Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Year in the teaching job market

It has been a year since I left a decently-paying job to pursue teaching.

Dec of 2008 was not, considering the economic fallout to come, the best time to jettison a paying gig. Since then I have been surviving on the margins by substitute teaching.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Remembrance of Chernobyl

I saw this article today about Chernobyl-related radioactive decay taking longer than expected.

It reminded me that Bert, Mike, and I were on The Continent when that went down. As the cloud wafted across Europe all the news services advised:
  1. Don't go outside.
  2. If you have to go outside, try not to contact any dirt or breathe it in.
So of course we were out running PT in the countryside. Hoo-ah and all that.

At the tail end of the run my platoon was dropped for pushups in some of the fine local German dirt (probably because of my own smart@ss behavior). While pushing-up I informed our cadre of the proscription against playing in fallout. Maybe they thought we'd absorbed sufficient rads already and a few more wouldn't hurt. Dunno. I think I pulled my shirt up over my nose to keep the bigger particulate crap out.

I recently had a chest xray (TB screening for C-FB ISD) and there were no chernobyl-shaped spots in my lungs. That's always a plus.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: Fiesta @ Plano/Buckingham

This is the location where there was a Sack 'n Save before. It'd been empty for a while so I was glad to see someone leasing the space.

The Grand Opening banner was still up and there was a small festival-type setup with a bounce house, etc, in the SE corner of the lot. The PA at the festival was pumping some groovy reggaeton dance tracks.

While I was finding a parking spot the Dear Wife commented that there was a rather serious looking SWAT-style security dudester walking the lot. He had that "tacticool" look I mock most of the time, but he had good situational awareness and handled himself professionally when I spoke with him briefly on our way out later. Thumbs up.

Upon entering the store the first thing I noticed was the polished concrete floors; I love that. Low maintenance, simple, honest, and pretty in a steampunk sorta way. Tortilla station front and center; the tortillas were still warm in the package I picked up. Produce section next in line, and this is (for me) the highlight of a Mexican grocery visit. Grabbed some limes (12/$1) and some kind of pear-shaped squash I can't identify.

The meat section had good-looking meat but I didn't get any today; we weren't going straight home afterwards. I did stop at the cheese shop and bought some queso de Oxaca, which was [mis?]labeled weirdly. When I asked for it by the labeled name (in my cringeworthy Spanish) the counterlady said "Oxaca?" Si, gracias, that's the one. I also picked up some queso de puerco (ie, head cheese) which I've always been fascinated with but never tried. This particular example is highly cartilegenous, so I assume it's mainly snout and ear. Should make a decent sandwich in my brown bag rotation.

Had to look for the bakery area to snag some pan dulce. A so-so display, but I picked up a gingerbread pig cookie. There were two kind of churros; plain and some word I didn't recognize. I picked the latter and since the churros were unexpectedly full of something (dulce de leche?) I will assume the word meant "filled". Wasn't bad but I prefer the plain ones as they are crispier.

The aisle signs were in English only, which seems kinda counterproductive (and maybe rude) if your target consumers are Hispanic. Maybe the bilingual or Spanish ones will go up later. Most of the (young and Latino) checkout staff spoke English among themselves for the most part when no one was in the lane. That brings me to a tip for the timid: if you are trying out a new shop where you don't speak the language, get in the checkout line with the youngest checker. S/he will likely move fluidly between English and the language of the market. Older checkers may be more fun as you gain confidence as they will likely help you with pronunciation and vocabulary if you are trying. The younger kids will just stick to English to get you through the line faster so they can text or play grab-ass.

So how does it compare to El Rancho? Rancho is an experience, an adventure. From the giant wall of pan dulce when you walk in to the tropical-looking food stands inside it scores high on the cultural richter scale. The new Fiesta is a grocery store, neat, clean, and a little boring. It happens to have Mexican food on the shelves but otherwise it could be an Albertsons or something. I find El Rancho more satisfying but it's too far away to become my go-to.

Fiesta Mart
1332 S Plano Rd
Richardson, TX 75081 Map
(972) 994-4300

Thursday, November 26, 2009

OS geekout revisited

A while back I geeked out on several linux distros for the Eee.

I had trouble that day with two of the distros: DSL and Slitaz. I revisited both of them today (two versions of DSL) using the latest recommended release. The pics below are screencaps from the OSes running in a virtual machine on my Ubuntu linux workstation.

Damn Small Linux - Not (DSL-N)
DSL-N is a less minimalist version of DSL. It is not obsessed with keeping to the 50MB limit (see below) so it bloats to a heady 100MB (Windows 7, for comparison purposes, is ~2470MB; DSL-N is 24+ times smaller than Windows 7, and is, you know, free).

DSL-N was a real winner. Loaded like a champ in a virtual machine. I think it was about the same as DSL below, which was the fastest-running OS I've tested in a virtual machine thus far.

Nice, clean desktop, conky info in the upper-right-hand corner, and transparencies in the shell screen. Pretty, and exceptionally fast.

Runs the 2.6.x kernel.

dsl-n-01RC4.iso, ~100MB. Recommended.Link

Damn Small Linux (DSL)
A bit of explanation is in order. DSL was, AFAIK, the first practical micro-Linux distribution. The 50MB limit was to ensure the entire OS fit on one of those bizcard-sized CD-Rs. Remember those? A little smaller than a floppy (remember those?) DSL makes a few sacrifices to keep it in the 50MB range. For example:
  1. DSL currently runs the 2.4 kernel instead of the bigger and more modern 2.6 kernel. Many of the other micro-linuxes choose differently.
  2. Some of the icons are cartooney to save space and cpu time
DSL runs very quickly, as one might expect. The look/feel of the desktop is nowhere as polished as DSL-N. If a non-techie were looking at your screen you might feel like you have to explain DSL's ugly duckling appearance, while they might comment that DSL-N was pretty and impressive. Things like that can matter in the OS advocacy world.

dsl-4.4.10.iso, ~50MB. Recommended, but DSL-N above is probably better for many people.

SliTaz failed to impress.

It stumbled during boot a bit and had to be coaxed along. It's a French distro, so it is understandable that much of the prompts are bilingual. But at a given point you give a language preference and it would be nice if the OS installer respected that.

slitaz-2.0.iso, ~30MB. Not currently recommened.

Tiny Core Linux
I am currently running TCL on my beloved Eee netbook. I like the "frog on a banana leaf" background because it looks like he's stuck on the LCD screen. Doesn't take much to amuse me.

tinycore_2.5.iso, 10MB (247 times smaller than Windows 7!). Not recommend for normal folk, but loads of geeky fun for masochists, hair shirt addicts, and compulsive experimenters.

A word about small linux distros in general

There are a few generalizations we can make about these small distributions:

  1. You can run them as a LiveCD/LiveUSB, which is to say you can test-drive them without affecting your PC in any way. If you ever ran a Knoppix cd you know what I'm talking about.
  2. You can run them in a virtual machine with VMware, Micro$oft Virtual PC, or the freeware QEMU. The nice thing about this is you can keep running your normal OS and not have to reboot off the usb/cd/dvd.
  3. the utilities and shells are a smaller, unified busybox version.
  4. There is generally one user on a micro-linux, and you use sudo to do root-like things
  5. the software is generally limited to a relatively small subset of software specially packaged for the project. Generally a few hundred common apps rather than the thousands usually available for linux.
  6. Very little software comes installed; you installed it using an application browser (you can think of it as an App Store, kinda, only it's all free).
Ok, enough dorkery for one night.


