tomorrow.  The cat may have a bad sinus infection.  She's not very interested in food.  So I'm fretting, and trying not to pester the cat too much; she is drinking and will sometimes nibble on a treat.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Hermes "Rocket"

     It's a small portable typewriter.  One of the smallest ones, in fact.  Hermes has an excellent reputation, so when this one showed up at a reasonable price and supposedly in good shape, I leapt at it.

     Showed up and it didn't shift.  Shift keys didn't feel like they were even connected to anything, just moved loosely from one position to the other.

     In a larger typewriter, this is a long linkage and I figured it might have broken or fallen out.  I decided to open it up and see:
     Every key lever has an interesting scissors-looking linkage, just behind that flat shiny part with five screws in it. I think this arrangement gets them more leverage in the very short space available.  The two pieces for the shift keys had popped out of alignment, perhaps due to jolting in shipment.  I was able to work them back into place.  The fractions key had a similar problem and stuck when I tried it; getting it back took several minutes of careful effort.

     After that, I cleaned and lubricated where I could, and it's working pretty well.  Needs a new ribbon and it seems to not want to double-space, but still, I'm not unhappy so far.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Sunday Worries

     Tamara's cat, Random Numbers "Rannie" Wu, is very old; we call her "Venerable Wu," often as not.  And now she is ill, with some kind of upper respiratory infection.  It became obvious yesterday. She will be going to the doctor Monday, if not sooner.  She's mostly sleeping, with occasional trips to the water bowl or litter box. 

     Rannie has taken to sleeping in the crook of my elbow at night, which I find absolutely charming; at one point after the move from Knoxville to Indianapolis, she was so vexed with me that I couldn't bring a hand near her without it being hit.  Forgotten, though probably not forgiven: Ms. Wu does enjoy her grudges!  Nevertheless, I think we're friends now, and I worry about her.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Ongoing Corned Beef Hash Experiments

     Current-production corned beef hash benefits from sprinkling a thin layer of flour in the skillet before adding the hash on top and carefully smoothing it out; there's enough grease* and water in the stuff that the flour naturally forms a nice, crunchy not-quite-piecrust.

     I have been wondering how cornmeal might do for that, or cornmeal and a little flour, that being the usual thing.  This morning, having found some actual cornmeal† on a shopping expedition, I resolved to try it.

     It works!  Cooks up just fine and goes very well with my hash, supercharged today with some snipped-up pickled cherry peppers and dehydrated minced onion.‡  An egg cooked on top and a little sprinkle of Italianate three-cheese mix before serving makes a nice treat!

     Cornmeal -- or even cornstarch -- might help tame the Mary Kitchen Sausage Hash, too; it's good but the sausage spice has a bit of an edge that could use some moderation. Anyway, it's another kitchen trick that comes in handy.
* Even with the flour substrate, I find myself applying paper toweling on edge around the hash several times during cooking, to soak up the excess grease.

† Our not-too-far-away Meijer stocks it.  Serving an interesting assortment of neighborhoods, they have four or five times as much shelf space devoted to flour as they do to cornmeal and cornmeal-containing mixes.  The flour sections were stocked almost to the edge; cornmenal was down to the last two or three rows, way at the back of the shelf.  That's what we call a "hint," Meijer; Indiana might be "up North" but an awful lot of our cookery isn't.

‡ Say what you will, dehydrated minced onion and celery are secret weapons in the kitchen, filling in flavor when fresh is unavailable or would require too much time or effort. Paprika will sub for sweet or slightly-hot peppers in a pinch and that's the "trinity" of Cajun soup, stew and sauce bases.  Throw a little filĂ© at it and you're halfway there.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Thursday Dinner

     Last night, Tam and I collaborated on another of the "she buys, I cook" meals, in which she picks up ingredients that appeal to her and I see what can be done with them.

     The grocer was having a special on ground sirloin (!) and their sweet Italian sausage was looking good, so she got rather a lot of that.  Then she added turnips, onion, dried chanterelle mushrooms and (surprisingly spicy) Poblano peppers.

     So I started with that.  I started the mushrooms soaking* and got the meat browning with a little salt, pepper and Italian seasoning mix on the beef.  While that went on, I peeled and sliced the turnips, and put them on a plate to microwave for a few minutes.  It was an experiment; turnips (and even more so, rutabagas) normally take a fair amount of cooking and I was looking for a shortcut.