I am thankful for many things this year. I'm going to share them as a reminder to myself and as an antidote to my earlier post.
  • I am thankful for the companionship of my wife. When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:10-12
  • I am thankful that I am employed, however minimally
  • I am thankful to have a house (and, by extension, to be making the mortgage; see employment entry above)
  • I am thankful that my health has been generally good.
  • I am thankful for the VA Hospital for those times when I am sick.
  • I am thankful that my 12-yo old car is holding together
  • I am thankful that I get to work with some very talented, caring, professional teachers in RISD. There are amazing teachers, and the crop of 1st-year teachers I have met are motivated and resourceful.
  • I am thankful that I get to work with some exceptional students. There are kids out there that will reaffirm your hope in the future of humanity.
And some smaller things that might seem trivial but contribute to quality of life:
  • I am thankful that tomatoes are still growing in the garden.
  • I am thankful for the dog that makes me stop and smile
  • I am thankful that my dorky hobbies are sunk costs at this point and don't require any money (again, see above)
  • I am thankful that some of those dorky hobbies are actually useful during periods of economic stress.
  • I am thankful for the public discussion started by people like Nathan, Ed, Destiny, David, et al. I updated the layout today to include more explicit links to those blogs.
It's time to get serious about turkey carving in the other room, so I need to go. I hope everyone has a good day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

random thoughts about Veterans Day

Some thoughts about Veterans Day.

I normally don't think that much, consciously at least, about military service. I don't worship the military, I am not a flag waver and I don't have a subscription to Soldier of Fortune. My hair is buzzed off but mainly out of convenience and the effects of helmet-hair when it is longer.

For the purposes of this screed I will say army and soldier because that is my experience. Feel free to substitute other branches of service and words like "sailor, marine, airman" where appropriate.

What society "owes" veterans
  1. Foremost -- not to use the military's force without declaring war and without a plan to get in and to get out.
  2. Adequate post-combat decompression time for soldiers so they can re-adapt to the rest of society that is not at war.
  3. Take care of active-duty soldier with adequate training, services, and materiel.
  4. Take care of veterans by living up to the agreement made at the time of their enlistment: educational benefits, loans, medical, etc. We as a country don't have to agree to this kind of contract, but once we have agreed to it and enlisted the soldiers they are entitled.
  5. If you catch me after a few beers I might start talking about mandatory national service. This gets my Libertarian friends started whispering words like "ostracism" and "excommunication".

What veterans "owe" society
  1. appropriate use of benefits mentioned above. We need to steward these resources wisely.
  2. humility
  3. an honest-as-possible accounting of what military life is like, if asked. There are things that are not appropriate to share based on the audience, national security, discretion etc.

The most striking thing about our national assessment of the military is that the most "hoo-aah", rabidly pro-military folks are folks that never served. There is a mystique about the military that can be quickly cured by actually joining the military. I hear they are still recruiting if you're interested.

Note that I am not saying everyone should enlist[0]; I'm saying that if you don't enlist just see the military for what it is and not as some glorified (or denigrated) construct.

Cold Warriors
I have an idea kicking around about the difference between Old Army types, current army coldiers, and Cold Warriors. I won't get that done tonight but I think it's a topic worthy of discussion.

when I am in the classroom I sometimes find myself thinking "these kids need boot camp". Boot camp is a crash course in self-reliance, teamwork, and self-discipline. It teaches you what is possible, what you can do. Boot camp is mental. Sometimes the kids ask me if I was ever in the military. When I answer some young fellow[1] immediately asks one of two questions:

1. "did you ever kill anybody?"
2. "how many different ways do you know to kill somebody?"

These questions indicate the students fundamentally misunderstand the role of the military. There is more to that thought but I will let it sit.

Infrequently I get this additional question, generally from girls:

3. "what was your job in the Army?". I generally give an oblique answer because there are words one doesn't use in a public school, and because the kids have no living memory of the Cold War and have no way to relate to it. So far none of them have recognized the name Gorbachev although most recognize Reagan.

There are two men I knew that were soldiers through-and-through; naturally gifted at everything the military threw at them: weapons, gear, training, trucks, local girls, whatever. These two fellows were similar in their "supersoldier" abilities but quite different in presentation.

The white collar supersoldier was Mike H. Mike was a poster boy for the (then) New Army.[2] Whip-smart, his service was full-blooded but veiled in a veneer of wicked irony. It looked like he was playing but underneath it was universal competence. IIRC, last I heard from him he had gone to OCS and got a commission. I envy the men that serve under him now, assuming he has not retired.

The blue collar supersoldier was a fellow we called Jake; I think his last name was Jacobsen. A bit harder-edged, Jake was a rough-and-tumble Old Army guy. He had unbelievable skills piloting deuces and five-tons. Once we were in a cramped motorpool and our 5ton drivers couldn't get a stake-and-pallet (S&P) trailer backed into the far-too-narrow slot. We were trying to get off duty but couldn't until the trailer was parked. Forward and back, forward and back. Jake came up, said "WTF are you guys doing?" He jumped in the cab, floored it forward at a 45 deg angle, slid to a stop, floored it in reverse, yanked the trailer brake until the trailer slid into the correct angle, then slammed it into place. We were astounded.

Once he broke his hand out drinking the night before; I believe it was a wall punching exercise of some kind. He hid the pain but finally came to me in the motorpool. The problem was this: he needed medical attention but couldn't get it without a fig leaf. At that time (and maybe now) any injury while drunk result in an immediate referral to CDAAC, the Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling[3] on base. A CDAAC referral wasn't deadly but it was a pain and might interfere with one's drinking schedule. And it stayed in your personnel file and so might or might not interfere with promotion if you were a "lifer".

Anyhow, I instructed Jake to get in the cab of a 5-ton and lean over towards my open door. I slammed the door loudly, he yelled "you broke my fscking hand!" on cue and I apologized loudly and yelled for a driver to "take this man to the medic!"[4]

And an apology
There was another supersoldier, and I don't remember her name. She was in S-2 (Intelligence) and spoke Russian. She was quite odd; at the time I attributed her oddity to an assumption that she was familiar with the poetry of Sappho. In retrospect, it seems to me that S-2 folks were effectively sequestered and it must have taken a toll on them. I might also invoke something like Asperger's. Regardless, in my youth and ignorance I made many unkind remarks to her and female soldiers like her. The time has come for me to apologize to fellow soldiers who I mistreated because of my perception of their orientation. Mea Culpa; forgive me. I have learned much in the interim, and I am a better man for it.

bloggermouse (nee armymouse)

[0] although I think it's generally good for a human to do, assuming the national leaders haven't gotten us mired in yet another undeclared war.

[1] almost always the most disruptive person in the class

[2] marked by an increasing reliance on technology and and an educated, thinking enlisted cohort.

[3] hence our running chant "I wanna be a CDAAC ranger", which we loved and the sargeants pretended not to hear.

[4] Of course, in this story "I" means "someone else in our platoon", and not me personally, because otherwise that would mean admitting to some kind of youthful indiscretion that I (I mean "he"!) would be loathe to admit in public.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

CarpetRipping, pt 2

Earlier in the year we ripped the carpet out of the front room (living room?). The Dear Wife and I finally had the "simultaneous days off" and "motivation" lines on our biorythyms line up so we did the hallway. The beige at the top is the carpet, the blue is the top of the carpet padding, and the brown-yellow is the underside of the carpet padding. Note the bits of padding that stuck to the floor when the padding was pulled up; those are where the floor is stained below.

This one went a lot faster as there was no furniture to move. You can see the stains where the stuck-on bits had to be scraped off. No mopping or washing done yet; only swept. Luckily there was no physical damage to the wood as was found in the front room.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I don't think he likes HOAs

Another interesting post in a forum. This one is in response to the question: "Do cities like HOA's because it transfers the cost of maintaining common areas from the city to the homeowners?"

The posted answer:

Absolutely, that's why cities are mandating them and have been mandating them for a couple of decades in Texas. The city of Garland has representatives testifying to that effect before the Texas State Legislature the last several sessions. This is a disease that has been spreading for a while. The city/county comes up with some "public benefit" that will be mandated for the property (open area, water retention, etc.) and then mandates a private method for taking care of it. Even in areas where the HOA has become defunct, the cities/counties are suing to force creation/revival of an HOA to assume those public responsibilities.

Not only does it eliminate the cost of maintaining those areas, it also ensures that the so-called common areas are privately owned and therefore subject to taxation. If the city/county owned them those areas would be exempt from the tax roles. Instead the city/county is mandating these areas in subdivisions but they are privately owned. This means they will be on the tax roles and privately maintained at the expense of the homeowners in that subdivision. The HOA owns the common area, not the homeowners.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the "Rule of Stupids"

Read this on a forum recently:

Now, with all that said, there are things like the The Rule of Stupids, of which there are several variations... Among those variations is this one which states:

1) Don't do stupid things!
2) Avoid stupid people!
3) Don't go to places where stupid things happen!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

goats are neat

This article on goaty outdoor maintenance and Google's recent use of goats to do the lawn got me all nostalgic.

My family had Nubian goats on our bit of land and they were hilarious and useful. The billy reeked but that's his job. Ate a few cabrito, which does wonders for my street cred with my Hispanic students. :-)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tasting: canned beef

I canned some beef (cubed) earlier this year and broke some out last night for dinner. It was tender and tasted like roast beef.

Served with mashed potatoes and steamed cauliflower. I think I'm going to try frying cauliflower sometime. I had it fried at Ali Baba and it was interesting; the high heat developed some brussel sprout flavors in the white veggie.

Speaking of mashed potatoes, have you had instant mashed potatoes lately? I'm something of a purist and use a potato ricer for my smashed potato adventures. I have rejected instant mashed potatoes as heresy, partly for their "instant" nature and partly for the horrific flavor and texture I remember from the 80s. Recently my SIL gave us a packet of them to try. I sneered for a couple of months and then we made them. Wow. I don't know what happened to the technology since the 80s but these were really good. And at ~$1/bag they are pretty cheap. And storable. The thing that's really got my head spinning is that I don't think I can consistently make homemade smashed potatoes as good as these new instant packages.

So now there are a couple pouches in our pantry and a couple in our 72hr kit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lottery fraud in GP

This same thing actually happened to me once in Richardson, albeit for a much smaller amount.

This was in the late 90s when there was a (different) craptastic Quickie Mart near Star of Siam on SpringValley/75. One night I took my four-out-of-six winner to the counter; it was due an $85 prize based on the size of the lottery that drawing. The details are fuzzy but that's the idea.

Me: [handing over ticket] "I got four"
Clerk: [runs ticket, looks at printout, pulls $4 out of the register] "Four dollars"
Me: "No, I got four numbers. It's $85"
Clerk: "Oh". [pulls $85 out of the drawer]

He would have pocketed $81 on that deal. Safest way to check numbers is to scan them into one of the lottery machines at the grocery store. Much faster than checking nums on the website.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another reason to love Mickey$oft

MS slips a Firefox extension in a windows update. It makes FF users vulnerable to IE-style drive by infections, and is nearly impossible to remove.

Yes, it's not enough that they make their own software into virus incubation tools. They want to infect everyone else, too. Now watch them claim that FF is no more secure than IE after poisoning the well.

Nice. When you get sick enough of the MS crap, take a spare PC and install linux on it. Ubuntu is probably the easiest to get started with.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

stop yelling

Although I am libertarian and predisposed to support Ron Paul's quixotic adventures, I was disappointed in hecklers that shouted pro-Ron Paul statements at Sen. Graham at a recent town hall meeting in Greenville, SC.

Hecklers: make your statement in a civil manner at the microphone when it is your turn. If it is not your turn do not shout. I know it's not going to get anyone on TV, but please display enough self-control that people are not worried that you have the right to drive, breed, and live on your own without a parent (or nanny state) around. Be an adult.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Found a hummingbird feeder at a garage sale for 50c. Cleaned it up, read up on making the nectar, and hung it up in the back yard. Saw the first bird (a brown female?) later that day. Just now a green one was at the feeder.

Here's a page on identification of hummingbirds in Texas.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

a meditation after 9/11

I couldn't take much time to think about 9/11 on the actual day this year. I had 300 or so kids to get through the day at a local high school and that kind of thing leaves little time for introspection.

So today I find myself reflecting on things most of the world thought about last week.

I think this is perhaps the most moving, serious, and genuninely heartfelt tribute I have seen. I thank the BBC and the British people for their kindness in those days after the tragedy.

"Leonard Slatkin Conducts the BBC Orchestra on September 15 2001 in honor of those who lost their lives a few days prior. Visuals from BBC's 'Last Night of the Proms' and ABC's 'Report from ground zero'. AUVIEX edit. "

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

sprouts: lentil, mung, fenugreek

I do most of the cooking at home because I like it. There was a four-year stretch when I was working nights and the Dear Wife was pressed into service. She did great but I don't get the feeling it was fun for her.

My meal planning isn't bad but for the past year or so I have been aware that we don't eat enough fresh greens. My rough plan to correct this has been:

1. try my hand at gardening (more about this in a future post)
2. shop more often at local stores to pick up green shtuff. This sucks a bit because I hate my local Kroger and the road is torn up between me and Sara Bakery.

Neither have been big payoffs, though I predict my garden will produce more next year. We are eating some tomatoes now.

So I was wandering around youtube one day and saw a video about sprouting various beans and legumes (sprout content starts about 60seconds into the vid). Hmmm. I knew I liked the alfalfa sprouts you get in salads and the mung bean sprouts you get in many Asian foods. Question is, how hard and how expensive could this get?

I had some spare screen scraps and cut them to fit the inside of some mason jar lids. Commercial sprouting lids are about $6/each as far as I can tell.

It turns out that sprouting is stupid cheap and stupid easy. Forget all the hippie "your body loves the owl spirit of the superfood raw enzymes" crapola, they are cheap, fresh foods you can grow on the countertop.

Basic how-to
Put a small amount of seeds/beans in the bottom of a mason jar. Start with a tablespoon full or other small amount until you know how big they will get. Some really explode on you. I do the soak overnight. Cover the jar with screened lid (commercial or homemade). You can also use something like cheesecloth or nylons and secure with rubber band or the lid ring.

8 hrs later (like the next morning) rinse with water, leave inverted or partially inverted. I prefer a 45deg angle which keeps sprouts from blocking airflow. Then 2-3x a day rinse and drain and leave inverted again. I do this in the morning, at night, and if I remember once in the afternoon.

A few days into it (3-4?) your sprouts will be luverly and ready to eat. You can put them in the window if you want them to green up more.

I eat them raw with salad dressing, soy, or vinegar, or cooked into other foods, or stirfried for a very short time (like 60 seconds).

Win: lentil, mung, fenugreek.
Fail: wheat sprouts were weirdly sweet; kids might like them. Garbanzo/chickpea; got weird.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pee on your tomatoes

Really. It's good for them.