     I had some left-over diced raw carrots, so they went in the pan.  The turnips were tender after just a couple of minutes, so I diced them and added them as well.   Then on to the onion, and I let it cook a bit while I checked out the Poblano and looked through what I had on the shelf and in the fridge.  a small container of black olives looked good to me, so in they went.  Poblanos followed, and by then the chanterelles were ready to be rinsed and join the cookpot.  I had half an Enjoya sweet pepper that wanted used up; diced and sauteed in the middle and then--

     It was looking a little dry.  I had a small can of generic tomato sauce, so I put that in as well, covered the pan and let it all simmer for a few minutes.

     It cooks up like this:
     We had one bowl each and had to remind ourselves to not go for seconds -- it was tasty!  It's similar to a Cuban dish I've made before.
* Tam had hoped for fresh; she's a real fan of chanterelles.  Dried mushrooms are usually quite good and these certainly were.  Two ways to rehydrate them: overnight in the fridge in a bowl of cold water, or thirty minutes at room temperature in bowl of just-boiled water.  If you're making something that takes a little cooking, it's easy enough to let them soak while you're doing other things.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Sprocket Printer

     A little while ago, I bought a hundred-dollar HP Sprocket portable printer.  The output is tiny, sticky-backed glossies two inches by three,* but so is the printer.  Barely bigger than a fat smartphone, it is about as science-fictional a gadget as I have seen.

     Some recent events have left me with a little -- alas, very little -- extra money and it was so very tempting!  So I bit.

     I finally had a chance to try it last night, and I'm hooked!  Durability and longevity remain to be seen, but the hardcopy is glossy, colorful and the adhesive appears to work well.  I printed a simple image, an eight-bit, beret-wearing, bearded revolutionary† in black on red, with "VIVA LA RESOLUTION" across it in white, and the print out is as sharp and clear as the original.  The application I'm thinking of is simple labels and fun stickers, and this may be just the thing for that job.
* There's a whole family of these devices, from camera/printers that sell for $90 through plain printers; one version prints even larger images, 2.3" x 3.4" and some versions of the big one are also about $100.  This is not a Speed Graphic or a dot-matrix printer; it cannot be used an an emergency weapon and you don't want to drop it from very high up.  But for what they are, they're pretty kewl.
† In keeping with long-established policy, this blog does not give the names of mass killers.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

September: Month of Projects

     Managed to dodge it last year; my department at work always used to get into a terrible rush at the end of the year, finishing projects that had money allocated for them that would be lost if they weren't done by the last day of December.

     There were changes in management in the last couple of years, reallocations of responsibility and things smoothed out -- fewer surprises, a little more in the way of useful chiding through the year and a lot less scrambling at the end.

     This year, we're back to the old rush.  A sudden tumble of unexpected work is hitting planned projects that had to be co-ordinated with other companies and Federal agencies and which were already set for the end of the year; the result is, starting next week, I'm going to be pretty darned busy for awhile.

     Working this week to try to get as much lined up in advance as I can, before there's barely time left over to scratch,

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

And Right Back Into It

     Okay, now that We-moved-it-from-May-To-September-hoping-you-wouldn't-spend-all-summer-shoving-wooden-shoes-in-the-gears* Day is over (and the Wobblies have, once again, not succeeded in inciting a general strike -- it's like they don't even care anymore), it's right back into the eternal battle with sloth and entropy!

     The older I get, the better sloth looks, but it doesn't pay well and the benefits are, face it, lousy.
* Most of the world celebrates labor on 1 May, and events in the U.S. are at least part of the reason why: the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, a terrible, bloody mess that began over workers demand for an eight-hour day.  Somehow, commemorating a labor rally that ended when a bomb was thrown at police followed by police firing into the crowd was not a notion Congress could get behind.  All the more so when socialists, communists and that era's anarchists adopted May Day as their own -- so we got the first of September.  It's a better day for picnics anyway.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Labor Day Breakfast

     Ham and eggs (with a little onion, parsley and black pepper)...
     ...on a cornbread pancake!

     In texture, though not in flavor, the cornbread reminds me of the flat sourdough bread used as both plate and eating utensil in Ethiopian cuisine, and if I'd had the foresight to make a little sauce for the food -- salsa, perhaps?  -- I would have eaten it that way, too. 

     This was the last of the Bob's Red Mill "gluten-free" mix that remains an outstanding counter-example to the usual grim breads without gluten; made it with a little more milk, egg and melted better than you'd use for for a loaf or muffins and it's fine stuff.

Sunday, September 01, 2019


     Did some stuff this morning, fell asleep in front of the tooobe this afternoon and I think I will cap it by going to bed early tonight.