Where your Doom money went

Those of us that bought Doom, Doom II, etc, in the 90s funded more than a few Lambos and Ferraris around Dallas. It used to be that if you saw an exotic in town it was probably owned by one of the Id guys; now it's probably Mark Cuban. Saw him in a yellow 'rari on 35 earlier in the year.

Anyhow, one of the Id team was John Carmack. For the past several years he's been heavily involved in amateur rocketry (somewhere in Rockwall?), and it just paid off. $1 million if I understand correctly.

Check out the video. It's not dramatic but it's truly impressive.

Way to go, John. You continue to rock.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

class overcrowding

The City-Data Dallas forum has an interesting, ongoing thread about a kid being moved (with others, apparently) into a different classroom due to overcrowding. There are several complicating factors.

It's an interesting problem with interesting forum input. I think it's worth the read. If nothing else it is heartening to see a parent put thought and interest into their kid's relationship with the teacher.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Ok, last stove/lantern geek post for a while, I promise.

This gem of a post came from a thread called How I Became a Stovie. A stovie, btw, is a person who collects/uses/tinkers on liquid fuel stoves.

My Sainted Mother, bless her, taught me to read before I was five. I then began reading my older cousins' boy Scout books. There in print was tacit permission to have fires! I liberated empty cans from the garbage and washed them preparatory to savaging them with tin snips and straightened nails in order to contain small fires made of twigs and pine cones so I could incinerate food purloined from the kitchen. My parents saw no harm in it until I assassinated an innocent cottontail going about his lawful business in our vegetable garden. I divested the victim of his furry waistcoat and most of his inward workings with the aid of my (t) rusty pocket knife, then made some barely edible rabbit fricasse in a tin can kettle over a fire in a tin can stove. Nirvana!

Down the hill from us about a quarter of a mile was the western shore of a small irrigation dam which contained frogs, slime, hordes of mosquitoes, and an assortment of bullheads, sunfish, and perch. Some of these leviathans attained lengths approaching five inches. They were also severely retarded as proven by their propensity to bite hooks baited with bits of red bandana handkercheif. Many of these unfortunate denizens of "The Dam," as it was generally called, also came to ignominious ends on my various tin can crematoria. Since then I've had an unquenchable thirst for things "stove."

In my early teens I built a shack of salvaged (read: "stolen") lumber in the back yard wherein I and my partner in crime Joel Jensen had a stove fabricated from a 5 gallon lube oil can with a chimney made from a length of galvanised rainspout salvaged from a building being torn down in the neighborhood. We vulcanized dozens of eggs, cans and cans of SPAM, and boiled vats of bad coffee on that stove.

It was about that time I found a discarded REI catalog in the neighbor's trash. In it there were pages and pages of forbidden camping and stove porn ! ! Joel and I caught a bus to 11th and Pine in Downtown Seattle, where perverted enablers actually encouraged us to light up! We learned words like: "Svea 123", "Optimus 8R", "Primus 71L" and the delights of Army Surplus dried squash, spinach, and chemically mummified lemon type flavored drink powder. It would be many more years before I could actually buy any of 'em. I've never looked back.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009


some lamps

Fettling = working on an old pressure lamp or lantern. In Europe this might mean Primus, Petromax, Optimus, Tilley, etc. In America this means Coleman.

I have a ratty old 1961 lantern (red one on the right) that burns great but has been difficult to light. Hey, it's older than I am and start a little slow in the mornings, too.

Should work like this:

  1. fill with fuel
  2. pressurize with the pump
  3. crack open the fuel valve about 1/4 turn and listen. You will hear air hissing. Then after a few seconds you will hear fuel start to make a delicate gurgle sound. Close the valve.
  4. get your match/lighter/torch in there
  5. re-crack the valve 1/4 turn
  6. gentle "foof" as the fuel ignites. The mantles start to glow.
  7. when mantles glow gentle, increase the fuel delivery
  8. the generator gets hot enough to vaporize fuel efficiently and you get a soothing hiss and brilliant light. All is well with the world. Or the back porch, at least.

But it has been working like this:

  1. fill with fuel
  2. pressurize with the pump
  3. crack open the fuel valve about 1/4 turn and listen. Just air. No fuel.
  4. wait. wait more. Still no fuel. %&^#*&^!
  5. Get annoyed and open the fuel valve a couple of turns until fuel does begin to flow.
  6. floods or semi-floods the lantern as fuel at the 1/4 turn position is metered differently on purpose.
  7. get your match/lighter/torch in there
  8. dramatic "BOOF" as the whole top half of the lantern ignites. The neighborhood start to glow.
  9. if nothing (important) nearby is on fire, attempt to regulate fuel delivery until the generator warms up and things normalize.

The part that I needed to work on is hidden inside the fount (the metal base where the fuel is held/pressurized). This part, the fuel/air tube, serves partly as the fuel pickup mechanism and as a kind of crude carbureter. I cleaned the f/a tube and re-stretched a small spring that's part of the carbing process. Starts immediately now.

Here's a pretty good explanation of how it works.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

possum kingdom

A possum wandered onto the back porch; one of the (non-nightvision) security cams picked him up. He wanders up by the chair at around the 15sec mark, and I spotlight him with the q-beam.

He was licking beaded up water off the deck. I guess he was thirsty. He waddled off somewhere after a few mins.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

a football idiot speaks

To be sure, I don't know squat about the NFL.

But watching Friday's game I am confused why we are not keeping Carpenter and booting Kitna. Carpenter can at least take a snap, make catchable throws, etc. Heck, he even caught that one really high snap and got the ball passed off.

I wonder which Romo we get this season:

* the highly mobile, effective, mirculous Romo who can make a pass while falling, flying, or running, or

* the "throw it directly to any available member of the opposing team" Romo.

Maybe they are the same guy. I hope not. I hope he's got the Jessica curse washed off him and he's ready to pay attention.

Glee is back

I had suggested earlier that Glee doesn't suck. It's back on and worth a taping.

The pilot was rebroadcast with some extra (worthwhile) footage. They also did a "tweet peat" rebroadcast where the cast tweeted. I was hoping for something closer to DVD commentary, but it was mainly chatter. Good idea, but didn't work first time out.

Maybe just record commentary and put it on the secondary audio track?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Burglar alarm system

The idea is that in the dark of night the burglar will not see the black dog. I have chosen a retired greyhound because this breed has an uncanny ability to stretch out and completely block the entrance in question.

It goes like this:
1. burglar enters the home
2. burglar trips over dog
3. burglar curses or shouts in pain. Homeowner neutralizes the threat.
4. dog remains in position, unmoved, waiting to trip any accomplices

You can see from this picture exactly how hyper these animals are.

If you would like a high performance alarm system like this you can consult either Greyhound Adoption League of Texas or Greyhounds Unlimited.

Smile for the day: an actual transformer

This kind of fabrication is pretty danged cool. Well done.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Storytime: It's falling from the sky!

I was in basic training in OK with a fellow who had never been outside Hawaii. We were in formation when it started to snow. He broke formation and started running around yelling "OMG it's snowing! Is this snow? It's snow! It's just FALLING FROM THE SKY!" He was gobsmacked by both the concept and the reality of it.

We thought the drills were going to hammer him but they thought it was funny and let him run around for a while before ordering him back into formation.

more rain than I thought

I heard the thunder all night, but didn't think there was much rain associated with it. Found 2" in the rain gauge this AM. Cool.

Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9

Just got back from the Galaxy drive-in; Dear Wife and I went to see District 9.

Good stuff, Maynard. I don't recommend many movies for fullprice viewing but this one qualifies.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

batch36: recipe

BeerSmith Recipe Printout - http://www.beersmith.com
Recipe: batch[36] bighouse farmhouse
Style: Saison
TYPE: All Grain
Taste: (35.0)

Recipe Specifications
Batch Size: 24.60 L
Boil Size: 28.16 L
Estimated OG: 1.044 SG
Estimated Color: 3.4 SRM
Estimated IBU: 23.7 IBU
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75.00 %
Boil Time: 60 Minutes

Amount Item Type % or IBU
9.10 lb Pale Malt (2 Row) US (2.0 SRM) Grain 84.85 %
1.30 lb Wheat, Flaked (1.6 SRM) Grain 12.12 %
0.32 lb Acid Malt (3.0 SRM) Grain 3.03 %
38.30 gm Glacier [6.00 %] (60 min) Hops 23.7 IBU
1 Pkgs farmhouse limited edition (wyeast #3726) Yeast-Ale

Mash Schedule: mouse mash
Total Grain Weight: 10.72 lb
mouse mash
Step Time Name Description Step Temp
40 min mash in Add 12.87 L of water at 162.3 F 152.0 F

The target temp for primary with this yeast, according to Wyeast, is 90F (!)
135g of sucrose for priming.

Resized to 24.6L , hence the "bighouse" name.


batch36: brew day!

I brewed yesterday. I wasn't completely organized so it took 6hrs instead of my target 5 hours. It's not like you're completely tied to the process for 6hrs; there are two 1-hour stretches where you set a timer and walk away. For the rest of the time it's basically cleaning whenever your direct attention is not required.

There is a saying: "If you like washing dishes you're going to love homebrewing". :-) It becomes second nature.

I took crappy pics with my two-generations-back smartphone. Hopefully you can get the gist.

Ok, so brewday begins. Most people buy their yeast instead of ranching it so many people will begin here. This will be an "all grain" brew which means there are no extracts or sugars added to the batch. It's made from 100% whole grains the way God intended. I'll give you a heads up on where extract brewers would start the process.

Preparing for the Mash
batch36 mash water up to speed
The first step will be the mash.[0] This is a process of soaking malted grains (generally barley) in water at a given temp[s] for a given time[s]. It activates enzymes in the grains themselves that convert their grain starches into sugars. Literally, nothing is added but water. The grain wants to be beer and the brewers job is to facilitate that process.

batch36 grains
Here's what we are going to need for the mash: hot water (pic above of water heating on a turkey frier), milled grains, and a place to hold the mash at the proper temp. The pic to the right is about 9# of two-row[1] malted barley and about 1# of flaked wheat. See the recipe in the next post for details.

The mash
batch36 open mash
This recipe calls for the mash to be held at 153F for 60mins. During this period the mash looks like a thick, cloudy grain soup. If you taste it in the beginning it will be starchy, maybe biscuity tasting. As the enzymes start breaking down long starch changes into shorter sugar chains the converted liquid (now called wort) tastes sweet. Like malt.[2]

batch36 mashing
Once the temp is stabilized at the target temp the lid goes on and the 60min timer is set. Note the digital temp probe snaking out of the cooler. That way you can monitor temps without having to open it up. The coolers are so well insulated that it is common to lose only about .5F during the hour-long mash.

During the mash another pot of water has been heating up for the next step.

The sparge
batch36 spent grains
After the mash is done you've got a truckload of wet grains soaking in sweet liquid (wort, remember). How to get it out? I'll be using a batch sparge technique.

The "first runnnings" are drained off into the brewkettle using the spigot you see in the pic above. Then the spigot is closed and some hot water is added. Stir, wait, drain. Repeat.

At the end of the three drainings most (like 95%) of the sugars have been rinsed off and you are left with husks, or spent grains. It's just husk material because the white starchy insides have been converted to sugars then rinsed away. The husks are great for making dog biscuits or added fiber for bread or other foods. I usually add 1/3rd cup of the grains to the bread machine when it makes the "additions" beep. The rest goes in the compost pile.

Just brew it!
batch36 brewing
Brewing = boiling. We loosely call the overall procedure brewing but this is brewing proper.

BN: this is where extract brewing would start. You add water and malt extract to the pot instead of converting it from grains like we did. On this brewday we did it from scratch (grains). Why would be take the extra couple of hours to do it from scratch? It offers much more control and drops the cost considerably. Plus it's rewarding to do it the way people have done it for millenia. Most new brewers start with extract, and many stick with extract and make fine beers with it.

"What the... ", you might say, "that kettle looks just like a keg". And you would be right. This is called a keggle[3], a keg converted to a kettle by dissassembling the tap fitting and cutting a 12" hole in the top (with a plasma cutter, in this case). Why? Because brewing takes a big pot. A keg is about 15gal which is generous. A commerical 15gal stainless pot is north of $300. A keg (also stainless) is about $50 off craigslist. They can be dented and ugly and generally unfit for selling beer but work great as keggles.

batch36 IC chilling
After a 60min boil the wort is force cooled to pitching temperature, the temperature at which you want to toss in your yeasties. Normally this is around 60-65F. This particular yeast likes it unusually hot, so we will pitch around 80F.

In this pic you can see a copper coil lowered into the still-boiling wort; the tubes connect to a garden hose. (You can also see a clothespin that is anchoring a hop bag. The hops are in the bag so you don't have to strain/fish them out later). Tap water flows through the coil, wicking heat out of the hot liquid. When groundwater is 80F like it is now this will get the wort down to about 100F fairly quickly. The heated water comes out the other end of the clear hose and is used in the washing machine, or cooled and used to fill up the birdbath or water trees.[4]

Let's stop for a bit of meta-information. Up until now the brewer can play it fairly fast-and-loose since everything will be boiled. But after the wort cools below 140F sanitation becomes the overwhelming priority. Everything from here on out is sanitized with no-rinse sanitizers derived from commercial breweries and/or dairies. Cross-contamination is the enemy. Although no human pathogens live in beer (ie, they can't make you sick) certain bugs can destroy the beer. There will be bugs in the beer (as with commercial beer) unless you brew in a NASA white room. The trick is to have your yeast so happy, so vigorous, and so numerous that they out-compete any non-yeast bugs. Microbial arms race.

batch36 carboy filled
I tell you that in order to explain why there are no more pictures until the wort was in the sealed carboy fermenter with the yeast pitched in. It was just me on the porch so I did the work instead of taking pics.

For the next couple of weeks the yeast will eat the sugars in the wort, converting it to beer. It will have an airlock on it to release the CO2 that the yeast create while converting sugars to alcohol.

After fermentation is complete the beer will be kegged or bottled. It should be ready to sample about three weeks after that.

Thanks for following along. I know it's like watching somebody else's baby slobber while the parent fawns.

If you'd like a more organized look at brewing, see Palmer's How To Brew website.

[0] Remember the term "sour mash whiskey"? Same concept only their mash is soured like sourdough in a controlled way. Bourbon makers take the resulting fermented corn-beer and distill it.

[1] Remember the Two-Rows brewpub? Now you know why it's named that.

[2] Now you know where malt flavoring comes from, like Malt-o-Meal, Malted Milk balls, or a chocolate malt. That's what the wort tastes like, only it's not concentrated the way the flavorings are.

[3] no direct relation to the popular pelvic exercise.

[4] The last bit of heat down to the final pitching temp is removed by a recirculating icewater system that uses the same coil. Didn't take pics of it and it and it's a little weird to explain.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A month without skype

You may remember from last month that I did not renew my SkypeOut account, which is $3/month for (practically) unlimited calls to the US.

I went with a company that uses the open/standard VOIP platform called SIP for PC-to-phone connections. Using SIP instead of some proprietary protocol means you can choose your own client (the softphone) and do all kinds of complex multi-service configurations if you want. The client I used was Ekiga.

So here's my take after 1 month. I have switched to Twinkle, a simpler client than Ekiga. The SIP-based VOIP works and sounds great.

Cost analysis
I spent $0.15 on my diamondcard SIP account in the last month. That same cost on Skype would have been $3.00, a factor of 20x.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Batch36: 250ml --> 1000ml

Nice colorshift in the yeast starter by this AM so I will decant into the larger 1000ml flask for the final step. The combined volume will be about 800ml of starter, or about 125 billion yeast cells. They're small.

In this pic I have shown the 1000cc flask of sterile wort next to the current 250cc flask of happy yeast. There is a substantial difference in color and opacity.

This should be ready to pitch starting tomorrow morning. All the stars are in alignment, just have to figure out when to brew. The brew session will take about 5hrs so a bit of planning is required.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First light: Dietz #2 D-Lite streamliner

This is the lantern I picked up on our daytrip to Gladewater. It was grimey and full of dirt dauber nests but not rusted. Used a nylon brush on most of it and replaced the wick. Ran the globe through the dishwasher with the last batch of dishes.

The lantern is 18" tall with the bail up, 13" with the bail down. It uses a 7/8" wick and yields about 10 candlepower according to a contemporary ad. This stepped-fount "streamline" variant was made from 1938 to 1956 and there is no way to date it more closely than that.

I was going to repaint it but Dear Wife likes it in the current incarnation.

Batch 36: yeast starter 50ml --> 250ml

Next morning. Compare the color of the starter liquid (not the foam) in this 50ml flask to yesterday. The microscopic cream-colored yeast are multiplying and their increasing numbers makes the starter look lighter.

There are technical ways of judging when to step up the starter volume but I usually go by that color change.

So I decanted the 20ml of starter from that 50ml flask into about 110ml of fresh, sterile starter in a 230ml flask. Total volume is now 130ml or so and it looks darker again because the current numbers of yeast can't cloud that volume of starter. By tomorrow we should be able to step up again. I can feel your anticipation.

"not oppressively hot"

Dear Wife and I were standing on the back porch shortly before 6am. "Hey," she said, "it's not oppressively hot."

And it wasn't. The wall thermomenter read 73F. It was a brief moment of grace before the sun came up.

I am eagerly awaiting October.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Batch 36: bighouse farmhouse

I'm going to start a running discussion that will illustrate the process of making a batch of homebrew from beginning to end. It will be deadly boring, but I will take lots of pics to make it more bearable. This batch, although it is a style that matures fairly early, will not be drinkable until mid-to-late October.

To give you an idea of the timelines, the bitter some of you tasted at Destiny's place was brewed on January 3rd. The apple cider was started on July 22, 2008. Brewing/fermenting is a game of patience and planning. The yeast are in control -- we just give them the food and time they need to do their work.

Ok, so the new batch. It's a farmhouse ale, which is a type of rual Belgian beer. It's part of a family of beers that are made with heat-loving yeast. Most yeast like it around 60-65F; farmhouse starts to work around 80F and really comes online around 90F. The resulting beer is a bit "wild" tasting, with a tangy, horsey, or leathery notes. The yeast lives there in Belgium and is harvested by American yeast culturers for propagation and sale to homebrewers. This batch is called "bighouse" because I am increasing the batch volume 30% for reasons that will become clearer on brewday.

I bought a pure culture of the farmhouse and propagated it in sterile agar slants like you probably saw in high school biology. This is where our story starts.

Preparing for brewday
The brewing (boiling) will occur approximately this upcoming weekend. There is no way to know for sure, because the yeast has to be ready.

I took the yeast culture out of the 40F refrigerator and sat it out to let it come up to room temp. While this happened I sterilized the yeast starter materials. Inside the pressure cooker: three different sizes of Erlenmeyer flasks with starter wort (unfermented pre-beer liquid) for the yeast to feed on. If you've ever proofed yeast before it's kinda like that, only working from much smaller, purer yeast samples and growing to much more yeast than you would ever use in bread. Takes days instead of minutes.

Sterilized the glassware, utensils, and liquids in the pressure cooker for 15mins @ 15 pounds. Did it outside on an old early-60s coleman camp stove I got for $10 on craigslist, as the 22qt Mirro doesn't fit well on the stove. And putting out that much heat wouldn't do any favors for my aged AC.

Let everything cool and laid out the sterile implements. The steel rod is an inoculating loop, which is flamed/quenched between each step to avoid cross contamination. The water in the mason jar was canned previously so it was already sterile. Since I lack an extra $5000 for a venthood, I make do with the poor man's version: bottom oven on low, vent-a-hood running. The object is to keep beastie-laden dirt particles flowing upward instead of settling on your working materials.
Not pictured: propane torch for flaming the 'noc loop.

Scraped the yeast out of the tube and deposited in a 50ml flask with a tiny magnetic stirbar. Re-covered with foil; this looks odd but is standard laboratory practice. The flask will sit on a stirplate for a day or so before the yeast solution will be "stepped up" into a larger volume of food in a larger flask. The stirplate has a spinning magnet in it that induces the magnetic stirbar to spin in the flask although there is no physical contact. The spinning aerates and agitates the yeast; you'll want to take my word that this is a Good Thing, as the reasoning behind it is arcane and of no use to normal people. :-) The styrofoam bit between the flask and the stirplate is for insulation. This old lab stirplate runs hotter than my other homebuilt one, and I want to control how much heat makes it to the yeast starter.

The starter is now 20cc in volume. By brew time it needs to be 500-1000cc.

That's it for now. I'll tag this series with batch36 label so folks can string the entries together after the whole thing is done.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ron and Rand

Would I like to meet Drs. Rand and Ron Paul at a reception? Sure thing.

Do I have an extra $200+ for the buy-in? Not so much.

Hyundai Genesis abuse at TMS

Last month I got a piece of snailmail from Hyundai explaining the event ("hey, come drive the snot out of our new sports car") and giving a website for registration. I registered and marked it on the calendar.

The event was structured like autocross, and a majority of the attendees appeared to be autocross drivers. In events like this a tight, technically-challenging course is laid out on a large slab of concrete (usually an airstrip or large parking lot). The path is marked with paint and/or cones; the object is to get the fastest time with fewest errors.

My time was 10:30am. The festivities had started earlier in the morning and I could hear the tires screaming and engines howling before pulling into TMS from the access road. This should be fun, and a bit scary for people like me who do not race on the weekends.

As I was signing in there was a particularly long, lurid tire scream and I looked up to see a fellow spinning one of the cars across the course. Oopsy Daisy. The Hyundai rep smiled and said "you don't necessarily have to do it like that." We'll see how it goes.

There were six Genesis coupes running, a mixture of manuals, autos, and one beta paddle shift car. I drove the 6spd manual with a 3-point-something 304hp V6.

The tour was called the Adrenaline tour and I was a little amped up as I was pointed to my car. Introduced myself to the Hyundai co-driver that was in each car and noticed that the AC was on and the car was quite comfortable. Neither AC nor passenger weight are conducive to a sporting experience, BTW.

The clutch had decent spring to it; it felt like a competition clutch that should be able to take some abuse. I launched off the starting line down a short straightaway and let off the gas about 3/4 the way down the strip to prepare for the upcoming hard left turn. The co-driver indicated I should keep my foot in the throttle. More. More. More. OMG. That turn is right... there.... ohhhhhh...

Terms like "opposite lock", "throttle induced oversteer" or "drift" are best for describing what happens on a course like this when you drive at your limits. There is a vid at the bottom that indicates what this looks, feels, and sounds like in the car. It's not an experience you get on a milk run to Kroger.

The whole run went that way. I kept trying to stay within sane, non-cerebellum-melting limits and the co-driver was on me to keep it floored long, long after my lizard brain wanted to brake. In a situation like that you trust the professional and remain open to the outcome. I will admit to no small amount of fear, but I followed the co-drivers guidance, made a respectable pass without hitting any cones or spinning out. :-)

The verdict: this is much more car than I expected going in. Serious grunt from the engine, serious grip from the tires, excellent suspension. The car never felt unsettled even in the most violent maneuvers. It's absolutely a better car than I am a driver. I believe this car would win over even the most vocal Hyundai doubters. If all cars in their line were like this then the Japanese makers would have to pay real respect to the dangers presented by their Korean competitor.

And what about the jaded weekend racers with their modified performance cars? They got in line again and again. It was like watching children at Six Flags riding the same ride over and over until they get sick. I didn't hear a single negative comment about the cars from those racers. That's saying something.

This is not my vid, but it is a vid from the same event before it came to Dallas. It will give you an idea how the track is laid out and what it is like to drive it. The camera work is very shakey -- it's violent inside the car when you are tossing it around like that:

It takes huevos for an underdog car company to flog their new model all day in front of their most critical audience. The cars worked perfectly, the event was well-handled, and the drivers (read: customers) were all happy. That's how an underdog kicks market leaders in the shins. And it will leave a mark.

Here is the official Hyundai Genesis promo site.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Daytrip: Gladewater, Tx

Dear Wife and I boarded the dog and took a day trip to Gladewater, Tx. It's a leisurely two-hour trip down Hwy 80.

The main reason for going to the town is they have an old city square that's full of antique shops. I got some old 1950s razors and a 1940s (?) Dietz #2 D-Lite kerosene lantern. Dear Wife, who does not drink coffee, got a groovey anodized 1960s coffee percolator and a few small things.

Drove back in light rain. Gotto the house and it was 86F in there. Weird. Turns out the power had been off for about 5 hrs and had just come back on 16mins before we got home. I knew this because of the uptime on my *nix boxen.

Terrible crush: VBH

Ok, confession time. I have a terrible crush on Vicki Butler-Henderson, British driver/racer/presenter. I picked a few clips from Fifth Gear to help explain the fixation.

Here she is teaching her mom to lap a track in a Lambo in the wet. Mom's a bit scared at first:

Here VBH track tests a Fiat Panda v. a Ferrari 360:

and VBH on a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-14 (ie, Hayabusa-killer):

She's a joy to watch.

Nowadays I hear she is still on TV but doing some kind non-motorsports stuff. How much fun could that be?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

We did not blow up

A crunchy old-timer from Atmos came out and put his electrosniffer on the meter. It started clicking on the OUT connection. He turned off the gas, replaced that gasket and put it back together.

All is well.

coleman check valve

I dissassembled a Coleman "suitcase" stove last week to get to a problematic part. Most parts on a coleman are trivial to service. The exception is a small object buried in the fount called a "check valve".

There's not an easy way to get to it, it can take a special $50 tool, and can get very, very stuck. Many people go their whole camping lives without having to change one of these doodads. I got mine out and replaced it today and cranked it up. Runs and holds pressure like a champ.

Here's how it works. Consider what happens when you pump up a Coleman fuel gear:

* release the plunger by rotating it a turn or so CCW.
* pump until you reach desired pressure
* lock the plungber back in place by rotating it CW until you feel it seat.

When the plunger is screwed into place it prevents air from leaking out.[0] But what keeps the air from leaking out after the plunger has been opened? That's the check valve. It contains a ball little opening, blocking outward air movement. The screwed-in plunger and the check valve are the "belt and suspenders" system that keep the explosive fuel/air mix inside the gear where it belongs.[1]

Speaking of which, I just called Atmos to report a possible gas leak around our meter out back. I might be imagining things; it's either faint or not there at all. But they are apparently on the way. I don't think we are in great danger of blowing up. But if you hear sirens tonite and I don't post anymore...

[0] more correctly, the air stem it's connected to prevents air from leaking out, but you get the idea.
[1] there's a third safety, in a way. The check valve sits in fuel but has a snorkel like a Hummer, so in case it depressurizes only air comes shooting out the hole in the plunger, not fuel.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

digging for gold

Spent the evening moving large, heavy things and tearing out 1970s carpet. yay! I hate carpet, and love wood floors.

In the first shot you can see the wood underneath. There are places where it was treated roughly during a previous carpet adventure. The Dear Wife is pointing here to a 10' razorknife scar in the floor that some Mensa hero left there decades ago. Arghhh.

I have to say, that carpet tack board crap is a booger to get up. Only half of that done, nails and staples everywear, and sticky bits of padding adhered to the floor all over the place. Another night's work in there before we can clean it up and see what we've got.

Fuh-reaking bing

Well, it looks like Yahoo has sold its innards to mickey$oft. Henceforth yahoo search results will be provided by Bing, Microsoft's next attempt to battle google.

I don't really blame Yahoo; they've been in a bad position for a really long time. Before search engines were the demonstratable Right Thing, there were two kinds of "portal" sites:

* search engines: altavista (!), hotbot (!), etc. Remember those? Do you remember when Altavista's boolean searches represented the absolute pinnacle? Nowadays it's mainly remembered as a bit of wordplay by the crack site astalavista. Not going to hotlink that one because it's usually NSFW.

* directories: mainly Yahoo. You submitted your site in a category and real humans verified the placement and published it. This model just doesn't scale in the normal sense. (You could probably scale it by crowdsourcing (having the public verify the info, like Wikipedia or something)). So yahoo left the directory behind and started a half-@ssed attempt to do spidering/search. Never really captured any mental territory.

I've used Bing a few times to see what it's like. It's not completely overhyped and useless.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Long term sub


There is a kind of substitute teaching gig called Long Term Sub (LTS) in which the sub covers for a teacher for weeks or months.

An LTS has a classroom, students, and a curriculum. It's effectively short-term teaching rather than placeholding in the "teacher has a day off" category.

Alt cert candidates consider LTS to be a stepping stone to a teaching job.

Why I'm telling you this

I have an LTS position in RISD that will run Aug-Nov, then it's back to day-to-day subbing. It is not in my field of certification but I look forward to the challenge.

The teaching job market is just vicious right now. A principal recently told me that it used to be common for teachers to get pregnant and quit teaching. Now they come back after the kid is born because their husband lost his job and they need the benefits.

[edited to correct spelling and to remove a few sentences that sounded harsher than I intended.]

Friday, July 24, 2009


I am flirting with switching to Epiphany, a linux web browser that uses the gecko layout engine and a Gnome-derived front end. It seems to misbehave less than firefox.

Will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


No, I haven't been watching Logan's Run again.

Just got my passport renewed and returned in the mail. So I've got the one with the RFID strip in it now (queue Big Brother music). It's a little hokier than the last one, with photos of eagles, flags, etc. Like it was made by the Franklin Mint intead of the US State Department.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

high speed, low drag @$$clowns

Just reported the idiots in the silver (tracer? taurus) for reckless and very fast driving down my street.

I was in the yard adjusting the sprinkler when I looked up and saw them coming down the road side by side next to another vehicle, a red Ford SUV.

I only had a couple of seconds to figure out what was going on*, but I think the red SUV was speeding around 40mph down the street** when the fools (ie, "young males") in the silver car passed them on my residential street going 60-65mph. Either that or it was a chase or roadrage scenario.

The passenger fool pumped his fist out the window and whooped. Keep it up, hero. We ain't playin'.

* while I yelled at both cars
** unfortunately not out of the ordinary

Sunday, July 19, 2009

lanterns chasing the darkness

Tonite I sat on the back deck and cranked up a couple of lanterns:

  1. Kirkman #2 Champion kerosene lamp. Mr. Kirkman builds lamps from rebuilt/restored Dietz machine parts for that authentic feel. He also has a real understanding of how cold-blast tubular lanterns work. You've seen his work on Lost, in movies, at Disney parks, etc.
  2. Coleman 200a single-burner lantern, vintage 1961. It's older than I am, and probably in better working shape. We're both a bit cranky when first getting up.
I am not a maudlin person but there is a tradition among Coleman people that I want to share. It comes about because Coleman collectors and fans are much older than the average 'net user. When a Coleman forum or mailing list member dies the other members light a lantern in his or her memory. It's fitting. It's quiet. It's absolutely the right thing to do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Barefoot: living with no landline

It's been 1.5 yrs since I've last had a landline, and I don't miss it at all. I don't even think about it. Sometimes the neighbors come over and say "is your telephone line dead?" and I hold up the cell and say "nope".

I do most things on a T-Mo cellphone. For long conversations that one would usually do on a landline I have been using Skype (SkypeOut, $36/yr). Since my subscription expires in a couple of days I've been sniffing around to see if there are any better fits out there:
  1. Skype is not open source, and my workstations are linux. Skype software for linux lags behind Windoze versions and is too bloated/cutesy for my taste.Link
  2. I don't use many minutes, so a by-the-minute deal is probably cheaper for me than a flatrate monthly deal.
Skype uses a proprietary, closed network, but most of the rest of the VOiP world communicates using the SIP protocol.

The best-known SIP client is ekiga, originally a student project designed for Gnome, one of the Big Two linux integrated desktop environments. The clients talk to each other using a SIP provider, a kind of matchmaker. Calls are free from pc-to-pc. There are commercial SIP providers that offer PC-to-phone calling (outbound), which is what I was buying from skype.

The commercial SIP provider I picked was Diamondcard. The cost per minute to the US/Canada is $0.016 (ie, 1.6c/minute). This means if I talk more than 188 minutes a month on Diamondcard it will cost less than Skype. If I talk more than that it would be cheaper to use skype. Should be an interesting experiment.

188 mins doesn't seem like much, does it? But my cell is my main point of contact and I use it about 90mins / month. They don't even make plans that low. I have no idea how people burn through 1000s of mins each month.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Because it's there.

Some wundergeeks recently unveiled a couple of early versions of a LiveCD release of Google Android. Early and creaky (and thinks it's a phone), but it boots.

The problem for Micro$oft is that Google has free (admittedly basic) cloud-based documents including word processing, spreadsheets, etc. And now they are toying with free OSes (Chiefly Chrome OS, but also Android as you see above).

All this must be a little scary if your main source of income is selling people a new (versionwise) Office suite and operating system each year or two.

I think that folks are just about ready to realize that the universe does not revolve around Micro$oft. Shades of Galileo, no?

el rancho puerco

Can't remember if I've raved about El Rancho market up on Coit/SpringValley before or not. Short version: if you've never been to a Mexican groceria before this is your nudge to do so.

How could you resist a place that merchandises the chorizo in their meat department as shown?

Anyhow, the lunch counter is great, fruits/vegetables are cheap, the "homemade" menudo is great in it's tripey squidigness, the pan dulces display is great, the cheese counter is great, and the meat counter looks great but I haven't tried it yet other than to stumble through ordering some fresh chicharones.

bird hot, squirrel hot

"Bird hot" is when it's so hot that birds walk around with their mouths open. This occurs at around 100F, based on the carefully calibrated birds in my neighborhood. I keep the birdbath filled up so they can cool off and drink some.

"Squirrel hot" is a different temp scale, but it also centers on the 100F point. At this point squirrels become malleable and rest draped over objects in the cool shade.

Rant: control freak companies

Let me me clear; companies (like Micro$oft and Apple) that try to lock customers to their hardware and software, as Apple is doing with iTunes and the Pre, will eventually fail.

Interoperability and openness will rule. This doesn't have to mean Free and Open Source Software, but it will certainly include it and learn from it.

"Markets are conversations" with between companies and customers, not commands, directives, or control freak, jerky manipulations by douchebag companies. Get a clue[train].

The whole quote is:

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Galilean moons

That bright object east in the evening sky is Jupiter. If you have a pair of normal binos, take a peek at it. Depending on the timeframe you can usually see 4 or so star-like objects near Jupiter; they are the moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Right now there are two on the left side and two on the right side of Jupiter.

Galileo was the first person to describe their periodicity around Jupiter. Check out his notes and drawings of the moons in the image.

Side effect: Before the invention of an effective seagoing clock mechanism sailors could use the position of the moons to tell what time it was. And if you new what time it was you could, using a bit of declination, deduce your longitude.

But the major news was that Galileo was eating forbidden fruit and realized it. The official position was that all heavenly bodies (including the sun) orbited the earth, as befits God's creation. But Jupiterian moons demonstratably orbited Jupiter. This broke the universe, or at least the theological understanding of how the universe worked.

That kind of shift in human understanding is found over and over again in Renaissance studies. Man sets himself on a path that will eventually lead to a rigorous scientific methodology.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Geekout: different OSes on the Eee

The Eee is very happy to run OSes off flashdrive. And since much of the action on a netbook actually happens in the cloud you can play with LiveCD/LiveUSB OSes painlessly.

Here's what I've done so far:

* Windows XP (came installed on the Eee). 2700MB installed. XP will not run off flashdrive and has a heavy footprint, so it's gone. But it did work out of the box (OOB hereafter) at least as much as I tested. I understand one can use nLite against one's XP install disk to strip all the crap out and end up with a reasonable experience. 2.7GB. Holy crap.

* Puppy Linux 4.2.1, 101MB installed. Everything other than wifi worked OOB. Installed madwifi-hal driver pet and all is well. This is my current OS. Understand that this fully functional OS is 1/27th the size of the XP installation. That's 3.7% of the size, people. WTH is going on at Micro$oft?

* TinyCore, 11MB installed (!). Holy crap, this booted in like 10 seconds. Ethernet worked fine. Fought with it for a couple of hours to get savefile persistence and the Wifi up. Did get it running, though. I felt like I won a fistfight. BTW, TCL boots so fast that some users have to artificially insert delays in order to let slower peripherals to initialize. Truly amazing, but a bit of a hairshirt. Not sure I'm man enough for it. Still, it's 1/10th the size of Puppy (and 1/270th the size of XP) . That's just crazy talk.

* pupeee-b4, 100MB installed. Based on Puppy Linux 3.x. Worked OOB.

* pupeee-4.2, 100MB installed. Based on Puppy Linux 4.2. Worked OOB.

* Easy Peasey: 900MB installed. would not finish loading kernel image.
* Damn Small Linux: 50MB installed. Would not finish live boot.
* slitaz-eeepc: 25MB installed. Would not finish live boot. Hung at "configuring ath0". Known issue.

Honorable Mention:
* Eeebuntu: 500MB installed. Completely gorgeous. Slow load. Too frakking big.

* Boxpup 4.1: 85MB installed. Based on the lightweight, fluxbox-like OpenBox window manager. Very nice, but seems to lag further behind Puppy than the Pupeee variant.

You have been geekified.